Art of the Cut this week welcomes the editing team behind Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Those editors are David Brenner, ACE; Dody Dorn, ACE; and Carlos Castillon.
David Brenner’s credits go back to the 1980s with Talk Radio, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Doors. Born on the Fourth of July won Brenner an Oscar for Outstanding Editing in 1990, with co-editor, Joe Hutshing. His credits also include such notable blockbusters as Independence Day, The Patriot, Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, Man of Steel, 300: Rise of an Empire, and, most recently, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He also cut the original 2017 theatrical release of Justice League. I last interviewed him for Batman v Superman.
Dody Dorn received an Oscar® nomination for Christopher Nolan’s debut feature, Memento. She also worked for Nolan again on Insomnia and then began a collaboration with Ridley Scott, editing his next three films — Matchstick Men, Kingdom of Heaven and A Good Year. She also cut the film Fury among many TV shows and features. She was a Sound Editor on Silverado, The Big Chill, and Children of a Lesser God and Dorn won a Golden Reel Award for Best Sound for James Cameron’s sci-fi epic, The Abyss. I last spoke with Dody about her editing of Power Rangers.
Carlos Castillon has been an assistant editor on some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, starting as an apprentice editor on the first Iron Man movie. His work as an assistant editor includes, Iron Man 2, Cowboys versus Aliens, Man of Steel, 300, Batman vs Superman, Justice League, Aquaman and Spiderman: Far from Home.
This interview is available as a podcast.
(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)
HULLFISH: How did each one of you get involved?
CASTILLON: I had been working with Zack since a couple of months after he left the movie. We kind of pieced together a cut that David had made — a longer version — what we were calling at the time, the Ultimate Cut, similar to what he and Zack did on Batman vs Superman. So we took what was the Ultimate Cut and then kind of expanded it — just the two of us working on an Avid in his house. That was the genesis of the Snyder Cut.
It was originally just meant for him to have a copy of his idea of the movie just for himself and to show it to his friends. Ultimately, HBOMax jumped in to finish it off and they did the VFX and now it’s out for the world to see.
BRENNER: From the beginning, he knew that if things had turned out like Batman vs Superman, that there would be a theatrical cut, but that he would end up having a longer cut and he would get funding to do that because he got funding to do the long cut of Batman vs Superman and the studio made a lot of money from that, so when we wrapped photography we watched the editor’s assembly which was over four hours. I think it was four hours and forty minutes, wasn’t it, Carlos? Something like that?
CASTILLON: I think with 4;30, maybe.
BRENNER: You see these long assemblies and you know, in the back of your mind, if this movie is going to be two and a half hours, there’s a lot to do. Zack said something that was really daunting to me at first, he said, You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to think of three cuts. An “A” cut, which is what I would really like in the movie — my cut — not thinking about length. And then we would have a “B” cut, which would be what we’re going to show the studio the first time, which realistically can’t be over three hours. We wanted to maybe get to 2:45. Then there would be a “C” cut, which was kind of like a worst-case scenario. In the event that we have to end up really fighting with the studio and coming to something that’s way shorter than 2:30 or 2:20, then these are ideas that we’re going to have so that we’ve already thought of it.
As we went through the first cut, we would come to a scene and he would say, oh, what about this pattern? We would experiment with things. We would delve into dailies sometimes. We would do what you normally do when you’re working with the director and refine it. What we were refining at the beginning, in my mind, was the “A” cut. We were making his cut.
But as we came to things to lift out, there was a decision to make: “Zack, do you want to lift this out and save it for your A cut? Or do you want to lift this out and put it on the cutting room floor?” That was when we realized we had to kind of really do two things because when you’re editing, you’re always chasing a deadline. Our deadline was the day that we’d have to show it to the studio, which was to “B” cut. So we realized we were working on the “B” cut, and when we would come up with a lift that he wanted for his long cut, I would put it into a bin and label it.
So cut to 10 weeks later — or probably 12 weeks — and we had our our “B” cut, which was 2:45 or 3 houts.
CASTILLON: What we ended up showing the studio was close to three, it was like 2:50 and that was the first cut that he presented to the studio.
