Be a part of a unique online community that connects post production professionals and film academics worldwide.
You'll have access to personalize your news feed, access to Live Post Talks and much more. Contribute to the community by posting interesting post production content.
Gordon sits down with Eddie Hamilton to discuss the editing process of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. If you haven't seen the film yet, go watch it and then listen to this podcast episode. They discuss topics that lead to many potential spoilers. This episode was made possible with the support of Divergent Media. Get your 14 day trial of EditReady at divergentmedia.com/aotg
The full transcript can be found below.
The sponsor this week is Divergent Media. Compare your favourite transcoding software with Divergent Media's EditReady. Go to divergentmedia.com/aotg and get a 14 day trial on us. Then you can compare the speed, quality, and more! If you like it, then it only costs 49.99!.
EditReady is a transcoding application for the Mac. Designed to be an integral tool for on-set, post-production and finishing workflows, EditReady helps you get from set to suite faster than ever. Built for professional workflows and cameras formats, it sets the new standard for video transcoding performance and simplicity.
The Cutting Room: So, I was wondering if you could tell me how you got onto this film?
Eddie Hamilton: I was in my last few months on Kingsman: The Secret Service. We were actually on the dub stage, near the end of the mix, but there were still quite a few visual effects to come and mix updates to come. And I had a call from my L.A. agent who said they want to meet you on Mission: Impossible, and I was incredibly flattered, and quite surprised because I've never done a film of that scale before. But Ben Rosenblatt at Bad Robot was keen for me to meet Chris McQuarrie, the director. So, they set up a meeting at Leavesden Studios in North London, which is where they very famously filmed Harry Potter. And Warner Brothers has recently bought that studio and invested a lot of money and made it into a really beautiful, modern, cutting edge film studio with modern rooms and very fast Internet, everything you need. Right now, they're shooting Wonder Woman there. They're doing Fantastic Beasts. We did Mission: Impossible there. They did Tarzan there, directed by David Yates. So, it's a constant procession of huge films.
Anyway, I had done Kingsman there as well so I was familiar with the studio. I went up there on a Wednesday afternoon, I think, in about June, I think, last - no June 20, yeah, June 2014, and I sat down with Chris to chat just about kind of movies in general really. I wasn't allowed to read the script at that stage so it was a very kind of general chat about, you know, some of the ideas that he had for the film and about the kinds of things that we'd worked on before. I thought it was going to be a 20-minute chat and it turned into an hour and a half long chat and so it was great fun, really. And then shortly after I left I received a call from Ben Rosenblatt of Bad Robot, saying "Hey, how did it go with Chris?" And, you know, the ball started rolling from there. And I met Stephanie Ito, the Head of Paramount Post Production. And then they offered me the job, which was terrific, you know. I was thrilled and it's what I've always dreamt of doing since I was seven years old, you know, to work on a tentpole movie with big movie stars and, you know, terrific cast and an amazing writer, director in Christopher McQuarrie, who I got on really well with, you know. And you- you're just working with the best people in the world. Great DP, great composer and it's great production designers. I mean, really, it's just wonderful. So that's how I got involved. And we started in August, basically August last year.
The Cutting Room:In one of the interviews I was reading, Christopher said that he was looking for an editor that he could relate with or just sort of, I guess, essentially, shoot the shit.
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah. Yeah.
The Cutting Room: So, I guess, he found that in chatting about movies [with you].
Eddie Hamilton:We did have a lot of fun working on the film, Chris and I. I think he felt I shared his sensibilities about storytelling and about how to use the camera, how to move the camera, what constitutes a good shot for a film, you know. A nice composition and good use of foreground and background and mid-ground, and how to move the camera to create emotion and accentuate certain story points. And interestingly, when they started filming, they were in Vienna, and then they were in Morocco. So, for almost the first couple of months, I didn't really get to talk with Chris. So, I was assembling some of the opera sequence and some of the car chase and the motorbike chase without Chris really being there. I spoke to him a couple of times on the phone but it's only when, really, they came back to London and Tom Cruise and Chris asked me to put together a sizzle reel to show the crew as a kind of morale booster and just to show them everything they had worked hard to shoot up to that point.
I put something together in a couple of days and Chris and Tom really liked it.
I think that they found me a kind of, a good collaborator, in that I kind of saw the same film they did... I had a similar sense of humour and I had an idea of how to juxtapose certain shots. And my shot choices and stuff seemed to marry with what they wanted. So, we all got along very well, and Chris began to kind of trust me. And then some of the sequences are so complicated in terms of tiny bits of detail and punctuation and making sure that those certain bits of story land that, you know, there would be quite often, there would be some two or three filming and Chris would be taking care of two of them and he would say, "Hey, Eddie. Can you go and shoot some stuff with the third unit," or, you know, in-set unit or whatever. So we did end up just being good friends and I absolutely love film-making. I love film storytelling and so it was an enormous pleasure to go to work everyday and collaborate with them. And it was very, very, very hard work, don't get me wrong. And, you know, there were a lot of challenges associated with making a film as complex as Mission: Impossible in quite a short space of time. You know, about 11 months from the beginning of principal photography to when the film was released. And we originally had 16 months scheduled. So, they took five months off our post schedule, which was quite a challenge. But we, we knew in about January so we were just going full speed to hit the July release. And we managed to make it.
The Cutting Room: Well that was going to be one of my question was [that] they had pushed back the launch date for it. So how did you tackle that situation to make sure you met the new date?
