Post Production

ART OF THE CUT with the editors of “Ad Astra”

John Axelrad, ACE and Lee Haugen discuss the process and the challenges

Editors Lee Haugen (l) and John Axelrad, ACE (r). They were dressed in the space suits to shoot insert shots.

Editor John Axelrad, ACE, has been in post-production since 1991, including a stint as Oscar-winner Anne Coates’ assistant on Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich. He’s edited dozens of features including Slither, We Own the Night, Two Lovers, Crazy Heart, Something Borrowed, Miles Ahead, and Krampus.

Editor Lee Haugen started as an apprentice under Axelrad and then cut several films including Repentance, Dope (which won Best Editing at Sundance), and Miss Stevens before joining Axelrad again to cut Papillon and The Lost City of Z.

In this interview, we discuss their latest collaboration cutting Ad Astra.

I last spoke to Lee and John after they edited The Lost City of Z.

This interview is available as a podcast.

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

HULLFISH: You guys must be on to your next projects already.

AXELRAD: I’m working on a Lionsgate movie starring Janelle Monae. It’s an untitled socio-political thriller. Actually, it is titled — they’re just keeping it under wraps.

HAUGEN: And I’m on an independent film called Keyhole Garden, starring Zoe Saldana.

HULLFISH: How are you guys monitoring in your cutting rooms?

AXELRAD: I’m now working in 5.1. I absolutely love it. There were limitations for this film because they wanted us in a very secure environment and we were at a Pivotal Post in Hollywood and the rooms were really small and the configuration didn’t work for 5.1. So I’m embarrassed to say we did not do 5 1. We did LCR and we both had the LG 65 inch OLED, which I love so much I personally bought one for my living room.

HULLFISH: I used the exact same monitor on my last feature and definitely considered buying one for my home as well. It’s gorgeous.

There’s an opening revelation scene — not to give anything away — it’s the beginning in the movie where Brad Pitt’s character is being told all these important things that are then going to propel the movie for the rest of the way. I noticed that a lot of it was played on his reactions. Can you guys talk about the importance of playing lines on or off?

HAUGEN: This being the third film that I’ve worked on with James and John, it’s always our number one priority to understand the point of view of the main character and get inside of his head, and get inside of what he’s processing and thinking. And it’s not so important to have the dialogue on camera as it is to see how the dialogue is affecting our main character. So that scene was a challenging scene because there was a lot of information that was given out. But our goal was to to make sure we knew how Brad was reacting to every single thing that was said and to see this whole revolutionary thought process totally change the way he felt about his dad and lay the groundwork for how things were going to be moving forward for the rest of the film.

AXELRAD: James is a very point-of-view-driven filmmaker, and so when we edit with him he’s always saying, “Where’s the point of view?” So we’ve been conditioned that we follow our main character and James wanted to get interior to his thoughts as best as possible, and playing so much of it over his reactions sets up the significance of his father — how traumatic it was for him — how the revelation that he still may be alive affected him. But the through-line throughout the film is to stay with Brad. James is very neoclassical in his approach. He likes to work in a very linear chronological fashion and staying with Roy as a character was paramount to that goal.

HULLFISH: You mentioned point-of-view and that’s definitely something that is strong with a lot of people. A lot of directors or editors want to know where that point-of-view is. Did the point-of-view change? Or did he always want you on a point-of-view of Brad’s character?

AXELRAD: Pretty much. If you look at the film it’s pretty much the story of Roy McBride. Just like The Lost City of Z was the story of Percy Fawcett. James is not one for irony — not one for multiple points-of-view.

The film I’m working on right now is very, very different. It’s a little more omniscient point-of-view and we do shift quite a lot. But James is purely focused on the main character and how the other characters interact with him and influence that main character’s thinking throughout the film.

HAUGEN: That was one of the things that — as we were going through the process — we always had to keep in mind because we wanted to send our audience on this journey to the edge of the solar system with Brad.

