Editing: <I>Atomic Blonde</I>
Issue: August 1, 2017

Editing: Atomic Blonde

Focus Features’ latest release, Atomic Blonde, stars Charlize Theron as the crown jewel of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is equal parts spy, sensuality and savagery, and is willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through a deadly game of spies.  

Atomic Blonde was directed by David Leitch ( John Wick, Deadpool 2), and also stars John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones. The film is based on the Oni Press graphic novel “The Coldest City,” by Antony Johnston & illustrator Sam Hart. Kurt Johnstad ( 300) wrote the screenplay.

Here, editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir discusses her work on the film and the challenges it presented.

How did you get involved in this project?

“I was hired to edit John Wick with directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski after my interview, when they asked me ‘What is it you don’t like about action?’ I told them simply that I don’t like action when I can’t see what’s happening and everything is just a dark blur. That answer got me hired, along with the fact that producer Kelly McCormick recommended me after seeing some of my earlier work. 

“Then, later after John Wick, I joined them on a small project in Berlin when David Leitch introduced me to his vision for Atomic Blonde with a copy of the graphic novel (“Coldest City”) that inspired the film, his own custom playlist of inspired ‘80s music, and a look-book full of the art and design that revealed his vision for that story. I loved it and jumped on board.”

There is a lot of action in this film, but is there a scene that was particularly complicated or that you are most proud of?

“I do have a thing for nonlinear storytelling. I find it such a great tool for any story’s emotional focus. And I’m so proud of the nonlinear approach that we took with Atomic Blonde that I now find it hard to see single scenes and not instead see the entire story itself. 

“In order to bring out a film like Atomic Blonde’s fullest potential you have to concentrate not only on the good stuff, but also the bad within every scene. That might sound obvious, but it’s actually very challenging and often overlooked. Simply finding what works in a single scene or a single performance is easy. But it is making those choices while keeping in mind the entire film with all its twists, turns, suspicions, and suspense that is the challenge.   

“And it can be especially challenging because when editing a film, you yourself can go through so many different mental stages, ranging everywhere from optimistic, to chaotic, and to even despair or love. So it’s not that a particular scene is itself complicated, it’s more that your own state of mind at the time can complicate it. You can get so caught up in your own mind that you lose sight of the bigger picture. You lose the emotional focus. The challenge then is that you have to sense when it is time to let go and free yourself and free the scene to keep the bigger picture.”

What format was the feature shot on, and what is your editing set up?

Atomic Blonde was shot on Arri Alexa cameras with custom made anamorphic lenses that our DP Jonathan Sela used to capture the historic look and analog feel of that time and place. Other than that, we were a standard Avid Media Composer (V.7) and ISIS set-up. During principal photography we cut at Colorfront in Budapest, Hungary, and then moved to Manhattan Beach Studios in Los Angeles. But we used post vendors all over Europe so my 1st assistant editor Matt Absher was busy juggling time-zones and language barriers.”