By Randi Altman
Editor Kevin Tent, A.C.E., has once again teamed up with director Alexander Payne…. this time on Nebraska, the story of a troubled man and his son making a physical and emotional journey. In addition to a ton of Oscar buzz, the Golden Globes has already shown lead Bruce Dern and director Payne some love with a couple of nominations.
Like Payne’s other films, such as Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants, Nebraska is about relationships and people at a crossroad… with a bit of dark humor sprinkled about. The other things these films have in common is editor Kevin Tent. He and his assistant editor Mindy Elliott, who also worked on Payne’s The Descendants, used Avid Media Composer with Avid Unity shared storage.
This film was shot in black and white with an Arri Alexa. According to Tent, digital imaging technician Lonny Danler, who was on the set in Nebraska and Montana, worked very closely with DP Phedon Papamichael to make sure they got what they needed in terms of look.
“They would do a quick color correction — or B&W correction in this case — and pass it along to Jeremy Voissem, who was also in Nebraska, who would time the rest of dailies to match, sync them and then upload them to us in Los Angeles,” said Tent. “The whole workflow worked perfectly.”
Technicolor’s On Location services provided Global Dailies powered by its FrameLogic system (made up of color grading, sound sync, metadata entry app, a renderfarm and more) at Payne’s mobile base camp. Voissem, with the near-set global dailies service, uploaded MXL files and Avid bins via Aspera and viewing dailies via PIX for the cutting room in Hollywood.
postPERSPECTIVE: Obviously, after all these years, you and Alexander have developed a comfort level.
KEVIN TENT: It’s really great. I think we had similar tastes to begin with and over the years our tastes have become even more aligned. If we are judging performances or something like that, we are often in sync. That doesn’t mean we don’t challenge each other, but I would say 80 percent of the time, we are in sync.
He also likes to trick me. So, I think, ‘Oh this is the way he’ll want to do this,’ but because he also wants to challenge himself, he’ll throw in a monkey wrench and say, ‘I want to do this instead.’ He keeps me on my toes, which is a good thing, and I try to do the same to him, just to mess with him (he laughs)!
postPERSPECTIVE: Typically, how do you work? Are you keeping up with camera?
TENT: Yes, and our process over the last few years has been every Friday I’ll send Alexander all the scenes I cut during the week. Maybe I am not completely caught up with the camera and the crew, because there’s always delays and you don’t get a full scene in in one day, but I will send him three, four or five scenes at the end of the week, and when I get more of them together I’ll send him chunks.
So maybe he’ll watch half a dozen scenes in a row, and there will be a missing slug, and he’ll watch some more scenes. That’s usually how we do it. Sometimes he lets it build up and he’ll watch a couple of weeks of cut scenes so he knows what’s going on. If there is ever a problem he’ll look at things right away, of course, but usually we don’t often have that kind of situation.
When he comes back to the cutting room, we essentially start from scratch because he doesn’t watch dailies on the set anymore… he’s watching them in the cutting room. We are so old-school… we had film dailies on Citizen Ruth and About Schmidt and we’d go and sit on the weekends or after a day of shooting and watch film dailies. It was good we did that back then, and I sometimes wish that existed today, but it just doesn’t. Everyone gets their DVDs or PIX systems and watches dailies that way.
postPERSPECTIVE: How does Alexander work in terms of the number of takes he gets?
TENT: He does about seven to nine takes per set-up. If he feels like he’s gotten it, maybe he’ll do three, but sometimes he’ll do 12.
postPERSPECTIVE: Nebraska, like Alexander’s other films, is about the human condition, very dialogue- and personality-driven, with some humor thrown in. How do you help bring that out in the edit?
TENT: That is something that we work very closely on when Alexander is in the cutting room, but I do my first pass at things and pick performances that I think work. When he comes in, we’ll really fine-tune the performances, and that’s when we’ll get into the process cutting lines or changing things.
When I first do my assembly, I put all the lines in there. I also try to fit in as many angles that he’s shot so he can see them all in the cut. He and I both know that some of these shots and lines won’t be in the final, but in the assembly process I try to give him everything. When he comes into the cutting room we fine-tune the performances. Anything we think we can do to make the performances better we do, such as replacing the audio from another take into an actor’s mouth so the read is a little stronger. That is what we constantly do.
postPERSPECTIVE: The Avid Media Composer has been your tool of choice.
TENT: Yes, and Alexander loves it. I love it. It’s the best, and we were using the ScriptSync option on this one, which is genius.
postPERSPECTIVE: How does ScriptSync affect the way you work?
TENT: It makes my job much easier. I even have the assistants add more things to the script. For instance, if there are ad-libbed lines or action that I think might be useful at some point. Alexander likes to swap out takes and live with different performances, so it makes it really quick for us to change something live with it a couple of days, put something back in. We do that constantly.
postPERSPECTIVE: What were some of the other Media Composer tools that came into play for this film?
TENT: We used the title tool for the titles, which were upgraded for the final, but basically we did all that in the cutting room.
I do a lot of very quick comps and speed-ups and slow-downs, and we do that all within the Avid. Then we fine-tune them when we need to do finals in the high-resolution versions. We use that kind of stuff all the time.
postPERSPECTIVE: What were some of the challenges involved in the edit?
TENT: The biggest challenge with the movie in general, and this has happened with Alexander’s other movies as well, was to keep the pace moving along, but not rushing — for an audience to really get involved in the movie, they have to be with these characters, feel what they are feeling, empathize with them — because then the audiences can’t connect with the characters. That’s a challenge of his movies in a lot of ways, just that balance of keeping it moving but also retaining our cutting.
postPERSPECTIVE: There are subtle shifts between humor and sadness in the film. Can you talk about keeping that balance?
TENT: I think we did a pretty good job of just undercutting the drama sometimes with a little humor. It keeps it bouncing along in a nice way. That is also a challenge in Alexander’s movies… to make those shifts but not too quickly where you are throwing the audience off, but so it feels organic and natural.
postPERSPECTIVE: I am assuming this is your first B&W film. Did your mindset change because you were editing a black and white film as opposed to color? Or was it business as usual?
TENT: Yes, this was the first feature film I’ve cut in black and white. This is what I walked away from the experience with: for some reason my eye locked into peoples’ faces, I think a little more than normal. I think without having the distractions of background color, and that kind of thing, you were able to really focus on the faces, and we have some great faces! Older people have these beautiful faces filled with life. Plus it’s beautifully shot; Phedon did a beautiful job, and I love beauty shots, the tableau shots, we have. But it didn’t really affect the editing so much.
postPERSPECTIVE: It would be cool to go back and watch it in color, wouldn’t it?
TENT: I would love to see it. They actually did a color version for a delivery requirement to some country, spent a few days on it, but I wasn’t there for it. Alexander loved it… but he didn’t want to change it.
postPERSPECTIVE: So you’ve edited Citizen Ruth with Laura Dern, and now Nebraska with her dad Bruce Dern. Did you see any similarities in the way they work?
TENT: Yes, I did, and it’s funny you say that. I totally saw it; not so much similarities, but little things they do. Laura does the same thing as Bruce when she turns her head and looks. There were a couple of places where I saw it, but especially in one scene where Bruce Dern’s character Woody, is coming down the stairs. It reminds me of the shot in Citizen Ruth where Laura is sort of plunking down the stairs, and I thought while working on Bruce’s scene that reminds me of the Citizen Ruth shot and of Laura.
She’s actually in the movie in one shot, which I don’t think many people know. She’s in the background walking down the street in the scene where the truck is driving down. Until this, they had never been in the same movie together!