By Brady Betzel
Editor Doobie White straddles two worlds. As co-founder of West Los Angeles-based Therapy Studios, he regularly works on commercials and music videos, but he also gets to step out of that role to edit movies. In fact, his most recent, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for director Paul WS Anderson, is his ninth feature film.
Recently, we reached out to White to ask him about his workflow on this film, his editing techniques, his background and why regularly cutting more than one type of project makes him a better editor. Ok, let’s dig in.
What was it like coming onto a film that was an established franchise, and the last film in that franchise? Did that add any pressure?
The pressure was definitely on. The Final Chapter needed to be bigger, scarier and more exciting than the previous films. It’s also when the story comes full circle. We find out who Alice really is and what she has been fighting against throughout the franchise. There was a considerable amount of time and effort put into the edit to make it the best possible film it could be. That is what we aim for.
How early did you come on board? Were you on set? Near set? Keeping up with camera?
I was brought on a month or so before principal photography began. The film was shot in South Africa. I was there for four months cutting away like a madman. I was keeping up with camera so they could pick up any extra shots that would help tell the story. This was a life saver in the end. Scenes got better and we solved problems early on in the process. By the time we left South Africa we had a full rough cut. No re-shoots were necessary because they got it all before we left.
This is an action film with a lot of VFX. How did that affect your edit? Did they do pre and postvis on this one? Does that help you?
There was previs for some of the more complicated VFX in the movie, but that was mainly for production, to get a better understanding of what Paul was looking for and to make sure they captured every shot that was needed. I do think it really helps to get everyone on the same page. The scene usually evolves, but it’s a great way to start. I basically do the same thing but with the real footage when there is a lot of VFX involved.
When I’m working on a heavy VFX sequence, I really put everything into the scene that I possibly can to make sure it is working. There is a scene with a big flying creature at the beginning of the film that we called Dragon vs. Hummer. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. I took still cut-outs of a temp creature and placed them into the shots, making the creature chase Alice around a destroyed Washington, DC. My goal was to make the edit look and sound like the finished film — albeit, with a silly cut-out of a scary monster. If I can create excitement with a still, I know the finished scene is going to be great.
Did the director shoot a lot of footage?
Paul does shoot a lot. He covers everything really well. I’m hardly ever painted into a corner. He always gives me a way out. Having tons of footage does make it more difficult when putting scenes together, but I love having the options to play.
What direction were you given from him in terms of the cut, if any?
We kinda had a motto for the film. Probably not a motto, but it’s something that Paul would say after showing him a cut, and I would always keep in mind. “There is a lot of great stuff in there… all you need to do now is move it all closer together.” Paul really wanted this film to be non-stop — for the story to always be propelled forward. I took that as a mission statement: to always make the audience feel like Alice, caught in this crazy post-apocalyptic world — with violence, chaos and monsters!
How did you work with Anderson? How often were you showing him cuts?
Paul is great to work with. We had an absolute blast cutting this film together. In the early stages I was just trying to tame the beast, so we would get together a couple of times a week to review. By the end, Paul was in everyday pushing me to take the edit into new territory. What’s incredible about Paul is that he never runs out of ideas. Anytime there was a problem he would always have a creative solution. It truly is a joy to work on a film like this with a director that isn’t afraid to push visual storytelling.
What system did you edit on?
Avid 8.3.1. It was the most stable at the time. Avid is still the best at having multiple people working on the same material at the same time. I might consider other software if they could match the sharing functionality that Avid has been doing for years. I also frequently use Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.
Do you have any special shortcuts/tricks you use often?
This really isn’t a shortcut or a trick, but it relates. If I find a performance that I like but there is something wrong with the image, I will usually figure out a way to fix it. I tend to do this on every job to some degree. For instance, if an actors eyes are shut when they are delivering a line, I will replace their eyes from a different take. Sometimes I’m replacing heads to have characters looking in the right direction. I will comp two different takes together. I use every tool I’ve got to get the best performance possible.
How do you organize your projects? Any special bins/folders of commonly used stuff like speed ramps, transitions, etc.?
I have a lot of bins that migrate from job to job. I place just as much importance on sound as I do on picture. Everything I do involves sound in a very specific way. So I have around 120 sound effects bins that I move over to every job that I do. Everything from footsteps to gunshots. I’m adding to this all the time, but it saves multiple days of work to keep a master set of sounds and then add specific sounds for each job.
