Post Production

ART OF THE CUT – with “Captain America: Civil War” editor

Jeff Ford, ACE in an Epic interview filled with editing wisdom and detail

Editor Jeffrey Ford, ACE has been cutting films as an editor since 2000 with “The Yards.” And also cut films like, “Public Enemies” and “Monte Carlo” before taking on the superheroes of Marvel in 2011 with “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Ironman 3,” “The Winter Soldier,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and now “Captain America: Civil War.” He was nominated for an ACE Eddie for Best Editing for “The Family Stone” (2005).

This is a pretty detailed discussion of not only the editing of the movie, but about the story and characters of the movie. Therefore there are a few little “spoilers” throughout. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to do that before reading this article. I never give away the ending of the film, but there are lots of little surprises along the way and some of those ARE revealed. So, please only read this if you have seen the movie or are prepared to have a few details revealed beforehand. (Though I don’t think I really give away anything that can’t be gleaned from the trailer.)

HULLFISH: Congratulations about the movie. I just saw it. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit.

FORD: Thank you.

HULLFISH: Tell me about the schedule of the movie.

FORD: My involvement began fairly early. I had done “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with (directors) Joe and Anthony Russo and we finished that movie and then I moved on to work on “Avengers: Age of Ultron” with (director) Joss Whedon and while I was on Ultron, I think I’d gotten back from London where we were shooting and I was getting drafts of the script from Joe and Anthony, drafts by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who are our amazing writers. I was getting scripts and giving notes and trying to participate early on. It was a lot of fun to see that process evolve as the movie changed. We began shooting in April of 2015 in Atlanta. We shot the first part of our schedule in Peachtree City, Georgia at Pinewood Studios there on a bunch of huge stages.

Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, w/ D.P. Trent Opaloch and crew on set...Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
Directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, w/ D.P. Trent Opaloch and crew on set…Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

We did some location work around Atlanta proper as well. A bunch of Atlanta locations stood in for various places around the globe and then they were augmented with visual effects and so forth to make them Nigeria, Berlin, etc. So we wrapped up our shoot in Atlanta and then the last month of our filming was in Berlin where we shot a lot of material for the sequence of the film that takes place in Germany and we finished up our big airport battle which takes place at the airport at Leipzig, so that was pretty much our schedule. Then we returned to Los Angeles in August and began cutting and we spent about six or seven weeks cutting before we showed it to the studio and then we began working through the preview process where we tested it with various audiences and began to refine it and improve it and really hone in and make it the movie that it was. All the while we’re working on visual effects and the sound and temping the music and it’s all sort of a simultaneous, ongoing process. Things get really crazy in January, after the holidays. That’s when we did whatever reshoots we needed. I think we shot about four days, which was not a lot. But it was a lot of really good stuff that sure helped the film. And then it was just finishing it up mixing (my favorite part); bringing all the ideas together and getting it to be as tight and powerful as it can be.

HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about how you like to approach the organization of the bins and how the assistants lay stuff out for you?

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016
Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

FORD: I co-edited this film with Matthew Schmidt who began on “Avengers” as a first assistant and he then worked with us on several films. On “Winter Soldier” he stepped up and co-edited that film with me, so he’s now my partner. We have a very similar approach to working and workflow, so things go pretty smoothly. As far as dailies — and Matt’s a little different than me – what I like to do is – since they shoot a lot of material, a lot of multiple cameras and they never stop rolling. It can go very long. We end up with a lot of material. A lot of that material is not necessarily useful in between takes, but what IS useful is that I can hear the director speaking to the actors, so I feel like I’m there. I look at all of that material. Sometimes I speed through it if it’s just a camera looking at the ceiling or something. But I try to watch as much as I can and look for any content that might be in there that’s in addition to what’s scripted. I really give it a once over, just viewing it and studying it. While I’m doing that, the assistants are compiling it into scenes and proper takes with multiple cameras that are grouped together. Once that organization is complete I basically go through the footage in the order that it was photographed on the day. I don’t break it up into script order. I break it up into scenes obviously, but then I watch it in the order that it was photographed and organize it that way. I break the scenes into three or four acts. Each scene is broken into three or four segments and I build selects based on those three or four segments, based on the size of the thing or based on the screenplay or based on the blocking.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016
Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Depending on where the actors move or the stage line has changed or where the script has a specific transition emotionally or intellectually where I know I am probably going to have a cut. So my method is this: first I’m breaking down the movie into scenes, second I’m breaking the scenes into three or four individual segments. For longer scenes, sometimes I break them into five segments. This goes for dialogue as well as action. I consider action to be no different than dialogue. It needs to be broken down into three or four units of dramatic action per scene. And then big action scenes actually have many sub scenes within those. So it’s really about getting the material down to smaller bits so that I can manage it and study it and compare it. And once I’ve made some comparative analysis with what’s been shot and looking at the notes the directors have given me, I then sit down and begin to assemble the material, but I try not to think too much about the directors during that first cut. I find the shape myself…put the scene together so that it feels right to me. Just visually with a minimal amount of sound and no music at all. And once I’ve got the scene working pretty well, I loop back around and I re-read the director’s notes, and I re-read the script notes and I re-read the screenplay. And I think, “Well, did I miss anything that’s important that I didn’t have sitting in the back of my head when I was cutting this?” Very often I did. In the process of cutting the scene for myself, I find some things that the directors may not have seen or may not have asked for, and then going back and looking at what they’ve requested and what’s in the screenplay I go back to the source material and look at what we initially planned to make sure that’s in there as well. And that process repeats every day for the entire shoot and when I have time I look at longer sequences, but for the most part, that’s been my approach to the first assembly of the material. When I have a scene in place and I’ve had a day to go away from it and come back and do another pass, that’s usually when it’s ready and add the sound work. That’s usually when it’s ready to show to the directors.

Captain America: Civil War..Director Joe Russo on set...Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
Director Joe Russo on set…Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: I like that idea of breaking scenes down into shorter pieces. As you were saying, even though a scene takes place in one location, if a character is fighting one character, then they end up fighting someone else, there’s no reason to look through the takes of the second part of the fight, while you edit the first part of the fight. I was also really intrigued by a great little tip: as much as all of us probably hate the idea of constantly rolling on a scene – the change to digital just means people will roll forever – but it does give the editor a chance to hear why a retake is happening, or what the director wants out of the next take or why the last take might have looked good, but wasn’t the direction or the temperature that the director wanted in the performance. Those are great things for an editor to pull out of that “useless” footage.

