On the morning of 30 July, over 40 people gathered to hear Oscar-nominated Editors Matt Villa ASE and Jonathan Redmond chat for almost two hours with Assistant Editor Matt 'Macca' McMillan about editing the acclaimed Baz Luhrmann film 'Elvis', And, boy, did the rest of you miss out. The main focus of the discussion was the art of co-editing, and the ASE's new Co-Editing Guidelines were released as part of the event.
Jonathan and Matt have worked together for about 25 years, since their time on 'Moulin Rouge!'. They've developed a close professional and personal relationship that greatly contributed to their ability to manage the many challenges faced in the 'Elvis' edit. Their friendship and mutual admiration and respect was evident throughout the conversation which was ably guided by Macca who has worked with them both.
'Elvis' had a 96-day shoot followed by a 13-14-month edit. The crew always shot with at least two cameras, mostly three cameras, sometimes four, and occasionally five. This meant that every day there was 2-5 hours of rushes, and sometimes much, much more.
To further complicate the immense task of making a Baz Luhrmann film, 'Elvis' was shot and edited during COVID shutdowns. The shoot on the Gold Coast was shut down when star Tom Hanks caught COVID. When the shoot restarted, the Queensland border closure meant Matt was working in Sydney with Assistant David Quinn, while Jonathan was working on the Gold Coast with Assistant Walter Ratcliffe and the rest of the crew. When the borders opened, Matt joined the crew at the Gold Coast. The second border closure meant that Matt had to remain in Queensland instead of commuting back to his family on weekends. When Baz had to go to the US for a number of weeks, Matt took the chance to work in Sydney for that time. When they returned to Queensland, Matt and Baz were able to quarantine together, with an Avid set up in their hotel rooms so they could work through the two weeks.
The lengthy and close relationship and respect between Matt and Jonathan, and with Baz and the rest of the creative team helped them navigate the technical and creative challenges this convoluted process posed. When Matt was working in Sydney, Jonathan kept him up-to-date with how the shoot was developing, and any changes in direction by Baz.
During the shoot, Matt and Jonathan "leapfrogged' over each other with assembling scenes, however during the edit itself they both worked on pretty much every scene, especially as many scenes morphed into longer sequences. They said being able to freely edit each other's work is an essential part of working on a Baz Luhrmann film. When Baz wanted to discuss the edit, he always spoke with both Editors, treating them like a team. Jonathan said Baz deserves a lot of kudos for that.
Jonathan and Matt said some of the visual extravaganza of 'Elvis' was in the script, while some was created in the edit. The assembly was 4.5 hours long, became longer as soon as Baz got involved, and stayed that length for a long time. While some of the Baztacular style such as intercut scenes was scripted, some was also created through the sheer grind of working through and cutting down the footage.
Matt and Jonathan praised the 'bespoke' post-production facility designed and renovated by Catherine Martin to house the editing team, music composition and supervision, VFX and art department. The theatre for screenings was designed like Elvis's bedroom. Matt said it was an incredibly rewarding post experience. Everyone being in such close proximity led to a real ease of communication between departments – they all knew what the others were doing, the background behind decisions, what was being attempted, what worked and what didn't work.
They agreed that a good relationship between the Editors is essential to co-editing. Most co-Editors won't have a 25-year relationship so it's important that they have compatible personalities. For co-Editors who haven't met before, Matt advised getting to know each other before you start working in the trenches together. Have a drink or dinner and learn more about each other.
Another form of co-editing is when an Editor takes over a project. Matt prefers to have a chat with the previous Editor, saying, "I will try do clear the decks with predecessor if there's decks to be cleared, but oftentimes there's not that opportunity, it's not allowed or welcomed." Matt also said that credits can be contentious in this situation, with Editors brought in at the end for a few weeks sometimes receiving equal credit to the Editor who spent the time forging the story and doing the hard slog. Matt doesn't know what the solution to this is, but said it's something to be aware of.
The professional admiration and respect between Jonathan and Matt was evident throughout - here are a couple of examples.
When discussing the sizzle reels Jonathan prepared for the original film pitch, Matt said, "Jono is awesome. What he does with those reels is extraordinary. I know how labour-intensive they are. I don't know how he does it., It's a fusion of documentary making and video clip making and storytelling in its purest form because he's just taking archival stuff and just putting it together in these very, very saleable pitches. They are extraordinary. And he's such a clever guy, the way he puts them together."
Jonathan said of Matt, "He's such a talented editor, it's ridiculous. Not just from a creative point of view. I just marvel at Matt's ability to manage a team... He's far more experienced than I am at leading a big team of various different departments... I just admire Matt's political skills and management skills. I was in awe of that and I would be lucky to learn a fraction of what he knows in that regard."
At the end of the event, ASE President Danielle Boesenberg encouraged everyone to check out the new Co-Editing Guidelines document, and to provide feedback. She said, "While it's very difficult to have a one-size-fits-all solution, we're hoping these guidelines will be useful to, obviously, our members but also to producers in at least starting the conversation and acknowledging that not all contributions are equal, and what that looks like and how we manage that."
The guidelines are available on the ASE website's Documents of Interest page, under the Resources tab. Members will need to log in.
(eNews #117 - August 2023)
Have morning tea with the Editors of 'Elvis'!
Oscar-nominated Editors Matt Villa ASE and Jonathan Redmond will be chatting with Assistant Editor Matt McMillan about editing 'Elvis', particularly about co-editing successfully.
As Jonathan is in LA, they will be chatting over Zoom, so it'll be BYO morning tea/brunch for those in Australia, or pre-dinner drinks if you're in LA.
After the chat, the ASE will be launching its new co-editing guidelines document -
When: Sunday 30 July
What time: 10am (AEST)
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday 26 July to be sent the Zoom link.