'Fury': Editor Dody Dorn on working with director David Ayer
Issue: November 1, 2014

'Fury': Editor Dody Dorn on working with director David Ayer

Director David Ayer’s most recent offering, Fury, brings audiences behind enemy lines of a Nazi Germany WWII battle, for what is believed to be a suicide mission for war-weary army sergeant “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt), his four-man band of brothers, and their M4 Sherman tank. In this Sony release, Ayer focuses on the heroic efforts of Wardaddy and his crew, who faced overwhelming odds. The film features a number of emotionally-charged and compelling scenes.

Fury was shot in London on 35mm film over the course of several months, and features a very specific rhythm that editor Dody Dorn adhered to during the editing process. Here, Dorn speaks with Post about the year-long project, her editing process, and her ongoing working relationship with the director.

POST: How many editors worked with you on this film?

DODY DORN: “I started discussions with the director, prior to shooting. This is my third film with David, but in the end I was one of four editors on the movie.”

“From my experience of working with David in the past, I knew that with the tight schedule and the ambition of the movie, that we would need an additional editor. Initially, there was no real money budgeted for that, nor did David know how that would work, never having worked with two editors before. So, to help manage the workload, we hired an additional editor in the slot of what would have normally been an assistant editor, a talented guy named Rob Bonz.  He and I worked together through the shooting process, most of the director’s cut period, and early screening period with David. With the studio’s support, we added editor Jay Cassidy to the team around the beginning of June.”

“It was like spinning plates, in terms of trying to figure out how to manage the scope of the project with resources that didn’t really allow for it in contemporary Hollywood terms. But we did manage it, and by the time Jay came on, we had a movie that was running two hours and 20 minutes from a four-hour assembly. Shortly after Jay came in, we brought in additional editor, Geoffrey O’Brien. A few days later, the studio moved the release date up by a month, on an already tight schedule. Even with the earlier release date, having Jay and Geoff allowed David the time to spend exploring the material and other versions of scenes.”

“I was continuing to refine the movie, prep for screenings and turnovers to VFX, and dealing with sound. We were also prepping for a very short, but important, two days of additional photography for the final battle.”

“Jay and I share the editing credit.  The work he did on significant narrative scenes had an impact on the overall tone of the film. It’s appropriate for him to be acknowledged for that.”

POST: Was there anything in particular that David Ayer had asked for in the way the film looked or how you were editing?

DORN: “Yes.  Since he wrote it, naturally he wanted me to follow the script. During shooting, I showed him cut scenes as we were going along. He was interested in exploring ways where we didn’t use cuts to drive the rhythm of the film. There were certain areas where we held to this approach of not cutting. It’s kind of funny to try to articulate this because editors normally don’t cut unless they feel the need to cut, but David was searching for where the rhythm was intact within the scene, without cutting, and so we reached for that in certain places.”

POST: Were there any particular scenes or an aspect of the editing process that presented itself to you as more challenging?

DORN: “The battles were challenging because there was a lot of material and the narrative was somewhat fungible. Typically, battle scenes are very carefully plotted out to allow time for creation of VFX, but these battles are rooted in reality, shot with real tanks and practical special effects, giving them a more organic feel. There were a lot of choices to be made as far as what to include, and how to tell the story. Also, the exteriors and interiors of the battles were shot several months apart. We had to cut the exteriors first, hoping we knew what we’d get for the interiors, or create sort of a template for shooting the interiors. But then, of course, what was shot for the interiors was quite different, so all of those scenes had to be revisited. Plus, we had to consider the choice of having fewer edits versus a more visceral-style of cutting — this was something that continued to evolve over the course of the editing process. 

“The battles really did continue to develop to the very end, which is unusual for those kinds of visual effects-heavy segments of the film to be changing, but they were. Also, with the last battle, which ends up being about 20 minutes, the additional photography came in and completely altered the shape of the scene. 

“Those are the battle scenes and then there are some narrative scenes that were challenging — there’s a breakfast scene with the whole crew, with some German women in a German town. That scene was shot very fluidly; there was a lot of improvising going on, and different tonal approaches to it. It was a very long scene — my first assembly was 19 minutes long. Ultimately, it ended up being about 11 minutes in the film, but we had many, many versions of the scene. Because there was improvising going on, and the tonal subtleties of the performances were far and wide, there was a lot of experimentation with where it would land. 

“That’s a good example of one of the scenes that Jay worked on. He did several iterations and the final version of the scene follows the tonal approach that he took.   We worked with his model when doing the fine cut a few days later.”

POST: Are there any scenes in particular that stand out for you that you are particularly proud of?

DORN: “Yes, there’s a scene right before the last battle starts where ‘Wardaddy’ takes a drink and the whole crew sits around, sort of prepping for what is basically a suicide mission. And that scene is very close to our first assembly and I really love it. I think it’s emotionally, a really potent scene.” 