FORD: One of the things I’ve also learned, especially cutting movies that are performance driven – which for me is every movie – is that I like to see the progression the actors go through as they work through the material. In other words I like to see where Robert Downey Jr. was on take one versus where he was on two, three, four, five and six. As he progresses through the material, Robert is the kind of actor who finds something and plays it in a new way each time. It isn’t always the last take that’s best, but it sometimes happens in the middle of a run where he discovers something and gets it and creates a unique piece of behavior as an actor. I want to be open to seeing those things, but’s important to know where it falls in the progression. If he then corrects that and makes a different choice, I have to then assess whether that different choice is something that the actor chose to change to get a different shape to the performance? And if so I need to be aware that he made that change. Or maybe he’s just riffing in a different way. I need to track his process too.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: That’s an interesting point because I’ve interviewed maybe 50 editors now and there are probably a good quarter of them that like to do the reverse of what you do, which is that they like to start with the last take, because that’s the closest to what the director was aiming for and then watch all of the takes backwards from the end of filming a scene. What do you think of that technique and why doesn’t that work for you? Because you like to see the progression?

FORD: Sometimes I think that watching from the last take backwards might work, but for the most part I never approach it that way, and the reason (for me) is simply that when an actor begins working through material – and this is more important when you’re talking about dialogue and performance as opposed to action – but for the most part, when an actor is working through material they are fresh initially. They are making choices with less thought on the earlier takes. As they become more comfortable with the words and the blocking it makes the scene too perfect and not as idiosyncratic. Those takes tend to be the correct takes and sometimes they’re necessary because the blocking is correct and the dialogue is delivered correctly, but sometimes we’re not looking for correct, we’re looking for aberrations in human behavior that give nuance. My feeling is that I’d rather watch the progression of all… and it’s also my duty to watch the progression of all, because I need to care for what that actor has chosen to do and what those directors have chosen to do with that actor. I don’t want to simply get to the easiest solution for the scene, I’m trying to find the most interesting and rich material that we created on set. Sometimes it requires a construction to achieve and I want to find those at least to show them as examples and options.

Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) on set. ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
L to R: Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: Sure. And the editors that I talked to that watch them backwards still watch everything, they just do it in reverse order. But the way each editor works is different. That’s one of the reasons I write this series, because those differences are fascinating.

FORD: I think it is fascinating to see how different people work. It’s all very similar to the way a writer writes or the way a composer writes a piece of music or a painter paints a painting. All these disciplines are art and craft: OK, you like your table set up this way or your room this way or how much light you like, how much sound you want around you, do you like music going or do you not? All those things feed in to what you’re doing and I think editing – like writing or painting or sculpture or musical composition – all of those things are done with things hitting you at the moment and you’re also reacting to the things you’ve collected and seen or your experiences. In my case, it’s footage that’s collected by the directors and a screenplay and the way I feel at any given moment about the performances. I think that’s the unique thing about cinema is that you’re creating something that’s collaborative effort from a lot of different people and all of those people are really playing off of their influences and their moments. It all feeds into the decision-making matrix.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: You were talking about watching dailies and then the assistants are prepping the actual bins while you’re doing that. Are you taking notes on paper? Are you watching on a big screen? Are you watching them on the Avid?

FORD: I’m always trying to watch them on the big screen. Sometimes when we’re on location I’m having to view them on the laptop, but for the most part I’m trying to watch them on a big screen because I’m trying to assess the technical quality of the photography and focus and sound. I do this review right away so if the directors call me I can tell them whether we have it or not. I’m also looking for moments and story points that need to be made. If I see a performance moment that’s particularly distinctive, that’s stands out in dailies, yes I’ll jot it down. But I’ve noticed over the years that it’s not that important for me to write down what’s bad. It’s really only important to write down moments of performance that pop and I recognize the story or the character really comes through vibrantly and distinctively in that particular moment. So if I really see something that is really special, I’ll make a note of it, but most of it is flowing by and I’m trying to see what catches my attention and kind of make sure we have everything we need.

HULLFISH: I’m the same way. Noting what’s bad is not helping me, but noting what’s good and interesting and different – those moments are what I’m looking for.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Agent 13/Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Agent 13/Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

FORD: I’ll also write down moments when the actors make mistakes in blocking or with dialogue where it allows me an option later, for example if an actor moves differently in a take and crosses on a different line or doesn’t finish a particular line, or finishes it differently, it might provide me material that might work for the narrative. My ears are open for moments that might be an opportunity to play the scene differently if we wish to do so in the future. Very often the scripted version is the one we go with, but sometimes if you have to remove some dialogue, you’re always looking for those little things that allow you to do that.

HULLFISH: Great point. I have to hand it to you and the scriptwriters and the directors. This is a great story. A lot of these action films rely on being great action films, but I really enjoyed the story. Tell me a little about being a storyteller as an editor and some of the things that you were able to contribute to the story in post.

FORD: Joe and Anthony Russo are storytellers first and foremost. In fact we always say, as we’re cutting the picture, “Is the storytelling working?” Not “Is the movie working?” not “Is the shot working?” not “Is the photography working?” not “Are the special effects working?” – we say, “Is the storytelling working?” What that means is: “Are we constantly moving the story forward in an interesting way?” They were so vigilant during the screenwriting process and I was so privileged to be included in that and a great honor to be able to suggest things and make comments about the way things were structured during the screenwriting process because, boy it’s a lot easier to change it on the page than it is once you’ve shot it.



FORD: We made a few tweaks in Atlanta early on before we began shooting. I went out for a little bit of pre-production and we talked about a few things and some of those changes paid huge dividends later. I really was excited to be part of that process. Joe and Anthony are so inclusive. We all feel like we’re contributing to the betterment of the story. That includes the stunt coordinators, cinematographer, camera operators. All these men and women who are working on the team that are making suggestions to make the story better. Not to grandstand or highlight their particular contribution but really Joe and Anthony set the tone that we’re all trying to make the story work and I think that’s one of the reasons that the story does have such a strong narrative spine. To your question: in post, we made very few adjustments to the overall structure of the movie because as you can tell when you see it, it’s hard to re-organize a lot of the material. It works in a linear fashion. The trick – if there is a trick to the script – it has this range-y and fun mid-section that takes it to an almost madcap and comic fight, but then it gets much more serious in the third act. What’s great about it is that it has a symmetry. The beginning of the movie sets up the conflict between Tony and Steve when they’re talking about their political views, but the end of the movie is basically the worst possible outcome of what they’ve been talking about. They each have a personal agenda that is completely subverting their duties, so the symmetry of the story works really well. That’s one of its great achievements of the script and that was always on the page. Little things we did in post were: we re-ordered a little bit of the recruitment section which was, I believe in the script the recruitment of Peter Parker was later. We moved that up a little bit and I believe we moved Hawkeye’s

