Edit This: Universal Pictures' 'Krampus'
Issue: December 1, 2015

Edit This: Universal Pictures' 'Krampus'

Universal Pictures’ Krampus is an alternative Christmas story that’s more parts horror than holiday. The film, starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette, and directed by Michael Dougherty, is about a boy who has a bad Christmas and ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home (I would definitely classify that as a “bad Christmas!”). What the studio is describing as a “Christmas-themed horror comedy” had a surprisingly successful opening weekend at the box office, scoring $16M (surpassing its $15M production budget), and has grossed, to date, over $30M. Here, Post speaks with film editor John Axelrad (right) about his work on the holiday horror film.

How would you describe the editing style on the film?

Krampus was a challenge to edit since it is a hybrid of genres. It starts off as a comedy film, but then it quickly turns dark as the horror begins to take hold. Comedic moments still occur in the second and third acts of the movie, but the tone changes to become more darkly comedic. That being said, the challenge was to transition from traditional comedy to more traditional horror-action.  

“Comedy editing can be face-paced, especially when you have ensemble situations, such as a dinner table scene. There were a lot of ad libs and unplanned character reactions that came in very handy to heighten the comedy. When the movie began to transition to horror, the pace of editing slowed to allow tension and eerie atmosphere to build. Then when the horror began to turn more violent (with creatures attacking), the editing became more frenetic to mirror the chaos happening to the characters.”

What format were you working with?

Krampus was shot digitally on Alexa in 2.39 anamorphic. The shoot took place in New Zealand, and dailies were color graded at Park Road Post and delivered to us in DNxHD 115 Avid format.”

What did you edit on and why?

“Throughout my career, I have remained dedicated to Avid Media Composer. I first trained on it in 1991, and while I did learn other editing platforms since that time, I feel most familiar and comfortable with Avid. One piece of proprietary software that I’ve come to depend on is Avid ScriptSync. I find it to be an invaluable tool when working with the director, especially when fishing for ad libs in comedy scenes. It is a lot of work for my assistants to line the dailies in the Avid script, but it greatly improves my editing efficiency and ensures that hidden gems in the footage do not get overlooked.”

Any particular challenges you encountered on this film or any sequences harder to edit for some reason? If so, why?

“The horror-action scenes in Krampus were particularly hard to edit, because most of the film takes place in low-light and heavy snow. In many of the climatic blizzard scenes, there are frequent flashes of lightning. My challenge was to make the horror-action feel fast-paced, but not so fast that things become confusing and disorienting for the viewer. It was hard to see what was going on due to the lighting conditions in the first place, so the editing felt even faster than it actually was. I often found myself navigating the edits around lightning flashes.”

Any key scenes you want to discuss?

“In the film, there is a very long horror-action sequence that involves all the characters being attacked in different parts of the house. It took many attempts at restructuring this part of the movie, because we needed to intercut these action scenes, which were all happening simultaneously. While we were cutting back and forth among the actors, we did not want to diminish the danger each character faced. I think we finally found the best balance to keep the eight-minute sequence alive and active.”

How early was post brought into the process?

“I started editing the movie from the first day of shooting. The film crew wanted to watch dailies at the end of each shoot day, and the director often discussed the footage with me as it was coming in. Plus, we had a second unit shooting every day to pick up shots and inserts that the main unit didn’t have time to film. They depended on me to keep the edits up to camera, so I could inform them what material I still needed to complete the scenes.” 

Where did you do the editing?

“We spent just over four months editing in Wellington, New Zealand. The entire shoot took place in Wellington, and we were actively working with Weta Digital on the film’s visual effects. But towards the end of the director’s cut, we returned to Los Angeles to finish the editing at Legendary Pictures in Burbank, CA.”