Eddie Hamilton: Well, it's interesting. I think a lot happens in parallel. So I asked for sound designers to start with me about halfway through the shoot and I would give them certain sections of the film that needed a lot of sound work. And they would kind of start, aggressively, on it so I could start to build up quite a decent sound scape. And start to tell some of the story with sound design that was very necessary for certain sequences. So, I already had the sound team working. And visual effects team were going at a 100 miles an hour from the word "Go." So, the trick there was to turnover visual effects shots as soon as we could and start to do, look development and start to get shots going so we could start giving feedback as quickly as possible.
And, you know, I worked with Chris when he had spare time, you know. He would come to the cutting room and work with me, but it wasn't that much. So, it was more a case of just trying to get everything going. And then Joe Kraemer, the composer, started and he knew what the deadline was. And then John Finklea, the music editor, was in charge of recording the actual opera in Vienna. So that was all going on as well. And we knew that there would be a lot of music editing to get the opera to fit in with the cut sequence that we eventually landed on. So there was just a lot going on in parallel. And I was working closely with Chris. And interestingly, you know, Tom Cruise was kept abreast of the cut everyday, you know. He would be on the phone with Chris for around half an hour to an hour. And everything would be discussed. Everything that we were trying in the cut would be discussed. So there would be a good line of communication with producers and director and myself. And Chris and I just put in the hours, you know. We just worked very, very hard, day in, day out.
we actually did our first friends and family screening nine days after the shoot. And it was running at about two hours, 40 minutes, I think. So it was quite, it was a little long. And then we worked for a few more weeks and then we did our first test screening about five weeks after the shoot, which was a proper test screening in New Jersey. Then we worked for a couple more weeks. We did another little screening. Then we did two days of pick up shoots. Then we did, at about ten weeks after the end of principle photography, which is normally when the director's delivering their director's cut, we actually did our third test screening and we scored very, very highly. Everyone was very happy. The studio was very happy. So, we felt like we'd cracked, you know, most of the story problems and everything was landing and the, the film played well and, you know, we'd got the right balance of music and sound design. So, everyone was feeling very positive about the film. And then, maybe a week later we kind of locked the edit. So about 11 weeks we had to cut the film, which is not very long.
Then we dove straight into sound. And there was constant visual effects reviews, you know, three times a week. We did full 5.1 mixes for the soundtracks, when we were doing the preview screening. So, the whole sound team was working on the sound the entire time, and then every mix we would do, we would update any ideas we had and new sound design would go in. And so when we got in the final mix, which is a Dolby Atmos mix, we took all the work that we had done from our three previews and rolled it into the Atmos mix and sort of continued from there. So, nothing was wasted along the way. And we always had the deadline. We always knew that the film was coming out on July 31st, and, you know, there were trailers released in February and March saying tickets on sale now. So we knew that we had to make it, and we just very calmly and professionally worked incredibly hard. And my entire editorial team worked very hard. Visual effects team, I mean, everybody was just working hard but in a kind of controlled intensity. So nobody got burned out, you know. It was always, people would put their hands up if they needed help, you know. And if we needed more resources, Paramount would very kindly make sure we got who we needed to make sure that we always hit every deadline.
The Cutting Room: You'd mentioned Tom Cruise being kept abreast of everything that was happening.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: And everyone I've talked to whose ever worked with him says he's a ball of energy but also, more importantly, he's extremely focused and engaged with the film-making process and excited, I guess you could say about it.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: Did you interact with him at any point and what was that relationship like, especially since he was also starring in the film?
Eddie Hamilton: Mission: Impossible, De Palma's Mission: Impossible from '96, was the first film that he produced. So this franchise is his baby, really. He has produced all these films and he is passionate about film-making. He's passionate about every kind of genre and every kind of film, as you can tell by his filmography. He's done all kinds of movies. He loves every part of the process, you know. He loves costume design. He loves production design. He loves cinematography. He loves acting, you know. He loves editing, he loves music, he loves sound. And he knows intimately, every stage of the process because, you know, he's been doing it for well over 30 years and he's been at the very top of his game, you know, all that time. And so it is enormously fun to collaborate with somebody who's so passionate about it. And it's interesting, he has a very clear idea of the emotion that he wants the audience to feel throughout the film. And then kind of Chris's job and my job was to, to make sure the audience experienced that as they were watching the movie.
The Cutting Room: That sounds amazing. So like he was, he's like I want this sort of emotion evoked?
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah, you know, you know, right at the end of the film, for example, when the character of Ilsa Faust drives away in the car, you know, he just said, you know, I want the audience to feel, you know, that she's kind of, you know, the loss of that character and that sadness that she's leaving.
The Cutting Room: Mm-hmm.
Eddie Hamilton: And so there was more of a scene after that where Ethan walks back and chats to the guys in the police truck. But, you know, he said, "no, no, I think what I'd love the audience to feel is I just, I want, I want to leave them with the image of her driving away in that car and then slowly cross-fade to Alec Baldwin sitting in the Senate room, the Senate chamber, just reflecting on what he's been through, you know." And it was a terrific idea and it worked perfectly for the emotion that he wanted. That's just one example of many.