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

re-emergence down a bit. All that shuffling we do is just to keep the rhythm of it flowing and keeping the pacing working because we ended up with a much longer sequence of Tony and Peter Parker than we originally thought and we wanted to keep it all because it was great material. You shoot things and then everything changes slightly. I believe we also consolidated a scene where Bucky tells the story of the other Winter Soldiers who are at the facility and we see a bit of a flashback to Karpov and the super soldiers and Bucky sort of doing a cage fighting match. That sequence used to be split into two parts and we left Cap, Falcon and Bucky and went to Tony, Widow and General Ross in the Taskforce Center and then we came back to Bucky and Cap and Falcon and finished off that story, but some of that got restructured so we could streamline it a bit, but for the most part we kept the structure as written. Of course the movie was extremely dependent on modulating tone so that we could start out in a way that was exciting, then we get a little bit heavy and then things get rather dark and tense, then we have this lighter bit in the middle, then we shift back into a darker tone, so modulating tone was done through editing and careful transitions and also often, through the music. We had a terrific music editor, Steve Durkee (score supervisor/supervising music editor) who helped us temp the film and get the tone to flow and when we got to do the score with Henry Jackman, who is also a fantastic collaborator and someone I just adore, his score just unified the whole thing. Making it work was a lot about tone control. And the last and most important thing editorially was being vigilant about point of view, because that’s what takes you from story to story and it has to be seamless and it has to be a perfect hand-off each time or else you start to feel it piling up and becoming episodic.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

So the planned transitions that Joe and Anthony did, plus the ones that Matt and I created later in order to achieve sort of seamless point of view hand-offs from character to character – those are golden. Those were something that we fought to create and those were the hardest things to build in the movie and they’re the most satisfying things to watch when I see the movie now. The rhythm of getting from one character to another, especially in the big battle scene in the middle, you have to move from character to character and not feel like anything is piling up. But even simple things like moving from the conflict between the Avengers regarding the Sokovia Accords to Cap attending Peggy (Agent Carter)’s funeral, just the way that that transition needed to work – going from an ensemble scene focusing on Cap showing his emotional transition, then we’re in London and he’s at a funeral, then his talk with Black Widow which hands us off to T’Challa at the UN. So much happens in that section and so much is emotional character and point of view stuff that’s related to Cap, but then you meet this whole new character. Sometimes it all feels like it flows naturally and I think that balance was very tricky to achieve because if it moves in fits and starts it doesn’t work as well. I look at it now and it looks like it was always meant to be that way, but some of it was very carefully adjusted. I think it was a combination of factors using all of the cinematic tools at our disposal: VFX, music, sound, pacing, carefully cutting in and out of characters’ close-ups, making sure that we entered through a particular character’s eyes. All of those subtle point of view shifts really are what keep the movie buoyant. It’s a long film, but it had to be in order to include everybody. One of my favorite transitions is after Cap has tackled T’Challa who’s trying to catch Bucky in the tunnel, T’Challa takes off his mask and they all stand there kind of frozen and it’s like, “Things have just changed.” We’ve just finished this big action set-piece and then we cut to Vision who’s desperately trying to work his way through a recipe for paprikash for Wanda Maximoff while listening to Chet Baker. I mean it’s insane the difference between the moment of high conflict and an introduction of a superhero to an android cooking, but the lift you get from that juxtaposition is thrilling and fun and it’s stuff like that that makes me love this movie.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Vision (Paul Bettany)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..Vision (Paul Bettany)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: That scene is one of the things I loved about the movie too. You are constantly moving back and forth between these big set-piece action sequences and then to scenes that make you care about the characters you’re watching, because otherwise you don’t care who gets hit and who dies.

FORD: That’s very true. One of the things that happened was that the fight at the airport never fully worked until we had the pieces in that provided those character moments, because so much of that scene was shot without the benefit of the actors. They weren’t there. Those are either stunt players or they’re fully CG. The exception: the fight between Captain America and Spiderman was acted by Chris (Evans) and Tom (Holland) and we embellished it, so that was a place where I could cut with performance, but when it comes to much of the other material a lot of time it doesn’t coalesce until a lot later in the process when we have all the ADR, until we shot Robert in his HUD (heads up display), until we start to connect these areas that are related to character. So it’s a tricky balance in those action scenes but I think Joe and Anthony make it a mandate to always build the action around character and that’s what always saves us because it is interleaved. It’s not just a lot of punching and pounding, there are moments of comedy and there are moments of character conflict and drama that rears its head in the midst of the fight and that’s really where it starts to kick off.

HULLFISH: One of the things that you mentioned was the structure and introduction of characters. David Brenner, who cut “Batman v Superman” and Mary Jo Markey and Maryann Brandon, who cut “Star Wars” both talked specifically about the importance of changing where the introduction of key characters happens. Brenner said they moved up the introduction of Lex Luthor in the story because of the unique energy that he brought to the movie. “Star Wars” also changed the timing of the introduction of many of the characters from where they were originally introduced in the script. Why does it matter when you meet people?

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

FORD: The first act introduces the complications for the Avengers. They’re going to have to answer to a UN panel now. For the most part the first act is dedicated to setting up the conflict between one side and the other of the team. We don’t really begin introducing our new teammates until almost act two. Black Panther is introduced at the end of reel 2 (about 40 minutes in) when the United Nations building is bombed in Vienna and since his introduction is tethered to the end of the first act, which is the bombing, so introducing T’Challa and The Black Panther at that part of the story makes his introduction really vivid. It’s really connected to the movie because it’s that inciting incident, it’s that explosion that sends the movie into its second act. Then later in the film the conflict shifts and becomes kind of a man-hunt to catch Cap and Tony is tasked with this by General Ross, so that’s when we’re going to introduce Spiderman and Hawkeye and ultimately Ant-man at the end of that sequence. So it was a natural transition to go from both of our teams deciding they need reinforcements to then getting Tony directly to Queens to talk to Peter Parker. What’s important about that scene is that it works because it’s connected to the main narrative. It’s another arc for Tony from independent, brusque and arrogant professional superhero to father figure and he’s becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi. He takes on an apprentice and because he’s thinking deeply about his place in the world because of the Sokovia Accord his desire to be pre-emptive and talk to Peter as an elder statesman superhero is what tethers it to Tony’s story instead of it just being “Hey, let’s go get Spiderman because it would be cool.” It needed to come early enough to keep Tony’s narrative moving because after that it speeds along pretty quickly. We wanted to make sure the center of the movie was that movement for Tony, which is why we re-ordered it slightly. But for the most part the construction was there in the script.

HULLFISH: I want to talk about storytelling. There’s a scene that you could almost call a throw-away scene, but really it sets up Tony’s mental state for the rest of the movie. He meets this random, seemingly innocuous woman that points out that her son died as basically collateral damage because he just happened to be nearby during a previous Avengers battle. Plot wise, it’s not huge, but emotionally it’s a big motivator. Did you do anything to add weight to that scene?

