ART OF THE CUT with Mark Day of Fantastic Beasts

The editing is literally movie magic

Mark Day and Harry Potter are probably on a first name basis. He’s edited four of the Harry Potter films, starting with Order of the Phoenix. Other films include The Legend of Tarzan, Ex Machina, and The Theory of Flight. Before his feature film career, he worked on many of the BBC’s premiere movies, TV series and mini-series. He’s currently working on his next film, Kin, and I caught up with him to discuss his currently released film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

HULLFISH: Hi Mark. You’re in Toronto right now editing another film?

DAY: Yes indeed. I’m working on a film called Kin. This is my sixth week of an eight-week shoot. I’m working with identical twin directors Jonathan and Josh Baker. They made a short film called Bag Man that went down very well apparently and so they expanded the original script with Daniel Casey into a feature film and because they’d seen Ex Machina and loved it, they asked me if I’d like to edit their first feature film. I liked both the script and them very much, so I said yes.

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Mark Day and Robert Redford

HULLFISH: You’ve worked with some very experienced directors, including the director on Fantastic Beasts, David Yates, who you’ve worked with many times. What made you want to work on ‘Kin’ other than the script?

DAY: After I finished Fantastic Beasts I could see an eight-month gap looming in my schedule, which as far as I’m concerned is too long not to be working and I couldn’t take a longer engagement because I will be editing the next Fantastic Beasts installment in 2017 with David, who is now in pre-production. Plus, I love working. I love what I do. I also like to work on different projects (low, medium and high budget) with different people as it keeps you fresh and you learn something new from everyone you work with, and it was the only film on offer that fit into my schedule because, as you know, if it’s a big budget movie it can take well over a year to complete. This one’s going to be about six or seven months which fits in nicely and my wife Lyn knows that I get restless if I’m not working so encouraged me to do it.

HULLFISH: Yup. I’m on a small independent now that finished shooting in mid-November and I’ll probably be done in March.

DAY: Exactly. You know what I’m talking about. You need to get those ones that just fit in, which is pretty rare quite frankly. I’m really glad I took this on because it’s a very good independent film with a talented cast.

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David Yates and Mark Day

HULLFISH: Well to tie in this discussion of the movie that we’re talking about, Fantastic Beasts, I saw a short film you’d cut for David Yates. Was that the first thing you did for him, before all of the Harry Potter movies?

DAY: No, no, no. The first thing we worked on together was a BBC show called ‘The Sins’ We made three episodes of a seven-part series. That was in 2000 and sixteen years later we’ve worked on countless projects together and we’re still best friends.

HULLFISH: You see these collaborations that go on so long between certain editors and directors.

DAY: They’re priceless, very important and I only hope we have the longevity of Scorsese and Schoonmaker!

HULLFISH: What do you attribute that collaboration to? What is it about the two of you that is so much like a marriage?

DAY: It IS very much like a marriage, but unlike most marriages we’ve never had an argument in our whole relationship.

mark-dayHULLFISH: OK, that’s NOT like a marriage then.

DAY: Ha ha – You know what it’s like, Steve. When you start to work with someone new, it can be tricky at first, for example, on this latest movie with Jonathan and Josh who I don’t really know from Adam, you’ve got to forge a relationship and you’ve got to forge it quite quickly, so they can trust you and you can trust them and from that hopefully a good working relationship blossoms. So far they are doing a great job of directing the film and they’ve liked almost everything I’ve showed them in the cutting room thank goodness.

With David when we first worked together, we just clicked. He’s a wonderful guy to work with and we just get on as friends and have a good laugh, and that’s what filmmaking should be, fun. I don’t think it should be angst-ridden all the time or stressful. We’re making entertainment here for the paying public to enjoy. What could be better? We are very lucky to be doing the job we are doing and getting paid.

HULLFISH: Exactly. Well, I’ve talked to many people about this. Because the director and editor spend so much time together, you need more than just a working relationship: you’re spending so much time with that person.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Director David Yates

DAY: Indeed. It’s great when you are not only on exactly the same wavelength but also share common interests and hobbies, because I’m sure you’ve had this as well, that sometimes you get along fine in the working relationship, but you don’t necessarily become best buddies. That hasn’t happened too many times to me luckily. But with David, we’re good old mates, we talk all the time even when we’re not working together, either by e-mail or facetime or whatever, which is lovely. I value his friendship very highly, even above the working relationship. You’re very lucky if you get along with someone as well as that and you work well together.

