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'Moonrise Kingdom' and Media Composer: Andrew Weisblum’s Editing Adventures

Wes Anderson is a director known for his ability to bring interesting and quirky stories and characters to the screen. His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, takes place on an island in New England sometime in the 1960s. Two pre-teens meet, fall in love and run away together. This brings the adults together in an effort to find them, and it sparks a fantastical adventure for the two lead characters, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman).

   
Editor Andrew Weisblum (left) watches as director Wes Anderson (center)
reviews footage on the set of Moonrise Kingdom.
Photo by Nico Tavernise

Andrew Weisblum, ACE, has edited the past few Wes Anderson films (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited), but also films for Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan). In fact, his work on Black Swan earned an Oscar nomination last year for film editing.

We recently spoke about Moonrise Kingdom. I asked how he was able to juggle such completely different film styles. “These are very different genres, but both directors are very specific, with a complete vision. I’m there to help achieve that vision, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s drama or comedy. Those are all good challenges,” says Weisblum.

The Super 16mm Aesthetic
An interesting similarity in these diverse films is the use of Super 16mm film. Weisblum explains, “From an organizational and technical standpoint, it’s all just files for me. Technicolor New York handled the processing and transfers, which came to me as [Avid] DNxHD 36 files on hard drives. That’s become interesting with the new digital cameras. I recently was on another project that was shot with the [ARRI] ALEXA. I didn’t realize that it hadn’t been shot on film until I noticed there were no keycodes and asked my assistant.”

“For Moonrise Kingdom, the aesthetic of Super 16mm fit well for the era of the ’60s. It also allowed Wes to keep the crew small. Our two lead actors had never acted in a film, so Wes wanted to make sure they didn’t feel pressured. A lot of the locations were out in the woods and Wes was able to let them explore, feel comfortable and discover the process together. The film choice also allowed the DP [Robert Yeoman, ASC] to get some interesting angles. For instance, they used an [Aaton] A-Minima for some shots in difficult terrain. The movie also includes a number of scenes using miniatures, which were shot on 35mm film, so I was working with a mixture of film formats.”

   
Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman star as Suzy and Sam
in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Andrew Weisblum and assistant editor Daniel Triller worked on the film both on location in Rhode Island and during postproduction in New York. They cut with Avid Media Composer on Apple Mac Pros connected to Avid shared storage, with some additional cutting taking place on a laptop.

Weisblum says of the workflow, “The film was shot in approximately 40 days on location in Rhode Island. I was cutting at a house there. Typically we would get the transfer the next day, Daniel would sync the audio and we’d watch dailies. I would screen and cut with Wes on the weekends. The production wrapped in June, and we relocated to New York and cut for another eight to ten weeks. The editing went relatively quickly, but there were a lot of visual effects, so it took a bit of time until they were all completed and cut into the film.”

Weisblum continues, “The script was very concise and clear, but Wes also did something new on this film, which was to storyboard a lot of key scenes. That started for him on Mr. Fox, which was animated. Of course, it’s part of that process, but for Moonrise Kingdom, it helped him to plan out framing and timing, especially since some of the scenes were set to music. [Storyboarding] allowed him to be very economical in filming these scenes, but it also gave us a tight roadmap to follow, so the edit came together quickly and stayed close to the original script.”

Tackling Sound Through Collaboration
How an editor handles temporary sound design and music in building the rough cut is an important ingredient of the film editing process. The Moonrise Kingdom team tackled this in a way different from other projects. Weisblum explains, “On many films the picture editor will drop in temp sound effects that are close but not always the perfect sound. The director and others then hear the film over and over again as scenes are previewed and screened with these effects. It often feels ‘wrong’ when they finally hear the fleshed out effects in the mix placed by the sound editors. To prevent this type of ‘temp love,’ I sent sequences early on to [supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer] Craig Henighan. We were cutting on Media Composer and he uses [Avid] Pro Tools, so bouncing material back and forth was easy. He could incorporate sound effects and ambiances into those scenes. We could integrate these effects into the edit, which meant we were always using the best possible options.”

   
(From left) Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services,
Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward
and Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom.

“We also worked with two composers. Mark Mothersbaugh worked on the percussion pieces for the scout camp scenes. I would place his demos based on Wes’ ideas and then Peter Jarvis would flesh these out with more orchestration and perform the final versions. Alexandre Desplat wrote the romantic theme, which wound its way through the score. There’s also a lot of Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams music throughout the film.”

Visual Effects Help Spell Out the Story
Although Anderson’s films don’t seem like they would be filled with effects, Moonrise Kingdom includes about 250 visual effects shots. According to Weisblum, “Dan Schrecker and Look Effects in New York handled all these shots. There are some fantastical elements in the film, but many of these effects are simply used to fill in story ‘tidbits’ and missing plot exposition. For example, adding a seaplane to the background of one shot allowed us to convey the point without requiring a specific set of shots to build an extra little scene. These elements help the audience to understand the story in an economical fashion. Visual effects like these are a constant part of editing now. It’s no longer a specialized item. Quick shot fixes, invisible split-screens and similar effects are just another set of editorial tools.”

Tim Stipan was the DI colorist at Technicolor New York. According to Weisblum, “Wes is not a big proponent of power windows and aggressive secondary corrections, so it’s a straightforward grading job. The exception in Moonrise Kingdom is that specific scenes needed a different look to play into the fantasy, which is a departure for him.”

   
 

Wes Anderson has total creative control on his films, which is in keeping with their nature as independent features. Weisblum talks about their working style. “Wes is very ‘hands-on’ in the cut. He’s not big on improvisation but is interested in the original rhythms and behaviors of the actors. When something unusual happens with a character, when the scene is played better than the way it was written, he’s willing to embrace it and deviate from the script in editing. Wes likes the actors to do a lot of series of their dialogue lines within the takes. With the kids, he also did a lot of wild lines. I use [Avid] ScriptSync all the time and it is very helpful with indexing those performances.”

Our conversation turned to the current flux in editing technology. Weisblum says, “I started assisting and cutting on film, but I saw that I needed to get proficient with technology. First it was Lightworks and then Avid. Once I became successful as an editor, I was primarily working on Avid systems. I want to be creative and Avid lets me do everything I want to do. I want to spend all of my energy on the creative process and not worry about learning which new buttons to push on another piece of software that I might not use. The job of an assistant is to clear the path for the editor so that all the editor has to do is concentrate on getting the best cut of the film. I looked forward to that day as an assistant, and now that I’m there, I fully embrace that concept.”