<I>Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One</I> editor Eddie Hamilton
Issue: July/August 2023

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One editor Eddie Hamilton

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team on their most dangerous mission yet. They are tasked with tracking down a new form of artificial intelligence that threatens all of humanity while fighting dark forces that hope to use the AI to secure their own global dominance.

Eddie Hamilton

In addition to Cruise, Dead Reckoning also stars Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby and Esai Morales, among others. The feature was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who once again brought in editor Eddie Hamilton to cut the project. McQuarrie, Cruise and Hamilton have a history working together, having collaborated on Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018) and Rogue Nation (2015), as well as on Top Gun: Maverick (2022), for which ‘McQ’ was a writer and Hamilton earned an Oscar nomination.

Hamilton caught up with Post shortly after Dead Reckoning Part One’s release, though he was already working on Part Two. He detailed his relationship with the director and franchise star, as well as his workflow and the challenges of working on two films simultaneously.

You have collaborated with Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise a number of times now. Can you talk about that relationship?

“I think that myself, Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise share a genetic, absolute raw, passionate love of movies and cinema, which when you meet another cinephile, there’s this kind of unspoken understanding that you’re kind of in that club…When I met Chris McQuarrie, I think he could see the enthusiasm and the passion. This film, we’ve been on it well over three years. We started in February 2020, so it is a long time, and I think that retaining your enthusiasm for the job and your love of the craft, especially when you are in a meat grinder of intense pressure to deliver a movie, is quite a good personality trait to have. And Tom knows that I care about the movie as much as he does — in some ways more. I have to work on every frame and every tiny sound effect and every syllable of dialog. And he is an amazing producer in terms of objectivity, giving notes, having final cut on the movie and approving every aspect of the film — every visual effects shot, every music cue, every sound effect. I think he loves the fact that I’m enthusiastic, and that I love movies and love the cinema-going experience.”

You started work on this back in 2020. Were you on-location during the shoot?

“I sometimes am on-location. For example, I was in Norway when Tom did the jump, and I was there for the all of that photography. And interestingly, we didn’t send those dailies to the studio because if you watch :20 of Tom doing this extraordinary stunt, it is slightly anticlimactic. But if you watch the little behind-the-scenes featurette that I edited, of all the prep that Tom did with all the jumps, the practices, the safety…then it becomes really quite impressive when you build up to that. So the little trailer that you saw at Christmas last year — the kind of behind-the-scenes glimpse of that stunt — was something that I had edited two years before to show the studio…So I was there to cut that little featurette at Tom’s request, but also stay on top of the dailies. And then as they went to Abu Dhabi, when they went to Rome, when they went to Venice, I was not there because it was the height of COVID. It was much safer for me and the team to stay back in London. But all the footage would come in every day and I would start sketching it together and putting everything that I thought was great on a timeline, not worrying how it was all going to work, just knowing that it was all awesome.”

Do you recall the camera they were using?

“They used a Sony Venice camera with mostly, I think, C series Panavision anamorphic lenses. Some spherical for some very wide shots, but mostly it’s anamorphic. When the camera is attached to the Fiat, for example, (they used) these little cameras called Z Cams, and they have a spherical lens. Because of COVID, it made no sense to have people going back and forth, swapping mags and all that stuff. They needed to keep a minimum number of crew around the cast and around the cameras, so that’s basically why we ended up using digital cameras. McQ’s desperate to get back to film, but it’s just how we ended up through circumstance.

“Then, Warner Bros.’ De Lane Lea were the lab based at Leavesden Studios, and they would take the files from the Sony Venice and from the Z Cams. We used lots of different mini cameras and formats, and all kinds of things. There was a lot of CCTV, obviously, filmed in the airport. I think that was all Z Cam as well. The Sony Venice is 6K, the Z Cams, I think, are natively 4K. I would get everything transcoded to Avid media MFX files DNxHR LB, which is 3,840 by 2,160, so it’s ultra high definition resolution. Then, all the master camera files would be archived to LTO and put on a gigantic server. So all the uncompressed media lives on a big server at the lab, which means the VFX team can pull the files and send them off whenever they need to.” 

Were they shooting linearly, or did they have to shoot certain sequences early to leave time for VFX?

“No. They closed down bits of Venice and bits of Rome depending on the day that it was appropriate to shut that street, so it’s all nonlinear. Some days Tom was driving a BMW, some days he’s driving the Fiat. Some days Hayley is driving the BMW, some days Hayley’s driving the Fiat. What I do is, when I’m putting it together, I will feedback if I have concerns about connective tissue, like specific beats that we might need, so that the audience understands or doesn’t feel like something’s been removed accidentally. But otherwise I just say, ‘It’s great. It’s amazing! Keep shooting.’ I only really wave a flag if I perceive that (there’s) something that they might need to pick up. 

