Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

Maryanne Brandon’s path, and editing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

By Amy Leland

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a fan of both the Star Wars world and the work of J.J. Abrams for a very long time. I saw Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope  in the theaters with my big brother when I was five years old, and we were hooked. I don’t remember a time in my life without Star Wars. And I have been a fan of all of Abrams’ work, starting with Felicity. Periodically, I go back and rewatch Felicity, Alias and Lost. I was, in fact, in the middle of Season 2 of Alias and had already purchased my ticket for The Rise of Skywalker when I was assigned this interview.

As a female editor, I have looked up to Maryann Brandon, ACE, and Mary Jo Markey, ACE — longtime Abrams collaborators — for years. A chance to speak with Brandon was more than a little exciting. After getting the fangirl out of my system at the start of the interview, we had a wonderful conversation about her incredible career and this latest Star Wars offering.

After working in the world of indie film in New York City after NYU film school, Brandon has not only been an important part of J.J. Abrams’ world — serving as a primary editor on Alias, and then on Mission Impossible III, Super 8 and two films each in the Star Trek and Star Wars worlds — but has also edited The Jane Austen Book Club, How to Train Your Dragon and Venom, among others.

Maryann Brandon

Let’s dig a bit deeper with Brandon…

How did your path to editing begin?
I started in college, but I wasn’t really editing. I was just a member of the film society. I was recruited by the NYU Graduate Film program in 1981 because they wanted women in the program. And I thought, it’s that or working on Wall Street, and I wasn’t really that great with the money or numbers. I chose film school.

I had no idea what it was going to be like because I don’t come from a film background or a film family. I just grew up loving films. I ended up spending three years just running around Manhattan, making movies with everyone, and everyone did every job. Then, when I got out of school, I had to finish my thesis film, and there was no one to edit it for me. So I ended up editing it myself. I started to meet people in the business because New York was very close. I got offered a paid position in editing, and I stayed.

I met and worked for some really incredible people along the way. I worked as a second assistant on the Francis Ford Coppola film The Cotton Club. I went from that to working as a first assistant on Richard Attenborough’s version of A Chorus Line. I was sent to London and got swept up in the editing part of it. I like telling stories. It became the thing I did. And that’s how it happened.

Who inspired you in those early days?
I was highly influenced by Dede Allen. She was this matriarch of New York at that time, and I was so blown away by her and her personality. I mean, her work spoke for itself, but she was also this incredible person. I think it’s my nature anyway, but I learned from her early on an approach of kindness and caring. I think that’s part of why I stayed in the cutting room.

On set, things tend to become quite fraught sometimes when you’re trying to make something happen, but the cutting room is this calm place of reality, and you could figure stuff out. She was very influential to me, and she was such a kind, caring person. She cared about everyone in the cutting room, and she took time to talk to everyone.

There was also John Bloom, who was the editor on A Chorus Line. We became very close, and he always used to call me over to see what he was doing. I learned tons from him. In those days, we cut on film, so it was running through your fingers.

The truth is everyone I meet influences me a bit. I am fascinated by each person’s approach and why they see things the way they do.

While your resume is eclectic, you’ve worked on many sci-fi and action films. Was that something you were aiming for, or did it happen by chance?
I was lucky enough to meet J.J. Abrams, and I was lucky enough to get on Alias, which was not something I thought I’d want to do. Then I did it because it seemed to suit me at the time. It was a bit of faith and a bit of, “Oh, that makes sense for you, because you grew up loving Twilight Zone and Star Trek.”

Of course, I’d love to do more drama. I did The Jane Austen Book Club and other films like that. One does tend to get sort of suddenly identified as, now I’m the expert on sci-fi and visual effects. Also, I think because there aren’t a lot of women who do that, it’s probably something people notice. But I’d love to do a good comedy. I’d love to do something like Jumanji, which I think is hilarious.

How did this long and wonderful collaboration with J.J. Abrams get started?
Well, my kids were getting older. It was getting harder and harder for me to go on location with the nanny, the dog, the nanny’s kids, my kids, set up a third grade class and figure out how to do it all. A friend of mine who was a producer on Felicity had originally tried to get me to work on that show. She said, “You’ll love J.J. You’ll love (series creator) Matt Reeves. Come and just meet us.” I just thought television is such hard work.

Then he was starting this new show, Alias. My friend said, “You’re going to love it. Just meet him.” And I did. Honestly, I went to an interview with him, and I spent an hour basically laughing at every joke he told me. I thought, “This guy’s never going to hire me.” But he said, “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.” That’s how it started.

What was that like?
Alias was so much fun. I didn’t work on Felicity, which was more of a straightforward drama about a college girl growing up. Alias was this crazy, complicated, action-filled show, but also a girl trying to grow up. It was all of those things. It was classic J.J. It was a challenge, and it was really fun because we all discovered it together. There were three other female editors who are amazing — Mary Jo Markey, Kristin Windell, and Virginia Katz — and there was J.J. and Ken Olin, who was a producer in residence there and director. We just found the show together, and that was really fun.

