CULVER CITY, CA — Veteran editor Michael Tronick and his editing team have taken on the task of helping director Michel Gondry bring the Green Hornet and his trusty sidekick Cato to the big screen. While there is plenty of action to go around, the film stars Seth Rogen, better known for his comedic work (Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40-year-old Virgin) than his crime fighting abilities. In addition to starring in Green Hornet, Rogen also gets writing and producing credit, so his funny hand was in just about everything. Shot on 35mm, The Green Hornet was undergoing its conversion from 2D to 3D at the time of this interview.
Below, Avid editor Tronick discusses the process, using Avid Media Composer Nitris DX to cut in DNxHD 36, and working with Gondry. First assistant editor Aaron Brock also pops in for a visit.
POST: Is this a comedy or an action film?
MICHAEL TRONICK: “My priority was comedy. Seth’s character was the backbone of the movie, and I personally find him very, very appealing, and his humor very effective. In order to set the movie apart from the typical action genre, playing up the comedy was the direction I was going with. That was confirmed after our friends and family screening — a small screening on the lot here at Sony. Everyone wanted more comedy. I also spent some quality time with Seth and (writer) Evan Goldberg, really going through a comedy pass.
“Seth isn’t a martial arts expert. He doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just a normal guy who inherits a lot of money. Within the action sequences, whether it was a fight or car chase, I would look for those moments that had a humorous element to them and try to extract and incorporate that into the action sequences. There are big set pieces as far as crashes and explosions, and fights and things, but setting it apart with the character was my priority.”
POST: There are a lot of visual effects in the film. How did you work with those shots?
TRONICK: “Jamie Dixon was our visual effects supervisor, and he wrangled all the effects from the many vendors. [He] was the point guy on set, and I would interact with him in the cutting room. My policy is to keep things as open as possible with visual effects because I don’t want to get into a situation where I am unnecessarily spending a lot of their money on shots that could be done differently or more effectively. I try to keep that relationship as close and open as possible.
“We had our fair share of previs, which gave me an idea of the direction the action sequences were going. I would also stay in close communication with Vic Armstrong, the second unit director. He actually had a guy on set editing the video tap. That was a helpful tool for me in terms of knowing you are getting just an overwhelming amount of material. Seeing how Vic saw things coming together was really valuable for me. It was sort of like a little cheat sheet of how he saw things cutting. That’s all second unit, then we had to integrate first unit stuff, which is dialogue and incorporating principals into the action sequences the second unit established for us.”
POST: How did you work with director Michel Gondry?
TRONICK: “He’s a very versatile director and his primary strengths are in visuals, and honestly that is not my primary strength as far as what the Avid has; I am not a whiz on the visual effects palette. Michel would spend time with vendors or my second editor Evan Henke, as far as dealing with a lot of visual effects and how the special Gondry visuals would integrate.
“Michel is very trusting of the process and what I presented to him. When we started cutting things down he had some great ideas in terms of accelerating sequences or what things weren’t necessary. He was in charge of everything, and we had a lot of interaction with Seth Rogen and (producer) Neal Moritz and the studio in the cutting room. It was a pretty active cutting room and that could be problematic, but on this movie it turned out OK.”
POST: Were you on set at all?
TRONICK: “Rarely. I am not an editor who likes to spend a lot of time on set. But when called, I’d go down. A lot of the time, when production sees the editor show up, it’s like, ‘Uh, oh. What’s wrong?’ I want to avoid that. There were other times I went down to bring DVDs of scenes that I cut for Michel or to the set where they shot the interior of the Daily Sentinel, the newspaper that Seth’s character’s inherits; that was really impressive. And I like John Schwartzman the DP, so as much information as I could get form those guys I would. But mainly my time was here because it was an extremely difficult movie to put into first cut. It was very complex in terms how it was shot and the amount of coverage.”
POST: Can you elaborate a little on why it was so difficult?
TRONICK: “There were a lot of choices, and given the nature of the performances you could see them evolve from take one to take 20. It’s just a matter of shifting through everything and extracting those performances you think best tells the story, or in this case the things that I thought were the funniest. And as far as the visual effects go, how they were going to be incorporated. It was very demanding editorial. More than most any movie I’ve worked on.”
POST: With Seth Rogen, I imagine there was some ad-libbing?
