Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

Arrival, La La Land among winners at 67th ACE Eddies

The ACE Eddies, the awards celebrating the best in editing — and voted on by editors themselves — took place last week at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Arrival (edited by Joe Walker, ACE) won Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic) and La La Land (edited by Tom Cross, ACE) won Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy). During the 67th Annual ACE Eddie Awards, trophies were handed out recognizing the best editing of 2016 in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

ACE President Stephen Rivkin, ACE, presided over the evening’s festivities with actress Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) serving as the evening’s host.

Director/producer J.J. Abrams received the organization’s prestigious ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year honor, which was presented to him by friend and collaborator Jeff Garlin. Abrams joins an impressive list of filmmakers who have received ACE’s highest honor, including Norman Jewison, Nancy Meyers, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Robert Zemeckis, Alexander Payne, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Frank Marshall and Richard Donner, among others.

Janet Ashikaga, ACE, and Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE, were presented with Career Achievement awards by Thomas Schlamme and Martin Scorsese, respectively. Their work was highlighted with clip reels exhibiting their tremendous contributions to film and television throughout their careers.

Other presenters at the ACE Eddie Awards included Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes, Fences stars Mykelti Williamson and Saniyya Sidney, This Is Us actress Chrissy Metz and actor Tim Matheson.

Arrival editor Joe Walker, ACE

A full list of winners follows:


Joe Walker, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

Fabienne Rawley & Jeremy Milton

O.J.: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski

Everything Is Copy – Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

Veep editor Steven Rasch, ACE.

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

This Is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Senegal”
Mustafa Bhagat

Main Image: La La Land editor Tom Cross, ACE

ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Jeff Draheim, ACE

Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton


Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Eli B. Despres

The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo

Creating and tracking roaches for Hulu’s 11.22.63

By Randi Altman

Looking for something fun and compelling to watch while your broadcast shows are on winter break? You might want to try Hulu’s original eight-part miniseries 11.22.63, which the streaming channel released last February.

It comes with a pretty impressive pedigree — it’s based on a Stephen King novel, it’s executive produced by J.J. Abrams, it stars Oscar-nominee James Franco (127 Hours) and it’s about JFK’s assassination and includes time travel. C’mon!

The plot involves Franco’s character traveling back to 1960 in an effort to stop JFK’s assassination, but just as he makes headway, he feels the past pushing back in some dangerous, and sometimes gross, ways.

Bruce Branit

In the series pilot, Franco’s character, Jack Epping, is being chased by Kennedy’s security after he tries to sneak into a campaign rally. He ducks in a storage room to hide, but he’s already ticked off the past, which slowly serves him up a room filled with cockroaches that swarm him. The sequence is a slow build, with roaches crawling out, covering the floor and then crawling up him.

I’m not sure if Franco has a no-roach clause in his contract (I would), but in order to have control over these pests, it was best to create them digitally. This is where Bruce Branit, owner of BranitFX in Kansas City, Missouri came in. Yes, you read that right, Kansas City, and his resume is impressive. He is a frequent collaborator with Jay Worth, Bad Robot’s VFX supervisor.

So for this particular scene, BranitFX had one or two reference shots, which they used to create a roach brush via Photoshop. Once the exact look was determined regarding the amount of attacking roaches, they animated it in 3D and and composited. They then used 2D and 3D tracking tools to track Franco while the cockroaches swarmed all over him.

Let’s find out more from Bruce Branit.

How early did you get involved in that episode? How much input did you have in how it would play out?
For this show, there wasn’t a lot of lead time. I came on after shooting was done and there was a rough edit. I don’t think the edit changed a lot after we started.

What did the client want from the scene, and how did you go about accomplishing that?
VFX supervisor Jay Worth and I have worked together on a lot of shows. We’d done some roaches for an episode of Almost Human, and also I think for Fringe, so we had some similar assets and background with talking “roach.” The general description was tons of roaches crawling on James Franco.

Did you do previs?
Not really. I rendered about 10 angles of the roach we had previously worked with and made Adobe Photoshop brushes out of each frame. I used that to paint up a still of each shot to establish a baseline for size, population and general direction of the roaches in each of the 25 or so shots in the sequence.

Did you have to play with the movements a lot, or did it all just come together?
We developed a couple base roach walks and behaviors and then populated each scene with instances of that. This changed depending on whether we needed them crossing the floor, hanging on a light fixture or climbing on Franco’s suit. The roach we had used in the past was similar to what the producers on 11.22.63 had in mind. We made a few minor modifications with texture and modeling. Some of this affected the rig we’d built so a lot of the animations had to be rebuilt.

Can you talk about your process/workflow?
This sequence was shot in anamorphic and featured a constantly flashing light on the set going from dark emergency red lighting to brighter florescent lights. So I generated unsqueezed lens distortion, removed and light mitigated interim plates to pull all of our 2D and 3D tracking off of. The tracking was broken into 2D, 3D and 3D tracking by hand involving roaches on Franco’s body as he turns and swats at them in a panic. The production had taped large “Xs” on his jacket to help with this roto-tracking, but those two had to be painted out for many shots prior to the roaches reaching Franco.

