Masters of the Air

Oscar-winning editor, Mark Sanger, ACE and Billy Rich discuss the editing challenges of Masters of the Air. From the editorial benefits of footage shot on “The Volume” to using an iPhone and model planes to create placeholders for the epic battle scenes and the ability to cut the finale linearly.

Today on Art of the Cut we speak with Oscar-winning editor, Mark Sanger, ACE and editor Billy Rich about editing the Apple TV+ series, Masters of the Air.

Mark’s been on Art of the Cut since we chatted about his Oscar-winning film, Gravity, more than a decade ago. We’ve also discussed editing Jurassic World Dominion, Transformers: Last Knight, and Pokemon, Detective Pikachu.

Billy Rich has edited features including Ghost in the Shell, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Promised Land. And TV including Death and Other Details and Raised by Wolves.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being an Art of the Cut. I really appreciate it. 

Mark, you and I have been speaking to each other for 10 years now - since Gravity, when you won the Oscar. So good to talk to you again!

SANGER: Good to talk to you too, Stephen. It’s always a pleasure.

And Billy Rich, welcome to the show. This is the first time we’ve talked and I’m so glad we’re getting a chance to talk about this great project. 

SANGER: Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.

The most obvious place to start on this is the air battle stuff. What did you have to work with when you were cutting in the early days? Was there previs?

SANGER: I should point out to everybody that Billy and I haven’t ever met before. We’ve spoken many times, but we weren’t all sitting in one building working together. We were working for different directors, different teams. 

We were all heads-down concentrating on the material. I edited episodes one, two, and three with editor Mark Czyzewski from Playtone, and I had the challenge in the initial assembly of taking this huge amount of dailies - I think there were 155 hours of material for the episodes that I was working on, including multiple cameras inside the cockpit.

All of the material of the interiors of the cockpit was shot in a Volume (virtual production) with several cameras and several takes and cameras. There was no previs in the episodes that I worked on.

Some had been done in terms of the blocking and there were conversations about how the battles were going to develop and how the chaos would ensue, but it’s very difficult working in a three dimensional environment with squadrons of planes with the enemy coming in from A to B and from north to south and trying to work out exactly how the battle is gonna go together.

The first thing I did when I turned up is I asked the 1st AD if he would record a separate mic track during production so that I could hear what the director and the 1st AD and the military advisor were saying to the actors. I was getting that track as part of my dailies.

I was hearing them describe where the planes were coming from, so that allowed me to understand exactly what was going on in their heads. Also, I leaned on Stephen Rosenbaum, a visual effects supervisor and a visual effects editor, PJ Harling to say, “I’m gonna start moving the planes from here to here and up and down.”

They would advise me on what was historically accurate. Then I took a bunch of plastic plane models and started shooting them with an iPhone. The very first assembly that I put together of each of the air battles was a mixture of cards, dailies and iPhone footage.

I’d run that past the visual effects supervisor, Stephen, and we’d have a conversation and run it past the creative team on the show. We’d all have conversations and slowly a logic would come to it, but it was definitely a case of blocking three dimensional battles in a two dimensional space, which was a task and a half.

What about you, Billy? What was your experience with the air battles that you had to edit?

RICH: It was unusual on this project. I think it’s the only time I’ve come onto a project where - by the time I was hired - it had all been shot. I just had this huge pile of footage. In a way that was nice because I didn’t have the pressure of “Are we missing anything?”

Part of the job - normally when you’re cutting - is trying to make sure that everything is covered. I was relieved of that job. My first approach to the big air battle at the top of the finale was to really just try to make it make sense.

The actors were often filming tiny pieces of the battle at a time and they don’t really necessarily have context for what they’re doing at every moment. People are in different parts of the plane. They’re not actually interacting with each other on set.

They did have LED screens (The Volume) that creates a sort of virtual set, which was great because then it created better timing for reacting to the wing getting hit or another plane coming down or whatever it might be. It was more natural than just having an AD shout “the wing exploded!” from off screen. So it created a sort of consistency to the performances.

