You can’t pigeon-hole Andrew Weisblum, ACE. Each project is so different from the next: “The Darjeeling Limited,” “The Wrestler,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Black Swan,” the pilot for “Smash,” “Noah,” and most recently, “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” 14 credits from the edit chair and many, many more as an assistant or as a visual effects editor. His experience is both broad and deep, which makes this a really special conversation about editing. Some truth bombs are about to be dropped.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about the schedule for the movie.
WEISBLUM:I think the shoot started July 2014, and I started 2 or 3 months before that. I was working on some key sequences. The script was in some flux before we shot, so we really had to zero in on the set pieces that we knew were less likely to change from the script revisions, especially when you are in an environment when you see absolutely nothing on the set. (Laughs) It’s actually a pretty big challenge and the storyboards can only take it so far, but to actually figure out the geography and physicality of what you need to see to understand the action was a big part of our pre-vis process, so we focused on that material for the pre-vis opening. The shoot took us until November or December of 2014, and I’ve been on until May of 2016, so it was a pretty long schedule. Almost entirely to do with the visual effects, the sheer quantity of it all and the time it takes to work that out to a standard that everybody has agreed upon. It’s unique having a vendor who is also a supervisor on the show. It means that they’re able to say “in order to do it correctly, we need this time.” And in some ways that’s a huge benefit.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about trying to cut stuff that’s so effects-heavy. You don’t have a lot of the indicators that you get with intra-frame action that editors rely on for timing.
WEISBLUM: Yes, It’s a lot like animation where we would record a lot of dialogue before the shoot and then record more after in countless sessions. The actual dialogue that is going on in some of these scenes kept on changing over and over again with jokes and things, so we would work with sound-a-likes constantly to re-record and update, but for everything else we were relying on a post-vis process which was very extensive. I worked with Tefft Smith and Halon closely, who ran a pretty big team for us so that we had a full post-vis of the movie by the time we showed it to the studio for the first time. Mostly that was for geography and backgrounds and sorting out the spatial relationships in a scene so you understood what was happening. A lot of the movie is Alice running and watching things so it helped when they were there in the frame (laughs). In terms of the other characters, especially the animated ones, we had two storyboard artists who would draw still panels for us of poses representing their behavior and actions. I would use it as an alpha layer in the cut to place where they would be in the frame for basic eyelines, blocking and what CG shots I needed. That became a very elaborate blueprint for Imageworks later on. We would sit down and have meetings with them about the post-vis sequences whenever possible. It would go to layout first, which is basically a modification of what we had figured out spatially in post-vis.
HULLFISH: But in 3D space?
WEISBLUM: Yes, it was in 3D space. The post-vis was in 3D space as well. Sometimes they shared a set from production to work with and sometimes they made one up, depending on how fluid the situation was. We would go though the scene and ImageWorks would come back to us with any issues they had about the set or the modification they needed to make to the environment to help us with issues, making the scale more accurate and spatial relationships more correct than we were doing in rough form. From there we would go into blocking and animation based on where the characters were. A lot of new ideas would come out with Troy, our supervising animator. Then we would approve that process and then there was a lot of rendering, lighting and comping after that.
HULLFISH: So with the amount pre-vis and pre-editing and the amount of work that had gone into the special effects, I’m assuming that you guys were pretty much locked into an edit. Was your first assembly that much longer than the final movie?
WEISBLUM: Oh, if that were only the case… the one benefit of this timeframe is that the vendors have more time to do it correctly and polish it and make it correct. The other side of the coin is, there’s there’s more opportunity to explore options. We had to push to be responsible and conservative about those changes when permissible, but as ever with movies on this scale, it’s an on-going conversation. So we are trying to make it better and better and each time we screen it, and something is informed by adding new visual effects and you want to change something else. It was always a moving target and always trying to keep a dialogue open with ImageWorks as to what was safe to work with and what we were re-examining. That’s not abnormal in this process. You should be informed by the thing as it matures. You shouldn’t just assume that it’s going to slide in.
HULLFISH: From the other things that you’ve cut… talk to me about the performance of this, I mean “Alice” was a pretty normal character but, the other performances are very stylized… how is it to edit the stylized dialogue?