BRENNER: That is what the “B” cut became. So once we did that and we got the notes from the studio, we realized that the studio wasn’t interested in something that was this length at all. It became quickly apparent that we were going to have to open the notes and look at that “C” cut.
That’s when things got really rough, because I think Zack knew that it could be done, but that he felt that it would be a harmful thing to the movie. Think about it: you have two origin stories that you have to introduce in this movie, Cyborgs and Flash. Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman have been introduced. You have those to tell and you have the story of the Justice League coming together.
The last film — Batman vs Superman — I think it was about 2:20 in theaters — the original cut. Christopher Nolan said something interesting to us. He said, When I was doing the Batman trilogy, I allowed myself to add ten minutes to every film. Batman Begins about 2:20. Dark Night was 2:30 and Dark Knight Rises was 2:40. He said to Zack, “I think you should allow yourself that.”
Ok, if we take Christopher Nolan’s advice — and he’s a smart, successful director — we feel like this story should be told in more like 2:30 or a little longer. The idea of getting this to two hours is detrimental. But we played the game, as one always does with the studio, and tried things. Then one day there was the idea from the studio that maybe a writer should be hired to write two or three scenes to inject some humor into the first part of the movie.
Zack is always open to the best idea in the room. So the studio came up with a list of a handful of two or three writers and we screened it for them. And one of them was Joss Whedon. Then they all went away to make their notes. Around that time, I think, is when the tragedy happened in Zack’s life and he lost his daughter, Autumn.
He was gone for a couple of weeks and would come back now and then and the studio fight was still there. It was something that he and Debbie — his producer and wife — realized that their energies needed to be at home with the family and that fighting with the studio was not the best thing for them to do.
When Zack stepped off, I asked, “What do you want me to do?” He said, I want you to stay, I want Junkie (Tom. Holkenborg the composer) to stay. I want everybody to stay because I want the best influence on this movie.” So I talked to the studio and asked if I could finish what Zack and I had been doing, which was to try to get to where the studio wanted to be with the release length.
So while I started to do that, Zack asked me, “What’s the “A” cut going to be?” So I started putting that back together. I started building that into what we called… What did we call it, Carlos?
CASTILLON: The ZSU — Zack Snyder Ultimate.
BRENNER: So it was a variation of the “A” cut. Pretty soon the studio told me, “Your services are no longer needed” — because they were hiring a new editing team. I had another few weeks to put that together and I left.
CASTILLON: After you left we continued working on his cut — this is after we finished the theatrical version and we had a little more time. I started working with Zack on restoring his version, so we were taking the assets we had available to us at the time — which was the finished theatrical version — we started pulling stems. We started pulling some visual effects.
A lot of the visual effects changed the story significantly in the theatrical version, so we couldn’t use a whole lot of those visual effects, but the stuff that we could use was all locked into this 1.85 framing, which also was a challenge because Zack originally shot the movie in 1.33 and he always intended to do a 1.85 cut for the theatrical and then have the entire movie live in a 4:3 (1.33) for the IMAX release.
But when Joss took over, the IMAX version was abandoned for time and money. They just did the 1.85. So that meant a lot of the shots were not finished top and bottom. So then we came up with the 1.66 idea so that it can be a little bit wider but not open up the full 4:3 (1.33) square of the frame.
We put it together. We made some tweaks here and there. We added a bunch of stuff back in that wasn’t even in David’s cut. We added the chapters and broke everything up, and then we realized the color was not great because it was all dailies. It was uncolored stuff, so that’s when we got Resolve on the system. I just taught myself how to use it — worked with Rich Molina, an assistant that David and I have both worked with, and he kind of gave me pointers on how to use Resolve because he had used it.
We did a black and white pass. That was made basically to just hide all the bad comps and unfinished VFX and green screens and Cyborg — Ray Fisher’s character’s in pajamas the whole movie — so obviously in Zack’s version, we didn’t have a lot of comps with him. So by turning everything into black and white it just kind of made all that stuff kind of go away. That’s how the movie was presented to the studio — in black and white and unfinished VFX.
