The editing team of the Star Wars TV series discusses the storytelling required to edit a fight scene, editing the shows for five months BEFORE they were shot, and the need to set “canon” to the side and just tell a good story.

Today on Art of the Cut, we speak with the editing team of the Star Wars TV series, Ahsoka: (alphabetically, they are) Dana E. Glauberman, ACE, Rosanne Tan, ACE, and James D. Wilcox, ACE. 

Dana was nominated for an ACE Eddie Award for her work on Ahsoka, Part Four: Fallen Jedi. She also has received Eddie nominations for multiple feature films, as well as for The Mandalorian, for which she was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. Dana’s been on Art of the Cut for Ghostbuster’s Afterlife, Creed 2,  and The Mandalorian. 

Rosanne’s credits include Homecoming - for which she was nominated for an ACE Eddie, Mr. Robot, for which she was nominated for two ACE Eddies, Seven Seconds, Hawkeye, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Rosie was on Art of the Cut for her work on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

James is an ACE Eddie winning editor for his work on Einstein: Chapter One, of the Genius TV series.

He’s been on Art of the Cut for two of Ron Howard’s feature films, Thirteen Lives and Hillbilly Elegy. He’s also cut TV series including CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-0, and Roots

GLAUBERMAN: I am Dana E. Glauberman, and I edited Episodes One and Four and co-edited Episode Eight with James.

TAN: I’m Rosanne Tan I edited episodes two, five, and seven.

WILCOX: I’m James D Wilcox, and I cut episodes three, episode six, and episode eight. 

How do you approach an action scene like a fight scene differently than you approach a dialogue scene? 

TAN: The way I cut action and the way I cut dialogue scenes is quite different. For the action sequences, I first watched the dailies to get to know the choreography well. Then I’d go in and lay down the foundation of the fight.

See what plays best for the desired angles, the moves, the actors’ performances, and of course what’s serving the story because without story then it’s not gonna be very interesting. I’ll play this character having the upper hand or just see what serves the story. 

And then I go in and weave in the stunt performances because, as we all know sometimes certain big moves or hits can only be done by a stunt performer. Once I have a rough assembly of the fight, I will go in and see what I can improve.

A lot of times if I change one thing, it’s a domino effect and it changes this angle or that angle or this big wide-angle move. It’s part of the process. 

Then I go in and lift frames here and there and try any other tricks to help with the moves to make it look cooler. Then I’ll put it aside and not look at it for a few hours or sometimes a day and work on something else, then come back and see what I can improve upon.

Once I feel like I’m in a happy place then I’ll hand it over to my assistant editor to start laying in the temp sounds and go back and forth in that way. For dialogue scenes after I’ve gone through and watched the dailies thoroughly then I’ll go in and leave myself locator notes and a lot of times I’m making sub-sequences with little notes in a bin of certain performances of certain lines that I like that I may go back to later on. Then I’ll build the sequence.

Once I built the sequence then I’m going back in to lay down the geography to make sure everybody understands where everybody’s standing and what serves the story. I’ll go back in to change the performances and see what’s emotionally hitting and see what plays.

Then I’ll go and watch the sequence over again and then I’ll put it aside. Same with action sequence sometimes you have to walk away but when I go back I’ll pace up the scene or I’ll open it up and just keep fine-tuning.

WILCOX: I do a lot of the same things that Rosie does. Like episode 8 where you have multiple fight scenes. You’ve got to look at what the intention is with each one of them and where the balance is shifting - who’s winning, who’s losing - and what are you working towards ultimately story-arc-wise near the end of the episode because that’s what you’re working backwards of.

Who is going to ultimately prevail and who loses this fight, at what risk and what cost will it be. So each fight scene is not just fighting for fighting’s sake. It’s like a heavyweight prize fight in some ways. If you go 12 rounds you want to make sure that - for good drama, good entertainment - that the fight has some sense of balance and then some sense of leverage against the opponent and who has the upper hand.

So that way you don’t end up with just random fighting where the audience can just kind of burn out on it and then it has no escalation and it has no tension and drama to it. So that’s kind of my approach with the fight scenes. 

Also, what really is the overall design of this fight scene? The master won’t always have everything. It depends on how the director covers the fight. Some cover it partially.

Some shoot a master that gives you a sense of this is everything that we want in the fight and then I’ll even go back to stunt visualization as well, which is basically the rehearsal of the fight with the doubles and sometimes you get the principles in there too but it informs me really what the major moments are and - as Rosie talked about - where I’m gonna most likely cut the double in: hard falls on the ground, certain leaps, certain reactions to being hit really hard and making it believable.

A lot of times that’s the stunt double, but it also depends on the actor and some actors really get into it or just super good fighters. You’ve seen a lot of shows where you just know that actor knows how to hold the gun. That actor knows how to wield the lightsaber. It comes from hours and hours of rehearsal and practice. They really put serious time into it and you can see their athleticism at work.