WEISBLUM: Well, aside from Sacha – Time – who was a new character, they all effectively brought their characters from the first film. So, there were certain boundaries about what was true to a certain character and what wasn’t. It is a highly stylized movie so we weren’t really afraid to experiment with anything. There weren’t necessarily rules. But it should be that Alice is probably more normal than anyone else in the shot. So, it’s not necessarily a challenge as long as it’s believable and fun.
HULLFISH: What were some of your discussions in collaboration with the director about what he wanted out of the film or what he wanted out of a certain scene?
WEISBLUM: We wanted it to be an extension of the world of the first movie that people seemed to really enjoy. So it had to be in sync with that but feel a little bit fresh, meaning a little bit more humor and emotion. And those were things that we regularly looked for. The idea was to take these characters and explore them a little bit deeper, whether it’s their history, connections or other themes that would apply to Alice growing up (from the first movie) where she’s not a kid anymore.
HULLFISH: I’ve talked with other editors about the idea of inter-cutting scenes, in other words, there’s two scenes that you could play sequentially – one, then the other, but instead you inter-cut those scenes, staying with this scene for a couple of lines and we go back to the other scene for a couple of lines. Do you remember that happening in this movie?
WEISBLUM: Yeah, there are a couple of instances in the movie where what happened was not “as scripted” or at least there was an inter-cut that was scripted but ultimately didn’t make sense in the scheme of things. For example, there was a restructuring in Time’s castle and intercutting to make it so that Time was sitting with the Red Queen while Alice is trying to steal the Cronosphere. There is an inter-cut there that didn’t exist as scripted.
HULLFISH: That’s the one I was thinking of.
WEISBLUM: Yeah, those things needed to be parallel. Usually what intercutting is about is creating tension or drawing parallels, and the other bigger one is the section of the movie where Alice goes to what we call “Fell Day” which is the day where the young Princess hits her head. Alice is trying to stop her from hitting her head and at the same time Hatter is at the Tea Party on a different day and Time shows up there. Hatter realizes that this is the one who’s been after Alice and who he’s meant to stop in one way or another. Time is being delayed and Alice is trying to solve the bigger problem. That’s an inter-cut that changed several different times because the movie is full of exposition and backstory. There are a lot of different ways to convey that stuff and really parse through what transitioned well from one idea to another idea or one location to another location so that you understood how everybody’s related to each other, and that took some experimenting – partially for length, partially for clarity.
HULLFISH: What were some of the decisions of when exactly to cut between scenes?
WEISBLUM: The biggest part of it is that that section of the movie felt very long, and the reason it felt long for us initially… and I hope we were successful in getting it more precise… is that we had Sasha (Baron Cohen) & Johnny (Depp) together, so there was a lot of material at the tea party that was just riffing. It’s all good fun, but there’s a lot of story going on there too, so we had four scenes there that were reduced to three slightly shorter ones, just trying to make it a “greatest hits” – escalating and keeping the story going. So, that was the biggest target. The other target was to try and parallel what each character wants. So, Alice is looking for the Queen, Time is looking for Alice, and each time we left each one of them, we wanted to reinforce their agenda. So, from “where is she?” to “when is she coming?” Running parallels like that so that we knew that they’re both looking for each other. Alice is impatient. She just wants to find the Queen in the scene and that’s what’s sort of going on, but at the same time you have this important information about Hatters past as a child, who’s the reason we’re there in the first place, and this father who is not necessarily an obvious link to what she’s trying to do. So just trying to keep all that alive was a challenge.
HULLFISH: What’s your approach to a “normal” scene without a lot of special effects? Tell me about how you watch dailies and then when you sit down at the Avid and you’ve got a blank timeline in front of you, where do you go?
