Tag Archives: Editor

Editor Paul Zucker on cutting Hotel Artemis

By Zack Wolder

The Drew Pearce-directed Hotel Artemis is a dark action-thriller set in a riot-torn Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future. What is the Hotel Artemis? It’s a secret members-only hospital for criminals run by Jodie Foster with the help of David Bautista. The film boasts an impressive cast that also includes Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella and Jennie Slate.

Hotel Artemis editor Paul Zucker, ACE, has varied credits that toggle between TV and film, including Trainwreck, This is 40, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Girls, Silicon Valley and many others.

We recently reached out to Zucker to talk about his process on the film.

Paul Zucker and adorable baby.

How did you get involved in this film?
This was kind of a blind date set-up. I wasn’t really familiar with Drew, and it was a project that came to me pretty late. I think I joined about a week, maybe two, before production began. I was told that they were in a hurry to find an editor. I read the script, I interviewed with Drew, and that was it.

How long did it take to complete the editing?
About seven months.

How involved were you throughout the whole phase of production? Were you on set at all?
I wasn’t involved in pre-production, so I wasn’t able to participate in development of the script or anything like that, but as soon as the camera started rolling I was cutting. Most of the film was shot on stages in downtown LA, so I would go to set a few times, but most of the time there was enough work to do that I was sequestered in the edit room and trying to keep up with camera.

I’m an editor who doesn’t love to go to set. I prefer to be uninfluenced by whatever tensions, or lack of tensions, are happening on set. If a director has something he needs me for, if it’s some contribution he feels I can make, I’m happy, able and willing to participate in shot listing, blocking and things like that, but on this movie I was more valuable putting together the edit.

Did you have any specific deadlines you had to meet?
On this particular movie there was a higher-than-average number of requests from director Drew Pearce. Since it was mostly shot on stages, he was able to re-shoot things a little easier than you would if we were on location. So it became important for him to see the movie sooner rather than later.

A bunch of movies ago, I adopted a workflow of sending the director whatever I had each Friday. I think it’s healthy for them to see what they’re working on. There’s always the chance that it will influence the work they’re doing, whether it’s performance of the actors or the story or the script or really anything.

As I understand it from the directors I’ve worked for, seeing the editor’s cut can be the worst day of the process for them. Not because of the quality of the editing, but because it’s hard in that first viewing to look past all the things that they didn’t get on set. Its tough to not just see the mistakes. Which is totally understandable. So I started this strategy of easing them into it. I just send scenes; I don’t send them in sequence. By the time they get to the editors cut, they’ve seen most of the scenes, so the shock is lessened and hopefully that screening is more productive

Do you ever get that sense that you may be distracting them or overwhelming them with something?
Yes, sometimes. A couple of pictures ago, I did my normal thing — sending what I had on a Friday — and the director told me he didn’t want to watch them. For him, issues of post were a distraction while he was in production. So to each his own.

Drew Pearce certainly benefitted. Drew was the type of director who, if I sent it at 9pm, he would be watching it at 9:05pm, and he would be giving me notes at 10:05pm.

Are you doing temp color and things like that?
Absolutely. I do as much as the footage I’m given requires. On this particular movie, the cinematographer, the DIT and the lab were so dialed in that these were the most perfect-looking dailies I think I’ve ever gotten. So I had to do next to nothing. I credit DP Chung-Hoon Chung for that. Generally, if I’m getting dailies that are mismatched in color tone, I’m going to do whatever it takes to smooth it out. Nothing goes in front of the director until it’s had a hardcore sound and color pass. I am always trying to leave as little to the imagination as possible. I try to present something that is as close to the experience that the audience will have when they watch the movie. That means great color, great sound, music, all of that.

Do you ever provide VFX work?
Editorial is typically always doing simple VFX work like split-screens, muzzle-flashes for guns, etc. Those are all things that we’re really comfortable doing.

On this movie, theres a large VFX component, so the temp work was more intense. We had close to 500 VFX shots, and there’s some very involved ones. For example, a helicopter crashes into a building after getting blasted out of the sky with a rocket launcher. There are multiple scenes where characters get operated on by robotic arms. There’s a 3D printer that prints organs and guns. So we had to come up with a large number of temp shots in editorial.

The assistant editors, Gardner Gould, Michael Costello and Lillian Dawson Bain, were instrumental in coming up with these shots.

What about editing before the VFX shots are delivered?
From the very beginning, we are game-planning — what are the priorities for the movie vis-a-vis VFX? Which shots do we need early for story reasons? Which shots are the most time consuming for the VFX department? All of these things are considered as the entire post production department collaborates to come up with a priorities list.

If I need temp versions of shots to help me edit the scene, the assistants help me make them. If we can do them, we’ll do them. These aid in determining final VFX shot length, tempo, action, anything. As the process goes on, they get replaced by shots we get from the VFX department.

One thing I’m always keeping in mind is that shots can be created out of thin air oftentimes. If I have a story problem, sometimes a shot can be created that will help solve it. Sometimes the entire meaning of a scene can change.

What do you expect from your assistant editors?
The first assistant had to have experience with visual effects. The management of workflow for 500 shots is a lot, and on this job, we did not have a dedicated VFX editor. That fell upon editor Gardner Gould.

I generally kick a lot of sound to the assistant, as I’m kind of rapidly moving through cutting picture. But I’m also looking for someone who’s got that storytelling bone that great editors have. Not everybody has it, not every great assistant has it.

There is so much minutiae on the technical side of being an assistant editor that you run the risk of forgetting that you’re working on a movie for an audience. And, indeed, some assistants just do the assistant work. They never cut scenes, they never do creative work, they’re not interested or they just don’t. So I’m always encouraging them to think like an editor at every point.

I ask them for their opinions. I invite them into the process, I don’t want them to be afraid to tell me what they think. You have to express yourself artistically in every decision you make. I encourage them to think critically and analytically about the movie that we’re working on.

I came up as an assistant and I had a few people who really believed in me. They invited me into the room with the director and they gave me that early exposure that really helped me learn my trade. I’m kind of looking to pay back that favor to my assistants.

Why did you choose to edit this film on Avid? Are you proficient in any other NLEs?
Oh, I’d say strictly Avid. To me, a tool, a technology, should be as transparent as possible. I want to have the minimum of time in between thought and expression. Which means that if I think of an edit, I want to automatically, almost without thinking, be able to do a keystroke and have that decision appear on the monitor. I’m so comfortable with Avid that I’m at that point.

