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In this episode, Gordon and Julian Clarke discuss the editing process of the film Deadpool. They look at the humour, pacing and timing of a moment that breaks the fourth wall and how, by doing so, affects the momentum of the scene.
Go to aotg.com/cuttingroom for more interviews.
First, can you tell me, how did you get onto this project?
Julian Clarke: Kind of similar to how I've kind of gotten onto other projects. Deadpool was shooting in Vancouver and Tim, the Director, hadn't yet hired anyone. Instead of looking for people, as you do, he asked other people "you're kind of working with already, "hey, you know, is there anyone that you'd want to recommend or, you know, that you think it's good or whatever. So a whole bunch of people who were on that show were kind of, you know, part of the Blomkamp group because he uses some of the better, you know, best people in Vancouver, so my name kind of got thrown into the mix that way so then I just kind of came down and met Tim and we hit it off, and so it just kind of happened like that.
The Cutting Room: So do you still make Vancouver your home right now or...
Julian Clarke: I try to.
The Cutting Room: Yeah, because you spent a year in L. A...
Julian Clarke: Well, yeah, so I mean, basically I have a house here and I try to spend as much time as I can here, and then when I work on the Blomkamp movies, he lives here, too, and we usually post here.
The Cutting Room:
Julian Clarke: So when I do a Blomkamp movie then we sometimes shoot in Vancouver or we shoot wherever and then we do the full post in Vancouver including the mix and the DI and all that stuff, but then usually there's like a year of downtime after a Blomkamp movie and then I need another project and inevitably that project usually involves leaving town.
The Cutting Room: How much of the original short did you guys incorporate into this film? Did you go back to that script at all, or what happened with that?
Julian Clarke: The short film was very much, like part of it was very much, I guess, an adaptation of ... I'm guessing a little bit here, because I was not around seven years ago when the script was written.
There's a bit of it that's very similar to a sort of section of the script, you know, where he kind of drops in and does some similar dialogue and stuff like that, and then they did kind previs, which again, kind of carried over that same idea but then kind of started developing it more. You know, I guess they kind of changed some of the writing ideas as you do over seven years, and of course, like it's not a short; it's a theme in the middle of the movie. I think the idea kept evolving, so I had previs, that had then come out that was a sort of further iteration past the short that was definitely a reference for some of the action. And then, comedy is so much what's funniest at the moment and what just feels right and works and feels funniest, what works. But the action stuff, it is quite useful, but for the comedy stuff, it just sort of becomes its own thing.
The Cutting Room: Well, I was going to ask you about the comedy in terms of when he's wearing the suit. He's got a mask that's basically blocking his mouth, so I'm wondering, because that sort of lends itself to ad libbing and altering the story in the post-process. How did you use this, I guess, element of not being able to see his mouth to your advantage to mold the story?
Julian Clarke: Absolutely, I mean, I think in all cases with editing it's sort of like, you use the ammunition that the movie gives you. So, the mask is a great help in terms of if you want to change a line, you know, it's just evidently cheatable. So yeah, we did that quite a bit. A lot of the time it was just kind of like to, you know, try to make a joke funnier, changing the punch line or sometimes, something's a little bit too long and then you can kind of just sort of skip over a section because you can just cheat a little in between section, and then of course the odd situation comes up where it's like, oh this little bit of story could use a little more clarification and then rather than being in the awkward situation of cheating the line behind someone's head, which everyone hates doing in a movie, and this you can actually put it on camera and then kind of reanimate his face to make it feel like he's saying the stuff he doesn't say ...
But I mean, you know, that being said, it's not like half the lines in the movie are re-dubbed.
A huge amount of what we did in production is just there because, you know, there's kind of a magic that you kind of get on set that it's just sort of, it's very difficult to kind of regain the moment in ADR, and you don't really want to mess with it. So it was a tool we used and we didn't use it infrequently, but we tried to stick with as much production as we could.
The Cutting Room: Well, when you can see there's a back and forth between T. J. Miller and Ryan Reynolds, and I heard that they ad libbed a lot in their scenes together, so what were some of the challenges that this presented to you, and how did you overcome them?
Well, I mean I think it's in those sorts of situations, it's just like an abundance of choice, you know, and like it's all funny.
It becomes a focus on what's the most funny, and also, sometimes something can be funny, but it feels kind of like it's just funny. It feels slightly, dramatically unreal or not quite in character or something like that, and so then it's sort of, this is really funny but it just slightly feels like just a funny line and less like in the emotion of the scene or whatever, and so then you have those sort of considerations as well. But there wasn't any kind of thing like where I was like wow, this improv has really painted me into a corner. Because it's all kind of like quipping. It's never kind of like they're improvising a new storyline or something like that, or a new kind of idea for the scene. That's the stuff where you can really get yourself kind of in trouble.
