Art of the Cut this week is with Adam Bosman, editor of the feature film Enola Holmes, which is available now on Netflix.
Hopefully, it’s on its way to being a franchise, with Millie Bobby Brown as the sister of the famed detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Adam’s previous work includes TV series like The Crown, The War of Worlds, New Blood, Poirot, and was an additional editor on the TV mini-series, The Deep.
This interview is available as a podcast.
HULLFISH: So tell me about this opening title sequence. It’s got footage in it. So how did that get constructed?
BOSMAN: It was quite an evolution. We spent a long time working out exactly what the title sequence should look like and the basis of it is all in Jack’s script but it was a lot more compressed. It was a lot simpler. It was essentially the bike ride, a couple of pieces to camera, and then she was at the station.
What we realized quite early on was that — while it was really exciting to be dropped into this world with the inciting incident almost having taken place off-screen — as an audience you didn’t fully connect with Enola’s problem when you haven’t had a chance to meet mother. You hadn’t had a chance to get to know the world that she lost. Emotionally we didn’t feel that loss because we hadn’t seen any of it.
So we needed to expand the world and the title sequence just felt like that was the perfect place to do it. The whole thing was a huge evolution in terms of how much we use graphics, how much we use flashbacks, a lot of the material in that opening actually came later during additional photography. A lot of the material with both young Enola and with Millie and Helena together. That all came further down the line because we needed to expand it.
Then obviously the Monty-Python-esque, Terry Gilliam-esque family photograph — all of that — it felt like we needed to build up this world in order to then yank it away from her without having any sense of what her world was. We didn’t really feel for her. We didn’t feel for her loss. I was just rereading the first draft of the script, and it’s amazing how that really expanded to become the sequence that you see today.
HULLFISH: So interesting that it required some additional photography.
BOSMAN: (Screenwriter Jack Thorne’s) writing is wonderful. His dialogue is beautiful. The characters are unique, and it’s also really unconventional in an exciting way. What he was going for and what we all fell in love with was keeping Mother as this mystery character — holding her back — and really in the first pass and principal photography we didn’t see Helena half as much as we do in the final film. She was much more enigmatic — glimpsed really through Enola’s memories and through referring back to points that she had made to Enola across her childhood that then became useful as the film progressed.
It was fascinating for her to be this enigmatic character, but we realized she could still be that and she could still be more present as a parent, more present as a character for our audience. That we could start to fall in love with her in order to feel the loss that Enola felt when she left.
The additional photography was sort of scattered throughout. There wasn’t a huge amount, but it was very carefully placed — just allowing us glimpses into mother’s life and into her life with Enola before she walked out the door.
HULLFISH: It reminds me kind of of the problem that Pietro Scalia had on The Martian where they figured out that the original structure of the screenplay wasn’t enough to get the audience to care about the characters — especially the crew on the returning spaceship — so they flipped what was a flashback of the Martian storm and put it at the beginning because that way it allowed the audience to learn about the characters, care about them, and then love them for the rest of the movie.
BOSMAN: That is exactly it. It’s all about emotion. Whether you invest in a story or not really comes down to how much you invest in the characters and how much you care about their plight.
The cold open was brilliant and I think we preserved that by dropping us smack-bang into Enola’s bike ride. (Director Harry Bradbeer) conceived that tracking shot across th field (the opening shot in the movie) where she turns to look at the camera. He described that to me on day one, when we agreed to do this project together.
That surprise — that kind of gut-punch of She’s going to talk to us? — he was really keen that we preserve that because the DNA of that was in Jack’s script and what we needed to do was preserve the surprise of that — preserve the unique nature of that — and yet expand the world — bring more breadth to it.
Obviously, it’s Enola’s story, but Mother is present throughout, even when she’s not there, she’s there. It’s about her. Obviously, until we head off in a different direction, but we felt like we needed to see her as well. That’s where all those other elements came into play — the graphics, the photograph, the flashbacks — it all started to meld together.
And it sets up the store for the film as well — the hyperkinetic style and energy. We felt dropping the audience into that unapologetically — “This is where we’re going. This is what we’re doing. Come along for the ride” — that felt like the right choice to make.
HULLFISH: I loved that. You were talking about that connection with the characters and how the characters and that emotion is so important. I read this great quote yesterday that I wanted to throw in here: Ray Bradbury says, “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to an incredible destination.”
BOSMAN: That is perfect. That’s wonderful. That’s what I would have said, Steve, if I was more articulate.
HULLFISH: Me too. That’s why I had to steal the quote!
BOSMAN: That’s it though. The plot — whatever it is — hinges on you connecting with the characters and without that — as good as the plot is — it goes for nothing. You have to care. At its heart, that’s it.
That’s at the heart of everything that Harry does. It’s all about emotion. It’s all about truth for him. We had that in spades throughout the film but just in that opening — because there was so much energy because we were asking the audience to invest very quickly — we felt that we just needed to expand the world slightly.
