Episode 44: In Conversation with Tom Cross, ACE
Today?s episode is the online master series that took place on August 4th, 2021.
This episode was generously sponsored by Annex Pro/AVID
Tom Cross, ACE and Sarah Taylor discuss his career journey from video store clerk to assistant editor to Oscar awarding winning editor. As well as his collaboration with director Damien Chazelle on the films WHIPLASH, LA LA LAND and FIRST MAN. They also talked about the anticipated release of NO TIME TO DIE and what it was like working on the James Bond series.
Tom Cross, ACE is a BAFTA and Academy Award winning film editor for his work on WHIPLASH. He received his B.F.A. in Visual Arts from Purchase College and began working on commercials in NYC before transitioning to independent films.
He edited Michel Negroponte’s sci-fi documentary W.I.S.O.R. and then was an Additional Editor on James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT and TWO LOVERS. For director Travis Fine he edited THE SPACE BETWEEN and ANY DAY NOW. Cross subsequently edited the short film version of WHIPLASH, for Director Damien Chazelle. Later, they collaborated on the feature film version which won the 2014 Sundance Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize.
In addition to the best editing Oscar and BAFTA, Cross’s work on the feature also received an Independent Spirit Award. Cross received his second Academy Award and BAFTA nominations for Damien Chazelle’s musical LA LA LAND. He went on to win the Critics Choice Award and ACE Eddie award for best editing. Other credits include the comedy-drama JOY for David O. Russell, Scott Cooper’s western HOSTILES, starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike and the 20th Century Fox musical THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Directed by Michael Gracey). Prior to working on NO TIME TO DIE with Editor Elliot Graham, he cut Damien Chazelle’s FIRST MAN for Universal Pictures and Dreamworks. Cross’s work on the Neil Armstrong movie received ACE Eddie and BAFTA nominations and eventually a Critics Choice Award for Best Film Editing.
This episode was generously sponsored by Annex Pro Avid. Hello and welcome to the Editor’s Cut. I’m
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acknowledgements are the start to a deeper action.
Today’s episode is the online master series that took place on August 4th, 2020 in conversation with
Tom cross ACE. Tom and I discussed his career journey from video store clerk, to assistant editor, to
Oscar award-winning editor, as well as his collaboration with director Damien Chazelle on the films,
Whiplash, Lala Land and First Man. We also talked about the much anticipated release of no time to die
and what it was like working on the James Bond series. This podcast contains language and content that
some may find disturbing or offensive. Listener discretion is advised.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me.
I’m sure that you all know that Tom Cross is an Oscar award-winning editor and he’s worked on many
films, but notably whiplash, Lala land, First Man, and no time to die that we’re all waiting to see. But we
have lots to talk about today. So we’re just going to get into the first question, which is, tell us where
you’re from and why editing. What got you to pursue editing?
Yes, well, I was born in Wisconsin… Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but very quickly, I basically moved to
Rochester, New York where I primarily grew up. I mentioned Wisconsin because it’s both Rochester and
Wisconsin have these heavy, brutal winters. And so I always think of that as being a large part of my kind
of upbringing and stuff like that. The changing seasons and stuff I grew up in Upstate New York and my
mother was an artist. She painted sculpture. My dad was… Did administrative work for organizations
such as the Red Cross. He was an early peace core member. So my mom was an artist, but my dad was
not an artist, but he was a movie lover.
And so I grew up, watching a lot of movies and, I can remember early on him taking me to a movie.
Some movies at the public library. And one of them was this French film Wages of fear, which was
amazing to see because I… It had subtitles. It was a French film. I didn’t speak the language and I don’t
really remember the subtitles. I just remember understanding it. I remember understanding the
characters and their emotions, and it was this thrilling story. And so I just remember being really
affected by it. And the thing that was… That I remember about my parents is that they always made
space for me to watch movies, to enjoy them. And there was nothing overtly highbrow about that. It
was just this acceptance that movies were fun to watch. They were great. They were great stories. And
so we went to the movies a lot. We went to… There was a movie series at the university of Rochester. So
even when I was a kid and getting into high school, my parents would take me to these college
screenings of movies and all kinds of movies.
So I don’t know. I kind of grew up loving movies and for some people, it’s like they have a passion for
literature and books and they just sort of devour all these books. For me it was movies. So, I grew up at a
time when videotape and video stores started getting big. And so I would go out to the movie theater to
watch movies, but I would also like rent videos all the time, seeing all these movies. And then, my
parents… My dad in particular lovingly kind of encouraged it and he would buy me books about movies.
Like the art of watching movies and things.
And he would just kind of encourage it. And somehow I decided with the help of my parents, that I
would try to go to film school. And at that time I thought I wanted to make my own films. I thought I
wanted to be a director. So I went… I ended up going to this very small art school that had this film
conservatory. It was a school called, now it’s called Purchase college. When I went, it was known as the
State University of New York at Purchase SUNY Purchase. And it was a small film conservatory. And I
went to school there thinking that I wanted to do my own films.
And as the school and the curriculum took me through the different steps of the process, acting, writing,
producing, directing, editing. I found that I really gravitated towards editing after I graduated, and my
friends and I from film school had to start looking for work. I kind of knew that I wanted to get into
editing. That was the thing that kind of, I don’t know, it kind of attracted me. I think early on when I
started really getting to know movies and watch movies. I mean, I loved certain things about it. I love the
performances. I love the photography, but I… But it was the editing that I really kind of… I don’t know if
that sparked my imagination. I remember watching… Early on watching Alfred Hitchcock movies. And so
many of his movies are full of these sort of very visual set pieces, the shower scene in psycho or any
number of scenes and the birds, the end of strangers on a train. I mean, they’re all these things that now
I look at and think of as editing masterpieces. And so, I don’t know, I think that always kind of sparked
So when I got out of college, I eventually got a job as kind of an apprentice editor or low guy on the
totem pole at a commercial editing company. And I think that was kind of key for me because at the
time technology was evolving and nonlinear editing was coming in. It was just getting introduced. Avid
was new. And I got into commercials. I didn’t know anything about advertising, but I knew I wanted to
get into an editing room. And commercials were the ones… We are the only places at the time that
really had Avids. And so that was kind of a big deal to get a job where you had an… You had access to
this amazing new technology. And so there were a lot of things that I think suited me. I mean, it was
something that I could sink my teeth into. I remember editing in college and really just the time would
go by and I’d be editing all night. And it was something that suited me more than directing actors or
I bet a lot of editors can relate to that idea that time flying by in the edit suite. And you’re like, Oh, wait a
minute, 12 hours just passed. I guess this is something I should do. It feels good.
The [crosstalk 00:07:45] coming up.
Yeah. Like, Oh wait! I haven’t gone to sleep yet. What was the first job… Your first job in the industry
that really made you feel like I am an editor, I’m a real editor.
It’s funny because every job I… And I feel like I pass it some sort of benchmark where I say, okay, now
this job. Like I remember when I got Whiplash and no one… I really had no idea how, where that movie
was going to take me. All I knew was that it was a brilliant script. And I was just in sync with this director
but one of my first thoughts was, Oh, good, it’s a union job. That means that my… I’ll get a certain wage
and my health insurance will be paid for. So when I got that job, I was like, okay, now I’m a real… This is
a real thing. My first real editing job, a union job. And so I think all along the way, I still do that. I still like,
I don’t know. I remember.
So my very first job working at the commercial editing company, I remember I was on salary. I worked at
this company that had 30 employees or something. And of all different ages. I mean I was the young kid
whereas a lot of other people, the editors were much older. And I remember being aware that that was
my first adult job. Before that I had worked in video stores. I did that in high school as my first job ever
working in a video store. And even when I got to college, I got a job in New York, just at a video store.
And that was certainly amazing because I was around movies. I love movies. But the commercial editing
job was like, Oh wow! I get a salary. I get paid vacation. I get sick days. And I get health insurance. And
meanwhile, I’m learning from all these grownups who are around me. And so that, I remember being
aware that, wow! This is my first professional job. And what’s ironic is now, I’ve worked freelance ever
since. So I don’t have sick days. I don’t have paid vacation. We’re not in the same wave.
