By Randi Altman
When the over-the-top made-for-TV movie Sharknado splashed onto TV screens last year, the reaction was fierce. People, including high-profile celebs, took to Twitter to talk about it. Late-night talk show hosts included jokes about it in their monologues.
Sharknado, which told the story of a group of Angelenos trying to save themselves and loved ones from a deadly hurricane that brought with it deadly sharks — on land, in houses, on highways — became a pop-culture phenomenon.
The film’s popularity was not lost on its creators, The Asylum and SyFy, which are about to launch Sharknado 2: The Second One in June. Director Anthony C. Ferrante returns for the sequel, which was edited by Vashi Nedomansky on Adobe Premiere Pro.
How did this editor’s path lead him from his native Czechoslovakia, from where he and his family defected when he was a young child, to cutting the upcoming Sharknado 2: The Second One?
It all began when his dad, NHL player Vaclav Nedomansky, was voted MVP of a game and awarded a Panasonic shoulder-mount camera with a VHS deck. He brought it home and gave it to his son. After shooting videos around the house and on vacations, young Nedomansky realized he could connect the family’s existing VHS deck to the one on the camera to edit his work. Then in 8th grade, a “book report turned video project” got a great reception from his teacher and classmates. He was hooked. “To do something when you are that young and have people like it makes you want to do more of it.”
Nedomansky also wanted to play hockey, which he did. He spent 10 years playing pro hockey in the LA Kings and NY Islanders organizations. He traveled a lot. “On all of those planes and buses I would be writing scripts, and I was shooting and editing stuff when I wasn’t playing.” When he retired in 2000, he started cutting professionally.
Nedomansky’s resume is extremely varied, with eight feature films, about 60 national commercials, and a number of documentaries, music videos and corporate pieces under his belt.
He says feature-length films are his favorite types of projects to work on. It’s the long-term investment that he enjoys the most. “You have the time to get familiar with the story, you get to live with the footage for a long time and you get to develop a relationship with the director.”
But after working on one project for a long period of time, Nedomansky then likes going small: editing 30-second national spots. “It’s nice to work on something you need to plow through in three or five days,” he explains. “You are really using different editing muscles and getting your creative juices flowing, because you have to deliver quickly but also tell a story.”
It’s this type of diversity of work that Nedomansky thrives on, and that translates to the genre of projects he cuts. He likes to mix it up and not be pigeonholed as a comedy editor or an action editor, for example. “You need variety,” he says. “I personally couldn’t do 10 action movies one after another. It becomes rote. I need to be challenged.”
That was one of the reasons he “told” his friend David Rimawi of The Asylum Pictures that he wanted to cut the follow-up. “I didn’t so much ask as tell him. I wanted that gig!” Nedomansky laughs. About three months later Rimawi offered him the job.
The first Sharknado was hugely popular, but not so much in an English Patient kind of way. It was campy and people loved having fun with it, and that’s one of the reasons Nedomansky asked to cut Sharknado 2.
He was a big fan of B films from the ‘50s and ‘60s, especially the ones from Roger Corman, and this movie reminded him of that quite a bit. “Sharknado was really fun and had an insane premise. A shark was not limited to a body of water; it could come through a ceiling, crash through a window…and that’s the fun with these movies, the surprise of anything happening anywhere.”
Another reason? Jaws! The first movie he ever saw was Jaws at a drive-in as a child. “Jaws had a profound effect on me. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to cut a shark movie,” shares Nedomansky, a scuba diver who is still “petrified” of sharks.
He also had a more pragmatic reason: working with The Asylum. “They pump out about 50 movies a year and have never lost money on a film. I figured they must have an iron-clad post workflow. They run it like a fine Swiss watch in terms of getting into post, through VFX, audio, and music editing and joining it all together. I wanted to see how they did this, and learn something from it.”
Sharknado 2: The Second One is set in New York City, and about 95 percent of the film was shot there. Nedomansky worked out of his home studio back in Santa Monica.