How is your creative process different when editing a film versus a TV show?
Well first, a TV show is going to have a pre-determined length. A movie does not have a pre-determined length. So in television you’re always wrangling with the runtime. The second thing that’s different is in television schedules are a little tighter and turnaround times are a little tighter. You’re constantly in pre-production, production and post at the same time.

Also, television is for a small screen. Film, generally speaking, is for the big screen. The venue matters for a lot of reasons, but it matters for pacing. You’re sitting in a movie theater and maybe you can hold shots a little bit longer because the canvas is so wide and there’s so much to look at. Whereas with the small screen, you’re sitting closer to the television, the screen itself is smaller, maybe the shots are typically not as wide or you cut a little quicker.

You’re a very experienced comedic editor. Was it difficult to be considered for a different type of film?
I guess the answer is yes. The more famous work I’ve done in the last couple of years has been for people like Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow. So people say, “Well, he’s a comedy editor.” But if you look at my resume dating back to the very first thing I did in 2001, I edited my first movie — a pretty radical film for Gus Van Sant called Gerry, and it was not a comedy. Eternal Sunshine was not a comedy. Before Girls, I couldn’t get hired on comedies.

Then I got pulled on by Judd to work on some of his movies, and he’s such a brand name that people see that on your resume and they say, “Well, you must be a comedy editor.” So, yes, it does become harder to break out of that box, but that’s the box that other people put you in, I don’t put myself in that. My favorite filmmakers work across all types of genre.

Where do you find inspiration? Music? Other editors? Directors?
Good question. I mean… inspiration is everywhere. I’m a movie fan, I always have been, that’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m always going to the movies. I watch lots of trailers. I like to keep up with what people are doing. I go back and re-watch the things that I love. Listening to other editors or reading other editors speak about their process is inspiring to me. Listening and speaking with people who love what they do is inspiring.

For Hotel Artemis, I went back and watched some movies that were an influence on this one to get in the tone-zone. I would listen to a lot of the soundtracks that were soundtracks to those movies. As far as watching movies, I watched Assault on Precinct 13, for instance. That’s a siege movie, and Hotel Artemis is kind of a siege movie. Some editors say they don’t watch movies while they’re making a movie, they don’t want to be influenced. It doesn’t bother me. It’s all in the soup.


Zack Wolder is a video editor based in NYC. He is currently the senior video editor at Billboard Magazine.  Follow him on Instagram at @thezackwolder.

How being a special needs dad helps me be a better editor at Conan

By Robert James Ashe

I have been working in late night television for Conan O’Brien for nearly 10 years, currently as the lead editor for Conan on the TBS network. Late night television has an extraordinarily demanding pace. An old colleague of mine used to refer to it as the “speed chess” of editing. It demands that your first instincts when editing are the best ones. The pace also puts extraordinary pressure on your writers and producers. I like to think of editors as the pilots hired to bring the plane in for a landing that may have already lost an engine, so it’s important that you maintain balance and focus.

I am the father to three amazing kiddos with special needs. My first daughter was born with the amyoplasia form of arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She is also nonverbal. My youngest daughter was born with amniotic banding syndrome. For her, it means she only has a few fully developed fingers and a prosthesis on one of her legs. We’ve addressed her physical challenges through surgery and she has lots of fun sprinting around with her “robot leg,” which is what we call her prosthesis. We are in the middle of adopting our son and hope to bring him home in the fall. He has similar orthopedic challenges to our second daughter.

I take my jobs as editor and as a father very seriously, but it is also important to note that I am happy. Here are some things that I have learned over the years. I have made mistakes in every one of these rules, but I try every day to be better.

1. You will reach a new normal
I like to think of an editor’s job as a client’s spirit guide of sorts. A guardian of the story you are helping to tell. Once you get all of the footage, and you have a good idea of what you are dealing with, your job is to advocate for the story your client is trying to tell while handling various tech issues so you can remain creative. It took me a long time to make this adjustment. Now I try every day to make it my new normal.

Once we got through the first few weeks of my first daughter’s life and received a diagnosis, we decided to not live our lives with a cloud over our heads and to instead look for the sunshine. We refused to consider our lives to be a tragedy. My job is to advocate for my children while making sure they can remain kids throughout the doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I want them to feel happy about their lives.

2. Know Your Role
It’s important to know that the story you are being hired to tell for your client is not yours. I am very trusted at my job to work on pieces with little supervision. I have earned this trust because the writers (my client) know that I will put together segments based on their sensibilities. I am there to help tell their story and to solve any tech problems that may arise in doing so. I am not reinterpreting the story to fit my own sensibilities (plus, I’m not very funny so it works out).

I am a player in my children’s life story. I deal with insurance. My wife takes them to appointments on workdays. But, we are not the ones receiving the therapy or medical services, so our story is different than our children’s. You must know how to separate the two. I am there to guide them. I am there to protect them but it is their story.

Rob (center) with his co-editors Chris Heller and Matt Shaw.

3. Attitude monitors everything
I have to be mindful of my attitude. I am a large, intimidating looking man. The slightest expression of negativity is read to be much larger because of my size. Your attitude can affect an entire workspace. People will recommend a decent editor who is nice over a grumpy “professional” any day of the week. I’ve made this mistake many times. I would start on a new project so passionate and personally invested in the story that I was hired to tell I would be arrogantly offended if I felt that anyone I was working with didn’t give their absolute best. The truth of it is most people try to do their best with the circumstances they have been given, and the more I’d complain the more I’d become the real problem. Give people more credit. You don’t know the kinds of things they have had to deal with.

Dealing with the medical industry can be daunting. It’s easy to feel frustrated on calls with insurance or scheduling appointments. I try to have empathy for the other person I am dealing with as they have to deal with frustrated and frightened people all day. You don’t know the kinds of things they have to deal with. I also have to be very mindful of my attitude around my kids. My wife figured out quickly that if our lives were going to revolve around going to the Children’s Hospital that we were going to make it fun. Our kids actually love going. They have a playground and so many things for the kids to enjoy. If we acted depressed around our children, it would affect them. Before my youngest daughter’s prosthesis, we would talk about all the things she would be able to do and all the fun she’d be able to have once she got her robot leg.