It’s still a compelling enough story that obviously they agreed and they did it.
BRENNER: He never showed his cut to an audience until Zack Snyder’s Justice League. There’s that moment with a friends-and-family screening where you would normally show that? He never had that.
So after I left and the cut the “ZSU” existed, but only a handful of people had seen it.
DORN: Zack liked to call that a unicorn. He said he was going to let it just live as a unicorn that nobody ever sees.
BRENNER: Then it was just known as the Snyder cut and then Dody and Carlos come in and make it what it is.
DORN: There’s a lot of history in the wings about Zack’s fans who were not pleased with the theatrical release. They were confused, actually, and thought, “This can’t possibly be Zack Snyder movie.” It was super-colorful and jocular and weird-looking VFX. Zach’s known for his amazing visual style and more on the darker side, not leaning into the Marvel-esque. So those fans were already confused. It seems as though they took up the banner for Zach to release the Snyder cut. That hashtag: #ReleaseTheSnyderCut.
In November, when HBOMax was launched, they reconvened with Zach and Debbie and they decided to go forward with it and in May of last year, Carlos, spent three or four weeks restoring the project onto the Avid and then I started to work on it and they brought in a pretty hefty VFX team.
We had to make the decisions about whether it was going to be 1.33 or 1.66. That was a financial issue. We landed on 1.33, and then we worked for the ensuing months to polish it up and finish it, including some additional photography.
HULLFISH: So did you ever have to edit in a different aspect ratio? Because I would think that would change the timings of edits when things go off the screen, left or right or top or bottom.
DORN: Nearly all of the VFX were revisited, so we were constantly adjusting ins and outs on everything for various reasons, plus the refinement of all the action scenes was happening too. Zack and D.J. Des Jardin, the VFX supervisor, have a special language and they were constantly spit-balling and figuring out ways to make the action more exciting. So all of those scenes were tweaked.
HULLFISH: Is there still a question of feel at this length of when you need to be at a certain point in the movie? Do you still say, “Hey, at one hour and 40 minutes we need to have the Justice League assembled.” Or “When are we going to finally see Wonder Woman?”
DORN: We never had those kinds of discussions. There was very little restructuring done. If anything, we were just adding more back in because Zack thought, “Well, I’m just going to put in what I feel belongs in here.”
We also were originally doing this for a four-part rollout and for some contractual reasons, it had to be rolled out all at once, so we weren’t concerning ourselves with length at the beginning at all.
BRENNER: For instance, if the studio said, “OK, Zack, you can release your cut in a theater,” you wouldn’t have wanted to do a four hour and ten-minute movie because when you’re in a theater the audience expectations are much different than when you’re streaming something at home and you can pause it, you can come back to it. So I think those kinds of considerations, Steve, came up more when we were working on the “B” cut, and if he had strived to make the cut that was 2:45 or even three hours, I think those questions still would have been questions on our mind because you’re doing it for an audience that is sitting down in a theater in one sitting.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk about the idea that happens to so many films of keeping storylines and characters alive. I’m assuming that that is still a sense of pace and rhythm of the story that still exists. Did you feel like, “Hey, it’s time to get back to Wonder Woman, it’s time to get back to Aquaman?”.
DORN: Not really, honestly. I was already dealing with a pretty well-formed story from David and Carlos and we were on a fast track to finish. When I came on in May, we went through everything with a fine-tooth comb, including adding some more little bits in and knowing that we were going to shoot some more scenes. And then we had to like the picture in September.
So I started in May and locked in September, including doing all the VFX evaluations, so it was a pretty short timeline for something of that girth.
HULLFISH: So you and David never worked together?
DORN: No. But like I have said before, his breadcrumbs were very easy to follow.
HULLFISH: That’s nice to hear. So there wasn’t a different script for this other than maybe the writing, David, that you were talking about?
BRENNER: That was something the studio wanted to do and that became what was in the theaters — the Joss Whedon version — so that had nothing to do with it. Although I think that there was some development in the Steppenwolf story and some new dialog was written, right. Dody?
