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Postproduction on ‘The Hateful Eight’

Editor Fred Raskin keeps pace with Quentin Tarantino's dynamic direction.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight (Tarantino’s eighth film) is set a few years after the Civil War. In it, eight strangers seek refuge in a stagecoach stopover in Wyoming during a blizzard.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC, shot The Hateful Eight, which is his fifth collaboration with Tarantino (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2). Principal photography began in January 2015 in Telluride, Colo., whose Rocky Mountains stand in for Wyoming’s rocky, unforgiving winter landscape.

John Ruth and his fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he will deliver to Red Rock for trial and, most likely, hanging

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the production is that Tarantino chose to shoot on 65mm film and in the long-dormant Ultra Panavision 70 format, which uses anamorphic lenses (as opposed to traditional spherical lenses) and has an aspect ratio of 2.76:1. Ultra Panavision 70 was used on only a few films, including Mutiny on the Bounty, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Greatest Story Ever Told and Battle of the Bulge. Its last commercial use was in 1966 on a film called Khartoum.

The Story

A few years after the Civil War, a stagecoach traverses the wintry Wyoming landscape. Its passengers are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he will deliver to Red Rock for trial and, most likely, hanging. Along the road they encounter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former Union soldier turned bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Southern renegade who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff.

Losing the lead on the blizzard, they seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demián Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).

“Capturing this bleak Western landscape, capturing the snow, capturing the beauty of these locations would be perfect for 70mm,” Tarantino said in the film’s press notes. (He also noted that the format would bring intensity to the film’s interiors.) “I believe that these big formats offer more intimacy. You can be closer to the characters. It could bring you closer and invade the intimacy of the characters in its bigness. I don’t think that it is a format that is only meant for travelogues.”

Editor Fred Raskin, ACE (Guardians of the Galaxy, Django Unchained, Fast Five), was introduced to the script in April 2014, at a staged reading of the screenplay that featured 80 percent of the principal cast.

Quentin Tarantino on the set of The Hateful Eight
(Large version of image shows Quentin Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC)

“When I read the final draft, there were a couple of things that came to mind,” says Raskin. “I felt fairly confident that this was Quentin’s homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing [1982]. There are a lot of strong similarities: a small group of people in an isolated, snowbound location, the presence of Kurt Russell, and the idea that not everyone is what they seem to be. The other thing that I found interesting is that the movie is actually dealing with issues of racial tension in this country in a very direct way, significantly more so than DjangoUnchained,” Raskin says, referencing Tarantino’s seventh film, whose plot follows a freed black slave in the Deep South in the years just before the Civil War.

Editor Fred Raskin, ACE
Photo by William Stetz

According to Raskin, Tarantino’s style is so specific to him that the only movies you can watch to get a sense of what he’s doing are his own movies. “You can see the way he holds on a shot or the way he is moving the camera,” explains Raskin. “The footage dictates how it’s going to be edited. Usually I will get a little overzealous when I’m putting my assembly together because I’m doing that on my own. I’ll usually make sequences a little bit more ‘cutty’ than maybe they should be because we can always go back and play it out in one long shot. It’s a lot harder figuring out where we’re going to cut from shot to shot, so usually when I’m doing my assembly, it’s going to be ‘cuttier’ than what we end up with.”

Much of the film takes place inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover.

Raskin also reveals that Tarantino stays out of the editing room during production. It was at dailies screenings that Raskin got a sense of what Tarantino wanted and what performances he liked. “I have to make it a point to note everything he laughs at because that’s generally something he likes,” says Raskin. “But while we’re shooting, he does not want to see a frame of edited footage.”

Besides the sheer size of the film stock, Raskin’s Ultra Panavision 70 workflow didn’t differ much from a standard 35mm production. The negative would go to FotoKem in Los Angeles for processing. FotoKem would make 70mm prints, as well as telecine the negative, which Raskin would cut in Avid Media Composer in his edit suite in Telluride. There would typically be a two-day lag between when the material was shot and when Raskin would have it in his Avid system.

Raskin’s first assistant editor, Andrew Eisen, would make sure everything was in sync, including slow-motion or sped-up scenes, which would actually play a role at the end of the film. Eisen would also organize and build Raskin’s bins. “I like to have my bins laid out in a way that I can see the way the scene is going to unfold simply by looking at it,” explains Raskin. “I’m very visual that way.”

Raskin’s telecined dailies were at HD resolution and transcoded to DNxHD 115, which he viewed on two 30-inch computer monitors and two 60-inch viewing monitors. “This is why we did film screenings regularly,” he says. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything when looking at the material digitally—that there wouldn’t be an ‘Oh, we didn’t notice that because we can’t see it on the TV monitor.’ But for the most part we were just in awe of how good it looked.”

Bob (Demián Bichir) plays “Silent Night.”

Raskin says that his biggest challenge in editing The Hateful Eight was eliminating takes from the quantity of terrific performances. “That is not hyperbole,” he says. “It was take after take, and long takes—10- or 11-minute-long takes of these guys acting out the entire scene and nailing it time after time. It was all about figuring out what the best of those was and where we wanted to be and when.”

The length of the takes on Hateful Eight is partly due to efforts by Panavision engineers, who created 2,000-foot film mags specifically for this film. (The industry standard for 65mm film is a 500-foot mag.) This invention allowed complete scenes to play out before the camera ran out of film. Panavision also facilitated the Ultra Panavision 70 production by pulling 15 vintage lenses from storage and reconstructing them for use with modern cameras.

Bruce Dern plays Confederate general Sanford Smithers.

Raskin was blown away the first time he was able to see the 70mm dailies, which were screened every day in Telluride. Usually a production shooting large-format film will use a 35mm reduction print for screenings and for conforming the work picture, but The Hateful Eight production stuck to 70mm the entire time.

“I had a sense we were going to be holding on shots a lot longer in this format, even more than we did on Django,” Raskin explains. “Not only is the framing and lighting so beautiful, but the clarity is so great that you get the depth of performances in the actors’ eyes in ways you don’t in 35 and certainly not in digital. Knowing that we were able to see all of that impacted where we would cut, and why we would cut. We had to have a good reason.”

Raskin says of the immersive film format, “You’re able to see exactly what they’re doing. You see the hurt in John Ruth’s eyes when he learns that he’s been lied to, and we’re not even in a close-up in that moment. It’s a medium two-shot, but you still see and feel it.”

The cinematographer echoed that sentiment in the film’s production notes. “You have eight characters, so in the room, you can fill the frame continually with all of your characters…. The width of this frame gives you a claustrophobic feel, since you can see all of the walls. It closes you in, and the experience of the acting is multiplied, in my opinion.”

The expansiveness of the format allowed Tarantino to fill the frame with detail, though all that detail naturally made the editor’s job more challenging.

Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock
(Large version of image also shows Sanford Smithers, at right)

For Raskin, the most difficult sequence to edit was in Chapter Five, where the villains are getting into their positions for the film’s concluding massacre. (The film is broken up into six chapters, and the extended roadshow version of Hateful Eight also includes a 12-minute intermission after Chapter Three.) Raskin had to be cognizant of where each character was at every moment, so continuity was extremely difficult. He took four passes at the scene and had to keep bringing in his assistants to watch for mistakes.

“We have these wide 2.76 frames where you can see so much. Each character has their own little tableau, but frequently one of the other tableaus is in the background where we will see another character. If I need to cut out this moment here, well that’s going to be tricky because they’re in the background of the other shot and they’re still doing that.”

The Hateful Eight was released domestically on Dec. 25, 2015, exclusively in theaters equipped to project 70mm film. It had a wide digital release beginning Dec. 30.