He leads by example, you know. He always demands the very best of himself. And rightly, demands the very best of everybody who's collaborating with him on making the film. And I, I found that very rewarding, and stimulating, and challenging, and exciting to be working with someone who's so passionate about making a great film, you know. It's a pleasure. It makes going to work exciting and, like I said, just rewarding because you're working for somebody who really knows what they want, and they're really passionate about doing it. And we have the resources to make the shots that we want, you know, because it's a tentpole movie, so we can do this incredible sequence underwater and we can have large scale set pieces on motorbikes, which are almost impossible to film but they figure out a way to do it. It really is such fun, and so rewarding and great that, you know, the movie turned out as well as it did, and reached audiences around the world, you know. It's why we all do this job is to be storytellers, and be in a theatre, and watch the film, and feel the audience reacting to the film, and gasping at certain points, and laughing, and reacting. You know, all the, everything that you thought about when you were cutting the film is kind of brought to life as soon as the audience interact with it. And it's, it's just the best feeling, you know. It's why we all do what we do. And I never lose sight of the joy of that, you know. It's always, it's always incredibly fun to find myself in a theatre. You know, and I've seen the film hundreds of times. When you work on these films, you watch them sometimes two or three times a day for months, and months, and months. But it was always a pleasure, you know. It was always a privilege and a pleasure and I loved it. And, you know, I can't wait to do it again if it works out like that.
The Cutting Room: Now, one of the things I noticed with Tom Cruise, when he's producing these, is that he, other than Brian De Palma and John Woo, who's, I guess it was his first or second English film, he chooses directors who are early in their career or like have a few films under their belts. And he gives them sort of this free range, or not, I guess not free range, but allows them to explore their creative, their creative side. So like when I see -
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah.
The Cutting Room: - this um, all the films, it's, they've each got this unique style to them.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: And I'm wondering how did you work with Chris to come up with any, any styles or was there any sort of discussion about creating a style for Chris or working with Chris?
Eddie Hamilton:Well that's, it's a very interesting question and I... I haven't really thought of it like that. But, I guess I kind of knew that but it's not something that I necessarily thought of. But with Chris, he followed his gut instinct for storytelling and for how he wanted to move the camera and tell the story. And quite often, when a director is in the trenches, you know, in the heat of battle of, of filming day in, day out, very, very long days, sometimes you can lose sight of where you are. And I always said to him just follow your gut instinct because it is excellent, you know. You're creating great shots, the acting is great, the story is working, if, if in doubt just reach into your instinct and don't worry too much because your instincts are great. And he has a very classic sense of film storytelling, which is, you know, not to cut too fast and to make sure that every single shot in the film is about something and has a subject and has a reason to exist and the camera is moving for a reason and the cuts are precise, they're all progressing the story and they're all increasing the suspense and they're all about making sure that your giving the audience a little bit more information so that they're, the little jigsaw of the story is slowly building in their head, you know, as they're watching the film. And I would say, you know, his style is more, you know, he just has a very classic sensibility. He talked about Three Days of the Condor and he talked about The Parallax View. And we referenced some of those classic 70's thrillers. You know, not explicitly, but certainly that's kind of his natural sensibility, you know, is kind of classic film storytelling. And so, I have a similar sensibility, I think.
You know, I've worked with Matthew Vaughn several times and he has a slightly difference sense of competition to Chris, but not radically different. And again it's all about very classic film-making. It's very interesting because when I worked on X-Men First Class with Matthew, I was working alongside Lee Smith who is one of the best, if not, I may even go so far as to say, the best editor in the world. Maybe. I mean, you've got Chris Rouse and you've got Michael Kahn, you know, the usual suspects who are, who were, you know, legends. But certainly, Lee Smith is right up there with the best of the best. And it was very interesting watching how he cut on X-Men First Class. I learned an awful lot from him. And so I've managed to kind of assimilate all that and sort of bring it forward to working with Chris. And we had a similar sensibility, you know. He would sometimes simplify some of the cuts I had done. We were very thorough with it, with the dailies. We would go through every scene in the film, cut by cut, and evaluate it and work at it to really make sure it was the best it could be.
One trick that I had for speeding up shots, you know, line reading selections. I mean a lot of people do this, I know, but I asked my assistants to build up a huge select roll for every scene of every line of dialogue delivered from every camera angle. So if I wanted to listen to the 45 different ways a particular line was delivered, I could load up that timeline and whiz down to that line and press play. And we just literally would see every single delivery of the line back to back. And Chris would say, you know, let's try take 27 or let's try, you know, not take 27 but version 27 or version 33 or something. So I could swap out lines incredibly fast and we could make progress very, very, very quickly, which I think Chris enjoyed. I've took pride myself in working fast and efficiently and being very, very organized in the avid media-composer projects so I can find everything very quickly and we can just whiz through and make progress.
