Working with Wes Anderson in the Avid to Get More Movie Out of a Shorter Shooting Schedule
Moonrise Kingdom, the story of Sam, a young Khaki Scout who flees summer camp for a seaside rendezvous with Suzy, the girl of his dreams, stirring up all kinds of trouble on the fictional island of New Penzance, is the third film that editor Andrew Weisblum, ACE, has cut with director Wes Anderson. Working on location, Weisblum lived together in a house in Newport, Rhode Island, with Anderson, DP Robert Yeoman, ASC, and others from the production. At one point, the shoot moved about an hour away to Camp Yawgoog, the location for the film's fictional Fort Lebanon, on the edge of Rhode Island, and the team moved into a different house there.
"It was a family," Weisblum says. "In the day we would shoot, and in the evening we would come back and have dinner with the producers and some of the actors, and [we would] talk about what happened that day and about the shooting plan."
The convivial atmosphere set the tone for collaboration on the film, with Anderson and Weisblum working together throughout the edit, rather than Weisblum hunkering down to make an assembly that Anderson would simply make notes on. Weisblum and his assistant, Daniel Triller, were set up with Avid Media Composer systems connected to Avid Unity shared storage in the house in Newport, but Weisblum brought along a laptop so that he could be available on set during the shoot. "We always had a dialogue going," Weisblum says. "While [Anderson] was shooting, I could work on stuff we had already looked at the night before and show it to him during the day."
Moonrise Kingdom was shot on Super 16 film (see our interview with DP Robert Yeoman for more on that process), and the camera negative was processed by Technicolor in New York. Triller would download the files and sync up media in the house, and Weisblum was generally able to work with the footage on set the next day. Post happened in New York City, although Anderson had plans to spend a week visiting a friend's house on an island — one of the locations that inspired the movie's story — and so Weisblum tagged along, laptop in tow, so cutting could continue.
Having worked with Anderson on three films running, Weisblum could see how the particulars of the director's shooting style were evolving — and especially how they were influenced by the process on his animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. "On The Darjeeling Limited, it was his intent, from my point of view, to be a little looser in terms of the shot plan," Weisblum recalls. "I don't think there was a single thing storyboarded on Darjeeling, but Mr. Fox was storyboarded to death. You have this animatic that you revise while you're shooting, so the pre-planning process runs alongside the shoot. It was rigid, yet eye-opening for Wes to see the power in that kind of prep."
As a result, Anderson carefully storyboarded a handful of sequences in Moonrise Kingdom, making decisions about how music and dialogue would function and what the cutting pattern would be. Realities on the set dictated that it wouldn't all come together exactly as planned, but all the advance work provided a useful blueprint. "We could do it on a budget because we knew exactly what we needed," Weisblum says. "And it changed his style a little bit. I don't know that you would necessarily know while watching it, but it did change his shooting and cutting approach."
One clear departure from previous Wes Anderson films is the use of child actors in lead roles — Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy) were just 12 years old. The presence of inexperienced youngsters in such a crucial capacity meant that the director had to be absolutely confident in his casting instincts. "He would talk to me during pre-production, sending me drafts of the script and casting videos," Weisblum recalls. "When he saw Jared and Kara, he knew right away. I'm not sure that everyone else saw it. It's interesting, because they're not necessarily kids that you would identify as likely to carry a movie. But I think they're great."
It helped that the film was being shot in Super 16, which meant smaller cameras that could keep the set relaxed and increase Anderson's flexibility when shooting with the kids. The film's most extraordinary section is probably the long interlude at its core that involves the two runaway children setting up camp in a secluded cove. Asked about that section of the film, Weisblum says it remained somewhat fluid as he and Anderson considered the sequencing of different scenes in the edit. As for the film's centerpiece scene, in which the two dance to a 45 of “Le temps de l'amour” by Francoise Hardy and feel their way through the earliest stirrings of romance, Weisblum says, "When we first got the dailies, [Anderson] wasn't 100 percent sure if he had it. There was some magic there, but he wasn't sure what our coverage options were."
Anderson had shot the scene as a master, capturing a little bit of coverage as a safety net. "I submitted to him that I thought that if we cut it, it would make a better scene — something more interesting and surreal," Weisblum says. "In the end, we used up all the coverage we had. He went back a day later and picked up one or two other pieces to help the timing by spacing things out a little bit. That's not something that would usually happen. But he was more open to the possibility because he wasn't sure how it would go."
One trick that helped make the most out of the kids' performances was having them record their dialogue multiple times, both on set and also in a separate studio. A lot of those line readings ended up being intermixed with the production recordings, giving Weisblum and Anderson added flexibility to shape the performances in the cutting room. In fact, that kind of detail work has become increasingly commonplace over the three films Weisblum has cut for Anderson. "There isn't a scene where you don't end up substituting dialogue and/or words of every line from other takes and other performances," he says. "If we had a scene that played out in a master shot with whip pans designed as cut points, he might do 20 takes of that and we would stack all the dialogue together, pick the best readings, and sync those with the one take we're using. One sentence of Mr. Fox could be from 12 different takes, and that's the kind of construction we started doing on Moonrise — not because the performances needed so much work, but because it was possible to make them that much more special."
Along with liberal manipulation of the dialogue tracks comes a similar range of invisible effects that tweak the visuals — split screens, respeeds of characters and other finessing techniques that would have been difficult to pull off in the edit as recently as five years ago, but now are a standard part of the Avid toolkit. As a result, directors, editors and cinematographers are scrambling to work quicker than ever, with the expectation that many nips and tucks can be made in the cutting room. What are some examples? After hearing comments that Suzy's house seemed much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, Weisblum extended the house's architecture in the exterior shots. When Edward Norton's character is smoking a cigarette in uncomfortable proximity to fireworks, the team added a "No Smoking" sign to the tableaux. Each individual change amounts to little more than digital set decoration, but Weisblum feels they have a cumulative positive impact on the film. "I can't see working any other way," he admits. "It's like chopping off an arm if you don't have that option."
One more way Moonrise Kingdom differed from Weisblum's previous work with Anderson was in the sound design. A goal this time around was to start creating the final mix as early as possible — an attempt to make the it more organic to the original shooting and editing process, rather than a kind of after-the-fact add-on. Sound editor and mixer Craig Henighan was drafted early on to watch the footage come together and start offering beds and other ideas for the sound mix. The process took advantage of easy integration between Avid Pro Tools and Media Composer. Henighan was based in Los Angeles, but would visit New York regularly, where he would set up in an editing room with 5.1 near-field monitoring and an Avid Icon board rather than on an expensive mix stage. It gave the team lots of time to experiment with the mix and finally arrive at a fully realized soundtrack.
In the end, all of the new tools and techniques are employed in the service of completing a movie in the best way possible in the least amount of time — and that constraint gets more severe as more powerful NLE tools increase the expectations of what can happen in the editorial process. "Particularly on projects of the scale of Moonrise or Black Swan, you're trying to squeeze more movie into a much shorter schedule," Weisblum says. "When you're cutting, you have to throw everything you can at it to get things up to speed and use a lot of body-and-fender effects you wouldn't have gone to at first instinct."
Is Weisblum perturbed by an increasingly insistent "fix it in post" mindset that puts more and more on his editorial plate? Not especially. "It allows certain movies to get made that might not get made otherwise," he says, "so it's OK in the end."
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