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April 2014
Issue: January 1, 2009

FILM EDITING: 'VALKYRIE'

LOS ANGELES - In feature film production, it's not uncommon for the editorial team to accompany the rest of the crew on location. It allows cutting to begin quickly and keeps the editor in close contact with the director and other interested parties.

In the past, going on the road might have meant working in makeshift conditions with unfamiliar gear, but today with the ubiquitous availability of high quality editing equipment and well trained systems integrators to set up and support them, working out of a suitcase can feel a lot like home.

For the new United Artists film Valkyrie, editor and composer John Ottman and his crew spent nearly four months working alongside director Bryan Singer's production team in Berlin. When production wrapped, they packed up and headed to Los Angeles to continue their work. After several months of working out of a space in West Hollywood, the editing team moved again, this time to the Sony lot, where they completed the project.

Through each move, Ottman and company were able to continue their work without skipping a beat thanks in large part to Hula Post, which supplied their gear and set up the cutting room in the three locations.

Dylan Firshein, Ottman's first assistant editor and associate editor, recently talked with Post about the experience of cutting the World War II adventure and life on the road.

Post: You cut Valkyrie in HD. Did you have any hesitancy about working at high resolution?

Dylan Firshein: "It was our first time working in offline HD. Some companies that we consulted for the film said they wary of supporting our HD systems from overseas, but the Hula guys were adamant that it would succeed. They had done many HD projects and thought there wouldn't be any problems. That gave us the confidence to go forward with it. Of course, that was a year and a half ago. Today, it's more standard for features to cut in HD."

Post: You chose to work in Avid DNxHD 36 format. What was behind that decision and how did it work out?

Firshein: "Bryan Singer shot about a million-and-a-half feet of film and we transferred everything. It all ended up in the Avid. A million-and-a-half feet is quite a bit and, had we used a less compressed format, it would have taken up a huge amount of storage space. DNxHD 36 gave us the best of both worlds. It didn't look quite as good as a higher bit-rate codec, but we were still quite impressed with the quality and we felt it was a good trade off.  In fact, it worked out so well that we ended up outputting directly from our Avid for previews. As a result, we didn't have to do a separate online conform, which would have required re-digitizing the whole movie and re-doing the effects. It allowed us to make changes right up to the last minute for those previews. It was a lot less painful."

Post: Was it difficult to get set up in Germany?

Firshein: "We were in Berlin for three-and-a-half months. We got there on July 14th, a Saturday, and had to get the whole thing set up and running by Monday. Hula sent along two technicians from France and they helped us get set up (including patching the Avids into a neighboring screening room for dailies viewing). On Monday, when John arrived, we had our first set of dailies ready to go. When we were ready to leave Germany, the Hula guys came back and packed up our stuff. I kept my own back up copy of the edit just to be safe. If something bad had happened, I could have rebuilt the project. But it all came through fine. In fact, the system beat me to LA by a day. When we needed to move to Sony, our final resting place, Hula came back again and picked up our stuff in short order."

Post: Can you tell us a bit about your workflow?

Firshein: "It was virtually tapeless. The show was shot on film and then transferred to HDCAM. From that point on, everything we gave to the other departments — marketing, sound, music and visual effects — was transferred via drives. Nothing was transferred to tape or DVD. It was faster and more efficient to keep it file-based the whole way."

Post: So you didn't encounter any equipment issues while you were on the road?

Firshein: "The main thing I look for is a good system that is set up the right way from the beginning. The MacPros were very reliable and the Avid Adrenalines were fantastic. All of our systems were real workhorses. Hula left us with an extra Adrenaline just to be safe, because we were so far away, but we never had to use it. The systems were up and running and stayed that way. That's the best part."