4. The world isn’t fair
Not everyone is going to recognize what you contribute, even when you are at your absolute best. You must try to not take it personally. I try to remind myself that often we are working for people who have their own issues to worry about and don’t always understand the technical challenges of what we do. I have seen hundreds of all sorts of people passed over for promotions they deserve or recognition that they have earned. As someone who has been in charge of other editors, I have also received credit for work that is their own. That is why I insist at the end of every project sending a private post mortem to my clients so people can understand everyone’s contribution.

I get way more credit than I deserve for being a father of my children, and it’s not fair. One time my wife and I brought the kids to a party. My oldest daughter doesn’t have the muscle strength to feed herself, so I spent time feeding her while my wife talked with her friends. After leaving the party, my wife remarked how impressed they were that I fed my child. My wife is an amazing mom. I married Mary Poppins. Our family does deal with a fair amount of challenges, but I have met many single mothers over the years that are worthy of so much more admiration for what they take on than anything we’ve ever accomplished.

5. Take care of yourself
You will never be the best editor you can be unless you take care of yourself. Eating correctly, sleeping enough and moderating drinking or drug use is just the tip of the iceberg. The most high-profile jobs will demand that you be at your best 100% of the time.

My oldest daughter cannot walk without the use of braces, so we need to remain strong enough to lift her upstairs or into the shower. I am getting older, so I’m really starting to make a concentrated effort to eat better, exercise and drink less. The most challenging times we have faced have demanded that we be at our absolute best mentally and physically as long nights during surgeries can be draining.

6. A job is a job; family is everything
I like to park my car on the far side of the studio that I work at. It gives me a 20-minute walk to my trailer that allows me to look at all the other shoots happening that day and reflect on how I used to dream as a kid to one day work in Hollywood. It also gives me a chance to get some exercise.

Hollywood has been very kind to me, but my job doesn’t define my happiness. It’s not who I am. One of the best things that has ever happened to me in Hollywood was to figure out that once you take all the glitz and glamor away, it is a job like any other. A job I enjoy that allows me to provide for my family.

When I’m gone from this world, my most meaningful accomplishments will have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my family and friends. The greatest thing I have done with my life is adopting my (soon to be) two children. My job demands long hours, so I have to miss some things, but I take comfort in knowing that it is to provide for their future.

7. You are capable of much more than you know
When I became an editor, I really didn’t know what my career would have in store. I just found it fun and decided that I could make money doing it. When I started in late night television almost 10 years ago, delivering a 42-minute show in 90 minutes used to make my hands shake. Now, it is one of the easiest points of my day. I went from freelancing on side projects for little money to helping plan international media transfers and deliveries for network primetime specials supported by an amazing and capable team. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

When my first child was born. I didn’t know what life was going to have in store. We just decided to go all in and be the best we could be at it, and now we are parents to (soon to be) three wonderful kiddos with an amazing orthopedic medical team. Our children are part of case studies that will advance medical science. They’ve been filmed and photographed for others to learn how to properly treat joint contractures and prosthesis adaptations. Their presence is going to help future kids get the treatment they need. When something like this happens in your life, you find out what you are really made of.

8. Finally, please remember to have fun. It’s fun.
I wish you nothing but the best.


Robert James Ashe is the four-time Emmy-nominated lead editor of Conan on TBS. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertjamesashe and read more pieces from him on The Mighty.

Editor and Exile co-owner Eric Zumbrunnen has passed away at 52

Award-winning editor Eric Zumbrunnen has lost his battle with cancer. Known for his intelligence, kindness and dry wit as much as his editorial talent, Zumbrunnen left a memorable imprint that spanned the worlds of feature films, commercials, music videos, short films and documentaries.

In 2014, Zumbrunnen co-founded Santa Monica and New York-based post company Exile with partners Kirk Baxter, Matt Murphy and Carol Lynn Weaver. Zumbrunnen valued the opportunity to learn from the gifted writers, directors and editors he worked with. While he held himself and his co-workers to a high standard, he was also committed to encouraging and mentoring other editors and would-be editors.

Known to many as “EZ,”Zumbrunnen graduated from USC with a degree in journalism, and began his professional life in video post. A proficient guitarist, he brought his affinity for music to his early work editing music videos, including classics such as Weezer’s Buddy Holly, Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight, Beck’s Where It’s At and Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet.

He developed close collaborative relationships with a few directors, and subsequently expanded into commercials for clients such as Nike, Xbox and Apple, and ultimately into feature films. He had worked many times with director Spike Jonze. The pair’s collaboration spanned two decades and resulted in the Oscar-nominated Her, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich, which earned Zumbrunnen an ACE Award for Best Edited Feature Film. More recently he was awarded a Bronze Lion for Editing at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for his work on Jonze’s Kenzo World fragrance ad My Mutant Brain. He was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year.

Zumbrunnen is survived by his wife Suzanne and children Henry and Greta.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Editor William Hoy — working on VFX-intensive War for the Planet of the Apes

By Mel Lambert

For William Hoy, ACE, story and character come first. He also likes to use visual effects “to help achieve that idea.” This veteran film editor points to director Zack Snyder’s VFX-heavy I, Robot, director Matt Reeves’ 2014 version of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and his new installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, as “excellent examples of this tenet.”

War for the Planet of the Apes, the final part of the current reboot trilogy, follows a band of apes and their leader as they are forced into a deadly conflict with a rogue paramilitary faction known as Alpha-Omega. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, their leader begins a quest to avenge his kind, and an epic battle that determines the fate of both their species and the future of our planet.

Marking the picture editor’s second collaboration with Reeves, Hoy recalls that he initially secured an interview with the director through industry associates. “Matt and I hit it off immediately. We liked each other,” Hoy recalls. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a very short schedule for such a complicated film, and Matt had his own ideas about the script — particularly how the narrative ended. He was adamant that he ‘start over’ when he joined the film project.

“The previous Dawn script, for example, had [the lead ape character] Caesar and his followers gaining intelligence and driving motorized vehicles,” Hoy says. “Matt wanted the action to be incremental which, it turned out, was okay with the studio. But a re-written script meant that we had a very tight shoot and post schedule. Swapping its release date with X-Men: Days of Future Past gave us an additional four or five weeks, which was a huge advantage.”

William Hoy, ACE (left), Matt Reeves (right).