So that’s the only straight job I’ve ever held that way. Even the bond movie now, it’s like, Oh! Now I’m
cutting like a bonafide, franchise blockbuster. So with each movie, there’s something that becomes…
that’s real about each one of them, if that makes sense.
No, that totally makes sense for sure. Yeah. That’s the also… The joy of the work that we get to do is that
every project is different and is exciting, and there’s something… Usually there’s something that we can
learn from and take away from, which is awesome. I’m thinking we will talk a little bit about your
process. Like, when do you get the scripts? And do you get to have input in the script? And how do you
watch your dailies? Like all that kind of stuff. Just give us a little Coles note of your process.
I think like many of us, or all of us, I’m eager to get the script and eager to sort of see if there’s
something I latch onto. How do I respond to what… That’s the starting point. So like in the case of
Whiplash, that was one of the best scripts I’d ever. And so when I got that, it just got me so excited and
because it’s such an intense story and the intensity and the emotion is just, if anyone’s out there and
you can find the script online, if you read it, I mean, to me, all that intensity, so much of that is baked
into the writing… Into Damien Chazelle’s writing. And he’s not afraid to embellish in a certain way to
kind of enhance that. Just enough to I think, give you the ideas that you need. You can… I mean, when I
read the script, I could picture the cutting in my head.
So that’s an example of a script where I thought it was so perfect. I mean, I got different drafts and he
would change things, but I didn’t really have much to say about that one. What’s really funny though, is
that the script… I mean, the order of scenes and things change quite a bit, once we got into the cutting
room… So it’s not like the script was the final draft or the final order on everything. Once we got the
footage and once we got into the cutting room. Once I was with Damien, then I did have opinions and I
had things to say. And it’s almost like it was better. I was more comfortable and in a better place to react
once I had it in the building blocks and the form that I could work with.
I mean, I thought the script and I’ve said this before, no pun intended. And I thought the script was tight
as a drum. Like I didn’t need to do anything to it. So I didn’t really comment on that one. I mean, on
other projects, I can remember if something doesn’t make sense, like on the bond project and No time
to die. If that was a script that was written at… A lot of it was written and continued to be written as
they were shooting. And a lot of that had to do with the change in directors. Danny Boyle was going to
direct it until he dropped out and Cary Fukunaga came on. And it went through a lot of different phases,
creatively, script wise.
And so, there were often questions about that. That I, and my brilliant co-editor Elliot Graham, like we
would bring up these questions to the director and often we bring them up if there was a curve. We had
a really good relationship with the producers and we could all communicate about what made sense and
what didn’t make sense or… So that was something where we could chime in and actually we were
expected to chime in, which was great.
There are other situations like when I worked on Joy with Teva Russell. The script was extremely
ambitious and had brilliant things in it, but it was also very, very big. And I think we all knew that it
would really go through immense changes in the editing room and part of why we knew that it was
because, I was working with three editors who had worked with David before. I had never worked with
David. So Jay cast and Alan Baumgarten Chris Tellefsen, they… J especially could tell me, what this is
going to change. So we ha… When I asked like, how’s the script and he was like, well, in a sense, there
isn’t one, because it’s going to be rewritten heavily.
So that’s an example of where there might’ve been things to comment on in the script, but it was…
That’s one where I kind of, I would listen a little bit of wait and see mode. Let’s… Like, I love the stuff I’m
seeing. It’s brilliant. I don’t know how it’s going to flow, but what I’m getting from these other editors
who’ve worked with them before that this is part of the process and that we’re going to revisit this and
discover this in the cutting room. And what’s really funny too is, initially when I was approached to work
on Joy, this was shortly after Whiplash came out. When I was approached to do that, I was beside myself
because I’m such a fan of David’s movies. And I was just so excited to do it.
And I was called up a friend, an older friend. I said, Hey, it looks like I’m going to work on David O
Russell’s next picture. And he was like, and I’m really excited. And he was like, great, how’s the script?
And I was like, I have no idea. I haven’t seen it yet. But that’s one of those things where it’s like, normally
the script is so important to what we do and it is, but that was something where it’s just a dream to
work with that filmmaker and everything else will follow. So that’s my roundabout rambling way of
talking about my input on script.
Yeah, no, I like it. Some editors don’t even get to read it until it’s about to be shot. So you’re there,
they’re shooting, you’re getting dailies. Do you have a technique? Do you have a way of doing it?
It differs and it evolves. I found that it evolves with every project. I learned stuff from every project. So
early on, I really would kind of replicate… Try to replicate what some of my mentors had done. Tim
Squires an editor I worked with early on and John Axelrad. I would just try to follow a lot of the steps
that they take. And with each of my projects I kind of make it my own because the challenges are
different than the challenges they had and the challenges that I saw that they had.
So, I mean, basically what I tend to do is I like to have… I cut an avid and I like to have everything as
visual as possible. So I’m not really a text person. I know some editors I’ve worked with in the past really
are deeply into text and descriptions. I’m a frame view guy. I like to see everything arranged in the little
tiles and the setups in a certain way. And basically, I… When I open up a bin that my assistants have
arranged, I’ll look at the last take of every setup just to kind of get a feel for what the parameters of the
coverage are. And then I’ll go back.
Once I do that, once I get a feel for where everything goes, what are the angles, how deep is the
coverage, then I’ll go back to the beginning and starting with, take one for setup, I’ll watch everything.
So I’m one of those guys that doesn’t really dig into cutting until I watch everything. Who knows maybe
that may, with the next movie, maybe I’ll be buried and that’ll change. But that’s what I’ve been doing
now for the past several movies. And I like to kind of make select roles. And so I will, if it’s a simple
dialogue scene, I will start kind of either dropping local caters on little things. I like, or in the case of First
Man, I kind of developed a different way for myself to work. Because that had… First Man had a lot of
cinema verite and improv footage, almost like documentary type footage. So every take was often
different. So that was much harder.
So for example, my simple idea of like, Oh! Let me look at the last take of every set up to see where it
goes. That often didn’t work because every take was different. So, and by the way, that’s the way it was
kind of on David O Russell’s picture as well. Like you’d only get a partial idea of where things would go
because they would… The camera would do any number of things-
In each take, lot of takes within takes. That’s the same with First Man. So in the case of something like
First Man, I mean, I’ll… My assistants always will build all the footage. I have all the tiles, but they’ll also
build little camera rolls or daily rolls. That… A little sequence I’ll have at the bottom of the bin. And so in
that case, I’ll take the camera and I’ll duplicate it and then I’ll just start watching it, like from start to
finish. So I’ve got all the footage and I’ll start dropping locators that represent, in points and out points.
And then I’ll go through the footage that way.
And depending on the footage, if it’s not dialogue, if it’s visual, I can even double speed, double time,
depending on what it is. And I can still drop my end points and out points. And I try to be exact when I’m
doing my end points and outpoints, because I figured now is the time to really… I can save myself in the
decision-making later if I do it now. And so I’ve got like a keyboard Maestro macro that will go through
and kind of use my end points of my own outpoints and cut up the daily roll to just a little select role.
And then if it’s a massive… Like on First Man, if it would be this massive select role, I’ll hand it over to
one of my assistants who will then I’ll asK to put it into script order. So that’s a whole other big task. And
one that I’m lucky I can do.
I have people to hand it over to. Because in that movie I had a big enough crew. But put in script order
and then they’ll hand it back. And depending on the scene, sometimes it’s almost like based on my cuts.
The screen almost begins to cut itself-
because all the pieces are now together. And then I start just going through it.
