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August 2014
Issue: November 1, 2005

EDIT THIS! DE NIRO'S 'GOOD SHEPHERD'

By: Ken McGorry

BROOKLYN - Veteran movie editor Tariq Anwar has been spending a lot of time with Robert De Niro on his new production The Good Shepherd, starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and De Niro himself. The film covers the formation of a secret government organization that would become known as the CIA. Anwar spoke with Post about halfway through an 84-plus-day shoot.

De Niro, directing his second film (his first was A Bronx Tale in 1993, which was edited on Avid and a Moviola), likes to shoot a lot of takes and Anwar has found himself minding the most footage he's ever seen.

The footage takes a long round trip from location shoot back to Anwar's trailer. DP Robert Richardson (Oscar for The Aviator) prefers having his dailies timed by colorist "Sparkle" at Technicolor (formerly Complete Post) in Hollywood once the negatives are first processed at Technicolor in NYC. Anwar sees Digital Betacam tapes three days after the footage is shot.

Anwar had been working out of two Lightworks suites he has in SoHo (in lower Manhattan, not his native London) but De Niro wanted him available on location, so the editor set up a third Lightworks Touch NLE in a location trailer, moving to shoots "all over New York" as well as the sleepy village of Munsey Park, Long Island, and the new Steiner Studios sound stages in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Since trailers are small, Anwar's assistants and original two Lightworks systems remain in SoHo. "Consequently material has to be loaded in both sites," he says, "my assistants do the commute instead of me! And whenever I need to work in Soho, which happens frequently, I have to transfer the current edit from one to the other via a drive. This needs careful management but I do have a very careful assistant in Adam Geiger."

Working with a tough guy

Robert De Niro as director is not exactly the tough guy he portrays in movies. "Bob has a surprising innocence and youthful exuberance about the whole process together with an amazing humility for someone of his reputation," says Anwar. "He is the most collaborative of directors I have worked with, involving me over a year ago with regards to script and music," he adds. "He is very open to ideas and experiment, and creates an atmosphere in which comments can be made freely and without fear of a hostile response or even dismissal."

The Good Shepherd would be the first De Niro-directed film cut entirely on an NLE, but the technology is not new to him, given his long association with director Martin Scorcese. (The Aviator was cut on Lightworks by Thelma Schoonmacher and won her an Oscar.) And De Niro has acted in numerous NLE-edited films. The speed of nonlinear spurs De Niro's efforts, Anwar says. "With his predilection for shooting many takes I'm sure he appreciates the advantages over film. He enjoys watching even first assemblies with music and effects, which again would have been difficult on film, and he's eager to see cut footage almost immediately, which is again more easily facilitated on computer."

Dealing with huge volume

"The volume of the material is huge," Anwar says, "I've never had quite as many rolls of dailies as this picture. [De Niro] tends to shoot a lot of takes, two or three times more than other directors. We generally plow through the material together, and I take notes of his selections." Anwar says that "the performances are great" so the job is really about finding desirable little nuances among all the footage. That's a main reason for De Niro's large number of takes - "[Actors] can play things in many, many ways and he wants the freedom of choosing which way he wants to go later on."

During the process, Anwar also shows De Niro scenes he has already cut. Geiger, Anwar's assistant, expects that The Good Shepherd will ultimately use up six terabytes of storage, three each in the SoHo shop and in the trailer suite.

Once the dailies are shipped back from LA, Geiger says, "the Digi Betas and original sound DVD-RAMs come to me. I digitize the picture, load the sound files and sync in the Lightworks. I move all of the new galleries into the ‘mobile project' we set up and copy the project to a shuttle drive. I copy all the new media for the day onto a shuttle drive, which I take to Tariq's trailer."

For Anwar, managing all this data is not the issue - he has Geiger - it's more about identifying the best of many performances with his director. Structuring a scene is most important to this editor. While De Niro may comment on what he likes about every line reading in a day's shoot, Anwar's interest lays more in a scene's structure: "We may not be on that [favorite shot] at the time, we may be on a wide shot. I'd say, ‘When we come to editing in post, we can look at each scene and then review each line and compare takes that way.'"