Such a close working relationship on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes meant that Hoy came to the third installment in the current trilogy with a good understanding of the way that Reeves likes to work. “He has his own way of editing from the dailies, so I can see what we will need on rough cut as the filmed drama is unfolding. We keep different versions in Avid Media Composer, with trusted performances and characters, and can see where they are going” with the narrative. Having worked with Reeves over the past two decades, Stan Salfas, ACE, served as co-editor on the project, joining prior to the Director’s Cut.

[Editor’s Note: Salfas, was not available for this interview. In answer to a request for an account of his experience on the last two Planet of the Apes movies he wrote: “Working on a large scale VFX movie teaches powerful lessons in collaboration. For the last 20 years through 11 different projects, I was Matt Reeves’ sole editor. When we began work on the Apes films, their vast complexity, the sheer volume of work in every area and an accelerated schedule all made it clear we needed two editors. Matt put himself on a virtual 16-hour a day schedule, as well. It was time for all hands on deck. First, we strove to advance the cut scene by scene in the picture department, often working around the clock. In addition, there were multiple layers of coordination including temp music tracking, sound design and of course visual effects (sessions often went four or five hours each day). Throughout, we continuously interfaced with other creative team members. Under this kind of work load, collaboration between two editors and a director takes many forms, and as we worked over so many months, it became clear: virtually every cinematic moment in the finished film would flow out of a synergy of contributions from many places. Lesson learned: the goal for all of us in post production, as in any film, is to serve the single vision of the director — to forge many voices into one.]

A member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, Hoy also worked with director Randall Wallace on We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask, with director Phillip Noyce on The Bone Collector and director Zack Snyder on Watchmen, a film “filled with emotional complexity and heavy with visual effects,” he says.

An Evolutionary Editing Process
“Working scene-by-scene with motion capture images and background artwork laid onto the Avid timeline, I can show Matt my point of view,” explains Hoy. “We fill in as we go — it’s an evolutionary process. I will add music and some sound effects for that first cut so we can view it objectively. We ask, ‘Is it working?’ We swap around ideas and refine the look. This is a film that we could definitely not have cut on film; there are simply too many layers as the characters move through these varied backgrounds. And with the various actors in motion capture suits giving us dramatic performances, with full face movements [CGI-developed facial animation], I can see how they are interacting.”

To oversee the dailies on location, Hoy set up a Media Composer editing system in Vancouver, close to the film locations used for principal photography. “War for the Planet of the Apes was shot on Arri Alexa 65 digital cameras that deliver 6K images,” the editor recalls. “These files were down-sampled to 4K and delivered to Weta Digital [in New Zealand] as source material, where they were further down-sampled to 2K for CGI work and then up-sampled back to 4K for the final release. I also converted our camera masters to 2K DNxHD 32/36 for editing color-timed dailies within my Avid workstation.”

In terms of overall philosophy, “we did not want to give away Caesar’s eventual demise. From the script, I determined that the key arc was the unfolding mystery of ‘What is going on?’ And ‘Where will it take us?’ We hid that Caesar [played by Andy Serkis] is shot with an arrow, and initially just showed the blood on the hand of the orangutan, Maurice [Karin Konoval]; we had to decide how to hide that until the key moment.”

Because of the large number of effect-heavy films that Hoy has worked on, he is considered an action/visual effects editor. “But I am drawn to performances of actors and their characters,” he stresses. “If I’m not invested in their fate, I cannot be involved in the action. I like to bring an emotional value to the characters, and visualize battle scenes. In that respect Matt and I are very much in tune. He doesn’t hide his emotion as we work out a lot of the moves in the editing room.”

For example, in Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, Koba, a human-hating Bonobo chimpanzee who led a failed coup against Caesar, is leading apes against the human population. “It was unsatisfying that the apes would be killing humans while the humans were killing apes. Instead, I concentrated on the POV of Caesar’s oldest son, Blue Eyes. We see the events through his eyes, which changed the overall idea of the battle. We shot some additional material but most of the scene — probably 75% — existed; we also spoke with the FX house about the new CGI material,” which involved re-imaged action of horses and backgrounds within the Virtual Sets that were fashioned by Weta Digital.

Hoy utilized VFX tools on various layers within his Media Composer sessions that carried the motion capture images, plus the 3D channels, in addition to different backgrounds. “Sometimes we could use one background version and other times we might need to look around for a new perspective,” Hoy says. “It was a trial-and-error process, but Matt was very receptive to that way of working; it was very collaborative.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s War for the Planet of the Apes.

Developing CGI Requests for Key Scenes
By working closely with Weta Digital, the editor could develop new CGI requests for key scenes and then have them rendered as necessary. “We worked with the post-viz team to define exactly what we needed from a scene — maybe to put a horse into a blizzard, for example. Ryan Stafford, the film’s co-producer and visual effects producer, was our liaison with the CGI team. On some scenes I might have as many as a dozen or more separate layers in the Avid, including Caesar, rendered backgrounds, apes in the background, plus other actors in middle and front layers” that could be moved within the frame. “We had many degrees of freedom so that Matt and I could develop alternate ideas while still preserving the actors’ performances. That way of working could be problematic if you have a director who couldn’t make up his mind; happily, Matt is not that way!”

Hoy cites one complex scene that needed to be revised dramatically. “There is a segment in which Bad Ape [an intelligent chimpanzee who lived in the Sierra Zoo before the Simian Flu pandemic] is seen in front of a hearth. That scene was shot twice because Matt did not consider it frenetic enough. The team returned to the motion capture stage and re-shot the scene [with actor Steve Zahn]. That allowed us to start over again with new, more frantic physical performances against resized backgrounds. We drove the downstream activities – asking Weta to add more snow in another scene, for example, or maybe bring Bad Ape forward in the frame so that we can see him more clearly. Weta was amazing during that collaborative process, with great input.”

The editor also received a number of sound files for use within his Avid workstation. “In the beginning, I used some library effects and some guide music — mostly some cues of composer Michael Giacchino’s Dawn score music from music editor Paul Apelgren. Later, when the picture was in one piece, I received some early sketches from the sound design team. For the Director’s Cut we had a rough cut with no CGI from Weta Digital. But when we received more sound design, I would create temp mixes on the Avid, with a 5.1-channel mix for the sound-editorial team using maybe 24 tracks of effects, dialog and music elements. It was a huge session, but Media Composer is versatile. After turning over that mix to Will Files, the film’s sound designer, supervising sound editor and co-mixer, I was present with Matt on the re-recording stage for maybe six weeks of the final mix as the last VFX elements came in. We were down to the wire!”