That sequence, for example, was maybe 10 pages of script and I created a sort of beat sheet - like a single page - of “this happens, then this happens.” I went through and made selects like I would on any kind of action sequence, but then I made this cheat sheet and - in a very boring way - went through and tried to find what motivated each action because it’s very easy in an action sequence to put together a lot of sound and motion and have it feel sort of exciting but end up flat because you don’t know why people are doing what they’re doing.

So I really just tried to find the cause and effect of each beat to see how they ended up in each situation and then how they worked to get out of those situations. So my first pass was really pretty academic. Then I had the freedom after that to go back and look at things like pace and performance and all that with knowledge that at least it’s all kind of adding up.

Mark Sanger’s editing set-up

SANGER: All the editors had to deal with this interesting issue in terms of basic storytelling that our characters have masks on their faces and sometimes it’s difficult to geographically understand - even if it’s an actor that you might recognize or a character’s whose voice you might recognize - in the heat of the battle, it’s great that there’s an element of chaos and the audience is often losing some form of geography because that helps the drama. 

But you don’t wanna lose too much geography because then you just lose the audience. All of us editors I’m sure had the same issue of, “I’m cutting from this actor or this character in this plane to this character in this plane and one is up here and one is down there.” 

It’s one thing geographically to be able to tell the story of where they are in space, but also there’s the drama, the interaction that’s going on between these characters. So it is a multifaceted, multilayered choreography that was always going on

RICH: Precisely! It’s not about making it make sense geographically or understanding where everybody is. It’s making it make sense WHY the characters are reacting the way they’re reacting and what they’re afraid of. It was particularly difficult when you can’t see 75% of their face. That was definitely an added challenge

But is there an advantage to that?

RICH: You can certainly replace any of the dialogue that you want to. Yes, there is that.

SANGER: When it comes down to the much broader storytelling of not one scene or one sequence or one episode, but the entire story, then in those situations when you’re dealing with the rhythm and pace of an entire story, the ability to shorten a line of dialogue or change a line of dialogue during a sequence like that offers an editor a wealth of opportunity.

But that said, I always tried to avoid it if I could because the script was so solid and the performances were so solid. But if your initial episode is too long, then there are certain things that need to be done in order to whittle it down and that’s where you have to kill your babies a little bit.

Speaking about the episodes being too long, I’m assuming you weren’t under an actual time constraints or were you just saying that they were too long story-wise? Or did you actually have time limits to hit?

RICH: I was never given a particular duration target, however, the finale was originally two scripts and then it was combined into one. So it was always a long script and so the first cut was long and the final cut was long compared to other episodes.

SANGER: I was never given any specific runtime. I’d just do what I do on any project: which is based on a minute per page and use that as my initial guide. I just let the rhythm of the page and the power of the performance play out. Normally I found when I was doing that - because the performances were so solid - the first assembly just had a natural economy to it.

Editor Billy Rich

You mentioned The Volume. I’m assuming that they were in a real structure of a plane and then the LED was what they were seeing outside the window or outside the gun port or something?

RICH: They had the plane on some sort of rig that was programmed with the background footage so the plane would shake and turn and the backgrounds would turn with it. It’s was pretty remarkable. It was such a wonderful guide for the actors. I thought it was really helpful to have in the edit as well.

SANGER: I’ve done quite a bit of Volume work now. This time was the most well-used method because the main benefit was that you were seeing planes fly by. Because that plane was flying past them on The Volume there was light interaction. 

You would see the shadow of a plane go over the top of the actors. The actors are actually looking at planes that are flying over them and the light interaction between those planes and them and the light interaction between the explosions, particularly when they’re really in the thick of battle was certainly part of what made it so enthralling.

Pre-clapperboard it’s just a blue screen and some guys in a poorly lit stage. But when the clapperboard claps, suddenly they’re outside and they’re flying over Germany. Sometimes they’re flying over in bright blue skies and sometimes they’re in deep thick cloud cover. 

The moment that Volume went on, all of a sudden the actors were in a plane as far as all of the cameras were concerned, it was quite amazing to look at.

RICH: Yeah. Made a huge difference.

I would also think it makes a difference because of their eyes, right? That can be so motivating to see an actor’s eyes dart off in a direction and that instigates a cut.