HULLFISH: You mentioned that you started working with David at the BBC on television. You guys both moved to doing features at the same time?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMDAY: That’s absolutely right. We did a number of highly acclaimed television series’ in England. One of them was a six part series called ‘State of Play’ for the BBC and the other was a 2 parter for Channel 4 called ‘Sex Traffic’ both of which did rather well and because of those dramas David was offered the fifth Harry Potter film ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ which was just unbelievable. I mean it was such an amazing break for him and ultimately me because he asked the producers David Heyman and David Barron whether he could have his own editor on board, because we’d been working together for so long, and he wanted somebody with him that he could trust on such a big project. They agreed thankfully and so we went from TV into these major, massive feature films which was a huge, exciting learning curve.

HULLFISH: What are some of the differences that you experienced going from TV to film.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMDAY: I’ve always maintained that if you go from TV to film it’s easier than going the other way because the schedules are a lot shorter in TV so you have to learn to be a lot quicker and that’s what I did. Now, obviously in TV you get less footage than in feature films, especially Harry Potter. It’s not always the amount of footage, but it’s the green screens and all the visual effects elements that have to be taken into consideration and often they have two or even three units shooting simultaneously, often with two or three cameras, so you can get a huge amount of footage which is the main difference, but I think it’s a really good grounding to come from TV. I mean they’re basically the same in essence. You are given a whole lot of shots in a whole lot of scenes over a number of weeks that you look at and put together in the best possible way you can, and the way that I do that is by immersing myself totally in each scene, and I know this may sound a tad pretentious, but I can feel like I’m actually in the scene when I’m editing it.

HULLFISH: I’ve talked to a bunch of editors about the fact that when you’re cutting a fight scene or something physical and you’re so caught up in the editing that you’re actually breathing hard.

DAY: Exactly. You become part of it in a spooky kind of way, almost like each of the characters in the scene and that gives you the perspective you need to know who to be on at a particular point in the scene. That’s what I love about it and why it’s so enjoyable being an editor.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHULLFISH: What you are describing to me sounds very much like acting. And I have heard that from other editors, that you are acting the scene right along with the actors.

DAY: That’s interesting actually. I’d never profess to be an actor in any way, but you’re right. In the womblike security of the cutting room you can be, because you’re looking at every performance so intimately. You’re experiencing every nuance of the scene over and over again, so absolutely, you could be an actor within it. But it also has a lot to do with gut instinct I think.

HULLFISH: What was the schedule like on Fantastic Beasts?

DAY: I started around August 2015 and it was a 22-week shoot. It was all filmed at Leavesden Studios near Watford in England, and then we delivered the film around the beginning of October 2016.

HULLFISH: I loved the erumpant scene (one of the fantastic beasts) in the zoo. Tell me about building the suspense of that scene.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMDAY: I really like that scene too. It has very good visual effects and the erumpant is a very lovable, flirtatious and fantastic creature which alongside Eddie Redmayne who plays Newt and Dan Fogler who plays Jacob makes for a sumptuous feast because it starts off slowly as Newt tries to seduce the erumpant back into his case with his slightly surreal dance, and then Jacob, with the aid of an escaped seal, spills the erumpant musk onto his protective armour (don’t ask, just watch the film!) and that’s when she smells him and the chase begins. This then builds and builds gradually into an almost musical crescendo which culminates on the Central Park ice rink as the erumpant gets closer and closer to Jacob with Newt in pursuance before she is recaptured into the case having narrowly missed out licking Jacob’s face.

Now that sequence obviously took quite a while to get right and I did numerous versions myself using part live action and part pre-viz to get the rhythm of the scene working and as you know, you try things out a number of different ways. Then David and I worked together on it over the months with gradually more and more sophisticated post-viz animation being supplied by the visual fx department and eventually it found its natural length and rhythm and played very well.

graphorn1It was quite a bit longer originally because there was a lot more that happened within the scene. But it felt a little too long in the context of the whole film and so we also referred to our ‘filmed audience recruit screenings’ which Warner Bros provided us with in the cutting room (because we were unable to go to some of the test screenings due to the schedule, which is a shame as you cannot beat ‘feeling’ the vibe in the room with a live audience) and whenever we were unsure as to whether it was the right thing to do we would check out the audience to see if they were enjoying it or shifting in their seats and that was an incredibly useful tool to have as there was one beat in the original version in which the audience seemed to shuffle about a bit, so we pared it down until it felt like the right length.