We went back to the opening again and again and again, which I don’t think is unique. Obviously, you always want those first moments to really sing. The additional material was really focused in that first act.
HULLFISH: It’s so interesting to think about that evolution and how you got to a point later in the movie where you were worried about not connecting as you’d hoped, but then NOT to think that the problem was later on in the movie, but to think the problem was at the beginning of the movie.
BOSMAN: To get that perspective on things — to step back — especially when you’re involved in the minutiae of the scene-to-scene and being able to see the big picture and say, “That’s where it went wrong.”
We sort of tracked it because the first 20 minutes or so, there was enough going on that it sustained our interest, but then just at the point where she sets off on her adventure should be the point of most excitement, and it was the point where we started to lose focus. We knew that everything around that was working really well. The train sequence was exciting, and the meeting with Tewksbury was great. So, then we had to come to grips with, “Why aren’t we being swept along on day one of our adventure? Why aren’t we invested? What’s gone wrong?”
Once additional photography was underway — and even before additional photography was underway — we started blocking things out. We started trying things. Putting in the photograph came quite late in the day. As soon as we started adding those elements in, the whole thing kind of came to life.
HULLFISH: I love that it is a process. You don’t have to say, “Well, our movie is what it is.” You can say, “No. Our movie is what we want to make it be.”.
BOSMAN: Completely. Being that this was my first feature that was a big part of the shift for me. I’ve always tried to push the material as far as I possibly can, but having the scope — the scale and the time — to really push it in a number of different directions — really interrogate it and to then have ideas that involve bringing back your principal cast, returning to locations — having the luxury to do that was huge.
I’d experienced it to an extent on The Crown as well because obviously the scale and ambition of that show comes very close — if not the same — as features. It was really rewarding to know — as you say — that we don’t have to settle. We know there’s a problem here and let’s fix it.
Legendary was so supportive of that from the get-go. Whatever we needed to really make this story sing everyone was on-board with that.
HULLFISH: There’s a very interesting intercutting scene and I would like to know how similar it was to the scripted or did you combine multiple scenes into one? I’m thinking about the intercutting of the billiards scene at the beginning — the brothers are talking about sending their sister off to a boarding school — and as they’re talking, the headmistress is already driving down the road and they haven’t even finished the discussion. Talk to me a little about that scene.
BOSMAN: Credit where credit’s due: that was all down to a wonderful editor named Elliot Eisman who was assisting me while we’re in L.A. and we were there for a couple of weeks.
I always try to operate with quite an open, collegiate cutting room atmosphere and encouragement assistants to do their own assemblies. I’m just really keen to see what other people can bring to it.
We’d finished our director’s cut. We’d watched it a Legendary and we were answering their notes and preparing for the additional photography that we all knew was coming.
The billiard scene always was conceived as these two guys deciding the fate of this young girl — batting these balls around the table while they were batting her around with different possibilities. Really having ownership of her and she was remote. She was listening in. She was at the door.
There was also coverage of her sitting on the stairs and then moving towards the door and she was getting closer and closer and closer. It was a very self-contained scene, and it was wonderful. Henry (Cavill) and Sam (Claflin) did some wonderful acting and the writing was fantastic and it had a real kind of energy to it, but it weighed down the opening by itself because it is Enola’s story.
When you were away from her — even if she was there listening remotely — it just acted as a bit of a break on the story. We were battling with this and we were cutting it down tighter and tighter and tighter. Elliot just stuck his head through the door and said, “I know there’s a timeline here that you’re not messing with, but have you tried this?” So I told him to give it a go. So he did his first pass on it and it didn’t work, but it was brilliant. The genesis of the idea was brilliant.
Then we just bounced it backward and forwards. I did some bits on it. He did some bits on it. We played around with it and we had to rewrite. We had to change some lines so that it felt like it was a natural, organic intercut rather than just crowbarred in there. That came completely from him.
That goes back to what you said about sometimes you need to step back. You need to have fresh eyes and when you’re knee-deep in it sometimes it’s hard to see what the solution is. But that was a brilliant idea and we ran with it.
HULLFISH: I love the fact that so many good creative people are good and creative because they don’t care where the good idea comes from.
BOSMAN: Totally. It has to be collegiate, doesn’t it? At the end of the day, no one has the answers. No one has the right way through this. There’s a myriad of different ways of cutting things. I always feel, when I get to the end of something for the most part, “We did our best work. That is as good as we can make this.” But there’s always that nagging doubt: Is there something I missed? Was there another way through this? Because of course there is. There are a thousand possibilities.
So throwing those doors open and inviting new ideas is the only way to get the best out of the material. Also, it’s just great to get an alternative viewpoint. We’re all subjective about this stuff.
HULLFISH: And you can always go back to the way it was. If the idea didn’t work, you still have the scripted way to fall back on.