Chris was very thorough and, you know, we had a lot of discussions about music. Even though we didn't cut with music, because he prefers to cut with no music at all, he just likes to feel the rhythms of the scenes and then add music later. Because, obviously, if the scene plays without music it will always play with music better, most of the time. And then we wanted to choose specific places in the film where we did not have music. So I'm really proud of the fact that the moment that Tom, you know, Ethan Hunt jumps into the intake, where he goes into the Taurus underwater. There isn't, the music just swells and then disappears. And then we spent time with Benji walking along the security corridor with the combination locks and the gate analysis. And Ethan is underwater swimming around trying to swap the profile. And we just played that purely for suspense and purely for sound design and both Chris and I were enormously pleased that, you know, we didn't end up needing score. We just let the audience just live in that moment. It's very similar to the CIA break in the first mission where it's all just played purely with sound design and breathing. So we had a lot of fun with that, and then we used the music just at the end when Ilsa jumps in. And then again, the car chase had no music. You know, we were just able to go completely to town with the sound design and make it like roar off the screen and come alive. And I get a lot of people, you know, very kindly on Twitter, saying how much they enjoyed it. And, you know, it's very rewarding when you get that kind of immediate feedback from the audience. But then, the moment we're in the motorcycle chase, we can blast the music up to 11 and really kick us into gear and give us a huge shot of adrenaline. And you really feel like you're taken to a kind of other level of excitement because there's been no music before that. We all know that in the Death Star assault in Star Wars, the first half of has no music at all. And then when the music starts, you know, when the first X-Wing crashes on the Death Star surface, the music starts and then it all just ramps up and up towards the end. So where you don't have music is a very careful choice that you should consider so that when it does come in the music has a more impact. And I was really chuffed that we managed to hold on to those sections of the movie so that people could just bring their own sensibilities to it. So the music wasn't holding their hand or telling them how to feel, you know. It was really effective. And there's nothing more rewarding when you're in a screening room then, for example, the sequence where Tom drops, where the robotic arms knocks him underwater and he drops those two yellow profiles -
The Cutting Room: I was just going to say that.
Eddie Hamilton: - and they explode down.
The Cutting Room: That's so stressful.
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah, everybody, everybody in the audience just goes, [audible gasp] There's this collective gasp, and because there's no music you can hear it, you know.
The Cutting Room: yeah...
Eddie Hamilton: It's so rewarding and you know that it's working. Literally those shots were finished four or five hours before we made the DCP. You know, we were, there was a team of 50 visual effects artists at Double Negative all working round the clock for day after day, after day, trying to get these shots looking up to standard to be in the film. And literally we went in at, you know, midday on the last day and gave them notes. Then we went in again and gave them more. Then we went in at 11 p.m. and gave them notes. And then, literally at 3 a.m. the shots were delivered. And the next morning we slotted them into the DCP and graded, you know, onto the resolved timeline and colour corrected them and then literally, but made the DCP and then the premiere was two days later, you know. It was right down to the wire. Very, very exciting stuff. But when you watch the movie and you know that it works, it's like "Yes!" We were watching previews almost completely up to that point, and then finally these amazing photo reel shots get dropped in. It's very exciting.
The Cutting Room: The other moment that I love the use of sound is in at the bar where the sound just cuts out completely.
Eddie Hamilton: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
The Cutting Room: Little like crackles or something, at least in our theatre. And it just -
Eddie Hamilton: Well, no that's very exciting. You mean, you mean the kind of restaurant by the Tower of London?
The Cutting Room: Yeah.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes. So this is what happened with that, right. They basically went away and shot that scene. And they were doing night shoots so I didn't really see them. I was just cutting the stuff during the day. And I remember building up the Sergio Leone kind of suspense moment where they're all staring at each other beforehand. Because it was written like that in the script and I could see what Chris was doing when he was shooting the scenes. I was like, no, I totally get what he's doing here. And it took me quite a while to get all those looks and the eyelines and everything lined up. And I remember the first time I put that scene together, I threw it together and I had the dailies from the knife fight shortly after and I was working on that scene as well, I was like, no, I know it's not working yet, I'll come back to it. And I finished the rest of the, the finale because I wanted to make sure that was working. I knew in the back of my mind that little section where they're all staring at each other before the gun fight kicks off needed work. And I went back and I looked at it and I worked on it for like another three or four hours and I thought to myself, wouldn't it be really cool if the sound just dipped out to nothing here. So I just grabbed my Atmos track, which was kind of, you know, [?] and I just faded it down on the timeline. Just grabbed the key frames and yanked them down to zero and gave them like ten or 12 seconds to fade off. Same with the music and same with the dialogue track. And then I just thought I know, I know, and then I played it and I was like, yeah, this is really cool. This is so exciting. We literally have or have digital zero sound in the theater, you know, complete silence. And I just tried it. It was just a sound design idea that I had, you know, in the cutting room. And then I showed it to Chris and he was like, "That's pretty cool. I really like that." And we refined it a little bit but basically that idea stuck. And I showed it to the sound designer and they were like, "No, no, no. That's awesome. We're going to do that." And I love the- it's just when the gunshots and the music like thuds in, straight after that, it's all the more powerful because your ears are kind of straining to hear something, you know.
The Cutting Room: Yeah.
Eddie Hamilton: So the, when the sound comes in it has all the more impact. Now it was really good fun playing with that and coming up with that idea and seeing it realized from, you know, literally my first assembly of the scene all the way through to when we were sitting in our final Dolby Atmos mix and I was watching it back and I was thinking that this is really cool. It's good fun. I was thrilled that it managed to, you know, that little nugget of an idea stayed on the timeline all the way through. It was really good fun.
The Cutting Room: You know it seems like you're really engaged with how the audience reacts to a moment. And when I was doing research, you had studied Psychology for a bit?
Eddie Hamilton: That is true. I did do a degree in Psychology, yes.
The Cutting Room: And I was wondering like have you found yourself relying on it or using it or is it involved in any way in your cutting process?
