ART OF THE CUT – PIRATES edition

Leigh Folsom Boyd talks about editing POTC – Dead Men Tell No Tales

Art of the Cut delivered several interviews – per our readers’ requests on docs, trailers and indies) but we’re back to discussing major studio tent-pole features with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

The feature was cut by two big-budget action editors: Roger Barton (Transformers: The Last Knight, World War Z, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) and Leigh Folsom Boyd (Fast and Furious, Battle Los Angeles, Fast Five, Total Recall, Ant Man). We talked to Folsom Boyd about her work on this incredibly complex project.

HULLFISH: You worked a lot with people that I’ve interviewed before. Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Motsomoto and Christian Wagner. You’ve done a lot of movies where you’ve got enough size and scope where they require multiple editors, which I’m finding happens more and more. Is it enjoyable for you to be around other editors and be able to bounce ideas?

BOYD: I have no problem with it, I think it works well and especially when the schedule is tight.  It allows the director to jump around as well. I like the camaraderie and the collaboration aspect of it. In all of the situations that I’ve been in, it really helps to facilitate making the best movie possible. That creative process works off of that collaboration to help present the most cohesive story possible in the most creative way.

HULLFISH: You had such a long relationship with Christian Wagner. What were some of the things you learned as you watched him work that you felt like, “I have got to adopt that style”?

BOYD: As part of the job of being an editor, you have to comb through footage, but many times as you’re combing through, you stumble onto a hidden gem. Chris is an incredibly talented editor. He’s great about finding the best moment in the most unlikely footage and is a big proponent of pulling selects. As an editor, you have to be mindful of the looks and the expressions that you don’t think you’re going to need in one moment but you end up using in another moment. Pulling selects certainly helps to find those moments.

HULLFISH: Do you do any other method other than selects that allows you to find and recall those little moments?

BOYD: Personally, I like to make little notes as I’m doing the selects. I’ll put little locators on really good footage.

HULLFISH: Are you doing those with color locators?

BOYD: Sometimes, I color code them. For an action moment or an emotional beat, you have that expression that you don’t think you’re going to use, so I might mark that a different colored locator. Color coding comes in handy.

HULLFISH: Do you do your select reels differently between those two types of scenes?

BOYD: If it’s a good juicy moment, then I mark it and put it in the selects reel. I may leave a gap in the selects sequence to make the distinction of emotional beats. I also like to use the Script Integration feature (manually ScriptSyncing in Avid) because I feel that it helps directors to go back and find those moments as well. I’m taking little snippets out and building a select reel so Script Integration helpful to jump to the line readings when the director says, “I know we had it. There was a take where the actor/s did this one thing after using this one line.”

HULLFISH: And do your assistants set that up? I know there’s a bunch of different ways that people like their assistants to use ScriptSync. The difference is that Script Integration requires you to manually sync whatever lines you want with the script and ScriptSync does it automatically using phonetics in the audio file. Do you find that you prefer to sync every line? Do you actually cut using ScriptSync or do you only use for interacting with directors?

BOYD: Both actually. I will use it when I’m cutting initially and then I’ll use when I’m going through working with directors as well. I find it’s a helpful tool that’s really evolved. I think initially it was used primarily in more comedy projects, but it used more widely now. I don’t find it as useful with a huge action sequence, but for actors who do a lot of improv, I think it’s very helpful.

HULLFISH: I want to talk a little bit more about this idea of using selects reels as a way to approach a scene. How do you organize the selects reel? Are you just doing it in A, B, C, D setup order? Or are you creating a selects reel that’s more based on beats?

BOYD: I’ve done both before. If it’s something that I feel like is particular to a certain scene, I’ll do it by beats. The assistant will have built a dailies roll or KEM Roll and then, as I’m watching through that, I’ll put my locators on things that I feel like “that’s a moment, that’s a moment, that’s a moment,” and then I’ll go back and dissect that KEM Roll and build it into my selects roll. It’s also helpful too when you have the take. I just go through and sometimes I’ll do a breakdown of each moment into a selects reel. Like you were suggesting, the A-camera, B-camera, C-camera of each take, so take 1 camera A, B, and C all of that moment and then take 2 A, B, C all of that moment, and go that way. I guess it really just depends on the scene for me. I don’t always do it for every scene because some scenes aren’t as involved and if they’re not as involved then I just go through and I watch the dailies and that’s how the scene starts taking shape.