BOSMAN: Exactly. There’s literally nothing to lose. I’m all for that. It comes with a cost obviously because you find really get assistants and then they’re cutting and then suddenly they’re editors and you’ve got to find another really good assistant, but there are loads of really good assistants so it all works out for the best.
HULLFISH: I hope people are able to go watch that scene again because it is so light and fun and unexpected to watch the intercutting. It really lifts it.
BOSMAN: It really works for the film because up until that point we’d been really wedded to the narrative that this is Enola’s story, so we’re with her.
It’s a very linear structure really — other than the flashbacks, which were originally conceived as very small moments — and they really expanded, but other than those — which are still taking place within the scene — the timelines are quite linear. And we weren’t messing with that, so it was a bit of a leap for us to embrace that but it felt very right.
It’s just one of those things where you unlock something and you didn’t even know that there was a door that needed to be unlocked. It’s thrown open and you’re thinking, “Yes. Let’s go through that.”
HULLFISH: So in the original cut, the play billiards, and then you cut directly to the headmistress showing up in the car?
BOSMAN: Yeah exactly. She arrives and she had the scene with Mycroft outside. Fiona and Sam had that little interaction and then you saw the flirtation begin and then there was the dressing scene. It was very linear. And every scene in itself was great. There were really beautiful moments within them.
There was so much energy in the opening. Even before it evolved to where it ended up, it still had that kinetic energy to it. Then you got back to Ferndale (the family home) and it felt like the brakes had just been thrown on this film. We needed to find a way of preserving all those moments that were great about scenes but getting through them with the same energy that we’d already started to fall in love with.
We used it, again and again, a few other places just to kind of to keep Enola present even when she wasn’t.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about temp score. What did you temp with? When you were preparing for this did you say, “We should look at some Harry Potter?” Or did you look to other Holmes movies?
BOSMAN: Interesting that you mentioned both of those. We decided very much to steer clear of them. We had a wonderful music editor, Ben Smithers, who did some great work. He was just tireless providing us with temp score and Daniel Pemberton, the composer, was on from quite early on but he was tied up on other projects and he’d provided a few sketches but it was really down to Ben and me to thrash our way through it.
But what we didn’t want to do was tie it to any particular style because we knew music was going to be key to this. We wanted to make sure that we avoided temp love you know which is really dangerous.
That’s a very roundabout way of saying we didn’t pick on anything particular. We just tried to head for the emotion, the right energy and we left it quite open for Daniel.
He came fully on towards the end of Harry’s director’s cut, so at that point, he was already starting to feed stuff in. When it came, he’s just a machine and great swathes of it coming and it was very much a dialogue then. We were bouncing stuff backward and forward.
A huge part of why that opening is as successful as I think it is because of that score. When he hit on that, he was on the phone to me and he said, “I’ve got it. Listen to this.” He described it as having the magic of a pop song — the perfect encapsulated energy and shape of a pop song. “This is Enola.” Everything informed everything else.
HULLFISH: The score was wonderful. Sometimes the score is only for a very short part of the scene — a few notes or a phrase.
BOSMAN: Part of the elegance of what Daniel does is that they all either refer back to something you’ve already heard or they’re foreshadowing something you’re going to hear and you don’t necessarily know the significance of it yet but it all comes together.
There’s a beautiful elegance to the way that those cues evolve. He can take something that was exciting, was dramatic, was scary, and rearrange it and he can bring the heart to the foreground and suddenly it’s making you well up and yet the theme remains the same.
For instance Dash — the little pine cone (that Enola pretends is a dog) — had his own cue and there are traces of the dash cue scattered throughout, which is great to hear.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about the idea of dynamics. You’ve got very high energy scenes like the train scene, for example, and then that goes into a very pastoral, quiet scene where you’re getting these ebbs and flows through the movie. Some of that is in the script obviously, but some of it is going to be you as an editor bringing things down a little bit.
BOSMAN: We worked quite hard early on establishing — in a funny sort of way — a cutting rhythm for each character which is not so much about the energy of individual scenes but it did feel a natural way to go to try and mark these three very disparate characters: Enola, Sherlock, and Mycroft with a different style for each of their scenes.
Enola obviously has this hyperkinetic, energetic, verging on frantic energy. The jump-cutting all came from her. There’s this brilliance to her, but it’s chaotic as well. It’s uncontrolled. It’s untapped, which is obviously what Mother wants from her.
Then Sherlock has the same thing. It’s brilliant and it’s fast but it’s much more controlled. And then Mycroft had this elongated sort of protracted kind of rhythm — almost to the point where you really wanted to cut, because “let’s get away from this guy.” That was my original idea. Obviously, you can’t be prescriptive about something like that.
You have to respond to the material. You have to respond to the scenes, but my original thought was almost like the three of them were different instruments. We’d have to kind of weave that all through together. Sometimes it was a location thing. When we got to the finishing school, Harry and I felt very strongly that that should have almost a staccato militaristic sort of rhythm.