Eddie Hamilton: It's very, it's a good question, Gordon. I think that, you know, interestingly, if you edit, if you are an editor, you have to have a certain interest in living life and experiencing human emotions because that is all we do everyday, is try and create an emotional response in the audience watching our film. You know, we want people to engage with our stories. We want them to care about the characters and we want them to root for them. And we want people to get lost in the film. That's the Holy Grail. You know, you watch a movie and when you're just watching it and it's great fun, there's nothing better. And the greatest films do that so effortlessly. And you think, over the years, that's why great films stand the test of time. And I'm not saying, necessarily, that any film that I've done is a great film. And obviously the Holy Grail is to have your movie stand the test of time and be watched in 20 years, 50 years. My point is that, I think, the fact that I studied psychology and I was interested in that science indicates that I'm the kind of person who's interested in human emotions and not necessarily manipulating the audience, but to a certain degree that kind of thing. And I certainly, I did auditory perception and visual perception so I have a good idea of how the eye perceives and how the ear listens. But, you know, developmental psychology and statistics doesn't apply that much to film-making. But I think it's just about the kind of person that you are. And I'm just very interested in human emotions and trying to use every little trick that we have as editors and as filmmakers to manipulate the audience and give them an experience that they paid their hard earned money to get in a theatre. And I've said this a few times in interviews, but, you know, audiences buy a movie ticket to have an emotional experience. You know, a certain type of emotional experience depending on the kind of movie that they're buying a ticket for. And it is our job to manipulate them and give them that experience. And some people say that manipulating is a dirty word, but I genuinely don't think so. I think that people want to be manipulated, you know. That is why they're buying a ticket. To have an emotional experience of some kind. And we wanted to engage people and make them laugh, and make them gasp, and make them excited, and make them intrigued, and give them a mystery and a puzzle, and wonder what's going to happen next. And all that stuff is what we wanted to do. And so all I would say is studying psychology is not hugely relevant, but it just means that I'm the kind of person who's interested in that stuff, which is what we do as editors everyday so.
The Cutting Room: Now I wanted to ask you about the scene, the opera scene, because it pays homage to Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Eddie Hamilton: Mm-hmm.
The Cutting Room: And I was wondering how you approached editing this scene and did you have a lot of pressure or did you feel a lot of pressure in building this scene?
Eddie Hamilton: I would say it was easily the most complicated scene of the film to do. It's about 17 minutes, I think. Maybe 14 to 17 minutes depending on where you count the start of it to the end of it. It was the very first shot of principle photography. So the very first shot of principle photography was Ethan and Ilsa abseiling down the side of the opera house, down the rope they attached to the flag pole. That was the very first thing they filmed and the very last thing that was filmed was the shot of Ethan climbing up the ladder inside the opera house and the camera pulled back to reveal Ilsa loading her rifle in the foreground so that we tie the geography of those two characters together. And all the little tiny inserts and the geography and, you know, the lighting booth and Benji downstairs and on the stage and backstage, was filmed scatter shot throughout the entire six months shoot.
The Cutting Room: Oh, wow.
Eddie Hamilton: You know. And so it was a case of slowly, slowly building the scene up. I wasn't there in Vienna, so I cut the scenes in Vienna and I used captions and I used bits of storyboards and tiny little bits of previews to kind of build the scene up. And then they built the backstage of the opera house at a giant rehearsal space called LH2 in West London. Which was the biggest movie set I have ever seen in my life. The entire back of the opera with lighting rigs and set and scaffold and curtains and everything was built from nothing. Just quite extraordinary to see that. And so then they filmed the inside of the opera house. Everything that was on the stage, Ethan climbing around behind, fighting with the blonde assassin on the trestles above the stage. Seeing Ilsa in the tower, grabbing the flute gun, you know, all that stuff was shot there. And I was on set as they were shooting it and I would [?] the video tap off the video assist playback and AMA and transcode it in my laptop media composer. I had an encrypted drive with all the dailies on so I could work on the film wherever I was. Wherever they needed me to be, I could plug in my laptop and work. And I was there cutting the fights and cutting everything as they were shooting it. And then I would say to Chris, we're missing this little tiny bit of action. So I need to see Tom walk across the stage in front of the tower, to get to the staircase where he goes up backstage. It was a massive jigsaw puzzle and I totally understood what Chris was after. And he was very keen on scoring that sequence with the actual opera from the moment it started. And I knew that it would be quite a challenge of music editing and we would kind of end where the high note of Nessun Dorma hits and Ethan pulls the trigger to shoot the Chancellor in the shoulder. And we had worked back from there and then we would be organically cutting the scene for months and months. And then re-editing the music to make it fit. Then they filmed Benji underneath the opera house, looking at his E Ink program.
The Cutting Room: Mm-hmm.
Eddie Hamilton: Then they would film the lighting booth and then it was all about the eyelines for the cop and making sure that because the lighting booth wasn't there in the opera house, so they shot that little bit and stuck it into the wide shots they had done in Vienna. So it was very, very complicated. And Chris and I worked harder on that, maybe, maybe on the exposition for the tourist sequence when they're talking about planning the tourist heist in Morocco. That was very difficult sequence as well. But the opera, certainly, was weeks and weeks and weeks of work. And we refined it and we refined it endlessly. After every screening we would go back and improve it and improve it. And then I would get certain beats of the music to land on certain bits of action of the fight or certain cuts would land on certain beats of the music that Chris liked and we would massage the edit to make that fit. So it really was a labor of love and passion for months and months and something which I know I'm immensely proud of. And Chris is, you know, hugely proud of as well because he had this vision of a sequence in his head. He hadn't seen The Man Who Knew Too Much for a very long time. He had a vague recollection of a shot of the camera tracking along music in an opera score, in a libretto. And when I went back and looked at The Man Who Knew Too Much, I showed it to Chris towards the end of the scene. And I said, look at this shot of the music. You can see the conductor's baton. There's a silhouette of the conductor's baton over these notes.
