Post Production

ART OF THE CUT on editing “Zombieland: Doubletap”

with Dirk Westervelt, ACE and Chris Patterson

Dirk Westervelt, ACE is an ACE Eddie nominee for his work on Deadpool 2. His filmography also includes Logan – which was a previous Art of the Cut interviewRun All Night, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Chris Patterson has been associate editor on An Unfinished Life, Casanova, and Sunshine Cleaning and additional editor on Whip It and Megan Leavey.

Today, we talk about their work on Zombieland: Doubletap.

This interview is also available as a podcast.

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

HULLFISH: I notice that this is your first time with this director. How did that work out? How different is it to work with a new director than somebody that you’ve worked with multiple times?

WESTERVELT: Our director, Ruben Fleischer, he’s worked with basically the same editor throughout his whole career. He’d done five movies with Alan Baumgarten, but there was a scheduling conflict with a film Baumgarten had agreed to do.

I came to this through the writers from Deadpool 2, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, who were also producers on this and wrote it. That was my connection to the project. They reached out and were getting pretty close to shooting by the time they called me, so it was a pretty quick decision and then I jumped on.

Chris (Patterson) and I had been trying to work together for about 15 years that we’ve known each other. I called Chris to see if he could jump on board and fortunately that worked out.

left to right, the Zombieland: Doubletap crew: Dirk Westervelt – Editor, Eric Withee – VFX PM, James Lu – VFX Editor, Sarah (Blu) Pratt – VFX PA, Jennifer Nguyen – Editorial PA, Nick Rosenblum – Apprentice Editor, Chris Patterson – Editor, Dom Rolandelli – Apprentice Editor, Matt Evans – First Assistant Editor, Steve Dellerson – VFX Producer

PATTERSON: Our schedules finally aligned and Dirk brought me on and it was a good experience. We had a lot of fun making the movie.

WESTERVELT: With Ruben, it was interesting because they were already in Atlanta by the time they hired me. I was here in L.A. and there was never a plan to send editorial on location. The cutting rooms were always going to stay put in L.A.

Initially, they hired me after having just phone conversations with Ruben. Obviously I knew Rhett and Paul from before, but Ruben and I had only spoken on the phone.

There was originally a plan to fly out and meet Ruben at some point early in production but it never happened because We just started getting a pile of dailies. Everybody got so busy that we just kept going. So I actually never met Ruben in person until they came back from Atlanta at the end of the shoot for the director’s cut. We did send him scenes but we were working mainly through emails and texts during the shoot.

In the past, you and I talked about this on Logan, I did a lot of remote work with some other directors. On that one, we were actually on Facetime and had video link-ups so we could work remotely that way. In this case, we were just sending out scenes and getting some written feedback. So it was interesting to be working with a director you hadn’t ever met yet through the production phase of the movie. It wasn’t until he came back at the end of production and we settled in.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

Chris and I would just split up things as they came in. There was a lot of footage coming in. They were on a very short schedule. They actually shot this in fewer days than the first Zombieland. It was a two-month shoot overall, so it was a lot of movie to get in that amount of time. We just did the best we could to stay on top of it as it came in the door and present Ruben with a pretty finessed cut — as well as we could by the time he got back — so the assembly was in pretty decent shape. With the two of us going, it was manageable.

PATTERSON: We divvied up scenes. We cut a lot of the same scenes and it was comedy so there were tons of ad-libs. Which joke works? We would each try different jokes and then combine and make the best scene out of all the different pieces.

HULLFISH: So the schedule was two months in Atlanta followed by how much time until now?

WESTERVELT: Two months in Atlanta and then a 10-week director’s cut based on the studio’s schedule. With comedies they like to see a cut with an audience and before they could schedule that we got an extra bit of time.

Also, a lot of times they like to start the ten weeks right when production stops. They used to give editors a week or two to finish the assembly but that often gets left by the wayside now, unfortunately. Because I think it’s a really valuable and important time to get a cut in good shape to start a director’s cut.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelso) and Nevada (Rosario Dawson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP.

