Director Wes Anderson’s latest film, The French Dispatch, brings to life a collection of stories from a fictitious middle-American magazine that covers the 20th-century happenings of the imaginary French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Each of the film’s chapters is told from the perspective of the magazine’s contributing writers, who have gathered to write the obituary of their former publisher.
Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) is a travelogue reporter, who covers the seediest sections of the city, all via bicycle. Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) reports from the height of a student revolt, led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri), J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) recalls the rise and fall of Moses Rosenthaler’s (Benicio del Toro) fine art career, which started and ended while he was in prison. Bill Murray, serves as the magazine’s editor — Arthur Howitzer, Jr. — with Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park and Adrian Brody also taking up roles.
Andrew Weisblum, ACE, edited the Searchlight Pictures feature, continuing a relationship with Wes Anderson that includes cutting the director’s films Isle of Dogs,
Fantastic Mr. Fox and
The Darjeeling Limited. He recently spoke with
Post about his work on
The French Dispatch, its challenges and how he and Anderson collaborate during the edit.
You have worked with Wes Anderson on a number of films prior to The French Dispatch.
“Yes. We've been working together for a while now for, I guess, since The Darjeeling Limited, so we're pretty we're pretty familiar at this point.”
Director Wes Anderson and editor Andrew Weisblum, ACE.
His films are very stylized. How would you describe his style editorially?
“How would I describe [it]? Precise! That's the first word that comes to mind: precise and detailed, just like everything else about his films. This one in particular, it's very dense and complicated material, and a lot of the process is a design process in a way where, there are a lot of things that are figured out in the pre-planning stage and animatics, in terms of details. And then, a lot of stuff is happening in production. The production design crosses into post, where we're constantly manipulating and rebuilding and combining images, particularly of the larger canvases that are combinations of partial set builds, of miniatures and live-action elements, and even small animation elements, all kind of concocted together and tweaked until, hopefully, it's somewhat seamless.”
Knowing that so much of the film comes together in post, where do you, as an editor, begin?
“Well…I'm involved in pre-production very early on. Wes shared the script with me and we talked about some of the challenges and approaches. I guess my first reaction reading this was: Every sentence is a new set? (laughs) That became a major part of our animatic process, which is something that has carried over from the animated films into live action as a strategic tool, where we work with storyboard artists.”
Which scenes did you work on first?
“I think that the animatic process kind of informed that. We only got so far in terms of the animatic process, because it's kind of several films in one. Where there was a complete animatic for the Owen Wilson section, and a fairly complete one for Rosenthaler, and less so for Nescaffier (Stephen Park), and very little for the central piece – the Timothée Chalamet section. I think that the stuff that had all the material detail planning, in terms of the animatic stuff, was kind of both first and last, because it required the most manipulation, and the middle section was a little bit more freeform, both in terms of production and editorially. But, you know, I'm on set all the time in Angoulême, and a lot of things come up, where we know there's something else we need to pick up or grab while we're still there.”
What camera format were they shooting with, and can you talk about your editing set up?
“It's an Avid, although the animatic was done [with] After Effects and Avid as a combination. And then on this film, it was all shot on film. Wes wanted to do a 4K DI, and we worked out a system with Company 3, formerly 1619, whereby we scanned everything, all the dailies at 4K during production, and those became our resulting files for the end of the show, for the end of post. We were always working on and looking at scans from the beginning. We would process the film in Paris, scan on a 4K Scanity, and as soon as that hit the scanner, we never really touched the film again. And then those scans were down-res’d on a local system that Company 3 set up for us, much like they would do mobile dailies if you were shooting digitally.
“There were a lot of visual effects, where I would do a mock-up of something, and I would ask for the 4K files, and just do it at full resolution in After Effects, so it was basically done and we had it. And the work that I could do with the mock-up, a low res HD, I could easily up-res or pass on my After Effects project to somebody else so that the work was done and just needed to be refined or cleaned up.”
Were you working in 4K or is that too big of a file for offline editorial?
“No, no. We were working DNx115, which were created from the 4K masters. The framing and everything else always related back to that material, so it was all just effectively up-res’d, not a re-scan. We didn't have to start anything from scratch, ideally, because we were working on something that was basically just a down-convert.”
Did you work in France at first, and then come back to the States for post?
“It was all Europe. We shot in Angoulême, and then we did some of our editing in Paris, and then some in England. And then the rest of the post process — the digital intermediate, the mixing — all of that was done in England and London. And the VFX work was done there as well, primarily. Our sound editorial was in LA, but they came to England for the mix.”
Where were you set up?
