In the Art of the Cut interview series I’ve had the pleasure to interview several Oscar-winning editors. This one was made possible by Eddie Hamilton, who I interviewed for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” Eddie was credited as additional editor on “Eddie the Eagle” and was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the legendary Martin Walsh, so I asked him to provide an introduction, which he graciously did.
Mr. Walsh won the Oscar and the ACE Eddie for Outstanding editing for “Chicago” (2002). His credits as an editor date back nearly 30 years and include “Wild West” (1992), “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (2001), “Thunderbirds” (2004), “V for Vendetta” (2005), “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014), “Cinderella” (2015), and the recently released “Eddie The Eagle” (2016).
HULLFISH: So you’re working on another film now?
WALSH: Yes. “Wonder Woman.”
HULLFISH: I just saw “Eddie the Eagle.” Tell me a little bit about the schedule on that movie.
WALSH: I was the second editor on that movie. The guy that started it didn’t last beyond the director’s cut or six weeks or so after the director’s cut. They knew they had a problem and I got the call to see if I could come in and help out. Unfortunately these days that is not unusual. So I read the script and watched the current cut and decided that I needed six weeks without any interference from the director or anybody and just went to work. Basically dug in and got on with it and tried to find the best stuff that was in there. It was there, it was just that they’d somehow lost their way a little bit in a way that I know it’s very easy to do. If you’re not focused together as a team – director and editor – things can get mislaid and you lose focus and lose the point and I think it was one of those instances.
HULLFISH: When I saw the credits I noticed that the guy that put us together – Eddie Hamilton (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) – was an additional editor on the project.
WALSH: The strangest thing happened, I got my cut together and I think we were almost finished and getting ready for scoring and all of that and my appendix exploded.
HULLFISH: Oh my gosh!
WALSH: (laughs) so, bless him, Eddie, being the next guy in line behind me… honestly, I think if Eddie had been available and not doing “Mission Impossible 18” would have been the next guy in frame, but he was still finishing it, so anyway, I got sick and was in hospital and laid up for five, maybe six weeks and Eddie, thankfully had finished “Mission Impossible” and stepped in and sat in my chair for the time I was in hospital and was still there at the end when we finally got to mix the picture and I took it back and I mixed it while he sat in the DI. So post got a bit frantic.
HULLFISH: Tell me a bit about trying to tell the story of “Eddie the Eagle” and what the difference was between the end of the first assembly and where you were able to take it. What was the core of the storytelling that you were able to find?
WALSH: It is just instinct, really. He didn’t get the movie. He didn’t get the style of the movie. I just went and looked for the heart and the through-line of what the movie was about and what was the point of the movie. What’s it for? Who’s it for? Who’s the audience? What flavor does it have? I changed a lot of the music straight away, because the music was way off in terms of the score – not the needle drops, those came later and they all fell in to place. There were some areas that needed streamlining, compressing. There was all sorts of inelegance in the writing as much as anything else really that needed fixing, where it meandered off point. It’s hard to explain isn’t it? You do this all the time, I guess, but it’s really hard to explain all the time what an editor does. I find it incredibly difficult without visual reference and something to point at. My instincts were to slow the movie down a little bit at the beginning and focus on the kid and what his relationship was with his parents. I find this with most movies that once you get the first ten minutes it’s pretty good from there on. Once you’ve established what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and where you’re going with it… I think the first five or ten minutes is where you win an audience or you lose them.
HULLFISH: What were some of the specifics of how you changed the structure or the macro-pacing of the movie to be able to move it along that was different from the script?
WALSH: I didn’t really refer to the script. I only looked to the script to see what they hadn’t used, because the movie was already cut, so I started with that document: the movie, as a document. And where I felt there were issues, I’d look at the script and I spent a lot of time looking at the scenes that they’d removed from the movie and I put a lot of it back in. I put a LOT of what they’d taken out of the movie back into the movie. I remember that quite specifically.
HULLFISH: Can you remember a specific scene that had been cut that you put back in to the movie?
WALSH: The scene in the elevator at the end with the Finnish skier.
HULLFISH: What!? That’s a GREAT scene!
WALSH: Yeah, exactly. They took it out. That wasn’t in the movie. I remember thinking, “That’s the whole F—ing point of the movie.”
HULLFISH: That’s exactly what I thought.
WALSH: “We all can do our best and that’s the best that we can do.” Which is the point, but they left it on the floor because they’d taken a dislike to the actor, the kid, but that’s not the point. The point is that the scene is great.
