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Issue: November 1, 2009

EDITING: ROLAND EMMERICH'S '2012'

By: Marc Loftus
CULVER CITY - Editor Peter S. Elliot and 1st assistant editor Rob Malina were part of the team that cut Roland Emmerich’s new apocalyptic feature 2012. The film stars John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and was shot digitally using the Genesis camera, though 35mm was used for some underwater sequences. Post recently had a chance to chat with some members of the editorial team regarding their work on the 2 hour and 35 minute film, which is loaded with visual effects, many detailing the Earth’s destruction. Post production took place at Sony Pictures (www.sonypicturespost.com) and Vancouver Film Studios (www.vancouverfilmstudios.com), and was condensed into just a 12-month period.

The 2012 editorial team is:
David Brenner (Editor)
Peter S. Elliot (Editor)
Robert Malina (Co 1st assistant editor)
Richard Molina (Co 1st assistant editor)
Cassie Dixon (Apprentice editor)
Sam Craven (Visual Effects editor)
Greg Reed (Visual Effects assistant editor)
Elana Joy Livneh (Visual Effects assistant editor)


Post: How did you get involved in this film?

Peter S. Elliot: “I’ve had a long working relationship with Roland which goes back over 15 years. I began working with him as an assistant editor back in the early 90’s on Universal Soldier and Stargate before moving into visual effects editing on Independence Day and Godzilla.

“Roland, realizing the enormity of 2012, approached David Brenner and myself to edit the movie as a team. David and I had worked together on Independence Day and later on Day After Tomorrow. Originally, 2012 was supposed to be an extremely accelerated post schedule with a release date in the beginning of July 2009 and Roland knew it was going to be a formidable task to finish under those conditions.”

Post: Tell us about your set up?

Elliot: “Principal photography took place in Vancouver from the end of July until mid-December. While on location, we used Vancouver Film Studios as our editorial home. The production was shooting in many different locations throughout Vancouver, but our home base was placed where the bulk of the filming was to be done. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer Nitris DX systems and had seven on location and then 10 systems running in LA.”

Post: Did you have a specific focus editorially?

Elliot: “David and I have worked together numerous times, so there wasn’t really a ‘you do this or I do that’ thing. When the movie began filming, I was on location in Vancouver, and David was working remotely from Los Angeles. We’d send dailies down to David, who had a mirrored system in LA that matched the system in Vancouver. We would just grab scenes. He would start working on one scene and I on another and when the next day’s dailies were loaded into the system we would discuss strategy about who would do what. We were always pretty close to keeping up with production and were always available to address any concerns or problems that might have arisen from the set.”

Post: Rob, describe your role as a 1st assistant editor?

Rob Malina: “We’re really support and organization for the editor and director. We are also the main hub for all the departments to get information and give information, including the latest cuts and sound notes. We gave the sound department all of the information of what we wanted for the dialogue and sound effects, and how we did it. Our basic goal is to keep the editor working efficiently.”

Post: How was it working with so many visual effects scenes? Was there a number that you went in with, and did that change?

Elliot: “That always tends to evolve. When I was reading the script, I was just blown away at the sheer amount of visual effects that were going to be in the film. Roland is the king of disaster movies and if anyone was going to be able to pull this off it was going to be him. Even at the previz stage things tend to evolve. The scenes tended to grow as action was added.

“Obviously, when you shoot a movie like this, it has to be shot in front of a green screen. Even the dialogue scenes — you have a ruined world behind the actors, but you can't shoot that for real. You have to shoot that in front of a green screen and put the landscape in during post. So you’re never sure exactly how many VFX shots will be in a scene before you see the dailies and cut the action to best tell the story.”

Malina: “We had an in-house visual effects editor, Sam Craven, who created temp shots for the editors and director to see. He was the hub between editorial and our visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Marc Weigert from Uncharted Territory, who work with Roland quite a bit.”