The shots were tracked in Fusion Studio for 2D and SynthEyes for 3D. A few shots were also tracked in PFTrack.

The 3D roach assets were animated and rendered in NewTek LightWave. Passes for the red light and white light conditions were rendered as well as ambient show and specular passes. Although we were now using tracking plates with the 2:1 anamorphic stretch removed, a special camera was created in LightWave that was actually double the anamorphic squeeze to duplicate the vertical booked and DOF from an anamorphic lens. The final composite was completed in Blackmagic Fusion Studio using the original anamorphic plates.

What was the biggest challenge you faced working on this scene?
Understanding the anamorphic workflow was a new challenge. Luckily, I had just completed a short project of my own called Bully Mech that was shot with Lomo anamorphic lenses. So I had just recently developed some familiarity and techniques to deal with the unusual lens attributes of those lenses. Let’s just say they have a lot of character. I talked with a lot of cinematographer friends to try to understand how the lenses behaved and why they stretched the out-of-focus element vertically while the image was actually stretched the other way.

What are you working on now?
I‘ve wrapped up a small amount of work on Westworld and a handful of shots on Legends of Tomorrow. I’ve been directing some television commercials the last few months and just signed a development deal on the Bully Mech project I mentioned earlier.

We are making a sizzle reel of the short that expands the scope of the larger world and working with concept designers and a writer to flush out a feature film pitch. We should be going out with the project early next year.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ editors weigh in on the cut

J.J. Abrams called on trusted, long-time collaborators for his newest film.

By Brady Betzel

Star Wars fever! Who’s got it? From where I sit, almost everyone — from the long-time fan to the newbies discovering the franchise for the first time. I fit somewhere in the middle. Up until recently I hadn’t seen the original three Star Wars, only the prequels, but thanks to my four-year-old son’s interest in the new action figures we got to experience the first three together, followed quickly by a viewing of the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

When my family walked out of the theater, my son asked when the next one was coming out, and my wife wanted to see it again! So when Randi Altman approached me to interview the editors of The Force Awakens, I jumped out of my chair, screaming, yes! As a working editor, mostly cutting TV fare, I was very interested in their story and process.


I spoke to editors Mary Jo Markey and Maryann Brandon —  who joined our call half way through — as well as associate editor Julian Smirke, who offered up a great Avid shortcut for any editor or assistant editor that deals with conforming different types of audio. Matt Evans, another associate editor, wasn’t available for the interview. Both Markey and Brandon have worked with Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams before on his TV series and films, such as the Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises.

When talking to the editors, I was taken with an overwhelming and poignant feeling that enveloped me in a way; it was a sense of comfort and family that extended beyond our phone call to the set and production process. The best way to explain it is by using this example: I asked the editors how they would approach director Abrams if they had ideas on re-shoots or story points, and they all responded in kind: J.J. listens to everyone! If he had signed off on a scene but the editors felt something was missing, they still felt empowered to go in and address their concerns. This is a director who truly values the input of his editors.

Without any further ado here are highlights from our conversation.

Did you do anything special to prepare for editing this film as opposed to other films you have worked on with J.J.? Or did you walk in and say, “Let’s go”?
Mary Jo: I don’t think you can really cut in an authentic way while trying to imitate something else; we still cut the way we cut. Stylistically the only thing we did keep were the soft wipes between scenes. For me, I really don’t try and impose a style on material; the material kind of tells you what to do in a way.


Mary Jo Markey

How do you decide who edits what? Do you divide the movie scene by scene or pick and choose what you want?
Mary Jo: We divided up the script according to page count and did it in very large pieces so we had a good run at a section. That way when J.J. was editing with us he didn’t have to be bouncing back and forth between rooms. I cut the beginning and end of the film and Maryann cut the large middle section. We also watched the dailies together and talked about the movie incessantly.

While cutting we would go to each other’s bays and talk about things we are surprised by and what we weren’t sure was working. We would ask questions like, “Why do you think he did it that way?” or, “What do you think that performance is getting at?” If we are really confused about something, which doesn’t happen much, we have a direct line to J.J. on set. But for the most part we do our own thing and come together after they are done shooting.

How close were you behind shooting when watching dailies?
Mary Jo: We were a day behind shooting.

If something wasn’t working, were you able to re-evaluate and re-do?
Mary Jo: Actually, that did happen. It happened in part because Harrison Ford broke his ankle on set, which we all felt really bad about. We shot all we could without him on set, but unfortunately, he still wasn’t able to come back, so we took about a three-week hiatus. During that time, J.J. was able to sit back and see what he already had and how it was working. There were two things re-conceived during that period: Rey and Finn’s initial meeting in the trader’s tent and Harrison and Chewie’s first interaction with Rey and Finn.

lex0040.x1.trl3_088838.v01    Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you ever look at your sequence and have to “kill your darlings,” if you know what I mean?
Mary Jo: It was more like killing beats that we liked — there were some little jokes that got lifted. We are all really committed, J.J. in particular, to getting our films down to two hours if possible, so if things weren’t working or weren’t absolutely necessary they were lifted out of our sequence. We all have had to lose something that we really liked, but we always knew we needed to be clear-eyed about what we needed. I don’t think there is anything not in the film that I regret it not being in the film.