But in this case, he gave us a few days. I think he came in four or five days after he finished shooting. And then at the end, we ended up getting an extra week and a half or so before the studio could schedule their screening anyway. So we had about an 11 week period after the assembly.

It was an extremely compressed schedule. This is the shortest post I’ve had — on a studio film anyway. In that time we had three previews — four including the studio screen which had an audience but we didn’t have questionnaires. Then we had two previews here in L.A — in Long Beach — and one in Kansas. We would make adjustments. We recorded the audience in this case. We actually filmed the audience infrared so you can see people’s reactions in a dark theater to see what they’re really connecting with.

But the main ingredient is the laugh track. You can kind of settle arguments about which jokes hit and you can finesse beats to hit the comedy as sharply as possible using that. Those screenings are very helpful. But it was a lot of stuff to get done in a really short period of time. We have a lot of visual effects, and the third act has a ton of CG work. So just to get all that stuff done in time was a challenge.

HULLFISH: Did you know about that compressed schedule ahead of time and that’s why you wanted to bring Chris on?

WESTERVELT: The schedule was short from the get-go. So it was pretty apparent that we could use the help and not just have one editor. That was definitely part of it.

Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee) Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) Emma Stone (Wichita) Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) Rosario Dawson (Nevada) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP.

Chris and I have been trying to work together for a long time, so I would have been trying to bring him on anyway. But he’s been very busy — working with Michael Kahn and Steven Spielberg, Dylan Tichenor. He’s been on that train for a while, so it’s just that our schedules finally coordinated on this one. He was definitely needed here.

PATTERSON: It was a lot of fun and Dirk is super-collaborative and Rubin would bounce back and forth from my room to Dirk’s room to let us actually get work done and then also sit with us and give us very detailed notes, so it worked out because it was a good match.

WESTERVELT: That’s an important value to having the two editors is him being able to bounce back and forth because instead of the director waiting for the editor to accomplish some ideas, he can keep busy between the two of us and we can just keep bouncing back and forth, moving this thing along. Ruben really likes to work that way too.

HULLFISH: Give me some detail about how that worked, because obviously once the director is there with you, you’re into having reels put together. Were you each working on entire sequences of scenes or were you working on individual scenes when you were working with the director?

WESTERVELT: I think you and I talked about this a little bit on Logan — how this stuff gets split up. Some editors split the work up in a very rigid way. I tend to be more flexible in terms of the way it’s divided. I actually like to have somebody go through the stuff that I’ve been through because they might see something fresh that I didn’t, and there’s always saved versions to go back to.

Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP.

There was a lot of stuff that we were both through on this one, and there were times when I had a couple of scenes on my plate with Ruben and I knew I couldn’t get through it that quickly — and I wanted to see what Chris would come up with, so I’d hand him something and vice versa. So there were a lot of scenes that we were both through. I would say most of them at some point in time.

HULLFISH: But, because the scenes are in reels at that point, does it help for one editor to work in a bigger chunk with Rubin? Or does he just like to work in individual scenes?

PATTERSON: That’s interesting. It was such a compressed schedule that we had to try things. So if we were getting ready for a preview and Ruben wanted to try a bunch of things, we’d divvy stuff up. Sometimes I’d go into my room, work on an action scene — like, “Hey, let’s punch this action scene up.” And I’d do a bunch of it and bring it into Dirk’s room and show Dirk and Ruben and they’d say, “These six things out of the 12 things you did are awesome. Let’s put them in and these other six things are not so great, let’s not put them in.”

But it was always working towards the next screening. It didn’t feel like we were working to finish the movie it felt like we were just getting to the next screening and then finally when all the screenings were done we did the fine-tuning. We’d have a preview and then we had a week and a half and another preview and it was a lot of just getting stuff tighter and better and making sure all the good jokes were in, the jokes that don’t land are out.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock) try to escape the zombies in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP.

One of the producers might say, “I really think this joke will work. Put it in.” We’d put it in and either he would be right or he would be wrong and we’d go to the tape (the videotaped recordings of the screening audience) after the preview and be like, “You were right!”