TRONICK: “Yes. You could see as they progressed the content of the dialogue would change. Usually by the time they got to the last printed takes you could see the direction they wanted to go. Seth is the real deal. He is very, very smart… genuinely funny. For a 28-year-old, he has an amazing understanding of the process. So when you see his name on the movie as the star, the writer and the producer, he has really earned those titles.”
POST: Can you point to a scene in the film that was more challenging than the others?
TRONICK: “There is a scene that takes place in an industrial park with the bad guy (Christoph Waltz). The way the scene was shot initially was problematic. There were a lot of cement trucks involved and getting guys from one point to another point, and telling one cement truck from another.
“Inherently they are big lumbering vehicles, so the urgency for an action sequence was a little lacking. That scene was actually reshot about a year ago. We looked at what we had and figured out with Michael, Vic, Seth and Neal, and what would make the sequence effective. It was pretty much a reworking of that to where now it’s a combination of original photography and reshoots. That was a major challenge.”
The editing team: Michael Tronick is flanked by Aaron Brock on the left and Dylan Quirt on the right.
POST: How do you like working with the Media Composer Nitris DX? Is it an old friend?
TRONICK: “It is an old friend. I cut my first nonlinear film, Little Giants, with Lightworks, and Eraser in ‘95/’96 was my first Avid show. I’ve never used anything else since. There is a familiarity. My crew has been with me a long time, and that’s very comforting. I sort of settle into the settings I am most comfortable with but I am always trying to stay open in terms of new features. With the expertise of my crew and the support team that Sony has in place here — an impressive group of guys — rarely do you have crashes or any disruptions. The media is all managed extremely well. For me it’s a pretty flawless system.”
POST: (Question for Aaron Brock, Tronick’s first assistant.) Why did you opt to cut in DNxHD 36?
AARON BROCK: “Through past projects we found that DNx 36 has the best blend of high-quality video without having file sizes that are too large — it makes the size of the project more manageable. I just did a show on DNx 115, which looked a little bit better in previews but it makes the file size so large you need a lot more storage space; I don’t think it’s exactly worth the benefit of the picture quality.”
POST: What else can you share with us about the set-up?
BROCK: “We started using these new Boland monitors with the Avid. They are giving us a lot more real estate to work with. For his source and record monitor, he has these 42-inch LCDs, which are amazing quality and allow the filmmakers to sit on the couch behind Mike and have a better view of what is going on than when we used smaller 26-inch monitors.”
TRONICK: “When we would play out the movie, because the media is centrally located, thanks to the Unity, if we went to a theater here on the Sony lot, there was an Avid there and we were able to call up a project and run it straight out of the system. That kind of convenience is a first for me.”
POST: How many editors were on the film?
TRONICK: “Aaron is a first assistant, but really a co-editor. Dylan Quirt is a first assistant. Then there is an additional editor, Evan Henke. Adam Weber is assistant editor, and John Cason is an apprentice, as is Joe Zappia for dailies. There are two post production assistants: Josh Lee and Adoma Ananeh-Firempong. Linda Drake is the VFX editor. And in addition to my picture crew and the visual effects editor, now we have 3D editors.”
POST: The film was shot in 2D?
TRONICK: “Yes, and it’s is being converted to 3D as we speak. That decision was made well into the director’s cut, and it pushed back the release date.”
POST: Are you supervising the 3D edit?
TRONICK: “I have been concentrating on 2D, but we looked at our first answer print last Wednesday and now I have been moved over to the 3D world.”
POST: What is that like?
TRONICK: “Honestly, I would have preferred to see 3D in sequence instead of individual shots, but that was impossible until just recently. The three of us [Tronick, Brock and Quirt] worked on two 3D movies for Disney, which were shot in 3D, so we were familiar with the process and the look. The conversion is going 24/7, and it’s looking good. DP John Schwartzman is very happy with the color. Everyone wants to avoid The Clash of the Titans. We have a number of vendors who are turning out the material.”
POST: So this is your first conversion? Do you have a preference in how you like to work?
TRONICK: “I would prefer a movie be shot in 3D. Actually, there were some reshoots that were shot with the Red in 3D because the time wasn’t there to convert the new scenes to 3D.
“Within the movie we have 35mm intercut with Red. What Company 3 did as far as adding a little bit of grain to the Red material, I think it’s pretty seamless.”
POST: What about the audio post?
TRONICK: “We had an extraordinarily talented group of sound and music editors and mixers, so that side has been really gratifying in terms of the level of creativity and expertise. It was all done here at the Novak theater by a combination of guys from Soundelux and dialogue editors from Sony.”