In Conversation with Hollywood Editor: Jeremiah O’Driscoll (Part 2)

Continuing on from our Part 1  Interview with the incredible talent that is Jeremiah O’Driscoll, we delve a little further into some of his latest Film edits and some more crucial filmmaking advice.

Part 2…..

NFF: The Walk (2015) was a fantastic film which held a combination of digital painting, green screen and other film related techniques and one of my favourite scenes is when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character braces the walk over the Twin Towers.  As a viewer it felt like it induced a level of vertigo – and I wondered if this was intended for the viewer? 

J O’D:  As I recall the original concept Mr. Zemeckis had for The Walk was to create an IMAX version of Petit’s insane and beautiful 1974 performance which would play-out in real time as part of the World Trade Center Memorial museum that was to have and IMAX theatre.  Whilst we were working on A Christmas Carol in Los Angeles Philippe Petit visited our motion capture stages many times. He was interviewed at length on camera and on one occasion he donned the motion capture suit and re-enacted his entire performance. It took seven years of pitching the concept and the film until TriStar decided to take it on.  So, in a very real way, the vertigo-inducing scene was at the heart of the conception of the project.  Editorially this scene in particular was very different from any other scene.  When a wire walker walks the wire he looks neither up nor down, just straight ahead is a state of heightened concentration.  So since the cuts aren’t motivated by looks or eyelines any cut I’d make would be feeling my way through Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s brilliant performance.  Remarkably, by the time we filmed the climactic sequence, Joseph was accomplished enough to walk the wire himself.  Many of the more technical moves were done by Jade Kindar-Martin, who is a very accomplished wire walker.   

NFF: Flight (2012) was another incredible film with so many tense scenes (especially the plane flying upside down) and I was wondering how easy you find it to create the level of tension needed for the viewer?  

J O’D: I think viewers come with a set of expectations when they watch Flight and anxiety related to flying seems very common.  Mr. Zemeckis’s craft & storytelling ensured that I would have the pieces I would need in Post.  In cutting such a scene one builds it in ‘a formal way’ meaning most shots have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Close to the completion of cutting one creates a bit of chaos in the order of things – cut the head off one shot and not letting the camera land in another shot.  Chaos is difficult to create.  You also have to do a fair bit of compositing in the AVID to create the proper pitch and roll to the plane.  We studied rollercoasters and methods of recreating their stomach-lurching effects while we were making The Polar Express, so much of that research and knowledge was already in hand. The main cabin was on a large rotisserie-like machine, and each passenger is a stunt performer.  Shots while the cabin is completely inverted had to be done very quickly so we didn’t keep or passengers upside down for more than a minute.  In a very real sense the construction of the scene is the least complicated thing about it.  The vomit was real, sad to say.

NFF: You have also worked with Michael Mann on Blackhat? How was that experience?

J O’D: Working with Michael Mann is a very special treat.  I had been Apprentice Editor on Last of the Mohicans so I was well aware of the demanding environment I was going into.  I loved every moment of the process.  Michael is brilliant and his mind is very quick.  Keeping up with his pace is always a challenge.  Michael had recently rewatched Flight and complimented the way I had edited the personal relationships in the film. If I have my own ‘style’, then it must come from my years working for Arthur Schmidt and watching how he would protect the actor’s finest work.  As Michael always had a great appreciation for Artie’s work I do think I have been lucky and might have caught a bit of his afterglow, earned or not.  After attending a holiday party at Michael Mann’s house my wife reported that Michael had complimented my work saying that my cutting had ‘an unusual combination of poetry & discipline’.  When you work day in and day out at a craft you don’t think in such terms, you just sit at a computer clicking a mouse, so it was very pleasing to hear his observation.

NFF: From your experience what would be your top tips for working with a director? 

J O’D: When a Director is working on set about 500 people come up to him/her in a day and with any amount of experience the Director knows that each person is there to tell him/her about something that they can’t have or do or afford.  Whether it is that the 250 Extras which were supposed to be working that day have been cut down to 10… or the ceiling of the warehouse in which you are shooting would have to be removed to get the shot you want… or that what was in the actor’s coffee mug that morning wasn’t coffee but had a higher proof to it… so ideally when the Director sits to edit, the answer should always be ‘Yes!’.    Cutting a film for a Director is more a conversation about the film… what makes it tick, how we can accentuate this feeling or epiphany.  Lots of talk centres on character and performance.  Some Directors want you to simply do what they tell you to do without filtering anything from the direct request.  ‘Mark here, mark there… cut that in…’.  I’ve not worked with very many who fit that exact description, but there are some very large names who work that way.  Basically, you bend to how the Director wants to interact with you… Arrogance is an unaffordable luxury in the movie business, particularly in the crafts.  As you work with differing Directors note to yourself what you like and dislike… some very talented people are demanding and difficult to work with or are unpleasant.  If that is not a way you chose to work still do your best and make sure you are unavailable the next time they call.  Sometimes it is a good discipline to be able to forget about your likes and dislikes as they can often be of no consequence in the run of things.  Several Directors create tension in their environments and feed off anger and pitting people against each other… this was a bit more common in the 80’s.  Tough situation to work in but again a good experience to add to the list. You should be able to work with any temperament… With luck you will find the people who say the very thing you were just thinking… and people you love and respect.  When you do hold onto these folks and don’t let them go.

NFF: You have also worked with the equally talented editor Mick Audsley on Allied (2016). How important do you feel the collaborative experience is with another editor on a feature film? Or do you prefer to fly solo as a lead editor? 