WESTERVELT: All of the screenings from the beginning went very well with those audiences, so it was always just a matter of getting it better. My personal preference is to try to start thinking about the movie at least in broad sections like reels or acts or to kind of have that big picture thing. Of course, we always have to look at it that way just for the storytelling, but on this schedule and with Ruben, it was probably a little more focused on the micro than the macro in balance.

Most of our time was really just digging into scenes a lot and then hopefully having time to run through a reel. You’d always be catching something. We’d try and run through a whole reel and we’d always want to change something before we’d get to the end. So there was less of that than I usually like to do.

HULLFISH: Did you guys ever match the audience screening video capture with your actual timeline or did you just look at them separately?

PATTERSON: Always. We’d do a picture-in-picture so you’d have the audience screening with the audio synced to the movie. It’s a great way to do it.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

WESTERVELT: The Kansas City screening didn’t have video. It only had sound. We recorded that one ourselves. This is my first time of having video of the audience — I think Chris has had it before — but on Deadpool 2, for example, we just recorded the audience audio to hear the laugh track reactions.

HULLFISH: So did the picture-in-picture of the audience actually help more than the audio?

WESTERVELT: I would say not much. I think the audio is a lot more important. There were some places where the audio reaction is a little muted so we’d dig into the video reactions to see if people look engrossed or something and you’d kind of try to read the tea leaves. But for the most part, you start to just notice, “That guy is eating a lot of popcorn.”

PATTERSON: Yeah, “That guy just spilled his soda.”

WESTERVELT: “Well those two are very affectionate!”

PATTERSON: Some of it is somewhat helpful for visual gags so you can see what they’re looking at if it’s not like “a joke joke” but a visual gag. But for the most part, definitely the audio is more helpful but the studio comes out and sets up the recording so it’s nice to have.

HULLFISH: You guys talked a lot about some kind of micro editing and making sure each scene and a joke is hitting. What about the larger structural considerations, like balancing the scary with the funny or something like that? Did that happen later or throughout the process?

WESTERVELT: We were conscious of it the whole time. Definitely and always it’s a big part of making a movie like this, a genre mash-up. When do you lean into drama? When do you just go for the laugh? When is the action or threat the most important thing? So we’re very conscious of that the whole time and it’s a big part of this movie and making a movie like this. Compared to the first movie — the response we’ve gotten from most of the audience — is that the comedy is a bigger component. We tried to lean into our drama where we could but it’s a little bit different in its DNA in terms of the mix — the recipe — the formula.

It was always a consideration of: how do we keep the heart and keep the important character beats that may not be for laughs? With these characters that are beloved and have this chemistry between them, it’s very important to keep that character-story-drama working as well.

Flafstaff (Thomas Middleditch) and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

PATTERSON: The four main characters play off each other so well. They’re like a family and so that stuff worked very well. I think that the action pieces in this one are a lot bigger than the first one as well. So it was getting the action to really work well but also not forgetting that it’s not a Michael Bay movie. It’s not an action movie.

Sometimes with action comedies, during the action scenes, they forget that it’s a comedy. I think we managed to strike that balance pretty well on this one. The action is great but there’s also a lot of humor and heart in it.

WESTERVELT: We’d have to be careful in places — like, there were things in the third act where there was a lot of comedy within the action, but we started to lose the thread at some point and we needed to dial back the comedy a bit. Sometimes it was just by having a different piece of score. Or maybe there was a joke that was a B joke, not an A joke that we didn’t need in the middle of a scene that was delivering some serious information — that sort of thing.

We also invented some shots later in the process that gave us scope and threat within sections where we were massaging that borderline between comedy and action and stakes.

HULLFISH: Is there anything you can think of without giving away plot points where you had to change from the script to what you ended up with? Taking things out, adding things, changing things, cutting things.

Act 3 Assembly edit – Avid timeline screenshot

WESTERVELT: It’s a road movie, much like the first movie, and they’re on a mission. Sometimes on a road movie you go on a detour or something and there was a section in the movie where we might have gotten off our main thread a little too long in initial cuts, and so there was a lot of thinking and reworking that section in terms of making it fleeter and sort of distilling it down to the really great stuff. It was also consistently one of the favorite sections of the movie because there’s such great stuff in it, so you have to tread carefully through a section like that where you’ve got these competing agendas. So finding the right length and finding what to trim in that section was a big part of our process.

