Netflix’s Western action/drama The Harder They Fall tells the story of outlaw Nat Love, who rounds up his gang to track Rufus Buck once he discovers that his enemy is being released from prison. Directed by Jeymes Samuel, the film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba and Regina King.
Tom Eagles edited the feature and recently shared his experience with Post.
Tom, how did you get involved in editing The Harder They Fall?
“I first got a script through my agent. I found it immediately arresting. Here was a genre that had been a vehicle for colonialism, white supremacy and toxic masculinity for over a century, and it just seemed Jeymes blew the doors off the format. He brought to life these real historical figures of the Black West — characters who had been largely neglected in the cinematic canon — but he quickly ditched the history texts and injected them with a verve that was uniquely Jeymes. You had this fable of cyclic violence and intergenerational trauma, but told in such a soulful way. There was a real richness to the characters and a musicality to the dialogue.
“Then I met with Jeymes, and he just sung the film to me in sections and I realized how deeply ingrained that musicality is. There was no real distinction between dialogue and music and sound design and camera movement. It was all to be one symphony. He told me, ‘You have to do this film.’ And we had so much fun, how could I refuse?”
Do you recall what camera format was it shot on? And can you tell us a bit about your editing set up?
“(Cinematographer) Mihai (Malaimare) shot on Panavision’s Millennium DXL2 camera system with some beautiful old anamorphic lenses, and I was cutting on Avid Media Composer and later, Avid Symphony, I think.”
How did you receive dailies, and what resolution were you working at for the initial edit?
“We were working in Avid MXF DNx115. I was working remotely in Aotearoa for the first four months of the edit, whilst the crew were shooting in New Mexico, and my team was in LA. My assistant, John Sosnovsky, would jump on in his morning and sync the dailies to my machine. By the time I started work, it was all there.”
Can you talk about collaborating with director Jeymes Samuel?
“Working as a songwriter, producer and an artist in his own right has made Jeymes a professional collaborator. He knows how to create space for you to bring ideas to the table. We often had a surprising synchronicity, especially given that we were 7,000 miles apart for the first four months. I was nervous to show him things at first, where I’d deviated from the plan or pushed the boat out stylistically.
“For instance, the hard cut from the cross getting carved into Nat’s forehead, to white, pulling out to a cross, and then the title ‘Salinas, Texas’. The first time I showed Jeymes that, he was just overjoyed, and always encouraged me to keep pushing and experimenting. He was often a great defender of my first instinct, even when we needed to change course — restructuring or rationalizing storylines and characters — he always encouraged me to keep that original feeling that had excited him.”
Is there a scene that stands out from an editing standpoint, either for being challenging or from a storytelling perspective?
“There were so many challenges, with COVID especially — scenes where we lost the main actor and had to improvise, or scenes where we couldn’t put people in close proximity to each other. But probably the biggest challenge was the climactic gun battle. It was being shot by two different units, on multiple cameras, at 48fps, in bits and pieces throughout the shoot.
“So the first challenge was just to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. I was in touch with Jeymes and second unit a lot, just to make sure all the story beats got covered. Once I had all the material together, I found it all needed a fair bit of restructuring to keep everyone on the same page emotionally and in the story, so I moved things around until we had that balance of jeopardy and fun, action and trauma, climaxing in the emotional scouring that leads us into the final showdown between Rufus and Nat.”
The Harder They Fall is now streaming on Netflix.