Hoy readily concedes that while he loves to work with new directors — “and share their point of view” — returning to a director with whom he has collaborated previously is a rewarding experience. “You develop a friendly liaison because it becomes easier once you understand the ways in which a director works. But I do like to be challenged with new ideas and new experiences.” He may get to work again with Reeves on the director’s next outing, The Batman, “but since Matt is still writing the screenplay, time will tell!”


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLAHe is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

 

Behind the Title: Edit 1 creative director/editor Ken Kresge

NAME: Ken Kresge

COMPANY: New York City’s Edit 1

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a production company with a unique talent for previs and content work.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VP creative director/editor

Edit 1

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
At heart, I’m an editor. I have been so for the past 20 years. Editing led to a natural progression into being a CD. I manage the creative expectation of our clients and make sure our team of pros executes it in the manner that I feel represents the client’s needs.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In today’s business environment, being an editor means more than editing video, offline color correct and light After Effects work. Now the job includes all that plus a myriad other things, ranging from collaborating concept and script to audio, online color correct, graphic design, 3D animation and even helping with PR and social media. Fortunately, I love doing all those things, so for me now is a great time to be a creative editor.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with my new colleagues. It’s been 17 years since I was the new guy, and for me its very exciting getting to know them and seeing their talent for the first time. Oh yeah, the pizza on Friday is pretty awesome.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Give me some time and I am sure I will find something.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the mornings, when its just one or two of us. I put on some music and get ready for whatever is coming up.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be a scientist or a host for a comedic documentary TV show. Yes, that is pretty specific for me.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I used editing as a way of expressing myself. I started my first editing gig at McCann Erickson.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Is it ok if that hasn’t happened yet?

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I just joined Edit 1 so much of it is still going on, but I can say I was able to re-connect with some of my previous clients and friends on a few projects from McCann, Evoke, DDB, One World Trade and Grey. They have kept me quite busy over the past four weeks.

Edit 1’s rooftop.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
One World is project I am proud of for a few reasons. I helped on the agency pitch and then helped create this interactive AR project for iPad, which involved editing almost 50 different videos about places in New York City. Moreover, I am a New Yorker, and having lived here through 9/11, this project gave me an overwhelming sense of pride. For me it’s like patriotism, in a New York-er way. I’m also proud of a personal project called “Road Trip Earth.”

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A powerful laptop, Adobe’s Creative Cloud and a decent camera/phone.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Honestly, I don’t follow anything.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I listen to KEXP almost every day. I love John in the Morning. Other than that, lately, it’s a lot of ALT-J, Modest Mouse and the new Slowdive.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I just don’t sweat it anymore. Life can be pretty hard but I have a good one, with an amazing wife and kids to share it with. I try not to mess with those things and everything else seems to fall into place.

Nomad Editing adds Nate Cali

Santa Monica’s Nomad has added editor Nate Cali to its roster. Cali, who will be based out of the Santa Monica office, has edited campaigns for Nike, Reebok, Red Bull, Taco Bell, Capital One and Funny or Die. Cali edits on Adobe Premiere.

Most recently, he was freelancing out of Saatchi LA working on Toyota. Prior to that, while he frequently worked out of the Optimus Chicago office and spent a lot of time there, he was based out of Optimus LA, where he moved up the ranks from assistant editor to a partner in the company. He also spent time at Union Editorial.

While at the Los Angeles Film School, he studied under Danford B. Greene, who cut Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. “My mother was a stand-up comedian,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to cut comedy. Danford taught me how to make people laugh by highlighting reactions instead of actions.”

“I feel so lucky to have a career that requires me to collaborate with other people who have the same passion and drive as I do. I connect very well with people who care deeply about their work. I love working on cars and extreme sports projects and while I think the flashy stuff is cool, I’m most interested in bringing the best emotions out of a piece. I want people to feel a personal connection to that spot.”

A chat with Emmy-winning comedy editor Sue Federman

This sitcom vet talks about cutting Man With A Plan and How I Met Your Mother.

By Dayna McCallum

The art of sitcom editing is overly enjoyed and underappreciated. While millions of people literally laugh out loud every day enjoying their favorite situation comedies, very few give credit to the maestro behind the scenes, the sitcom editor.

Sue Federman is one of the best in the business. Her work on the comedy How I Met Your Mother earned three Emmy wins and six nominations. Now the editor of CBS’ new series, Man With A Plan, Federman is working with comedy legends Matt LeBlanc and James Burrows to create another classic sitcom.

However, Federman’s career in entertainment didn’t start in the cutting room; it started in the orchestra pit! After working as a professional violinist with orchestras in Honolulu and San Francisco, she traded in her bow for an Avid.

We sat down to talk with Federman about the ins and outs of sitcom editing, that pesky studio audience, and her journey from musician to editor.

When did you get involved with your show, and what is your workflow like?
I came onto Man With A Plan (MWAP) after the original pilot had been picked up. They recast one of the leads, so there was a reshoot of about 75 percent of the pilot with our new Andi, Liza Snyder. My job was to integrate the new scenes with the old. It was interesting to preserve the pace and feel of the original and to be free to bring my own spin to the show.

The workflow of the show is pretty fast since there’s only one editor on a traditional audience sitcom. I usually put a show together in two to three days, then work with the producers for one to two days, and then send a pretty finished cut to the studio/network.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an editor on a traditional half-hour comedy?
One big challenge is managing two to three episodes at a time — assembling one show while doing producer or studio/network notes on another, as well as having to cut preshot playbacks for show night, which can be anywhere from three to eight minutes of material that has to be cut pretty quickly.

Another challenge is the live audience laughter. It’s definitely a unique part of this kind of show. I worked on How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) for nine years without an audience, so I could completely control the pacing. I added fake laughs that fit the performances and things like that. When I came back to a live audience show, I realized the audience is a big part of the way the performances are shaped. I’ve learned all kinds of ways to manipulate the laughs and, hopefully, still preserve the spontaneous live energy of the show.