But my process in general, whether it’s a dialogue scene or verite footage is to really just sketch it out
quickly. And if I can sometimes just work silently, because I can cut faster without the… With the sound
turned down and I’m just try to get a shape for it, and I will… I think sometimes in a way that probably
scares some of my editing cohorts that I’ve worked with… I’ll leave this really rough thing. Like I’ll put it
on the shelf and I’ll move on to something else. And if they look at it or if I show it to them or something,
they’ll be like, Oh my God! This is so rough. And it’s like awful or whatever, but I’ll go back to it. And I
find that like, just by putting… Just getting away from it, move on to something else and then come
back. I feel like I’ve almost like softened up the footage a little bit and even just being away from it for a
couple hours or half a day.
I returned to being much more objective and then I can dive into it and start finessing it. So that’s a little
bit of my internal process in terms of showing when I get to showing the director, I really try never to
show them anything that is that rough. I always really try to polish it. Polish the dialogue. I like to do a
lot of that myself. If I have the time, if I don’t have the time I give it to my assistants, but I love to polish
dialogue, add in sound effects, hard effects. I love to put it in that stuff backgrounds and the music. So
that’s the stuff. So what I’m presenting is definitely something I think of as polished. But internally I
don’t have any qualms about roughing something together just to get an impression just to move on.
Yeah. So does it gets you to your pile of dailies, right? Like sometimes you can get hung up on something
and then you’re like, Oh! The day’s gone. And I have all these other scenes to attack.
Yeah, I’m very guilty of getting stuck in the weeds on something. And so I really try to remind myself just
to bang these things out and come back to it. That’s the same with alternate versions. I mean, if I have
ideas to do them, I’ll do them, but I really try to get through something fast. I mean, look, I’ll… On First
Man, I would tell my assistants, what do we have? Give me the oners to do, so as Martin Carver, my
great first assistant who I worked with on No time to die. I mean, he would just say, here’s another one
for you to top and tail, meaning cut off the head and tail of it, that’s it.
But then you feel I’ve done some, something it’s off the list I can get onto the next thing. Yeah.
And even though there’s not much cutting to do. What’s the big deal about that? I mean, I had to look at
the footage. I had to organize it. I had to really note where everything is and so I have accomplished
work. So that is a value. So I was trying to get, I try to like, especially if I’m getting buried in footage, I try
to do the easy stuff first just to get it off my plate. And so it also warms me up.
That’s a great technique. You mentioned your assistant. Is there anything specific, like how you like to
work with your assistant?
It’s almost like when you work with filmmakers and directors. I think you want to be really… You just
want to be really comfortable with your assistants. You know, I really, and maybe this comes from my
many years assisting and stuff like that, but I just love the… I love the camaraderie of the crew. I love
having… I love working with a crew and I’ve been lucky to work with fantastic people.
My first assistant John Tau is someone who I’ve been with since before Whiplash. He started with me on
this movie any day now. And as we’ve gone on and Damien Chazelle’s movies, Damian’s become
comfortable with them too. And like some, a lot. And we do.
We give them a lot of creative work to do. So like John would… I’d like to give my assistant scenes to cut.
And I was lucky to work for some editors who would do the same with me. But part of it is that it’s kind
of win-win because, I need the help. That’s a big part of it is that. Like, wow! I’m getting buried on
perfect cases. First Man, I’m getting buried in footage. I need the help. So I’ll give John. John take these
scenes. Take a stab at these. So I like to work creatively that way. But even when I’m not doing that in
general, I mean, I like to… I trust them. And so, like on No time to die. I was… These are my… These are
the first eyes and ears on stuff that I’m working on. So I would often tell my assistants to come in and
can you take a look at this? What do you think? They could look at the somewhat objectively.
That’s how I like to work. And of course, a lot of editors like to do that too. And I think that’s a benefit of
working with great people, is that you can get these other point of views and you can… They can see
something that I’m missing. And just… I like to not only have people to bounce ideas off, but I like having
people that I like to have lunch with too.
So that’s a bonus, yes?
That’s that’s huge for me. I mean, I’m… I remember talking with one editor about a certain no-nonsense
or like, nothing bad, a good editor. But the comment was like, Oh yeah, so-and-so yeah. He… He’s a
great editor, but he’s not there to make friend meaning he’s all business, he’s there to cut. There’s
nothing wrong with that at all. Because that’s the job and that’s what we do. But in a way, I am there, I
am there to make friends because I consider my crew, we become like a family. And it sounds like a
It’s true though.
But it is true. And those are… So that’s my goal is to work with people that I will consider a family. So I
don’t… If I can help it, I don’t like to have drama. I don’t like to have… It’s not what I’m looking for. It’s
not in my… I just think,… Don’t think it’s in my personality. I like to spend time with crew people that I
want to spend time with.
Speaking of spending lots of time with people, you and Damien have worked together a lot. So how did
that relationship get started? Like you… Did the short film of Whiplash. Is that when you first connected
Yeah. Well, my relationship with Damien really kind of sprung out of the seeds that were planted during
my assistant editor years. When I was assistant editor I met and worked with this producer named
Cooper Samuelson and we kept in touch. He remembered me and I also reminded him of myself
because every time I had a little project or if I cut an indie film I would email him and he was on my list.
“Hey, I worked on this movie. I want to invite you to the screening.” He was always very supportive, had
words of support.
But he didn’t call me for a lot of jobs that much but there was one thing he did call me for and it was the
Whiplash short, which at the time we didn’t think of it as a short film. He called me and said, “Hey, I’ve
got this little,” it was almost like a sizzle reel that he needed cut. And we’re doing this sizzle reel so that
we can get financing for this feature film and it’s a great script and all this stuff. So I said, “Wow, yeah, I’d
love to do this. It sounds great. Send me the script.” And he sent me the script, which I mentioned
before, was one of the best thing I’d ever read and I said, “Wow, I would love to do this. It just feels like
this would be a great project to do.” And it was weird. It was a story about a jazz musician but somehow
it felt all intense. It felt very subjective and I could, in that way, when I read the script I’m like oh in the
right hands this could be very cinematic.
And so I did some research on the director and the director had done one film, an Indie film called Guy
in Madeline on a Park Bench. A black and white, 60 millimeter cinema verite musical that the director
made as his thesis film and he cut it himself and I watched this film and I was just like this is so brilliant.
This is so beautiful. And it was very exciting. It was nothing like Whiplash but it was so beautifully cut, so
beautifully executed. It was poetic, it was lyrical, it was musical, it was great. So I was into it. And then
Damien is a fan of James Gray’s films and I had worked as an assistant editor/additional editor on two
movies for James Gray, We Own the Night and Two Lovers. So I had some credentials that Damien was
interested in and we reached out to each other and we met up and had coffee and we started talking
movies and editing and we found that we had a lot in common in terms of what we really loved from
Hitchcock, Scorsese, Fincher, things like that. And we really hit it off.
And so we decided let’s do this sizzle reel together and the sizzle reel kind of evolved into this short film.
I mean it was really always a short in that it had a beginning, middle and end. It kind of functioned as
this self contained thing and then very quickly the short won an award at Sundance and the financing
came through and then the idea all along was that whoever worked on the short film would be able to
work on the feature. And once the financier came in, they had their own ideas about who they wanted
to work on the movie and I was not part of those ideas. And so Damien wanted me to do it and luckily
Cooper and [inaudible 00:29:46], one of the other producers, they fought for me.
I was only allowed to cut it after Cooper came up with this plan where he said, “Look, if it doesn’t work
out with Tom, we’ve got this other, more experienced editor waiting in the wings.”
Yeah. And it was a friend of mine, someone I had assisted before so he was doing me a favor by lending
his name. But it didn’t end up coming down to that. That wasn’t needed. So in that way I was very lucky
but there’s been a couple movies where I hadn’t done a movie, Whiplash is a small movie, but I hadn’t
done a $3 million movie before on my own so I was not the first choice to do it. And similarly, La La Land,
that was, at the time, a $20 million, I think it ended up being a $30 million movie. But I hadn’t cut a
movie of that size before. So initially, I think I was very vulnerable in terms of getting picked to do it and
I think the deal was only sealed because I think Damien, I think he insisted by that point. I can’t
remember if he had editor approval. He may have at that point, I’m not sure. But then all the success
from Whiplash helped that. But it’s been more precarious than it would seem sometimes.