HULLFISH: I can understand why the performance might have been criticized or not loved, but my take was that he wasn’t a bad actor, it was just that he had that cool Scandinavian detachment and professionalism.
WALSH: Yeah. I had no issue with it.
HULLFISH: Some of the stuff with the other skiers felt very typical, like “The Karate Kid” on skis.
HULLFISH: Then the Finn comes along and he connects with him in a great and unusual way.
WALSH: Exactly. And each scene as I came to it needed its clock re-set.
HULLFISH: Can you talk to me about this scene below? It’s near the end of the movie when Eddie and his coach are kind of re-united just before his big Olympic jump.
WALSH: That scene as it played in that clip didn’t feel exactly the way I cut it actually from the movie… it felt like a scene that had been re-cut to go out for press. It looked like it had been re-edited. It didn’t feel as nicely timed as it was. It’s a good scene. A missing beat in the movie was the time when they were apart (Eddie and his coach, played by Hugh Jackman). The thing you want most for them in the movie at that point is for them to get back together because that is essentially the central love affair in the movie, those two guys love each other – love and hate relationship – and that was a scene that was fairly simple, frankly. It was a case of finding the performances and finding the best way to play those shots. I think there were three or four set-ups in that scene. There wasn’t a huge amount to work with. Pretty basic coverage: wide shot, two shot and a couple of “overs,” so it’s simply a case of finding the best bits of acting.
HULLFISH: Tell me a bit about sound design. When you’re cutting visuals do you take a step back and sell some of those cuts with audio sound design or the way the audio is edited or do you leave that to your assistant?
WALSH: Yes I do. I let my team do that. I tend to cut a lot of stuff – action stuff like I’m doing at the moment (on “Wonder Woman”) I tend to cut it without any sound at all. Even if there’s some dialogue in there I don’t really care about the dialogue, ’cause usually it’s just “oof” and “ahhh.” So I’m not usually particularly interested in it. I’m more interested in pacing, shot size, speed, action and that kind of stuff. Then my associate, Matthew Tucker is a fantastic sound editor and a really good music editor and I turn it over to him once I’ve had a first pass at it or so, he’ll lay up some gun shots and jaw socks and all that kind of stuff and give it back to me and I’ll have a second pass at it once that stuff’s in there. But it’s important to get the right pacing from a sound point of view, absolutely, yes, you’re right.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk a little bit about the macro-pacing of a movie – we could talk about any of your movies, but we can focus on “Eddie the Eagle.” What do you think you had to do to get it – not to “time” in a specific number of minutes, but where you felt you were comfortable with the length and the way the film was structured.
WALSH: To me it’s almost irrelevant what a film runs. A film runs what it needs to be. The nice thing about movies, unlike television is that we don’t have to fit it into a box. It doesn’t have to be a 48 minute hour or whatever an hour of television is these days. So if it runs 100 minutes or 105 minutes, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about how the movie feels over all. Watching it with an audience is always a pretty scary moment… the first time up with an audience, if you’re in any doubt at all about where your pacing issues are in a movie, just sit in a room with 20 or 30 people even if they’re friends and family. You’ll feel it. You feel it immediately. The whole room sort of shifts at the same time. It’s amazing the way it has an impact on a group of people.
HULLFISH: I’ve talked to several editors about the chemical change in the way you feel about a picture when you watch it with other people.
WALSH: It’s incredible. It’s amazing. I’m a great believer in that old adage, “If you think there might be a problem, there IS a problem.”
WALSH: I’m always conscious of that every day when I’m sitting at work. I’ll be digging around, trying to make something work and if there’s a problem, I can’t just leave it until I can work out what the problem is with the pacing of a scene or the shot size choices of a scene, or the way it plays through. If a scene’s only 30 seconds long it still has to work from beginning to end.
HULLFISH: Tell me about the way you have your assistants set up a bin for a scene and then what your approach is to watching the dailies and actually starting to attack the scene.