“When they got back to London and started working on the sets, then I was actually at the studio quite a bit at Longcross Studios, where they filmed. I would have a trailer near the set and I would have an iPad with a feed from the set. McQ would have me on a particular channel, so I would be editing away, but also keeping an eye on the feed from the set. And if he had a question, he would say, ‘What do you think of that? Do you think we got it?’ And I could quickly look and go, ‘Yeah, it looks amazing.’ 

“I would feedback sometimes (from) our cutting room in Soho in central London, also with a feed from the set. And when they did go on-location — for example, we were in South Africa a lot last year. I went out there for five months and was building this aerial sequence that they were filming. So I am trying to stay on top of everything, day by day. I try to sketch out every scene, but then when McQ and I sit down to fine cut it, we are so thorough. We do not cut any corners. We go through every line delivery. There’s like 70 deliveries for every single line in the movie, and we’re going through them all meticulously, crafting the emotional journey of the characters and all the nuances of the emotion that we want the audience to feel on the journey.”

What were some of the interesting editing challenges?

“One of the interesting things [was] that Hayley Atwell didn’t really know the name of her character for quite a long time into filming. The scene that she filmed with Tom — in the library in Rome, where she’s in the police station — it’s the first kind of proper dialog, where he starts to work out who she is, what she’s like as a character and all that stuff. He’s got a massive file on her, because he’s dug around and found out about her. But that whole scene we filmed on-location in central London — part of the University of London. They did her entrance, they did Tom’s coverage, and they did wide shots, but they never got her coverage. So that was day 107, as principal photography. And then on day 177 of principal photography, they eventually rebuilt parts of the setting and filmed Hayley’s coverage of that scene. So it’s 70 shoot days later!”

Talk about the airport scene, which has a lot going on, with characters tracking and chasing each other?

“(We weren’t) quite sure how the airport scene would cut together. We filmed all these pieces, with Luther, and with Ethan and Briggs and Degas, and with Benji, and we weren’t quite sure how it was all going to (come together). When you’re intercutting a scene like that, if you read a scene like that as an editor, you know, one, it’s never going to turn out like how it was on the page, because you always discover stuff editorially, and you always need to compress the scene. But I trust that it’s going to be great because it’s [McQ] working on it with me. He is as much an editor on these movies as I am. He really understands the power of editing and embraces it fully in terms of trying stuff out, throwing stuff away, moving things around and restructuring. ‘Let’s cut this. Let’s try this. Let’s do that!’ And I can keep up with it as fast as he can say it or think it, which means that we make a lot of progress very quickly, editorially.”

How are you handling shots that don’t have final VFX yet?

“For the whole train sequence, we were trying to get those shots into production with Industrial Light & Magic very quickly because they’re all very complicated — the wire removals, and because a lot of that bridge wasn’t real. The bridge that explodes…we built a bit of the bridge in a quarry so that the actual train could be thrown off the rails, into the quarry below. And then ILM augmented it with a lot of stuff to make it feel more [real]. 
“Also, you’ve got to remember, we were also filming bits of Part Two. So the cameras are rolling on Part One, and that was the main chunk of production before we did any pickups. Almost the last thing that they did was the train crash. Then they went straight into filming Part Two, so while we were doing that, rolling cameras on bits of Part Two, ILM started work on the VFX.”

How stressful is it working on two films at once?

“It’s a huge challenge doing two movies at once. It would be great to focus on one film, and there was a point where we had to draw a line and go, ‘We’re focusing exclusively on Part One to make sure it is released in cinemas on the release date.’ 

“I did a deep dive on how they did Back to the Future II and III in 1989. That was only six months apart, which is astonishing to me considering it was photochemical visual effects, and work print 35mm and mixing with mag. Really an amazing achievement to do summer and Christmas for part two and part three of Back to the Future. And then Harry Potter (and the Deathly Hallows) Part 1 and 2. And then Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. So I’ve got a taste of what those crews were going through on those films, and it’s really tough, but you stay focused. You don’t get overwhelmed. You just chip away at it as best you can.” 

How are you managing all the footage?

“We have a very big (Avid) Nexis, and we try and separate it into media for Part One and Part Two. Then I have a gigantic 160TB hard drive, which has all the media for both movies on it that travels around with me everywhere. It’s been all over the world. In the last year alone it’s been to South Africa and LA, and an aircraft carrier in the Adriatic Sea. It’s been to Italy. It’s been to the Arctic, and it’s been pretty bulletproof — instead of relying on any kind of internet connection, because I’m in the middle of nowhere. 

“Everything is local on a MacBook Pro. So much of this movie was edited on-location, or at a house, or in a hotel room, or in the back of a car, or on a plane. It’s astonishing. I love it, and it’s partially because I don’t mind doing it. I quite like doing it. I’m a bit of a nerd in that I don’t mind doing all the media management, but I have a great team who supports me — an amazing team! 