Well yeah you have that relationship with the director but then yeah, the director doesn’t always have
the control to pick who they get to work with. But clearly your relationship is strong enough that he’s
able to fight for you or get the right people to fight for you so that’s a great thing to have.
And certainly at this point now, he exerts a lot of creative control over his productions now. But
Whiplash, he did not have the final stand in that at all. So I was very lucky.
It turned out really good for you in the end.
Very, very lucky.
Well, let’s jump into, maybe, a Whiplash clip and then we can talk a little bit more about Whiplash.
So, Whiplash is an intense film. Are you a drummer?
I’m not a drummer. I used to play piano and violin when I was a kid but I am definitely not a, don’t
consider myself a musician. I probably would have a hard time to read sheet music now to save my life.
So I’m not a musician. Damien Chazelle was a drummer, competitive jazz drummer, and so he is a
musician. In terms of cotting Whiplash, I always saw it as it’s so much about music but I always really
saw it more about just emotion and I saw it transcending just being a technical music movie. All that
being said, it was important to Damien that it really feel authentic, that it really speak to the musicians
in the world who were interested in jazz music and would appreciate this.
So it was very important to him that the drumming look realistic. Miles Teller is not a jazz drummer. I
think he had done some rock drumming in his time but they had to tutor him and train him, which they
did before and during the shoot. So all the big numbers, the big musical numbers, they had a
pre-recorded track with professional musicians playing on a pre-recorded track. But it was Miles, for the
most part, doing the drumming visually, pantomiming. There’s only a handful of shots here and there
where we might use an insert shot or a double. And I think there’s a couple of shots where it’s actually
Damien’s hands drumming. But most of it is Miles Teller doing it.
It’s another way that I think Damien wanted to make it feel realistic and make it really feel like this world
that these characters are living in. One way of doing that was to show all these little details and so he
used inter photography to really put the viewer in that place, really revel in these closeups of musical
instruments and part drum keys, tightening snare drums and things like that. So number one that helps
create the texture of this world that these characters are living and breathing. But at the same time, he
knew that we would use these pieces, these insert shots, these closeups, we would use those for stylistic
purpose, we’d use them for rhythm, we’d use them for transitions. We would use them to help the
So in a way, how do you make something exciting where characters are just sitting in chairs? They’re not
even rock musicians running around a stage. Literally they have to stay put. One way Damien figured out
was through these little details and he came up with the most amazing coverage of that stuff. Because
Damien always wanted to have the movie feel like a war movie. He wanted it to be intense like the
stakes are life and death and so it was like how do you do that? This is kind of, the way he shot it and the
way he wanted it put together is kind of an execution of that idea.
Did you guys sit together in the edit suite a lot to make sure that the drumming was right and to get that
back and forth or were you still able to do a lot of it? What was your working style?
So Damien’s style in general is he loves the editing process so once he’s done shooting, he’s always
there. We’re locked together in this editing room for hours and hours and hours. And Whiplash, we had
a very accelerated schedule. They started shooting the movie early September, like September 3 I
remember is when they started shooting. We had to send a cut to Sundance in the first week of
November and we had to lock picture or we locked picture for Sundance December 6. So started
shooting September 3, locked December 6 and then played in Sundance in January.
Yeah that’s tight.
It was very fast. So we were in the cutting room not 24 hours a day but close to that. 20 hours a day. We
did these all night sessions and it was very intense but he’s a great collaborator. And even within being
together and even with him being a perfectionist and his brilliance touches all of our work and when I
say all of our work I mean Justin Hurwitz, the composer, me, [inaudible 00:41:48] the photographer, et
cetera, et cetera, everyone. He’s a great collaborator. So when it came to my input and my suggestions,
that’s why he wants me there. That’s what I’m there for. And so he has very clear ideas what he wants
but he wants a creative partner to be the sounding board or to tell him when something’s not working
and how do we make it work? And so the section we looked at, those are some of the scenes that
comprised the short film, that are the short film. So we worked out a lot of the stylistic things and the
way we wanted to establish the tension in the short film. And we got that to a place where both of us
were really, really happy with it.
And so when it came time to do the feature, Damien, who is always very well prepared going into these
things, he had drawn himself these crude story boards for the entire movie and he even had created
these crude animatics for the musical scenes and he would draw these stick figures and he would shoot
them with his phone and he would throw them into iMovie or Final Cut or whatever and he’d put them
together in this way and it was great. But for that section we just watched, he said, for this section, his
instruction to me, was let’s just rip off the short, just follow the short exactly. And so when I put
together this scene, the rushing and dragging, all of that stuff, I just said, “That’s great. All we have to do
is just copy ourselves.” So I just literally cut it exactly like that. And what we found is when we watched
the first cut when Damien was done shooting, that was the section that was the biggest problem. It
didn’t work at all. It did not work at all. And we spent more time working on that section you just saw
and the surrounding scenes than on the end of the movie. It was much harder.
And a big problem with it was that it just did not cut. It didn’t cut the same way. This sounds kind of
obviously now in retrospect but our editing concepts were based on other footage. It was based on the
footage from the short, which was different. Even though he tried to replicate the shots and you have
different performances, even the actor who played Andrew in the short film, it’s a different actor, it’s
Johnny Simmons who is brilliant in his own way in the short, but it’s different for Miles Teller who’s in
So what we found was that we had to cut it, a lot of it, cut it very differently to make the tension, to
make the character of Fletcher scary because in our first cut of it it just seemed sort of mechanical. It
didn’t seem very intrinsic. Fletcher didn’t seem very scary, Miles Teller played it differently than Johnny
Simmons. They both played it brilliantly but in different ways and so I had to cut it differently. If you look
at the short film, when he’s slapping Andrew, that’s cut very differently than the way it’s cut in the
feature. So we had to almost just use the short as a starting point and toss out our preconceived notions
and just approach it on it’s own merits.
I always think of it as us using every trick in the book just to get that emotion out because there are a lot
of stolen moments, there’s little moments, both visually and a lot of audio that’s stolen from the short
film. We took different pieces of JK Simmons’s performance when he’s berating Andrew, we took some
of those audio pieces from the short film because we liked that performance better. There’s a like that
JK said almost by accident. He flubbed it in the short. He was supposed to say, “I’m going to gut you like
a pig,” or something like that and then he accidentally said, “I’m going to fuck you like a pig.” That was
more vulgar and intense and scary and so we used that in the short and JK didn’t do the take for the
feature but then Damien liked the audio so we took it from the short.
And there’s close up insert shots of instruments. I’m not sure if they were in this scene but in the
surrounding scenes there’s close ups of insert shots of tightening drum keys and things like that in the
short film. There’s a lot of split screens that we ended up using to combine performance pieces so when
JK is berating Andrew and Andrew starts crying and he says, “Is that a tear?” There was only one take of
a tear going down and it didn’t happen at the moment we wanted so we did a split screen and timed
different takes. Actually JK and Andrew. And then we recycled it. The tear is we used one tear for raking
and it comes down and then at the very end when you have a two shot and JK is berating him and you
see another tear go down, that’s the same tear.
Every trick in the book, whatever it takes to get the emotion out of it. So that section, the scene you
played, was very hard. The other thing I’ll mention about it, and this really speaks to Damien’s, I think,
his brilliance as a story teller is that the section, the rushing and dragging section appears the way
Damien really designed it and that is that he wanted it to play as a back and forth where the coverage
and the pieces don’t really change that much. There’s other places in the story where you need an
abundance of coverage, you need different pieces and angles and that’s what helps make it exciting and
that’s what helps make it, in some cases, feel overwhelming and feel like abundance. Whereas in a scene
like this, the rushing and dragging, the whole point is to feel uncomfortable. And so he insisted that we
cut it in a very simple back and forth way and really stick to the same angles. We’re really cutting just
back end shot, counter shot. And the angles, the sizes don’t change really, JK starts moving in closer, he
walks closer as he approaches he gets closer and closer. But the camera angles aren’t really changing.