SANGER: Definitely. From my perspective - when I was going through the volume of dailies - exactly as you say, Steve, the greatest thing is that you’d hear the creative team talking about “incoming planes 10 o’clock,” but at the same time you would just get a flicker of an eye up to the planes coming in from there and they knew exactly what they were looking at. 

Their eye lines are correct. Again, unlike when it’s just a tennis ball on a pole and you have crew members trying to get actors to follow eye lines, it gave a level of believability to all of the scenes. Nobody was having to say, “Look over here, look over there,” or when there were two characters in the cockpit of the plane, they are both reacting to the same things that are going on outside the plane and all that light interaction is all over their faces. 

It certainly made watching the dailies far more palpable in terms of the storytelling than having to cut it with a blue screen and wait for somebody to fill in the backgrounds later on.

Did the script stay pretty true as far as the balance of the air attacks compared to the stuff on the ground?

RICH: The last episode had a particular challenge: A lot of times when you’re cutting a feature you have the problem of multiple endings. Episode nine was kind of multiple endings by design and that’s because war doesn’t end on a single day with a single event and you want to give all these characters opportunities to celebrate and grieve and reflect and then mixed in with all that was still an escape and a plane going down and all these other things. 

So it was an interesting balance tonally between these reflective moments and these interjections of action in terms of the order and the balance. It was relatively in script order. Everything had to come down in time just because it was originally two episodes, but in terms of the overall balance, I would say it was pretty accurate to the script.

SANGER: Yeah, I’d say the same. The script had been worked on so carefully that episodes one, two, and three structurally were really solid and there was material that was definitely reduced, but never anything that felt particularly overly fatty in terms of the original assembly versus what actually finally went to air.

Everything that was written was either historically enthralling or historically exciting. Historically, I always felt that there was a responsibility that we had as filmmakers in general to put everything that we possibly could on the screen and that was certainly present in all of the dailies structurally, certainly in episodes one, two, and three, there was no major change, but like Billy, there was a little bit of sliding around of where episode one ended and where episode two began. 

The story was so solid that sliding that endpoint and that start point from one side to the other was actually quite a fluid thing to do. It felt natural. Sometimes when you have structural problems on a feature film, it becomes a real difficult thing because it’s a Jenga pile. You start picking this at this part and the whole thing falls apart. But the scripts are so solid and there was so much richness in the material both dramatically and historically that the Jenga pile never really felt as if it was gonna topple over.

You mentioned the historicity of this being a part of a true event - World War II - and this real squadron of bombers. Did you do any research? Did either one of you read anything, watch documentaries? Did you feel the need to? Or did you feel the need to stay away from that?

RICH: I dabbled a bit, but I also trusted that the writers had done their job. I know that a lot of effort went into telling the story as accurately as possible within the limitations of a nine-hour drama. I was certainly aware of not wanting to skip over beats. 

If this was a piece of fiction, you might just try to simplify certain things. I did keep an eye on not wanting to gloss over anything too much, but I didn’t take on the full burden of historian on this one.

SANGER: I was coming hot off the back of another project and I was very lucky that they were able to kind of squeeze me in at the point that I was able to join them, which allowed for absolutely zero background research. 

I came on board and had a day-one grassroots education in basic aviation, and if you watch that landing at the beginning of episode one, there was a lot of learning I had to do to, to work out exactly what they were doing, what Austin Butler was doing in the aircraft. You couldn’t just cut around it. 

You had to understand what he was doing in order to plan, “Okay, well the next shot has got to be this. If he’s doing that, then their next shot has to go outside.” So I got my iPhone out and filmed a model plane from this side because the plane would be moving position.

I depend upon the military advisors in my ear via the dailies, and again, Steven Rosenbaum the visual effects supervisor. He’d done the research in advance and I would turn to him and he would send me a PDF bible of information on why they would be doing this and why they would be doing that and what trimming is and all these different terms that you need to know. 

You couldn’t just scoot around that. I learned more about warfare and aviation, and the history behind it than I did in my six years at secondary school.

RICH: Now that you mentioned it - Mark, I had forgotten - but actually I did have a few conversations early on in terms of the sort of technical aspects of flight and the air battles with Stephen Rosenbaum who very kindly got on a Zoom call and acted out things with his hands and sent all kinds of diagrams so instead of needing to understand the history of the particular battles, it was more about needing to understand how these planes work and how the actors were interacting with him to make that as realistic as possible. He was a great resource for that for sure.