DORN: Yes. Those scenes were all reworked. Zack rewrote the dialogue. We recorded it with editing room voices — mostly Zach and Carlos — and then we fleshed out those scenes and then we had to do remote ADR with those characters so that the animation for the VFX could be done appropriately with the right lip sync.
We also added in the Martian Manhunter in the middle of the movie with Martha and the Joker scene was written obviously, then the last scene with Martian Manhunter was supposed to be Green Lantern, but Warner Bros wouldn’t allow that so that scene was rewritten. A version of it — where Bruce wakes up — had been shot in the original shoot, but the other side of the character was never shot, so they just reshot the whole thing.
HULLFISH: One of the questions I had planned to ask was, “Did you ever get to scratch track Steppenwolf, Dody?”.
DORN: I didn’t. I make it a point to never do editing room recording.
CASTILLON: She made me do it. I had to suffer through it.
BRENNER: One of the things I was really blown away by at the very beginning was the casting of Steppenwolf and DeSaad because they were these fantastic Shakespearean English actors. And I remember just watching the scenes in motion capture and facial capture thinking, “This is gripping.” Because it is Shakespearean, it’s kings and quests for power and wanting to be accepted and all this great stuff that I don’t think ended up in the other version.
I just remember being blown away by it and it only got better. It only got more interesting and more complex because Zack wanted a villain that was complex. He wanted a villain who looked more alien, but whose emotions were more human. Because what the studio wanted was a Steppenwolf that was a little bit less scary and had a face that looked more human but who ended up being a little bit more arch.
DORN: Absolutely. We really worked on giving complexity and backstory to Steppenwolf that made him almost sympathetic. And there are a couple of scenes and shots where he looks like he’s on the verge of tears. It’s kind of another daddy story where he wants to please his uncle, DeSaad, and he keeps begging to go back to the home planet. He’s told, “No! You have to work harder until you do this, this or this. You can’t come home.” To me, I love that because I love being able to identify with the bad guy. And I think Zack really wanted that.
HULLFISH: Yeah, I just watched that scene where he says, “You’ve got to go back and destroy another fifty thousand worlds before you come home.” and he does look hurt.
BRENNER: That hurt reaction was always there at the beginning. I remember it was something that the actor did and this look on his face.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about that motion capture, because did you cut with the actual motion capture for a while?
BRENNER: Yeah. What I would do at the time because that’s all I had, was I would sometimes have a split-screen of the previs and then his face. So the previs shows us what the environment’s going to look like and what the characters — in a very rough were going to look like — and the face from the motion capture shows the emotion of the actor, so it’s quite useful.
But it’s strange because the way the face rigs are, the camera is mounted onto your body, so it’s a very wide-angle lens. It’s almost like a fisheye, and when you move, it’s moving with you so it’s sometimes disconcerting to watch. You have to get used to it.
DORN: We always have to keep that facial capture, that motion capture in a picture-in-picture so that the VFX people can be constantly checking the sync.
We did a funny motion capture for Martian Manhunter. When we recorded his ADR they came in and they just put dots on his face while he was recording his ADR. Very low-rent, but it worked fine.
HULLFISH: How do you manage screenings when it’s this length?
DORN: We didn’t have any screenings really. We showed a few of the producers and those were done in the screening room at Zack’s home. It was only a couple of people. It was very casual. We didn’t have formal screenings. We had a few tech check screenings at the studio.
CASTILLON: Four hours was a long time to set aside, especially doing QCs. I think my record in one day was three passes at Company 3 and then a few reels at IMAX. So I started at 6am and ended at 9pm.
HULLFISH: What about score and temp score? You’ve got music that was created for the original theatrical screening plus all the other DC movies. Did you use any of that as you were trying to create the ZSU?
BRENNER: Obviously, I used music from Man of Steel for Clark’s theme and used Batman vs Superman for Batman. And we also went into the library that I had built to do the temps for those films because I realized that different scenes had different needs. And we also used the Wonder Woman theme, which Hans created for Batman versus Superman. What we ended up showing the studio was a mixture of music from the first two films and other stuff from temp.