Ruth Negga and Brad Pitt star in “Ad Astra”.

There is one shot that we do change point-of-view and it was on purpose. There is one shot of Ruth after she drops him off to give his message from Mars, where we stay with her and the camera dollies back with her. It was kind of a warning to the audience — subconsciously saying, “Hey, this person is going to be an important character coming up,” but without tipping off too much of the information. It was more of a subtle thing — shift in point-of-view. And that’s the only time.

AXELRAD: Also because it stood out by itself, it was the only big break and I think was more powerful as a result.

HULLFISH: To explain that to the audience who hasn’t seen the movie — without giving away anything: this character Ruth is walking down a hallway with Roy, Brad Pitt’s character, and somebody else meets him. And Roy and the other guy walk away and instead of staying with the people that you would think you would stay with the camera turns and goes with her as she leaves them, so that’s the difference. That’s really interesting.

Lee, have you done films — or is your current film one — where you feel like you can or need to switch perspective?

HAUGEN: My current film, Keyhole Garden, is definitely one that changes point-of-view quite a bit. It’s six main characters shifting through time, perspective and point-of-view throughout the whole film intercutting between all of them. Since there are many characters set up in different places, we need to make sure the audience cares about each one of them, especially right away. Then we tie them all together and allow the story to unfold as it does.

It’s almost the complete opposite of Ad Astra. With Ad Astra, the number one thing is that we need our audience to understand Roy, care about him and root for him on this journey. It’s always a fun challenge to keep your audience engaged in and care about your characters.

HULLFISH: The other thing I talk about a lot is structure. Did the structure change at all?

The opening scene I believe is of Roy’s character taking or a psychological test. Is that the way the movie always started or did you feel like that better put the audience in with him? You guys are both smiling.

AXELRAD: James — to his credit — he’s writer-director and he co-wrote this with Ethan Gross, but every film I’ve done with him — and it’s been five up to now — he’s very willing to do a complete rewrite in post-production, so he’s not so precious about the written word. He allows the actors to bring what they bring to the story which ultimately transforms what was written on the page — either through ad-libs or just an actor having an idea of working within the framework of the script.

So post-production being the final rewrite, it was very fluid. It did change quite a bit from the script. We experimented quite a lot. And James — being the meticulous filmmaker he is — we tried almost every variation mathematically possible in putting the story together.

The film began in many different ways. They did some additional shooting at the end which I think was the big breakthrough– especially for the ending. This was the consensus the production team came up with working on a studio movie. There is a lot of collaboration going on and ultimately I think we finally got it working to where everyone was satisfied and it best served the story.

HULLFISH: It seemed like although it’s a linear story — the guy gets on a spaceship and leaves Earth — there were a lot of opportunities to change the structure — various scenes that you could easily move around. Was that a challenge or the fun thing?

HAUGEN: Some of the things that shifted around quite a bit were the psych evaluations because those were things that allowed us to give the audience insight into where Roy was at a specific point in time — and video messages as well.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

We were able to manipulate them to heighten the tension or remind people what Roy is going through at that time.

HULLFISH: The other thing that I noticed was that there are big action set-pieces and there are also much more intimate in-your-head scenes. Did you find that you needed to manipulate those to keep the movie from dragging at any one point or you know trying to keep all the action spread out a little bit?

AXELRAD: This film was a particular challenge, especially for James. Some people have said that this is a beautiful film filled with wonderful production value, but at its heart is a very simple story about the heart. Throughout the film, the further we venture into space, the deeper we dive into the subconscious mind — the film itself is tackling existential issues about mankind’s place in the cosmos and reflections on who we are as a human race; being about identity and how we relate to each other. Those are very meta concepts. How do you really portray that in a feature film, especially a film that you want to be somewhat commercial for a mass audience? The action sequences were strategically placed throughout, mostly to support the more introspective scenes. We wanted to start off with a bang — which was the fall from the space antenna and then the lunar rover chase. The climbing of the rocket is more of a hypnotic, almost dream sequence in my opinion.