Actually, working from his home was one of the requirements for him taking the job. The over two-hour commute to Burbank would steal precious editing time. The other was he needed to work on Adobe Premiere, the basis of his home studio. This was a big deal since The Asylum is a Final Cut Pro 7 based studio, with about 12 workstations in-house. But they worked it out. “The New York shoot was Red-based, so Asylum would take those 4K Red files, create ProRes LT files and ingest them into FCP 7. All assets were cloned and handed off to Nedomansky.
“Ana Florit, one of the assistant editors on the first Sharnado was brought back for this one. She set everything up and started assembling some of the 40 hours of footage,” describes Nedomansky. “She also prebuilt the first half of the movie, slapping it together to make sure we had everything. When I got the cloned drive with 40 hours of footage it came in as a Final Cut Pro project. I exported an XML from FCP 7, imported and relinked in Premiere. Everything was in one sequence that was 10 video tracks high and probably 24 tracks deep in audio. That was my starting point. It’s amazing how well set up everything was on their end, because there is no way with the time constraints that the edit could have been completed otherwise.”
Nedomansky was right about Asylum having a buttoned up way of doing post. They have their projects set up in a very specific way, so much so that they provide a worksheet to follow. This is how it broke down (pictured, right) for Nedomansky on Sharknado 2.
Working With Director
At the end of each day, Nedomansky would save his project and through Adobe Media Encoder kick out a 640×360 H.264 version of what he had cut to that point and send it to director Anthony C. Ferrante, who was still shooting in New York. Nedomansky would then export an XML and send back his current project to the Asylum so they could update the master project.
The film is 85 minutes long and broken up into eight acts for commercials. “The first week I basically tackled an act a day — which is about 10 minutes,” he explains. “Then I would take a pass and just build off what Anna had already assembled. The hardest part was taking the time to go through the footage to pull my selects and to find what I needed as an editor to tell the story.”
Nedomansky emphasizes that as an editor it’s imperative to watch all of the footage. “You can’t grab the first thing you see and say, ‘That’s good enough.’ There is no good enough. It has to be fucking amazing. So I would build an act a day and Dropbox it to him — a 10-minute H264 is only about 115MB. He’d look at it overnight and in the morning give notes and I’d move forward to the next act. We’d ping pong back and forth like that for the next couple of weeks. It was a simple and effective workflow.
Audio & Comedy Go Hand In Hand
Nedomansky worked with comedy legend David Zucker (Airplane, Naked Gun) when he edited the film An American Carol (2008). He walked away from that experience with the knowledge that without the right sound effects, you can’t tell if a scene is working. “That’s why I go deep with my audio,” he explains. “With Sharknado 2, there is so much action I would have 10 tracks of sound effects for every crunch, splat, chainsaw, storm, the score… and I needed an editing system, like Premiere, that could play all of that in realtime.”
He talks about a scene from An American Carol where someone gets hit with a piece of wood. “We auditioned 15 different wood breaking sounds to find the right one, because if it’s too violent or too realistic, it’s not funny.”
Nedomansky says Zucker has 15 rules of comedy, and they apply to editing. “If you have the performances captured, the comedy is built in the editing.” he says. “Another thing I learned from David was that I would sometimes miss an opportunity for a joke because I wasn’t paying attention to reactions. Editing comedy is about who you are on when something happens, their reaction and someone else’s reaction to that reaction.”
“Never hang on a reaction too long…” Zucker taught him. “If you milk it, it loses its funny,” Nedomansky explains. “You have to cut away at the right moment, see the reaction to the dialog or action and then come back for more of the original reaction. If you linger, it’s death.”
Another rule? Get out of the joke early and onto the next scene. “When you leave room for a laugh and there is no laugh…it’s the worst. David said cut it tight and if the audience misses a line, they can watch the movie again!”
For Nedomansky and Sharknado 2, one of the most challenging scenes involved no action, but instead a conversation between two people. “One of the hardest was a hospital scene. We had a lot of coverage, angles, choices and varied performances. The wrong tone on one take or one line reading can kill an entire scene.”
The scene was one minute in length but Nedomansky spent about half a day perfecting it. “There is nothing worse than being brought out of the film by a single bad reading. You can’t allow that to happen. That’s the editor’s job: to protect the actors, to protect the director and protect the story.”
For more on Vashi’s work and to read his blogs, visit vashivisuals.com, and check out Sharknado 2 on July 30th on SyFy.