HULLFISH: It was a very complex scene with a lot of sub-scenes within it. I have a similar scene in the movie I’m cutting and my approach was to do a quick nasty first pass where I at least got everything to happen in the right order, THEN fine tune. Did you find that your approach was that you needed to first work on the structure of the scene before you really got in and did the fine tuning work? Or were you trying to make perfect cuts from the beginning?

DAY: You’re right, and to use a construction metaphor, you need to get the building blocks in the right place first of all because you have a huge number of slates shot for a scene like that over a number of days or nights so once you get those basic blocks in place then I find you can play with the structure and rhythm by watching it over and over again until you’re happy and then from there you can start to add shots, change takes, perfect the edits, pace and performance.

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about temp music. I specifically noted a track in the score after the strudel scene where Newt and Kowalksi are having dinner in the girls’ apartment.

DAY: Yes, that’s right. When they first meet Queenie in the Goldstein apartment.

The source track ‘You’re the cream in my coffee’ was being played on a gramophone. In fact Alison Sudol who played the character Queenie (and it was her first day of filming) had that playing on set to get into the character and because it worked so well and we could clear it for usage I laid it on the scene when I was editing because I loved it so much and David agreed. It worked really well with her character. From there James Newton Howard segued into his lovely score as the apple strudel was being magically constructed!”

HULLFISH: Do you remember how you dealt with temp? Most editors say that they don’t cut with temp, but add it for screenings.

DAY: When we first worked on ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, David and I absolutely smothered the director’s cut with temp before we showed the producers because you know what music can do. It can paper over the cracks and the problem areas and can lull you into a false sense of security.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMSo we showed it to the producers with all this music on and they said it was good, but on the next version, just take all of the music off. Just play it as pure drama because if the scenes work without music, then they are certainly going to work even better with music. Now that’s quite a brave thing to do as a film can feel very naked without some sort of score but they were right, without score you concentrate much more on the narrative drama.

So, now I try not to use too much music on scenes as I am cutting but having said that, we do have a wonderful music editor called Allan Jenkins who has worked on all the films David and I have done and he starts fairly early on and finds music that we use when we have audience recruit screenings. So my wonderful assistants Hermione Byrt, Henry Kemplen and Sam Clough will turn over reels to him every other week and then he’ll audition numerous choices with David and I that gradually builds into a temp score for the numerous screenings that we have.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMOn Fantastic Beasts, however, we actually had the advantage of James Newton Howards score starting pretty early on in the director’s cut. So, we would be working in tandem with James and his ‘synth’ cues which were being used alongside Allan’s temp cues until we gradually replaced Allan’s temp score with James’s guide score — obviously not properly recorded until later on down the line at Abbey Road, but that was wonderful because it was the first time that we had a really good score in audience screenings which was totally from the actual composer of the film. Good for the studio too as they could judge how the score was progressing along with the film.

HULLFISH: Was a lot of that temp from the Harry Potter universe?

DAY: Actually no. Allan has got a vast library of music like most music editors and he tried anything and everything really. We did hark back to some of John Williams’ Hedwig theme because we wanted to keep some of that Harry Potter universe in Fantastic Beasts as well. You may remember that Hedwig theme right at the start of the film which morphs into James score. It’s that familiarity that people love about Harry Potter especially when they see the Warner Bros logo appear.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHULLFISH: This is a strange question, but where did the edit start? There were so many motion graphics and logos and stuff before we saw film….or did you have to cut all that together with pre-vis and post-vis?

DAY: You’re referring to the newspaper montage at the beginning. That all evolved during post production actually. Originally it was used later on in the film as scripted, however one of the producers had the good idea that we could use it at the beginning of the film, not only to familiarize people once again with the Harry Potter world but also it is a useful way of getting across a lot of expositional information in an interesting way which is what we needed to do. For example, it showed us the name Grindelwald (the protagonist in the film) a number of times which subconsciously lodges in people’s minds and gives the film a slightly darker tone, whereas in the original script the film started with Newt arriving by boat in New York and it was all quite jolly. Now we introduce it with this sinister character killing a number of aurors and we catch a distinctive glimpse of the back of his head (this turns out to be Grindelwald who will be played by Johnny Depp in the next film and we see him transform from the character Graves played by Colin Farrell near the end) which then segues into the newspaper montage ending up on an image of the Statue of Liberty, so instead of just this slightly eccentric British man with a suitcase arriving on a boat we have introduced a number of themes that will resonate throughout the film.