If you look at the subtext of Roy getting into the subconscious and us diving into the subconscious. His diving under the water — the cooling liquid under the rocket — I mean it’s almost intended to be a dreamlike sequence. He dives down — the subconscious mind as we dream gives us superpowers in a way. He climbs a rocket to reach his father. The whole story is mythological. Later in the film, it definitely becomes more metaphysical. Hopefully, the action sequences are paced in a way that it fits within the more hypnotic qualities of the film.

HAUGEN: We wanted to start out with a bang for the audience to enjoy. Space travel can be very unpredictable. As you go on this journey, you learn space is a terrifying place and a lot of bad things can happen in a short amount of time. Those other set-pieces and other things that happen on his journey act as a warning sign of: “should we really be going out this far as a human race? Is this a good idea?”

HULLFISH: There are a bunch of big action sequences but there’s also a lot of narration. Did you guys find yourselves having to scratch that kind of stuff or rewrite stuff in post with the director? Talk to me a little about the use of narration throughout the film?

AXELRAD: While not part of the original script, the voice-over narration was discussed between James and Brad both during preproduction and during production — that Brad would kind of do a stream of consciousness recording of the character’s thoughts. We didn’t have that as part of the script stage. So we edited the film without it and then this was later added in post.

Brad came in a couple of times and did a lot of ad-libbing — some of it was written. So there is a version of the film that exists without the voiceover and there is a version obviously that came out with it and ultimately I think it really enhances the film overall — the themes and the psychology.

This was an example of how James continues to manipulate the material in post and how he’s not precious to the original script. The final rewrite is in post and we were fortunate enough to work with some really good recordings from Brad.

As we developed the story, it became clear the fact that Roy is reclusive. How do you get into the mind of someone who’s so stoic and so closed off? The film itself is about his awakening — his catharsis and his metamorphosis into realizing what it is to be human: reaching for the stars but knowing that what he has is right in front of him and he doesn’t see it. So the narration was something we added later during the editing process, and that was a constant fluid rewrite collaboration between James and Brad Pitt. It changed as we changed the story during the editing process, but ultimately the goal was to get into Roy’s head as best as we can.

HULLFISH: Was it hard to keep a straight face with Lee scratching tracks for Brad Pitt?

HAUGEN: I do a pretty good Brad Pitt.

HULLFISH: Let’s hear it! I’m ready!

HAUGEN: James actually does an amazing Brad Pitt impression, and a Tommy Lee impression. He did all the temp ADR for us.

The other thing for the voiceover: when we were recording it, we wanted to make it feel more like stream-of-consciousness — to not be just narrating the film. We wanted it to really feel like you’re understanding what Brad’s character is thinking about.

The first ADR session to record voiceover with Brad we had quite a few lines written down and we were planning on taking a full day to do it, but Brad sat down and he just went on a run and did everything in a one-hour straight take. He just kept going. Nobody knew what he was going to do but it was amazing.

AXELRAD: This is a testament to James. The fact that he will let the written word evolve.

Editors Lee Haugen, John Axelrad, ACE, and additional editor Scott Morris

You’ve heard that the script is the first stage; production is the second rewrite, and post-production is the final rewrite. The editing room — for James — is a blank canvas. It empowers us as editors and empowers James as a filmmaker. It doesn’t surprise me that we would come up with ideas like that to make the film transcend what it was on the page.

Brad definitely improvised quite a lot. Some of it was written. Some of it was improvised, so that was one of the more challenging things to find the right words in the end and to craft the story as a whole with the narration.

HULLFISH: Talk to me about having to edit that ad-libbed or improvised stuff because then you’re not just choosing your favorite take of a specific line, you’re choosing your favorite LINE. You’re choosing content over just performance.

HAUGEN: That’s something that was a great asset to have and also very challenging. He would come up with these great lines or James would come up with great lines and it would kind of shift the way scenes would play and that would also affect other things around it. So we were constantly re-editing to elevate each scene as we went along.