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

FORD: That’s the scene with Alfre Woodard at the elevator. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie and I think it’s beautifully acted. It’s beautifully paced by both of them. It’s a dream for an editor to have two actors in a scene like that being as good as they are. I think it’s really an essential theme to the movie. One of the things to keep the movie emotionally centered and not have it attached to just superhero nonsense where you just say, “This is the way it is because we say it’s that way” you need to give the audience something that they can relate to, so when Tony gets confronted by this woman it’s very similar to the scene in “Jaws” where the Roy Scheider character is on the beach and there’s been a shark attack and a boy’s been killed and the mother of the boy comes up to him and basically says right to his face, “My boy is dead because of you.” It’s a similar scene and it’s functioning in a similar way in that it is a moment where the character is activated and he’s activated by something that’s very intimate and emotional, but more importantly it’s something that’s relatable to the audience. If you put yourself in Tony’s shoes and you have to face a mother who’s lost a child; she’s making a very good case that it’s Tony’s fault and it’s very much Tony’s fault. It has to weigh on him. He has to have to activation I think.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Sokovia Accords..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Sokovia Accords..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

For him to really want to re-write the Avenger’s charter and come up with a new plan for the team based on the Sokovia Accord and for him to give that argument to the team a few scenes later and keeps the conversation pretty much grounded on “What do we do when something like this happens? Here’s a picture of this boy and he died and he had all this potential and we weren’t good enough to protect him.” I think that goes a long way to motivating that character and I think character motivation especially when you’re doing a movie like this where you need to believe in both sides (Team Cap and Team Iron Man) and you really need to relate to both sides. It can’t simply be that they feel that way because the movie is telling you that they feel that way. You have to see how they evolve and how their points of view evolve, so when we re-join that storyline each time you’re carrying with you the emotional baggage and emotional intensity of that scene you’ve seen before. There’s something that happens in that scene too that’s very interesting which is that Alfre Woodard’s character basically calls Tony Stark out for being somewhat of an elitist. She says in effect, “Have you ever thought about the people that you just pass over?” All movies are a reflection of the culture in which they’re made. We certainly do have issues in this country that relate to that idea which is, “We go through our lives and check our phones and think about ourselves a lot and we’re passing people every day that are affected by the actions and decisions that we make and that our leaders make and perhaps we all need to have a little bit more accountability.


HULLFISH: Talk to me about finding performance. You talked about the pace that Alfre and Tony delivered, but how are you finding that and sculpting that?

FORD: I have to say that I was given such great footage by Joe and Anthony. It’s crazy how much I love these guys. I’ve learned so much from them and they’ve given me the ability to do a great job because they’re so vigilant about getting great performances, but at the same time they keep the actors fresh and open to explore. I guess my biggest responsibility when I go through this material is to understand clearly what the brothers want, so I’m keeping an eye out for what THEY’RE going for, but almost as important is to bring to them my taste. I’m there because they trust my taste in acting. I want to find the pieces that the actors have given that are unique because as I’ve said, it’s easy to cut a scene together that functions and gets across all the narrative information. If you just do that, it’s almost impossible not to inherit a little bit of great acting and character work if you’re dealing with such a great cast, but it’s those little details that make the difference. I’ll give you an example. There’s a scene that I found in dailies that I knew Joe and Anthony would love the minute I showed it to them and we kept it in the movie though it’s something that may or may not fall out of a movie. There’s a moment between Tony and Peter Parker where Tony gets up and walks over and Peter’s sitting on his bed and Tony walks over and says, “I’m going to sit here and so you move the leg.” He’s basically intimidating Peter to shuffle himself and then he sits down next to him and puts his hand on his shoulder. He’s mobilizing him to go to become and Avenger and go to Germany. And it’s a big moment. It’s a moment where Tony decides he’s going to go for it. But it started with this unique moment that was totally unique, totally unscripted, totally improvised by Robert and I think it was an artifact of Robert working through the blocking because Tom Holland (Peter) sat down on the bed in such a way that Tony couldn’t sit down next to him. It’s just a moment of true human behavior and it is what gives the scene its curvature. So that’s the kind of detail work that I try to bring to it, and it’s just something that I found and structured by initial cut around. There’s a dozen other examples of things like that. It’s about taking those things that actually relate to the story. In this case, it was an improvisation, but it was about Tony asserting his power as a leader and then the point was to get closer to this kid so he could ask him a very important question. So he was creating intimacy by being assertive: just a brilliant Robert Downey, Junior moment. The other thing is, once the movie’s put together, you have to preserve them.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

I think one of my other favorite moments in the movie is when Ironman confronts Cap after he’s seen the video near the end. It’s very intimate and complex and beautifully acted by both of them. Joe and Anthony shot a lot of material for that particular moment. That was something that I worked on and worked on and worked on and I must have done hundreds of iterations of that exchange that only lasts about six or eight shots. Dialogue only. No visual effects. No action, just interpersonal stuff. They shot a lot of variations and Chris gave incredible performances with a lot of nuance. Some where he seemed guilty, some where he seemed ashamed, different emotional reactions, different temperatures, different intensities. We worked through that and I showed them so many versions and they gave me their thoughts and I did versions based on those notes and I never stopped working that moment until it was after our second preview when we found the right balance on how much to dwell, which performances to use… it was a really tricky thing to get just right, but it has to be because it was a moment when the characters changed forever because it was a moment where one felt betrayed by the other and the other had to tell the truth at an enormous cost and I’m very proud of the way that ended up being constructed and it was not an easy thing. It was fun chasing it. We were going for something very subtle and the three of us knew it when we hit it.

Captain America: Civil War L to R: Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine), Director Anthony Russo, and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) on set. Ph: Zade Rosenthal ©Marvel 2016
L to R: Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine), Director Anthony Russo, and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) on set. Ph: Zade Rosenthal ©Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: That’s kind of my point about sculpting these performances. You’re correct, of course, that the directors and actors are giving you fantastic material to work with, but as you point out there’re shades of temperature and shades of how regretful or how defensive or whatever that character is, but it’s up to the editor and the director to decide which one of those performances is going to inform the rest of the movie.

FORD: I think it’s also a little bit like atomic physics. You can start an atomic chain reaction that can release an enormous amount of energy from just a simple combination of elements if you just put two things together and split it the right way you get this intense burst of energy. Those two things separately don’t have any effect, but it’s putting them together at the right moment, at the right temperature and you have this blast. Once it happens it just feels right and you can try to modulate it but there’s so many fractal elements of acting and lighting and sound and music… you’re doing your best, but in some ways you’re trying to find something that’s there, but it’s not really there. You’re creating something in the combination. It always amazes me how delicate movies are. It’s one of the reasons I’ve kept doing this and why I love to see films and it’s impossibly exciting to me because they are something more than the sum of their parts when you put them together… it’s magic.