SANGER: He’d done his training for us and spent several hours with each of us explaining how things work. The great thing for editors is that we all react to a visual medium. So if you had Stephen there and you had the dailies - between the two of them - it was certainly a lot more fluid of an education than reading a book.

It sounds like you also didn’t bother to watch a lot of films that had other big air battles. Did either one of you consider that?

RICH: I feel like I might have, but to be honest, I don’t remember. I do sort of vaguely remember looking into what existed of that, but it’s been two years and to be completely honest, I just don’t remember what it was I looked at.

SANGER: I never felt that there was a particular style or air battle that I felt that I needed to be referencing because the blocking of the air battles, the initial stages of that had already been done by the crew and therefore you would listen to the crew, you would look at the actor’s performances, you would read the script and from that it came about organically. 

Had any of us tried to impose some other style or pay any sort of homage to a 1950s war movie, I think it would’ve rubbed. And in some respects there was a comfort to that because there was a lot of material. So to be suddenly handed all this material, it was great that all that research had been done in advance because it didn’t fill at any time, certainly for me that I was having to patch something together. 

You were basically being handed this golden platter of material to form on behalf of others. So it was great.

Mark edited the first three episodes, so there was obviously no need to watch anything from another editor that he needed to do. But Billy, what about you? Did you need to watch the previous episodes to understand the characters or the threads or the storylines or did you just dive in?

RICH: When I initially started, I just dove in. I just started from scratch. I don’t think there were cuts available to me quite yet when I first started on it. Later in the process when there were cuts available, I did at one point go into Playtone and watch all eight episodes over the course of two days. 

I had asked to come in and see the other cuts because the finale is really the culmination of all that’s come before it, so I wanted to understand what’s it really about at its core? They all have a common goal which allows things to come together in the end, but it was certainly helpful to see the previous episodes, even in an earlier state, just to see where we needed to land.

SANGER: I hadn’t thought of how lucky I was getting those opening episodes ‘cause I didn’t have to do that. So in some respects I may have got the easier three of the episodes in order to set things up, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.

RICH: It was a luxury to see the other episodes, but the job had been done in the writing already. There was nothing that came from that viewing where I said, “Oh, we really need to bend this in some direction or another” at all.

It’s unusual - TV-wise - for Mark to have cut three episodes in a row. It’s nice to do that so you have some continuity, but normally you’d block that out so that you spread out the workload of those first three episodes a little more.

SANGER: I’d never done television before. This was a marvelous opportunity that I was asked to do it and so I probably didn’t really get to think about that too much. From my perspective though, they were three feature films condensed into sort of hourly length but the size and the scope of these stories that are being told, I kind of just treated them like it was a trilogy because I just couldn’t concentrate on all nine episodes. It was a just a huge trilogy of stories that would lead into the next two trilogies of stories that the other guys were working on. 

But I’m used to taking a 90 minute movie and cutting it with the same amount of visual effects that these episodes have and cutting it over a course of a year, but I cut three of them in a year! We all had that task.

Masters of the Air is not a project where it’s a kitchen sink drama of people sitting down and talking - which by the way, some of my favorite drama on television is exactly that - but episodes of that sort of drama come together quite quickly editorially. 

These were major movies that we were each editing. There was a challenge behind that. When you had that time constraint of 12 months to make three movies you had to just focus on the little trilogy of stories that you had and nothing more, ‘cause otherwise it would never have gotten done.

Rich, you came in after your episodes had been shot. Did you find that because it was all sitting in a pile that you could cut linearly? And did that help?

RICH: I did cut linearly, actually! I hadn’t thought about that! That is an unusual thing to be able to do. I don’t know if it helped. I’m honestly used to cutting a sequence where I really don’t know what’s working until it’s all in one piece in some ways. 

I take my best guess at what the point of a scene is when I first assemble it, but I don’t really know what the point of the scene is until I see it next to the scene before it and after. And so whether I do it in order or not, there’s a point at which I just have to stand back and say, “Oh, I did that all wrong.” Then, go again.