HULLFISH: One of the things that I spotted was a couple of video montages and even some audio montages. Were those written as montages or were they things you had to condense from full scenes or maybe some of each?

AXELRAD: There wasn’t anything I think that we condensed or took bigger sequences and cut down. Maybe the swimming in the rocket coolant liquid underneath the rocket. That probably changed from the way it was originally intended.

It’s the natural part of the editing process. There were scenes that were cut down quite a bit. Some scenes towards the end were intercut. And that wasn’t necessarily part of the original script.

The whole sound design was so paramount to making the film work, and you hear some weird sound at the beginning of the film that sounds like “bluh-bluh-bluh… bluh-bluh-bluh.” It’s just this rhythm thing and it’s basically Tommy Lee Jones’ character saying “I love you, my son. I love you, my son. I love you, my son.” Gary Rydstrom did a wonderful job with the sound design, and Tom Johnson stretched and mixed the words and manipulated them into a drone-like audio montage.

We were not short of visually fascinating images. Part of the process was to condense where we could.

HULLFISH: Since that sonic landscape was so important, did it change when you got the final of that? Did it affect things or were you guys getting elements that you could put in as you went? Talk to me a little bit about sound design and kind of when it happened and what you guys did yourselves.

Screenshot of the Avid editing timeline mid-way through the edit process.

HAUGEN: Being on a larger budget studio film, we did have the benefit of having a sound team early on. Doug Murray was able to get to work with us while we were editing. And he was able to develop some amazing sounds and give them to us early, and those did affect certain points of the story that we were editing. We would just feed off of each other and we’d come up with cool ideas. He’d come up with amazing concepts and we would extend the cut or we’d shorten the cut or we’d pace it out differently– because once you add sound you add a whole other element to the building blocks of a scene, and it can make it feel very different.

AXELRAD: Doug Murray started the film and was in-house as was our postvis team. We had amazing postvis along with the previs. Adam Avery was our VFX editor and Eddy Garcia was the VFX assistant editor. It was just fascinating to be able to go down the hall and say, “Hey, we’ve got a new idea. Can you mock something up?” And in a few hours, he would not only do it but go beyond what we thought about. He would creatively add to the concepts and then we would take that and play with it. The whole post process was so fluid that way, where we were collaborating and it was a very open editing room.

When I work I encourage having collaboration. Lee and I go back and forth with ideas. Scott Morris — who was our first assistant and then got promoted to additional editor on the film — and all the assistants on the team were involved. We encouraged ideas in all departments — from sound to visual effects and music.

Max Richter started composing very early. I always tell the composer “Hey, if there’s something in the edit that doesn’t quite work and you want to musically do something and want us to potentially change the edit, I’m completely open to that.” I think that’s what the editing process should be — just a synergy of all the departments working together for the best film possible.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”

HULLFISH: You mentioned Max Richter’s score. It’s very different. It’s very electronic….

AXELRAD: It wasn’t all Max. I think some of the electronic stuff you heard — there were more composers that contributed towards the end of the process. The main themes you hear throughout the film is Max’s minimalist music.

HULLFISH: Did you guys temp with stuff from Max? Or was he delivering stuff as you went?

AXELRAD: We did. Definitely. We used a lot of Max from previous scores and from his own personal compositions. I think for a while we used his version of Vivaldi. He did just a beautiful composition that we temped with at the beginning. Our music editor, Katrina Schiller, started with us early on and was down the hall in the edit suite. James worked with her a lot, and she did a fantastic job with the temp score. Of course Katrina worked directly with Max as he composed and during the scoring sessions in London.

James loves to temp with classical music and we use a lot of Wagner. In many of his past films, we use Puccini, who is a personal favorite of James. But this one seemed to be a very Wagner-heavy film. And we temped with Eliane Radigue — she has this almost transcendent drone. James definitely likes drones and minimalism. So a lot of that was used throughout the film and then Max came in and did his own themes and the film really evolved once he got into it.