The Cutting Room: Yeah.
Eddie Hamilton: And that's what Hitchcock did. And then he said, "I think we can do better." You know, we've got more modern cameras, better lenses. So we went and we got our music and we did a more dynamic shot across the music, which took, believe it or not, about eight hours to film because it was so difficult to get the, this extraordinary T-Rex lens, which is, you know, it's almost like two feet long and it's literally about half and inch away from the music. And we had to move it very slowly so that it was smooth. And then we sped it up like a thousand percent. And it's just one shot in the film, but it's really exciting when you see that. The music's kind of whizzing along and we stop on the note and the audience realizes what's going to happen. It was just very difficult but we always knew it was going to be. And you just, literally you put one foot in front of the other and you slowly build it up and you refine it. And you refine it like any artistic process. You know, God is in the details. So it's only at the very, very end when you're really fine tuning it that it all suddenly kind of sets in and works and starts to really play. And, you know, we were worried that we may have to augment the opera with score at certain points. But what we ended up doing was they had recorded certain passages, certain arias from the opera, from the beginning and from the end of the second act and the beginning of the third act of the opera. So we had quite a bit of extra bits of music that were not featured directly in what was being performed on the stage. So occasionally, we would take a little bit from act one and insert it into the end of act two, a bit of orchestra, for example, where we needed a little bit more energy. But that meant that we can purely use the opera to score the scene and never rely on score to help us, you know so. Anyone who is familiar with [Turandot work?] will be slightly offended at how we crunched all these little bits of music together. But it does make for a really fantastic, memorable set piece that will hopefully stand the test of time over the years. Who knows.
The Cutting Room: As I was watching it, it was like if they have a piece of music just like in the Hitchcock one and then all of a sudden you guys cut to it and it was like perfect.
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah. No, well I'm thrilled that you felt like that. It was certainly, you know, all credit to Chris. It was totally in his head. That whole scene was in his head. And he really had to fight to preserve it. And, you know, it was enormously complicated and, you know, it required so much resources and there were times at which he would just go, I think, "Am I going mad?" "Is this ever going to work," you know. "I'm losing the wood for the trees." And again, I would say, Chris it's working. It's really exciting. It's great. Just keep going. You know, we'll get there, we'll get there. And then the last few little bits that we needed, we picked up on our insert days. You know, we had a surgical list of like four or five moments that we really needed to just literally connect bits of geography in the audience's mind. Then it all worked. And you know, when we were screening it, people were really into it. We were getting great feedback. So we thought, you know, this is going to work, this is going to be great.
The Cutting Room: Now you had mentioned a scene where exposition was required.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: One of the questions I had and I hope I, I'm, I say this right. But I was wondering with regards to exposition because in films, particularly suspense or, or moments where you have some action that you have to get to really quickly, you have to rely on exposition. And for whatever reason, in Mission: Impossible, you do a really good job of giving us what's important through the exposition, what's not going to bog down the film, and then moving forward with the action or the moment that's important. And I was wondering how you approached exposition scenes so that you don't overload them with information but move forward in the storytelling.
Eddie Hamilton:Sometimes you do end up with characters having an argument and revealing exposition through an argument, which is quite common. If a scene has conflict it's dramatically interesting, and if you can get exposition into the argument then that is great. But the trickiest, in fact the sequence that I am most proud of in this film, which may not appear complex on the outside but was phenomenally difficult, is the scene where Ethan and Ilsa and Benji are discussing how they are going to break into Taurus. And it starts from the little section where she goes, "I can tell you, it's impossible." And there's a great track in on Ethan and he looks at Benji and Benji gives him a look and then music starts and we start discussing the heist. We pull back from a video screen and we see them all talking. Now, what Chris did in the writing of the scene, which is very clever, is he put Ethan in the audience's point of view of not knowing anything. So, Ethan is the audience and he is asking questions that the audience would ask. Benji and Ilsa know all the answers and they are telling him the rules of engagement of the heist. But what Chris did in the writing, which was so clever, is she starts explaining how to get in. She says, "You've got to get through a security gate and you're got to go through sort of a fingerprint guarded elevator. Then you've got to go through combination locks." And Benji goes, "I get to wear a mask. We get to pretend to be the agent who stole the ledger in the first place and I get to wear a mask." And then we see the mask machine and we see him putting on a mask and looking like the agent who stole the ledger. And we see him going in. So we explain, okay, this is what he's doing, then he's doing this, then he's doing this. And then she goes, "No, the last bit, is gait analysis corridor. And if you do that it's going to analyze how you walk and you can't impersonate exactly how someone walks. And so you're going to get caught." And then you see Benji with the mask being ripped off and then he says, "Okay, I'm going to be thrown in jail." So what you do in that really clever little bit of story, is you show him as the agent walking through all the things he's going to have to do, and then you show the gait analysis machine. And then you see the mask being ripped off. So you're teaching the audience about the mask machine, which is not going to appear in that scene. It's going to crop up at the very end of the movie. So you're saying, for people who've never seen Mission: Impossible before, which will be a percentage of the audience, these masks exist and they make you look like someone else. So, believe, that, it's just something that happens. And so we set that up to pay off later in the film. We explain about how he's got to get in. We explain about the security corridor with the combination locks and the gait analysis machine. You know, it's all just set up there beautifully. And Ethan is asking questions. And then they talk about the water and he goes, "Where does the water come from?" And she goes, "Well, the water intake is inside the plant and you have to go through here." She says, "There's no metal allowed and so you can't use oxygen tanks." And the audience is going, okay, so he's going to have to hold his breath. And then Benji goes, "But hang on. How about if he just free dives it? How long will it take him to do that?" And it's two minutes. And then, "Well what about changing the security profiles. And he goes, "It's like a minute." So, Ethan's going, "Well, I'm going to have to hold my breath for three minutes." And then Benji does that great thing where he says, "Don't worry about you. You'll be fine. It doesn't sound impossible to me." And everyone's laughing and we're just making a joke about it and Ethan's going "Wait a second, this is not that easy, Benji. Come on." But we just have a lot of fun. But then from that point, the audience knows all the rules -
The Cutting Room: Yeah.
