Editing: <I>Only The Brave</I>
Issue: November 1, 2017

Editing: Only The Brave

SANTA MONICA, CA — Columbia Pictures’ Only The Brave is based on the true story of a group of highly-skilled firefighters, known as ‘hotshots,’ who specialize in fighting wildfires throughout the country. The film stars Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who battles his own demons while readying his young crew for certification as elite firefighters.

Miles Teller, James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch portray members of the Granite Mountain team, and Jeff Bridges takes on the role of Prescott Wildland Fire Chief Duane Steinbrink. Jennifer Connelly is Marsh’s wife Amanda. The story ranges from comedic and inspiring to dark and tragic, and editor Billy Fox was responsible for helping to tell the story by making the large crew relatable to the audience.

Fox, who has edited the features Straight Outta Compton, Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, as well as the TV series Law and Order, Wings, Chicago Fire and Band of Brothers, used Adobe Premiere Pro to cut the project. It represented his first experience with the software-based NLE, but having followed its progress over the years, he felt it was up for the challenge.

“I have used everything,” says Fox of his editing tools. “CMX6000, LightWorks, Avid, FCP 3/4/5/6/7/X and now Premiere.”

Fox will evaluate NLEs, monitors, speakers, control surfaces and storage when approaching a new project. “I had been watching Premiere for quite a while and felt it was getting very close,” the editor recalls. “[I] talked with (director) Joe (Kosinski) to see if he was interested in me pursuing that angle, and he said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Fox had meetings with Adobe and stressed the importance of certain features that he’d need in order to cut Only the Brave

“[There were] things that were important to me — such as 'shared project' — which was not a function at that time, but they were working on it. After much discussion with Adobe, Joe and Black Label, it was decided that Premiere was the direction we’d like to go on this show.”

The plan was to also use Fotokem’s NextLab system for dailies and editorial support, as well as OpenDrives storage. 

“Joe Kosinski, the director, and Claudio Miranda, the DP, have a long history of using Sony cameras and used the F65 for this,” says Fox.

The feature was shot in New Mexico at 4K and the NextLab system there was used to transcode the material into 2K files, which would then be streamed to the OpenDrives set up at the editorial offices at Margarita Mix in Santa Monica. 

“2K is more than fine,” says Fox of the picture quality he was cutting. “I had been working in 1080 for a long time and this is even better. The picture quality was fantastic. When it came time for preview, we did all of our color correction in-house. We did not have to go to a post facility…It was very streamlined.”

At Margarita Mix, the post production department had several rooms dedicated to working on the film. Fox occupied one, there were two rooms for assistants, and rooms for VFX and color correction as well. “The media and the projects were being shared by five rooms, and to be able to move reels around quickly was fabulous,” he notes.

“It’s forever the goal of the editor to be — as the saying goes — up to dailies. And when you finish that day you’ve got everything that you can cut. That’s always a losing battle for me. It was like most shows that I work on today, whatever they shot today, it is in the edit room by 8am the next morning. My assistant does some processing with it, and I have it for editing purposes — give or take — by 10 o’clock in the morning. One could argue [we’re] 12 hours behind.”

Fox’s room was equipped with an Apple MacPro workstation, a Euphonix mixing control surface, a Tangent Ripple for color correction and a 70-inch Vizio 4K monitor.

From a storytelling perspective, Fox says Only the Brave was not so much about the wildfires, but more about the bond between the characters. “I went into this movie with a concept or idea of Granite Mountain being these guys who are in a brotherhood,” says Fox. “What I brought to the table was the same kind of editorial philosophy that I had for Band of Brothers: It’s about building the relationship between each one of the guys. And if that relationship is not established and really grounded, what happens to them in the end — if you don’t feel like you know them, like you’ve experienced part of their life — whatever bad thing that happens to them at the end of the movie, you are not going to feel it as strongly.”