Editor Dana E. Glauberman, ACE (Photo credit: Mark Edwards Photography)

What about you Dana? 

GLAUBERMAN: My approach is very similar to what James and Rosie just talked about. Fight scenes are very choreographed, so one punch leads to another -  It’s almost like connect the dots in a way but much more complicated and challenging, with fantastic stunt work.

Dialogue is a little bit more difficult in my mind because you have to take the time to really help craft the performances, find the emotion, find the right story points in the scene and work towards that goal.

A lot of editors will have their assistants do a line-read string-out: which is a sequence using every take, with the same line over and over and over again, followed by the next line, every take, the same line over and over and over again, etc.

But I like to do that myself because that’s a way for me to actually look at every single performance, at every single nuance, at every single beat before a line and after a line. It’s a little bit more time-consuming but very satisfying for me to do the dialogue scenes.

Fight scenes are very satisfying as well. My history in editing didn’t contain a lot of fight scenes so coming into the Star Wars world was completely different, especially on Ahsoka because there are so many lightsaber fights. and I enjoyed every single moment of cutting it. It was very satisfying. 

My question is about episode 8 specifically but I’m sure all of you had episodes like this with big tonal shifts. In episode 8 there’s kind of a scary scene with the witches at the beginning and then it goes to a much lighter scene about building a lightsaber. What do you do to help make a big tonal shift like that in editing between two scenes that are so different? 

Editor James D. Wilcox, ACE (Photo credit: Mark Edwards Photography)

WILCOX: To start that episode off, it’s almost like the teaser: the indoctrination of the witches with Morgan Elsbeth when she is becoming a Nightsister which is very dramatic and creepy and eerie and unlike anything we’ve seen before.

It’s really great but we do have the main title in between that that gives the audience a little bit of a break - a palate cleanser - and when you come back into it you’re really kicking off the episode with a different tone. It’s a more comedic tone.

Huyang and Ezra are working in the workshop and then it gets dramatic again as Sabine walks in and hears some things that are not intended for her to hear. So it’s really just how the script was laid out and I actually like that a lot - that we rejoin the witches deeper into the episode and it’s not just a linear style of storytelling.

So if it was a tonal shift from scene to scene without that main title in there I probably would look for something that gives it somewhat of a breath, some silent cut or series of silent cuts that just reorient the audience back into the scene and let what we just saw settle and land, then when you go across the cut into the next scene you kind of have a bit of a pause there to catch your breath before the scene really gets going again. 

GLAUBERMAN: Also, if I can add on to that, regarding those two scenes: the opening with the witches and Morgan is very slow-paced because of what we’re doing yet the scene with Ezra and Huyang is quick dialogue, very punchy. So - similar to what James said - you kind of have to ease your way into that next scene with that tonal shift and that definitely helps. 

TAN: I think we have a lot of tonal shifts in episode 5 - The Shadow Warrior, which, in Japanese, translates to “Kagemusha,” so there’s a lot of influences inspired from the movie Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior (1980), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

We’re in several dream sequences. For example, Ahsoka is stuck in the world between worlds and we see the master and apprentice relationship at play and we kind of go from the scenes with Hera and her son and they’re trying to find Ahsoka and then we have Huyang and at certain moments he’ll say something sarcastic and you’ll have a lighter moment there but then we go back to something serious and we’ll cut back to the young Ahsoka with Anakin and then we see how their mentorship advanced.

Rosanne do you find that there are places in editing where you need to stay with a tone longer than the script or you find there’s too short of a distance between this comic moment and this other moment so you need to somehow expand that?

Editor Rosanne Tan, ACE

TAN: Yes. For example, in the scene with Hera and Huyang where they’re flying and they’re trying to find Ahsoka, there are moments where I feel like if you’re just reading a script, you’re playing the comedy in your head but then you kind of want to get to Huyang’s reaction of just being the sarcastic droid.

Then you want Hera to respond to it and also you have to make sure that there are moments where you let the scene land before you transition back to Anakin and Ahsoka because now we might be in the middle of a battle.

We want to make sure that we’re not just suddenly cutting somewhere in the middle where it doesn’t fit. You want to make sure that you’re able to see the battle and then slow it down again. We do that with our assistants by doing sound work and sound design to let that play and for it to slow down before we get to a moment when Hera and Huyang are trying to look for Ahsoka.

They have their banter, then we suddenly transition to a different part in Mandalore with Ahsoka and Anakin again. It’s just finding the moment and slowing it down so that you’re able to appreciate the battles and the dramatic moments.

Were they always keeping you with the same director or did they try to mix that up - or did that not matter? 

GLAUBERMAN: Episode One was directed by Dave Filoni,Episode Four was directed by Peter Ramsey and those are the two episodes that I edited during previs. 