Elliot: “Sam was a creative ally for us in the editing room.  He would take the pre-animated action from the previz and drop it into our green screen production shots. This helped us to figure out timings on some of our bigger action sequences. Sam would do these mock ups in the Avid editing system as David and I were cutting, and we would discuss what we saw happening in the scene and then he would take a pass at implementing these choices. This helped educate us on things that worked and didn’t work and we would then make adjustments accordingly.

“Upon screening these sequences for Roland, they would then evolve even further as his vision and ideas were implemented. At some point, these very templates that Sam helped us create would make it to the visual effects vendors, who would use them as a guide to create the final shots you see in the film today.”

Malina: “Peter and David would help shape the VFX as the cut evolved. They would work with Sam Craven to make something in the Media Composer Nitris DX system that would work so Roland could show the VFX dept.”

Elliot: “I remember showing sequences to Roland while on location. His vision of what was going to be happening in each scene was so clear that he was able to say, ‘We don’t want to be here at this moment, instead we need to be here because this is what’s going to be happening.’ Or, he’d say, ‘We need to be as wide as possible for this moment, because this is what’s happening.’ Then we would go back to the cutting room and make adjustments to take that into account.”

Post: Were there any challenges in working with the Genesis footage?

Malina: “Sony had developed a system on which all media was stored. We called it the backbone and with proper access everyone was able – as authorized – to get what they needed.

“The native file format on the Genisis was a raw 4:4:4, but through the telecine process, we got our Avid media. Deluxe Vancouver did all the transfers and digitizing for us. It would come out of the camera raw, un-colored. The DP, Dean Semler, and his colorist, Bobby Hatfield, would add his LUT to the footage. We would end up with that color in the Media Composer Nitris DX system for us to cut with. We’d have a color-timed master and an un-color-timed master of both materials, plus the raw files from the camera, so we had many options to go back to.

“Dean’s LUT added in production looked real good, but ultimately at the end of the cutting process, Roland sat with Dean at EFILM (colorist Yvan Lucas) in Hollywood to perfect and finalize the look of the film.”

Post: How would you address each scene?

Elliot: “I start by going back to the script as a jumping off point to refresh my memory on what story the scene was originally intended to convey. Then, I go through the dailies to see how Roland has covered the scene and if his intentions seem to be the same as scripted. Then I put a first pass of the scene together. Those first passes tend to be on the long side because you have to give everything that was shot a chance to work. After I go through the scene, I have Rob or Rich take a pass at adding sound effects. Sound effects and music tend to help drive and shape the scene. Without these important elements added, it is sometimes hard to tell if you are hitting the right emotional beats.  When I view the cut with these elements, I tend to go back and make some adjustments to better tell the story. It’s a never-ending process of change, which we are always refining and polishing to the end.”

Post: Rob, how important are your sound effects?

Malina: “Sound is everything in a film like this. It brings a whole new life to the VFX. Richard Molina, (co 1st asst) and myself, worked very hard making the temp sound rock. Ultimately, our sound is just a guide to help the editors and Roland get a good feel for the film. Then the sound supervisor, Paul Ottoson, comes in and takes it to a whole new level. We turnover scenes to him throughout post and he works with the editors and Roland to get the sound the way they are hearing it.

Post: Is there a lot of tweaking of scenes?

Malina: “Roland, being the perfectionist that he is… we had shots rolling in at the last second, but I think 95 percent of everything was in on time and with plenty of time to do the finishing of the film. It’s ultimately about making his film, and making it a beautiful, amazing picture.”

Post: The final cut is over two hours?

Elliot: “The script is over 160 pages, so it was never going to be a short film. The running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes, but it doesn’t feel long. The richness of the story and diversity of the characters keeps you engaged throughout the film, and I think at the end of the day we made the movie that Roland wanted.”

Malina: “It’s action packed and moves.”

Elliot: “There are so many characters and parallel stories in the film that come together at the end. It’s very engaging in that way.”