COVER STORY: 'GET SMART'
LONDON — Rick Pearson is busy here cutting his next film. It’s something about a British super-agent named Bond. James Bond. Pearson prepared for his current job by editing a recently released film about an American super-agent. He’s young, suave and talks into his shoe: Smart. Maxwell Smart.
Pearson is a 10-year veteran of feature film editing, often swinging between action and comedy as he has done this year. In the recent past he’s edited The Bourne Supremacy as well as Blades of Glory and finds that, while your action mindset differs from your comedy mindset, comedies also differ dramatically from each other, as do actioners. You don’t just turn on a “funny” switch or an “action” button — each job requires a fresh look.
The characters in Blades of Glory were not exactly smart. But in the new Steve Carell film, Pearson says, the approach to Maxwell was indeed “very dry, very smart.” Carell is “not parroting Don Adams in [the original] Get Smart. We were all very respectful of the series and we wanted to honor it, but we wanted to bring our own flavor to it and update it somewhat.”
Pearson agrees that the editor can help make funny funnier. “You can affect the performance of comedy both positively and negatively with cutting. With comedy, the opportunity to enhance a pointed moment with cutaways is absolutely something you can do. Pacing is absolutely important in any film, but I think in comedy it really is a matter of frames and you can tell when it’s in the pocket and when it’s not.”
Every so often a film’s star may visit the cutting room. “One time when we were pretty late in the finishing of Get Smart, but before we had locked picture; we’d had a couple of previews and Steve Carell was in the cutting room,” Pearson says. “He wondered if this one scene would work better if we had this silent beat of cutaway to these two characters [villain and hero] Siegfried and Max. We tried it and sure enough at the next preview the audience just ate that up.”
Pearson also enjoyed his working relationship with Smart director Peter Segal. “Peter is great. Obviously he’s got a terrific sense of humor and is very smart and very open to ideas. He definitely has a perspective on what he wants, but he is also interested in any input. It’s great to work with directors who hire us for what we bring to the table and not just our high speed typing skills!”
Pearson says there was such a positive environment on Get Smart that “there was never that weird, ego, oh-my-gosh-the-movie’s-out-of-control kind of thing. It was all very supportive and, I think, as healthy as the film industry can be.”
Pearson was very appreciative of the efforts of VFX editor Paul Wagner, a man who, Pearson chuckles, he first had the pleasure of working with on Muppets from Space. On Get Smart, he says, “I could say to Paul, ‘Could you try to mock something up for me here for the Cone of Silence?’ He’s terrific at taking little bits and pieces from visual effects and creating a mock-up. I would say, ‘On this keyframe I want this to happen, or this to happen,’ and he’s really very talented and a terrific ally in that way — the rest of the VFX department are all really great, too.”
A threatening airplane figures in the action and Wagner imported a CG plane into his Avid so, when Pearson would ask, “Let’s have the plane bank and come over the top of the camera here,” Wagner could make all that happen in a rudimentary animation. “It gave us a sense of the speed and acceleration and how these things would move and how Max’s body would be in relation to the [plane].”
Pearson’s Get Smart editing team used four OS 9 Avid Meridiens connected to a Unity. Sean Thompson was the film’s associate editor and Nathan Gunn was an assistant editor. Post supervisor was Debbi Bossi.
At press time, Pearson was happily ensconced at a new Avid Adrenaline, editing Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond film. He joined editor Matt Chesse, who was already well along on the movie, in January.
As with comedies, no two action films are alike. Pearson has had his quick-cut Bourne Supremacy experience, but somehow Bond is quite different. Pearson worked on Bourne in 2004 with editor Chris Rouse and they later shared an Oscar nomination for their editing of United 93 in 2006. (Rouse went on to win the Oscar this year for The Bourne Ultimatum, and Pearson laughs that maybe he should have stuck with him.)
The Bourne Supremacy “was another really terrific experience,” Pearson says. “They needed two editors and it was a tremendous opportunity to work in a genre that I love. I love that kind of intense action cutting and I love playing with those blocks. The studios like to be able to easily put us in categories and I’ve tried really hard to mix that up. It keeps me fresh to work different sides of my brain.”
But those different sides of the brain may cross paths on occasion. While working on the Bond film this past winter, Pearson was asked by Get Smart director Peter Segal to make some changes after the fact. A song had been added. Working with QuickTimes in London, Pearson also took a crack at tweaking a Smart action sequence. Segal immediately noticed the stylistic shift and did not want to “push it that far.” Pearson laughs now, saying, “It was where my head was at the time!” Each film has its own unique mindset and, for the editor, Pearson says, each film demands its own perspective.