HULLFISH: I’m sure that’s a difficult storytelling aspect. Cutting that down is probably better for the story, but the audience and maybe even studio executives are telling you, “No! We love that section” But it’s hindering the forward momentum.

WESTERVELT: Yeah. Those are difficult choices sometimes. The studios, in my experience, tend to be pretty supportive of trimming unless you’re targeting somebody’s favorite beat. But you have a lot of people involved in a movie like this. You have a lot of producers and writers and studio folks and people who have opinions, so that’s a big part of the juggling that we do with the director in the cutting room.

Act 3 Final sequence Avid timeline screenshot

Navigating all that is a big part of what we have to do — those competing requirements but we just always have to remind ourselves that we’re here in service to the story.

PATTERSON: I think we did a fairly good job with that off-ramp that we took — which was a very good off-ramp. Keeping the other plot threads alive during that off-ramp is something that we had to figure out how to do and I think we did that.

HULLFISH: That’s a great lineup of actors that you’re working with there. Were you guys trying to just find a great performance and stay out of the way or were you needing to consciously manipulate moments through editing to be able to enhance the comedy? What was kind of the ratio or where did you find, “Hey, we’re better off just sitting on a wide shot or a two-shot and letting these two actors do their thing?”.

WESTERVELT: It’s a total wealth of unbelievable acting. With this cast, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And there were new people that came into it that were amazing as well, so that’s really why we were able to make this movie on this schedule. They all had a rapport with Ruben as well because they did the first movie together and really were friends.

A lot of them are doing incredible things with their faces, so I don’t know if the rule of comedy playing in a wide was as big a part of this movie as it might be on some. There are definitely places where that applies, but these actors are just always giving you something amazing. When they’re just reacting — when somebody else is on a monologue — they’re still doing amazing things with their faces, so it’s really a lot about being on those faces at the right moment. And they would give you incredible variations. There would be several versions that were all good, so just choosing between those is a big part of what we had to do. It was never a problem of not having great stuff. And I think Ruben’s ease with these actors, and the fun they had on set together, was a big part of that.

Madison (Zoey Deutch), Wichita (Emma Stone), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP.

PATTERSON: I think that was also where it was beneficial to have two of us. Ruben is super collaborative, so if our. P.A. or apprentice saw something really good, they were more than welcome to bring it up and say, “Hey, what about this thing?” And if it worked we would use it. But also we were able to cut so many versions of each scene, going down different adlib roads so that we could have three or four cuts with different sets of jokes and see which ones were working and see if there are ways to combine other ones, and that’s why I think we were able to mine every frame of the dailies.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a bit about cutting ad-lib because if somebody goes down a certain ad-libbed path in a scene that might not carry over to the next take or it’s not supported in the other set-ups and then you’re hosed.

WESTERVELT: Exactly.

PATTERSON: If you wanted to go down a certain path that the other actors didn’t get on their coverage you would have to kind of Frankenstein it together. Sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t. The stuff that worked stayed in the movie. The stuff that didn’t work obviously didn’t stay in the movie.

Emma and Jesse were just amazing at coming up with things like that and then you’d see them in between takes — they’d be like, “Why don’t I say this and you say this and then you do this.” And they would just work it out and Ruben would come in and say, “Yeah”, or have another idea. It was pretty amazing.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

WESTERVELT: The actors themselves — with Ruben — were very good at tracking where they would adlib into something good and then try to pick it up on the next set up so that you had a matching piece to continue on that thread.

There are a lot of split comps and things that we did in this movie to make things like that work as well. You find something that’s kind of cool then you have to find a way to make it work with the rest of the material you have if it wasn’t part of the original plan.

HULLFISH: Yup. And by split comp, you’re saying that you’ve got a wide shot or a two-shot and you’re choosing one performance on one side of the screen and a different take on another side of the screen.

WESTERVELT: Exactly.

HULLFISH: You mentioned that you weren’t on location, but you also said that you heard the actors talking between takes, so the cameras rolling between takes I’m assuming — they were shooting series?