He got that wonderful shot of the girls marching down the stairs in step. And Daniel fell in love with that idea as well. Let’s feel the drudgery of that world — the constraints of that world and how that plays against everything else that Enola has experienced up until this point.
So we took those different ideas — those cutting rhythms — and then we applied those to the scenes as it felt right. Again you couldn’t be prescriptive about it. When Sherlock and Enola are in a scene together who’s leading the scene? Whose rhythm is it? You have to respond to the material and feel the internal rhythm of the scene, but that gave us permission to play fast and loose with these different energies.
That was very early on. That was at the assembly stage. Then when you bring it all together obviously you end up with this cacophony of noise and you’re just trying to marshal “Where is that working? Where is it not?” Some things are natural. You picked up the pastoral scene. I just saw that tracking shot following the two of them through that beautiful countryside and I said, “I want to hear this. I want to experience this with them. We don’t need score over this, regardless of whether we’ve come from the excitement or not. Let’s just be in this natural world with them.”
It’s very hard. I think until you see everything together to know whether you’ve created one beautiful piece of music or a mess. Obviously, it’s never as simple as that. It’s always that some bits are beautiful and some bits aren’t, then you just start adjusting. But without the quiet, you don’t feel the noise. It’s light and dark and you have to find a balance somewhere.
HULLFISH: As you said, you weren’t prescriptive because I can think of a scene where Enola is up in a tree drawing and Holmes comes over and visits her. And that scene is not manic. Yet it contains the two manic people.
BOSMAN: My assistants would love to hear about the Sherlock tree.
I think I cut the Sherlock tree on and off for about two months. There was so much coverage of the tree — and it was wonderful. The scene itself was three times the length maybe four times the length originally. We definitely needed that breath. We needed the two of them together but it was too long, there was too much said.
The two of them were great. But there were so many ways through this. Is it Sherlock’s scene? Is it Enola’s scene? Really, it’s about the two of them. It’s about their first real meeting of minds. The last time he saw her, she was a toddler.
Finding the balance of that became way more important than some preconceived idea about who has what rhythm. So that’s what I mean when I say, “I couldn’t be prescriptive about it.” It was a conceit in a way and it worked to our great advantage in certain places, but other times we had to abandon it altogether.
HULLFISH: I can think of a place where it probably did work. Early on in the film Enola makes an explosive discovery when she figures out her mother has left her a message and there’s a lot of jump-cutting in there and Enola’s brain is going like a million miles an hour. She knew she was on to something. And so the pacing of that scene feels like that.
BOSMAN: That was a clear case where we knew we needed to be in her shoes feeling that building excitement — feeling that building energy. A case-in-point for that would be using the tiles to decipher the first coded message that Mother leaves her.
I’ve mentioned already that for Harry, emotion and truth are his two touchstones that he always comes back to.
There was a conceit quite early on that when we were with an Enola and she was deciphering messages, she was cracking codes, she was solving crimes — that we would enter a sort of VFX world we’d see letters floating on-screen as she unscrambled these things.
Everyone was really excited about it, but it was Harry — bless him — who put a halt to that. He said, “I want to see her do this in a real-world fashion.” So the tokens (the letters) came from him. But obviously, we then had to find a way to make that exciting and energetic because watching someone move Scrabble pieces around is not entertaining.
I was directing the second unit when we did the close-ups of the tiles and we were doing it for a day because we had a really clear idea of how this was going to happen and it worked. James Huston, our brilliant script supervisor, and I had thrashed it out and the assistants and I had cut out big letters and we had arranged them on the floor of the cutting room and we’d slid them around, so we knew exactly how this was going to happen.
I was shooting that with the second unit and they were asking, “Is this a blockbuster film about Scrabble?” because it was a full day on these pieces, but it all came together in the cutting room.
HULLFISH: It’s very interesting that there was a different way to attack it originally, which seems more like A Beautiful Mind, right? I like the fact that you didn’t do that. It’s a period piece. Let’s see it in the real world.
I think it’s really interesting that you directed the second unit. Joe Walker directed second unit of Blade Runner 2049 for a bunch of stuff. I think that’s a really smart thing. So often, second unit is just picking up pieces that the editor needs in the cutting room, so why not have the editor do them so he knows what he’s getting?
BOSMAN: I didn’t direct it all. We had a brilliant second unit director early on. It was more towards the end and throughout additional photography. I kind of feel actually, Steve, like it was Harry’s attempt to make me learned my lesson…
HULLFISH: (LAUGHS OUT LOUD).
BOSMAN: … because I’m always calling and asking for new stuff. Asking, “Could we get this? Can we get that? Why didn’t you get this? And wouldn’t it be great if?” Eventually, I think he just decided, “Fine. You do it. Come on! Put your money where your mouth is.”