“I have an encrypted VPN box at home, which I take with me on-location, and that gives me a secure tunnel directly to our Avid Nexis in central London. And I will run a piece of software that does a file sync, so it will look at all the media on the Nexis and compare it to what I have on my 160TB drive. Then, when I press a button, it will do a sync. I make sure that any of the bins I’m using that are local are kept separate so they don’t accidentally get overwritten during the sync, but that is the best way that we worked out how to do it. [There are] different ways of sinking media…but when you’re working with ultra high definition media, the file sizes can be quite big, so running syncs in the background as you’re editing is not really feasible. What I do is, when I stop at 10:00pm at night, I would run the sync and then it would just copy the files, so in the morning I had matched what was in London, so any new VFX shots that were sent over, they were all online.”

Were you working out of long-term rented studio space?

“What we do on these movies is, we usually rent because this is going to be a four- or five-year chunk of our careers doing these two movies. So what we will do in London is, we will find a floor of an office building, an anonymous looking London office building, where you wouldn’t even know what’s inside. And we will rent the whole floor for four years. We will partition it, and put air conditioners, and put all the networking in, and put all the Tom Cruise posters up everywhere, and then put the sofas and the fridge in the kitchen and make it feel like home, because we’re going to be working there for a long time. But it’s not in a facility. It’s very secure and very private.

“In my loft at home, I have two large screens and then one of those 21-by-9 widescreen monitors for my viewing monitor. It’s compact, but I did do a lot of Top Gun: Maverick in here, and a lot of Mission in here because we do work over Evercast sometimes. 

“I would quite often go to Chris McQuarrie’s apartment in central London, set up the drive, plug into his TV and work there. But if we’re only working for a couple of hours on a Sunday, for example, I will just log into Evercast, which a lot of people do, and work like that…Eventually all the media will fit on a credit card.”

With so much action taking place throughout the film, was there a scene that was more difficult than the others because of the visual effects?

“That’s a very good question. To be honest, a lot of the VFX in this movie are rig removal and wire removal. Some of the train. There’s quite a lot of CG in that big end sequence, and obviously when Ethan and Grace are hanging over the ravine. But, you know, there’s a real train carriage, and Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell are actually hanging vertically 40 feet up in the air. They’ve got cables to support them. We can watch the movie with virtually no VFX in it. It’s watchable, it’s just there’s a lot of camera rigs and cables and safety harnesses. Stuff that needs to be painted out.

“None of this film was easy to edit. I will say every sequence was hard. Apart from Ethan getting the mission, which was quite a late addition, we had a different way of introducing Ethan Hunt originally. And then we came up with that much simpler introduction quite late in the day. 

“The submarine is very complicated (with) so many characters and specific shots of cutaways of graphics so that you understand what’s going on. The sound design of the enemy torpedo pinging, and the music — it took forever!

“The desert (scene) started out much longer and had to be massively compressed. The airport is phenomenally complicated because, again, so much graphics, and relying on graphics to help the audience understand the story and where the key is. Grace has pickpocketed the guy, and you’ve got to modulate the character — the chemistry between Ethan and Grace, and her behavior, and make sure that audience likes her, but they didn’t like her too much. 

“It’s a huge puzzle. Massive! Weeks and weeks and weeks, and months and months and months of work for every sequence. And then Rome — you (have) the huge car chase and loads of dialog scenes at the beginning of Rome…Nothing was easy. It all took months — ultimately years of work to put it together.”

Can you talk about the use of music and how it’s used not only to enhance the action sequences, but also as a transitional element?

“We work silent when we’re editing the movie — just with dialog. We have virtually no sound and no music. (Composer) Lorne Balfe is watching the dailies and he’s writing suites of music based on how the dailies make him feel. And there’s a point in the process where we start putting music against the picture. Once we’ve got a cut that works purely visually, like pure cinema, then we start adding the music, and it evolves. McQ is as meticulous with the music as he is with the edit. We’ll go in to the music editor, Cecile (Tournesac), and we will review every cue, and turn off the dialog and the sound effects, and just see is the cue, is the music telling the story? How can we improve it and is it fighting with the dialog? Is it fighting with the sound effects? 

“The transitions [are] something very interesting. Obviously, it’s a long movie. The audience is trying to figure out where they can get up and have a [break] basically. So whenever you transition from one scene to another, the audience is like, ‘Oh, I can nip out for two minutes, I won’t miss much.’ But if you use a music cue, which is propelling you into the next scene, you’re kind of like, ‘I can’t go. What’s happening?’ 

"What we’re doing is we’re using these transitional music cues to kind of basically keep your brain actively engaged from beginning to end, so you don’t feel like there’s an appropriate moment to take a break. And that’s McQ being aware of it, because whenever we tested the film, we would always be conscious of when people felt like it was a reasonable time to get up and take a break. McQ wants to dare you to do that. ‘I’m going to dare you to get up and miss the next :30 seconds because there’s going to be some good shit coming up that you don’t want to miss!’

“It has been very rewarding because it’s a long movie, but people say it doesn’t feel long when they watch it, which, obviously, as an editor, is the highest compliment.”