HAUGEN: We did have a little Pink Floyd in there for a while too.

AXELRAD: We couldn’t afford it. So it was a non-starter anyway. Pink Floyd wasn’t gonna give it up.

HULLFISH: There were times when you didn’t use music where I think you might have. There is an emotional message to Eve. Roy leaves and my recollection of that is that there’s no music under what you would think: “Oh, let’s put some emotional music under here.” Can you talk about that decision?

L to R: Donald Sutherland, Brad Pitt and Sean Blakemore star in “Ad Astra”.

HAUGEN: We do like to use silence too, throughout the film. There are parts where you don’t have music and it’s more raw, emotional and real. We wanted the audience to just be in his head and feel what he’s feeling. We didn’t want to manipulate it as much with music. Let the audience see it on Brad’s face and through his tone and his voice.

AXELRAD: And to further that point: I call it the “S” word because studios get very nervous when you start proposing long stretches of silence. But it’s a very brave thing to do, especially when you’re making a film about outer space where the silence is just deafening. And the whole idea is that Roy goes through this transformation in his isolation and that the silence itself causes him to reflect inward and really try to dive into the subconscious mind. And for the viewer, it’s to experience what space is and the idea of isolation.

Lee and I have both worked on films that dealt with isolation. We worked on Papillon and The Lost City of Z. This concept is very hard to convey– especially when you’re trying to get so interior to one’s thought process. So towards the end of the film, we did employ much more stretches of silence. Not having music on certain scenes such as the one you mentioned — the message to Eve — was really just to buck the trend of what’s expected and to punctuate certain scenes with more emotion by having less instead of having more.

HULLFISH: I have this note that I wrote in a dark movie theater “Dissolve. Pitt appears.” Was there a really long dissolve?

AXELRAD: Yeah. That was in the journey to Neptune.

Towards the end of the process, Hank Corwin came on board and he really worked on that whole sequence — the journey to Neptune.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

That sequence had many different iterations. At first, it was more lyrical, but as we put the film together the desire was really to demonstrate the fractured state of his psychology. Hank was very inventive and took that whole sequence and went with it. That sequence ends with an empty chair and it dissolves to show Roy as he appears in it. This is right before we reveal the planet Neptune. The challenge was: “How do you convey such a long journey and how arduous it is but not bore the audience to death?”

We have to give credit to Hank for those ideas and that particular sequence.

HULLFISH: On a lot of this movie, you don’t have the structure of dialogue to carry you. Can you talk about the inventiveness of anything that you guys had to do or that Hank had to do to be able to carry some of those scenes that were largely, “Hey, it’s a journey. How do we portray this?”.

AXELRAD: Yeah. This is a tough one. When editing I adhere to the philosophy that less is more. I believe you can shape the best performances around what is not said through more nuanced cues of facial expression and gesture. I think our proud moments in the film as editors are when we can craft something that transcends what is written and what is photographed– to achieve a compelling synergy of sound, music, and performance to create heightened emotions. And that’s one of the more challenging things to do.

As challenging as it was to edit the lunar rover chase sequence, that really did not compare to some of the more nuanced drama sequences where there wasn’t much dialogue. That’s really challenging as an editor and rewarding at the same time: when we can pull something off that we don’t have the written word and dialogue to structure around. And so it was very malleable because there were so many different ways we could do it and we did keep experimenting with that. Brad just delivered such a nuanced, subtle performance — so rich with his gestures and thoughts. And that was the goal really — to get inside his head without having to use much dialogue in those places.

HULLFISH: How did you two collaborate as editors — or even with Hank. How are you breaking up responsibilities and deciding what stays and what doesn’t?

HAUGEN: Collaboration is a great word to describe the way that John and I work together. During the dailies process, we each would grab a scene. We’d go through the process of editing the rough assembly together and then right away we would show it to each other and to our assistant editors. We’d get everybody’s opinion and outside perspective on what was working and what wasn’t working.