J O’D:  A month prior to the start of shooting Allied I noticed a headline on announcing a November release date for our show – as we didn’t start to shoot in London until the last week of February, (and the script was timing out around 2 hrs. 20 minutes), I immediately knew I would not be able to give due attention to every scene in the amount of time which had been allotted.  I called Steve Starkey, Bob’s Producer and discussed the situation.  He also had only just then been informed by the trades… so there was very little question that I’d need a partner on Allied.  Many resumes crossed the desk, both from Paramount and from Agents.  Steve took several meetings in London and interviewed a number of qualified applicants…Mick Audsley is a legend in my book. So many great cinema experiences have been shaped in his hands from The Hit to Twelve Monkeys, My Beautiful Laundrette, High Fidelity….the list goes on and on. Once I knew he was available and interested we moved quickly to sign the papers.  Beyond Mick’s talent one quickly comes to appreciate what a lovely person he is.  I can’t say enough what a great pleasure it is to have his friendship, counsel and to benefit from his impeccable work.  I won’t be specific regarding what the ‘best cut sequence’ in Allied is but, suffice it to say – it has Mick’s fingerprints all over it.

Working with co-editors is often necessary given schedule constraints and the complexity of movies.  I have been graced with the work of many talented people contributing to the films I’ve worked on.  Joe Walker & Stephen Rivkin on Blackhat, Arthur Schmidt & Evan Finn on Flight…  sometimes it does take a village to push the film out into the theatres.  All of filmmaking at the US studio level is a collaborative process…   certainly every film is ‘your baby’ to one extent or another and you tend to life of the characters and the film very deeply.  The only time this pains you is when Critics get involved and sometimes trash years of your hard work… I’ve had a critic tear a film to pieces ruthlessly in order to ‘make a splash’ with her new employer…. I think we are getting to a point where we have to step back and ask what the point of film criticism is in these days of Rotten Tomatoes and the like.  If you have lost your love of cinema you shouldn’t be reviewing films for a wide audience.

NFF: I am always interested to learn what attracts you to a particular project? and what is next on the horizon for you?

J O’D: My incredible run of luck has continued and fate has brought Andy Serkis & I together – working on his closer-to-the-book version of Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  One of the great revelations of the upcoming fall movie season will be the reveal of what a fine Director Andy Serkis is.  I can’t recommend Andy’s film, Breathe, highly enough. Andrew Garfield and Clare Foy are magnificent.   Andy is a lot of fun to work with and endlessly creative in many disciplines.

Whilst animation on Jungle Book continues over the winter and into next spring… I’ll be moving over to Vancouver to work on the next Robert Zemeckis feature, an imaginative and daring take on a man who was profiled in the brilliant documentary Marwencol.

NFF: What was the best advice given to you whilst working as an assistant editor? Who would you say was your biggest mentor in the early days? 

J O’D: I would say, ‘Always give greater value to your show than what shows up on your pay check.’   Probably sounds a little old school, but true.  ‘Whatever you do, do it like your life depends on it’.    Arthur Schmidt will always remain the finest mentor I have ever had.  Mike Nichols, though I only did two films as an Assistant Editor with him, made a very big impression on my craft, sensibility and humour.  Robert Zemeckis, who I have had the honour and pleasure of serving for the past two decades, plus a few years. Apprenticeship to a Master craftsman is a wonderful thing and may not be as common as it once was… very concerned that my generation pass down our experience and craft to younger generations.  Not as easy now that all is computerised.

NFF: And finally, thinking about those wanting to break into the editing world, what advice would you offer? Qualifications or on the Job Training?J O’D:  First advice I’d give anyone wanting to get into the industry is to experience life first.  The business is very demanding of your time, once you are in the flow it may be hard to break away and see some of the world or experience something different. I’ll make an assumption – you are a story teller, that is what we all do.  We sit around a campfire telling tales, they just end up on the screen.  So, to tell tales you have to have some experience in life.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Travel extensively alone to a country where you don’t know the language.  Don’t bring much money with you… you might find that you survive, or not… but you will have some story to tell about it. If you have never had your heart broken – by all means jump in.  There is a lot of pain you will need to experience if you earn the right to tell stories to a wide public.  Truth is, you never learn anything from a resounding success, you always learn from your failures… Failing at something is pure gold (as long as it doesn’t do too much bodily or mental harm).

 If you love a filmmakers work take a favorite scene from a film and recreate it shot for shot on your iPhone… you could use one of those articles where a scene is discussed shot by shot… could be anything, doesn’t have to be Rear Window.  See why the filmmaker made his/her choices….  if you haven’t already gotten over the fear of the black and white cinema or subtitled films you must crush that prejudice right now.  Try Rome, Open City or Dreyer’s Vampyr –  I’ve seen more filmmakers rip off Vampyr than any other film.  Check out the virtuosity of Von Stroheim’s brilliant works.  Check out Shanshiro Sugata by Kurosawa.  A Page of Madness by Kinugasa… Gattopardo by Visconti…   Lang’s Last Testament of Dr. Mabuse… any film by Max Ophuls….   steep yourself in content.   Make a clear list of goals for yourself and your desired trajectory. If an opportunity comes your way take it.  Be interested in other people, don’t strive to be interesting yourself – that is off the point.  Ask a retiree where and when they were happiest… serve people with your career and craft.

Cinema demands this of you.

Part 2 of Interview by Craig Higgins

(For Part 1 of Interview click here)

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