HULLFISH: Beautifully spoken. You mentioned how much you loved collaborating with the directors. Talk to me about that collaboration: how it evolved, how it started, and how you collaborate with two people as the director. I just spoke with Glenn Ficcara who directed “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” “Focus” and “Crazy Stupid Love” with his co-director, John Requa. Obviously, the Coen Brothers and Wachowski Brothers co-direct, but it’s got to be different working with two directors.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Director Anthony Russo, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Director Joe Russo filming a scene on set. Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2016
L to R: Director Anthony Russo, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Director Joe Russo filming a scene on set. Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2016

FORD: We began our collaboration on “Winter Soldier” and I met them briefly and Kevin Feige (producer) had pitched the idea to me before I had met them. He said, “We’re doing a ’70s paranoid thriller.” And I said, “You’re kidding. I have to do that. That’s my favorite genre of all time. It sounds amazing. “Three Days of the Condor” basically. And so when I met with them I said, “I really want to do this but I’m finishing up “Iron Man III,” I’m exhausted.” I was trying to find a way to get a sense of these guys, because I’d never met them and I wondered if we’d be good collaborators because I didn’t want to be on a movie if I was the wrong guy. And I always check to see if I’m the right guy, meaning that I want to compare notes with the directors to see if we have the same taste in movies or acting or anything like music, so we know we’re good collaborators. I don’t want to work with somebody that I’m not going to support. Well, I said, “Could you guys list some movies that are sort of references for you as you think about this film?” And I thought, if they list the right three, then I’ll totally do this job. The first one they mentioned was “The Conversation” (1974 Gene Hackman).

HULLFISH: Oh yeah. Great movie.

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 15: Producer Kevin Feige of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (C) with President of Marketing for The Walt Disney Studios, Ricky Strauss (L) and President, The Walt Disney Studios, Alan Bergman (R) took part today in "Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios" presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim, Calif. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Kevin Feige; Ricky Strauss; Alan Bergman
Producer Kevin Feige of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (C) with President of Marketing for The Walt Disney Studios, Ricky Strauss (L) and President, The Walt Disney Studios, Alan Bergman (R) (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

FORD: And I said, “Just stop now. You don’t need to list any more. If that’s the first one that comes out of your mouth, I will be great on this and I NEED to work on this movie. Please let me be on this movie.” They were super-cool and we knew we kind of clicked. I had so much fun working with them on “Winter Soldier” and felt so good about the movie. I’m really proud of that film and I really enjoy working with them. We just wanted to do it again as soon as we could. I’ve been really blessed to have fallen in to that. We work really well because we have immense trust. I have never any doubts that they’re not going to get me the best stuff and they let me have a lot of space. And they let Matt and me have a lot of space and try different things. They’re always up for new ideas. And their notes are excellent, they don’t overwhelm. Their notes are very specific. They’ll tell you when something’s not working and they’ll let you know when it is working. That feedback and communication is really, really helpful because it allows me to know that I’m on the right track and it allows us to really stretch. So the trust factor is key. Also, they just happen to be extremely, extremely good film makers. Their choices of shots, their taste in performance, their taste in music and the way they like to score things, their understanding of sound design and how you use sound in a movie is sophisticated and it is something that I respond to. We have very similar taste. So Joe and Anthony talk as one. They really do sort of go back and forth and have a dialogue. After the three of us go through it we have this incredible producer Nate Moore (executive producer) who is a really brilliant, brilliant mind for narrative and he will just shred stuff for logic and help us enormously and we have Markus and McFeely and they’re around the whole time. Our writers are always right down the hall working on the next one, so we can call them in. So it’s really a group effort and because we all really trust each other and respect each other’s work, it works really well. And of course, Matt has turned into this incredible editor and good friend and I couldn’t do these films without Matt and I think there’s too much to get through too quickly and you have to think too fast and it has to be a team effort from day one. Joe and Anthony make it a collaboration and family.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: Matt started as your assistant and obviously you saw something in him that led you to believe he could be elevated into the editor’s chair. What was that?

FORD: Matt, as my assistant, had an incredible ability to keep things moving and making sure the cutting room ran really well and that nobody was missing anything and that everybody had everything that they needed. He certainly took care of me really well and he got the movies delivered. I mean delivering these movies is a nightmare. It’s so difficult. There’s so much to do in the last month of the film, you’re working seven days a week just to get through it. Dealing with that kind of bandwidth was a trial by fire for the logistics and the technical end of it. So he had that all down pat, but I’d also throw him stuff to work on, like we’d have these sections of the films that are really labor intensive and sometimes I’d say, “Hey Matt, could you take this scene and just work it for a bit because I just don’t have time for this.” He’d turn it around and come back with great work. On “Ironman III” the villain was putting out these propaganda videos that he would use to scare the President and society and they were these aggressively cut, kind of freaky, strange pieces and Matt really helped to make those awesome and had a great eye for doing montage like that, plus he was always picking great performances for dialogue and he was great at sound and tracking stuff. He had all the skills and I was seeing great work coming from him but more importantly he had an incredible ability to put people at ease and the directors really responded to him, so I just kept giving him more and more stuff to do and then on “Winter Soldier” we were so overwhelmed with stuff to do because so much footage was coming in and we just started working together to keep up with it, so it just started working really well, so it just naturally evolved. It’s not like one day I said, “Well Matt, now you must become an editor.” It was more like he just worked his way into that position and when the movie was over there was no way he wouldn’t be considered a co-editor. He was there. I’ve been fortunate to work with him and he’s terrific and he’s working on something else now, but hopefully we’ll work together on the next Avengers film.

HULLFISH: How important on these big action sequences – or even in dramatic scenes – to have good sound design to sell the visuals?