And that’s really a Damien strategy where he knew that if you don’t vary up the coverage, the audience
is going to start feeling more and more uncomfortable. You’re really going to start holding your breath
and you’re like when is this going to end? And as a viewer, you’re waiting for that angle change and
normally, when we cut stuff as editors, that’s part of our repertoire, we know to keep people interested
and invested, we need to place emphasis. We need to change the size, we have to change it up because
otherwise it gets boring. Well this is part of Damien’s point is it needs to be uncomfortable. So that’s
something that I learned by doing this with Damien. I never really thought of it that way but when there
are times where there’s power in redundancy, if that makes sense.
Totally. I don’t really like Fletcher at all.
Terrible. Do you want to touch a little bit on what it was like riding the wave of Whiplash? It made it to
Sundance and then you made it to the Oscars.
That was all, just to do the movie, like I said before, just to get a script like that and to be able to cut the
movie, that was already a win for me as an editor. I had been an assistant editor for many years kicking
around in different genres. I worked in reality, episodic TV, commercials, fashion videos, industrial
documentary, et cetera, et cetera. And so by the time I really decided I wanted to just cut full time, I was
just chomping at the bit to cut anything. And like many editors, at some point you reach the end of your
rope and you say I’m so desperate to cut I’ll cut anything. And I was at that place and I said yes to a lot of
different things. I went on interviews for jobs that had less than stellar scripts, had a lot of problems and
most of these things are jobs that I didn’t get. But I would have shown up to do them. That’s something I
always remind myself is that I have to be … I was at a point where I was so desperate to cut that I was
not picky. But when this came along, I knew enough to know that this was a fantastic opportunity, I just
didn’t know how fantastic it was going to be. I just knew it was a great story and had a lot of potential.
And so like I said before too, I was very lucky that I was not superseded or replaced along the way. There
were a couple points where I could have been pushed out and even when the movie went to Sundance
and was a big hit, Sony Classics bought the movie, I was just crossing my fingers that they would not
have studio changes that they would want to execute. And Sony Classics, I don’t think they do that so
much but other studios when they buy a movie, they buy an Indie, often they have things they want to
do to it. And I’ve been on movies that that’s happened with, movies where I was an assistant. And so I
was kind of waiting for that shoe to drop. And I’m convinced that the movie was so modest and small,
I’m convinced that it just went under the radar and people just loved it on it’s own merits and didn’t feel
the need to tinker with it. So I dodged bullets a couple times there.
And being a movie lover and having grown up as a kid watching, with my parents watching
Watching the Academy Awards on TV, that was part of this almost mythic Hollywood existence that I
could only dream of. Getting all those awards is a dream come true. I think the best thing that has
happened out of all of that is that because of the work, I get to meet and be connected with other
editors. I got to meet editors who I idolize, and it’s because they know the work, they’re familiar with
the work. So in terms of the awards and all that stuff, I don’t take any of that lightly and it literally has
been life-changing for me. If all that stuff with Whiplash didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have cut James Bond,
which was another lifelong dream to do.
So all that stuff, I’m just very grateful for. And again, the best part is it’s allowed me to connect to other
editors and especially editors whose work I admire. I’m an editor buff so I am always… If I learn that Joe
Hutshing is somewhere and I want to go say hi to Joe Hutshing, or I want to go… At the last ACE Eddies I
went to, I’d never met this editor, Frank Urioste who cut Die Hard and Basic Instinct and RoboCop. I
idolized his work so I’m like, “I got to go meet Frank Urioste.” And what’s great is I could meet him and
say, hey and it could come out that I worked on La La Land or Whiplash and he knows the work. And so I
think as a total movie geek editor buff, I think that’s probably the biggest plus that’s come out of all of
That’s awesome. Speaking of La La Land, we have a clip. It’s the opening of the movie. Did you want to
intro it at all or have anything to say before we watch it?
I’ll mention the beginning of La La Land changed quite a bit from what it originally was, the way it was
originally shot, and the way it was originally conceived. But what I will say about this section is that it’s
supposed to be one unbroken take and it’s made up of, I forget whether it’s three or four interlocking
pieces, I have to watch it and remember. So it’s made up of these interlocking pieces that have these
specific join points, a la Birdman, a la 1917, a la Hitchcock’s Rope, that are supposed to make it seem like
one unbroken take. What I will say is that as originally conceived, the piece that we end up with, the last
piece used to be the first piece. That’s how it was conceived. And so what you see now in the movie, we
moved things around and it’s executed differently. And we did that for a bunch of reasons, which I can
talk about after, but I’ll set the table by saying that.
Tell us about cutting that scene.
Well, so the original idea that Damien had for the beginning of the movie was it was always going to
start with a vintage logo that would segue into like a cinema scope logo, 20th century Fox, 1950s cinema
scope, widescreen logo. And then it was supposed to go to a main title sequence, which was just going
to be basically old fashioned title cards, beautifully done, but done in the style of an old Hollywood
movie. And it was going to have as a backdrop, a palm tree, and the background colors were going to go
from day to night. It was going to go through this whole cycle of colors and no image, other than that.
And then the palm tree, it was going to segue to the final card directed by Damien Chazelle. It was going
to have this palm tree over this blue sky.
And then the title would come up that would say winter. And then it would pan down to this wide shot
we have where you see that all the traffic on the freeway going off into infinity toward downtown Los
Angeles. So the idea was this main title sequence was going to serve as an old fashioned overture in the
way that if you ever watch any of these old roadshow musicals, like West Side Story. And I think
Tarantino replicated that for Hateful Eight, where you basically have music play, you might have a still
image and then we would have titles changing over it. But he wanted to musically go through all the
different melodies that you would hear later on in the movie. And so in that way, it would serve as an
Then we were going to go to the traffic number. But the difference is, as I mentioned, we changed the
order of some of the events. The way it originally was shot and intended was that we were going to start
on this wide shot, where you were looking down on the traffic and the freeway goes off to infinity and
the joke was that it would say winter, and this is winter in Los Angeles. It basically doesn’t look like
winter at all. There’s no snow. It’s just the sun beating down. And the camera was going to move down
and discover Ryan Gosling, playing, monkeying around the tape deck. Then the camera was going to go
to Emma Stone and she was going to be reading her sides in her car and then the camera from there.
So basically the original idea was to introduce Ryan and Emma first. Then the camera was going to pan
from Emma, rotate 180 degrees and start panning past these cars where all these people are singing
different songs or humming different pieces of music to the different car radios and that’s… There was
going to be a stitch there. So that’s the shot that the number begins on now, but it was going to be
preceded by… And so the reason we had a problem with it is because the way it was in its original
configuration, we meet Emma and Ryan. Then we pan away from them. Then we go to this musical
number where people are humming in their own cars. And then a woman gets out of her car and starts
the whole number. We go to this whole number and it was supposed to end with people closing their
At that point, there was no title card there because the title had happened already in the title sequence.
So they would slam the doors. Then you’d start hearing honking. And then we would cut for the first
time. And we’d cut to Emma in her car being honked at by Ryan. Then we’d go back to Ryan. So when we
did it originally, it always seemed a little weird that we met our main movie stars and then we went
away from them because Emma and Ryan were not part of the musical number. And then when we
would go back to them and something always felt a little strange about that. It didn’t sit well. And so
while we were cutting… We actually for several months, we lived with the movie, a version of the movie
without the traffic scene. We cut that musical section out. So the movie would start with the main title
sequence. And then I think it just went to Emma and Ryan honking at each other or something like that.
Yeah. And that’s it, no musical number.
And then we went on with the movie and we even previewed that version for an audience once. And
that version didn’t work at all. It was completely weird. We thought we were solving a problem because
the traffic thing was so weird, but what became really bad is that in that version, we didn’t have the
musical number. The first musical number where people break into song is with the roommates, with
Emma’s roommates later on. And that’s like 15… Yeah. It’s a while away, like 15 minutes into the movie.