So yeah, it was more you were kind of paralyzed with options and less painting yourself into a corner with great new ideas that you haven't planned out.
The Cutting Room:Yeah. It's less about the structure of the story, but they would have a joke or one line that they would just repeat in takes? Or ...
Julian Clarke: Yeah, it's more about their kind of banter, you know. The sort of flavour and fun and less about kind of like the specific plan of getting Ajax and the specific part to get Ajax is pretty simple, you know, so it's more about their flavour and relationship.
The Cutting Room:In one of the interviews I read that you had done, you had mentioned that you really like films with weird tones. What is it about those projects and their challenges that attracts you?
Well, I mean I guess partly it's just like, I like, you want to work on stuff that you would want to watch yourself, and definitely when I was one of those guys coming out of film school who would watch multiple movies a day and watch a movie until midnight to 2 AM or whatever with friends or something like that. You know, I had liked stuff that was really coming out of left field. You know, I'd watch weird Japanese movies and Peter Jackson's movies like Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive and, I just liked crazy, kind of cult movies that just feel like something you hadn't seen before, and they kind of, I don't know, they just have a sort of interesting way of encapsulating different genres and different tones.
So that was always fun and felt like I was sort of seeing something I hadn't seen before, and I liked the kind of like, "Oh my god, I can't believe they did that in a movie," kind of aspect to it. I feel like District 9 definitely has an aspect of that to it and it sort of participates in making one of those movies where people are kind of going like, "Wow, I haven't really seen this before," and that's a fun feeling to kind of be involved in that. And I think it also goes back to movies I grew up on, like Paul Verhoeven films, like Robocop was like one of my favourite films growing up, and that is the quintessential kind of weird tone film where on the one hand it's like quite sentimental and like moving with the story of he's lost his wife and he's been killed and he's on a mission for revenge, and then it has all this like super satirical like '80s corporate America stuff mixed in and just over the top violence, and yet it works and it feels so audacious because of those different elements.
So, I think all that kind of stuff's just sort of in my brain and so I appreciate how hard that is to do and how cool it is when it works, and so yeah, that was definitely something when I read the Deadpool script, I was like this will be really challenging and very cool having this sort of extremity of the comedy and the extremity of the violence and the extremity of the kind of dramatic elements and trying to weave those together.
The Cutting Room: You talked about the extremes of the violence and the humour and what have you, and that constantly affects the tones in scenes and in the movie. So, how did you approach working with these various tones to prevent alienating the audience?
Julian Clarke: I think partly it's knowing the right place to do each [tone]. So one thing I've kind of mentioned in other interviews is the workshop [scenes], for example, that is definitely the most sort of harrowing section for the audience, but it's important that it be kind of harrowing because it's sort of the whole motivation for his revenge arc and it gives this sort of real pathos to his origin story. But, you know, the original kind of construction we had of it, it was several minutes longer, it had more scenes, it had more suffering. His fight against Ajax was sort of even more brutal ...Uh, (laughs) than just getting impaled. You know, he also got his jaw stomped on and stuff, it was very hard core, and I mean it was sort of interesting ... And it was all well done and dramatic, right.
But, when we played it for audiences, you could feel they were just traumatized by that section ... And we would get to a funny scene, and no one was laughing and you're just like wow, we just kind of... we've shaken them too much that they're not really able to recover back into the comedic tone. And so, it was clear we need to kind of reign this section in a little bit. We need to get just the right amount of trauma where you're kind of just pushing it, but not crossing the line to the point where the audience can't recover and get back into the comedy.
So that's, I guess, one example of that. And then on the flip side, with the comedy stuff, we have sort of jokes all over the place in that movie and sometimes we have jokes in sections where like something kind of serious was going on with the story, like Vanessa getting kidnapped, and then it was kind of like having a joke right after Vanessa getting kidnapped was just... this is wrong, we want the audience to take the jeopardy seriously because this is the sort of, again, the emotional core of the movie, his relationship with Vanessa. So you make light of it, then you're kind of undermining the emotional core of the movie, and so we kind of pruned the jokes in that section.
The Cutting Room: Yeah. Well and one of the problems with the humour might be that he breaks the fourth wall a lot, and that could sort of ...
Julian Clarke: Absolutely, yeah.
The Cutting Room:
How did you work with that type of humour where you're breaking the fourth wall and he's talking to us, the audience, and counting his bullets? How did you work with that to make sure that the audience didn't get pulled out of the moment?