PATTERSON: Yeah. If they do a series, I always tend to watch the stuff in between. You can pick up that the director really liked something in this particular take and you’re going to make sure that ends up in the cut. So listening to what they say in between takes and before and after “cut” is pretty helpful.

WESTERVELT: And they did a lot of series on this one so there was a lot of that. Some of that was the schedule and the other is that that’s comedies in general.

HULLFISH: I can see that in comedy: that you just kind of want to keep it rolling.

WESTERVELT: That’s right.

HULLFISH: That’s awesome to be able to hear the director and the actors because you kind of know. Oh and that’s what they thought worked.

PATTERSON: Right.

HULLFISH: I love that. Let’s talk about process a little bit — some fine detail in process. When do you start assembling scenes back to back? Do you start as soon as you’ve got scene 17 and scene 18? You put them together? Or are you waiting until the end of dailies?

WESTERVELT: We put them together as soon as you have adjoining scenes. So the movie starts to build itself into these clumps. So you get scenes 17 and 18 and then you might get 23 and 24 and then those pieces grow on their own. Somewhere towards the end of the assembly generally — even if there are still scenes missing in between — try to block them out with a slug into reels. So then everybody can go to the reels to work on them. It’s just easier for workflow in the cutting room to get into reals sooner than later. For me, it usually happens around the last couple of weeks of the assembly.

HULLFISH: Once you’ve got those reels, do you try to stay in those reels, or are you jumping back to the original cut of the scenes themselves for any purpose? Why would you do that?

WESTERVELT: Sometimes it’s just easier to have a shorter sequence. If you’re in a really intense action scene or something and it has a ton of clips of its own… I stack a lot of alts in my timeline, so the timeline itself can get quite complicated and messy. So if it’s something like that, I might just want to pull that scene out and just work on it in its own sub-sequence. If other people have other things to do in other places in the reel, I might leave the scene in the reel and just let everybody know not to touch that scene that I’m in. That allows other things to progress in the reel. Then I’ll cut it back in when I’m done with that pass on it.

Generally, I work in reels. I think we both generally try to stay in reels.

Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

HULLFISH: Yeah, I would agree with you, Dirk. Exactly. Most of the scenes I would work in reels unless it was a particularly complicated action sequence with a ton of audio tracks and video tracks and VFX. Sometimes I’d just sub-clip that out to work on it in case anything goes wrong sync-wise — I don’t screw up the whole reel and it’s easier to fix.

PATTERSON: Also there were times when Dirk and Ruben would be working in a reel and Ruben would say, “Hey, try something with this scene” that was in the same reel. I’d just take it out of the reel as a sub-sequence and work on it until they were done and then show it after.

WESTERVELT: Taking that big complicated scene out of the reel and working on it separately — maybe it’s just psychological. It’s just a more finite thing that you can wrap your mind around.

HULLFISH: Helps you focus.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, it helps you focus on it.

HULLFISH: How are you working vertically? Like you were saying, “We’ve got the audience reactions on a track.” What’s happening in your timeline vertically?

WESTERVELT: So we don’t keep the audience reactions in our main cut. We just keep those in a separate bin on that screening’s version of the cut. It’s just a reference thing. Our main timeline undergoes an evolution from the assembly through post, but in the assembly I do a lot of alts. I cut a lot of alts on top of each other. I might have my three or five favorite versions of a line or something all stacked on top of each other. Sometimes I have different cut points underneath, so my timeline tends to get pretty crazy vertically and it looks a bit like the Hong Kong timeline at some point in the assembly. So it gets a little chaotic for people that aren’t used to it, but at some point we start to clean that up and it’s usually sometime during the director’s cut because it just gets easier for everyone else to work on it and I can archive those stacked version and still have those selected alts underneath if I want to go looking for something for a particular moment.

Rule Battle Timeline – Avid screenshot

My last few shows I’ve left a lot up to the VFX editor, in terms of how we organize the timeline in the long run because they’re the ones really dealing with carrying a bunch of versions of shots and tracking information and all of that. We just have a discussion beforehand and make a plan.

