2024: In Like A Lamb
This year has, well, gotten off to a slow start. Thanks to the 2023 WGA and SAG strikes, scripted production in Hollywood all but ground to a halt in the summer and fall, and while those strikes have both come to an end - with some major gains for both unions - work has not fully returned to the industry, especially in the post-production realm. Those of us who can hold on are doing just that.
But the good news is that my big 2021-2023 project, RUMBLE THROUGH THE DARK, was released in theaters and on demand on November 3, 2023! (Find it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Google Play, and YouTube.) Starring Aaron Eckhart, Bella Thorne, and Oscar-nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and based on the novel The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith, RUMBLE tells the story of Jack Boucher, a hard-living bare-knuckle boxer stumbling his way from cage to back alley to flophouse motel in the Mississippi Delta, reckoning with a nasty case of CTE and trying like hell to keep one step ahead of his debts and provide something, anything, for his ailing, nursing home-bound mother, who suffers from dementia. Standing in his way is Big Momma Sweet, queen of the delta vice, who runs the cage matches that have made Jack a feared contender. She has her hooks in him for a considerable sum, and she aims to get her money one way or another. Meanwhile, a seedy traveling carnival rolls into town, bringing with it Annette, a dancer with a closer connection to Jack than either of them realize. As the thunder rolls out across the churning river, these three deeply flawed people draw ever nearer to one another toward an inevitable meeting of violence, memory, and justice of the sort found only in the Mississippi mud. Directed by Graham and Parker Phillips, produced by Cassian Elwes and Tate Taylor (among others), written by Michael Farris Smith, and with a score by Blind Melon's Brad Smith.
This was a terrific project to work on, and my first union feature as an editor (though far from my first feature, as a look at my resume will show!), and I'm very grateful to the Phillips brothers for trusting me with their vision. We shot in July and August of 2021, on location in Natchez, Mississippi, a lovely historical town and home to Tate Taylor's own little production hub, Crooked Letter Picture Company, before heading back to Los Angeles to cut at Hula Post in Toluca Lake, where I was joined by my assistant on this project, the inimitable Brian Golding. They took excellent care of us there, and, apart from some technical nightmares courtesy of Premiere Productions (ultimately resolved with the help of some very friendly and helpful Adobe engineers), everything went smoothly until we locked picture in March 2022.
My view for about eight months.
Parker, stunt coordinator David Conk, and Brian discuss the final showdown between Jack and Ax.
Brad, Parker, and Graham (enjoying the Big Kahuna massage chair he and Parker brought to the edit room) review the cut.
The final (or nearly final) scene board for the film. Like a lot of editors, I lay out cards for each scene on a wall to make it easier to feel out the pacing and follow the logical flow of the film all at once. Each green card is a reel (roughly 20-25 minutes of movie), and each orange card represents a flashback scene. These cards moved around a lot during the cutting process as we shaped the narrative and decided what worked and what didn't. Case in point: everything on the right side is a deleted scene.
The final locked picture sequence in Premiere! In the months that followed this picture, I headed to Albuquerque, NM to assist my friend Carsten Kurpanek as he cut COYOTE VS ACME for Warner Brothers, and Brian took over on Rumble, making sure the film made it smoothly through VFX, color, and sound.
Speaking of COYOTE VS ACME: I spent a wonderful three or so months in Albuquerque as we shot the film (which stars Will Forte, John Cena, Lana Condor, and all your favorite Looney Tunes characters, in particular Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner) and put together the first full cut. Carsten and the director, Dave Green, had spent something like a year prior to the shoot working with the screenwriters to put together a rough version comprised of animatics, storyboards, and extremely rough animation that helped them figure out timings, if jokes and story points worked, and overall how the movie would be shaped. As the live action elements were shot, everything, of course, had to be shifted again, and I was able to do some cutting of my own on a few scenes. In particular, I put together a major highway chase sequence (working from Carsten and Dave's template, of course), which I was rather proud of. After picture wrapped, Dave and Carsten went off to DNEG in London for another year to work directly with the animators, and most of my work was of course rejiggered as final visuals took shape. But I was still incredibly grateful to have been included (and I'm told a piece of my temp ADR made it through to the final mix)!
CvA made the news, of course, but not for the right reason. In a frankly cowardly move, Warner Brothers, despite the film testing consistently very well with audiences, decided to pull it from their schedule and shelve it indefinitely, similar to what they'd done with BATGIRL in 2022. Carsten called me with the news: "We got Batgirled," he said. The backlash from the industry was rightfully swift and brutal, with many big names calling out the studio for focusing on balance sheets rather than the art for which they ostensibly wished to be known. After several weeks of relentless pressure, Warner Brothers finally walked back their decision, and allowed Dave to shop the film to other distributors. At time of writing, I understand that Amazon is quite interested. So hopefully COYOTE VS ACME will find its way to at least the small screen sometime this year.
That job took me into the summer, then I jumped onto a much smaller film called MOVING ON, from writer/director Paul Weitz, a warm and funny comedy starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two old friends who reconnect at a funeral, and decide to get revenge on the widower who hurt them both years before. Malcolm McDowell and the late Richard Roundtree also starred. I came aboard to assist editor Hilda Rasula (just today nominated for an ACE Eddie award for Best Edited Feature - Comedy for AMERICAN FICTION) as they added a new opening scene to the film. It was a short job, but a very enjoyable one!