ThunderbirdHULLFISH: Tell me about the fight with the obscurus at the end. The final battle had a beautiful, musical rhythm to it. I really love the rhythm of that scene.

DAY: Thank you, Steve, I’m really pleased about that. These things take time to get right and I did countless versions until we found the right rhythm. Having said that I do have pre-viz to work with whilst I’m editing and I intercut that with the live action footage of the main characters which gradually builds up the scene and then when we are happy with it, we turn that over to the VFX department who in turn work on the edit and they were giving us back quite sophisticated post-viz. Then eventually when we ‘semi-lock’ the scene that goes out to the vendor who work on the individual shots that we then start to receive over the ensuing months and in time they become these very impressive shots which are ‘finalled’ after many viewings and comments and incorporated into the main edit so it’s a very time-consuming process that evolves over the months that we work on the film. We also had the advantage of having the Credence character played by Ezra Miller who gave us some fantastic motion capture footage of him emoting and screaming which was incorporated into the obscurus visual fx and this gave it a unique, interesting and beautiful look.

HULLFISH: I would think when you get all of these VFX back from the vendors – even though they’ve made them to your timing – it would change things when the VFX shot is cut into your sequence and you would need to revise your edit to accommodate these new effects plates.

DAY:  Yes you do. That’s definitely true. Sometimes the visual effects come back and they are so impressive that you want to extend the shot. Now on a film like ‘Fantastic Beasts’ or ‘Potter’, you can do that to a certain extent because obviously there’s a lot of cost involved and on a film like Ex Machina we couldn’t do that because it was low budget and in fact we didn’t actually turn over the VFX shots until we were absolutely 100% locked on it and everyone was happy and then we handed it over to visual effects. We may have changed a couple of shots, but on the whole we didn’t change things because of the cost implications. Whereas on ‘Beasts’ you do get the opportunity to noodle a bit, try different things, change takes and extend shots but because of the cost, not to mention time involved that it’s not a decision taken lightly I can assure you.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMBefore I even join the project David and his previz team have been working on the set pieces so when I come on board I know how David intends to shoot it, but in my experience it changes and evolves as they shoot the scene and then when I start editing it, it changes again , as all things do. You know what it’s like, you get a script and that’s one thing and then when they shoot it, it changes on the floor, and then it changes yet again when you’re editing it and it evolves and improves hopefully.

HULLFISH: There was quite a bit of interactive lighting in the movie, was it difficult to maintain continuity with that?

DAY: That can cause problems sometimes obviously. For example, there was a scene in the Pentagram office when Tina (Katherine Waterston) shows up with the suitcase and interrupts the meeting. Philippe Rousselot (the D.O.P.) had used interactive lighting above the crowd that was following the dead body of senator Shaw (who had recently been killed by the obscurus) Now you know how scenes change during the edit and lines are excised or the scene is restructured in some way or another so there was no continuity to the lighting at all and we had to cheat it in the grade with the help of Peter Doyle our colourist and also visual fx helped out with some of it.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHULLFISH: You talked about a little bit about how music can cover over a multitude of sins when you’re editing. Sound effects can do the same thing. Talk to me a little bit about using sound effects to motivate a cut or help with the rhythm of a scene.

DAY: Yes, that’s one of the important things I learned at the BBC because that’s where I actually became an editor. It was like a film school and you got to work on lots of different programs in different departments like music and arts or science or drama and then as an assistant you got to track-lay the program you were working on so you got to understand how important sound was in the editing process and to elevate the drama. On films like this, we get to work with so many good people and we had Glenn Freemantle on Beasts and Ex Machina and he’ll be on the next Fantastic Beasts as well.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHe and his team are just fantastic to work with and just like Allan Jenkins with temp music, Glenn starts quite early on and we will start turning over either scenes or reels to his team and they start building these incredible soundtracks which transforms the edit in a profound way as it’s so important to have a good sound effects track running alongside your cutting copy. It just sounds naked without it. On the film I’m working on now I’m doing most of that myself in a minor way with Dawn Stoliar, my excellent Canadian assistant supplying me with sound fx that I then lay on each scene. We do also have a sound designer who is working primarily on a particular object that features in the film. On a big film it’s nice to have all these departments and teams working alongside you, but right now I’m kind of back to my old BBC days of doing it myself a lot of the time!