And when they start singing, it’s weird because it’s like, “Wait a minute. Is this movie we’re watching?.
Oh, okay. What’s going on?” Yeah.
So it really reminded us that we needed to create a roadmap for the audience to understand that they
were going to be in this musical. So we were scratching our heads and went back to the drawing board
and we’re like, “Okay, well, what do we do? How do we fix this?” And also by the way, when we had the
main title sequence, which we thought was very important to establish a tone and sound and music and
the traffic sequence, the movie was way too long. It’s already a very hefty movie because you have the
whole story and then you have an epilogue at the end of the story. So it was just way too long. So we
had these problems on our hands.
And so somewhere along the way, we came up with this solution where we got rid of the main title
sequence, dropped that. And we started with the traffic number and we figured… And we had to take, it
was a risk. We took a leap of faith that visual effects could make the stitch, make this join between these
two shots because basically when the people slam the doors, when they close the doors at the end of
the sequence where the title La La Land comes up, when they close the doors, there’s a visual effects
transition that transitions to the first opening shot, which by the way, was shot on different days and
actually has different cars in them. So they were able to do… It’s still a little bit of magic to me.
When Damien and I did it in the cutting room, we just put like a dissolve, which totally did not work. You
could see the dissolve. Cars are different. Where the scene ended up on that shot and where that shot
started, if that makes sense, the end of the last piece, the beginning of the first piece, the composition is
pretty much the same. But again, they were shot on different days and there are different cars there. It’s
not exact, it’s not identical. So we just put a dissolve to do the transition. And we tried to come up with
like, “Do we do a trick where when the title La La Land comes up, that’s where you do your transition?”
But that didn’t work either.
So we left it to our visual effects company to work on. And I think they ended up doing basically a CG
takeover of some sorts where they just held and did a CG takeover of this traffic. And if you really
examine it, when the camera comes around behind Ryan, when you’re close, you can see when the
camera, if you look for it, there are cars in front of him. When the camera comes down and then the
camera’s in the cars in front of Ryan disappear for a moment. When the camera moves to a point where
they come back in they’re different cars.
I’ll rewatch it.
If you really scrutinize it, you’ll see. Anyway, they made that work. I think what is always a great lesson
for me from working on that scene is to think outside of the box for solutions. I think for the longest
time we kept telling ourselves, “Well, this is designed to be a one or all this stuff stitches together in a
very specific way. There’s no way you can change it. You can’t get out of it. You’re stuck. We don’t have
any coverage. You don’t want to cut. Even if we did, it’d be weird to cut to. We don’t have any.” But it’s
just a reminder to think outside of the box. And we somehow came up with this idea. Well maybe if we
move the first piece to the end and somehow make this transition work, stitch it together, we can
actually make this make sense.
And so what we ended up with was something that I think we found worked for the story, which was set
up the world. We don’t know the characters yet. Set up wide. Set up the world like here’s LA, here are
people in cars, traffic. We don’t know who these people are, but it’s okay. They kind of become the
Greek chorus of the movie. And then when the musical number’s done punctuated by coming on with
the title saying, this is La La Land, and then the title disappears. Now we focus in on specific characters.
Now we meet Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone. That makes more sense. But it took some outside of the box
thinking for us to arrive at that.
Now, where are the three points that you cut?
They were basically the first, I think when the woman comes out of the car and she’s dressed in yellow.
We’ve just panned past all these cars, that’s all a single take. And when she gets to the car, she starts
singing. At some point we whip pan around and it’s really on these whips that usually the transitions
happen. So yeah, that’s an easy transition there. So it’s on one of those whips. And then there’s a couple
of whips later where that happens. And those are basically the standards.
I will say that there’s additional composite work within even those pieces. There were a couple points
where we wanted to, I think change the parkour guy into an [inaudible 01:09:54], is a different piece.
And then there’s a different piece when we were panning past the cars in the beginning of the
sequence, there was one extra in the background who fell asleep in his car because they shot this on
location. Obviously, hours and hours of shooting.
In the hot sun.
Yeah. If we want to change out a performance. So that’s a comp we comped in. So there’s a little point.
And then there’re speed changes all over to sync up the music more perfectly with the pre-recorded
music. And there’s also some moments where in the background, you see some dancers standing up on
the cars. There were a couple of dancers that were comped in later to add some symmetry that wasn’t
there on the scene on the day. It was intended, the way they shot it, was intended to be all pretty much
in camera, knowing that they’d have to clean up some of the crew trucks in the background, but
everything was as much as possible and tended to be in camera. But we did end up doing some
That’s a fun one. You saying in camera work brings me to First Man, because from my understanding
there wasn’t very much visual effects. A lot of it was in camera for the space stuff.
Yeah. A lot of in-camera for… That’s the way Damien wanted to do it. Yeah.
Yeah. I was surprised to hear that. That’s really cool. So I’m sure that there’s maybe challenges with that,
or maybe there wasn’t challenges with that. But we have one more, the last clip. Do you want to say
anything about the clip before we jump to that?
Only to say that with this movie, Damien really wanted to do something, he was hoping to do something
that people hadn’t seen in terms of space movies. And the classic space movies, there are so many giant
movies that loom really large in the Pantheon of sci-fi and space movies, the biggest one being 2001: A
Space Odyssey, which is shot in large format, is very much about the futuristic look. It’s very minimal. It’s
very clean. It’s almost antiseptic.
And so with First Man, he wanted to go away from what had been done so well before in 2001, in
Interstellar, in Gravity, he wanted really to make a movie that felt like the astronauts were filming it
themselves. He wanted something very gritty and very documentary like because he felt like… Very
machine age was his big thing because I think something he and Josh Singer, the screenwriter, learned
when they were doing the research was these space capsules are really more like tanks and more like
these machine age things, as opposed to these futuristic space age crafts. And so he wanted to highlight
the low-fi quality of what the astronauts had to deal with. And he figured a great complimentary way of
doing that would be to also go with this more low-fi cinematic approach.
Does that bring back memories of the edit suite?
It does. I had a lot of help working on that movie. I mentioned my first assistant John To, who did
additional editing on the movie. I also brought in a friend, Harry Yoon an editor, a friend to do some
additional cutting. And then my whole crew was just stellar. That was the hardest movie I ever worked
on. That was just to… The footage was amazing. The footage was beautiful. I remember every time my
assistants would be
Prepping the footage, they would call us in the room. And someone would call us in the room and say,
“Take a look at this,” and they point out some amazing stunt that was done in camera or something like
that. Like Neil Armstrong ejecting from this lunar landing training vehicle. And so it was very beautiful,
but there was so much of it. There was so much footage. And you can see by this scene, not only was
there a lot of footage, it’s done in this verite, very scrappy sort of style. So it’s very challenging to
organize and piece together. And there are, also, you can see by this clip, there’s an enormous amount
of insert photography too. There was tons of insert photography.
And when you’re doing something like First Man, you are also somewhat responsible for the technical
authenticity part of things. And that’s something that Damien was very sensitive to. And we were
constantly checking with experts. And this happened during the script phase, that happened during the
shooting, happened during the editing phase. And it happened after we were done with kind of rough
cuts of it. We really had to make sure we were doing [inaudible 01:19:22]. Are we being true to things
on a technical level? So the scene in the craft, that’s a scene again, Damien is very prepared when he
goes into shoot these things. And that’s a scene that he had previs for, but what we ended up with was
entirely different from what was visualized. Some of the essence is the same, where you end up. And
some of the building blocks like the shot of the craft mounted camera, where the earth seems toSarah
… be spinning around that, we knew that was going to be a building block. But where we use it and how
often we use it, that’s the sort of thing that organically would change when Damien and I were cutting
the scene. With Damien and all his movies, he doesn’t like to start at the beginning. When he comes in
after filming is wrapped, we don’t really start at the beginning. He likes to start at the end. So we start at
the last scene, and we start cutting that together. And part of it is that usually the last scene, I mean, the
way he looks at it often is that the last scene should be maybe the best scene of your movie, or basically
should be your best scene. And so it’s going to be a big one. And it was that way for Whiplash, it was
that way for La La Land, and it was that way for First Man in a lot of ways. And when I say the last scene,
with First Man it was really the entire Apollo 11 landing on the moon. And so the last section.