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

FORD: Matt and I work with Shannon Mills and Dan Laurie at Skywalker Sound. They were our sound editors. Dan did dialogue, Shannon did sound effects. And then Tom Johnson and Juan Peralta were our mixers. I owe those guys my life. I love them dearly. They are as dear to me as my children. I could not make these movies without them and I genuinely, genuinely love them. Shannon comes on early, so what we’ll do is the first couple of months we’re cutting and using sound from the other movies, like we’ll cannibalize the sound effects from “Winter Soldier” and we have those as separations from our earlier work, so we’ll use that to fill in and grab movement and punching and stuff from previous mixes that we’ve done because those are all conforming to our taste, and we have a palette of sounds of Cap’s shield that Shannon has made and as we read the script we kind of know where we’re going and I’ll call Shannon about two months in and say, “OK, it’s time to start making stuff because I have some scenes to show you and Shannon will start making special sounds, like Vision has a beam that he fires from his forehead and Wanda has her magical powers and Shannon also designed the Ant-Man sounds, so he has the sounds for Lang shrinking and growing. So it’s a great collaboration that starts really early and Shannon will start sending me palettes and I’ll ask for adjustments and Matt and I will cut those in, cannibalizing the more mundane effects like: we have an effects library of flipping cars because we flip cars in every one of these movies so if we need a flipping car, we have plenty of them, but what I need from Shannon is those narrative moments that have to be shaped. So that’s how we work and start building the track and I need to build the track as close to the track that we’re going to use at the finish as we go along, so we are refining that track – constantly mixing and refining during the entire process so that we’re always trying to get it to the most finished state it can be with the most finished and unique material. We don’t want to go in at the end and rip all that sound out and put in new sound. That’d throw off our perception. We have to edit the sound as we edit the picture. We have to design them together. So many of Shannon’s great sound design elements create great transitions and great emotional feelings as well as the superhero technical stuff.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

For example, there’s a wonderful moment that Shannon did in “Civil War” where Bucky is walking across the street in Bucharest and he sees that the news-stand guy is staring at him. The guy has a weird look in his eye and he realizes he recognizes him. So he crosses the street and picks up a paper and realizes that the guy’s been looking at a wanted poster of him. Shannon did this incredible thing where he drops out the background and put in this unique – talking about point of view – we went into Bucky’s head for a second, we hear the blood flowing in his brain wondering if he’s caught and all of this weird, undulating low end stuff that flows into where Cap has entered Bucky’s apartment and it just created an enormous tension and it created a wonderful transition and it reinforced point of view and for that, Shannon is a god.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

He was thinking about story. He was thinking about character and it was all done sonically. A beautiful piece of work. He’s just amazing. So we just really work together. I don’t want to put my own stuff in. Same with Steve Durkee, our music editor, I don’t temp. I cut without music and then I send it to Steve and he’ll come back to me with picture notes, like ” This is good, but I think you can do better. I don’t think this scene is tight enough and you have to work harder.” Or he’ll say, “Guess what, you’re out of rhythm here. If you take out four frames I can stay in” and I’ll adjust my rhythm so I can stay in with what he needs to do. So I really love that. I love working with these guys because we get to have these conversations all day long about “I get to help you get this across and how can you help me tell me what I’m doing wrong and what can I do better.” Shannon will say, “I don’t understand this. I think you can change this cut” and I’ll say, “That’s a great idea! Let me do that.” It’s just how we’ve evolved our team.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: It’s interesting that you say that the music guy told you that you got out of rhythm because I think it was in my interview with Martin Walsh where he said that his music editor or composer was telling him that he was editing at 97 beats per minute.

FORD: Durkee and I have worked together for – not all of the Marvel movies, but I met him on “Public Enemies” (Michael Mann, 2009) and I saw what a brilliant guy he was on that film and when we ended up back together at Marvel on “Avengers” it was just a treat to be back with him because he has such a great sense of story. It’s not just about putting in exciting music, it’s about helping me make transitions and emphasize point of view and he’s helping me help the directors tell the story. He and I have a close collaboration because I don’t like to temp my own stuff because if I do, I get used to rhythms. If you cut a scene together, as anyone who’s cut a scene knows, you watch that scene 150 times. You’re watching it and watching it and watching it to try to figure out what to do next. If you’re hearing music you’re learning that music and your brain is imposing that music on the scene, which means you’re imposing that rhythm on the scene and when you take it away it’s going to so significantly change the functionality of that scene that refining the scene when it’s going to be altered by music doesn’t work. So what I like to do is work without a note of music. And if that movie is playing, if that scene is playing without any music – and you’re not allowed to use that magic bullet YET… then I’ll send it to Durkee and he’ll put music on it and if he can temp it quickly, then I know my cuts are good. He’ll kick it back to me if he feels it’s hard to temp. So we talk by sharing cuts.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016
L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: What’s informing your pacing and rhythm in either the action scenes or the dialogue scenes? Where do you make your cut?

FORD: Well that’s a very elusive thing. I don’t know how to explain how you know when to cut or which frame you choose to cut on. It’s just a feeling. Sometimes two frames one way or the other can ruin a cut, so it’s amazing how sometimes you have cuts that are very robust. They can be cut anywhere and it will still flow across and it will make sense and it’ll still have its emotional content. Other times the transition has to be so precise you have to be on the ONE frame that makes that cut or that shot function. I wish there were a way to describe how to find those frames or how long those dwells should be, but it’s not math, it’s poetry and it’s rhythm and it’s just like a drummer. A drum machine can play the drums, but a drummer is REALLY playing the drums. It’s the inaccuracies and the emotional variances that creates the rhythm and the uniqueness of it. So it’s a very tricky thing to learn and it’s the one thing that limits people from becoming editors: if you don’t have that innate sense of rhythm and timing, especially when it comes to the musicality of dialogue and how long you need to dwell before the next person speaks, you can’t learn that. You can find it by watching a lot of films and trying to get a feel for it, but if it’s something that you can’t understand intuitively it’s difficult to become a good editor in general. It’s a little bit like playing an instrument.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Civil War..Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: I would argue that the rhythm is not something determined by the location of a single cut, but is something that appears after multiple cuts – like a drummer, you don’t have a rhythm with a single drum beat… there has to be a sequence of drum beats to have rhythm. Sometimes even four beats isn’t enough to determine a rhythm, because there could be a pause between the next sequence of four beats – like the rhythm of a horse galloping. So, instead of talking about the point of a single cut, let’s talk about that overall rhythm of a scene. When do you know that’s right? What factors lead to that scene’s ultimate rhythm?