That was the first time I’ve done that. It was really exciting but it was a steep learning curve. It’s really easy to sit back in the cutting room and just demand this, that, and the other. So actually having to be on the other side of that and try to make all of that happen was challenging. At the end of the day I think we did get some good material out of it.
The key to those deciphering sequences, Harry already knew exactly how that was going to play out but what he was adamant about was that we couldn’t paralyze Millie’s performance by trying to tie her into hitting some essentially quite abstract marks, so it became about giving her the DNA of what she was supposed to be achieving and then letting her energy flow.
She’s a really instinctive performer with some brilliant comic timing. Often there’d be something that none of us had conceived that would come out the scene and we could tell, “Well, that’s the moment.”
When she looks at the camera during the decipher and she says, “Bear with me.” We knew that we had to use that, so we looked at what she was doing at that moment and then made the rest of the material work around it. So it did make sense for those beats where there’s some quite technical stuff going on to not cripple the main unit with trying to make sure that all this makes sense when we can just let the energy flow, let her performance flow.
That really freed her to do what she does so brilliantly, and then we can come back to it later and we can pick up the bits we need. So even though we skip through those cipher sequences and they’re over, actually if you go back and you watch them frame by frame — if anyone has the patience or the inclination to do that — it does make sense. They’re real ciphers and she’s really solving them.
HULLFISH: How did you organize all of that flashback additional photography? I’m assuming that it wasn’t per scene.
BOSMAN: There were a lot of flashbacks in the original script. And Jack’s idea — which was really elegantly executed — was essentially that Mother had equipped Enola with the tools that she needed to go out into the world — hence why she left her on her 16th birthday. So some of that was practical. Some of it was fighting skills. Some of it was science skills. Or the history lessons. And some of it was just the knowledge that Mother had imparted to her.
So a lot of the flashbacks — as they were generally scripted — were memories of Mother saying something that was particularly apposite for the moment that Enola was in. A lot of them stayed where they were originally intended because they worked beautifully, but some of them moved — not because they weren’t working where they were — but there was an opportunity to do something else with them or create another moment — a different moment with them.
For instance, the science experiment where mother teaches Enola how to blow stuff up was originally intended for the arrival in London when Enola first walks down that busy street. That was a very different sequence from what was first conceived because that was a big number to camera. Essentially she walked through the streets and she was addressing the camera all the way through, and within that, there were flashbacks to Mother.
We kept one of them — we kept the apple tree that takes you in — where Mother talks about “Time enough for the world.” We kept that in its original place, but the explosion… the rushes for that arrived and I just immediately knew that that had to go in the bomb factory. We have to see that alongside this discovery of the bombs.
Ordinarily, with that stuff, I park it and I’ll try it later down the line. I don’t like to go too far with cutting stuff right down or restructuring at that early stage because sometimes it can have exactly the wrong effect that you were hoping for. When people aren’t expecting it can kind of rock them back in their seats, especially a director who’s lived with the script for so long.
But with this one, I felt so strongly about it, so I picked up the phone to Harry and I told him about my plans and said, “I just want to make sure that you don’t freak out when you see the assembly.” But he said, “Yeah. We thought the same thing as we were shooting it.”
As scripted it felt perfect where it was, and then once it was shot you just immediately knew where it had to go. It wasn’t clear cut. A lot of the flashbacks were scripted and were shot. A lot of them stayed where they were. A lot of them moved and then some of them were just about either reusing the material that we already had to create a different feeling.
For instance, I got a lot of mileage out of the material that was shot of Helena and Sophia — who played young Enola painting together. That was beautiful. That location was beautiful and it was a really intimate moment between the two of them, and obviously, there are the subtextual elements of how important Mother’s paintings are throughout the film.
I scattered that in a few different places but sometimes we needed something more and that’s where the additional photography came in.
HULLFISH: That reminds me of a really cool edit that I love. I don’t know how many people would even have noticed that it’s an edit, but you’re on the mom, you’re looking down kind of a rack of the two of them and there’s a rack focus with an edit in the middle of it.
BOSMAN: That’s definitely one of those cases where I knew, “I’m really not supposed to do this.” There’s nothing in my experience as an editor that tells me that I will ever be able to get away with this, but let’s try it. If I can’t get away with something like that in this film, I’ll never be able to get away with it.
Also, it was actually two different takes, so that was something else to say about it. I tried it and then I just fell in love with it. I’m just gonna drop that one in front of Harry and I’m not even going to mention it and we’ll see what happens.
Of course, he picked up on it, because he picks up on everything, but he went with it. He bought it as well. That was a tricky one to pull off, and I see it every time I watch it. That was very much one of these days where it’s like a frame here, a frame there, frame here, frame there. I really interrogated that one for a while. I’m glad that you picked up on it and that it works.
HULLFISH: I think it does work. I really do. It’s an unusual choice and I bet that for most people that are casual viewers, it didn’t even register, but I really liked it.
