We all know that our favorite Vulcan wasn’t really lowered into a volcano in Star Trek Into Darkness. We know it was a visual special effect – VFX. If you’ve seen a movie in the last 20 years, you know that VFX have played an increasing role in movies. What you may not know is that the business model in VFX and in studios has driven an appalling number of VFX companies out of business.
One of the most bizarre examples is the brilliant company Rhythm & Hues, creator of VFX since 1987, including such beloved movies as Babe and Life of Pi. As Life of Pi was winning an Oscar, Rhythm & Hues was entering bankruptcy. How could this happen??
This video, Life After Pi, talks about what happened: http://youtu.be/9lcB9u-9mVE
If you’ve ever run a business, you know that being held to a fixed price while the scope grows will give you nightmares. Early in my training career, I made my mark as a project manager by refusing to expand scope without more pay. Too often people feel they can’t do that, especially if their client is the “only game in town” or can blackball them.
Adding to the problem is that in spite of the long time it takes to develop VFX, directors hesitate to define what they need until the last minute. If some new effect captures the public’s attention, they want to be able to include it in their movie.
As the video mentioned, no longer do directors do the detailed planning up front that used to be required. I’ve found that many people in the business recoil in horror if I suggest project planning – “Oh my god, it would stifle our creativity!!” Hmm, research scientists in weapons and pharmaceutical organizations have said the same thing when their unlimited expenditures were curtailed. Instead they got more creative AND learned to plan their work. But right now we have enormous amounts being spent on studio tentpoles – and their suppliers being forced out of business. Hmm.
While we’re on the subject of strange business practices, I asked a Hollywood contact about accountability – wouldn’t the studio be held accountable if they used deceptive business practices on a movie? No!! Each movie is done as its own corporation – which is disbanded at the end of the movie project. Sure you could sue, but by the time anything happens in the judicial system, the work is done and that company no longer exists. Good luck on getting any judgment that has teeth, no matter how flagrant the violation!
Seems change is overdue and inevitable.
Earlier I interviewed noted editor, Terry Kelley, about what editors do. (click to read). Recently Variety posted an article reinforcing how important editing is: “Why Editing Nominations Predict the Best Picture Oscar”. Interesting! (click to read)
Oscar editing winners & nominees share tidbits on what they do: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/02/25/oscars-sound-editing-mixing-cinematography/
I knew directors had a lot to do with how a movie or tv episode turns out; what I didn’t realize is that editors have just as large a role.
One extra on a DVD of Star Trek: Generations was footage of an alternate ending. I frankly was struck with how boring it was. No music. The camera faithfully followed Picard and Kirk’s movements, for every step from point A to point B. Seemed very slow. Aha! In the final movie, usually there’s a closeup of one, then of the other. I see one start forward, then the other move. The viewpoint moves back and forth and cuts out some. Editing! I was watching footage that hadn’t been edited! Big difference! So how does an editor create that more dynamic feel?
I had the good fortunate to connect with Terry Kelley, a long time professional editor who edited Deep Space 9: Past Prologue, and is editor for Showtimes’ acclaimed Homeland series. His final episode of Season 2 has been nominated for a best editing award from American Cinema Editors (ACE), an honorary society of film editors. Mr Kelley is a master of his art – and graciously agreed to an interview.
What is the process of editing?
“An analog is what you probably did in school. You have an assignment to read chapter 11. You take it away and read it and, as you read, you underline parts that strike you as important. That’s what an editor does. Takes the script and notes what’s important or key. I may note what framing would be important. For example, if there’s a part that’s more intimate, I note that I’d want a close-in shot. Or there may be part that suggests a faster pace – more cuts.
“In feature films, an editor looks at footage and says, “What did the film say to me? How can I let the film speak?” Everyone is involved with the script. I can read the script and imagine how to edit shots together. For example, consider a scene where the point of it is “she meets the guy – their eye’s meet.” I can see in my eye how that scene would be cut. A far shot showing the location. A medium shot of him. A medium shot of her. She’s looking at something. Shifts her look beyond it. Sees him. “Hm, he’s attractive”. He sees her. Close shot on their eyes reacting to each other.
“So I take the film that’s shot and look for what I need. The director will shoot the scene once from a far shot. Then reshoot with a medium shot on her. Then reshoot with a medium shot on him. Then reshoot with a closeup on her. Then reshoot with a closeup on him. Then a tight shot on his eyes and one on her eyes. A scene will be shot many times – direct shot, over his shoulder, over her shoulder – again and again from different angles and framing. The editor’s job is more a matter of building to a blueprint than it is searching through a pile of lumber to see what you can put together.”
How do you work? In what kind of environment?
“I work by myself in a dark room. No, I don’t need to meet with the director or go on location. I can get any direction I need from the director by phone. He’ll say: ‘This is a funny comedy. I want to make it fast paced and colorful. Just keep the actors alive.’
“The first step is the editor’s cut – or rough cut. It isn’t so rough any more – [with modern technology] I can smooth out the sounds and do color correction. I put in everything. This is the longest cut.
“The director then cuts out what he wants. The Director’s cut. The studio may cut still more, even if the director objects. Directors can get attached to certain scenes, even if they don’t further the story much.
“As to how long it takes, the Director’s Guild has rules – for example the director can demand 3 weeks to do the editor’s cut and 10 weeks more to finish the director’s cut – before showing the film to anyone!! Actors & others can see the dailys, but not the way it’s coming together.”
Wow! That’s quite a process. A skill that Mr Kelley has developed over many years. Coming up in future posts on this interview: what it was like to work on Star Trek and how the process of editing has changed over the years. Stay tuned!!