Once we re-locked picture and everything was delivered, I moved on (get it!?) to season 1 of SHANTARAM for Apple TV+ and Paramount. This series, based on the novel by Gregory David Roberts, stars Charlie Hunnam as Lin, an Australian convict who escapes from prison and makes his way to Mumbai in the mid-80s, where he finds refuge among the poor residents of that city's massive slums. Grateful for their help, he offers his medical training to the community, while also becoming enamored of a beautiful and mysterious woman who has ties to Mumbai's criminal underworld. All this while staying one step ahead of the Australian authorities who have never stopped hunting him. The series was essentially complete by the time I joined, and my job was mainly to help wrap out the show and make sure all assets were organized and delivered to the studios. This proved to be quite a task, as the entire show had effectively been done twice. The first two episodes, directed by Justin Kurzel, had been shot (in India!), edited, completed, and shown to the studio. The studio didn't like them. And instead of simply killing the show there, they ordered the whole thing rewritten, some key roles recast, and for it all to be shot over again, this time with sets in Thailand and Australia standing in for Mumbai. So I had to go through a large collection of drives and project files that had passed through multiple hands over two rounds of cutting, and make sure everything was exactly where it was supposed to be so that it could be found and referenced when everyone geared up for Season 2. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the show has been cancelled, so a second season is pretty unklikely. It's certainly worth checking out, though! The photography and period production design are gorgeous, and Hunnam gives a deeply felt central performance. Everyone in the cast is good, particularly Subham Saraf as Lin's local friend Prabu, and Vincent Perez (who I mainly remember as a sexy European seductive-type in the 90s) as the freewheeling barfly Didier.
I'd worked with one Weitz brother during the summer, and so it was a nice little coincidence that my final job of 2022, which carried me to May 2023, happened to be with the other one. I assisted Priscilla Nedd-Friendly on writer/director Chris Weitz' THEY LISTEN, a techno-thriller for Sony/Blumhouse starring John Cho, Katherine Waterston, David Dastmalchian, and Keith Carradine. After a marketing guru (Cho) agrees to test out a revolutionary new AI in his own home, he discovers that the mysterious technology is more advanced - and insidious - than anyone imagined, and that his family may be in danger. We shot the film in October here in Los Angeles (mostly in a house near the Santa Monica Airport), so no fun trips for me on this one. Cutting went pretty smoothly, but we ran into an insurmountable snag when the WGA voted to strike. The film was pretty far along, but it still needed some rewrites and reshoots, and Chris being a WGA member, we were stuck. Sony, not knowing for how long the strike would last, decided to shut the film down, and we were all dismissed. It was tough to walk out on a project so close to locking picture, but in this case, I definitely understood the studio's position. Fortunately, after the SAG strike ended in December, Chris was able to get his reshoots done. Blumhouse brought in Tim Alverson, an editor they'd worked with on several high-profile films (including INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, SINISTER 2, and all three David Gordon Green HALLOWEEN movies), to finish the cut. He naturally had his own assistant, so I was out of luck. Oh well. I had a good time on the film for the nine-ish months I was involved, and look forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Since May, things have, of course, been pretty slow, but I managed to cut three short films over the summer. Two were for writer/director/actor Tom Michaels: THE DEVIL'S ENTRANCE follows a jogger who enters a forest and finds himself at the mercy of a supernatural force, and OLDER SELF is an interesting sci-fi tinged look at grief and the afterlife. I also cut STILL, the latest short from writer/director/actor Rakefet Abergel, for whom I cut two previous shorts. STILL is a meditation on the grief and trauma of a miscarriage, and has really been getting a lot of attention on the festival circuit.
Finally, in September, my friend Tom and I finally made good on a plan we'd had since 2020 (it was postponed for obvious reasons), to walk the Coast to Coast Trail in the north of England. The C2C is a hugely popular long-distance walking path stretching about 190 miles from St. Bees on the Cumbrian coast to Robin Hood's Bay, just south of Whitby in Yorkshire. It crosses three national parks - Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors - and passes through towns and villages, up and down fells, along gorgeous rivers, over waterlogged bogs, across a couple of motorways, and through uncountable farm fields full of sheep and sheep shit. We made lots of friends - most of them temporary, who walked with us for a day or two before falling away into their own rhythms - and saw the north of England the way one only can on foot. Every night found us raising a glass together in a new pub somewhere, and I can't think of a better way to spend a couple of weeks of late summer with a good friend. I recommend it to everyone.
This was a tremendous journey for us both. We've already begun planning our next excursion, this time to tackle the Hadrian's Wall Path, which, at about 84 miles, is less than half as long as the C2C. That's fine. I immediately followed this with about ten days on my own in Portugal, during which I spent a few days each in Lisbon and Porto, and the rest of the time roaming around with a rental car visiting medieval towns, roman ruins, and rustic hilltop villages. It's a lovely place, with exquisite food, fine people (including a few old friends), fantastic music, stirring history, exciting geography, gorgeous beaches, tasty port wine, and very expensive gas. Can't wait to go back.
Things have been pretty quiet since the start of October, but hopefully not for too much longer. That said, I've had plenty of time for working on writing projects, taking pictures, hiking, reading, spending time with Rachael, and revamping this damn website. When all is said and done, we're not doing too badly, and I'm very grateful for that.