Issue: February 1, 2010


LONDON — James Herbert is director Guy Ritchie’s go-to editor. The two have worked together on, among other things, the films Revolver, RocknRolla and now Sherlock Holmes. Over the years they have developed a sort of shorthand that helps keep the process a pleasant and productive one.

Here, Herbert shares his experience editing Sherlock Holmes.

POST: Can you talk about the editing system you used on the film?
JAMES HERBERT: “We used four Avids, all running off a Unity — three PCs and one Mac, which the visual effects editor used. The system was an Avid Media Composer V.2.8 with Mojo. It’s the same system I used for my last three pictures, RocknRolla, Lesbian Vampire Killers and Revolver. Even though there have been upgrades, I prefer working on the 2.8. It’s a stable system and it doesn’t have that second delay when you press play or stop. We used this system for a year while editing Sherlock. It traveled back and forth from America with us and we never had any problems.”

POST: You used Mojo instead of Adrenaline?
HERBERT: “Yes, except for Alex’s machine [Alex Fenn, assistant editor] — as the Adrenaline box allows digitizing from tape — as our rushes came as files from Midnight Transfer and we rarely needed to digitize, so only needed one system capable of doing that. It makes no difference to our workflow and keeps budget costs down, which pleases producers. As producers ask for DVDs and facilities work with QuickTime files, we never needed to do tape playouts. Even for test screenings we would consolidate a sequence to a FireWire drive and screen from out of the Avid, allowing us to ride split track audio.”

POST: Can you describe the workflow?
HERBERT: “We never had time to all sit in a theater together, as me and my team — assistant editors Phil Hedgecock, Alex Fenn, Angus Munro and visual effects editor Laura Jennings — were all based in London and Guy and his merry men were in London, Liverpool, Manchester and a few other locations. Joel Silver [producer] was in LA, so we were all here, there and everywhere. We would get the selected takes from Guy and Phillipe [Rousselot, the DP], create a DVD of those takes and send them to the relevant people.

“Mine and Guy’s workflow was simple: I would look through the rushes while he was shooting, I’d cut the scene and score it how I felt it should be, then once Guy had wrapped he would come to the cutting room to watch the scenes. And nine times out of 10 would say, ‘Great, that’s it,’ which means we went up the pub for a pint of Guinness, or the one time out of 10 he would call me a rude name — ‘@£$£$$’ —and I’d have to work late.

“I like to think we are on the same page when it comes to storytelling and movie making. Guy is the most relaxed director I have ever worked with, he knows exactly what he wants — that’s why he doesn’t work with six cameras or do 20 takes. He keeps you on your toes as his attention span doesn’t last very long, so you have to cut quick to keep him entertained, which is probably why all his pictures are fast paced; he just wants to get to the point quickly and quirky as possible.”

POST: Guy says you essentially speak the same language when you work?
HERBERT: “Yes, English. It’s the only language I know. However, Guy can speak fluent Hebrew.”

POST: He has also said that essentially everything that was shot was used — that you had a pretty tight script?
HERBERT: “The script was done in such a linear fashion it was quite hard to change things around. Sherlock Holmes is a detective, so when he uncovers a clue that leads  him to the next scene, so in the respect of losing scenes or information, or moving around a scene, you really can’t. So it just becomes a simpler process of concentrating on pacing and performance.
Sherlock was easier than the last picture we did, RocknRoller, as the script was in  loosely based linear form. There were so many characters and so many different situations happening we had to move scenes around so you were never away from a particular character or story point for too long. This way the audience stayed with the overall story.”

POST: Were you on set?
HERBERT: “I only popped down to set a few times to show Guy cut footage on the laptop or to second unit to make sure pick-up shots were going to match. I’m not a big fan of on-set; there’s lots of sitting around waiting, and the day seems to drag.

“On Revolver we tried to edit on set for like a week but gave up. I would be on an Avid Express laptop getting my picture feed but while  they are turning over on a take I couldn’t work because I would be digitizing. After the take people would be moving their equipment around and I’d have to move my station while they where setting up for the next take, so I  never really got anything done.”

POST: Was there one scene that stands out as being more difficult than the others?
HERBERT: “The big challenge was the hallucination scene, as originally it was shot and scripted as Sherlock performed the same ritual that Blackwood had performed at the crypt in the start of the movie; the idea being Sherlock was at a loss — he couldn’t put the clues together to solve the case — so Blackwood appeared in the room and they had a conversation. Then he woke up to Irene and Watson, which is in the movie, and then there was another montage afterwards of him playing the violin and trying to work out the clues.
“In your final act, you need it to start pacing up and there were two montages together, which slowed the movie down and confused issues, so we made the montage as one and took Blackwood out. This seemed to simplify it. Then we had to come up with the stylistic look, which I used Final Cut Pro for as there’s an effect they have on there called a Luminance dissolve that I can’t find on the Avid. This helped to create the look it needed — a standalone feel from the rest of the movie.”

POST: Can you talk about working with the visual effects shots?
HERBERT: “The end scene of the picture on Tower Bridge was the largest — pure greenscreen. Before we had started principal photography, the visual effects team [Dan Barrow and Chazz Jarret] and Guy had created a previz, an animation of how the scene will look. However on the day of shooting — which was in New York — they decided to change a large section of the shots, which made the scene a million times better. It was fun to cut because you have to use more of a creative side of editing as your cutting a scene with just green in it, so it’s a rhythmic thing. Once you have selected a take and handed it over to Framestore or Digital Negative, they start work on the effect, which is a huge cost, so it’s hard to go back after turning over the first cut.”