Eddie Hamilton: - for that whole scene. And then we just play the scene out. And we remind them a couple things. We say the profile is in slot 108. Benji says that to him as he's going up the elevator. But we're allowed to play the whole scene just for suspense. And it is so liberating because the audience knows the rules and they know what Benji's got to do to get in. They know what Ethan's got to do to get in and we can just play it. And then we can just dial up things going wrong. You know, the water gets switched back on, and then he drops, drops the profiles and he's got to swim against the water. You know, the audience knows it all so we don't have to explain it. We can just let them feel this increase in pressure and drama and, ΓÇ£Oh, he's got to hold his breath. Now he's got to swim against the current and Benji's going to get caught and what's going to happen.ΓÇ¥ And, ΓÇ£Oh no, he doesn't know which profile is which. He's going to have to guess.ΓÇ¥ And everyone's just holding their breath and it's like, oh and then, oh my word, is he going to drown? Are they going, are they going to kill, oh what- you know. So it's just, it's just great. And, again, Chris had prevised this scene and we were working with the previews for ages. And we're like "Is this going to work? Is this going to work?" And then you show it to the audience and literally, the first two test screening it was prevised in that scene. And, you know, what's slightly disheartening is the audience, that we explain at the beginning of the test screening that looks like, you know, a computer cut scene. It will look animated but it will be photo real when it's done. But there's a little kind of, there's just a little smatter of laughter as people are like, "Hey, wait a second. It's prevised and that looks, you know. But then they get into it and they understand and they, they engage with it, luckily. And so we knew it was working. But, you know, I think that little section of exposition was incredibly difficult to get the balance of everything right. Chris and I, I know, are very proud of it. And we tried it many different ways before we found the exact combination of cutaways and jokes and music and little dramatic beats and inserts and gadgets. And I'm just thrilled with the way it's turned out. And I never imagined it could be that good, but we just kept working at it and we got it that good. And so I'm thrilled that it all just worked. And literally, I'm most proud of that like four or five minute section in the movie. It was so difficult and Chris and I worked at it and worked at it, but we got there. So that's exposition.
The Cutting Room: Well it's funny because that was the scene that sort of made me go, wait a second, we're getting, we're being given all this information verbally, but it's done in a way that doesn't feel like exposition in a sense.
Eddie Hamilton: Yeah.
The Cutting Room: It's -
Eddie Hamilton: Exactly. It's, it's, I mean, full credit to Chris -
The Cutting Room: - Yeah.
Eddie Hamilton: - for writing it like that. It's, it's, I'm incredibly envious of his writing skills because he does make stuff look so easy and it's not. And I have tried writing and everything that I write is a combination of the last four films IΓÇÖve watched. You know, literally, it is very derivative. And when I read original, fresh, great writing I'm always in awe of the people who've done it because I'm just incapable of it. And the same thing goes, you know, if you think about that opera sequence, the reason Ethan is walking around backstage is to teach you the geography of the opera house so that by the time he gets onto the trestle and you see there's the guy in the lighting booth and there is Ilsa in the tower and there is the Austrian Chancellor, you totally know the geography by the time you get to the end. And you're not confused. You're just engaged with the action, you know what the stakes are, you know what everyone is doing. Even though we've been telling many parallel stories in the minutes leading up to that. It's just, you know, the way he choreographed it all is incredibly elegant. It's like a cheat. It's like I'm going to teach you the whole geography of the opera house without you even knowing it so that when we need you to know it, it'll all just be in your head, ready to go. It's great fun.
The Cutting Room: The other scene that stuck out for me was, for exposition, was the very opening scene with the plane.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: You essentially have to get the information out so that we can get to the suspense, right? Because usually that would be doled out over an hour long film or all this, but we're just dropped right into the experience of what's happening.
Eddie Hamilton: Yes.
The Cutting Room: Now that scene was shown on trailers and in every, you know, YouTube video on like how Tom Cruise was hanging onto the side of the plane by himself, actually attached to it or hanging on an actual plane. How did you, well, I guess I got two questions for this. One is how did you and Chris work together to make sure that that wasn't the peak of the film, that the film gets crazier and more suspenseful the more you get into it. But also, that scene, because you were talking about parallel editing at the opera house, that scene also has three or four locations that we're cutting between, three or four characters. How did you find a balance for that scene?
