Edit This!: Universal's 'Pitch Perfect 2'
Issue: May 1, 2015

Edit This!: Universal's 'Pitch Perfect 2'

It’s been three years since the Barden Bellas a cappella’d their way to championship status in Universal’s 2012 surprise hit, Pitch Perfect. With a film that grossed more than $64M at the box office and had built a strong cult following, it only makes sense that co-producer Elizabeth Banks would go for a repeat performance, this time taking the wheel as director and returning, along with leading Bellas Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow, for the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2. 

The sequel is centered on friendship and redemption, opening with the ladies giving an embarrassing performance in front of the president of the United States at Lincoln Center. After being humiliated and banned from performing, they have to battle their way back to the top of the a capella world by winning a global competition, facing off against a ruthless German team to do so.

With a long list of comedy features to his credits, including Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and Borat, it seems Craig Alpert was a “perfect” (pun intended) choice to edit this comedy/musical. According to Alpert, though, who had never worked on a film with musical performances, he did find some of the a capella scenes challenging.

“Almost everything I’ve edited has been a comedy,” he says. “What was distinctive about this movie, were the a capella performances. They were shot very well, with a multitude of footage, so they were appealing to edit. The performances have to flow. There are many edits in the performances and you need to keep the energy up. I compare it to editing action scenes in a way. You have to organize the footage and find the best moments, try to feature the singer you’re hearing in the pre-recorded track. So, the musical elements were very different from anything I’ve done before and that made it both exciting, as well as rewarding. I like to be challenged.”

Here, Alpert speaks with Post about working with director Elizabeth Banks, the challenges of editing musical scenes and his love for comedy.

POST: Was there anything unique to the editing process on this film, it being a comedy and a musical of sorts, compared to other projects you’ve worked on?

ALPERT: “Well, we already talked about what some of the differences were, but the aspects that were similar were the large amounts of improv. Elizabeth gives creative direction in hopes of getting spontaneous reactions from the cast. She encourages improv, so there are many options to choose from when it comes time to edit. So often in the scenes, the actors do veer away from the script and circle back. I appreciate having so many options. I occasionally edit multiple versions of scenes.”

POST: Is there a different approach to editing comedy than you would take with other genres?

ALPERT: “I think so. When editing a comedy, you have to keep your mind open knowing that there are so many options that can take the scene in many directions. So much so, that even with your first cut of the scene, it’s often hard to fit everything in. I think what’s different is that I often have alternative sequences assembled with alternate joke runs. My 1st assistant Jim Carretta did a great job of suggesting alternate material to present to Elizabeth.

“For instance, in the scenes with John and Gail, the two commentators in the film, we were able to assemble multiple 10-minute sequences with joke options. We screened the movie a number of times and early on, even through the director’s cut, because we wanted feedback about what people enjoyed, what they might have been confused about, what was working and what wasn’t. Then, if there was something that didn’t play how we wanted it to, we would remove it, and if we had another, try an alternate next time.” 

POST: Isn’t there a certain flow and pacing involved with comedy? 

ALPERT: “Oh sure. And it’s usually best to go out on a laugh if possible in a comedic scene. It’s also best if jokes don’t step on each other and to leave enough room to get into the next bit. That’s where the testing process helps. We audio record the audience during the test screenings and sync it up to the current cut of the movie so that we can determine without a doubt which jokes played well and which didn’t. If there’s a joke that maybe wasn’t intended to get a huge laugh but rather more of a subtle smile, you just sort of have to edit with your instinct and gut and go with what’s funny.”

POST: You worked closely with director Elizabeth Banks on this film — was there anything in particular she was looking for in the editing process? Any specific direction? 

ALPERT: “We did work closely together. It started occasionally during production; she would come in at the end of the day or over the weekend to review footage. Then from the beginning of the director’s cut, she was in every day and we would watch scenes and discuss what she thought worked or didn’t work and we would discuss options. I would try some alternatives and we would proceed from there. She liked to focus on the redeeming nature of friendships.”

POST: The first film had developed an almost cult-like following — it did well. Did you or the cast and crew feel the pressure that the sequel needed to be at least as good as the first?

ALPERT: “Definitely – I think there’s always pressure when making a sequel. With such a massive fan base from the first movie, we hoped everyone would be thrilled to watch the sequel.  After all, the film was made for them. Luckily, they loved it.”

POST: What was the film shot on, Arri Alexa? What footage were you working with?

ALPERT: “Yes, we used the Alexa camera. Our DP Jim Denault is amazing. The musical sequences were shot very well, with multiple cameras. They look great. Our on-set lab, which was Fotokem, took the RAW footage and converted it to Avid media at DNX 115. Their office was upstairs from us in the production office, so in the morning they would walk down and deliver a drive with the Avid media on it.  We had three Avid Media Composers and an additional software-only station we used for rendering and exporting, that was all supplied by [Hollywood’s] Hula Post Production. Hula is an amazing vendor and provides top-notch technical support. [Hula provided editorial systems and support; it set up Avid workflows in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the movie was shot, and in Los Angeles where the post was completed].

“We had a 32 TB of storage, an Avid ISIS, and filled it up since most of the footage was mirrored. With the Media Composers, we were using the Script Tool which I’ve taken advantage of since the beginning of my career. It enables my crew to organize all the footage and create a digital lined script. My crew also separates and organizes the improv runs, so I can quickly locate anything that Elizabeth is requesting.

“We also scripted the musical performances. My crew imported the lyrics text document into the Avid script tool, and added a script mark on every verse. So I would take it one verse at a time, review all of the options, and go from there. I was able to show her all options quickly. I believe it expedited the editing process for her.”

POST: You mentioned that the musical numbers were exciting to work on, but also challenging. Can you elaborate on that at all?

ALPERT: “The musical numbers were challenging only because they took quite a bit of time to go through and find the right pieces. As I was editing, I was using the pre-recorded vocals that were all recorded in Baton Rouge by Joseph Magee. But as we made our way through the process, vocals occasionally would get re-recorded and I would have to make changes. I do think the musical numbers were the most challenging. Yet, they were a lot a lot of fun.

“There’s also a big picture montage in the middle of the movie that changed many times with different music. We experimented with stylized ways to cut it — it’s where the Bellas were rehearsing their dance moves with props that they were planning to use to beat the Germans. We all played around with that one for a while. Elizabeth ultimately had the vision to try multiple split screens and boxes so the 2nd assistant editor/visual effects editor Annie Guidice helped execute Elizabeth’s vision by animating everything. My love has always been for comedies, but I appreciate when I have the opportunity to try something different; and the musical numbers were it.” 

POST: What do you like best about comedy?

ALPERT: “My passion is in comedy. I love coming to work and laughing. I’ve always been a fan of comedy ever since I was a little kid; I think I was just drawn toward that. I love to see the evolution that the film takes during the testing process. It’s all about having fun.”