WALSH: The scene bin is pretty standard. It all goes in slate order. If it’s a gigantic scene – like a big action scene like I’ve got going on now – they get broken down into smaller events within the scene. There’s a huge amount of bureaucracy and office management work that goes into making movies these days. I miss the days when it was just on a box on a shelf. In terms of finding a way through it, if at all possible, I will watch dailies in the old fashioned manner. We’ve been fortunate on bigger movies that they’ve allowed me to have a screening room and an hour or whatever it takes to watch dailies every day. Unfortunately I tend to do that alone with my assistants because everyone else is shooting or they’d rather watch it on an iPad. It’s something that’s sadly gone missing from the process. People don’t seem to have the time or the energy or interest to sit and watch their dailies anymore. Everybody watches it on an iPad in the car on the way home. It’s really weird. Anyway, when I do that, I make notes and those notes are my basic, simple reminder to myself: “This was good. I loved this shot. Use this.” I write very, very simple, direct notes: “Excellent. Great. Crap.” However I react at that moment and it’s also something that I try to tell to students, “Try to be as objective as you can through the whole of the post-production process.” Keep going back to that note, because if it was funny last September, then it’s funny next September. It didn’t stop being funny, you just got bored with it. We all get tempted to throw things away, but we must hang on to stuff because it didn’t stop being funny or exciting or gob-smackingly brilliant. I find that sometimes I’ll start at the beginning of a scene and sometimes I’ll start in the middle. It’s whatever grabs me. If there’s an amazing reading of a particular line of dialogue, and it happens to be 30 seconds into a scene, I’ll start with that and I’ll work my way out from that because I know that’s where I have to go.
HULLFISH: The emotional heart of the scene.
WALSH: If that’s the emotional heart – a look, a reaction, a line – whatever it is, that’s where I’m going to be going to first. I’ll kind of lay out a basic skeleton of a scene with that in mind and make sure everything leads to and from that moment.
HULLFISH: Do you find a value to screening dailies projected?
WALSH: Of course. I know that these days a lot of people are dismissive of what we used to call cinema and the big screen, but I’m still interested in making movies for the big screen. I’m not interested in making movies to watch on a phone or an iPad in bed. I’m still working on making as big an impact as possible. To watch dailies on a big screen at the beginning of the show is nice reminder. You get to see the eyes. You get to see actors performing. You get to see whether there are any technical issues. That’s hugely important these days. Focus issues can slip by quite easily if we’re not all paying attention.
HULLFISH: Do you find your timing changes – do you edit with a fairly big screen? Do you notice that your pacing changes depending on the screen your monitoring?
WALSH: Yeah. It’s an interesting one that one. I think we all have a tendency to cut faster the smaller the screen. Yeah. You see more. It’s the one opportunity you get from the beginning of the show until you screen your own cut, what we call the editor’s cut, a couple weeks after we’ve wrapped shooting. That’s the only time you’re going to see it on the big screen. Then it’s back to the television. They can make really nice televisions these days but nothing replaces sitting in a theater. It’s the environment. The lights go down. The sound comes up and everybody sits in the dark and watches the same thing at the same time. You can’t replace that as an experience. If you sit in the cutting room, the television is great. The sound is great. But there are lights on, there are kids running around outside. There are people coming in saying, “Do you want a cup of coffee?” It’s not the same. It just isn’t the same.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about collaborating with the director, whether that’s on “Eddie the Eagle” – You said you took six weeks where you just wanted to be left alone, but then the director came in. Tell me about that collaboration.
WALSH: Dexter (Fletcher) was great. He’s a great director. His movies are getting slightly bigger all the time. He’s an actor and I find that a lot of directors who have acted and come from the theater – which is both in his case – are just the easiest people to work with because they get it. They get the same language. You know what I mean. They understand. We can each speak the same language about performance and story. A lot of technical directors don’t quite place as much importance on that stuff. It’s more about the kinetics and technical of it all, and that bores me a little bit, that stuff. But Dexter was brilliant. He appreciated that he had a problem. He accepted that and dealt with it and we got back together – I didn’t take six weeks frankly, I got him in after about ten days and showed him the first five or six minutes, because I didn’t want there to be any alienation. It’s a tricky situation when you’re called in to do these re-cuts. It’s very easy to have it slip in to an us-and-them situation.
HULLFISH: The earlier you get him in, the sooner he can stop freaking out about whether he has a movie or not.
WALSH: Yeah. He’s going insane. He feels like he’s been sent to the naughty corner, but he had it. He had it all. Somewhere in the process it fell through the cracks a little bit, I suppose, but thank God we found it and got it all back.
HULLFISH: You said he’s an actor and that he’s all about performance. Was that a lot of your discussion? Finding and molding the performances?
WALSH: Yeah. Yeah. Fortunately he was really happy with everything I did. And of course he had some line readings that he was absolutely in love with that I had missed or lost or changed and we were able to go back together and repair that stuff. And he was absolutely right. We cut some stuff, too. I put some stuff back in that he wasn’t madly in love with and we sort of argued a little about that and some you win, some you lose.
