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August 2014
Issue: October 1, 2007

EDITING 'THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES'

By: Iain Blair
WEST HOLLYWOOD — The Assassination of Jesse James was edited by Dylan Tichenor, whose extensive credits include Brokeback Mountain, The Royal Tenenbaums, Unbreakable, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and here he talks about the challenges of cutting this feature film.

Post presented “quite a few challenges,” says Tichenor. “They didn’t print dailies for a start. DP Roger Deakins printed selected dailies on film that he saw in Canada,” the rest were transferred to HD, and that’s how he saw them. “I prefer them in film, although HD looks quite good now, but you have to watch them on a good projector and project it large. I consider watching footage on a big screen super-important to my job of editing the film. I need to see it at that size and have those images and performances in my head when editing.” 

To this end, Tichenor screened mainly on the lot at Warners using a Christie 2K projector. “So from HDCAM to Christie 2K gave us a pretty good image,” he adds. They had a lot of footage, he says. “Andrew [Domenick, the director] did a lot of takes, and while I’m used to a lot of takes, the challenges on this were to do with what a complicated and ambitious sort of approach he took to this film. He wanted to make a very poetic, Terence Malik-kind of film, so that was artistically challenging.”

The editor worked closely with DP Roger Deakins. “We talked on the phone and discussed things during dailies, and then I saw him when I went up to the set a couple of times,” he says. “I have to say, this is one of the most beautiful looking films I’ve ever worked on. The imagery Roger came up with will blow your mind, and every shot is really masterful and like an oil painting. It is lit and composed so well that during dailies, my jaw would drop every day — I was so flabbergasted at the absolute beauty of the shots. He’s an amazing DP and sometimes I even felt that the shots are so amazing that they almost overrun the theme of the film.”

Tichenor and his assistants cut the film at Ridley Scott’s RSA Films (www.rsafilms.com) in West Hollywood. “I’ve used Pivotal Post and they’ve always taken good care of my technical needs,” he notes, “so for this they brought in two Avid Film Composers 12.2 for Mac and Unity.” 

Ultimately, Tichenor worked on the edit for an entire year, “because it was so complex, and the first cut was nearly four hours long,” he reports. “There are a lot of scenes, a lot of dialogue and narration, so there’s a lot of material that didn’t make the final cut. And then the edit went on after I had to leave and cut Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, There Will Be Blood, which I had committed to. And rather than go to some facility and bring all our HD tapes and do the online that way, I set it up so that as we got closer to screening the film for previews, Pivotal Post then brought in an HD Symphony for HD preview, color correct and conform to D5 that came in on a weekly basis as needed, and ultimately also a third Film Composer system for other editing work. I also supplement that package with several pieces of my own equipment, like an SDI matte generator for my NTSC monitor, etc. They did most of the digitizing before they brought it over, but they digitized all of our selects — what was in the cut — into the Symphony. Then we did all the color correction and play-out to D5 in-house, which is pretty unusual. They just brought the system to us.”

As Tichenor notes, this means big savings in the post budget. “It’s so much smarter as you pay a week or two rental on the Symphony and you get to do all your color correction yourself,” he points out. “It just makes sense financially. Why would you pay $450 an hour to rent when you can pay $450 a day?”