They tried to switch it up a little bit, but, due to the shoot schedule and other scheduling, combined with VFX turnovers, it ended up where we were editing the episodes that we were assigned to during previs.

Tell me a little bit about that previs thing, James. The three of you were brought in before shooting?

James’ Work From Home Avid set-up

WILCOX: Yeah, way before. Going back to the rotation with the directors, the assignment with the directors a lot of it had to do with who was available when. I came in last because I was over in London working on something else so I started at episode three with Steph Green and then episode six was different director, Jennifer Getzinger, then eight was Rick Famuyiwa. 

GLAUBERMAN: I had worked with Dave as a director on both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett before too

WILCOX: Then in terms of how we started, it’s quite unique because we were all on for a solid five months before we went into production and started getting dailies.

That five month was all the previs process which begins with a table read where you’re getting line readings. It’s not a table read in the traditional sense - where the actors are all sitting around the table and playing off of each other.

It’s iPhone recordings sent in and sometimes it’s people in the office with temp voices. So you’re building this radio cut that gets passed over to The Third Floor - the previs people that are going to animate the radio cut. The radio cut also has sound effects in it. It has music in it and it’s really just the foundation of where everything begins.

The timing and pacing of it is all going to change. It’s a different way of storytelling. It’s a very innovative way of storytelling as opposed to the traditional storyboards. It’s more active. It’s more interactive.

The director sits there in the sessions with The Third Floor and he or she is calling for camera angles and they’re offering different things and they have mocap that’s involved and they’re getting a sense - early on - how they want the show to look: what moments they want to cover where they want the camera to be at certain moments.

Then once you get it back in editorial, you get all these alternate angles that you can play with. If you find “OK, the idea was that we wanted to be in a medium close up, but you know what? We actually need a wider shot to set the environment a little better.”

So we have the opportunity to choose from multiple angles. I got one scene where I had 64 different virtual camera angles! 

TAN: When we’re cutting these previs scenes, I just pretend like they’re regular dailies. We’re getting scenes upon scenes and they’re covered in every angle. We cut them for every fight scene, every dialog scene.

We cut the full episode of these previs dailies and sound designed them and put music and then we present the full cut before it’s even shot so that Dave, John, and the directors are able to go ahead and look at the full episode and see if things are working or not and kind of talk to the production designers, the DPs, and all the other departments.

Like James had said, when we’re in those virtual boarding meetings, the DPs are kind of driving the angles and the director is working with them. The workflow is pretty insane. I remember just thinking, “This is the most thought-out, most prep work I’ve ever done before dailies.” Traditionally, the editor is only on the show a few days before production starts.

And were you prevising even the dialogue stuff? 

GLAUBERMAN: Yes, everything! Every single episode was completely prevised. So we had a very good blueprint to go into dailies with. A lot of that has to do with prepping for The Volume as well, because they need to know what they’re setting up for. We shot a lot of stuff on the back lot as well as The Volume, but every single episode is prevised from beginning to end. 

WILCOX: I think the added advantage to that previs cut is that you can see what the challenge is going to be for the director. Let’s say you get all these angles, right? You go nuts with them and all of them potentially could work or many of them could work.

But on the day, the director is never going to make that day because it’s too many setups. It helps in every way to economize and schedule the day.

And so once we get this previs going and we kind of have an idea of what we’re marching towards for production, it gives us a really good idea of - in some ways - the potential reshoots are part of the previs because you already see that moment’s going to work or this is not going to work or this is a camera angle that we probably can’t get to physically.

The Third Floor is not bound by any rules. They kind of go nuts with their imagination along with the DP, but then when you go to practically shoot it, some things have to be adjusted. 

TAN: There’s like no way to put it a camera at a specific spot. 

GLAUBERMAN: The Third Floor did such a phenomenal job on all this previs that a lot of times I would think that I was actually cutting the actors. I was really believing these performances. 

TAN: They’re great. We had Jesse Lewis Evans, previs supervisor, and we have a whole team of people just thinking really thoroughly with every scene. A lot of times we’ll get stuff back and maybe we won’t need 10 of these angles out of the 30 we were sent, but it’s great to have options just so we can kind of let it play out like a scene.

We’re cutting it as editors and storytellers and letting the story drive the scene. The Third Floor kind of thinks out everything. They’re working with the DP, so they’re making sure episodes connect, especially if we’ve been at that location.

For example, the previs of the Noti chase in episode seven. A lot of shots were maybe in previs that were easier than what was shot, because a lot of times you’re getting the puppeteers on the pods itself and the pods are clunky.

So I remember cutting them as I was getting the dailies, even just seeing and working with the VFX supervisor, Richard Bluff. And he would tell me, “OK, we can’t use this angle. I know we’re able to use that in previs, but we can’t use it because that’s never going to look a certain way.”

So we were always working with every department, making sure what’s attainable and what’s achievable.

