Editing: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'
Issue: September 1, 2015

Editing: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'

Eddie Hamilton didn’t set out to become an “action-film” editor, but one look at his credit list shows that he’s succeeding in doing just that. Hamilton has cut a number of features in the genre, including X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service, and spent almost a year working on this summer’s hit, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, starring Tom Cruise. The Paramount film was directed by Chris McQuarrie ( See Post’s July issue), and has earned more than $650M worldwide since it opened in late July.

“I’m absolutely delighted I am being offered these types of films,” says Hamilton, who worked on Mission: Impossible at Leavesden Studios in England. “I had a conversation with Chris for what I thought would be 20 minutes, and it turned out to be an hour and a half,” he recalls. “A general chat about movies and the things we like. And we hit it off.”

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation centers around agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise), who is trying to prove the existence of an international criminal consortium, known as The Syndicate. The US government, however, wants to pull the plug on the Impossible Mission Force, leaving the team on their own to put a stop to The Syndicate’s plans.  They connect with former Syndicate operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who helps in their effort.

Hamilton cuts on an Avid Media Composer, running on an HP Z800 workstation. “It’s dual 6-core, plenty of RAM, Windows 7, Media Composer Version 8.3 then 8.4. I always like to use the latest version of the software. We had a 32TB ISIS storage system, which was connected by a CAT 5 cable to the workstations. There were two PCs and five Macs, plus a Mac laptop.”

The feature was primarily shot with Panavision 35mm anamorphic cameras, except for the underwater scene, which was captured with Arri’s Alexa 65. Using Aspera, the editing team would receive 24fps DNx115 media from Company 3 in London.

Hamilton cites a number of scenes in the film that were particularly challenging, including the assassination attempt at the Vienna Opera House. The exteriors and some of the interiors were shot at the actual opera house, but the backstage scenes were built on a soundstage. 

“The opera was very complicated, and I am enormously proud of it,” says Hamilton. “The music editing was very tricky. Getting the action to land on certain beats of the music, trying to keep all the plates spinning of the characters and geography and all that, very complex and I am extremely happy with how it turned out.”

But his favorite scene is one that may have been overlooked by audiences.

“You are going to be quite surprised, but I feel it’s extraordinarily efficient in terms of storytelling,” he says of his selection. “The one section of the movie that I am most proud of, in terms of pure story, is the sequence where Tom Cruise learns from Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson about the high security Torus computer vault.”

The scene takes place in the safe house in Morocco, where the whole team is assembled. Dialogue is used to explain the challenges they would face in retrieving an encrypted ledger, but the visuals show — theoretically — each stage of the process, including passing through an elevator with fingerprint recognition, doors with combination locks, and a gait-analysis corridor, which analyzes the way a person walks.

“Benji goes, ‘That’s easy. We just impersonate the agent who stole the ledger in the first place. I get to wear a mask.’ And we see the mask machine being built and him putting the mask on. Then Ilsa says, ‘Wait a second, you’ve got the gait-analysis corridor, and you can’t beat that with a mask.’ And the guys rip the mask off. 

“It’s incredibly efficient exposition and set up for the audience to explain the world of the scene they are about to be shown. You get all the rules and understand about masks, even though they don’t use the mask then. It’s a set up for the mask gag at the end of the movie. But you understand all the rules about the combination locks and finger prints, what the gait-analysis corridor is, what Ethan has got to do underwater with the two profiles.

“So when you get to that scene, you can just watch the action happen… The moment that Ethan jumps in, you can just play the scene, and you don’t need any exposition. Believe it or not, that was really, really complicated to get right. The balancing act of all that exposition, and humor, and story, and rules of engagement for that whole sequence — we refined that endlessly, Chris and I — and I am really, really proud of how efficient and tight it is. That’s probably my favorite bit of the editing jigsaw that we solved successfully.”

Hamilton was also conscious of the franchise’s recognizable soundtrack, but chose to work without a temp track. 

“When I am cutting an action scene, I am always working silently,” he notes. “I am imaging the sound and music — and an occasional line of dialogue will be there, but generally, an action sequence is just sound effects and music.

“Chris very much prefers not to use any temp score during the initial assembly and director’s cut. We only put temp score on when we have to screen it for an audience. I quite enjoy the freedom of that. If you can get the scene working without score, you know it’s going to be great with score.”

The film has two specific spots that play without music, helping to build suspense. “We played the scene — where Tom jumps into the underwater computer vault, and Benji is walking along the corridor, undoing the combination locks — completely for suspense. There’s no music at all. It’s just sound design,” says Hamilton. “We only started the music when Ilsa appears to save Ethan, to give the sequence an enormous surge of adrenaline and excitement for that final 20 seconds, where she’s trying to open the hatch and get out.”

The car chase through Morocco is another action sequence that plays without music. “The massive car chase has really no score at all,” says Hamilton, “and then we save the score for when the motorbike chase starts. Then we can really go to 11 and give the audience two- and-a-half minutes of pulse-pounding action. There’s great motorbike sound design and phenomenally good score blasting through. You get a good roller-coaster ride. If the music was playing all the way through the car chase, you wouldn’t have the same effect.”