FORD: A lot of times, if a scene plays without music it’s going to play great with music. You just feel it. It really flows. It has a groove to it. You can almost hear the music as you see the cuts, like synesthesia, where you can see music and hear visuals. Your senses jump between the two and it feels musical. I think also sound effects and movement and visual cuts in a rhythmic way, so in other words, there’s picture cuts but there’s also percussive sounds in a fight scene for instance. A punch is an event that the audience will react to because they’re seeing it and hearing it. And a body hitting the ground and a door getting kicked down and the sound of metal whoosh and a jump. All of those things are musical events where you’re varying the tension and the tone – all those things need to vary in pitch and tone. You have to literally create a song that is visual and sonic that tells a story and then when you add underscore you’re adding another element of complexity which is why a fight scene that is scored with a lot of drums can sometimes be good, but sometimes it’s overwhelming to have all these percussive noises. I think the other thing to think about when you’re cutting is that the soundtrack has to have a full life and the music will come in and add to that soundtrack but you can’t do the same thing that the punching is doing with the music or you’re going to end up with chaos. Similarly, if you have a really quiet moment between the characters, sometimes a cue is the wrong thing to do. Sometimes it’s the absence of music that creates the intimacy. There’s a beautiful moment between Tony and Peter Parker where they talk about why they chose to become a hero, and he really lands on Tony in the moment. It’s a very delicate cue. It’s so soft. It’s so subtle. And that’s the only way it could have played. So it’s really hard to know. I think it’s very difficult to do a good temp until you have a big swath of the sequence. You almost need a whole reel. You gotta temp it by reel rather than by scene because the music in each scene, I’m not that interested in. I’m looking for a sweep over the course of a sequence.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: That scene that you mentioned between Tony and Peter Parker kind of reminded me about that collaboration you were talking about between you and the directors because Tony asks him, “Why do you do it? Why do you do these heroic superhero things?” The reason Tony is asking the question is because he’s vetting Peter. He wants to see if they’d be good collaborators in the same way that you wanted to know what your potential directors’ favorite movie was.

FORD: And I love that moment where Tony says, “Why are you doing this?” and Peter says, “If you have powers and you let things happen, then they happen because of you… because you didn’t do something. If you’re a powerful person and you can do good, and you don’t do good, then something’s wrong because you owe it to the world to use those powers to do the right thing.” And what’s interesting about it is the way he reads that line – and it’s a great performance by Tom Holland – something else is going on inside Tom Hollands’ brain there. Peter Parker’s talking about obsession and a self-involved sense of vengeance because we know the story behind the story of Spiderman, but Tom Holland is playing all those colors when he says he wants to do good. But Tony had a conversation with Cap where he said, “I thought the Accords could split the difference with Pepper. I’m obsessed with being a superhero. I still want to do this. I don’t want to give up.” And I think that moment is interesting. All of these heroes have a desire to good because they want to do good for the world, but they also have personal agendas. Tony’s obsessed with his work. Peter is obsessed with this thing that has happened that’s his backstory. Cap is obsessed with Bucky. Everybody has that second agenda and that comes through in that scene in this really oblique kind of awesome subtext kind of way and I love that kind of subtlety.

HULLFISH: Absolutely. Was there anything you had to do, knowing the kind of rabid fandom that you were going to release this movie into that you needed to address or be insanely careful about? Did that affect you at all in the edit suite?

Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
L to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

FORD: We didn’t have to think about that because we are fans, so we basically think that way all the time, Joe and Tony and Nate and I and Kevin certainly, we all grew up on these characters. I was a comic book fan, I grew up on comic books when I was a kid. When I was in fourth grade I was making Super-8 Spiderman movies in my backyard with a costume my mom made me so I basically have been making Spiderman movies since I was nine. We all kind of are that way. We love film. We’re filmmakers and we’re comic book nuts, so we are fans and we think about the movies as filmmakers and as fans. But I think it’s our responsibility to the people who love these characters to give them really dimensional and interesting and full-bodied, modern version of the characters. They don’t want to see the same thing they’ve seen before. Captain America’s really never had a serious treatment on film until the Marvel Studios series. He’s become a really interesting character. I don’t know that he’s ever really had a chance to have that nuance. Certainly not on film before. So this is really fun stuff to see brought to life in a sophisticated and cinematic way. We’re making movies that we’re hoping will last and be as popular in ten years as they are now.

HULLFISH: I can relate. When I was in fifth grade I was making Ironman movie posters. Can you talk to me about a few specific scenes? “Just like we practiced.”

FORD: The movie opens in Lagos, Nigeria and the Avengers are on a mission to try to catch Rumlow (Crossbones). They’ve brought Wanda (Scarlet Witch) along and she’s new to the team and Cap as the leader of this mission, part of his job is to educate Scarlet Witch on how to use her powers in combat, so he’s guiding her through the process and kind of learn how to be a superhero, be an Avenger and Falcon is a little more experienced and Black Widow is really experienced, they’re both there. So it’s an interesting story about Cap being teacher. It’s echoing that Tony/Peter Parker relationship later which is that the older Avengers are now mentors to these younger superheroes. There’s a changing of the guard coming. So when we get into the conflict about the Sakovia Accords, it’s a much more interesting and nuanced conversation when you talk about leaders who have a responsibility for their team and some of those team members are quite young.

HULLFISH: Another thing I’m thinking about looking at this scene is the use and incorporation of “specials.” (elaborately blocked and choreographed shots). There’s a great special that’s pretty complicated with a hand-off between three characters as the camera dances between them. Talk to me about using these specials. You’re in coverage and you know you probably have to get to this special and get out of it. Or don’t you? This is a shot that intentionally covers quite a bit of ground and is a bit of a directorial and camera operation set-piece.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) on set...Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
L to R: Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) on set…Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

FORD: The shot that you’re talking about, we did a very detailed pre-visualization of that. I cut from the animated pre-vis storyboards. We had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to be and had it lined up. In order to use a shot like that, you kind of have to know where you’re going to be over the course of the sequence. We always knew we wanted to hand it off from Falcon to Cap to Wanda. Sometimes you don’t want to do everything with a cut. You want it to flow from one person to another and it’s a chance to see the cast together in one shot, especially with this kind of a cast. Now I did have second and third camera on all that stuff, so if that special didn’t work out I had a way to get out of it and come up with a different construction. We’re always planning to use the special, but there’s always another option. Joe and Anthony always provide me with a way to get away to another angle if I need to.

HULLFISH: Or another performance, right?

FORD: On a shot like this, it’s really usually a choreography issue than a performance. The timing is more critical than anything because it’s about the velocity of the thing.

HULLFISH: It’s a ballet. What about “New Recruit?” This is the introduction of Antman. It’s got a great comic pace to it.

FORD: I can’t take credit for that. Matt cut that, so let’s have him talk about that scene. Originally it was a little bit longer, but not much. Most of that scene was actually re-written right before they shot. Paul had some improv ideas about things he wanted to do, so we had a lot of material in that scene. That was a scene where we really had to watch the dailies and talk about the stuff we liked. Most of that scene’s evolution through editing was getting the rhythm to be just right. Originally it had a little more air to it and as it got tighter it got better and better. We also wanted – for the fans – that Falcon referenced their earlier fight in the “Ant-Man” film. So it was a wink with the fans who could know that that fight was what they were talking about. Modulating that without going off onto a tangent was important. Bringing Paul Rudd’s energy into the film – up to this point it’s been pretty heavy stuff and it’s going to get heavy again, but having Paul come in is charming.