POST: What tools were you using? Avid Media Composer?

DORN: “Yes, Avid, and I do a lot of work standing up.  I use a Wacom tablet — I’m not a mouse person, so I use keyboard and Wacom. 

“Originally it was planned that I’d be in Los Angeles for the shoot, and I had set up a home Avid editing system. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to try editing at home, to see what it was like. So I set up a home system and, about a week into the shooting process, I was up working at around one in the morning and I got a call from the producer saying, ‘We want you to come to London.’ So, I had to pack up and leave the next day. I took with me a portable Avid system, with all the media shot thus far, and I left my team back in LA.

“Once in London, I picked up a UK assistant who I had worked with before, Emma McCleave. She set up two Avids at the location, and I continued to work on the portable Avid. While the editing rooms were being setting up, and even after we got into the full swing of things, I kept my portable Avid for work at my hotel room or for reviewing material at the director’s home on the weekend. In all, we had the UK editing room, the LA editing room, Rob Bonz’s home editing system, and my portable system, all in sync over the course of the whole production. And, although that was challenging, the Avid system worked really well to make it all happen. We were all spread out and it wasn’t something that was planned in advance.  Fortunately it worked out, because it was great to be able to be on location. It was exciting.” 

POST: Was it ‘Avid Everywhere’ that allowed that to happen?

DORN: “Yes, it was Avid Everywhere. We ended up with something like 1.3 million feet of film and a very complex processing procedure. Multiple processing houses over two continents caused some delays — typically, it took us three to five days to get the dailies in the editing room. But, because we had an LA editing room, and the UK editing room, we were basically a 24-hour machine. If I needed something done at the end of my day, I could ask an assistant to work on it who was eight hours behind in LA. Then I’d come in the next morning and have bins waiting for me. I’d open them up and there they’d be, so that was fantastic.” 

POST: How different was this film was from some of the other projects you’ve worked on, such as Memento, Kingdom of Heaven or Australia?

DORN: “I also worked on End of Watch and Sabotage for David Ayer, so very similar to my other experiences with David in that he shoots a lot and is discovering a lot in the editing room, which is part of what makes it so much fun.

“For End of Watch, we had a long assembly and we ended up with a 109-minute movie. There were so many different ways to go and we had a lot of fun discovering that. Fury is not shot in the same style as End of Watch, which was POV, but David shot a lot of material for both films. Generally speaking, there could be a sense that when you get the dailies back, you go, ‘Oh, I know, they want to use this, this is clear.’ But with David, there were so many beautiful shots, so many magnificent images, masters and set ups and then so many different tonalities to the performances, that you really need to explore and search for the film in the editing room. So, it’s exhilarating but challenging.

“On a certain level, Kingdom of Heaven might be a similar experience except for the way that Ridley shoots — it’s so completely different from the way David shoots. We had a similar amount of film — we had about 1.2 million feet of film and there were multiple battles. And it’s still an emotional narrative, which I would say is the same for Fury. The battles are important, but really, the emotional thread is the most important thing.” 

POST: Is there anything you want to add about the film or the editing process?

DORN: “What was most fascinating to me about this movie is that, as many different ways as there were to tell the story, when we screened it — because we did do a preview process  — no matter what changes we had done to the movie, people were engaged and the film scored high. So, it wasn’t easy to track how the changes were impacting the audience. There was something about the reality, the visceral reality, along with the fantastic performances, and the way that David created this world that felt so immediate, that you’re sucked into that time and place and that experience. I would say it’s the most experiential film I’ve worked on, where you just feel like you are there.

“That was very exciting both to play with and to come to realize because we as editors all fret and gnaw our finger nails off over what is the right decision — our whole jobs are based around making these decisions — which performance, this way, that way, left, right, up, down, and now, you’re catching me a month after I’ve finished working on the film, I feel like, things that I really, really wanted or things I really didn’t want, in the end, doesn’t seem to be what is most important about the film. What is most important about this film is this very visceral and engaging experiential reality.

“One of the things that I do find interesting about editing, in general, whether this applies directly to Fury or not, when one is an editor and has done it as many times as I have, nearly everything is based on a gut instinct. It isn’t until someone is asking questions that you realize that there is a way to articulate why you chose one thing or another. I think there’s often a healthy friction between director and editor, where the editor is having a response to the material like an audience member. I’m not personally involved in the challenge of getting these performances, the locations, the costumes and production design committed to film, all I’m doing is experiencing it like an audience member would and sometimes that honest reaction and response is a very helpful lens through which a director can look at his own material. The hopes and dreams that a director has, don’t always come to pass.

“Then, there’s also this other thing, where the film takes on a life of its own. That’s when the editor and director lock arms and let that film be born, the ‘life-of-its-own’ film, which is probably different from what either the editor or director thought. So, that part of the editing process is just really exhilarating to me. I absolutely love that.”