And so with Damien, we knew that if we got through the end of the movie, we would check a huge thing
off our list in terms of our to-do list. But we could also, if we got it to a place where we were happy with,
it would help inform how we kind of feather everything into that last section. But then also we could feel
good about accomplishing something.
That’s always the best.
That’s always a good thing, right? But in some ways, this section with Gemini 8 spinning, that whole
section was a monster. We knew that if that whole section, if that doesn’t work, then the movie’s not
going to work. So yes, Apollo 11 was obviously, we’re leading up to that. Everyone is going to see the
movie because of that. But Gemini 8 is the thing that in some ways people know the least about. And in
some ways it’s harrowing because it was a mission that almost turned into a disaster. And so anyways, it
was very daunting to work on.
But it was kind of breaking it up into, into several sections. So we had mission control, which was all this
verite footage of all these technicians and mission control. And that was all shot in this verite style. And
then there was the footage at home with Janet Armstrong played by Claire Foy with her sons, and all
these interactions that she has with this little squawk box that she’s trying to listen in on the mission.
And then there’s the mission itself in the Gemini 8 capsule. And so again, I feel lucky as an editor
because with Damien I got to go on these very different journeys. I got to cut Whiplash, which has a
certain sort of editorial style. La La Land is also a very different style in a lot of ways, one with a lot of
long takes and montages and stuff like that, but it’s much more lyrical and slow. And then this movie,
which is very scrappy. I mean, I think he liked to do things rhythmically. You can see it when they’re
getting into the space capsule, not in this clip, but before when they’re getting in the space capsule and
their getting buckled in. There are a lot of pieces that Damien wanted to use that we tried to cut in a
way that would create a certain sort of rhythm with these buckles and doors closing.
But it’s not the same rhythmic precision that you have with Whiplash. With whiplash, he wanted cuts to
be kind of, as he put it, done at right angles. To be very, almost mathematical. But this, it’s much more of
a scrappy sort of feel. And you can see it more in the mission control scenes, and also the press
conferences that happened later on where he wanted it to really feel like a 1960s or 70s cinema verite
movie, like by the Maysles or by D.A. Pennebaker. He wanted it to feel very documentary in theory,
jagged in a way, if that makes sense.
Totally. A lot of people are commenting on the sound cues, the audio cues you used for the space
spinning. And did that stuff happen with you in the suite?
Yes. Well, and that happened very transparently with Ai-Ling Lee, our sound designer. She started early
on in the process. During the process when I was in dailies, she would kind of start creating a whole
library that I could use of sound design and sound effects. So space launches, things like that. So she
would build us a library. And sometimes along the way we would request things. I remember my friend
Harry Yoon did a first cut of the multi-access trainer, where the astronauts are strapped into this
gyroscope thing and they spin it around. Well, he did an early cut of that and a first cut of it. And he had
Ai-Ling, to give to Ai-Ling to sort of fill it out with some sound.
And so once Damien came in, and we started working with Damien, we already had a lot of this temp
sound figured out. And then it was further embellished when I worked with Damien. So we added
things. We added animal sounds. So in Gemini 8 spinning, there’s a lot of animal sounds in there that
Damien and I laid in and we started working with. And then Ai-Ling embellished those, and then she
added her own, things like that. So that’s one that it was meant to be very overwhelming and very
And if you see the section where they’re in the capsule, for example, when they’re being buckled into
the capsule, and we just see Ryan Gosling’s eyes, so much of that is just sound. Because pictorially, at
some point you’re just seeing a bunch of eyes, and maybe you’re seeing a POV of some gauges, but
there’s not much. It’s very minimal pictorially. We really lean on Ai-Ling’s sound to kind of tell the story
with all the creeks and stuff. And so in terms of cutting, very different from La La Land, very different
from Whiplash. We had to cut it in a way where we were kind of, picture wise, it would get very spare,
but we would leave room for Ai-Ling’s sound. And we would put sounds in ourselves or get sounds from
her to do it while we were picture cutting. But then we’d hand it over to her and she would embellish,
and then she’d hand it back and we would embellish again. So we had a little sort of back and forth with
One other question I was wondering, since Ryan Gosling was in two, in La La Land, and then in First Men,
was that a benefit that you’d already seen how he works, and did that help you in editing First Man? Or
was it just so different that it didn’t really matter?
I mean, a little bit of both. First of all, he doesn’t really have any things, bits or ticks, or anything. So he’s
such a talented… He’s a movie star who’s a great actor. He’s both.
He holds the screen like a movie star, but then he is a great actor. And so the performances are just
stellar. So they are obviously very different. But I think the thing that was nice about it being Ryan and
having that history is that I like to think that he trusted us in terms of the work we were doing. So Ryan
came in, he came in on La La Land to give his opinion on some things. And he definitely did that on First
And contrary to what might be the stereotype or the cliche about actors wanting you to show them
more, Ryan was the opposite in a lot of ways. Often he would say, “You know what? I think we’re on my
face for too long here, and we’re not getting anything.” So he’d be the harshest critic in some ways like
that. But also there were many scenes where he would really have some ideas. We’d go through takes
with him. And he would say, “What about this take? Should we try this?: And a lot of times he would
help us take it to that next level. In the scene where Neil Armstrong is telling his boys that he might not
come back alive before he goes on Apollo 11, I mean, there are a lot of pieces that Ryan helped us kind
of mine and put in. So he was a great collaborator.
Oh, that’s awesome to hear. I want to ask you about how you got onto No Time To Die and what that
was like for probably young Tom Cross, who I’m assuming watched a lot of the James Bond films.
I grew up a total Bond geek. I mean, I saw, when I was a kid, it was Roger Moore in the movie theater. I
would see Sean Connery Bond movies on TV. I just loved it. So out of all the success and all the heat that
happened with Whiplash, I said to my agents, I’m like, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this. I
don’t have any instructions or requests other than if there’s any way you can get me on a James Bond
movie, I would love to.” I don’t have a soft spot. I mean, I grew up with the Star Wars movies and stuff,
and of course it’d be a dream to work on that, but I didn’t really have any overt sort of a bucket list
things in that way, but the franchise that I really had a soft spot for was Bond.
And so I said, “Get me on a Bond movie.” I didn’t know any sort of organic way that that was going to
happen. And so I think it really came about because they were looking for two editors. And Elliot
Graham, whose work I completely admire. He did brilliant work on the movie Milk and Steve Jobs,
amongst many other movies. He was already going to cut the movie for director Danny Boyle, when
Danny Boyle was going to direct it. And so I think they knew that they had him. And he had worked with
Cary Fukunaga before who ended up being chosen for the director.
But I think they had a very ambitious schedule. And I think they knew that they would need two people.
And so my name somehow got thrown into the hat. And they were considering Linus Sandgren, the
cinematographer of First Man, Damien’s collaborator, for No Time To Die. And so they set up a special
screening of First Man before it came out. They screened for Cary Fukunaga and Barbara Broccoli. And
they were looking at Linus’s work. And I think somewhere in there, they probably also thought about
me. And so I think that’s how it came about. And so I just obviously jumped at the chance to do this. It’s
kind not a lot of people get to do this, and I certainly am a fan. So it was amazing.
And did it meet your expectations working on it?
I mean, more than met my expectations. I had a lot of great things that satisfied the inner child. But it’s
great also do it, collaborate with another editor so I didn’t have to bear the whole weight of the movie,
neither did Elliot. I mean, the two of us could do it together. We’d show scenes to each other all the
time. We bounced off each other all the time. And we had an amazing crew. It was an all British crew
who were incredible. And my first assistant, Martin Corbett actually had worked on Quantum of Solace.
So it was actually his second Bond movie. And our visual effects editor, Billy Campbell had worked on a
couple of Bond movies before that too. So we had kind of had a veteran crew to a certain extent.