How would you compare cutting comedy to drama?
I haven’t done much drama, but I feel like the pace of comedy is faster in every regard, and I really enjoy working at a fast pace. Also, as opposed to a drama or anything shot single-camera, the coverage on a multi-cam show is pretty straightforward, so it’s really all about performance and pacing. There’s not a lot of music in a multi-cam, but you spend a lot of time working with the audience tracks.

What role would you say an editor has in helping to make a “bit” land in a half-hour comedy?
It’s performance, timing and camera choices — and when it works, it feels great. I’m always amazed at how changing an edit by a frame or two can make something pop. Same goes for playing something wider or closer depending on the situation.

MWAP is shot before a live studio audience. How does that affect your rhythm?
The audience definitely affects the rhythm of the show. I try to preserve the feeling of the laughs and still keep the show moving. A really long laugh is great on show night, but usually we cut it down a bit and play off more reactions. The actors on MWAP are great because they really know how to “ride” the laughs and not break character. I love watching great comedic actors, like the cast of I Love Lucy, for example, who were incredible at holding for laughs. It’s a real asset and very helpful to the editor.

Can you describe your process? And what system do you edit the show on?
I’ve always used the Avid Media Composer. Dabbled with Final Cut, but prefer Avid. I assemble the whole show in one sequence and go scene by scene. I watch all of the takes of a scene and make choices for each section or sometimes for each line. Then I chunk the scene together, sometimes putting in two choices for a line or area. I then cut into the big pieces to select the cameras for each shot. After that, I go back and find the rhythm of the scene — tightening the pace, cutting into the laughs and smoothing them.

After the show is put together, I go back and watch the whole thing again, pretending that I’ve never seen it, which is a challenge. That makes me adjust it even more. I try to send out a pretty polished first cut, without cutting any dialogue to show the producers everything, which seems to make the whole process go faster. I’m lucky that the directors on MWAP are very seasoned and don’t really give me many notes. Jimmy Burrows and Pam Fryman have directed almost all of the episodes, and I don’t send out a separate cut to either of them. Particularly with Pam, as I’ve worked with her for about 11 years, so we have a nice shorthand.

How do assistant editors work into the mix?
My assistant, Dan “Steely” Esparza, is incredible! He allows me to show up to work every day and not think about anything other than cutting the show. He’s told me, even though I always ask, that he prefers not to be an editor, so I don’t push him in that direction. He is excellent at visual effects and enjoys them, so I always have him do those. On HIMYM, we had quite a lot of visual effects, so he was pretty busy there. But on MWAP, it’s mostly rough composites for blue/greenscreen scenes and painting out errant boom shadows, boom mics and parts of people.

Your work on HIMYM was highly lauded. What are some of your favorite “editing” moments from that show and what were some of the biggest challenges they threw at you?
I really loved working on that show — every episode was unique, and it really gave me opportunities to grow as an editor. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were amazing problem solvers. They were able to look at the footage and make something completely different out of it if need be. I remember times when a scene wasn’t working or was too long, and they would write some narration, record the temp themselves, and then we’d throw some music over it and make it into a montage.

Some of the biggest editing challenges were the music videos/sequences that were incorporated into episodes. There were three complete Robin Sparkles videos and many, many other musical pieces, almost always written by Carter and Craig. In “P.S. I Love You,” they incorporated her last video into kind of a Canadian Behind the Music about the demise of Robin Sparkles, and that was pretty epic for a sitcom. The gigantic “Subway Wars” was another big challenge, in that it had 85 “scenelets.” It was a five-way race around Manhattan to see who could get to a restaurant where Woody Allen was supposedly eating first, with each person using a different mode of transportation. Crazy fun and also extremely challenging to fit into a sitcom schedule.

You started in the business as a classical musician. How does your experience as a professional violinist influence your work as an editor?
I think the biggest thing is having a good feeling for the rhythm of whatever I’m working on. I love to be able to change the tempo and to make something really pop. And when asked to change the pacing or cut sections out, when doing various people’s notes, being able to embrace that too. Collaborating is a big part of being a musician, and I think that’s helped me a lot in working with the different personalities. It’s not unlike responding to a conductor or playing chamber music. Also having an understanding of phrasing and the overall structure of a piece is valuable, even though it was musical phrasing and structure, it’s not all that different.

Obviously, whenever there’s actual music involved, I feel pretty comfortable handling it or choosing the right piece for a scene. If classical music’s involved, I have a great deal of knowledge that can be helpful. For example, in HIMYM, we needed something to be a theme for Barney’s Playbook antics. I tried a few things, and we landed on the Mozart Rondo Alla Turca, which I’ve been hearing lately in the Progresso Soup commercials.

How did you make the transition from the concert hall to the editing room?
It’s a long story! I was playing in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and was feeling stuck. I was lucky enough to find an amazing career counseling organization that helped me open my mind to all kinds of possibilities, and they helped me to discover the perfect job for me. It was quite a journey, but the main thing was to be open to anything and identify the things about myself that I wanted to use. I learned that I loved music (but not playing the violin), puzzles, stories and organizing — so editing!

I sold a bow, took the summer off from playing and enrolled in a summer production workshop at USC. I wasn’t quite ready to move to LA, so I went back to San Francisco and began interning at a small commercial editing house. I was answering phones, emptying the dishwasher, getting coffees and watching the editing, all while continuing to play in the Ballet Orchestra. The people were great and gave me opportunities to learn whenever possible. Luckily for me, they were using the Avid before it came to TV and features. Eventually, there was a very rough documentary that one of the editors wanted to cut, but it wasn’t organized. They gave me the key to the office and said, “You want to be an editor? Organize this!” So I did, and they started offering me assistant work on commercials. But I wanted to cut features, so I started to make little trips to LA to meet anybody I could.

Bill Steinberg, an editor working in the Universal Syndication department who I met at USC, got me hooked up with an editor who was to be one of Roger Corman’s first Avid editors. The Avids didn’t arrive right away, but he helped me put my name in the hat to be an assistant the next time. It happened, and I was on my way! I took a sabbatical from the orchestra, went down to LA, and worked my tail off for $400 a week on three low-budget features. I was in heaven. I had enough hours to join the union as an assistant, but I needed money to pay the admission fee. So I went back to San Francisco and played one month of Nutcrackers to cover the fee, and then I took another year sabbatical. Bill offered me a month position in the syndication department to fill in for him, and show the film editors what I knew about the Avid.