How has your collaboration with J.J. changed over time?
It’s changed in terms of the scope of a project and what we have to do. And, obviously, the level of conflict and communication is pretty easy because we’ve known each other for so long. There’s not a lot of barriers like, “Hey, I’m trying to get to know you. What do I…?” We just jump right in. Over the years, it’s changed a bit.

On The Rise of Skywalker, I cut this film with a different co-editor. Mary Jo [Markey, Brandon’s longtime co-editor] was doing something else at the time, so I ended up working with Stefan Grube. The way I had worked with Mary Jo was we would divide up the film. She’d do her thing and I’d do mine. But because these films are so massive, I prefer not to divide it up, but instead have both of us work on whatever needs working on at the time to get it done. I proposed this to J.J., and it worked out great. Everything got cut immediately and we got together periodically to ask him what he thought.

Another thing that changed was, because we needed to turn over our visual effects really quickly, I proposed that I cut on the set, on location, when they were shooting. At first J.J. was like, “We’ve never done this before.” I said, “It’s the only way I’m going to get your eyes on sequences,” because by the time the 12-hour day is over, everyone’s exhausted.

It was great and worked out well. I had this little mobile unit, and the joke was it was always within 10 feet of wherever J.J. was. It was also great because I felt like I was part of the crew, and they felt like they could talk to me. I had the DP asking me questions. I had full access to the visual effects supervisor. We worked out shots on the set. Given the fact that you could see what we already had, it really was a game-changer.

What are some of the challenges of working on films that are heavy on action, especially with the Star Wars and Star Trek films and all the effects and CGI?
There’s a scene where they arrive on Exogal, and they’re fighting with each other and more ships are arriving. All of that was in my imagination. It was me going, “Okay, that’ll be on the screen for this amount of time.” I was making up so much of it and using the performances and the story as a guide. I worked really closely with the visual effects people describing what I thought was going to happen. They would then explain that what I thought was going to happen was way too much money to do.

Luckily I was on the set, so I could work it out with J.J. as we went. Sometimes it’s better for me just to build something that I imagine and work off of that, but it’s hard. It’s like having a blank page and then knowing there’s this one element, and then figuring out what the next one will be.

There are people who are incredibly devoted to the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars and have very strong feelings about those worlds. Does that add more pressure to the process?
I’m a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, as is J.J. I grew up with Star Trek, and it’s very different because Star Trek was essentially a week-to-week serial that featured an adventure, and Star Wars is this world where they’re in one major war the whole time.

Sometimes I would go off on a tangent, and J.J. and my co-editor Stefan would be like, “That’s not in the lore,” and I’d have to pull it back and remember that we do serve a fan base that is loyal to it. When I edit anything, I really try to abandon any kind of preconceived thing I have so I can discover things.

I think there’s a lot of pressure to answer to the first two movies, because this is the third, and you can’t just ignore a story that’s been set up, right? We needed to stay within the boundaries of that world. So yeah, there’s a lot of pressure to do that, for sure. One of the things that Chris Terrio and J.J., as the writers, felt very strongly about was having it be Leia’s final story. That was a labor of love for sure. All of that was like a love letter to her.

I don’t know how much of that had been decided before Carrie Fisher (Leia) died. It was my understanding that you had to reconstruct based on things she shot for the other films.
She died before this film was even written, so all of the footage you see is from Episode 7. It’s all been repurposed, and scenes were written around it. Not just for the sake of writing around the footage, but they created scenes that actually work in the context of the film. A lot of what works is due to Daisy Ridley and the other actors who were in the scenes with her. I mean, they really brought her to life and really sold it. I have to say they were incredible.

With two editors co-editing on set during production, you must have needed an extensive staff of assistant editors. How do you work with assistant editors on something of this scale?
I’ve worked with an assistant editor named Jane Tones on the last couple of films. She is amazing. She was the one who figured out how to make the mobile unit work on set. She’s incredibly gifted, both technologically and story-wise. She was instrumental in organizing everything to do with the edit and getting us around. Stefan’s assistant was Warren Paeff, and he is very experienced. We also had a sound person we carried with us and a couple of other assistants. I had another assistant, Ben Cox, who was such a Star Wars fan. When I said, “I’m happy to hire you, but I only have a second assistant position.” He was like, “I’ll take it!”

What advice do you have for someone starting out or who would like to build the kind of career you’ve made?
I would say, try to get a PA job or a job in the cutting room where you really enjoy the people, and pay attention. If you have ideas, don’t be shy but figure out how to express your ideas. I think people in the cutting room are always looking for anyone with an opinion or reaction because you need to step back from it. It’s a love of film, a love of storytelling and a lot of luck. I work really hard, but I also had a lot of good fortune meeting the people I did.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, Echoes, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

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:


BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):

Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE


BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):
La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley & Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):
O.J.: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION):
Everything Is Copy – Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

Veep editor Steven Rasch, ACE.

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES FOR TELEVISION:
Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
This Is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
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:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
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

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
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

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
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

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
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

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
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

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.