Editing: <I>Green Book</I>
Issue: January/February 2019

Editing: Green Book

Universal Pictures’ Green Book brings polar opposites together for a road trip of the South in the early 1960s. Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen) is an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx who’s been hired to drive the black, world-class pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour of the Deep South. As Doctor Shirley’s chauffer, Tony must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that are welcoming to African-Americans. Their journey confronts racism and danger, as well as cultural differences, though the pair manages to form a genuine, if not unlikely, friendship. Linda Cardellini plays Tony’s wife, who is left to hold down the household while he’s away on the eight-week engagement.

The film was directed by Peter Farrelly and edited by Patrick J. Don Vito. The two collaborated on 2013’s Movie 43 and again on a pilot. When this project came up, Don Vito was immediately interested.

“I'd love to do this movie,” Don Vito recalls telling the director. “The script was amazing and I immediately just gravitated towards it… It’s an interesting genre because it's not just drama, it's has so much comedy in it…I wanted to be involved in it in any way that I could.” 

Much of the shooting took place in Louisiana, and Don Vito worked from the film’s production office in New Orleans, beginning the edit around Thanksgiving of 2017.

The feature was shot on Arri’s Alexa, and Don Vito, who worked on an Avid system, says he was typically one to three days behind each day’s dailies, which were processed at FotoKem nearby.

“Some of the sequences were larger, so it would take me a few days to get through them,” he recalls. “I tried to keep up with camera and when they were done shooting, I stayed for another four for five days, after they were finished, just to finish my cut.”

Editor Patrick J. Don Vito and actor Mahershala Ali

FotoKem organized the footage and applied a LUT to create consistency, says Don Vito. 

“I have to say, this was the smoothest I've ever had dailies go on a film. It was super smooth. Everything was perfect. It looked great every time. They would also sync up the master tracks, which were sometimes eight or 10 microphones…I was working with the mix track, but at any point, I could match back and find a mic that I needed to, to clean up sound.”

Green Book was shot at a 2:1 aspect ratio, and Don Vito worked at DNx115 resolution.

“I had never worked at 2:1 before,” says the editor. “It's a little different aspect ratio. I guess they're doing that nowadays – [it’s] something about the translation between television and film? I kind of like the framing of it…To me, between that and the beautiful cinematography that Sean (Porter) did, it made it feel like this kind of classic, old movie that may have come out years ago.”

Don Vito says his goal in the edit was to make the feature feel as real as possible — as if you were right there with the actors. 

“Since we had such great actors, I was able to stay on shots longer, because they were just in it every single moment. Even when things went wrong, they would just stay in-character and keep going.”

Don Vito cites the ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken scene,’ where Tony and Doctor Shirley are in the car eating.

“[Tony] bites the chicken and then he spits out a grisly piece,” recalls Don Vito. “That was just an accident, but he stayed in-character the whole time and just spit it out. The noise you hear is actually the piece of chicken hitting the slate that was right next to him. But he just kept going because it might be great — and it was! It was a moment that wouldn't have happened otherwise. And there's a bunch of those moments, where something happens, and if the actor can just keep in-character and keep going, there are these happy actions that kind of make it seem more real.”

He calls attention to another scene that takes place in a hotel. Tony reaches to answer a phone and fumbles the receiver.

“[That] was an accident,” says Don Vito…”but that's real…It is what happens to people…It just seemed natural.”

He applied that thought process to cutting the film’s comedic scenes. 

“When it came time to edit the comedy, I'd always go, ‘Is this real? Is this comedy coming out a scene or is it a joke?’ he recalls. “It if was a joke, I cut it out. I was trying to make the comedy and the drama work together…Whenever there was something that was ‘too jokey,’ I'd try it and go, ‘No, it seems like we're trying to be funny here. This is not what this movie is about.’ The comedy needs to come out of the scene.”

Don Vito used his skills as an editor to restructure another scene to have more comedic success. The scene features Tony’s family, whom are gathered for the holidays. The women of the family are in the kitchen, reading one of Tony’s letters from the road, which by this point, have become eagerly anticipated. In the living room nearby, the men discuss the family’s long history of artistic talent, dating back to the days of Michelangelo. When Tony’s sister-in-law tells her husband that she wants as similar letter from him, he quips back that he wants a home-cooked meal from her.

“That was the stronger joke of the scene,” says Don Vito. “That used to be in the middle of the scene, not the end. So I had to figure out a way to reorder the scene so we could make that be the punch out, so you're leaving the scene on the bigger joke…Basically, we had to read the letter off-camera. The scene starts with the letter on-camera, and them talking about how great the letter is. Then we come back for the joke. That's one of the little, tricky things that you'd never know unless you saw the original scene.”

Surprisingly, the film has 385 visual effects, all completed by Pixel Magic. Effects ranged from removing modern signage and reflectors off the highway, and fixing a rip in the vinyl roof of the ‘new’ Cadillac, to replacing the on-set pianist’s head — composer/music supervisor Kris Bowers — with that of actor Mahershala Ali’s to create Doctor Shirley’s incredible performances.

“They did everything for us,” says Don Vito of VFX house Pixel Magic. “It was a big job for what it was. We started them early too, because we knew what we wanted. So literally, while we were still shooting, I got together the first piano sequence and said 'Let's start working on this,' because we need to make sure this is going to look right. We decided to get that started so we could look at it and see what issues we might have in other scenes, because some angles are going to be harder than other angles.”

As the sole editor on the project, Don Vito had a number of assistants, including Petra Demas, who was with him in both New Orleans and once they moved back to Los Angeles after production wrapped. Editorial ran through August, with VFX coming in up until the last minute. FotoKem handled the final conform.

“It turned out better than I even expected,” says Don Vito of the final results. “I knew it was going to be good…I had faith in Pete. He's amazing and I always thought he's going to do something dramatic.”

Green Book was released on November 21st.