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September 2014
Issue: June 1, 2013

Edit This!: 'The Great Gatsby'

By: Randi Altman
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Baz Luhrmann’s romantic epic, The Great Gatsby, features beautiful locales, a glimpse into an over-the-top lavish lifestyle and the high drama it brings… all in 3D stereo. The director’s goal with this film, whose story doesn’t necessarily scream 3D movie, was to bring the viewer into the room with the characters and make them feel a part of what was happening around them. 

Those who have worked with the director describe him as a huge collaborator, and that was evident with his editorial team, which in true Luhrmann fashion had lots of great footage to work with. Matt Villa and Jason Ballantine, along with Jonathan Redmond, were editors on the film, and the trio worked on Avid Media Composers using ISIS storage. 

That particular NLE has been Villa’s tool of choice for years. The Media Composer actually played a role in how Ballantine and Villa met. “My first nonlinear job was Babe and that was edited on Avid. Jas was working in Adelaide at one of the first post houses to have Avid, and the producers of Babe asked that they send someone up, and that person was Jas.” And thus a friendship and working partnership began.

Villa, who had also worked with Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge and Australia, took some time out to chat with Post just a couple of days before The Great Gatsby had its Sydney premiere. 

POST: This is your first 3D stereo film. How did it affect the way you worked?
MATT VILLA: “Apart from the technical requirements involved in dealing with the 3D files, its effect on the way we cut was minimal. Going into it we’d heard stories that you have to cut slower for 3D because it takes longer for the eyes to take things in. The truth is, the manipulation of stereo depth during the DI process is flexible enough now that any cutting style can be made comfortable. If the cutting pace gets too fast, the depth of shots will be reduced or the focus point between edits will be altered to make it easier on the eyes.  

“The only time we may have decided to hold a shot longer than we might have in 2D would be for big, wide vistas or establishing shots with a lot of detail, just to allow the viewer to take it all in.” 

POST: You edited the film on the Avid Media Composer?
VILLA: “Yes, it’s our tool of choice, and when we started on Gatsby, the 3D-friendly Media Composer Version 6 was about two weeks off being released. We were desperate to use it, because having worked with Baz in the past, I knew that what he shoots is just the beginning. There would be a lot of resizes, image manipulation, and all the other tricks that go on in the cutting room, and I thought it would be fantastic if we could do those in the Avid in a way where the 3D would be maintained with all these manipulations. Version 6 would allow us to do that. But since the software was still in beta, the studio was reluctant to let us use it.” 

POST: So how did you proceed?
VILLA: “We made a little work around using a couple of Version 6 beta dongles in the cutting room. The assistants were always chasing our edits and anytime we’d done a resize or post move that had thrown the two eyes out of whack, they would take it into MC 6 and replicate the same effect before rendering out a side by side MFX file, which would play back in Version 5.5. That way, although we were cutting mainly in 2D, we could review in 3D when we needed to.” 

POST: This is not a typical 3D film with monsters and spaceships.
VILLA: “Yes. Baz’s main goal with this film was to see if 3D for just straight drama would work and sell. He’s from a theater background, so he wanted to in a sense bring the audience on the stage with him. While there is a lot of razzle dazzle in the film, as is Baz’s want, some of the most effective uses of 3D are these dramatic scenes.” 

POST: Can you give an example? 
VILLA: “The confrontation in the Plaza Hotel in New York is one. It was Baz’s goal to have the audience standing in the room with these actors playing on around us. 

“I love the 3D in the film, and our colorist Adrian Hauser did a fantastic job making it immersive when it needed to be and backing off when it wasn’t so important. It’s kind of similar to the Life of Pi, which was a drama that drew you in rather than threw things at you.” 

POST: How does Baz like to work? 
VILLA: “He is completely mad… in a really great way! Making a film is all about collaboration and evolution, and it’s with Baz’s films I find you witness the evolution the most. As an editor, a director will generally hand you the wood and the nails and tell you to go build a house, whereas with Baz you have to go cut down the trees to get the wood and mine for the metal to make the nails. He really does call upon you to scrape around and use every available frame, whether it was meant to be used or not. The collaboration and evolution is extraordinary.” 


The editing team at the Sydney premiere: (L-R) Jonathan Redmond, Jason Ballantine and Matt Villa.

POST: Does he want you start cutting right away? 
VILLA: “Yes, we assembled all the way through the shoot. There was an Avid on-set in a tent so he could watch things as he went. It helps inform what he shoots and lets him know if he’s getting the coverage he needs. He likes to see things go as he goes.” 

POST: How did you work with the other editors, Jason Ballantine and Jonathan Redmond? 
VILLA: “Throughout the shoot, Jas and I would leapfrog each other assembling scenes. One scene would be shot and I would take it, another one would come in and he would take it. It allowed us to keep up to date. During the shoot, Jono was mainly focused on producing the EPK material, but as we went into post, his schedule allowed him to take on scenes. 

“The majority of principle photography finished on the 22nd of December 2011, and by Christmas Eve we had a very rough assembly for Baz to take with him on a holiday. It was about 3.5 hours long at that point.” 

POST: Does any one scene stick out as more challenging than the others?
VILLA: “What I loved about this film is the actors — they are top class performers at the top of their game — so we were essentially spoiled for choice. Baz doesn’t mind leaving the camera on and doing rolling takes, so there is a lot of footage. So the challenge, which is a good one, is choosing the best performances and nuances that were available to us.” 

POST: What about dealing with the visual effects shots?
VILLA: “Our film was no way alone in this, but many of the visual effects shots would come in late, and some were so big we had to make allowances for what would be in the background. This refers back to your ‘did you change your cutting style for 3D’ question. You didn’t generally, but you were having to cut with a mind that these VFX shots would one day have a background that you would need time to see.” 

POST: Music plays a big role in the film. Can you talk a bit about that?
VILLA: “Usually you throw a temp score on your edit knowing that it will disappear the day the film goes off to the composer and the real score comes back. But Baz’s collaboration with his music supervisor Anton Monsted and the many artists who were submitting music for the film was on-going from day one. We were always feeding new material into the cut to see how it would work. You never knew what famous artist would deliver a song on any day and we would try them all to see if they would fit the scene for which they were intended. It was a really fun track and that was evolving all the time.”