HULLFISH: I totally understand. I saw Glenn in the credits. How do you collaborate with him? Do you just give him a reel and let him do his magic? Or do you talk it through?

FTB933_FBST_DTR4 0700.tifDAY: Tim Grover who is our brilliant post production supervisor liaises with Glenn and when we’re ready he comes in and we show him a reel or two and we talk it through in a very open and roundabout way. Then he takes it away and he comes up with these great aural creations, but sometimes we might suggest a specific sound or character trait which Glenn will take on board and expand. It’s a real collaborative process, especially if you’ve got a wonderful director like David who wants to use everyone’s best ideas but we totally trust Glenn and he certainly hasn’t let us down so far.

HULLFISH: I’ve interviewed Joe Walker a couple times, including for his latest film, Arrival. Do you know each other, by chance?  He was at the BBC.

DAY: I haven’t seen Joe for many years but I did know him briefly at the BBC. I saw Arrival the other day which I thought was a beautiful film.

HULLFISH: I just interviewed him yesterday for that and we were talking about the BBC and he said nearly the same sentence about how much of a training ground that the BBC was.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMDAY:  Yes, as I mentioned it was like the best kind of film school. Unfortunately, they don’t do that kind of thing now, but I got to work with amazing directors, I was editing with John Schlesinger, Jack Clayton, Richard Eyre, Paul Greengrass to name but a few so it was a fantastic learning experience.

HULLFISH: Did you have any mentors at the BBC?

DAY: I assisted a lovely and very talented drama editor by the name of Ken Pearce for about a year and he was one of the top drama editors there at the time and I learnt a great deal from him as he was a ‘no nonsense’ editor, in other words he would just get on with the job with very little prevarication or histrionics and deliver top class sequences every day and I think I adopted some of his philosophy in so far as I too get on with the job in hand with very little fuss or hypothesizing. He also said to me that if he ever get offered a documentary, he would let me cut it as he was only interested in drama. True to his word, he was offered a music and arts Arena documentary about the Old Kent Road in the U.K. and he passed it on to me, so that was my first real editing job and from there I was hooked. Then he was unavailable for a TV film produced by a true gentleman called Innes Lloyd, who I got to know whilst assisting Ken, and when he couldn’t edit that drama, Innes chose me, which was a fantastic break into mainstream TV drama. It was called ‘Number 27’ directed by Tristram Powell and starring Michael Palin. That was the start of my career as a drama editor.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHULLFISH: What’s the last thing that you can remember that you learned about editing? No matter how long you’ve been editing, as you and I both know, you learn something new almost every day no matter how good you are.

DAY:  Yes. I totally agree. And actually if you ever say you know it all then you might as well give up quite frankly, because I think that you learn something new almost every day. With every new scene you cut you learn something. Every director you work with you learn different things, in the way that they direct and shoot and how they give you the footage that you then have to interpret. For me, I’d say the important thing is, always keep the audience on their toes. I love films where you don’t know what to expect. It’s not spelled out, so the audience is always having to catch up, that’s the important thing I think with films. You want people to actually use their little grey cells to try and work it out and you can help that in so many ways when you’re editing.

HULLFISH: I’m assuming, are you always cutting in Avid or do you do any independent projects on any other editing platform?

DAY:  Well I actually started on Lightworks at the BBC, and I actually loved Lightworks.  Have you ever worked on that?

HULLFISH:  I have not worked on Lightworks, but everybody that I speak to that worked on Lightworks loved it.

DAY: Yes, it was primarily designed I believe by a film editor or he was one of main designers, so it had a kind of Steenbeck paddle and it was just so instinctive and filmic in a way, so I worked on Lightworks for quite a few years, but when I got involved with Harry Potter I knew they were working on Avid, so I had to learn Avid pretty quickly. I did a low-budget feature on Avid and with the help of my long time first assistant editor Hermione Byrt learnt how to use it and actually ever since then I’ve been using Avid and I really love it but I must say Lightworks was wonderful.

HULLFISH: I had that paddle on an early Avid, you actually could get that same control device on Avid years ago.

DAY:  Oh really?

HULLFISH: Yeah.  I don’t think I’ve got it anymore, but yeah, I know exactly the control device that you’re talking about and they did have one for Avid back in the ’90s.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMDay:  Yes, this Lightworks one was even more instinctive. It was just the ergonomic design, it was great.