BOSMAN: I never really want to draw attention and obviously this film more than most really wears its cutting on its sleeve. Still, you want to be swept along in the energy of the sequence rather than be distracted by an individual cut. I’m really glad that worked.
There were a couple of other unconventional edits in there. There are a few flash frames that we left in — cheeky surprises for people that I don’t know if they’ve been picked up on yet but they’re in there.
HULLFISH: Oh come on!
BOSMAN: I can’t. I’ve got to let people hunt them out.
HULLFISH: You’re gonna make me watch the entire movie 20 times frame by frame?
BOSMAN: Yeah! Harry was really keen about having these little Easter Eggs along the way. Harry had the word ECCENTRIC written in big letters on the wall of the cutting room. We felt committed to try things like that. There’s a few of those in there.
Myself and my post team and the VFX team and Harry actually all make an appearance at one point as well. When she’s talking about the gentlemen of the Royal Academy who have never let women in, that’s us. We’re the gentlemen of the Royal Academy in the photograph. The playfulness of the film expanded out into the world of the filmmaking as well.
HULLFISH: Which scene got shot first? The bomb factory or the flashback?
BOSMAN: The flashback. It was very early on. As soon as I saw it, I knew that’s where it belonged. That’s why I picked up the phone to Harry because he was gonna be going to be expecting to see that in the assemblies.
He is a very trusting director so he doesn’t ask for assemblies on a very regular basis unless there’s a problem or unless there’s something that he’s concerned about, then he’s very happy to just let me do my thing. I wanted to flag that one with him specifically because I just immediately thought “that’s going somewhere else.”
It wasn’t as much about seeing that it would fit into that scene — because I didn’t know where exactly or how I was going to marshal that transition. It was more just from a story point-of-view where Enola really learns something new about Mother and something that she wasn’t expecting — something that potentially could be quite terrifying — and we’re not seeing Mother, and I wanted to do that.
I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a child suddenly confronted with the other side of your parent. It’s a story about growing up. A big part of growing up is about learning that your parents are fallible. They’re not these godlike people that you might think they are when you’re younger. They’re just people that come with their own foibles and their own darkness.
That moment felt like that’s when that happens. She’s driving towards that all the way but then that’s the twist and it really felt like we needed to mark that. There was something rewarding about seeing them together in this essentially really innocent moment, but twisting that and seeing that now through the prism of what we’ve learned about Mother.
HULLFISH: Where was Harry expecting the memory of the chemistry stuff or the explosive stuff to show up?
BOSMAN: After she gets to London, just after she’s left Tewksbury, but before she dresses up as Ivy. She walks down the street just before she goes to the dress shop. It was more about what Mother said to her and it was less about what they were doing together. It was about the lesson that Mother was imparting and not that they were doing chemistry.
Helena is a really exciting improvisational kind of performer and that laugh and the clapping of the hands and the “Let’s do it again!” None of that was scripted and it all just felt perfect. There are a number of moments in the film that came from the actor’s feeling comfortable and free to play quite fast-and-loose with the scene. Helena and Millie both just gave me a myriad of really playful and exciting opportunities to do stuff.
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For instance, while Helena was doing the fight scene with Sophia — the girl who plays young Enola — she accidentally caught her with a punch. It was an “air punch,” but she clipped her and Sophia went “OW!”
Of course, Helena and Sophia had this beautiful relationship at this point. It was really lovely seeing the two of them in the rushes, and Helena was mortified. She ran in to give her a big hug and she was like I’m so sorry, but it was a brilliant little moment. I really truthful little moment. There were loads of those throughout the film. It just added to the joyous real feeling of their relationship.
HULLFISH: You mentioned the stuff to camera. Let’s talk a little bit about the difficulties of breaking the fourth wall. Is there an edit trick to doing that? Or is it all on the performer?
BOSMAN: I felt very strongly that there was an editing trick to it. And when I first sat down with the material, one of the first scenes was the arrival at the train station where she meets Sherlock and Mycroft and obviously, we’ve got a number of addresses to camera, and I was trying really hard to incorporate the moment that the wall breaks because I felt like it’s such a clear shift out of filmmaking grammar that we needed to see it happen.
Ordinarily, you’d need to see a rack-focus happen — otherwise you get thrown. That is one of the times when we did sit down an assembly because we screened the assemblies in week two for Harry and the producers. We were watching that sequence and afterward, Harry said, “Don’t worry about being wedded to how the actor has broken the wall or how I’ve directed them to break the wall.”
Some of them were very conscious. So, for instance, in the field scene with Tewksbury where he refuses to say, “thank you,” and Enola looks over her shoulder. Obviously, you need that one because that’s part of the comedy: the decision to bring us into that moment.
Harry was referencing “Fleabag” and saying that they had found that throughout the cutting of that it was much more important to cut for the rhythm of the scene as you would normally — almost to disregard the fact that there is a fourth wall that’s been broken and then see whether it works or not.