SANGER: I did the same. I had to start at scene one and just go scene by scene because for me, I was being thrown in at the deep end. It was a voyage of discovery as to what the story was and how it was un-spooling.

I felt that given the size and scope of each episode, the only way really to concentrate on the granular levels of the story, the emotion and the drama and the characters inside all this huge scope was to deal with it line by line, scene by scene, and then just, butt the next scene up against the last one that you’d done.

Then you got to the end of an episode and stood back and were able to look at it as its own thing for the first time. There wasn’t any time, it was more about ensuring that each scene was working, standing up on its feet before moving on to the next one.

There’d been so much prep work and the writing was so great and the performances were just off the scale. I found that by the time I got to the end of an episode, I wasn’t depressed. It was really already up on its feet because of all of the other departments that had preceded us.

Where were they shooting and where were you editing Billy? Though that probably didn’t matter for you…

RICH: Yeah, it was shot and wrapped by the time I started and I was editing from home. I was all remote on that with the exception of a few weeks.

What about your assistant editor? Was your assistant also remote at their house or at a studio or…

RICH: Mine was also remote. Yeah.

Is that difficult? Do you feel something’s lost in the translation when you have to be remote from your assistant?

RICH: I prefer to work in person. There are advantages and disadvantages. I’m working in office right now, but my assistant is actually remote for personal reasons on this project and I just talk to him on FaceTime all day, so it’s fine. We have a system.

I don’t love working alone. That’s the typical image of an editor as sort of a lone character, but I like to have people around to say, “Hey, look at this. Does this make any sense? Is this terrible? What do you think?” To me, ideally I love working with other people, but at this point I’m used to it and flexible and it all worked out fine.

Mark Sanger would use his iPhone to shoot footage of model planes to cut into the air battles.

SANGER: Something happened to me on this one that never happened to me before. I was away on location when I got the call asking if I would be available. I was actually at Skywalker Ranch. I’d been away from my family for a long time and before that - even during COVID - I was very lucky to be working during Covid, but I was away from home, so one of my first questions was, “So where will this be based?

And they said “Oh, we’re working out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a place called Aston Clinton in Hartfordshire. Aston Clinton in Hartfordshire is just outside of London, but it’s a 12 minutes drive from my house! So what was already an amazing prospect of working on this show suddenly was just solidified for me.

The moment I got back from Skywalker, I flew in on Sunday and on Monday morning I was in a trailer with all the crew just outside the sound stage in Aston Clinton in the UK. We’re very lucky. We have a lot of work over here. We’re very privileged.

So there’s a lot of pop-up studios and Apple and PlayTone moved into this industrial park and took it over and they became production offices and sound stages. There was an editorial team there that was kind of the base for all of the episodes that were shooting at the time.

So they were present, but they were inside the building and I was in a trailer on my own next to set. Down one end of the trailer was the Avid and in the bedroom of the trailer was the squadron of model airplanes that I would film on my iPhone.

I wanted to talk about that idea of the model airplanes ‘cause you also said sometimes you used cards. I was having a discussion with somebody about the fact that sometimes there’s a value in using a placeholder card in your sequence because people can use their imagination when they’re watching it, but then there are times - like you were saying - where the position of the plane or what it’s doing is so important to the story that a card’s just not gonna work.

SANGER: Cards work in 2D. There are moments when cards are more beneficial than trying to orchestrate something in a rather “Heath Robinson” iPhone fashion.

What I would find was that the iPhone footage was great when trying to depict if there are planes coming in from two o’clock and going down to eight o’clock and some of the planes are higher up, then in order to tell the story of that plane’s relationship to the planes in which the enemy fights are actually heading past and to go and attack, then in that instance, a POV of that plane and the enemy fighters coming by was very, very useful to do with an iPhone because you immediately - with one shot - you were giving geography not only of where the Allied fighters were, but also where the enemy fighters were.

But sometimes a card was more useful if there was an explosion or if it was something more on the same physical plane as the aircraft that the characters were on. In those instances, I found that a card was actually much more useful when it was combined with a sound effect.

So then you would just lay in a temporary sound effect of whatever was going on and between the dailies, the looks around, the glances, the performances, the use of sound effects, the use of the cards, something began to form.

There was just fear that I would fail at trying to block all of this, but then there was a moment of relief where I realized, “Okay, I think between all of this - I may still have to talk people through the sequences to begin with - but they’ll gradually come together.”

Excuse my ignorance or maybe my American vocabulary, but what is a “Heath Robinson?”

SANGER: As I said that I thought that was probably the wrong thing to say. I don’t know the etymological roots of where “Heath Robinson” comes from but Heath Robinson in the British vernacular is something that you make out of tape and scissors or out of the materials available to you.

When I talked to Joe Walker about Dune, he said he used his phone to shoot Denis Villeneuve using his hand to pick up a deck of cards to show how the aircraft that pick up the Spice harvester works.

SANGER: I certainly think there’s a discipline to that with filmmakers who are prepared to do that sort of thing because what it it means is that there is intent behind the design of how a scene is coming together because it’s very specific and without that, what you end up with - and it was certainly NOT a problem that we had on Masters of the Air - was people tend to think, “Oh, well we could just do anything with visual effects.

We can move things around.” Well, the thing is with air battles of this sort is that the moment you start moving a plane 200 feet forward, then all of a sudden you’ll find that the action doesn’t work anymore because the geography isn’t working.

You have to start from a solid foundation and work up and you have to have that specificity whether it’s a hand moving something around physically or a model airplane on an iPhone because without that there’s too much flexibility. There’s too much that could fall apart in the storytelling.

I love cutting in anything. If a director says a plane should be doing this or the creature should be doing that, okay, hold up the iPhone, record ’em doing it, cut it in, and everybody knows what they’re talking about, and from there the conversation can be had.

RICH: It also does a much better job of approximating pace compared to a card. You can’t put enough information on the card or you can’t hold the card up long enough on screen, right? It’s just supposed to be a beat. I find that I can use cards for things like POV explosions, right?

Or very small ideas where you just add a sound effect. But anything beyond that, any visual representation in a 3D space is more helpful than words on the screen. Even just trying to sell the cut internally to the filmmakers in our own team, or even as a test, I think as editors for ourselves to see if it’s working.

It’s having the ability to show scale and pace and things like that, even if it’s extremely crude, always seems like a more helpful exercise.

SANGER: And definitely with something like this - to your point Billy - your eye-lines, or crossing the line, the placement of an object in a piece of temporary video in relation to the perspective of the camera.

That’s something that - the moment you see it for a brief glimpse - you’ve already told a certain amount of story and you can see that’s gonna work. Whereas a card where you have to write “camera left, we rack focus from this object to that object” you’ve lost the audience.

RICH: And in some instances - do you find, Mark? - I feel like sometimes it can give a false sense of security because you can screen a cut with 50 cards in it and loud music and producers will watch it and say, “I’m sure that’ll work.” People can be almost too trusting when they see a bunch of stuff and they say, “They must know what they’re doing!”

I also think about it as a help in advancing the conversation with other departments, right? You’re better off moving the other people along with you. 

This was an Amblin Entertainment project and Steven Spielberg was executive producer. Did you get any notes from him? I’ve heard his notes are phenomenal.

SANGER: I didn’t. The interesting thing for me was I was coming off another Amblin project, which is why I was at Skywalker, but that was a movie and this was a TV show and so my experience was that I got actually very little notes during my process and certainly none of them from Steven.

Then at the end of the show - I think as our episodes were being whittled down in terms of the overall structure by Mark at Playtone - when he was doing his work - orchestrating everything and telling the broader story - I’m sure he was probably getting notes at that stage from Mr. Hanks and Mr. Spielberg.

RICH: Same experience here. Mark, who was kind of the finishing editor for the entire nine episode series, probably handled any of those final notes from the likes of Mr. Spielberg. But I did not encounter them.

SANGER: Mark took all the heat for us.

RICH: That’s right. There was a very long post-process in terms of finishing massive amount of visual effects across all nine episodes and sound and score and Mark oversaw that entire finishing process for the whole series.

SANGER: Master of the Air follows Band of Brothers. Amblin and Playtone have been making these dramas for so long and they’re so keen to ensure that it’s honorably and honestly told that I don’t feel - having watched the final episodes - that anything was ever compromised in terms of historical or dramatic accuracy.