HULLFISH: I have a similar feeling about it. There are scenes where you’ve got multiple hours of dailies on a single scene and you just can’t wrap your head around that much material. But on a shorter scene you can just say, “I’ve got three takes and four setups and I can remember that much.”

BOYD: Right. Exactly. For some smaller scenes it’s not necessary and then – the bigger scenes that are much more involved and have multiple actors and multiple cameras, and more setups – it does seem like you need to break it down by beat as the most effective way to pull the selects because it’s more manageable. It’s also a benefit to having the selects reels organized when working with directors.

HULLFISH: On the scenes where you’re not using selects, how do you have your assistants set up your bin?

BOYD: Generally, in script line order. It may not be exactly as it was shot, as far as camera set ups. Sometimes the later set ups are the stuff that get you into the scene better. That’s how it’s been lined by the script supervisor and so those setups would be earlier in the bin.The other stuff would fall later in the bin.

HULLFISH: Sure. Many editors I’ve talked to have different takes on how to watch dailies. Are you a front to back person? Watching it in the order it was shot? Or some people like to go backwards, or some start with circled takes. What’s your methodology?

BOYD: I guess my methodology is more the way it was shot, in the order that was shot. I don’t watch circled takes first, but I do ask for the assistant to please represent the circled take, for example, giving it an asterisk, or something to make it stand out. So obviously the circled takes are represented clearly in the bin so when I’m cutting and putting the scene together I can go to those as I’m watching it and then say okay, “why was this more prominent for the director? Why did they pick this shot?” So when I’m putting the scene together I’m able to focus a little more on that take than something else. Sometimes when you’re putting the scene together a preferred take doesn’t always fit in with how you’ve started to cut the scene or other more preferred takes overall.

HULLFISH: How did you and Roger Barton collaborate on scenes in this movie and who did what?

BOYD: It just worked out that Roger started from the beginning of the film and I started from the end, and we kind of met in the middle. There where a few exceptions, a few scenes that I had already been working on that were early in the timeline, but it primarily stayed that way.

HULLFISH: And did you guys ever trade scenes after starting them? Or did the director ever ask you to trade scenes?

BOYD: Roger is such a collaborative force and incredibly creative person. I really enjoyed working with him. We had fun talking things out as we went. We posed questions to each other in an effort to craft the best story possible.  We asked each other if there was another way that a story point should be explored, or if it made more sense to intercut more or move things around. I find that’s what happens when you have multiple editors, again that’s that camaraderie. Just being able to set egos aside, and just say “hey, do you think I should try something else, is this moment working well?” Or “can you come look at this scene and tell me what you think, I just need a fresh perspective.”

It’s amazing when you show someone else a scene, just having that person in the room, you start seeing things that you didn’t notice before, or that never bothered you before but because someone’s sitting in the room with you, you’re like, “oh, hmm, I better go back and look at that. I think that’s what forces you to think outside the box sometimes and get more focus, being able to get that different perspective. I think we were able to do  work very well together. It was  nice to go in and pick each other’s brains and say, “This scene still doesn’t work. Why do you think it doesn’t work? Is it working? Am I just overthinking it?”

HULLFISH: It’s been a very common thread in a lot of these interviews that it doesn’t have to be another professional. One editor said, “I just need to play it for the janitor and I can feel it.”

BOYD: Yeah, it just hits you! Whether it be a comedy or an emotional beat or action  moment because whoever you call in to sit ,with you may cross their legs, and you’re like “ugh, you’re right. You’re totally right. It’s too long there.” And they haven’t said a thing! But they just shifted in their seat, and all of a sudden it was something that you were feeling that you might not have put your finger on exactly in that moment, but when you brought someone else in, you think, “Yes that was it.” Okay, thanks!”

HULLFISH: So with a lot of the movies you’ve worked on, especially the Fast movies (Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, Furious 7) you’ve done a lot with VFX and Pirates is, of course, heavy on VFX in it. Tell me a little bit about the difficulties of working with VFX, how you organize… how you keep track, or is your assistant or the VFX editor doing more of that organization?