WEISBLUM: I have a pretty comprehensive approach to the way I put together an assembly and I take a lot time with it. I’m less concerned with being “up to camera,” (editing all the scenes delivered by production on that day) as in knowing that I’Il understand the material as fully as I can and explore everything so that adjustments are quick and easy once I’ve got a fully thought-out cut. So, I watch all the dailies, although there’s supposedly not enough time to do that anymore. I know that there are other people who will go to the selects and then explore the other footage when it’s assembled. But once the scene is built It’s like a game of Jenga: I don’t want to pull out a piece from the middle that connects to another piece that connects to another piece. I would like to try and build it as coherently as possible and in the process of that, come to know all the footage. I break it down either into sections or line by line and I don’t discard any footage until I’m at that part in the scene. I’ll work in stacks, meaning, line-by-line or exchange-by-exchange. Like I’ll break the scene down into 4 or 5 sections. I’ll watch all the footage from a section, figure out where the camera should be, where it should be starting and what information I need, when and who I should be on and what happy accidents are in that section that I want to build a scene around. And by the time I’m done I know what is available. And so then I’ll have ideas later on that’ll help me change it. I also look to see where the performances are going in all the takes as a progression. I get to learn something about the actors too, because there are certain actors who start fresh and fade out and others that get better as they go along. They’re all different so you start to learn a little bit about what their particulars are.
HULLFISH: While we’re talking about performance…How much sculpting of performance to you do? Or do you find which such strong performers you don’t really need to do that? What are you looking for in performance that helps tell the story?
WEISBLUM: It doesn’t matter who it is or how good they are… there is always sculpting because there’s always the context. And the context is always changing. Whether it’s the context of the whole movie or the context of scene or the context of somebody else’s performance. Even if they’ve made strong choices and how well they execute them is good, I’m dealing with the context of the scene itself. I’m trying to preserve those intensions the best I can or recognize when they’re not working and adjust. I’m not sure what else there is to it, except that you want them to be consistent and trackable and understand where they are emotionally, even if its comedy and the character’s are not even that deep. Every character usually has some motivation in the scene and you want to make sure that you highlight it.
HULLFISH: I was thinking about things like, the timing or the pacing. You know a lot people think that it’s the actor holding on this brilliant pause but… (Laughs)
WEISBLUM: No it’s not….
HULLFISH: …so often It’s the editor.
WEISBLUM: …It’s a question of context. If we film for an hour with Sasha improvising and then we film for an hour of Johnny improvising and the scene goes six different directions, you have to adjust the timing of things back and forth. You can’t just obey whatever they did in the moment. It’s more complicated than that.
HULLFISH: Adjusting temperatures of performance for example?
WEISBLUM: Yeah, or something that’s a little bit too broad or something’s not strong enough or something just doesn’t land and you have to try a figure out why. That’s trial and error. More often you apply something that is great or funny in the dailies that has no place in the scene or doesn’t work opposite of what you’re dealing with.
WEISBLUM: So you bang your head against the wall trying to build the scene around X, but X has no place in the scene. Then you have a problem. It just sits there and people say, “Why isn’t this as funny as it was in the dailies”? And I say, “because that’s the dailies and this is the scene.”
HULLFISH: That’s wisdom right there.
WEISBLUM: You know, they’re just two different contexts. Watching the person say the same lines over and over again and hitting their mark is not the same as what it means in the context of how somebody’s reacting to it.
HULLFISH: I was talking to Anne Coates who won the Oscar for “Lawrence of Arabia” and she said that she actually looks at the script and tries to edit in her head before they’ve shot anything. I can’t imagine that. Do you feel like when you’re looking at a script you can say, “I definitely want to be on a reaction at this point…?”
WEISBLUM: I definitely read things in a script and I know, “I need to see that happen to understand that, or I need to cut to this character or to these things so we understand how they feel about it” if it’s not presented as expositional information. Or if there is a lot of description in this script or lack thereof where you realize how a line feeds into another line or a moment leads into another moment if I don’t immediately know what it is I’ll underline it and I’ll say to the director “how are we going to understand this?” “How are you going to show me this?” Or “How do we attack this, do you have an idea?” So in that sense I know what she means. Oftentimes we read things in the script that’s a writers conceit. Conceptually it makes a lot of sense that this Idea is the reason that the character acts a certain way, but “how do I understand that as an audience member or what do I need to understand as an audience member?” is always important.
HULLFISH: Scene description oftentimes leaves you wondering: “How is this visualized”?
WEISBLUM: Right. One of the things I started to look at on this movie is, “How do we understand that Hatter realizes that he needs stall Time?” It wasn’t necessarily clear in the dialogue, so we adjusted the dialogue a little bit to make sure we understood it and made sure that he reacted to specific things to try and pull that out and it becomes clear that you don’t want to get so far ahead that you don’t understand what his goal is, otherwise there is no reason for the scene.
HULLFISH: I totally understand. The Mad Hatter doesn’t really realize who Time is…
WEISBLUM: All he knows is that Time is after this girl, Alice, and Alice has warned him that If he doesn’t help her then she’ll fail and something will happen to his parents. That’s what he understands. And that’s it. So how do you help clarify that? That’s actually a pretty big pill. So mostly it’s just that you want to understand that he’s some guy who is after that girl and doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but he should probably help her out. And as long as we can sell that bill of goods, then we are on the right track.
HULLFISH: In a TV drama you might even cut to a flashback…
WEISBLUM: Exactly. There are plenty of tools and crutches that you can lean on, but it’s not necessarily fun.
WEISBLUM: (Laughs) It’s also hard with a movie like this that has so much story to it and so many different characters and motivations to keep it clear for the audience. People will automatically assume kids won’t understand certain things – which I find to be generally untrue. I think kids make easier leaps than adults do, in terms of imagination and instinct. And sometimes it’s when the information gets more complicated, they don’t really care about it as long as there is a common denominator underneath it.
HULLFISH: I would think that editing a movie like this is a lot about determining how to parcel out information and the pace you parcel it out.
WEISBLUM: Right. And how to try and streamline it to the stuff that really matters. You just want to try to make it as concise as you can.
HULLFISH: Did you do a lot of screenings where you found that you trimmed something to get the movie down to a length that you like but then you were losing audiences and you put stuff back in?
WEISBLUM: No. We screened a few times and found that each time we screened it there was little to no confusion about what was going on. We knew we were in a safe place as long as we didn’t pull out any key beats of information. We could speed it up and pace it up. When questions would raise themselves about some consistency we would do our best to try and sort them out or decide they didn’t matter. Sometimes you’re just making clutter. You’re just explaining something that is irrelevant.
HULLFISH: One of the things that interests me is when you initially cut the scenes out of context and the pacing of the scene itself seems good… but then you assemble the entire movie, in context of the whole movie, now you’ve got a different pacing.
WEISBLUM: For sure. There is always the broader context in a movie and trying to keep some objectivity on that level is, I think, the key to a process as long as this. I was really resistant to watching the movie in full too many times, because you start to lose the sense of how it feels. I like to try and focus on the details and information of a specific scene and how to calibrate that for as long as possible in between screenings.
HULLFISH: How specific do you get with sound design and room ambience and that kind of stuff so that your visual cuts seem to work better?
WEISBLUM: I’m pretty particular about it and pretty particular about other people introducing sounds at the eleventh hour that have nothing to do with the context with which we’ve been working the whole time. Quite often I just say “I don’t want to hear somebody else’s new version of my sound.” “I don’t need to hear that thunder”. “I have a thunder that works fine there.” It’s just distracting to me in understanding how it’s working, so leave it the way it was. The movies have rhythms right? And part of the rhythm is how the sound is working. So, It’s not an arbitrary change to adjust an ambience or to adjust a sound effect. It actually changes the way the scene feels. And it’s not better simply because it’s new. I like to try and have a dialogue with whoever is designing the sound as early as possible at getting sounds for them. So they have some ownership and information in terms of what is actually ending up in the track and use the temping process for previews and screenings to really inform the final mix for later on. I just think that it’s an invaluable part of the storytelling, and helping flesh out an idea. Sometimes a sound effect or a sound idea would inform a visual idea that we would hand off to the visual effects department which had to do with some of the minutiae I think and some other character things and vice versa. The biggest challenge on a movie like this is that you are mixing for a while with placeholders, with temporary things like the ocean scenes. We don’t really know how they would look or feel. So what works with those sonically was debatable. We had our final mix and then we went on a 6 week hiatus from mixing so we could finalize all the visual effects and then went back in for another 2 weeks of an effects remix to adjust anything that needed rethinking once we had the actual visuals, particularly with all the rust material at the end. And there was no idea how that should be paced or sunk or anything until we actually had a shot to work with.
HULLFISH: I can imagine. The rust is kind of the chase element, and if you can’t see who’s chasing somebody it’s hard to get the feel right.
WEISBLUM: You know that something is going to happen here and we have this white noise rust sound that we played with dynamically. We knew that we wanted to constantly play with the perspective of it: having a big wide sound, and then an approaching sound when it grabs someone and so on and so forth. They were constantly playing with the dynamics of it, big, small, big, small, so that it always moves; not just like a wall of noise.
HULLFISH: …In terms of building right?
WEISBLUM: Yeah. It’s a mix of dynamics. It can’t just be a wall of sound, otherwise the rhythm is messed up. You tune out and shut your brain down when it get’s busy and confusing, and there are so many stems on this movie and so much action going on in the movie, that you have to try and pull it back a little bit. And then there’s the music and how that plays into the dynamics of the whole thing to drive everything, and sometimes you have to hold it back.
HULLFISH: The sound effects are an interesting thing, it’s a musical element in itself right? Because you need to have a pace and rhythm to it and also the dynamics of louder and more distant, and then closer, you can’t just get louder and louder and louder consistently it needs to have some kind of interest in the dynamics of it.
WEISBLUM: It’s “look here”, or “don’t look here.” That’s what it always does, or it helps feed the cut, or transition things. It helps you understand what you’re watching. It’s another way to be on a cut, point me in a direction.
HULLFISH: Tell me about music. Were you temping with anything specific?
WEISBLUM: Our music editor was Lisa Jaime who worked with the director before and had also worked with Danny Elfman. She started with the previous “Alice” film score as the base. We know that thematically some of the basic themes were going to be sourced from the original film, because they are great themes and they’re very character-oriented. But then there were new characters and new environments like Time. And some other universes like the younger queens and stuff that needed a new vocabulary. And for that, temping-wise, she would delve into Danny’s other scores and then build beyond that when something was not in the vocabulary that didn’t seem to fit. She did a fantastic job with that and it also helps us by experimenting, by understand the humor and the story and the pacing of things and how we could address it. She had a lot of time to play. So Danny had a really specific road map for everything but he had a lot of great ideas too that even in the year of us doing stuff, we never thought about. So it was a great hand-off in that sense. For temp music for myself, I try to listen to it as little as possible, because it’s not that different from the sound design – where if I can put a sound effect or design in there that came from my sound editors or whomever I’m collaborating with, I know that it can live there forever, it can be a part of the final piece but when I’m working with temp music, I know it can’t. So, It may tell us what we need to do later, but I don’t want to become accustomed to a rhythm or use a temp to solve a problem that I’m having in the movie that then I have trouble achieving later on with the score. It’s a Bandaid that’s not necessarily available to me at the end. I want to try and make it work as well as I can before that. I don’t assemble with any temp music. Of course when we show it to people outside our universe there’s temp music in it, but I don’t live with it as I work on the cut. That’s particularly hard for the comedy world I think. Filmmakers, studios producers, and directors have become more accustomed to just watching a movie that feels like a movie which is understandable, but I don’t want it to do things that we can’t have later.
HULLFISH: Because the temp music can give an artificial sense of rhythm to the scene or inform the rhythm of the scene in a way that will not exist later on.
WEISBLUM: Right. And it’s just false. Scenes are always better with music. We all know we can make them better with music. I don’t need that reassurance now, while I am working. But that’s understandably frustrating for other people, so I’ve moved into a place where I know I have to do temp music to show it to people, because it’s what they expect. I try and not let it pollute what I’m doing editorially, which gets harder and harder. There are other filmmakers that I work with who never use temp music and that’s my school. That’s just the way I operate. And I’ve also worked with people who use source music and then that’s the music. You’re not working with temp, for the same reasons. For me, It always worked out better if you’re not acclimating yourself to the temp score.
HULLFISH: I buy that. I’d say there’s a good 1/3 of the editors that I’ve talked to out of 60 people that are in the same boat.
WEISBLUM: But it’s not a realistic thing for the process. It’s been spoiled by people seeing stuff with elaborate temps that you have to measure up to. It’s just what it is. You have to do it for previews anyway. I don’t mean to de-value it, I just need to know that it’s not something that I’m going to get attached to.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about working with the director. What were some of the ways that you collaborated? Was it really more through cuts or did you have a lot of dialogue?
WEISBLUM: Well, it depended on the situation in this film. I started fairly late in the process. They were well along their way towards planning the shoot so James’ time was somewhat limited. So really, I would just execute pre-vis cuts and show it to him and he would give us some specific notes. I was on the set for a lot of the shoot, particularly for the second unit and other splinter units because I could help communicate what the intentions were and/or what James wanted to change because he trusted that we explored it. We had a very good rapport on the shoot. A lot of directors that I work with regularly want me on set. I don’t like it (Laughs) but I end up doing it. The reason that I don’t like it is because it kind of spoils it a little bit. But on the other hand I know exactly what we need and that we’re getting it. I would regularly make suggestions to change the things to grab. It could help flesh out a moment or have an option for a scene that I felt along the way, as I was watching it or something that I knew I would instinctively want to try, I would say it. More often or not, we would grab it and I would say that most of the time it ended up having some use. And in post I did the assemblies and we’d watch scenes together and dailies together on scenes that we had issues with, discuss the options, he would go away for a bit, and I’d slap it together and then we’d look at it. He’s a very generous and trusting director with all of his collaborators and allowed me and others to explore things and then we’d show it to him and he would chime in on and or elaborate on and or change and whatever. He would participate. There was always interest in what we wanted to see first, before he chimed in on what he knew what he wanted to do. He had clear ideas of what he liked and didn’t like, but he was always open.
HULLFISH: What do you see in other people’s editing work that makes you think they’re a good editor or that you’re watching a well edited movie?
WEISBLUM: If there is nothing technically wrong about it. If I get caught up in the movie and I’m caught up in the experience, and feel something from it, and it works for me rhythmically. I don’t know how better to articulate it. Whatever gets me the most excited watching it, or intrigues me the most, or moves me the most, I assume it’s well edited. Because I can’t really know when they started or what they had to work with and they clearly didn’t screw up the end results (Laughs) You know? How do you judge editing? You don’t judge editing, you judge the results. I think that’s true for almost every department. It’s all about context.
HULLFISH: I’m assuming that cut on Avid?
WEISBLUM: I did, yes.
HULLFISH: What do you like and not like about editing on Avid? Have you used any other NLE’s?
WEISBLUM: Well, back in my youth, I was a Lightworks assistant and cut on Lightworks for a while and before that film. And I don’t miss either. I happen to know a lot technically from my assistant days. I’ve done a lot as a visual effects editor and done visual effects shots for a lot of movies and spent a lot of time learning technology. At a certain point I decided, If it doesn’t make it easier or more efficient for me at this point, I’m not interested. If it doesn’t help me make the movie better, then I don’t really care. As such, I’m very happy with how Avid works because it’s a standardized thing. For decades people cut on film and never talked about technical anything. And I don’t think the movies are better or worse because people are cutting them on Avid versus cutting on film. It’s when you become accustomed to the tool and know how to use it that you can move on to thinking creatively. That being said, I do a lot of visual temps to try and communicate an idea for certain things when I’m on a movie and I’ll do that in generally in After Effects. If anything I wish there was easier integration for Avid in After Effects like in Premiere.
HULLFISH: Can you walk us through this scene above?
WEISBLUM: This scene is a good example of how moments with cg characters can develop in editorial and visual effects. For the shoot, we knew that Thackery (March Hare) and Mally (mouse) would be making fun of Time. But we weren’t totally sure what the jokes would be. There were some placeholder ones written that readers on set – not the voice actors – would say at designated points and Johnny and Sacha had eyelines for the chairs and a mid point on the table to look at in those beats. We also didn’t know for sure how it would be blocked. So we shot empty plates of the chairs and table for use later. When Hatter gets up and walks behind Time, Thackery and Mally were just supposed to be back in their chairs, but we thought it would be more fun if they were still moving around and messing with Time. It also gave us a chance to have them get scared and go back in position – more active. Cheshire Cat was never supposed to appear in the scene originally. He was a big part of the Tea Party in the first film so we knew we wanted to find a beat for him, but that wasn’t scripted. We found a close up of Sacha looking particularly irritated and thought this extra joke on his shoulders worked pretty organically.
HULLFISH: Do you have anything specific that you like to tell aspiring feature film editors?
WEISBLUM: Just cut anything you can. Be open to the opportunities to cut when you can.
HULLFISH: And actively create those opportunities, even if it means shooting something yourself. I was just telling a student to re-shoot a scene of a movie with some friends and an iPhone and cut that. Anything to get editing time. How did you get “Alice”?
WEISBLUM: I was approached by people that I knew at the studio in post. Linda Borgeson; who I’d worked with in the past thought I’d get along with James and that I had attributes that would be applicable. I’ve been very fortunate that I have two longstanding, working relationships with indie filmmakers, but their films couldn’t be more different. So, that keeps my muscles flexed and made me recognize the benefits of not pursuing a career as a such-and-such editor – as an action editor, as a comedy editor, as a special effects editor or whatever it is – just try to avoid it by doing different stuff. That’s the goal.
HULLFISH: You’ve talked about some of your long-term professional relationships. We’ve talked about the technical side, which you clearly know, and the artistic side, which you clearly understand and can discuss eloquently, but there is a social side of editing too, right? The fact is that if you want these long term relationships and If you really want people to work with you, you have to understand human interaction, be socially engaged and engaging, and be someone that people want to work with day in and day out because the relationship with the editor is intimate and goes for a long time.
WEISBLUM: The editing room is probably the most sensitive space in the whole process because it’s private. It’s just the filmmaker and you for a long time and you have to be sensitive to the fact that when the filmmaker comes in and looks at what you’ve done with their work, all they’re seeing is where they succeeded and where they failed, and that’s hard! That’s sensitive. They’re trying to convey something and trying to communicate something. When something doesn’t work I have to be sensitive to try and know what is the intention, and how can I help it and how can I improve it and what can I suggest to help him achieve whatever it is they want to do. It’s rarely telling them their idea isn’t good.
WEISBLUM: In all seriousness you know? I think there are editors that will say, “Yeah that’s stupid” in a condescending way, and that’s just wrong. You’re there to help them achieve whatever it is they’re trying to achieve. It’s their movie. And even if it doesn’t work for you and works for them, then it’s your job to execute it and to try and figure out what is it about that idea that doesn’t work, and how to help it. And as long as they feel like you’re aligned with what they want and that you’re aligned with trying to improve upon what they’re doing rather than change it, then there’s trust.
HULLFISH: Yep. Trust is a huge word that I’ve heard from virtually everyone.
WEISBLUM: As a director, you don’t expect an editor to give the director notes on their material, that’s not appropriate. That’s not my job.
WEISBLUM: But they do. Editors do that all of the time. And that’s not your place. Your place is to help them achieve the goal. And other people lose track of that. Studios and producers regularly get asked to try things and I will say, “Ask the director”. No matter what it is. I’m happy to do it, if the director’s happy with it. Somebody had the wisdom to tell me when I was an assistant that the director is the director unless they’re not the director.
WEISBLUM: That’s the only person you are listening to and until that person leaves, for whatever reason, that’s who’s running the ship. And it’s very easy to lose sight of that.
HULLFISH: That’s true, and I’m guilty of that… I’m guilty of it myself, but there is also the point that you’re being asked for your creative point of view and to be a collaborator. So you’ve got to walk that line right?
WEISBLUM: Well whenever that happens, I’ve got alternates. Something that I do a lot I almost never show people just one version of a scene. I usually have 2 or 3. I can say “which one of these do you like and why?” And that’s kind of an ice-breaker. It helps them dig in for what they like or don’t like. Usually it’s about the heart of the scene or a critical thing and it just helps me, cause usually they’ll end up saying what they care about. They have the right to see the scene the way that they expect to see it first. And then if I have another idea, I’ll say “Let me just float this by you and tell you why.”
HULLFISH: That is great advice. I need to take that advice myself. Thank you. (Laughs)
WEISBLUM: Well it helps to show two versions, that way you’re not saying “You’re wrong and this is right,” you’re saying “Here. Experience which one you like better.”
HULLFISH: I love that, that’s great advice. Thank you so much for spending so much time with us and sharing all your wisdom and point of view.
WEISBLUM: Thank you.
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