Hullfish: What is your approach to begin a scene?

DAY: Once my assistant has sorted out the scene bin with all the slates shot for that scene I will already have watched most of the dailies so have a good idea of what they have shot as far as the coverage is concerned. When I first started I always thought to myself “Where am I going to start? Which shot? Do I start on the wide shot, close up, the two shot, the mid shot? There were just so many choices and possibilities it was rather daunting to be honest but with experience, I can now look at the dailies and as I’m watching them I can visualize it in my mind. I know how I’m going to start the scene and from there the puzzle sorts itself out, most of the time! That doesn’t always work out obviously, in which case I’ll start blocking it you know, kind of roughly. That’ll be my first version and then I’ll get to version two and I’ll start sculpting it, changing takes and all the kind of things that you do as an editor.

HULLFISH: I will often go with circled takes to come up with the initial structure of the scene. Then I can go back and go “jeez I wonder if this close up has a better performance someplace”  or do you do it the reverse?

DAY:  No, I do exactly what you’re saying. I will obviously try and use the director’s selected takes first off as there’s a very good reason why he/she has selected them in the first place, so that’s a good starting point. They’re your building blocks for the scene.  Often you don’t have the time to look at every single take religiously because they shoot so much footage now digitally, but once you’ve got that structure you can go back and you look at the other takes and you also look at different performances, because they’re not always right when they choose the selects on set. For some reason they might choose it at the time but, actually when you get it in the edit it doesn’t work at all so you go back into all the other takes to see whether there’s something better.

HULLFISH: Yeah, I was just talking with a director that I’m going to do my next film with and I can’t start on his film for a while and he was telling me he was going to go through all the stuff and give me notes and I said “You know you can’t necessarily do that.  You can’t pick a take that is the right take because the worst take might have a great moment, right?

Day:  Exactly. So when I go through the dailies I’ll put a little mark where I know I want to go back and use that section. I’ll put a blue mark on there just to remind myself, “Oh yes, I need to go back there to find a good moment or look for a better reading of a line or whatever –

So you’re starting to cut a film long after they’ve shot it?

Hullfish:  It was a strange situation. Two films that wanted me to edit started shooting in October. One was willing to wait until the other was finished.

Day:  Well that’s unbelievable, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so important for the editor to be on from day one of the shoot. On this film I’m doing now, the twins are very experienced commercial directors but they’ve never directed a feature film.  So, every weekend I show them what I’ve been editing this week and they’ve been extremely happy by what they are seeing and they can see that what they’ve shot is working and if there is anything that needs picking up I’ll say to them “look we may need an extra shot if you could get it, if you can’t then fine, but if you could pick up a shot there this would be very helpful, so it’s just a great collaborative process.

I did a film with Robert Redford a few years ago and I started 3 or 4 weeks into the shoot which is not the way to do it as far as I’m concerned because you’ve got to catch up on multiple scenes already shot and keeping up with all the current dailies too, so it’s far from practical. Luckily it worked out okay but I just think it’s so important that the editor is on board straight away.

HULLFISH: I asked this question but I don’t know that I heard an answer that I was looking for… How do you actually watch the rushes?  One) are you watching them on your Avid and Two) are you stopping as you go to either create selects or, as you mentioned, putting markers in, are you doing that while you’re watching the dailies or…

DAY:  Yes, I watch them in the avid but in one big timeline as I like to see them first thing before the assistant has had time to break them down into scenes and corresponding bins. So it will be everything shot the previous day and while I am watching them I may make notes on the continuity sheets as a reminder or I’ll just remember it. Then when I have all the scene bins at my disposal for that days shoot I will start to edit each scene and then put my blue markers on sections I may want to use later on.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMHULLFISH:  That’s fascinating, so you’re actually looking at the rushes before the assistants have even done anything with them.

Day:  Yes, exactly, once the drive from the lab has been ingested into the avid. I can see what they’ve shot, how it’s been directed and I can start thinking about how I’m going to put the scene together.

HULLFISH:  Wow that’s very cool.  I’ve talked to some other editors that say some people like to watch the rushes backwards, in other words the last part of a scene first, but that means that you have to have the scene into a scene first, you know the assistants have to have done something with it.  And some people watch, like for example, on a set up they’ll watch it backwards, they’ll watch take four, then three then two then one and other people say no you’ve got to watch one, two, three, four.