We started developing a score while we were still cutting from Tom Holkenborg. He would give us demos and sketches and we started to work those into the cut. I don’t know if they were in what we showed the studio the first time. I don’t think that they were. That score ended up not existing at all in what you saw on HBOMax. Tom wrote a whole new score.
CASTILLON: We had some temp pieces in the Snyder cut — some pieces that Tom had put together — and so we were using some of it, but a lot of it was just other pieces from other scores and stuff. And then Tom wanted to restart from scratch, so he did. We didn’t have much time, but I feel like the turnaround was incredibly quick, right Dody?
DORN: We were using David’s temp score, which included all the things he was describing. I didn’t have time to go in and rework any of it. We had two music editors who were amazing. It was just a monumental task. And I think he went through and worked sort of thematically. We had two major recording sessions in London, one relatively early and one later on in November or December.
It’s nearly four hours of music, I’d say it’s probably three and a half hours of music and he went through thematically — would create these huge suites. Then Catherine Wilson, one of the music editors, would sculpt it to individual scenes. That would get turned over to the orchestrator and then they would record all of that.
I would check in on the recording sessions by Zoom and they were doing a lot of stuff that was like a tool kit so that he had other things to work with because the picture was still changing and then he would score it and those themes and then when they were doing the sketches, she would turn it into something that we had in the cut. He motored through the whole thing. It was pretty amazing. I was in awe and I love the score.
BRENNER: There were a few source pieces — I mean song score. One of them was in the first Flash scene. I had found this piece by an 80s band called This Mortal Coil, and it stayed in that scene for a long time until the studio thought it was too heavy and too weird. I think they said, “It’s too emo.” But Zack went back to that but it was rerecorded by somebody, which I thought was a great cover.
The other two pieces that were originally song score were in Old Bailey, which was the first Wonder Woman scene. But for whatever reason, Zack decided to score that.
CASTILLON: And the third one was Aquaman’s walk down the pier.
DORN: There are two Nick Cave songs in the movie.
HULLFISH: The King?
BRENNER: Yeah. That piece of music — when I watched the Snyder cut was new to me. And the monument was new too. That was always score.
DORN: Zack does this thing where he kind of asks an internal question out loud. He thinks out loud, let’s put it that way. And he said, Do you think it’s too weird having two Nick Cave songs in the movie? I said, “No, it’s fine. They’re great.” I think they’re both really perfect because one has the lyrics: “They told us our heroes would never die, but they did,” which is perfect as she’s walking up to the monument and then with The King on the pier, it looks to me like the cut and the visual effects are timed to that Nick Cave song with the crashing of the waves happening at different crescendos of the song.
HULLFISH: When you are re-cutting, especially for time, do you strip the music out? Because I find that oftentimes if I’m trying to edit something that already has music placed, then the music is keeping me from making edits that I should probably be making.
BRENNER: One hundred percent. I totally agree. More and more in my career, I do that because it does trick you. Music says, “See, this works! See! it should be this time.” But once you take the music out, you realize, “Oh, it doesn’t need to be like this. We can really take a lot of time out.”
If it’s a montage, for instance, you have to turn the music back on. If you’re trying to lose time to trim and make things more economical, you would turn it off, but having montages without music are tricky.
HULLFISH: What about sound? Do you sometimes have to listen to a scene on mute because the sound effects can also trick you?
DORN: I regularly use my mute buttons for all aspects of the picture. Sometimes I’ll turn the picture off and just work on the dialogue. I’ll turn the music off. I mute it and then, I mean, I’ll mute sound and the sound effects too if I haven’t had time to finesse them. Who wants a cut in the middle of a decay of a gunshot? That can be confusing.
To me, I evaluate what is driving the scene and then I work on that and then I fix all the other elements around it because I like to work with straight cuts through all the channels and then fix.
HULLFISH: We talked about the score you could pull from all these other great DC movies. Is that true with sound effects? I’m assuming you guys had a fantastic toolbox of sound effects.