I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie on that movie, on No Time To Die. When we had to
go to Matera, Italy to film some of the opening sequences for No Time To Die, that was some of the
most fun I’ve ever had on a movie. We got to go to this beautiful place in Italy that I brought my family
along. And I got to edit action scenes with Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. So to see that car which I grew up
seeing in old movies, right? So it was cool.
Well I had more questions, but I feel like I should let people ask you questions too. So I’m going to open
it up to the audience.
Hey, Tom, I’m big fan of all the Damien Chazelle movies.
I had a question about editing styles, and whether editors have certain cutting styles, or do they just
serve the story at the end of the day?
That’s a great question. There’s a big part of me that thinks that editors should not have their own style.
By the way I’m saying this, and I don’t think it’s black and white. I don’t want to be completist about this.
But I usually think that editors aren’t supposed to have your own style, that the style and your cutting is
supposed to be informed by the project, and by the dailies, by the footage, by the performances you’re
getting. All that being said, I think if you look at people’s work, I think you do often see a style. And it
might be one that maybe the editors themselves are aware of. They might not be aware of it at all.
But I think there is an organic thing that just happens with people. I mean, we all approach editing and
working on movies, we all approach it with our own different experiences. I have a family, I have two
children. I have my own life experiences. Those are different from everyone else’s. And so every person
brings their own life and their own selves to the table. And that can’t help but be informed how you cut
it. And so I think there is probably an inherent thing, an inherent something within each person.
I know that when I was starting out, or when I was getting into being a film lover, I would watch movies
edited by Jerry Greenberg who edited The French Connection and Apocalypse Now. And he used to be
Brian De Palma’s editor. And his movies were filled with these amazing set pieces, these little almost
self-contained action sequences that would be cut in a certain way that I would look at these things and
start to recognize things that I thought were stylistic choices. And I don’t know if that was intentional. I
never really got to speak with him about that.
But I think there’s a way that you can look at others and say, “Oh, that’s kind of like this person.” I think
if you look at the work by Hank Corwin, I think he has this brilliant style, that his cutting is really
amazing. And he does apply it to most of the movies that he works on. But again, I think he would also
say that what he applies and what he does is informed by the footage. And so the reason, my first thing
out of the gate was I don’t think an editor should have a style is just that I think the most important
thing is to really follow what your film is and follow what the footage is.
So since Whiplash, I’ve done little work on little projects where some people have said, “Well, I want it
to be like Whiplash.” But if it’s shot differently, if the intent is different, then you have something that
might feel forced, or something you might not be able to accomplish. Because it is so dependent on how
it’s shot and what it really wants to be organically, if that makes sense.
First of all, I’d like to thank both of you for doing this. This is a very fascinating talk.
Thank you for listening.
I was just wondering if Tom, you could speak a little bit about what specific values or qualities that you
look for in assistant editors.
Okay. Sure. I look for people who ideally love what they do. I mean, I love editing. I love what I do. When
I show up with filmmakers, I go to work shot from a gun in the morning. And I want to work with people
who want to be there. I want to work with people who are passionate, who love movies. And I want to
work with people who want to spend time with me because invariably they’ll have to. And so like I said, I
like to have lunch with my crew. It gets very different when the directors come in, because then often
it’s just me and the director. With Damien, he loves getting to know the crew, but then when we’re
working together, it’s often just us. So it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or maybe not breakfast, but it’s
But when I’m in dailies, it’s just all about me and the crew. And so when I worked on First Man, every
day I would say to the crew, “Let’s go for a walk on the backlot.” And we’d go for a long walk, probably
too long, but we’d walk in the backlot of the studio, and look at all the standing sets and facades, and we
would just chat along the way. And I would get to know people. But I think it’s similar to probably, what
you want to project as an editor to filmmakers, you want to bring your passion to it. And you want to be
someone who people are going to want to spend time with.
So I think I look for that in the people that I hire for my crew, if that makes sense. And of course, above
all else, I assume that they are good at what they do. In other words, they know how to work with crew.
I like people who are good with people, who can work with crew, where there’s not any drama. But I
look for people who can kind of run the cutting room in a way, take care of all of that stuff. But definitely
personable. Personable and passionate.
Hey. I was curious if you could speak to your experience co-editing on the Bond film. I guess when you
mentioned a bit how you came onto the project, but did you meet with your co-editor a little bit
beforehand to see if you guys got on? Was the chemistry there necessary in terms of bringing you on
board? How did you guys work out differences in your opinions on edits, and how’d the process go?
It went really well. It went great. But I will say that when you work with editors, I think it’s all about
casting. I think editors have to be cast well, because not all editors are the same. People have different
personalities. And I think Elliot and I were cast very well. I think that a lot of times we found,
aesthetically, we were on the same side of the coin. I think sometimes where we differed was just
different approaches in terms of process. Like, “Hmm. I don’t think this scene works here, but maybe we
should wait for a screening before we really make the decision.” Whereas Elliot might say, “You know
what? I don’t think it works either. I think we should cut it out sooner than later,” or vice versa.
I mean, I think where we differed was more the process in some ways. But differed, not so much that we
couldn’t get along. We always came back to the same place. We always were very unified as a team. And
I think that’s an important thing. And I’ve done this on Greatest Showman, I did this on David O. Russel’s
Joy. To a certain extent, you have to kind of check your ego at the door. And it also requires a lot of
restraint and self-discipline in terms of not being too precious about your work. You have to be
passionate. That’s the biggest thing you bring to this in some ways. You got to be passionate about what
you’re doing. But at the same time a director, like on other movies, I’ve worked on David O. Russell,
worked with Michael Gracey on Greatest Showman and Cary on this.
I mean, a director might say, “Look, I want this other editor to take a crack at something,” and you have
to be okay with that, or not okay with it. But if you’re not okay with it, maybe that means then these are
the scenarios where you want to try to avoid them. But I always try to approach it still as a passionate
storyteller. But at the same time, I try not to be too precious about it. It’s very different because you
realize that you’re not the only one sort of steering this vehicle.
Two things that you need to have in your edit suite to keep you safe during your edit.
This will sound like a cop-out. But to do my work, I really need a scene picture wall cards. I’d like to have
scene cards on the wall that illustrate all the scenes in the movie. I need that because I tend to lose track
of what scene comes after what scene. It’s another way of, for me, to kind of look at the blueprint of the
movie. So that’s one. Everything else is either a must or disposable.
Maybe like a plant, a special plant or something.
Assistants have put plants in my room, and that’s been great. I always forget about it. I mean, I guess,
again, it’s another cop out. It sounds so boring, but I mean an electric desk. I mean, I stand and I sit, and
to be able to change that up and moving it up and down. It sounds so geeky. I feel like I should have
something a little more Zen.
No, I think that’s important. That’s good for your body. So yeah why not?
That’s a good thing. I mean, I guess, I don’t know. I guess I’ll leave it at that.
That’s great. Well Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us.
Thank you so much. I love doing this. And thank you to all the Canadian cinema editors. Thank you.
Awesome. Okay, bye everybody.
Thank you so much for joining us today, and a big thank you goes to Tom for taking the time to sit with
us. Special thanks goes to Jane MacRae and Jenni McCormick. The main title sound design was created
by Jane Tattersall, additional ADR recording by Andrea Rusch. Original music provided by Chad Blain.
This episode was mixed and mastered by Tony Bao.
The CCE has been supporting Indspire – an organization that provides funding and scholarships to
Indigenous post secondary students. We have a permanent portal on our website at cceditors.ca or you
can donate directly at indspire.ca . The CCE is taking steps to build a more equitable ecosystem within
our industry and we encourage our members to participate in any way they can.
If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and tell your friends to tune
in. ?Til next time I’m your host Sarah Taylor.
The CCE is a non-profit organization with the goal of bettering the art and science of picture editing. If
you wish to become a CCE member please visit our website www.cceditors.ca. Join our great community
of Canadian editors for more related info.
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