BOYD: Yes as you said, Pirates has quite a few visual effects in it. In fact, that’s an understatement. We have some really incredible sequences that are really VFX involved. Initially it comes down to the organization that the assistants do. I should say that all the assistants on Pirates were just amazing. Just an incredible support system: Tommy Aagaard, and Kenny Krauss, Johnny Winograd, and Dillon Thomas. Then as the shot becomes more visual effects-centric, our top notch visual effects editors, Catherine Chase and George McCarthy, were there to help out and say, “This footage, is supposed to have X,Y, or Z happen in it.” But as far as the organization to get to Roger and myself, it started with the assistants.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about visual effects as a creative challenge. Because especially with a movie where the body of it is so reliant on visual effects shots, it would change your pacing or your timing. Talk to me about previz, or are you having to imagine, “Okay there’s supposed to be a monster behind him but it doesn’t exist right now.” How do you judge the pacing of a scene if you don’t have the visual effects.

BOYD: I feel that more and more movies are taking advantage of the previz factor. We used previz in the  Fast movies, as well as on this Pirates movie. Most of the bigger sequences were previzzed out. There were just a handful that weren’t previzzed. Speaking with Pirates in mind, I know directors, Joachim and Espen, really worked with the previz department and with our visual effects supervisor Gary Brozenich to create these sequences prior to filming and certainly some key shots. So that when they started principal photography, they knew exactly what they needed to help design, budget, and build to set up and film the sequence. Previz was a very important element that can then be used as reference when they were filming. It’s a helpful roadmap to be mindful of when cutting the sequences. Safe to say, it’s valuable tool for many departments.

HULLFISH: Is there a time in the edit where you’re switching from previz to what was shot to starting to get in first versions of effects that make editing tricky?

BOYD: Yes. When something doesn’t work right in previz/ post viz, the artist can change the camera and do the shot again. It gets re-rendered and all is well. When you have a practical matter of a set that doesn’t want to cooperate as easily or as quickly or in some respects, it just physically wasn’t possible for the actors or the stunt professionals to do the action as quickly as it was demonstrated in the pre-vis, the editing can get tricky. HULLFISH: Talk to me a little about sound design and how much it helps you sell your cuts. How much sound design do you try to do yourself, or are you passing that along to assistants?

BOYD: I think sound design is an incredibly intricate element. It’s important to be able to give people a sense of how the movie is playing early in the process. Roger and I are huge believers that the sequences should be flushed out with sound for any and all screenings. We both cut sound as we edit. I think most editors would rather present sequences with as much sound/ music as possible.  It may not be the direction that it tonally takes in the final theatrical release, but just something to kind of give that impression that, “Hey, you’re watching a movie.”

Director Joachim Rønning on set.©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I think  it’s a good opportunity for assistants to help in the creative process with sound work. Some editors will sketch in some of the design and then as they continue cutting, they may turn the sequence over to their assistant and ask, “Can you clean this up?” or “Can you look this and track in some sound work?” Again, I had an amazing assistant, Tommy, that I could turn sequences over to and ask him to clean up and track. Kenny Krauss, the other first assistant on Pirates, was also really great at helping in that creative process.

HULLFISH: Sound design effects pacing too. There’s a rhythm to the sound design.

BOYD: Absolutely. Sound design should support the film and in some instances it becomes another character in the film.  There are times I watch a scene without sound/ music to see if the organic pacing of the scene is working. Then watch it again, with sound to see if each are supporting one another. It’s a good exercise to see what’s working.

HULLFISH: Absolutely. The other thing I was going to ask about sound design is: I’ve talked to more and more people that are actually editing in 5.1 or LCR. Were you guys editing in stereo, or surround?

BOYD: We did LCR. We had a great setup.

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about structure a little bit. Were there any structural changes to the film that were different than the script? Did you find scenes had to get moved or switched around or large chunks had to go? Or was it fairly close to the script?

BOYD: We had trims of course, and we tried a couple of things here and there. We really didn’t have large chunks that we didn’t use, but the deleted material can be found in the DVD bonus content.

We had a structural change. There was a scene that just wasn’t working in the original construct of the script because we had changed tone slightly for another scene. That scene had to be re-tooled and re-shaped to accommodate the changes that had been done after they wrote/shot the script.

HULLFISH: The tone is an interesting point and it kind of gets me to performance because a lot of times the editor really needs to help the actor along because sometimes the performance isn’t quite what the actor thinks it is because, 1) they’re performing out of sequence, even if they read the script the editor might move a couple of scenes around or a decision gets made to remove a scene and there’s not that bridge in tone between an actor’s performance from scene A to scene C because B is now missing. So then you’ve got to adjust the performance in C because you’re missing kind of the arc of the character changing.