On this one, we recorded a bunch of people in our office for zombie sounds, pitching their voices and adding effects to make them sound truly disturbing. I also have 60 bins or so of music that I keep on hand. I’m adding to this all the time as well.
What do you expect from an assistant editor, and how much knowledge should they already have? Are they essentially technical editors or do you mentor them?
I expect a lot from my assistants. They need to be technically savvy, but they also need to know how to edit. I do so many VFX and do a full sound design pass on every scene. My assistants have to be able to contribute on all fronts. One day they will be organizing. The next they will be adding sounds and lasers (temp VFX) to a scene. I have worked with the same assistant for a bunch of years. Her name is Amy K. Bostrom, and she is amazing. She does all the technical side, but she is a great editor in her own right. I have no doubt that she will have a great career.
How did you approach this project and was it any different than commercials/music videos?
It’s definitely different, but I start in a very similar way. I like to get a scene/commercial/music video cut together as fast as possible. I don’t watch a lot of the footage on the first pass. When I have a rough cut I go back to the dailies and watch everything. At that point I know what I’m looking for and my selects have a purpose.
If you could edit any genre and project what would you do?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think I really have a preference. I want the challenge and to be pushed creatively. Every project that I work on I’m really just trying to make myself feel something. I search for footage and sound that evokes emotion, and I cut it in a way that produces some sort of feeling in myself. Whether that be happiness, pain, excitement, fear, pleasure — if I can feel something when I’m working, then others will as well. I want to work on projects that connect with people in some way. The genre is secondary.
Are you ever satisfied with an edit, or does the edit just stop because of deadlines? Could you tinker forever or do know when something is at the right spot?
I think it is a little bit of both. You work really hard to get a project into a good place. Fix all the problems, fine-tune everything, but eventually you run out of time. A movie could be worked on forever. So it is like George Lucas said, “Movies are abandoned.” I believe a film can always be better. I go for that until I can’t.
Do you have any life/work balance tips or processes you do?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I did. I just have a lot of passion for what I do. I can’t really focus on anything else when I’m on a project. I try to disconnect from it, but I’m always thinking about it in some way. How can it be better? What is this scene/movie/commercial really about? How can I fix something that is not working? I’m half present when I’m on a project and I’m not in the cutting room. It takes over my life. It’s probably not the healthiest way to go, but it’s the only way I know. Honestly, I love it. I’m fine with getting a little obsessive. I’m going to work on meditating!
It must be fun to run an editorial house, but also step into the world of features films from time to time. Keeps things fresh for you?
Yes, it is nice to be able to jump from different types of projects. I love commercials and I love movies, but they are quite different and use different muscles. By the time I’m done with a movie I am so ready to cut commercials for a while, and vice versa. Films are extremely rewarding, but it’s an endurance race. Commercials are instant gratification. You cut for a week or two, and its on air the following week. It’s great! After a few months of commercials I’m ready for a new challenge.
Where/when did you get the first itch to work in video/film?
I had no plans of working in the film industry. I loved movies, music videos, and commercials, but I was so far removed from that world that I never saw a path. I was a ski bum studying art in Lake Tahoe, and one of the classes offered was digital media. This is the first time I realized you could edit clips together on a computer. It changed everything I was focused on. I started making silly short films and cutting them together. It wasn’t a film school and no one else was doing this so I had to do everything. From the writing, shooting and the music.
What I enjoyed the most was editing these little masterpieces. I decided I was going to figure out how to get someone to pay me to be an editor. I moved to LA and pretty much got laughed at. I couldn’t find a job, I was sleeping on couches. It was a bit desperate. The only opportunity that I eventually landed was an internship at a post house. After many coffee runs and taking out the trash, an editor asked me to work on a music video over the weekend. I jumped at the opportunity and didn’t go home until he came back on Monday. After he saw the cut I was hired the next day. This post house is where I met three of my best friends who would eventually become my partners at Therapy Studios.
Was your family supportive of you going into a creative job like editing?
To a degree, yes. It took a long time to find a path as an editor, and I think it was a bit confusing for them when I started working as an intern, especially being that I had zero cash and they were in no place to help. What I think is hard for a lot of people to understand that are not in the industry is that its very difficult to get a job in the film business. No matter what career you want to do, there are a thousand other kids that are trying to do the same thing. Perseverance is key. If you can outlast others you will probably find a way… ha!
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.