Julian Clarke: Well, I guess again, it's sort of like picking the right places to do it. You know, he doesn't really break the fourth wall in the middle of something very serious. Usually it might be in the middle of action, but it's kind of the middle of more fun action rather than the angry kind, one place we do it which is just hugging that line is when he's rescuing Vanessa on the flight deck where we kind of have gotten back into banter mode with Ajax, insulting him and it's still slightly spaced out from the fact that you know, Vanessa's in jeopardy. I think with stuff like the twelve bullet stuff, there's not that much sense of danger for Deadpool there. He sort of seems invincible, so you're not really deflating that aspect of it. It was more an aspect of like, you don't, there's a sort of an excitement and a flow to it and so if you had kind of too many fourth wall breaks there, that you'd be creating an awkward rhythm, so it's more kind of just like finding the right kind of pause moment. But, I don't know how much you're really kind of going like, "Oh, I hope he doesn't die." It's sort of, he just sort of seems like he's kind of working those guys.
The Cutting Room:
I had heard you say before that you push scenes until their breaking point and then sort of reel it back in in terms of the humor. Could you sort of explain what your process is with that?
Like I said, there's a lot of jokes, and the jokes are very digressive often, and like with the fourth wall thing, kind of like had a stops in the scene ...
And so you would, we would have a lot of these things and then you kind of be like well, this is maybe like a little too uh, you know, lumpy of a flow, and then you take a whole bunch out and then you'd be like oh, well now this feels like too normal, it doesn't feel Deadpool anymore. And so it's kind of like finding that point where it was like just the right amount (clearing throat) of like weirdness; that the scene was like almost about to not work ... (laughs)
The Cutting Room: (laughs)
Julian Clarke: And that was kind of like the point where generally there was consensus that that was sort of the right amount; right at the point where it was just about to kind of feel like you were kind of like derailing it with too much digressions.
The Cutting Room: Now, this is an odd, off topic question, but did you guys go back and look at Ryan Reynolds' other films for the relationship between the female lead and Ryan Reynolds? Because ... (laughs)
(laughs) Like in the Christmas scene or something like that?
The Cutting Room: Yeah...
I didn't, well I don't think you have to, it's just kind of there.
It's so like kind of like, it's funny that we're, like when you get to that Christmas scene, wow, this is sort of like a raunchy, R-rated version of like one of those scenes that are in like, you know, like a Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds movie or something like that.
But yeah, there was like, you know, there wasn't like a need to like go back and like reference the cutting or something like that. I think it was just he clearly was like, "I know how to do this," right. (laughs)
Yeah, and then of course your cutting is just naturally guided to like building all that chemistry and kind of looks and it's just sort of a different sort of set of priorities than maybe you would have in, you know, other scenes.
The Cutting Room: The film cuts back and forth between various scenes, or various moments in the story. So, was there a lot of altering of the structure of the film?
You know, not as much as you would think. The script was written, uh, non-linearally and we tried a linear version at one point just for the hell of it, and it did not work linearly at all. Not at all. It was just, the tone was just totally uncohesive, so it was clear that it needed to be non-linear to work. So, but, you know, we didn't necessarily stick with exactly what was sort of dictated in the script about where you would kind of jump back and forth to, so there was a couple sort of things that changed through the course of editing. Originally, the kind of, the sort of Wade has cancer section was kind of a much longer section and had uh, and had a whole kind of thing of after he says no to the recruiter, he goes on a trip to like Mexico and goes to this Mexican clinic where they have a sort of phony cure. So there was this sort of huge extra section we kind of decided that, that were kind of too long and that kind of part of the movie, and so we took that out and so that kind of changed the kind of structure there.
And then, another thing was sort of in the script was that uh, there was originally kind of a flashback in the middle of the workshop, and he could kind of see like why he would want to do that, because you're like well, the workshop's so long and dark, wouldn't it be nice to get a little break, you know, and it's like yeah, sure on paper that's a good idea, but then in reality, you're like wow, this doesn't work at all. Like going from the most serious part of the movie, to kind of what actually turns out to be the most light part of the movie, and then you were just like this is just like, these things don't mix. So there was kind of, things got kind of like nudged around, but the whole kind of premise of it kind of being non-linear, especially in the first half and kind of being framed with voice over, that was all very much in the script. It was just sort of the specifics, kind of got adjusted as we kind of, you know, felt it out how, you know, it was going to need to work.
The Cutting Room: Now, I have one last question that I usually ask everyone I interview, and that's what's your favorite guilty pleasure film, but we've actually done an interview before. So, I'm wondering if you could tell me what your favorite Paul Verhoeven film is since you're a fan of his work?
It's a toss up between Robocop and Starship Troopers. I have to go with Robocop over Starship Troopers because I think there's like a little bit of humanity to Robocop, and I think maybe it was more, you know, it's more of an important film as far as science-fiction. But yes, Starship Troopers is like the sort of even more satirical, extreme version, and it's sort of even more miraculous that it kind of works, though it doesn't work for everyone. It's like a sort of a polarizing film, so I guess yes, I'd say Robocop with close runner up, Starship Troopers.
The Cutting Room: Well, thank you very much for allowing me to interview you again.
Oh yeah, my pleasure.
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