“Well, we had systems and such working out of a facility in London in the later stages, but I was always with Wes, whether it was in an apartment in Paris or in England. We would just work together. I had a separate room with an Avid at the facility where we were working. I honestly don't remember the name of the facility. I know we rented our Avids through Company 3/ 1619, but I forget the rental space.”
What was the production and post timeline? I imagine the pandemic set things back?
“I finished my work on the film around January 2020, because this was originally scheduled to be released last year, and be it Cannes in May of 2020, so it's quite a while ago now. I was basically on it for all of 2019. [They] started the shoot at the end of 2018.”
Do you have a favorite scene, or, is there a scene that was particularly challenging?
“You know, it’s interesting, the editorial process. It's such a range on the film. It's hard to think of one thing. It’s kind of amazing for me, when I sit and think about all the different manipulations and post tweaks that we're doing to some of these shots that hold as many as 20 elements in then sometimes. You would never know looking at them, and they're not meant to [be] necessarily photorealistic, but they're not meant to show off their artifice either. You can look at the one shot of the waiter preparing the drinks for everybody early on in the movie. That's probably 70 cuts and re-speeds and morphs in it, and you would never know. That stuff is a lot of fun and takes a lot of finessing — finding the right timing for it all.
“At the same time, the stuff with Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri and Frances (McDormand), and that story — the free-form editing is a lot of fun too, where I can just sit with Wes and we can find the sparks and the moments we like, and just cut it like you would cut normal vibrant performances. Both of those are fun and creative to me, but they are entirely different approaches inside one movie.”
It sounds like you were working closely with Wed Anderson during the edit?
“Well, it would depend on the sequences, but a lot of the sequences that had an animatic blueprint, where there wasn't so much experimenting with coverage…as much as just kind of piecing together from the roadmap, that stuff, we would spend less time sitting together on that. Either I would piece it together or I would have my associate (Stephen Perkins), who was another editor on the film working with me, and he or I would piece it together. We could kind of double team the film, where I could be working on sections from one sequence and he could be working on sections for another. And we would be sending [Wes] cuts and kind of get through the adjustments a bit quicker. And then after that, usually we would sit together and look at things together, to finesse it in-person, if there's an adjustment we wanted to make to dialogue readings or cut timing or whatever…I was always in close communication with Wes, all day, but not always in-person, depending on what was required of us.”
Having worked with Wes Anderson in the past, was this the most challenging film so far?
“Well, there were a lot of pieces to it, and a lot to oversee, and a lot of work — a lot of attention to detail and working with different components. The budgets on these films are meant [for it] to be done in a responsible, contained way. That means, myself and my crew, we carry kind of a different load in terms of getting things done. There wasn't a bespoke visual effects supervisor on the film. That's kind of a role that I filled in, along with the producer, Jeremy Dawson, who has worked as a VFX supervisor and producer before. We basically just kind of covered it. But, there were hundreds of shots in the film, so at the end of the day, that becomes a big volume of work and you have to bring in a lot of crew that you need to supervise. So those things are challenges, on top of the simple editorial stuff, whereas I've worked on plenty of other films, where you have a different scale of support — where your responsibilities are more focused. You'll have a visual effects department that's solely responsible for delivering the shots, and my role is more just creative in the whole situation.”
What kind of feedback is Wes Anderson giving you during your edit sessions?
“Often, it's discussions about timing or line readings, or different questions or manipulations of clarifying something, without explaining. It was always kind of a weird in this movie, because it's a lot of side glances, and not particularly straight-on information and exposition. There's just a lot of detail being thrown at you. So clarity was a relative term, I think, on this film. We weren't telling a simple, plot-laden story. It was more just keeping the details interesting. Then, we just get thoughtful about different ideas. Even though there's been a lot of planning, there's often a lot of experimenting that happens too, structurally, with intentions or new jokes or new ideas that might find their way into the material. It's not overly precious about the intentions because so much about it is there anyway. I think the first move — his conception of how something is supposed to work — is pretty well defined at the outset. So the idea is to get that working first. And once you achieve that is when the floor is kind of open for more ideas.”
What's next for you? Are you on to your next project?
“So, after I worked on French Dispatch, then I went to work on Tick, Tick…Boom for Lin-Manuel Miranda, and then there was, you know, a pandemic that happened, so that shut down for a while. After that, I worked on The Eyes of Tammy Faye in the interim, and then when that was done, I went back to Tick, Tick…Boom. Now, I'm on the film for Darren Aronofsky called The Whale.”
Another director you've worked with in the past!
“Correct. I've been gratefully busy over the past two years.”