BOYD: Absolutely, that’s happened to me in other projects as well. Exactly like you’re saying, because the actor thought the scene played one way when it was shot, but we shifted tone or scene order in post, we had to go back and re-tool so the performance didn’t come across incongruent. So, yeah that definitely happens.

HULLFISH: You can have the greatest actor in the world, right? And if they think there’s some scene that’s supposed to take place before the scene they’re acting and that scene gets taken out, that changes the performance and now it’s up to the editor to create a performance that’s just as honest.

BOYD: Yes. Definitely, and that’s really where it gets exciting in the editing room. That again goes back to what you were asking about selects as well. Because you’re bending your selects now for something that you didn’t initially pull them for. I think that’s exciting and presents a good challenge. The last thing you want to go to a producer or director and say is, “It won’t work. You’re going to have to re-shoot.“ It doesn’t always work, but it’s really gratifying when you’re able to make that tonal shift work and salvage the footage.

HULLFISH: You mentioned dailies again, so let’s jump back to that for a moment. Can you tell me a little bit, 1) about the schedule for the movie. How long you did principal photography, and then how long you had before you locked picture?

BOYD: When Roger and I began on Pirates, we knew the release date was set and that the studio wanted to finish and shelve the movie in advance of the release. However, it became evident that the the Studio, and Jerry Bruckheimer, really wanted to give the directors, Roger and myself the support and leeway we needed to tell the story and allow for the complex visual effects to bake. I would say that this was an unusual project, in that we did have so much time. Generally, filmmakers don’t get that opportunity. Besides Fast 7, where we had the unfortunate accidental death of Paul Walker, I’ve never been on a movie that had such a long schedule as what Pirates did. We had an amazing experience. It was just really important to let the VFX vendors have enough time to tell the story through the complex imagery.

HULLFISH: Did you guys temp from the previous universe of the film, or was this a new composer and you tried to temp from the composer, or did you go anywhere you could go?

BOYD: The music of Pirates is very iconic to the franchise, and so, of course we pulled from other Pirates movies. Geoff Zanelli is a composer that has worked on the other Pirates movies as well, so he was very much in-tune with what Jerry Bruckheimer wanted, and with Joachim and Espen, our directors, he quickly found out what they liked from the Pirates franchise and wanted to do new, for our movie. There was a real collection for Roger and me to pull from, however, we also tried to infuse with new music that were from other scores that we had explored. It wasn’t just Pirates because it was necessary to explore new themes and we found other scores that helped with that. So we did vary a little bit as well.

HULLFISH: Is there anything else you want to tell me about the movie, or that you’re passionate about editing that you want to discuss?

BOYD: I’m incredibly proud, and really excited for everyone to be able to see the movie. We think that the audience is going to love it.

HULLFISH: That’s great. In any of the earlier test screenings, were there changes made where you were sitting with an audience and it’s like that same feeling of watching a scene with another person in the room? Were you like, I can feel either that something didn’t land correctly, or we sat here too long?

BOYD: A little bit, but at that point it was just the comfort of knowing that the jokes were landing and that it had a comfortable pace, and that things were playing well. There were a couple of moments maybe that we’re like, “oh, well maybe lets go back and look at that,” but it was evident and just fun to see the audience having a great time.

HULLFISH: That’s very interesting. I really want to thank you for your time today.

BOYD: You’re welcome. Goodbye.

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

The first 50 Art of the Cut interviews have been curated into a book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV editors.” The book is not merely a collection of interviews, but was edited into topics that read like a massive, virtual roundtable discussion of some of the most important topics to editors everywhere: storytelling, pacing, rhythm, collaboration with directors, approach to a scene and more. Oscar nominee, Dody Dorn, ACE, said of the book: “Congratulations on putting together such a wonderful book.  I can see why so many editors enjoy talking with you.  The depth and insightfulness of your questions makes the answers so much more interesting than the garden variety interview.  It is truly a wonderful resource for anyone who is in love with or fascinated by the alchemy of editing.”

My thanks to Evan O’Connor, Ramin Taheri, Todd Peterson, Ramin Taheri, and Hajar Elfared for transcribing this interview.

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Steve Hullfish

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 at NAB, DVExpo and the Master Editor seminars. He has edited on Avid since 1992 and was named to Avid’s first group of Master Editors. His client list includes: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, NBC, PBS, Turner Networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Cases” with Bill Kurtis for A&E, Jim Henson Home Entertainment, Major League Soccer, The Chicago Cubs, Wilson Sporting Goods and Exxon/Mobil.

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