Eddie Hamilton: That scene, there was a point in the development of the script where it may have been part of the third act. But when Chris was developing the script it didn't feel right to him. And so almost the only other place it could go was as a kind of cold open right at the beginning of the film. And the scene does tie into what happens directly afterwards at the record store. You know, him successfully pulling off that mission at the start is referred to when he's getting the mission for the rest of the movie. So it does tie in but it is an excuse to introduce our heroes, get conflict, because again, the exposition is done through conflict. You know, Brandt, Jeremy Renner's character, is arguing with Benji and Luther about how they're going to get the package off the plane. And so it's all done with conflict. And there was one draft of the script where Brandt was going to be in Washington and Luther and Benji were both going to be in the airport by the plane, trying to stop it take off. And then we thought no, it would be kind of be, be more interesting if Benji was there on the ground but then Luther was somewhere else. And then originally, Ethan disappeared on the wing of the plane. Like we saw him on a satellite image running along and then jumping onto the wing of the plane. But we realized we needed a proper shot, a proper heroic entrance for Ethan when he says, "Can you open the door?" And Benji's like, "Wait, what? Are you, are you?" And then he goes, "Can you open the door," and you see him running along the side. And you're like wait a second. Is he going to. And then you realize he's jumping onto the wing of the plane. And then Benji's incredulous and he says "Benji, open the door!" You know. One thing that we discovered in the editing room, actually, which is quite an interesting little tidbit is originally Benji said, "Yeah, yeah. I can open the door. I can open the door. Don't worry. Don't worry." And he starts going on his tablet and opening the door but it takes him quite a long time to do it. And people in our very first test screening said "Why doesn't Benji open the door faster? What was so hard about opening the door? Ethan's hanging on the plane for ages and Benji's smart and he would just get the door open straightaway."
So one of the ideas that I said to the guys is "Hey, what about if when he tries to open the door he's presented with a huge array of Cyrillic menus. You know, Russian menus. And he has to kind of navigate his way through all this really complex engineering submenus and stuff before he can get to something that looks like a door opening. And, you know, his basic IMF Russian course hasn't taught him about how to hack into an A400 and figure out the engineering menus. And they said, "That's great. That's great. Let's do that." So we retrofitted those shots. And the effects, the visual effects graphics team came up with all these really complex Cyrillic menus and then I put those in the film. And in our second test screening all the notes went away because everyone realized it was going to take Benji awhile. And then he would accidentally open the back door because he would find a Russian word that said door and he would press it and then it would be the back. And then it would explain. And then all the comedy just worked. But once Ethan is in the air, the cross-cutting kind of stops at the point. So the moment Ethan takes off and gets in the plane, then it's all stopped. But it took a long time to get that scene right. The music had to have a certain bounce and certain sense of playfulness and fun so the audience would feel like oh, okay, I remember this kind of, oh yeah, we're back here. This is fun. I'm meeting these characters again. Everything's going wrong as usual and Ethan's probably going to save the day and oh yeah, I'm back in Mission: Impossible land.
The other thing that Chris did that was brilliant was he asked Joe, the composer, to write this really teasy music over the logos before that, which just started teasing the theme but never played it, it just kind of got going and then stopped, so you were really teased. And then we can save the music for when the opening credits start, when Ethan blasts out of the back of the plane and we're in the music and then we can just let rip. And everyone's like, yes, I remember this. This is great. I'm really enjoying it. And we had that terrific, you know, opening title sequence. And then we're into the story of the film. And again, it was very difficult. You know, I have to be honest with you. It was a scene that we worked out and we worked out and we worked out. But when we eventually got all of the cross-cutting right and we got the menus on the tablet right. And then all the stories started to land for the audience and then it just worked as a little opening sequence. And certainly it was a challenge to start with that. And for people to go holy moly, if they're starting with that, where are they going to go from here, you know. But it worked, you know. We scored incredibly highly in our test screenings so we knew that the film did work with that. Even though it may feel top heavy. It was a nice way to kind of start big. And if you see it in a Dolby Atmos theater, you know, when Tom is hanging off of the plane, it is a room shaking theatrical experience. It's quite extraordinary actually how the sound team, what they did there with the sound to really put the audience in the eye of the storm with the huge A400 plane taking off. You know, it's like, honestly, I could have died happy at that point. It was like, wow, I dreamed of this kind of moment in my life of being in a mixing theater, working on a gigantic movie with Tom Cruise hanging on the side of a plane. And here I am, you know. It really is, you know, it's a moment to treasure, you know. And I, I never lose sight of how exciting that is to be doing that. And never take it for granted. It is the most enormous privilege and I love it. I absolutely love it and treasure those moments, you know, when they happen.
When it comes to leading educators in the field, the name “Walter Murch” ought to resonate with...
How do us editors recognize “good suspense”? More importantly, how do we make use of it?
In this episode we examine Walter Murch's book, In the Blink of an Eye and how it almost didn't...
Jesse is a four time Emmy winning editor, affiliate member of ACE, and a rabid Star Wars fan...
Gordon sits down with Marco Capalbo to discuss editing for Werner Herzog and crafting Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds. ...
Editor Mikeel Nielsen and Sound Designer Nicolas Becker discuss creating the film The Sound of Metal. We explore how to make ...
Jody McVeigh-Schultz and Lane Farnham discuss tackling HBO's documentary series McMillion$, a series that explores the f ...