WILCOX: These shows are very, very expensive. And so you’d want to take the guesswork out of it and make sure we’re all telling the same correct story, because from department to department, who knows who the person is who conveys the information from one department to another. Something may get lost in translation.

For Ahsoka, I found that it was revealing that these guys were very much fans of Ahsoka and Star Wars and Rebels and Clone Wars and everything. So they actually had a little bit more insight and attachment to the material because they knew exactly, when we would go into mocap, how an actor would move. This workflow that we have is very, very, very specific.

And it’s Dave Filoni’s baby. And he knows exactly what he’s looking for. Because fans have gotten so attached to the series and this character, they know what feels real and what doesn’t. And so we have to - from the very beginning - just be extremely disciplined about every level of detail that we’re telling in this story, so that when we go to camera, we kind of know, “OK, on the day, we’re going to get some surprises and the actor is going to want to do something different and hopefully ‘different better’ or just a choice.” The Third Floor was great for us.

One of the things that I noticed is the kind of deliberateness of some of the dialogue. They’re delivering weighty lines, important lines, and you’ll cut to a reaction shot, which I always think “it’s like the fans reaction.” The fan thinking “I wonder what that person is thinking” when that happens. Can you talk to me about some of those? Just the simple dialogue scenes where you’re hearing information that the pacing of the delivery of the dialogue is more deliberate. 

WILCOX: That seems to me to be an ongoing process, the pacing of the dialogue, because each editor has their own rhythm that we approach the dialogue with. But I think in the beginning, when we’re cutting only isolating on our own episodes, you cut it how you feel like it feels best.

But then when you get a chance for me to see what came before episode three, my first one, I can look at what Dana and Rosie did and go, “OK, this line in episode three has greater weight to it than I played. And I was able to see it individually when I was cutting the scene or cutting the episode by myself.”

And then once I see that, I’m able to adjust to say, “OK, I don’t have to lean and put so much weight on all these other lines. THIS is the one that really carries the weight.” And it carries a weight beyond what I oftentimes comprehend.

Some things that landed, it didn’t hit me and affect me like it did when the audience - when the fans - ultimately saw it and they began to speculate about, “Oh, my God! That must mean…” The fans, they love that. They love to speculate and have these really deep dives into what it could mean going forward because they’re just heavily invested like that. And it’s fun to see that. 

TAN: In Dana’s episode - at the end of episode four - that line, “Hello, Snips,” for me, it’s just a line. I think, “Oh, great, he’s back.” When that episode aired, people are crying and losing their minds! I guess it made us appreciate it more just watching that that line would mean so much.

When episode five came about, I actually went to a fan screening and seeing the fans cry. And just when they see the image in episode five when young Ahsoka is revealed? Everyone gasped! This is incredible! I’m watching the audience instead of watching the show because I know the episode. Little words, anything, has a huge meaning in the Star Wars world for the fans.

GLAUBERMAN: Even to the color of a lightsaber! It has to be the proper shade of orange or red.. Fans pick out the most incredible details that you would never even guess. We would all kind of compare notes after an episode aired. We would love to watch the fan reaction videos because the excitement and the detail that they point out or they guessed or they react to is so satisfying.

And like Rosie said, the three of us aren’t the highest level of fandom, but it just makes us appreciate what we do even more. Being able to bring that stuff to life and guided by Dave Filoni, who is an encyclopedia of knowledge of Star Wars, this is his world. To work with him has just been incredible. 

Do you get notes about canon stuff from him?

TAN: Not in that way. I feel like we kind of approach it like any storytelling. That’s literally what matters. There are moments where I find out later the importance because he’s giving a note a certain way. We weren’t told exactly at that moment why that reason was, but then you find out why. We approach it like every other scene.

WILCOX: Because we’re not at the highest level of being fans, sometimes we’re not as precious about the material. So we’re just looking at it strictly as: Is the drama working? Is the comedy working? Does the action work? Are the story beats being fulfilled?

That has to work for people who are new to the series as well, who are just interested in it and just straight sci fi fantasy, good drama, action, comedy, whatever it is. And so that’s helpful, I think, for us to not be too steeped in the lore.

To offset what I didn’t know, I hired someone - my assistant - Agustin Rexach, who followed it much more deeply than I did. So I could just ask some questions from time to time, because it’s easy to kind of get bogged down with so much lore and then you’re losing important story and character development because this absolutely has to be there.

And Dave has said it a million times, he’s really open about what our choices are and what we bring to the table. And he’s willing to consider that. And so I think that’s a really good balance between what he knows as a creator and what we are as storytellers.

TAN: All our assistants are more knowledgeable in Star Wars than we are. Caroline Wang, my assistant, was very knowledgeable. I had to ask her questions. And I think between John, Caroline and Agustin, they all helped us in that. There are times where I wonder, “What happened here?” Then they explain, “It happened in Rebels.” 