HULLFISH: I’m really interested in this discussion about having this scene that had a little more air or breath to it originally. Then Matt tightened and tightened. Do you continue tightening until it’s actually TOO tight, then back off and revert to an earlier version that’s just right? Or do you find that perfect tightness without having to take it too far?

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

FORD: Sometimes you do tighten stuff too much and have to dial it back a bit. In my experience tighter isn’t always better. As a matter of fact a lot of times faster is bad. Sometimes faster is necessary and sometimes audiences NEED faster, but a lot of times, the “dwells” is where the audience understands big moments. And in comedy, “dwells” are where the audience laughs. That’s where you’re giving them the permission to enjoy it. One of my favorite moments in the movie is where Cap kisses Agent 13 and then looks over to see his buddies – lethal assassins, superheroes – and they’re both so happy that their buddy finally gets kissed. The poor guy never gets a break. Finally he has a moment where he’s got a girl and they’re just so proud of him and it made me just smile because that – the pacing on that moment was dialed in completely by Joe and Anthony and it’s utterly perfect timing. These are very subtle things. If somebody tells me to pace something up, that doesn’t help me. I need to know what you want me to do to improve it. You can feel those moments where something drags when you screen it with an audience. That’s why it’s essential to test these films. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come out of a preview and gone, “Oh my god. I’ve got to move this faster. The audience is way ahead of it. That’s where you learn you need to over-drive it.

Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes) and Director Anthony Russo on set. ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016
L to R: Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes) and Director Anthony Russo on set. ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: That’s fascinating isn’t it? The way that YOU feel when you sit with an audience… you don’t even have to see the notes, right? You feel different.

FORD: No, no, no. I don’t need any notes. It doesn’t matter. The audience can be an audience of one person. It’s one of those magical movie things, when you bring other people in to watch it with you, you have some kind of weird psychic connection. You’re all experiencing the same thing and you feed on each other’s energy. I remember the first time we screened this movie, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go and Kevin Feige’s assistant was sitting next to me and just from her energy in the screening, I could tell that we were really in the zone. It’s a big thrill to screen one of these and have the audience really respond. I don’t need to hear a focus group after that. I don’t need that to tell me what to do. We all know what we need to address after these screenings for the most part.

HULLFISH: Tell me about “The Team versus Bucky.” This is where Bucky has been re-activated and there must have been some difficulties in here with having to cut around stunt doubles, right?

FORD: This is another one that Matt cut. That was a scene that was somewhat difficult because we had to really jam, so we didn’t have as much coverage as we’re used to and that was a tougher scene to cut, action-wise than others. That was a crazy day because they actually had four cameras doing four completely different set-ups at the same time in different parts of the set. There were times where we had to paint out actors who were in the background with another camera crew.

HULLFISH: So they were shooting things that were supposed to happen sequentially, but they were shooting them simultaneously. Talk to me about “Right to Choose.”

FORD: That scene is almost as written. I think Rhodey and Falcon had a little bit longer argument at the top of the scene, but that scene was beautifully written, they covered it great. I had good acting from everybody. I love how, at the end of the scene we introduce Scarlet’s (Black Widow’s) reluctance to be on Team Cap fully. In fact she’s really headed towards Team Ironman, and Cap is kind of surprised by this. That’s a scene where if you pace that scene up, you lose it, because the dwells work. It plays pretty fast. I love the rhythm of it, but I can’t take another frame out of it without hurting it because I will over-drive it and we’ll lose the interactiveness of the characters. It also has to come in for a landing and be able to get Cap to London where it has to slow down in a very interesting way at the end. If I’m not on rhythm there and if I’m not indulging in a few moments, like with Vision talking about the inevitability of conflict, it doesn’t work.

HULLFISH: I was thinking about the cutting itself helping with the storytelling because one of the big points of this scene is that Black Widow is a little hesitant and not quite sure about which side she should be on and I think a lot of that is derived by using reaction shots.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

FORD: Indeed. You also start to get the beginnings of conflict between Vision and Wanda starting to percolate there as well. Wanda realizes that – as one of the more powerful members of the team – she’s going to be subject to the Accords as well and she’s worried that they might come for her and Vision says he’ll protect her, but you can see that it’s not just what they’re saying but what they’re doing with their performance. You realize that there’s something starting to happen there. Tony’s trying to be assertive, but you can see the beginning of a lack of trust and I think that’s really interesting because it’s just starting.

HULLFISH: How hard is it to cut some of these effects heavy scenes? It seems you’d have to use your imagination to figure timings on so many things, or is it because they’re so heavily storyboarded that you can cut them?

FORD: Actually they’re heavily pre-visualized, which means there’s complete animations for every shot and every movement and every action and every gag. It’s been animated so we know generally where the camera needs to be; where we’re shooting. In addition to being a proof-of-concept for the producers and directors we also have to be sure we understand the entire script from beginning to end so we’re not wasting resources and that they can be divided up between units and cameras. Once that’s pre-visualized, that gives everybody marching orders about what to do. That also tells us how much of the set needs to be built and it really gives us a map. As we shoot the sequence, we’re referencing the pre-viz and I cut together the material we’ve shot, or sometimes we just use the pre-vis because it’s a completely CG shot. If it’s not completely CG, I cut it as best as we can and we’ve got this really brilliant artist named Gerardo Ramirez at Third Floor. He will take the plates and apply the CG imagery to our plates to make it like the shot in the pre-viz and we use that to cut with until the real visual effects vendor delivers the final. So basically we’re building the shots from the ground up from the first day and we’re building the sequence as we go along.

HULLFISH: You mentioned a couple of times that you were glad something stayed in the movie, a great moment wasn’t cut. I have to say that when I saw that moment when Tony sits on the bed with Peter, I was sure that was not in the script. I knew that was a real moment.

FORD: (laughs)

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2016
Civil War..Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2016

HULLFISH: But were there any of your darlings that you had to kill?

FORD: I have to be honest, there weren’t. There was very little left on the cutting room floor. This was not a long cut when we screened it for the studio. I gotta tell you, I’d have to go back and look at my records, but I’d be surprised if we took 15 minutes out of this film.


FORD: It was really tight. This is unique to the Russo’s. I think we took out a minute and ten seconds out of “Winter Soldier.” It’s like crazy tight how they do this. We changed stuff and we added stuff and moved stuff around. There were some transitional scenes that were taken out. There were lines of dialogue here and there that were taken out… the scene with Tony and Spiderman was a little longer… but not much. The Lagos opening sequence had a couple more gags that we took out.

HULLFISH: Thank you so much for talking with me today.

FORD: Sure! Thank you very much, this was really fun. Thank you for doing this Art of the Cut series. I really love it.

To read other interviews in this series, please check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish. Also, continue the conversation in the comments below, I’d love to know what you learned or thought was interesting and what questions YOU would have asked.

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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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