And it was completely the right call to make because once you’re going along with it — once you’ve established it — which he did in that first shot, in that track up to the bike — once you’ve done it once you’re prepared for it, your audience is prepared for it. They know that it can happen at any point and it didn’t matter whether we cut to Enola addressing a character to the reverse then back to her and now she’s addressing us. We went with that. We went along with it and it was much more important to feel the rhythm of the scene than to try and clearly signpost these moments — with the exception of the ones that worked best for saying the fourth wall break.
Like, “Tis I” was another case in point where that was just hilarious. There were endless hilarious versions of that where she turned to us and said “Tis I.” And really that works because we saw it happen.
HULLFISH: Normally when you break the fourth wall it’s to say something. That’s the first shot in the movie where she’s riding the bike and she turns and talks to the audience, but some of them that are really nice there’s no address. It’s just to bring you into it. I think there’s one with Tewkesbury where he’s asked her to go gather firewood or something and you’re starting to realize that she kind of like him. Maybe he’s cute or something. She just looks at the camera like, “hmm interesting.”.
BOSMAN: Yeah, it’s a lovely moment, that.
I think that’s the kind of key thing — exactly what you picked up on — that it’s the evolution of our relationship with her. That it’s not just a cute way of narrating her story. It’s that we’ve started to develop a connection with her.
The other one I really loved — and I fought strongly for — was after Tewksbury has been shot and after she’s cradling him and then he comes back to life. And there was this extraordinary take where he stood up and she looked down the barrel at us and there were tears and anger and fury at what’s just happened and relief and confusion and it was such a privileged insight into her character at that point. And it wasn’t about communicating with us anything other than just her hurt, shock, and relief.
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I just found it extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful. We hadn’t intended in that scene to have any pieces to camera because it felt like this is about the internal tension of the scene and we don’t want to drag anyone out of it, but that moment I thought really sang and we kept it.
That’s part of the evolution of that journey that — by that point — you feel like you’ve earned it. We are complicit in this story. We are invested in her fully so we can just share a really powerful moment like that in silence with her.
HULLFISH: Jump cuts. We talked a little bit about those. You establish those early on in the film, which I think you always have to do, right? You need to know in this universe it’s OK to do it.
BOSMAN: Yeah. Completely. That very much came from the energy of Millie’s performance. It really lends itself to that and Daniel was a huge part of that as well because executing a successful jump cut is often as much about the sound as it is about the visuals of the cut and whether it’s musical.
We had a fantastic sound design team on this. The sound team across the board was great and was feeding in early versions of things really early on which just let us then expand that world.
Going back to “trying to stay true to the world” but marking stuff either for comedy effect or to help with the cuts, we tried to use the diegetic sounds of the world as sound design elements. The obvious examples are some of the train whistles and steam releases from carriage that sort of thing.
Hopefully, they’re not so present that they yank you out of the moment but they’re very precisely placed to mark a cut or to mark a moment or to act as punctuation at the end of a bit of dialogue.
I think there’s one example where the hero music is crescendoing at the train station when Enola is first about to meet Sherlock and Mycroft and then they just sweep past, and the crescendo just trails out. I asked Daniel to provide us with a click track and Mark the point where a coda to that crescendo would go and then we put a big release of steam at that point just to mark it.
So there were a number of points like that. Again, with the jump cuts — finding a way in and out of them with sounds was really helpful. They came from the character and from the story. It felt like that’s her internal energy — hyperkinetic, hyper-energized, slightly chaotic, and uncontrolled. So the jump cuts really do belong to her.
HULLFISH: That moment at the train station is one I recognized — especially with the music cue. She’s about to meet her brothers and the music swells into this moment. The audience is thinking “They’re finally going home together.” It’s like two lovers running through a field to meet each other — and then the opposite thing happens. It’s so great. Playing with the audience’s expectation of film tropes.
I do have a question for you about that. I’m assuming there’s coverage from her side. Because of the way it’s shown in the movie, you’re on her back as the brothers walk towards camera. Was there a reverse?
BOSMAN: Yeah, there is. It felt like we want to see that and actually, Henry did this brilliant thing where he ALMOST notices. There’s a tiny little look as he goes past like it did register but he dismisses the thought. I was just really keen that we embraced that moment.
That was also an interesting example of where the graphics came to play because the graphics of her eulogizing of Sherlock. None of that was scripted and we played around with a few different ideas there, but all of those moments helped to build this sense of the myth of him and the significance of this moment all to then be undercut with that rug pull at the end.
A lot of that came from Matt Curtis, our graphic designer, who just provided brilliant stuff all the way through. I must say, they came quite late in the process.
Harry originally talked about Enola having a scrapbook — a physical object that we would film — keeping with his desire to stay in the real world. The scrapbook would be filled with cuttings and that we could refer back to. Maybe it would have her maps in there and stuff. That was an idea he had quite early on. So that was the basis for playing with graphical elements, but I don’t think any of us expected that we would run with it in the way we did. But once you started bringing them in, it just felt right.
