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April 2014
Issue: April 1, 2013

Editing: 'Olympus Has Fallen'

By: Marc Loftus
LOS ANGELES — Wildfire Post Production Studios (www.wildfirepost.com) provided sound design and mixing services for Millennium Films’, Olympus Has Fallen. The studio also hosted picture editor John Refoua, who spent time cutting the film at Wildfire after working on location in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the film was shot.

Olympus Has Fallen centers around an attack on The White House and the kidnapping of the President (Aaron Eckhart). Former guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself trapped within the building, and the national security team has to now rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake The White House and save the President. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua ( Training Day).  

Wildfire’s audio post team collaborated with Refoua on 21 and Over, and has an ongoing relationship with Millennium Films. The studio had four Avid Pro Tools rooms handling sound editorial for Olympus, which was then mixed in 5.1 on its Harrison MPC4 console. The studio spent two days mixing each of the film’s six reels and another two days screening the film in its entirety, making subtle adjustments and improvements. 

The film features an original score by composer Trevor Morris, who contributed more than 50 cues, representing 100 minutes of music. Here, picture editor John Refoua details his work on the film and his close collaboration with the Wildfire team.

POST: Your credits are quite diverse, and you’re not afraid of VFX-heavy films? 
JOHN REFOUA: “I try not to work on one type of movie, and I try to do as many different things as I can so I’m not pigeonholed as an editor. The movie I did prior to this one was a comedy — 21 and Over. And the movie I did before that was Avatar.”

POST: How did you get involved with Olympus Has Fallen?
REFOUA: “I am basically an independent contractor and work with people that know me or because of the work I’ve done previously, want to meet with me. That’s how I met Antoine. He liked the work I did on Avatar and was looking for an editor on this project. We met up and got along.”

POST: Can you talk about the process?
REFOUA: “Basically, on an any film, whether it’s a comedy or any kind of feature, the editor officially starts on the first day of the shoot. As they shoot each day, the material will come into my editing room and I try to put something together fast. I look at everything to make sure all of the pieces are there and it’s all complete, and there isn’t anything to be concerned about. Or, if there is something, to let director know. I try to maintain communication with director all the way through — not every day, because they are busy, but as anything comes up.”

POST: Olympus was shot in Louisiana, but needed to look like Washington, DC?
REFOUA: “Right! I was there in Shreveport, and on one of the stages they had editorial set up. Antoine was able to come over during his lunch or right after a wrap and take a look at what had been happening. It was actually very important in this movie because second unit was off shooting things on their own, with instructions from Antoine. When you are on a shoot, things can change and there are a lot of variables. I was putting together the second unit and showing him how effectively things were coming together. It was a very worthwhile thing to be on location with him.”

POST: How did they create the look of DC?
REFOUA: “It’s the magic of visual effects. They built the whole inside of The White House on a stage. They built a replica of the front of The White House, all the way up to the roof, but not including the roof, with the portico and the columns in front, and all of the two-story windows. The set was in the middle of a field in Shreveport. There was a street with a fence in front, with a fountain and a lawn. Pretty much anytime you see The White House, all the way up to the roof, it’s actual, and everything around it and the roof is digital.”

POST: Who handled the VFX?
REFOUA: “It was more than one [company]. World Wide Effects did The White House stuff. There was a Chinese company called Base that handled the C130 sequence. The movie opens in a snowy storm on Christmas Eve, and that snow was created by a Denmark’s Ghost.”

POST: The movie was shot on film. Did that affect the workflow at all?
REFOUA: “It’s not that much different, as far as the immediacy of it goes. Antoine wanted to shoot on film, so he hired a DP that would do that for him. The lab was in New Orleans, so somebody would drive [the film] from Shreveport to New Orleans, and then drive back with the dailies the next day for four months.”

POST: You were cutting on an Avid — how did the lab accommodate you?
REFOUA: “The lab takes the film and syncs up the sound and then generates the Avid bins for us as DNx 36. You would basically copy it in and open the bin and be ready to go. I’m the only picture editor, and I had two assistants. We had a visual effects department and a sound department too. I started [in Shreveport] on the first day of shooting, and I actually stayed a few days after wrap just to get all the dailies in the system, and get a chance to work without any interruptions. Then we moved everything out here to LA.”

POST: You’ve worked at Wildfire before.
REFOUA: “It’s a nice place to work. Everybody is very pleasant and it’s pretty centrally located. And when you are doing a mix or ADR, you just walk downstairs. My editing room is upstairs. It’s all right there.”

POST: Because there are so many VFX, were you cutting with incomplete visuals?
REFOUA: “Some of sequences, we had animatics for. Some of the sequences you basically have the live action, like in front of The White House, and the camera has already shot it. So it’s going to be something like [what you see], but they need to add environment, the roof, the smoke and all that. We had 1,300 visual effects and they were all in various forms of getting done. Some of those were monitor shots, some were animatics, and those were completely CG shots, and some were live action shots that needed environments. 

“You get the animatics and put those in, but undoubtedly, when the visual effect company starts working on them, they change them for some reason. The constraints of the reality intrudes upon the actual design of the shot, and sometimes things will change. The timing will change.”

POST: Were you applying any color treatments?
REFOUA: “On this movie, I didn’t have to do a lot of color adjustments because the dailies lab was in constant contact with the DP, and it was pretty much looking like we wanted it to look. I brightened some things and darkened some things, but I did not do a lot of color on this particular picture.”

POST: Are you working with a big screen?
REFOUA: “I have a 55-inch plasma that we basically use for a viewing monitor. It’s high def.”

POST: When did you wrap up?
REFOUA: “It was the middle of January that we locked picture. But because of the visual effects, things kept changing, especially the last sequence — where the animatics were the most used and the visual effects house out of China had to deliver the latest effects. Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you want them to. We were making changes up until a week ago.”

POST: So even with animatics detailing a shot, things still change?
REFOUA: “The animatics are very simple, and sometimes when you add all the detail, you realize this shot should be higher up or lower, or is too close or too long and needs to be shorter. The amount of detail makes a lot of difference.”

POST: How much did the edit shape things?
REFOUA: “There are parts that are strictly according to script, and there are parts that we worked on quite a bit and enhanced the drama.”