Maryann: There were a few whole scenes that we took out. So while they were fun scenes, they didn’t really advance the story or take the characters where we wanted them to go. There were times when we cut a little extra moment or a little extra joke, but there were scenes that J.J. thought weren’t working and we thought were, but in the end we all needed to agree a scene was working. Sometimes we would even dive back into a scene that J.J. had signed off on because we still thought we could do better.

So you have no problems going back into a scene and re-presenting it to him even if he already “approved” it?
Mary Jo: No, he takes it very seriously if we don’t think a scene is working, even if he has approved it. We have a great working relationship and we always feel heard and considered. He takes it very seriously if we are unhappy or dissatisfied about something.

Clearly, there was a great story being told in this movie, was the motto always story first?
Maryann: That was our aim. Even in the heavy action sequences if you don’t know who’s doing what or where they are going, then the action scene isn’t as enjoyable.

Maryann Brandon

Maryann Brandon

What systems were you working on, and what codec were you working with in the offline edit?
Julian: We worked on eight Avid Media Composer 7 stations with ScriptSync, and eventually Avid Media Composer 8.4 alongside an ISIS 5000. We had an offline working resolution of DNxHD 115. On previous films we worked in DNxHD 36, but with Star Wars we jumped to 115, which worked and looked great for our needs.

Did you ever do any work in other programs such as After Effects?
Julian: We worked with our VFX editor Martin Kloner, who primarily worked in Media Composer. Once we were further along in the process, the VFX were sent out to various vendors like ILM but also Kelvin Optical, who were especially helpful because they worked out of Bad Robot where we worked.

Maryann: It was invaluable to have someone like Martin do temp VFX, speed ramps, split screens, or backgrounds — anything we could do to simulate the end product would help when watching various cuts tremendously.

Do you edit with keyboard, mouse, Wacom tablet, etc?
Maryann: Mary Jo and I use a keyboard and mouse, but also a Logitech controller.

Julian: I use keyboard and Wacom tablet, but when I really need to speed up I’ll jump back to the keyboard and mouse, which seems to work faster for me.

Julian, since you are technically an associate editor on The Force Awakens, have you been able to edit scenes and work in a creative position more than just wrangling data?
Julian: So, technically, I have been the first assistant editor along with Matt, but with Star Wars — more so than previous films because of Maryann and Mary Jo’s generosity — I’ve been given more creative input. We get to sit in the rooms and be apart of the creative process. Sometimes we make suggestions and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t (Julian laughs a little here), but everyone is very supportive and it’s nothing more than trying to make a scene better.Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I was an assistant editor for a while, and it’s great to see editors like you — Maryann and Mary Jo — keeping the traditional sense of an assistant editor alive.
Mary Jo: Matt has been my first assistant since Super 8, and he’s just incredibly valuable to show a cut to. If he says something isn’t working I have to believe him because it always turns out to be true.

Maryann: It’s great to have someone like Julian involved before it goes out to the bigger world, meaning J.J.; it’s great to bounce ideas off of someone you have a short hand with.

Julian, how did it make you feel to that kind of creative input on something like Star Wars?
Julian: It’s amazing; a dream come true! Matt and I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes if Maryann is slammed with dailies, I can grab a scene and assemble it for her so she can use that as a starting point. To learn from these great and talented editors is a dream come true.

Julian, could you describe how your time is divided?
Julian: It’s hard to describe precisely, because it depends on where in the process we are. During dailies it’s very labor intensive with grouping multiple cameras and syncing sound, or even just dealing with the huge amount of footage that comes in. You need to make sure all of your technical work is solid so it doesn’t become a problem a year and a half away.


So you and Matt were responsible for syncing sound?
Julian: Yes. So we shot primarily on 35mm film, and the telecine facility didn’t receive sound. Matt and I grouped and synced sound and every take manually and then prepped dailies for Maryann and Mary Jo. Once we finished with the more technical side with dailies we could move more into the creative side with temp sound design, 5.1 mix and such.

Do you have any favorite Avid shortcuts?
Mary Jo: Copy to Source monitor.

Maryann: Fit-to-Fill for quick speed ramps.

Julian: Because I live so much in the sound world with temp sound design, I would have to go with Option + Command + U, which allows you to insert any type of audio track in between other tracks. During large scenes like the Falcon chase we would use up to 20 tracks or more and need to insert a stereo track into the middle of that with that shortcut.

Mary Jo: I feel like we should have a meeting about all of this because I don’t know the ones you are talking about!

Maryann: Me too, I was like copy? We can copy?

Mary Jo: We’re going to have put a pamphlet together.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously, he was editing The Real World at Bunim-Murray Productions. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.