HULLFISH: So did you have some kind of temp graphics that you were using, knowing that real motion graphics were coming? Or were those scenes cut without graphics or placeholders?
BOSMAN: Embarrassingly, I did the first version of the temp graphics which will never ever see the light of day!
HULLFISH: Oh! I think we need a scratch assembly version that you give to the Art of the Cut!
BOSMAN: My original concept for the Sherlock graphic was Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which I still quite like as she talks about all Sherlock’s different skills — different arms appearing, clutching a trumpet and a violin and a boxing glove. I’d mock something up. I’d send it over to Matt. Matt would do something infinitely better, send it back and then I’d adjust the timing or I’d adjust the sequence because often he’d done something that I wasn’t expecting and it was great. And so I’d decide, “Let’s create space for this.” Or I’d motion effect it to change the timings somewhat.
I’d put markers in it and send it back. He’d reissue it. So it was very much a back and forth. But he’s just got a brilliant creative mind in his own right. He brought a huge amount of energy to that and I think they fit seamlessly into the world of film now. Now they feel just like a very natural part of that universe, but it all came quite far down the post process when we realized that we needed to accelerate this storytelling. All based on Harry’s original thought about Enola’s scrapbook.
It was definitely a world where we were making Enola’s scrapbook and I think it would have been a beautiful thing. Maybe we will again.
HULLFISH: I noticed that it was produced by Millie Bobby Brown. “Producing” can mean a lot of things. Did she give notes? What was her role?
BOSMAN: She was watching cuts and she was feeding her thoughts back via the producers. We had a wonderful producing team at Legendary: Ali Mendes was in the UK with us throughout the shoot and she was in the cutting room a lot and once we went out to L.A. Alex Garcia and Mary Parent were feeding in wonderful thoughts and Millie was watching the same cuts and feeding her thoughts via Ali and Alex and Mary.
Obviously, it’s a collaborative process. She had really clear thoughts about character — about the direction the story should go — and I think she liked the way we took it. It’s obviously a project that means a huge amount to her and hopefully, we did it justice.
HULLFISH: So you moved from London to L.A. at some point. Were you on Avid with a Nexis? Did all that stuff have to travel with you?
BOSMAN: Yeah exactly. It was only for a few weeks. The bulk of the time we were based in London. We were in Soho. During the assembly I was at Pinewood and then for Harry’s director’s cut, we moved to Soho. We were in Hireworks. There’s something about cutting above a cinema that just feels really good.
But it just made sense for us after we did the director’s screening and for the early previews to then be in LA so we could respond a bit more quickly in the right time zone. We did that for a few weeks and then we returned to the UK for additional photography and a lot more cutting.
HULLFISH: Most of what you’ve done before is TV — where act breaks are really important. Was this freeing to say, “I don’t have to hit act breaks! This is wonderful.”.
BOSMAN: No. That particular point hadn’t actually occurred to me. Sometimes breaks are key, but a lot of the stuff I’ve done has also felt like mini self-contained films.
In fact, the first thing that Harry and I worked on together — Prisoners Wives back in 2012 — felt very cinematic in its ambition albeit in a much smaller scale. I highly recommend that people look it up. Don’t judge it by the title. It’s a really good show. Brilliantly written by Julie Gearey and it’s got some wonderful moments but it’s all about charting that internal story across six episodes vs. a single two-hour feature. It’s freeing but it’s also constraining in a different way because when you head towards the end of your episode you’ve earned the luxury to say, “We know we’re earning a pause here, so we can hold some stuff back that we’re going to pay off later. We can build towards a crescendo that won’t feel unnatural.” That’s quite liberating. It’s almost like there’s stuff that can happen in the black before the next episode.
It’s part of the musicality that you referred to earlier. The rhythm of things. It creates a different shape. And I think that’s probably where the light and dark come into play — especially in terms of pace because over a two-hour film, or 90-minute film or even a 180, you can build up to a breakneck speed but you can’t sustain that. You have to then find a way of bringing the energy back down in order to earn the space to go back up again, without the luxury of just stopping — which is what the end of the episode or the outbreak gives you.
TV, in general, has recently become so much more ambitious in scale, in scope, in budgets. The worlds are kind of merging.
It was a huge privilege to work on this and there were a lot of things that felt very different to me, but at its heart, it’s still trying to tell a story in the best possible way.
HULLFISH: So your background with the director was through previous TV shows that you’ve cut for him?
BOSMAN: Yeah. We did two series of Prisoner’s Wives and then we tried to work together a number of times since. It just hadn’t meshed for availability reasons. We’d done a commercial together but nothing major.
Obviously, we kept in touch. When he approached me with this it just felt like such an exciting project.
HULLFISH: 100 percent. And you nailed it. I really loved this film. Thanks for editing it and thanks for talking to me.
BOSMAN: Thank you. Been a pleasure.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed, and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.