Eventually Andy Chulack, the editor of Coach, was looking for an Avid assistant, and I was recommended because I knew it. Andy hired me and took me under his wing, and I absolutely loved it. I guess the upshot is, I was fearlessly naive and knew the Avid!

What do you love most about being an editor?
I love the variation of material and people that I get to work with, and I like being able to take time to refine things. I don’t have to play it live anymore!

Chatting with Scorsese’s go-to editor Thelma Schoonmaker

By Iain Blair

Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese go together like Lennon and McCartney, or Ben and Jerry. It’s hard to imagine one without the other.

Simply put, Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor and key collaborator over the course of 23 films and half a century, winning Oscars for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed. Now 77, she also recently received a career achievement award at the American Cinema Editors’ 67th Eddie Awards.

She cut Scorsese’s first feature, Who’s that Knocking at My Door, and since Raging Bull has worked on all of his feature films, including such classics as The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, New York Stories, GoodFellas (which earned her another Oscar nomination), Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundun, Gangs of New York (another Oscar nomination), Shutter Island, Hugo (another Oscar nomination) and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Their most recent collaboration was Silence, Scorsese’s underrated and powerful epic, which is now available via Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

A 28-year passion project that reinforces Scorsese’s place in the pantheon of great directors, Silence tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) at a time when Christianity was outlawed. When they are captured and imprisoned, both men are plunged into an odyssey that will test their faith, challenge their sanity and, perhaps, risk their very lives

I recently talked with Schoonmaker about cutting Silence, working with Scorsese, and their long and storied collaboration.

Silence must have been very challenging to cut as it’s very long and could easily have ended up being a bit slow and boring.
(Laughs) You’re right! It was one of the things we were most concerned about from the start, as it’s a very meditative film. It’s nothing like his last films, Hugo and Wolf of Wall Street, and it couldn’t be more different.

Wolf had all the crazy stuff and the wild humor and improvisation, but with Silence Marty wanted to make an entirely different movie from the way most movies are made today. So that was a very brave commitment, I think, and it was difficult to find the right balance and the right pace. We experimented a great deal with just how slow it could be, without losing the audience.

Even the film’s opening scene was a major challenge. It’s very slow and sets the tone before the film even starts, with just the cicadas on the soundtrack. It tells you, slow down from our crazy lives, just feel what’s going on and engage with it. The minimal score is all part of that. It’s not telling the audience what to think, as scores usually do. He wanted the audience to decide what they feel and think, and he was adamant about starting the film off like that, which was also brave.

It feels far closer to The Age of Innocence in terms of its pacing than his more recent films.
Yes, and that was definitely a big part of its appeal for him, as it’s set in another country and also another century, so Marty wanted the film to be very meditative, and the pace of it had to reflect all that. Along with that, he was able to examine his religious concerns and interests, which he couldn’t do so much in other films. They were always there, but here they’re up front.

Did you stay in New York cutting while he shot in Taiwan, or did you visit the set?
I was in Taipei while they shot, working on the dailies, but I didn’t go on set as the locations they used were very arduous — up these steep mountains — and it took two hours just to get up there. There was bad weather and mud, wind, mosquitoes and snakes. Really, I just didn’t have the time to go on set, so I never got to see the great beauty of Taiwan, since I was back in Taipei in my editing room.

I do go on sets sometimes, and I love to visit and watch Marty work with the actors, and it’s always fun to be on the set, but as an editor, I also want to be unbiased when I sit down and watch footage. I don’t want to have my eye prejudiced by what I see on set and how difficult it might be to get a particular shot. That has nothing at all to do with my job.

How long did it take to edit?
Almost a year, but we had a couple of interruptions. Marty had to finish up his show for HBO, Vinyl, and then there was a family illness. But I love having that much time. Most editors simply don’t get to live with a film that long, and you really have to in order to understand it and understand what it’s saying to you. You’re editing the work of 250 people, and you have to respect that. You shouldn’t have to rush it.

Last time we talked, you were using Lightworks to edit. Do you use Avid now?
No, I still use Lightworks, and I still prefer it. It’s what I was trained on during the early days of digital editing, and it’s used a lot in Europe. Our first digital film was Casino, and back then Lightworks sent a computer expert to train me, and I’ve loved it ever since because it has a controller that is like the old flatbed editing machines and I love that — you can customize it very easily. It also has this button that allows me to throw stuff out of sync and experiment more, and that’s not available on Avid. So I’ve been editing on Lightworks ever since Casino.

When I last interviewed Marty, he told me that editing and post are his favorite parts of filmmaking. When you both sit down to edit it must be like having two editors in the room rather than a director and his editor?
It’s exactly like that. I do the first cut, but then once he comes in after the shoot we make every decision together. He’s a brilliant editor, and he taught me everything I know about editing— I knew nothing when we started together. He also thinks like an editor, unlike many directors. When he’s writing and then shooting, he’s always thinking about how it’ll cut together. Some directors shoot a lot of stuff, but does it cut together? Marty knows all that and what coverage he needs. He’s a genius, and such a knowledgeable person to be around every day.

You’ve been Marty’s editor since his very first film, back in 1967 — a 50-year collaboration. What’s the secret?
I think it’s that we’re true collaborators. He’s such an editing director, and we know each other so well by now, but it’s always fresh and interesting. There are no ego battles. Every film’s different, with different challenges, and he’s always curious, always learning, always open to new experiences. I feel very fortunate.

What’s next?
Right now I’m working on the diaries of my husband, (famed British director) Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus), and then Marty and I will start The Irishman later in the summer. It’s all about elderly gangsters, with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It’s exciting.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Rick Pearson on cutting Kong: Skull Island

By Randi Altman

Who doesn’t love a good King Kong movie? And who says a good King Kong movie has to have the hairy giant climbing the Empire State Building, lady in hand?

The Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed Kong: Skull Island, which had an incredible opening weekend at the box office — and is still going strong — tells the story of a 1973 military expedition to map out an island where in 1944 two downed pilots happened upon a huge monster. What could possibly go wrong?

Editor Rick Pearson, who was originally set to come on board for 10 weeks during the Director’s Cut process to help with digital effects turnovers, ended up seeing the project through to the end. Pearson came on during the last third of production, as the crew was heading off to Vietnam.

