Post Production

ART OF THE CUT WITH “Pet Sematary” editor, Sarah Broshar

Sarah Broshar started as an editorial assistant on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in 2004. Broshar was editing by 2009, but her big break was as an assistant editor on Steven Spielberg’s Adventures of Tin Tin under legendary editor, Michael Kahn, ACE. On Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies she moved up to Additional Editor and on Ready Player One and The Post, she co-edited with Kahn. I interviewed Kahn and Broshar after they simultaneously cut both The Post and Ready Player One.

Most recently, Broshar cut Pet Semetary for directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer.

(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)

Back row – left to right
Director Kevin Kölsch, 1st assist Chris Patterson, director Dennis Widmyer, post supervisor Abby Callahan, vfx editor Andrey Ragozin
First row – my dog Charley (barely pictured), Sarah Broshar, PA Jessica Larson Photo by Rob Yamamoto

HULLFISH: What was the schedule like?

BROSHAR: We started shooting mid-June 2018 in Montreal and we came back to LA in mid-August, and we wrapped about March 15th. It was a little tight at the end. Chris Patterson — the first assistant — and I started editing in Montreal.

HULLFISH: How were dailies getting done?

BROSHAR: E-Film set up a temporary lab. They had somebody doing our dailies who actually had the office next to ours. It was really convenient.

HULLFISH: How do you view dailies?

BROSHAR: Chris preps them in the morning and then I would usually look at them right after lunch and try to get the first cut done by the end of the day and then have the next morning to go back over things. If everything was working perfectly that’s how it would flow. He would get the dailies and sync them, put them in frame view, organize them in scene order and make dailies rolls. I would sit and watch them and take notes on paper and also drop locators if things were particularly good so I could find them later. And then after watching everything in one go, I’d look at the first cut.

HULLFISH: So you don’t start cutting a select reel together or do anything more active during dailies than let them flow over you and take the notes?

BROSHAR: Yeah. I had a USB extension so I could sit away from my desk with just the keyboard and press start and stop and drop locators and that’s about it.

On this movie we were lucky the producer wanted to screen dailies in a theater with the crew for the first week. The first few days of production we actually took the drive across town to a screening room and the director, the producer, the DP, first AD, production designer were all there and we actually had a proper daily screening, so that was really a treat.

HULLFISH: That is nice. How did you run that daily screening? Did you watch everything or just circled takes?

BROSHAR: Certain scenes we watched everything and other scenes we looked at a few selects only.

HULLFISH: Then you’ve got this blank timeline and you’ve got to start editing. What is your approach at that point?

BROSHAR: I try thinking it through while I’m watching dailies come up with some sort of plan.

HULLFISH: Do you do select reels at all or do you just work straight from your locators and notes and bins?

BROSHAR: Just straight from the notes really. I do go back and rewatch things and explore. I did make selects reels for the fight at the end or stuff that was shot over a couple of days. Particularly if it had different units. I would pull out the best pieces and set them aside until I had the rest of the scene.

HULLFISH: Some people like to work really fast and get the structure of the scene put together so then they can go back and look at choices now that they’ve got the structure in place. Other people start fine cutting from the start.

BROSHAR: I think it depends on the kind of scene. I would say that I try to get a pretty good cut down for the first pass, especially with a dialogue scene. There’s no point in rushing it because you really want to find those moments and the beats. That’s my preferred way of doing it. Maybe with more of an action scene, you want to kind of get all the pieces in there and get everything laid out sequentially so you can clearly see what’s working and not working.

I watch everything, and they build the KEM rolls from slate to flash frame. I’ve gotten burned before by skipping forward to “action” — sometimes you can miss things before “action,” so I try to watch everything.

HULLFISH: I don’t tend to do that, but there are all kinds of good stuff that CAN happen before “action.”

BROSHAR: Plus it gives you time to take notes and think, too. If there’s a lot to do and you’re trying to get it all done, there’s a tendency to want to get through it, but there’s something valuable in taking a minute and taking the pauses where you have them.

HULLFISH: Was there a discussion with the directors about trying to get to a certain point in the movie earlier?

Director Kevin Kölsch, left, and Director Dennis Widmyer behind the scenes on the set of PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: In the initial directors cut, it was trying to get Ellie out to see the pet cemetery earlier. Then, once we’d refined the cut and done our first audience preview, the idea was to try to get to Pascow’s death earlier. Those were the two benchmarks.

HULLFISH: It’s interesting that there are always those benchmarks that people are trying to hit. And Pascow was the badly injured kid in the ER?