DORN: What I started working with was so well tricked out with sound effects because of all the work that David and his team had done way back in 2016/2017. So I would normally be digging into that, but I didn’t have to and I didn’t have time to. And Carlos didn’t either, frankly. Warren Paeff — one of the original assistant editors who got bumped up to associate editor — his library is amazing. He might have gotten some things from Scott Hecker, the sound supervisor.
CASTILLON: It was a combination of things. We had that same sound library that we ended up taking onto Army of the Dead, Dody. We did a lot of sound work. We would put a bunch of stuff together for Warren and then Warren would refine it and then he would pass it on to David and then David would do a pass. Whenever we present any cut to the director, it’s pretty. It sounds good.
Especially because this cut always kind of lived being played off of a quick time. We had to make sure that the sound was really kind of dialed in because those avid tracks were the tracks. We ended up doing a mix of the Avid tracks at one of the mixer’s houses.
As the VFX were being refined — especially in the way that Zack was working — everything was getting longer instead of shorter. Time wasn’t an issue.
There’s this beautiful scene where Alfred and Diana are making tea together. It serves no other purpose than just showing that this is a full world and as the heroes are doing their amazing things, Alfred is teaching Wonder Woman the proper way to make tea. There’s no reason for it to be there other than it’s just a little bit of character. It’s a little bit of fleshing out this huge world that we all live in. Normal things that would get cut out, we’d just leave it there. Zack just wanted to leave it there.
BRENNER: When we had things that wouldn’t be found in the library, he would design signature elements for us like Wonder Woman’s Lasso or the Mother box sounds or some of the sounds for Dark Side, so we would incorporate those into our Avid tracks. At a certain point, it became really collaborative with Scott.
HULLFISH: Oftentimes with an edit, if you cut out ten minutes, it makes the movie seem longer. Let’s talk about how cutting time from a movie makes it seem longer?
BRENNER: If a story doesn’t work and if you’ve cut essential elements out so that you’re not involved in the story — you’re not involved in the characters anymore — it becomes uninvolving and it becomes boring and not engaging, and so the experience you have, you’re more aware of time. You haven’t lost yourself in the story. Recently I rewatched Dances with Wolves, which is about a three-hour movie that flies! It’s so engrossing and it doesn’t seem like three hours at all.
I’ve seen movies that are two hours that seem forever for that very reason, I think.
DORN: I think it’s emotional engagement. If you take out all of the character beats, which are not necessarily narratively driven, then you just have a series of events strung together. And you’re not invested.
To get back to the tea scene because this one critic said they had a problem with how long the movie was. But then they said that they loved the tea scene, but clearly if the film were being cut down with the question of length in mind….
HULLFISH: That would be the first scene to go.
DORN: Absolutely. Yeah, no question about it. And that scene was not in the cut that I received from Carlos.
Our sound guy said he’s never worked on a film where every time he gets the reel, it’s longer. Also, every VFX shot, as it came in, we extended the heads and tails as far as we could possibly go. The VFX people work into the handles and the handles look good and they’re in the movie.
HULLFISH: I want to talk about pace and rhythm. I loved the bank scene with Wonder Woman, where she saves the schoolgirls from the machine gun fire. The pacing of it, the speed, it sped up. It slowed down. It held, it rushed. It felt like a piece of music to me. Can you talk to me about cutting a scene like that and how you’re guided to have it have dynamics?
BRENNER: If you look at the movie 300, ramping is one of Zack’s signature styles. I knew that when I first started working with him. He’ll shoot a lot of action scenes with a super, super high-speed camera so that you can slow down and then speed back up to 24fps.
The initial cuts of the scene where we were dealing with not having any visual effects at all, I would just use what I could storytelling-wise to kind of do those ramps. I knew which moments he had in his mind. And I would choose some moments that I had in my mind, and we would come together and say, “Yeah, this is a great moment for ramping.”
We had done this a lot on the second 300 together, so we had a kind of language. Music also was a thing because there were moments where it was almost like a music video where it was cut to the song, so that would inspire us sometimes.
