Issue: December 1, 2009


With shooting underway more than two years ago, the creative story behind The Lovely Bones has been a long time in the making. Faced with a complex story line, remote editing locations and an extended post period, editor Jabez Olssen (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) describes his work on The Lovely Bones as unique on many levels.

While the film’s main editing systems were PC-based Avid Media Composer Adrenaline solutions, the workflow also included a Mac laptop running Avid Media Composer software-only. This enabled Jabez to set up shop wherever the crew was shooting; which ranged from the middle of Valley Forge, PA, to a remote forest in the South Island of New Zealand. The flexibility to take his editing anywhere around the world proved to be imperative during the film’s almost 24-month production and post period. Luckily, transferring edited sequences between the main cutting room, where the footage was stored on an Avid Unity Medianetwork 5.0 system, and the on-set laptop system (with its own copy of the media on local FireWire hard drives) was quick and reliable. “Work I did on set was instantly available to my assistant editors back at the office. I would just drop them a bin over a network connection, or by email if we were too remote.”

The entire film was offlined in HD using the Avid DNxHD 36 codec. The HD workflow enabled Jabez to provide director Peter Jackson with a cinema-quality screening of the film at a moment’s notice, regardless of what editing stage they were in; something that previously required a lengthy and complex online from SD to HD. The cutting room was also equipped with a 103-inch Panasonic HD plasma screen to make the best use of the DNxHD footage. Audio was handled by the sound editing department at a separate facility using Pro Tools.

Most of the movie was shot on Super35 film, but some footage was also shot on the Red One digital camera and an Iconix lipstick HD camera, for macro work. The variety of formats was just one of the challenges for the assistant editorial team, led by first assistant Brett McManus. “The team of assistants I’ve had on this film has been great — both in the States and back here in New Zealand,” says Jabez. “It’s been a long job and they really got us through a very complex and demanding process.

“This movie has been an incredible and rewarding creative challenge. The story blends suspense, emotional drama and fantasy, but ultimately it is about a family learning to survive a tragic loss. It has been our goal all along to try and preserve the complexity and subtly of the story and not reduce it merely to a specific genre. Having a fairly long post period allowed us a chance to experiment and explore the story and characters in different ways; which has been hugely beneficial. Peter Jackson and [writer/producer] Fran Walsh are both amazingly creative and experimental in the editing process. We have discovered and reworked a huge amount of the story in the editing room; nothing has gone unconsidered.”