BROSHAR: Yes. Pascow’s death kicks off that supernatural element to the story. You want to build the story and be with the family, so you have to find the balance between the setup and getting to the parts that kick off the horror too.

HULLFISH: It’s so easy to just press to the action sooner, but if you don’t care anything about the family then you won’t care about the family when the action starts. Was there more of that? Did anything get removed wholesale?

John Lithgow as Jud in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: Yeah. There was an early scene that was in the film for most of post-production. It’s a great scene that will be on the DVD. Jason Clarke’s character, Louis, and Ellie, his daughter, have a really sweet heart-to-heart and also the cat Church was very cute in the scene. It had great performances and a great vibe, but it just was a little too much family right at the beginning of the movie. It was really hard to get rid of because everyone loved it.

HULLFISH: This is a new director for you, correct?

BROSHAR: It’s actually a duo: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. They’re a team of directors. I had not worked with them before.

HULLFISH: How did that collaboration go?

BROSHAR: It was a lot of fun. They’re really great guys. I tried to pester them to come into the cutting room as much as I could during production. They were shooting about an hour outside of Montreal, so I got maybe two days a week which is pretty good. Sometimes they’d have me come to set and I’d show them something on my laptop. Generally, I’d show them a first cut of a scene and they’d give general notes. Then for the director’s cut, we sat together and started going scene by scene and got it into a shape that they were happy with. When we’d gone through all the scenes together, we watched the film as a whole and continued to watch it in whole once every week or two.

Left to right: Director Kevin Kölsch, John Lithgow, Director Dennis Widmyer behind the scenes on the set of PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

HULLFISH: From what I think I heard you say, you and the directors never bothered to watch the entire assembly through before you started honing.

BROSHAR: Correct. I think it was a really effective way of getting through it quickly. It was also a really quick way of finding where our problems were going to be. Some of the scenes didn’t change very much at all from the first cut, it just depended on what the scene was.

HULLFISH: Most editors will just say that watching an assembly all the way through is just so painful.


HULLFISH: I’m starting to question the viability of that as something you need to do.

Jeté Laurence as Ellie in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: You want to get it to the level where you might even have a few visual effects temped in and you really have your best foot forward. It’s not like you got a finished movie at that point. It’s simply your starting point.

HULLFISH: Did it affect you to work on something so dark and scary for so long?

BROSHAR: I really enjoyed the directors and our crew. We had a great crew. So we had a lot of fun in the cutting room. I’m a total scaredy cat. I love horror movies but I’m a squeamish person that will be hiding behind my hands in a movie theater. But when you’re watching something from dailies and you’re working to construct the scares, you want to be frightened, and then hold on to those initial reactions. When you know something is coming it’s not as scary. Beyond the scares, though it is a really dark story. Best antidote when things got a little dark or heavy was to put on a dailies roll of the cat or one of the young twins playing gage. They were so sweet and the cats were so talented and fun to watch.

HULLFISH: When you were fleshing out your picture cuts were you adding those scary atmospherics immediately? They seemed to add so much to the tension and scare factor. I’m cutting a low budget horror movie right now and I just downloaded the Pet Sematary score to do some temping!

Jason Clarke as Louis in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: We temped right away and did sound design right away. We didn’t get a lot of Chris’s score (composer, Chris Young) until a few weeks before we were locking picture. It was really great when we actually got to hear all that. With horror, as you know, a lot of it is sound. Not ALL of it, but a LOT of it. (both laugh)

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about jump scares. Do you have an internal metronome going in your head about when those things have to happen or how you’re setting those things up?

BROSHAR: The first aspect of that is it goes back to watching dailies, because you’re really only going to get scared once, then you start to know it’s coming. I had to hold on to the things that scared me and the timing and how that worked because a lot of them — not all of them, but a lot of the scares — are in-camera, like when Pascow sits up when Ellie springs out of bed. We found that if you cut for a jump, it felt cheaper. Whereas if you’re watching something and then something happens in the same take, it feels more honest. It’s tricky because sometimes it can be more shocking to cut for the jump, but it might not feel as earned, so there is a sort of balance. We’d go back and forth between cutting for a jump versus being somewhere and then having the jump happen within the camera.

Jason Clarke as Louis in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

We would watch a scare scene the first time and feel if it was effective or not, but the second or third time you start to lose perspective. So after trying something new, we’d wait and revisit it in a couple of hours or days and try to watch it fresh to see how it feels.

HULLFISH: I loved John Lithgow’s monologue about “places in the world that are older than us.” While he’s delivering that monologue, a montage continues over the top of it. Was it scripted to have the montage OVER the monologue or was it scripted for those scenes to FOLLOW the monologue?