GLAUBERMAN: John Ott was my assistant. One of the great things about all three of our assistants is that they knew what was going on in the other episodes. We didn’t have 100 percent access to each others material.

I couldn’t see James’s cuts or Rosie’s cuts, and they couldn’t see mine during the director’s cuts. But the assistants were all talking to each other. So I could ask John something specific about what is happening in another episode.

He would always look at my cuts before we would send him to the director, and he would catch things that led into another episode or something that he felt was missing. Maybe something that was an important story beat from a previous episode that I might not have been aware of. 

TAN: I think they had access because they were doing the recaps. So they were able to kind of communicate with each other more in that aspect. But yeah, we didn’t get to see each other’s dailies.

And I think what was awesome was that when we did have some screenings at the ranch (Skywalker Ranch), we were able to watch each other’s episodes and kind of back to back. It was like a whole new level of appreciation for, “Oh, my God! That’s why!”

And then we see what things were working and what weren’t. And then we kind of group chat with everybody in every department that was there. And it was kind of a great thing just to be able to see what everybody was working on for the first time and kind of understand, “Oh, that’s why we’ve been doing this a certain way, because we had to serve a story beat in this episode.” So it was nice to finally do that.

What about - since we’re on the subject of assistant editors - you mentioned how much interaction there was with other departments. Talk to me about their role in dealing with those other departments, or do you - as editors - prefer to take that on yourselves? 

TAN: They’re on the calls, but we’re the ones running it. And we deal with the department heads. They’re on there to make sure that they’re aware of what’s going on.

And I feel like the assistants will check in with their editors, their specific editors. And also with their VFX editors to make sure that things are being aligned and make sure that we’re hitting deadlines and we all communicate. There’s always communication.

I would Zoom with James and Dana and we would communicate a certain way. And the department heads is when we’re on Zoom calls with VFX team, with the production designers, with the directors. And a lot of this happened during COVID. So most of it was either we’re in person with masks on or on Zoom. So we always made sure we kind of communicated. But the assistants, they were always on our calls.

They were there to make sure they basically cover our tracks. They’re our teammates. They’re our collaborators. So my assistant, Caroline Wang, was always my sounding board. I always throw things to show her, then have her give me feedback. We’re working back and forth that way. And same with my VFX editor Richard Sanchez. And it was a big team effort all around.

So you three have all moved on to new projects. My big question to you is: do you still use a lot of wipes?


TAN: I have not used one since Ahsoka. 


WILCOX: That was pretty cool, the idea that you could use this wipe from 1977 and have it still work and be part of the design of the show was really cool. 

TAN: Which episode was it with the clockwipe? 

GLAUBERMAN: That was episode four.

TAN: It’s so cool! 

I definitely saw a clockwipe in there someplace! 

GLAUBERMAN: John Ott, my assistant, put that in and it worked so well. Dave loved it. Peter Ramsey loved it. It was a good wipe all around. But I honestly can’t remember if it was scripted as a clock wipe or just a wipe. 

TAN: Yeah, it depends on what the next shot is - from one shot to the other, I think in episode seven, we were wiping from the sky over to a really extreme wide shot of the Noti pods kind of driving through, so I think it’s whatever that’s motivating it. 

WILCOX: Kind of what the camera is doing at that point and where you want to go. And that kind of drives the idea of what type of wipe, the direction of what you want to use. But the wipes are scripted, many of them. I can’t recall them ever being a type of or direction of the wipe that you suggested to use.

That would be just too hard because they don’t know the visuals. 

TAN: It’s cool to use them because I think I used them when I was using Premiere back in high school. You’re like, “Oh my God! Throw this fancy wipe in!” I used to edit wedding videos a long time ago and you would throw in a heart wipe.

Someplace, there’s some married couple bragging, “Do you know who cut our wedding video? The person that cut Ahsoka!” That’s pretty darn impressive!


GLAUBERMAN: Star Wars wipes, though, have to be a certain length and a certain soft edge. There’s definitely a specific style of it in terms of parameters.

What about things like temp score and temp sound effects from the rest of the Star Wars universe? Was all that stuff pulled in or could you not really use it because you were in a different universe? 

TAN: For me, when I came on board, we were kind of told to use other temp scores just because I think Dave wanted to hear something different. And I think later on, as our episodes developed, then we would sprinkle in specific things. Episode five is very score-driven.

I had a whole temp layout of using different scores from Japanese composers and Jóhann Jóhannsson or mixing different scores and kind of laying it in. And I think then when we finally have our episodes and we’re playing back for Kevin Kiner, our composer, then he would kind of sprinkle things in. I think in that scene where Hera and Jacen are listening for the lightsaber crashes with the waves.

For me, now hearing it and finally when Kevin Kiner presented that score and to hear that homage to John Williams, that was incredible. That wasn’t in there in our temp just because I’m not able to do that. There are things like that where Kevin Kiner knew how to kind of weave in the Anakin theme or something like that.