HULLFISH: Let’s go back and talk about macro-pacing again. I do understand that you don’t have to get a movie to a specific time, but I am interested in the structure and the overall pacing of a movie, based on the feel, not based on hitting a two hour window. What were the decisions that were happening about removing scenes or putting scenes back in that made the movie feel like “I’ve told the story in the right amount of time?
WALSH: That’s just a gut thing about pacing. All of use have our own little internal clock. And mine is slower than Eddie Hamilton’s… (laughs)… thank God. And Eddie and I talked about “What do we do? Why do we do it? Why do I make it like A and he makes it like B?” It’s really difficult to explain. It’s an instinct. It’s a gut thing. It’s the way we’re made. I remember a composer saying to me once that I cut at 97 beats per minute. Years ago. Who was that? I can’t remember. He said, “It’s amazing! Everything we’ve done is 97 BPM.” Clearly it was just that particular movie. I don’t cut everything at 97 BPM, but he found that 97 BPM just fit that particular picture, which is weird.
HULLFISH: Someone else that I interviewed said that if you cut a scene and it feels right and you’ve got the pacing right and the composer steps in, the music fits like butter because the composer feels that rhythm that you’ve created and the beats will just land.
WALSH: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. And in fact, when we got to talking to Matt Margeson, who did the score for “Eddie” they had the previous version of the movie and were just completely “f—ed up by the whole thing. They didn’t know how to score the movie. And then when I gave them my scenes and my sequences – I’d turn over 15, 16, 18 minute reels, they were jumping up and down with glee. They were thrilled that they had a movie that they felt like they could score and they could fit their music to it.
WALSH: It is, isn’t it? And I don’t know how it works.
HULLFISH: What about temp music? You said the original temp music was the first thing you got rid of. What did you use? What was the difference?
WALSH: I have no idea what I used, actually, mate. We changed a few of the songs. Because it’s a period piece – mid 80s thing – so there were lots of 80s pop songs. They were different pop songs and they didn’t fit and they didn’t quite work for me. They gave the wrong message and the wrong mood and that’s something that is intangible really, isn’t it? About how you can put a piece of music against a piece of picture and made it feel right. Temp music is such a difficult area. I’m always astonished when really good music editors come on board and transform a movie. I’ve got thousands and thousands of albums in my collection and I spend a lot of time playing things against picture, trying to work out what sort of vibe a movie has, what it needs from somewhere, but of course, in the end you’re only using somebody else’s score from some other movie. The movie doesn’t really come to life until we get to score it later on. I guess it’s a road map really for a composer. “This is what we think. This is where we think it should be. This is where it should start and finish and this is kind of the mood we’re going for, but please don’t copy it or attempt to copy it.” But you can hear it in movies when they do. You can guarantee you that you’ll go to the movies tomorrow night and see a big movie and you’ll hear Hans Zimmer, but it’s not by Hans Zimmer. It’s just because the movie was temped with Hans Zimmer or some, some…
HULLFISH: Thomas Newman.
WALSH: Exactly. And you go, “Well, the poor composer’s just been given that stuff and been told to do his best with it.”
HULLFISH: Thank you so much for your time. You’re always cutting in Avid I assume?
WALSH: Have since the beginning. Never touched anything else. Never would.
HULLFISH: I’m assuming you cut on film at the beginning of your career. You go back to the mid 80s, which pre-dates Avid.
WALSH: Yes, but I switched really early actually. I went to Australia to do a movie and they were ahead of us Brits, anyway. They’d adopted Avid two or three years ahead of us, because their industry’s so tiny. And I went down there and the Australian assistant I had down there showed me a bunch of short-cuts and little things on the keyboard that I still do today. I still use exactly that same stuff that I learnt whenever that was…15 years ago?
HULLFISH: I bet it was long before that.
HULLFISH: I’ve been on Avid since 1992.
WALSH: Is it really that long? Wow. That’s incredible…might have been something like 88.
HULLFISH: 1988 was the first year Avid was introduced at NAB. So the early 90s might have been when you got on.
WALSH: It must have been about then. A movie called “Welcome to Woop Woop.”
HULLFISH: That was released in 1997 according to imdb. So you were probably cutting that in 1996. Thank you for your time. Good luck with “Wonder Woman” and maybe we’ll talk again when that hits the theaters.
WALSH: We’ll talk again then. Good idea.
To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish.