Editing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Associate Editor David A. Smith on Assembling the Post-9/11 Drama
Smith explains more about the challenge. “The main character is a kid who loses his father on 9/11, and a lot of the film is about what’s going on inside his head,” he says. “There’s some graphic stuff, and they had to make sure they were very sensitive about the material.”
That meant a process of weighing the emotional needs of the story against the filmmakers’ respect for the reality that it depicts. “People will be shocked by some of the things they see [in the film], but it doesn’t feel exploitative,” Smith says. “It feels necessary and not sentimental. But that was the balancing act, and the biggest struggle in the conversations we had, back and forth, with the director and the editors and the producers.”
Getting Bumped Up to Associate EditorSmith joined the project as a first assistant editor in February of 2011, as pre-production got underway at JC Studios in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. Smith looked forward to working again with Claire Simpson, whom he knew from their work together on the musical Nine for director Rob Marshall. Victoria Lang was hired as second assistant, and Smith hoped he might get the chance to edit a scene or two.
“The schedule was a brief one, and during dailies, as things got busier and busier, I started helping out by cutting scenes,” Smith recalls, describing the chance to collaborate with Simpson as “an exceptional opportunity and an invaluable experience.” Lang benefited, too, with a promotion to first assistant.
From ARRIRAW to DNxHD 36Shooting began in March, with the ARRI Alexa recording in ARRIRAW, but editorial workflow was fairly standard compared to a film workflow. Smith visited Deluxe a few times during the early days of production to eyeball the dailies, but he says cinematographer Chris Menges and DIT Abby Levine had matters well under control. Deluxe converted the footage to DNxHD 36 files that were sent to the editorial team, which worked near the soundstage at JC Studios during production and out of Sixteen19 in the Brill Building in Times Square during post. On rare occasions, the 36 Mbps codec didn’t do justice to the footage. “We had about 10 shots stepped up to DNxHD 175, when the 36 couldn’t hold some of the detail in the wider, brighter shots,” Smith recalls.
The cutting room had three full Avids and one software-only workstation for use by an apprentice editor, James Lesage. “It’s definitely my preference,” Smith says of the Avid. “I edited two documentaries on Final Cut Pro, which was fine, but I find the Avid Media Composer is definitely more robust – as an assistant, especially, I appreciate the workflow for data management and sound turnover. It’s definitely my more natural hardware, but if somebody can only use Final Cut, I make arrangements.”
At Sixteen19, media was shared via a Unity MediaNetwork with an Avid DS in the screening room, facilitating color-correction and conform, and files were easily output to HDCAM tape for previews. Sound was mixed by Skip Lievsay and Paul Urmson in rented space at Sound One, also in the Brill Building.
Production and PostDuring production, the goal was to run a tight ship, keeping on top of the dailies to head off any problems as soon as they could be detected. “Stephen would come down at the end of the day and look at our assemblies and give notes,” Smith recalls. “If scenes were a little more tricky, or required more than a one-day shoot, he could go back and re-shoot things for performance. As you get further along and get more comfortable, and the schedule starts to accelerate, the director concentrates more on getting the footage. If there was a scene he was worried about, he would get involved in the dailies stage, but the day after we were done shooting we had an assembly – a pretty tight one.”
In post, the job became working the material down from an initial 150 minutes to a final running time of 122 minutes (without credits). The process of audience previews and re-edits served its usual purpose. “Previews are definitely helpful,” Smith says. “A lot of things you already know, and previews verify them. You see if things are working in terms of comedy in places, and figure out where to cut beats and do more fine tuning. And you see what the bigger problems are. You feel the reactions around you as you sit in the audience – that’s true with any film.”
Tracking VFX in the EditComplicating matters somewhat was the quantity of VFX shots required, partly to help roll certain scenes back to the film’s time period, but also to recreate the frightening chaos of that day in 2001. Smith says more VFX were added to the film as the editorial process went on, including transitions to ease the film’s movement in and out of flashback sequences. (VFX duries were shared by Phosphene, Method Studios, and Company 3, and Gravity contributed titles.) The most complicated shot involves an image of the World Trade Center on fire, which had to be visible through the window of an office where Sandra Bullock’s character works.
“Our VFX supervisor was definitely on top of things, but it was our job to make sure,” he says. “If Claire makes a change in this shot, does it get longer, so we have to turn it over [to VFX] again? Or if this shot gets cut, can we stop paying for the VFX work?” As an example, he cites a shot that had a flock of pigeons in flight painstakingly added by VFX. It was part of a long scene that ended up being cut. First Assistant Victoria Lang tracked that aspect of editorial, which became its own demanding task in the latter days of post – to the degree that having a separate VFX editor would have helped to take pressure off as the project approached the finish line.
“We had a very short post schedule, so it was necessary to get things in shape very quickly,” Smith says. “It was a lot of hours, with a lot of six-day and seven-day weeks, and it was a complex film emotionally. That was the biggest challenge on this film – the subject matter. I actually thought it would be more difficult, but we reached our goal. People feel that we handled it well.”
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close opens in limited release on Christmas Day.