But for us, it was just using a variety of different scores and whatever worked for the specific scene. And Dave, he wants to feel the story when he watched the cut. So we would kind of all temp score our stuff and make sure the story plays like a full on finished sound design and scored episode.

Sure. But you’re using temp just like anybody else would, not specifically Star Wars temp? 

TAN: Exactly.

WILCOX: But there is a sort of limited range because some of the temp scores are just too modern for what you want to intend to use for Star Wars. And some composers, their range lends itself a little better to using the temp scores. Like I used a lot of Hans Zimmer scores. I looked for parallel moments like in episode six, the arrival of the Star Destroyer.

And in that case, I used a cue from The Batman because it had just a gravitas of seeing this rickety old ship reappear after years of the fans not having seen that and reemerging live action. “The great grand admiral Thrown is here!” So it just really depends.

And then there were scenes with the witches where I felt like Dune gave me a little bit of an opportunity with the Bene Gesserit witches and the Nightsisters to use some of the parallel tones that each movie had.

So I temped a lot with Hans Zimmer. And then when Kevin finally came on board, what he did was incredible. Really, really incredible work that he did. 

GLAUBERMAN: He’s worked with Dave for so long that they kind of have a shorthand in terms of what beats and what kind of style should be put forward to each of the shows.

When you’re cutting in a dialogue scene to a reaction of maybe a robot or a hologram that’s not even there, are you choosing previs to hold that shot for you in the middle of a dialogue scene? 

TAN: A lot of times we’ll temp in a picture-in-picture temporarily. So we’ll put in a plate that’s just the background of the scene. We will then intercut it with previs because there are things that don’t exist in the dailies that will have to come later from VFX, for example, like the purgill whales.

I would put in Rosario standing there on top of the T6 and acting with the whale. The whale’s not there, so then we’ll put the picture-in-picture from previs temporarily until VFX sends us versions of the whale. It varies from scene to scene.

Our VFX editors, and our assistant editors will kind of temp in things sometimes just to kind of incorporate the actors with the things that don’t exist. Like in the Noti pod chase. There was a lot of picture-in-picture comped in because we would see puppeteers moving the Noti people kind of slowly until we get those VFX shots in, a lot of picture-in-picture are used to incorporate that throughout.

WILCOX: And even though we have the luxury of previs - as we get really going - and the priority is the first episode, second, third, then as you go forward, you don’t get the temp shots back in time enough. So sometimes you have to completely abandon what the previs was.

And in episode three with the giant space battle, I started pulling in World War Two planes just for the direction of it all and just the action of it all. So we could see: Do you need three planes here? Do you need two planes here?

To make it really easy to understand when we turn it over to VFX so that there was no confusion about the direction everything was going. If the planet was going to the left, all the action needed to go right to left, essentially, unless the camera was in a position behind the T6 or in front of the cockpit or something like that, and that was just a throwback to A New Hope.

Of course! That’s a classic editing story! 

WILCOX: George was doing the same thing! You’re watching the cut and you’re seeing previs then all of a sudden you say, “Whoa! A World War Two fighter plane just came into the cut!”

But it doesn’t jar them, but I never really kind of got comfortable with that. In the big picture, I knew what I had to do and why we were doing it. But it always threw me, though. It completely threw me every time. 

GLAUBERMAN: James, didn’t Dave do a lot of storyboards for some of that stuff, too? 

WILCOX: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. 

GLAUBERMAN: Because shots weren’t coming in fast enough, Dave would just doodle stuff really quickly and we would screenshot it, bring it into the Avid and use that as old-fashioned storyboards to tell the story.  

WILCOX: In that particular instance, he would draw these panels of everything that we discussed before it would go to visual effects. There might be 60 of them, and I’d have to cut it with the timing of animation. But when I first started cutting it I think I was holding each shot for a couple of seconds, in case we needed to discuss it, we could.

But Dave said, “James, we don’t need to do that. Just cut it how it should actually move.” Then it became like eight frame cuts to move the action through everything.

So basically you’re cutting it like you would an animated film, just using the smallest amount of frames to get to the next panel. And that gave it that fluid motion to just illustrate, “OK, this is about how long that shot’s going to need to be.” It’s no longer a discussion of holding it for two seconds. Two seconds is actually more than the whole shot will be. 

TAN: In episode seven, there’s a space battle, too. So we were in person with our VFX team, and Dave would be drawing on this giant whiteboard and doing frames of it. And then again, everybody would take a picture with their iPhone and then he’d say, “Going once! Going twice!”

Wipe! And he’ll erase it, then do the next thing. We would make sure we captured it as screenshots. Then we put those drawings in our cut and sound designing it, whatever the story beat is at that moment. We would just kind of describe it with Chyrons until “anim” would come in.

It’s pretty great to see a showrunner storyboarding live for us, because usually we would have to go sit with a storyboard artist. Dave knows what he wants. So he’s drawing exactly what he pictured. I feel like everybody appreciates that.

GLAUBERMAN: 100 percent. It’s also fun to actually watch him doodle and how quickly he can do it. 

TAN: I draw a stick figures, so…

GLAUBERMAN: I know! Exactly! Going back to the lightsaber sounds really quick at the end of episode one is the big lightsaber battle between Sabine and Shin. John Ott and I had temped in a bunch of sound effects and did a whole sound design. We ended up having incorrect lightsaber sounds because we didn’t actually have them in the Avid.

We had lightsaber sounds, but not the correct ones for that particular fight. And so we ended up reaching out to our sound supervisor, sound designer up at Skywalker, Matt Wood and David Acord. And we sent them the scene and David Acord actually designed the lightsabers for those two characters and sent us a whole pass for that scene.

And then we broke those sound effects down and put them in a bin for all three of us to use for future episodes. And we had one specific to Shin. We had one specific to Sabine. And those were used throughout. 

And then in episode four, which was directed by Peter Ramsey, the majority of that episode was lightsaber fights. There were bigger chunks of the episode that were lightsaber fights between Sabine and Shin and a lightsaber fight between Ahsoka and Baylan, but we ended up cutting it up a little bit more to sort of intercut the scenes to show the differences between the Jedi Masters and their Apprentices and the styles of how they fight.

We had all these lightsaber sounds. We were able to intercut those. And we had to try and keep the episode interesting for the audience. I think it really paid off to have those intercuts in there. I kind of did a little bit of a left turn with what I was going at for the lightsaber sounds. 

TAN: It kind of goes to what all of us are saying: Whatever serves the story. You don’t want to have a scene that’s just full-on lightsabers. That doesn’t go anywhere if you don’t favor certain character and show that this person’s winning at this time or this person is having to lose in this moment. You have to make sure you favor wherever the story is going. 

GLAUBERMAN: Absolutely. 

TAN: The intercuts we would often cut as scripted and then later on kind of go in and see, “OK, well, that’s not working a certain way. So let’s try an intercut here or let’s make sure we maybe favor this person here just so when we come back to them, we’re going to appreciate that moment to see how far it’s going.”

Otherwise, I feel like the audience - maybe not the Star Wars superfans - but I feel like if you’re just seeing a bunch of clashes it’s not going to mean anything if there’s no upper hand. 

GLAUBERMAN: In Episode Four, I think probably about 75 percent of the show is lightsaber fights, so we had to figure out how to make it interesting and doing just that was the key. 

Intercutting or the sound?

GLAUBERMAN: Intercutting.

WILCOX: We started that out with previs and it was quite lengthy. We had a screening early on and I remember in the screening, a lot of people said, “Maybe it’s running too long” because the longer the scene ran, the less jeopardy it had because it just felt implausible that they could escape that many attempts of being bombed and shot.

In terms of how it is visually put together, we have people who are on horses and also it’s a combination of these motion-based rigs that the actors can ride. And it’s usually shot in a “cowboy” (lingo for a medium shot, to about mid-thigh).

So you can’t really see it because those are the more emotional beats of dialogue or something that you want to be in tight for. But on a lot of the wide shots, it really is a combination of what we animate after the actors are scanned in. And it’s a combination of stunt people riding horses. And on occasion, I know Natasha can actually ride a horse. She would be on a horse as well. 

That’s kind of how that scene all came together with a combination of practically what we did on the day, animation, motion-based rigs and completely redoing things. And so it’s a really interesting thing to see the VFX take what we’ve done - where you see the actors weaving to evade being hit - and then VFX knows exactly where to drop the explosions in.

Once I got everything in, I can now say, “Let’s revisit the pacing.” Because faster is better. The quicker they can get in there, the more believable it’s going to be. The greater the jeopardy.

TAN: I think for every episode, every time a VFX comes in, there’s timing things that you want to kind of shape up. For example, in episode two, you’re just seeing gray dudes in really tight leotards, fighting. Then when the VFX shots come in, they’re moving much faster.

You’re really getting the shots in and trimming the cut just to make it work better. Or seeing a droid in the scene. There are times where you would see it picture-in-picture, then the minute the VFX comes in, it’s a better version of what you attempted to split screen.

Now you’re kind of reworking the scene again just to make it flow better. And same with any of the space battles or previs versus the actors. A lot of times I think we have to open things up just because in the previs, we’re seeing just a shot of Rosario [Dawson, Ahsoka] kind of scanned as an image.

But when we get the real actor, we want to stay with her. We want to kind of let her eyes tell the story, whatever she’s emoting. Same with any characters. We’re opening things up. Same with Hayden Christensen when he’s playing a scene with young Ahsoka.