DAY:  No, I don’t do that.  I always watch it consecutively because I find it’s rare that you get take one being one of the selects.  But I like to see how the actors get into the scene and interpret it, and then sometimes you get some really interesting things happening in the first take when they haven’t really worked out the way they are going to play it in their own heads yet. Not always, but sometimes there are some gems to be found.

Hullfish: Is there anything you do when you feel stuck? Have you ever gotten editor’s block?

DAY: Occasionally it does happen, when you’ve got a very complicated scene possibly or a scene you just can’t get your head around. I’ll always do a version, even if it’s not a great version. I like to go away relatively happy at the end of the day with what I’ve done, sometimes you know it’s just not quite right, so the thing to do, I find, is actually say “Right that’s it, I’m not going to try anything more on this” go home, mull it over, come back the next day and look at it fresh. Usually you tackle it completely differently and find your way through the puzzle with relative ease. It’s really weird but it happens.

Hullfish:  Okay, two more questions before you go. Editors always like to say that we are story tellers. Can you give me a concrete example of how you acted as a story teller with a cut? Something that went beyond the script and went beyond the raw material that the director gave you.

Day: Here’s one example. On the BBC series ‘State of Play’ there was a character called Dominic Foy (played by Marc Warren) who was a bit of a wheeler dealer and was convinced that he was being followed and spied upon and in a particularly well written dialogue scene set in a hotel room I exacerbated his paranoia by using a series of jump cuts and repeated phrases within his dialogue. Now that may seem pretty obvious now (and I know there’s nothing new about jump cutting) but at the time this was transmitted it was quite unusual in mainstream TV drama to do this kind of editing and it totally transformed a well shot but linear narrative and after David saw it he then wanted to exploit that way of editing throughout the series and that’s what we did.

The other thing I have learnt throughout my career in editing is that there is no short cut to reaching a final cut on a film. Period!

Hullfish: I’m assuming you’re a member of BAFTA or the Academy or something: how do you judge the work of other editors?

Day:  I am a member of BAFTA and I do vote every year, fervently, because I love it and I love watching films.  You watch a film and you either admire it or you hate it or you’re indifferent about it (the worst) or you’re transported to another place and you know if you really love a film there’s just nothing better. Obviously if you are transported and not really noticing the editing then you have succeeded because as we all know, editing is the invisible art form that most people do not understand, but you and I and all other editors out there know just how hard, but ultimately satisfying,  it is to edit a film from beginning to end.

Hullfish: Finally do you have anything to say about the editorial work on this scene from ‘Fantastic Beasts?”

This was quite a tricky scene to edit actually as it had a number of CG characters within it. It’s set in the Blind Pig speakeasy and was a slight homage to the cantina scene in ‘Star Wars’ with all the different oddball characters. The main protagonist is Gnarlak, a goblin gangster and owner of the bar played by Ron Perlman and then there was a goblin singer and a house elf working at the bar, and all of these actors were filmed using motion capture cameras and I would have multiple layers in my timeline with each of these different characters giving their live performances (picture in picture) which would then be used by the visual fx department to base their animation on. So at first I was using the basic previz to cut against the live action footage from the main actors within the scene and returning to an earlier point about extending shots, this is where we did extend quite a few from the original cut because once the shots came back from the vendors, they were so expressive that David wanted to enjoy more of Gnarlaks ‘acting’ and I must say I think they did a remarkable job on making him so photorealistic and it is a fun scene.

Hullfish:  All right.  Mark I know you have a lot of work to do on the film that you’re working on now, I’ve got to get back to my film as a matter of fact.  And I really appreciate your generosity in speaking with me today.

Day:  I’ve really enjoyed it Steve, thank you so much.

To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish.

This interview was transcribed using speedscriber.com.

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Steve Hullfish

Steve Hullfish has been producing and editing award-winning television since the mid-1980s. He has written five books, and edited two theatrical feature films (both Number One New Movies in the US). He has lectured at NAB, DVExpo and the Master Editor seminars. He has edited on Avid since 1992 and was named to Avid’s first group of Master Editors. His client list includes: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, NBC, PBS, Turner Networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Cases” with Bill Kurtis for A&E, Jim Henson Home Entertainment, Major League Soccer, The Chicago Cubs, Wilson Sporting Goods and Exxon/Mobil.