Once the visual effects came, they realized that Wonder Woman’s speed had to be looked at again in a different way because they were doing the real visual effects.
DORN: That is one of the areas where we reworked it most, but really mostly not in the cutting pattern at all. The whole entire cut actually is almost frame for frame the cut that I received starting from when the van pulls up. Really, I think I trimmed three shots in there of the baddies coming into the courthouse.
Then it was adding some things back. We added back more tension with the guys after the suitcase blows up up in the air. And then the pace of her movement was accelerated. We wanted her to feel more like she just moved through the air very fast and that was all fleshed out back and forth between me, Zack and DJ.
It was just like puzzle pieces, moving, moving, moving slightly, a little bit here, a little bit there.
HULLFISH: Back in the film days, those multiple minute trims would have been nearly impossible. How does that change either your approach or the result compared to editing on film?
BRENNER: Oh, my God, that’s a huge conversation!
DORN: I can’t imagine doing it, frankly.
Someone asked me the other day, do I like non-linear better than film? Are you talking about the look at film of the finished product or are you talking about handling film and cutting it back in the day?
One, I think that the look of film does have a nostalgia and loveliness to it that’s very warm and Zack has been doggedly working on that with Army of the Dead. He was using his own lenses and we got a very filmic look shooting digitally because he got his old lenses refitted and that’s really beautiful.
But the actual handling? Because of the way the stories are told, non-linear is absolutely preferable. There’s no question about that.
BRENNER: When people ask me what was the best thing about film that you miss? My answer is the mentorship. In the days of film, an editor needed to have an assistant with her or him almost at all times. That’s how I learned from Claire Simpson, who had learned from Dede Allen.
So Dede Allen’s knowledge gets passed to Claire Simpson, who’s her first assistant, who’s opening a line script for her and trying to think of the next move that she’s going to make an opening that trim box and taking off the trim pad and throwing it into the cutter Moviola and trying to be on top of it. That process was later passed on to me when I was her first assistant on Platoon.
So that mentorship is lost. It’s very hard to get now so the opportunity for apprenticing is different.
DORN: My apprenticeship was in a different way because I really worked for only a few years as an assistant and those editors didn’t keep me in the room with them. The one who is an exception to that was Carol Littleton. I wasn’t necessarily in the room with her. But when she would cut a scene, she would call me and the other assistants into her room and show us the scene and we would talk about it and any questions that we had, she would answer very astutely.
But then when I started doing sound and particularly cutting dialogue and Foley, I was examining the scenes because we would reprint the audio and rebuild the dialogue track and so I was seeing where the editor had tightened things up or opened things up to create different rhythms and beats. Also looking at Foley and of how the scenes were flowing. I attribute that to really how I feel like I learned my craft.
In the mentorship department, I do often call the assistant into the room and say, “Will you have a look at this? Can I move on?” Because sometimes when you’re cutting during dailies, you just have to get through the material to know that you have the scene and you know you’ll go back and refine later.
The volume of material that comes in for any given scene nowadays, you really have to work in a different way. Sometimes I’ve had as much as 10 hours of dailies for one scene. Then how are you going to organize that and figure out even what the cutting pattern is?
BRENNER: It’s one thing to have to invite your assistants in and get feedback. It’s another thing to have to have somebody there for 10 hours a day in the old film days.
HULLFISH: Side by side.
BRENNER: Yeah. That’s what I’m worried is lost now — unless you’re able to be with us all the time and see everything that we do.
HULLFISH: I thank you all so much for spending an hour with me.
DORN: Thank you.
BRENNER: Thank you, too. And I also want to tell you, Dody and Carlos, that your work on the movie was wonderful to see. When I saw surprises — things I hadn’t seen before. It was wonderful. The last scene was great because it hadn’t been shot yet, and suddenly I wasn’t an editor looking at a different cut of a movie I worked on, I was like a little kid watching a superhero movie and it was wonderful.
DORN: That’s great. David, I’ve said it many times, I feel like I was standing on the shoulders of two giants, you and Carlos, so it’s really been a pleasure working on that material, so thank you.
To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish or on imdb.
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.
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