On Logan and Deadpool 2 we ended up having invisible clips, superimposed at 0% opacity essentially, that would show up in the TC generator tracks so it was an easy way for them to create QuickTimes that would always have the shot numbers on them. Once you begin getting version numbered shots in those can go away.

On this show, we had two VFX editors — Ed Marsh and James Lu — who are both extremely great at their jobs. They had a slightly different system of doing this — also using a time code generator layer to show the shot names on output and during playback by editing those overplayed filters directly. That layer with that info would, we would try to keep on the same track in a reel, around v20. That worked out very well.

On most of the other recent shows I’ve been on we started stacking stuff from the bottom. A classic example would be the daily on the bottom and then you’d have your first VFX temp on the next layer — it would be color-coded a certain way — then you’d have your first VFX version from the vendors coming in.

Sometimes they start with version zero from the vendors, which is really just the plate regurgitated just so they can start tracking it before they’ve done any work on it. And then version 1 and 10 and 20 and so on stacked up above that and eventually a final on top which had its own color-coding. Then that device by which they don’t have to create a title or change the title every time for the QuickTImes with the version number that they have to make for their VFX people.

Chris really did more to work that out with those guys and had more communication with them about it on this one.

PATTERSON: Yeah. Ed basically had his layer with tags and then we had VFX underneath it and there were color-codings, but we also had different tracks for different things — like motion graphics.

WESTERVELT: So that gen track that would show the names was always on V 20, for example. The optical type stuff that Chris just mentioned would always be on v10.

PATTERSON: There was one section of the movie that got so kind of wacky that we used up all of the Avid tracks. We used 24 video tracks and we had to keep doing mixdowns.

Then with the audio — I’m used to working in LCR (Left-Center-Right) This is the first time that I’ve actually cut in 5.1 and after we did our first temp mix we just kept our production dialogue but muted it. And then we would just get stems of 5.1 dialogue, 5.1 effects, 5.1 backgrounds, and music and we just carried that, and it was super easy.

WESTERVELT: We worked in LCR until our first temp. So we weren’t cutting 5.1 until we got stuff back from the sound guys, then we switched to the surround speakers and switched to 5.1.

PATTERSON: We waited for the sound department to get involved before we did 5.1, but that was always the plan. For the assemblies, we’re doing all the temp sound and temp music and stuff. There’s a lot of music.

HULLFISH: Chris, were you following Dirk’s timeline methodology?

PATTERSON: I got kind of used to doing that on previous shows — never quite as extreme as Dirk did — but I did steal a few tips from Dirk. I learn from every editor I’ve ever worked with. No exception here. I’ve definitely stolen some tips from his workflow because it is great to have all those options and not have to have 10 different versions of the cut in your bin. It’s super helpful.

WESTERVELT: When you get used to it and the director starts asking you: “Do you have anything else on this?” And you have a couple of good alts that you can show almost immediately, without having to go back to the dailies, that’s helpful.

Although we did do scripting as well on this show.

HULLFISH: Avid ScriptSync or Script Integration, you mean?

WESTERVELT: ScriptSync, yes. We had to kind of triage it because scripting the whole movie is so labor-intensive. But we did our bigger scenes.

PATTERSON: Yeah. Especially with the ad-libbing, having to write in all the different versions of what they’re saying takes time.

WESTERVELT: There were scenes where there might be 50 ad-lib lines so somebody has to write all that up and then mark them up, but it is very helpful.

PATTERSON: We had an awesome crew and everyone worked their butts off on this.

WESTERVELT: Amazing, amazing crew.

HULLFISH: When I started doing these interviews editors were of the opinion that using that scripting feature on ad-lib and improvisational comedy just was pointless. And lately, more and more people are saying, “No. You just transcribe it all and it’s great.”.

PATTERSON: I mean it’s just manpower. It’s labor-intensive. And if you have a smaller movie that has one editor and one assistant it’s not going to happen. If you have a movie that has a slightly bigger crew and you can have a few apprentices on to help out with that or other assistants, then it’s doable. That’s the big thing: it’s labor-intensive.