Sometimes we would trade scenes just to try different things out. As we moved through the process to the director’s cut, we never took sole responsibility for each scene by itself. I don’t think there’s a frame on the film that John and I both didn’t touch. It’s a process that we continually kept working through — a very fluid process between John and me to allow us to try and find the best scene possible.

AXELRAD: Some editors on an editing team may say, “OK, I’ll do this part of the film. You do this part of the film.” Personally, I think the film benefits with more brains working on everything. I think James appreciated that too.

When Lee and I first started working together with James on The Lost City of Z, it took James a little while to warm up to the idea of “Hey, I’ve got two editors here.” A lot of times we would work with both of us in the room and we would brainstorm. Either Lee or I was at the controls — depending on whose room it was — and we would brainstorm together with James.

If Lee was working and we were in his room, I might say, “Well, what about this?” And James would say, “Great idea! Go try it.” And I would disappear into my room and then James would later come in with Lee and we’d work in my room for the rest of the day.

Lee Haugen, Scott Morris, and John Axelrad, ACE

And Scott Morris, who got promoted to additional editor, became very, very instrumental — especially towards the end of the process. There was more than just Lee and me. Our other assistants – Jared Simon, Jason Voss, and Eddy Garcia – also contributed ideas, and I think that it ultimately made the film a better experience. We’re not serving ourselves and our egos. We’re serving the film, so there is no pride in ownership of certain things within the movie.

HULLFISH: I cut a bunch of movies with a director that also writes and you would think that those kinds of director/writers would be a bit precious with their words, but I know it’s not for Alex — the director I work with — and it sounds like it’s not for James either.

AXELRAD: Certain directors that I’ve worked with — I remember early in my career I worked with a director who will go unnamed — but I would show him the cut and he’d say, “Yeah, but you cut out two words.” And I would say, “Well yeah, because they’re not quite necessary.” But he was insistent on the final cut being word-for-word to the script that he wrote.

Just knowing the possibilities and potential of what we can do in post, I do think most directors — even those who have written — he or she would welcome the idea of improving — or in a way transforming — what was on the page, because you can’t necessarily convey nuance very well in a script. It’s why some novels may not necessarily translate well into movies. It’s just a different medium. The actors themselves bring their own interpretation to the script. And so I think the best-laid plans of a writer/director immediately goes out the window when you start collaborating with your actors. To see what they can bring to the themes of a movie with their performances. Sometimes it works — sometimes it doesn’t work.

Director James Gray (Photo by Kris Connor/20th Century Fox)

Joaquin Phoenix is a prime example. He’s such a brilliant method actor. James, I think, has done four films with him and I edited three with him. What Joaquin brings to it just elevates the material to a whole third dimension that pops off the page.

HULLFISH: I just interviewed the Joker editor and he said the same thing about him. Just incredible performances and a huge range and great technical skill.

I’m shocked that the narration was not a big part of this movie when it was originally written. I am shocked.

AXELRAD: I think it’s a good thing. What makes the film work? You throw out the blueprints. There is a version of the movie without the narration — without hearing his thoughts. But in the end, this was what the production team decided to include. James always maintained that this idea was discussed in pre-production to be an extension of the psych evaluations. It just wasn’t done until post.

HULLFISH: It’s an internal monologue more than it is narration.

AXELRAD: Yes. Internal monologue. So it’s not really narration. The film works without it, but it’s a different movie. So it wasn’t like the internal monologue throughout the film saved the picture. It just was an additive layer that helped us convey the themes we wanted to convey.

It was actually very liberating because things that audiences weren’t fully understanding — there are so many high concepts in this with technology and psychology – we were able to truncate scenes and parts of scenes that were purely expository: Why this person does this? Why does this character think this way? And it helped us to condense in so many ways. But it was just an added layer — the way that music is, the way that sound is.