The process was already in place where rough cuts were shared on the PIX system for the director’s review. That seemed to be work well, he says.

To find out more about the process, I recently touched base with Pearson, who at the time of our interview was in Budapest editing a film about the origin of Robin Hood. He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his work and workflow on Kong: Skull Island, which in addition to Vietnam shot in Hawaii and Australia.

Would director Vogt-Roberts get you notes? Did he give you any direction in terms of the cut?
Yes, he would give very specific notes via PIX. He would drop the equivalent of locators or markers on sequences that I would send him and say, “Could you maybe try a close-up here?” Or “Could you try this or that?” They were very concise, so that was helpful. Eventually, though, you get to a point where you really need to be in a room together to explore options.

There are a lot of visual effects in the film. Can you talk about how that affected your edit and workflow?
Some of the sequences were quite evolved in terms of previsualization that had been done a year or more prior. Then there was a combination of previs, storyboards and some sequences, one in particular had kind of a loose set of storyboards and some previs, but then the set piece was evolving as we were working.

The production was headed to Vietnam and there was a lot of communication between myself, Jordan and the producers about trying to nail down the structure of this set piece so they would know what to shoot in terms of plates, because it was a battle that largely took place between Kong and one of the creatures of the island — it was a lot of plate work.

Would you say that that was the most difficult sequence to work on, or is there another more challenging sequence that you could point to?
I think they were all challenging. For me, that last sequence, which we called the “Final Battle” was challenging in there was not a lot that was nailed down. There were some beats we knew we wanted to try to play, but it sort of kept evolving. I enjoy working on these kinds of films with those types of sequences because they’re so malleable. It’s a fun sandbox to play in because, to an extent, you’re limited only by your imagination.

Still, you’re committing a lot of money, time and resources, so you need to look down field as far as you can to say, “This is the right direction and we’re all on the same page.” It’s a big, slow-moving, giant cargo ship that takes a long time to course-correct. You want to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, or at least as close as you can be, when you start going down those roads.

Any other shots that stand out?
There was one thing that was kind of a novelty on this picture — and I know that it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it was the first time for me. We had some pretty extensive re-shoots, but our cast was kind of spread all over the globe. In one of the re-shoots, we needed a conversation to happen in a bar between three of the characters, Tom Hiddelston, John Goodman and Cory Hawkins. None of them were available at the same time or in the same city.

The scene was going to the three of them sitting down at a table having a conversation where John Goodman’s character offers Tom Hiddelston’s character a job as their guide to take them to Skull Island. I think it was Goodman’s character that was shot first. We show Goodman’s side of the table in New York with that side of the bar behind him and an empty chair beside him. Then we shot Hawkin’s character by himself in front of a greenscreen sitting in a chair reacting to Goodman and delivering his dialogue. Lastly, we shot Hiddelston in LA with that side of the bar and overs with doubles. It all came together, and I thought, “I don’t think anybody would have a clue that none of these people were in the same room at the same time.” It was kind of a Rubik’s Cube… an editorial bit of sleight of hand that worked in the end.


You worked with other editors on the film, correct?
Yes, editor Bob Murawski helped me tremendously; he ended up taking over my original role, which was during the Director’s Cut. Bob came on to help split up these really demanding visual effects sequence turnovers every two weeks. We had to keep on it to make the release date.

Murawski was a huge help, but so was the addition of Josh Schaeffer, who had worked with Jordan in the past. He was one of the additional editors on Jordan’s Kings of Summer (2013). Jordan had shot a lot of material — it wasn’t necessarily montage-based, but we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to work in the picture. We knew that he had a long-standing relationship with Josh and was comfortable with him. Bob said, “While we’re in the middle of a Director’s Cut and you and I are trying to feed this giant visual effects beast, there’s also this whole other aspect that Jordan and Josh could really focus on.” Josh was a really big help in getting us through the process. Both Bob and Josh were very big assets to me.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
I’ve had the same first assistant, Sean Thompson, for about 12 years. Unfortunately, he’s not with me here in Budapest. I took this film after the original editor dropped out for health reasons. Sean has a young family, and 15 weeks in Budapest and then another 12 weeks in London just wasn’t possible for him.

How did you work with Sean on Skull Island?
He’s a terrific manager of the cutting room in terms of discerning the needs of other departments, be it digital effects, music or sound. I lean on him to let me know what I absolutely need to know, and he takes care of the rest. That’s one of the roles he serves, and he’s bulletproof.

I also rely on him creatively. He’s tremendous with his sound work and very good at looking at cuts with me and giving his feedback. I throw him scenes to cut as much as I can, but sometimes on films like this there are so many other demands as a manager.

You use Avid Media Composer. Any special keyboard mappings, or other types of work you provide?
As a feature film editor my main objective is to make sure that the story and the characters are firing on all cylinders. I’m not particularly interested in how far I can push the box technically.

I’ve mapped the keyboard to what I’m comfortable with, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s particularly sophisticated. I try to do as much as I can on the keyboard so that I keep the
pointing and clicking to a minimum.

You edit a lot of action films. Is that just because people say, “He does action,” or is that your favorite kind of film to cut?
It’s interesting you should say that… the first Hollywood feature I cut was Bowfinger, which is comedy. I hadn’t cut any comedy before that and suddenly I was the comedy editor. I found it ironic because everything I had done prior was action-based television, music videos and commercials. I’ve always loved cutting action and juxtaposing images in a way that tells a story that’s not necessarily being told verbally. It’s not just like, “Wow, look at how much stuff is blowing up and that’s amazing how many cars are involved.” It’s actually character-based and story-driven.

I also really enjoy comedy. There is quite a lot of comedy in Kong, so it’s nice to flex that muscle too. I’ve tried very hard to not get pigeonholed.

So you are knee-deep in this Robin Hood film?
I sure am! I wasn’t planning on getting back on to another film quite so quickly, but I was very intrigued by both the director and script. As I mentioned earlier, they had an editor slated for the picture but unfortunately she fell ill just weeks prior to the start of production. So suddenly, here I am.

The added bonus is you get to play in Europe for a bit.
Yes, actually, I’m sitting here in my apartment. I have a laptop and an additional monitor and I’ve been cutting scenes. I have a lovely view of the parliament building, which is on the Danube. It’s a beautiful domed building that’s lit up every night until midnight. It’s really kind of cool.

Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

By Dayna McCallum

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.