By Ken McGorry
Issue: April 1, 2005


LOS ANGELES - Consider editor Chris Lebenzon's film credits. For the past 13 years of his career he's been swinging effortlessly between Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action extravaganzas and Tim Burton-directed visual tours de force. How would one cope? "Jerry's operation is so different than working with Tim. It?s nice to go from one to the other. It's like having two completely different jobs even though it's the same craft," says Lebenzon, who received Oscar nominations for editing Bruckheimer titles "Crimson Tide" and "Top Gun."

Burton does not micromanage the editing process, Lebenzon says. "With him the shooting is very important, and I'm always very close to the set, especially on stage movies like 'Charlie' or 'Sleepy Hollow.' On any of the stage movies, between setups he'll come into the cutting room and get a feel for what he needs for the scene that he's shooting right then. Normally I load the video tap - what's recorded on the set - and cut it as I go, so I'm always [only] a shot or two behind camera. Tim can really see the scene as he's filming it, and that helps him to figure out if he needs additional coverage. In a way, it's a good exercise, but it means in a sense that I have to cut it twice because then it gets conformed to the dailies [by assistants] and I get a different impression from the scene." Lebenzon has been cutting on the Avid Film Composer for years.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" represented Burton and Lebenzon's first experience with the speed of high def dailies. "It was a year from beginning of shoot to delivery," Lebenzon says, "which was a very aggressive post schedule - about five-plus months, but with the visual effects schedule so heavy, it was close." Eight-hundred VFX shots, supervised by Nick Davis, were done mostly by London's Moving Picture Company, with additional work by Cinesite (glass elevator) and Framestore CFC (squirrel squad).


Working at Pinewood Studios in England, Burton shot 35mm, which each night was transferred to HD. (The 35mm shot at Pinewood was processed at Deluxe in nearby Middlesex, and the HD telecine took place at Arion, which is connected to Deluxe.) First assistant editor JC Bond would work with an assistant editor and an apprentice early each morning to get the HD material digitized and ready to edit in Avids. Thanks in large part to HD dailies that's only four editorial staff, including Lebenzon, working on a $150 million major motion picture. By noon each day, Lebenzon was able to cut HD footage that had been filmed the previous day. "The beauty with high def," Lebenzon says, "is it's on tape and you can really go high-speed." (Film would only fast-forward at 48fps.) Lebenzon was also able to present a finished preview 48 hours after shooting, not the traditional four days later.

Bond and company would start at 4am each day and sync up audio to the HD dailies themselves and rearrange their order. "There was a lot of work involved," Lebenzon says.

Doing HD dailies "saved us a lot of time and money," says Bond. "It did make our day easier, and I do as much as I can in-house." Bond would get one-light transfers to high def "and everything else we did in the cutting room with a four-person crew."

Each morning after Bond had digitized the new HD tape into their Avid systems, the HD tape would next move over to Burton and DP Gardner DeAguiar, who would screen it MOS. Meanwhile, Bond would be syncing audio to the digitized footage in a traditional Avid. Halfway through work on the movie they converted to Avid's HD Adrenaline, which was "a considerable improvement," Bond says. "The systems are much faster, you can do more with them and a lot of the features make the DI easier later on - pulling the material for the visual effects was easier, too. It was easier to catalog and maintain the proper numbers within the Avid itself." Mark Sangar was VFX editor on "Charlie."


Then there's Johnny Depp's facial pallor as Willy Wonka - it's not makeup. Peter Doyle, supervising digital colorist on major films like "Lord of the Rings" and now the "Harry Potter" series, used his custom Colorfront system to isolate Depp's face in every shot and give it that don't-get-out-much pastiness.

One sequence that Lebenzon and Burton altered late in the game was Wonka's subterranean boat ride. The ride, powered by chanting Oompa Loompas, felt too long in a preview and although the shots were complete, Lebenzon cut into it "in a kind of aggressive way to shorten it."

Despite the subtle menace that imbues the work of both Burton and "Charlie" author Roald Dahl, "children love the undercurrent of mystery in Tim's movies and the darkness," Lebenzon says. "Studios tend to shy away from the very things that children are attracted to!"