When I first started I only used to script the action stuff so that I could know: the car races through the scene here and then turns onto this street and that way I could put the action stuff together really easily. But now you know scripting the dialogue really helps.

HULLFISH: So to use it for action scenes, you’re actually writing in scene description or shot description material as if it’s script?

PATTERSON: No. Just going through the line script and finding out this setup is for when the car turns this corner. That’s what it’s for. So that’s where it goes. Obviously you make changes and stuff but just to build the initial scene, having it laid out perfectly just like the lined script helps.

WESTERVELT: So did you build those into action breakdowns when you’re doing that? Or do you have it in the Avid scripter (Avid Script Integration/ScriptSync)?

PATTERSON: Yeah I would do it in the Avid scripter.

WESTERVELT: For action scenes, I usually break it down differently. I haven’t used the scripting that much for that. I usually do action breakdowns instead of that. So I have all of the car going left on Main Street or whatever and in a sequence, and all of the straightaway that follows in another sequence.

PATTERSON: I don’t know why we’re talking about car chases….

WESTERVELT: There’s a bit of one in here.

PATTERSON: Yeah, kind of.

HULLFISH: What about the way you approach these scenes. Is either one of you guys a selects reel guy or are you always just going back to your dailies?

WESTERVELT: I definitely pull selects as I’m going through dailies. I’ll have these selects reels and then within those will have my locators with specific beats of things. So I have those always to pull from. Sometimes I build them into sequences depending on the scene and the size of it, just so that I can easily drag through. Then I also just have bins that have clips of all these little beats and I’ll throw a description on there.

HULLFISH: Are those things you sub-clip?

WESTERVELT: I do. I sub-clip them, but I usually cut them into a sequence and then sub-clip them out of the sequence because I don’t want them to be sub-clips when I matchframe them. I want them to matchframe to the original sub-clip and not the sub-clip’s sub-clip. so I usually build them into a sequence and then sub-clip them out of there, so that’s it’s actually a sub-sequence.

PATTERSON: I like having the bin in kind of a KEM order so from wide shot down to close up and inserts all go on the bottom and then I’ll pull selects and in my select roll I’ll also try to put that in scene order. So if it’s a dialogue scene, by the end of my select roll — if you watch it — you’ll just see the scene in order with three takes of the same line or whatever and then you just start lifting things out, saying, “Out of these three, this is the best one.” Take these two away and keep going. That’s if you have time to do all that. Sometimes you don’t and you just have to dig into dailies and start going but if there’s time to do all that that’s definitely great. Especially when you have to go back to it a couple of months later to work with the director and it’s great to have all that stuff built up.

HULLFISH: That’s where I find it useful, too, working with directors. You’d build it for yourself, but then you find that there’s a secondary use for it.

WESTERVELT: And Ruben really does like the scripting.

PATTERSON: Yeah he did like the scripting.

HULLFISH: So did he get used to being able to ask, “Show me all the versions of that line?”.

WESTERVELT: Right. There would be times he’d just want to see every possible read on a specific line.

PATTERSON: Yeah and if for some reason that scene wasn’t scripted we’d just go through and do a string-out of that line.

HULLFISH: Is that something you’d throw to an assistant while you’re working with him?

PATTERSON: Yeah.

HULLFISH: Was there a challenge or was there something you’re really proud of with the movie that you wanted to discuss?

WESTERVELT: I think the biggest challenge was time, and we JUST finished the movie (this interview was recorded October 4, 2019, and the movie has it’s Hollywood premiere October 10th and the general audience premiere October 17th.) We needed every minute.

I’m proud of everyone for navigating that process as well as they did in the compressed timeframe.

PATTERSON: Time was definitely the biggest challenge and the scope of this movie is a lot bigger than the first one. All the visual effects are a lot more complicated. We had a great team.

WESTERVELT: The first one is such a hard act to follow. It’s such a beloved thing. It’s got this cult following now. In our screenings, the audience very consistently thought it was a worthy follow up to the first movie. That’s something that we’re very happy about.

HULLFISH: Dirk, in the middle of cutting features a lot of editors will go off and cut a short. What’s the value of that? Meeting a new director? Or just continuing to work?