There are moments I think in previs where it’s cut a little faster. But the minute the scene came in, you want to kind of stay on whoever the character we’re favoring in that scene is, and letting the story play out. I think a lot of times we just see what dailies we’re getting and we’re opening things up constantly.

And especially when VFX comes in, I think we’re either opening things up or we’re slowing things down or on our VFX call, Dave will tell us, “Well, this is no longer going to work.” It’s ever-changing. And we’re always keeping track on every episode, just seeing what the shots are and seeing how the cut is evolving, constantly. 

WILCOX: To Rosie’s point, we have to identify what we’re doing with these big scenes like that quickly, because if we have to eliminate shots, we got to kick that up the line so that they know: “Don’t work on this anymore.”

Because we’re probably overloaded with the amount of work VFX has to do anyways. So you don’t want anybody working on an expensive shot for longer than they need to. So as soon as we get the word that the cut’s changing, they’ll pull the work and then move on to something else. 

TAN: Even the handles. A lot of times if we trim the shot, they don’t need to keep using or building that shot with the 10 frame handles. We’re now just using it up until that point. 

So a lot of times everything comes in a little fatter just because we need it, but the minute - as the cut is evolving and the VFX becomes more finalized - we’re limiting: “OK, now you’re going to get a shot that’s maybe two frame handles” by that point, just because it’s so expensive. 

We’re updating and letting the VFX editor know so they know how to tell the VFX vendors, “OK, this is what we’re using” or this is what Dave has decided. This is what Dave has approved. Making sure that there’s no extra cost being thrown at unnecessary things. 

GLAUBERMAN: And that goes along with tight communication that we have with our visual effects editors, with the visual effects team and they have with us. We’re constantly in touch with each other.

What about the change in a scene based on either music - because I’m assuming you are cutting without music when you’re originally cutting these scenes - or sound effects that you’re getting? Maybe your assistant is putting the sound effects or you’re putting in sound effects after you’re cutting the visuals for a scene. How is sound changing the cut?

TAN: Constantly, because when we’re presenting a full cut or we’re presenting scenes, especially to Dave, he wants to hear the scene realized. When we get notes, the sound design and music will change too. Obviously, those are temp scores because they’re coming from different movies. 

It’s never going to be as great and fitting as what Kevin Kiner is going to do. But there are things that we’re doing sound-design wise that’s telling the story.

WILCOX: Yeah. And episode specific, too, can dictate your sound design. In episode six, we’re in a whole new galaxy on a whole different planet with different sounds that are native to that planet. And we’re meeting these Noti creatures, which no one has ever heard before. So we’re developing what that sounds like.

The witches would speak in tandem, even though the lead witch will talk. But there’s a vocalization across all three, so that has to be figured out. That comes together with the help of Matt Wood and Skywalker Sound. So every little thing that’s introduced - every character, every moment on this new planet - all introduces new sound that you don’t really necessarily have in your library at all.

So you’re constantly in touch with the guys up north [Skywalker Sound] to figure out this is what we need. Here’s the scene. Here’s a base cut of the scene. But I don’t have what I need for that. Sometimes we go around the office. Rosie temped some stuff for me. She temped in witches and she temped in Noti sounds.

TAN: (vocalizes)

GLAUBERMAN: How’d that go, Rosie? 

TAN: (vocalizes again) We had fun. A lot of assistant editors joined in. I remember the scene where the Noti was throwing a rock. I’m thinking, “What would that sound like?” So I’m recording myself.

WILCOX: The funny thing about it is that we get into the weeds on these things giving notes on the temps: “Rosie, maybe not so high on the first part. A little angrier for the second one.”


So funny!

TAN: Yeah, we’re all so into it. We love being there. I think that’s the important thing. We’re so lucky to be doing something so big and special. And I think little things like that just makes us happy and fun that we can contribute in that way. We know it’s going to get replaced, but we’re having fun. And when I was that witch for you, James, it was like, “Sure, why not?”

I love it. 

GLAUBERMAN: Along those lines of what Rosie is saying about having fun: we’re supposed to have fun because if we can’t have fun and laugh along the way, then it’s not an enjoyable experience.

And to be able to have fun and enjoy the people that you were working with and appreciate the people that you are working with, it makes this job all the better. We went up to Skywalker Ranch often, but there was one trip that the three of us took together, and it was so special to be up there together. 

TAN: Just being able to see the cuts together and at the same time discuss it with each other. We’re pulling long hours on these things, so if you don’t enjoy your work, it’s not going to be a fun experience, especially if it’s something that lasts so long.

The Ahsoka team at Skywalker Ranch, for the audio mix.

I could talk to you three forever, but I know that you’re all working. Dana is working today, on a Saturday! So James, Rosanne and Dana, thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Cut. 

GLAUBERMAN: Always a pleasure, Steve. Thank you so much.

TAN: Thank you so much for having us.

WILCOX: Thanks Steve! Bye!