So they’re well in the weeds in terms of their experience of knowing how to tell these stories in a way that honors the material. So I didn’t get any notes personally from them, but it’s nice to see the evolution of the script through the dailies, through the assemblies, through the multiple cuts through to the ending of post-production. It was a very well-honed story by that time.

What did you use for temp score?

RICH: I usually use a very unscientific method of looking through films that I like that are tonally similar. They don’t need to be the same genre, just maybe tonally more similar and I pull in all the scores.

In a perfect world, I do that before I start on a project because - I don’t know about you Mark - but I find it incredibly time consuming to go through temp score and pull together a palette that I like.

So I kind of go through the script to make notes for myself how I think it might be scored in terms of the cuing where music will come in and come out and what sort of emotions are important to look for and underline, then I gather stuff up and make notes and create music bins with really elaborate notes in the comments that are really embarrassing.

So if I’m working with other editors or assistants, I hide my bin views so they don’t see my notes: “spooky but gets big at the end.” I create this kind of shorthand and I might have a column that has scenes that I think it might work for.

Then by the time I assembled the sequence and I’m looking for score, it doesn’t always end up being the pieces that I maybe thought would be useful, but I have a kind of grab bag to go to. Then sometimes - this is even more of a silly cheat - if I have 20 scores that I’ve gone through and made notes and I put them all in one bin sometimes I get lucky if I sort by length of the cue.

You’re not the first person to tell me that they use that technique.

RICH: Scenes tend to have a natural structure to them. There’s a way that writers build scenes where they sort of climax in a certain place and they do a couple of things and so it is not totally unheard of that I will just find something that is the right length that I had sort of pulled as an option and it will just work - not with no editing - but sometimes I get lucky.

SANGER: I usually do the other end of the scale. I don’t cut with temp at all. I just leave it raw and then if the director or the producers want something to be laid in, then I’ll go and seek something at that stage. But I don’t cut with anything.

What I normally do is I normally say, “How are you about seeing your first assembly with no temp in it?” Sometimes you have to put in SOMETHING, but often you’ll get a positive reaction. At least I won’t get wed to any temp. That’s the worst thing that can possibly happen is your director gets wed to a piece of temp music.

RICH: Yes, that’s a disaster! That’s a disaster.

SANGER: The composer can never - however talented they are - beat that piece of temp that the director fell in love with 10 months ago. For that reason, amongst others, I cut with a mono track. I will lay in sound effects where story is dependent upon the sound effect. I won’t lay in any temp score until somebody requests it.

RICH: The answer I typically get when I ask that question is…

SANGER: “No, fill it up, please”

RICH: “Fill it with music.” But, I agree with Mark. It is always ideal - even if I am sending it out with music - I do a first assembly without temp because it influences the cut too much if you’re cutting with it.

I do find that - for whatever reason - most directors that I’ve worked with prefer to see things with music, and - because we’re often cutting out of order and they’re seeing individual sequences, then they all end up in a row - I often encounter the issue of having too much music by the time there’s a full assembly and then we have to really aggressively go through and weed it out because it’s terrible to have too much music. It just flattens the entire experience.

SANGER: Also - on a scene-by-scene basis - when a director falls in love with the the temp music of one scene and they love that, but then they were also seeing the scene before it with a different temp completely independently of each other.

The moment you try and put those two scenes together, cuts that they were in love with beforehand suddenly don’t work because you have this jarring juxtaposition.

Whereas the most satisfying thing that I find is that if you cut something together with the rhythm in your head and it’s working without score, then a music editor editor comes in and chooses a piece of music that works for the scene, but the rhythm of the music is in sync with the rhythm of your editing, then you know something was right. It’s dictated by the cut.

That’s why my “10 Commandments for Editing” has Number Nine as: “Temp not with John Williams. He composeth not for thee.”

Steve Hullfish’s 10 Commandments of Film Editing (from a t-shirt made for his post crew) (copyright Steve Hullfish!)

SANGER: That’s amazing! 

Gentlemen, it has been so nice talking to both of you about this project. Congratulations on some great work and good luck on the projects you’re taking care of right now. 

SANGER: Thank you so much. We appreciate you chatting with us.