WESTERVELT: I’ve only done one short since I left college and it was just a few years ago and was really a favor. I was happy to do it and I happened to have a little downtime and it was a friend that I’d worked with in the past who was directing, He asked me to do it and I was happy to. That was really the main and only reason for doing that, but I do think it could be a great way to get involved with other people.

PATTERSON: I’ve done a few. I’m on the cusp of making the leap from assistant to editor, so there’s that. I have a bunch of additional and associate editor credits and this one I’m editing with Dirk, which is amazing.

I have a couple of friends that are filmmakers that are always trying to get the money for their feature, so I’ve helped them with their shorts. Maybe it’ll pay off, maybe it won’t. I’ve met some really talented people doing that.

WESTERVELT: I should say that right after I left college I was working in the camera department and I did work on a couple of shorts then and it was actually very helpful. I did meet some people and I did get some work out of it and I worked with some amazing people before the editorial door opened and I went through it and stayed on that path.

I got to work with some of the camera people that Chris has worked with on the Spielberg movies back in those days. That all came out of working on a couple of shorts when I first got to L.A. So I think there’s definitely value in it.

PATTERSON: It’s like a side hustle kind of thing.

HULLFISH: Both of you guys have backgrounds as VFX editors?

WESTERVELT: I’ve been a VFX editor.

PATTERSON: I have too, on a couple of movies.

WESTERVELT: I handled the VFX duties on a couple of the Guillermo Del Toro movies that he shot in Prague when I was living over there in the aughts. I worked on Blade 2 and Hellboy, with a couple of other great VFX editors/editors, Peter Elliott (now an editor) and Joe Carson. I enjoyed VFX editing too.

PATTERSON: I was the VFX editor on Across the Universe and I’ve done other VFX editing. This movie had a lot of effects in it, but even a simple drama you could have 300-400 effects. As an editor, you have to know about all that stuff nowadays. It’s just becoming more and more technical as time progresses.

HULLFISH: Is that background serving you well on a movie like this even though you’ve got a dedicated VFX editor working on the movie?

PATTERSON: Oh yeah. There were times where I would be cutting a scene with Ruben and he’d say, “Hey, a car drove by. Can you paint that out?” And rather than go to Ed, I’d just do it. It’d take me 10 minutes. And then at the end of the day when Rubin would go home, I’d say, “Ed, here’s a new shot for you to add to your list.”

Things like that come up all the time.

WESTERVELT: We both tend to do some of our own quick temps. Some editors might have somebody else do that for them, but we tend to do some things like that as they come up in the course of the day.

We also were very lucky. We had someone who came on as an extremely overqualified post-production assistant who ended up being an assistant on this show but was an After Effects wizard, and he did an amazing amount of brilliant VFX temps for us. We were able to present Ruben — when he got back to see his assembly — with a cut that already had a ton of high-quality temps in it. And those temps kept evolving through his director’s cut, largely because of that one person — Dominick Rolandelli — who did so much of that kind of work for us. That was amazing. And without that — because the studio wants to wait for approvals before they start signing checks to get things done — it was largely thanks to him that we were able to get the movie as far as we did before we entered our very short timeframe to get our real VFX done. Our VFX Editor, Ed Marsh, also did a great deal of outstanding temp work during the director’s cut. Ed’s a genius.

HULLFISH: Gentlemen I really enjoyed our conversation. Good luck with the movie. I’m sure it’s gonna be great. I am one of those many Zombieland fans, so I can’t wait to see it.

WESTERVELT: Thank you! We can’t wait for it to be out there.

PATTERSON: Hope you like it.

HULLFISH: I hope you guys get some sleep now that all the work is hopefully close to being done.

WESTERVELT: That’s the plan. That’s what’s on the schedule.

HULLFISH: Good luck on your next projects.

PATTERSON: Thank you so much. We really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I read these all the time, so it’s kind of fun to be on one.

HULLFISH: Oh that’s fantastic. Thank you so much. It’s wonderful talking to you guys and I’m sure people are going to get a lot out of this conversation.

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

WESTERVELT: Thanks so much, Steve.

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

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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