BROSHAR: It was scripted and shot as two full scenes, but it worked out really well to hear those lines over Louis’s face as he’s processing that information.

HULLFISH: That was a great choice, I thought. I want to talk a little bit about transitions and one of the transitions that I can think of is a really nice pre-lap of audio going into the birthday party from the cat sitting abandoned in the middle of the road.

PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: I thought that was really fun because it was this sinister shot of the cat and then that Happy Birthday song is supposed to be positive and upbeat but it gives it a little bit of a foreshadowing. Like this is not going to be a happy birthday.

That cat sat there forever. I think that take was even longer. I know it was longer than what we used because we ended up speeding up the shot so it seemed like the car was pulling way faster. But that cat sat there for like two minutes staring at the camera. He was so impressive that cat!

HULLFISH: There’s another great transition from the cat to Lithgow chopping wood.

BROSHAR: Yeah. We loved that transition. Again, it’s the sound. That sound was so definitive of cutting on the action with the wood chop.

HULLFISH: Talk about the obstacles or difficulties in editing that truck accident scene, because that’s a pretty critical moment and it’s probably a lot of small moments because of the stuntwork and practical effects.

John Lithgow as Jud in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

BROSHAR: There were different elements: there are the kids. There was the stunt. There was the cat. Really it was making sort of a first cut of all the pieces out there. We had all this perspective stuff from the truck driver. It was sort of making a super extended cut for the first half of it and then getting it down to where it made sense and it had some suspense, but it also had to be believable and not taking the audience out of it by milking it too much. It was walking that line between wanting to milk the tension but not going too far.

HULLFISH: As an editor, there are usually several moments where non-contiguous moments of the story need to butt up against each other. In this story, it was the accident scene ending and the very next scene is the funeral. Some editors might consider a dip to black or a dissolve to some establishing shot, or the sun coming through the trees… but you hard cut from one moment to the other. Do you want to talk about why that worked as a cut?

BROSHAR: The music carries through the cut and I think the camera moves provide the language to create the transition. The camera pulls out really high on the accident, so that feels like an ending, and then the next camera is tracking and it finds the funeral. The transition is really in the camera.

Left to right: Amy Seimetz as Rachel, Hugo Lavoie as Gage, Jason Clarke as Louis and Jeté Laurence as Ellie in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

HULLFISH: What about horror sound effects?

BROSHAR: We had a fair amount of stuff in our library, but the sound team started in the fall and did an early pass on some of the scenes, which was super helpful — especially the truck crash. Brandon Jones did that sound design — it leads to a big crescendo and then it cuts to nothing. We sort of temped that idea, but it was nowhere near the right feeling. His sound design was great to have early in the cutting process. It really helped.

HULLFISH: You were an assistant to Michael Kahn and then an additional editor with him. Tell me a little bit about your relationship as an assistant and also with your assistants.

BROSHAR: With Michael, it was a wonderful and unique situation because I was not doing a lot of the normal assistant stuff. I was cleaning up sound and things, but I was sitting there cutting with him, and so it was not really exactly the same thing as a normal assistant. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity and experience.

Left to right: Jason Clarke, Director Kevin Kölsch, Director Dennis Widmyer and John Lithgow behind the scenes on the set of PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

I try to bring assistants in and have them hang out in the cutting room because it doesn’t happen as much as it should. And I don’t even do enough of that – there’s always so much for everyone to do. You learn a lot by sitting with somebody else — first and foremost patience. Chris Patterson is amazing. I was very, very, very lucky that he came to Montreal. It was a ton of work and I could not have done it without him. He was the guy making everything happen and also doing sound effects and really everything. It was just the two of us in Montreal, and then we got back to L.A. and brought on Andrey Ragozin, who did all of our visual effects temps.

I’d worked with Chris and Andrey on both The Post and Ready Player One. By the end, we brought in a few more people — who were all really excellent — for final preview and finishing in a very short amount of time. This was a smaller budget studio movie, so they’d let us hire a music editor for a week before each preview. We ended up having three different people come in for a week each to help us with the temp score and they all made really great contributions.

HULLFISH: I love it. Thank you, Sarah, so much for your time today.

BROSHAR: You’re welcome. Great to talk with you!

Art of the Cut book cover
Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors

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

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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Steve Hullfish has been producing and editing award-winning television since the mid-1980s. He has written six books, and edited four theatrical feature films (including two Number One New Movies in the US). He has lectured…

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