HAUGEN: I think in the overall scheme of things the entire film is extremely complicated as far as editorial goes because we had so many different things to deal with — whether it was the dune buggy chase or the solitude. To find the right balance through editing, to make the movie soar to where it could go was very rewarding in the end.

It’s a rarity these days to work on a film with this large of a budget but really be an internal, arthouse-type film. To balance those elements was challenging, but also a lot of fun. Not too many times do we get to edit a shoot-out on the moon or a zero-G fight or a fall from a huge tower. And at the same time to get such an amazing performance from an actor that just took it to a whole other level. For us, that was the joy of being able to work on this film. We hope they do keep making these types of films.

AXELRAD: It’s got a lot of commercial elements. Obviously we want the biggest audience possible watching it. But it’s got a lot of more independent or arthouse elements as well. I think that with sequels and everything out these days, there isn’t a whole lot that’s just purely original. And studios tend to be a bit cautious. I mean it’s a huge investment. Any type of film is.

Lee and I are just eternally grateful to be able to work with such a broad canvas and really to be able to shape the film in many different ways in the editing process. It’s why the editing on this film took a while because there are so many moving parts.

Allen Maris, who is our Visual Effects Supervisor, just went above and beyond the call of duty, because visual effects — as expensive as they are — were part of the process to fully develop the film.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

The whole sequence of the lunar rover chase worked as scripted, but it became clear that it was too claustrophobic. We needed geography, and so we added those high angle shots looking down, which not only helped clarify geography, but it also heightened the tension: to see these pirate rovers encroaching upon our hero rover. All of this was in the editing process. That’s what was such a joy — is that it wasn’t just paint-by-numbers. We were truly creating as we went along.

HULLFISH: I don’t know how to describe it, but it seems like a movie that could literally go any way. It seems like the editing possibilities in this particular film — because all films, of course, are like that — but the editing possibilities seem endless.

AXELRAD: It was. It was like the void of space. And honestly, if they gave us more time, the editing would continue. There were infinite possibilities.

HAUGEN: We did have to get from Point A to Point B eventually but throughout that journey, there were a lot of different options. Ultimately, we wanted to convey that the inner journey Roy experiences is just as meaningful as the outward journey to Neptune.

HULLFISH: For a cut-and-dried effects film where you say, “Hey, look! Here’s the effects sequence. I’m gonna cut it early in dailies and I’m going to deliver it to the effects house and they’re gonna do it and it’s gonna be done.” That does not sound like what happened with you guys.

HAUGEN: No. For example, the falling tower sequence at the beginning — once we started to get the visual effects in for that – everybody was in love with it and thought it was fantastic. But we actually wanted to expand it. It had a lot of different elements and one of those elements was a skydiver who would go up as high as he could and jump. We actually had to send him back out to do some more jumping to add more of the elements for the falling and to extend the moment even more.

AXELRAD: Yeah, it wasn’t until we started screening for test audiences and they loved the sequence that we decided, “OK, let’s expand it!” And those were very difficult VFX to get right. Nothing was cut-and-dry and I think that allowed us to bring the film to the place where it wound up.

HULLFISH: I talked to somebody else that was said that there was a visual effect in their movie that when audiences saw it they wanted more time to look at the amazing shot. When you guys are cutting it, you’re looking maybe at a graphic that says “wide shot goes here” or something, or possibly some clunky previs, but you don’t know it’s gonna be something you want to watch for 20 seconds until you see the final shot.

AXELRAD: It was very illuminating working on such a visual-effects-heavy show. The visual effects weren’t all preplanned because you’re dealing with outer space and the story itself evolving the way it did. So Allen Maris stayed with us to the very end and just allowed us and James and Brad and everyone involved just to work with this canvas to let the movie transcend to new heights.

Every day we worked in the editing room with James and it just made the film better and better.

HULLFISH: Lee, John, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you talking to me about this movie. Good luck with your next projects.

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

AXELRAD: Thank you much.

HAUGEN: Thanks, Steve. Bye.

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