Silent Night

Oscar-winner Zach Staenberg, ACE, on editing a movie with no dialogue, cutting montages without music, and more on director John Woo’s action-packed film.

Today on Art of the Cut, we’re talking with Oscar-winning editor Zach Staenberg, ACE, about editing John Woo’s latest film, Silent Night. 

Zach won an Oscar and an ACE Eddie for the original Matrix film. He’s also been nominated for an Emmy and won an ACE Eddie for Gotti. His other work includes Ava, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Speed Racer, Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, and Police Academy.

In this movie, there’s no dialogue. Do you, as an editor, have to rely on something else that you wouldn’t normally rely on, like sound or direction or shot choice or something to help better tell the story?

I was initially totally sucked in by two things: the fact that it was directed by John Woo, who I kind of revere and the fact that there was no dialogue because in theory I felt like it has the potential to make something that’s pure cinema.

You’re making a silent film, essentially. It has, I think, a pretty great sound job, great mix, a great score.

But I didn’t really know how it would play out when I first started working on it. In retrospect, the most important things are the direction itself, where you have to communicate so much through the camera.

There are just some directors who communicate a lot through the camera. Some directors rely more on the the text or the script to get the point across. I think a guy like George Miller is someone I would say communicates hugely through the camera.

I think Spielberg set the bar for everybody. No one is any better than him.

I talked to Paul Hirsch about Brian De Palma being like that. He doesn’t rely on classic coverage, he relies on very specific camera direction and blocking. You don’t get coverage.

I got a degree in Comm Arts from the University Wisconsin in Madison. I just knew I loved movies and I wanted to work in them. I drifted down to Chicago and I started working in commercials in industrials.

I thought I’d give it a shot just to learn the ropes and it turned out to be a really good idea because the physical processes are very much the same in making a commercial and making a feature length film or a television show.

So I did that for about a year. I freelanced in commercial production, mostly in actual production, not post-production. 20th Century Fox came to town with a Brian De Palma film called The Fury with Amy Irving and John Cassavetes. I got a job on it as a P.A. I worked my butt off and I loved it and I was doing great with it.

I wanted to go be able to go to dailies, but Brian had a policy of closed dailies. One day I was at the production office and the phone rings and I answer. It is Paul Hirsch’s assistant in New York. We were shooting in Chicago, but they were editing in New York. Paul’s assistant editor says to me, “Listen, I don’t know if there’s anyone that can help us, but I work for Paul Hirsch.

He’d like a little more communication with Brian about how Brian feels about the dailies. Is there anybody who could go to dailies and sit next to Brian and take notes?” I said, “I would love to do that. I can do it.” We ran it by Brian. Brian approved it.

Two days later, I’m sitting between Brian and the DP, a guy named Richard Klein, who is a very well-known DP at the time. And for the rest of the show I’m making notes. All day long I worked on the set as a P.A.

Then I would sit next to Brian and take notes. I realized that once the shooting’s over, Brian and this guy, Paul Hirsch, are going to be sitting together and actually making this movie. That’s when the light went off in my head and I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

Is that how you met the Wachowski’s - in Chicago? (The Wachowski’s are The Matrix director/producers and are from Chicago)

No. I was already living in LA for quite a while, and I just met them on a meeting for Bound. I was lucky that someone I became friends with was the production designer on Bound and recommended me to them, and they expressed an interest in meeting me.

You mentioned how important sound was to Silent Night. There’s great sound design, under especially the opening credits. Can you talk to me about how much of that you tried to at least sketch out in your picture cut?

Silent Night, locked reel

I had two really, really good assistants. Brent McReynolds and Sam Schlenker. They both had complementary skill sets in terms of what they were good at. Between the two of them, they’re really excellent at sound, music, and visual effects, which is what I really look for now when I’m putting a crew together. We did have a lot of pretty well-developed sound in there.

Nothing nearly as good as what ended up in the final. Mark Stoeckinger was the sound designer on it. He’s quite, quite good. He’s probably best known for doing the John Wick movies. We mixed it over at Fox with David Giammarco, who is one of my favorite mixers. Interestingly, he was a one man mix, which I’ve always wanted to try. 

Since we had no dialogue we really could sort of give up a mixer with no trouble. Dave was doing sound effects and music. Typically, you have someone who’s doing dialogue and music and the other guy does the sound effects. We just sort of shifted around a little bit and Dave did the whole show.

But kind of circling back to what you were saying before: John Woo is one of the best guys at telling the story through the camera. That’s one of the key factors I find in retrospect. The other factor is that the actors themselves have to really, really buy into it, especially Joel Kinnaman and Catalina Moreno. Then the third thing is the shot selection.

I’ve never worked on a movie that’s gotten such wildly divergent reviews. We have maybe a dozen or 20 all star reviews. I’m so proud of and I love so much. We’ve also gotten some real hater reviews.

I think it’s because I always called the movie “an art film in a genre package,” and the genre is a very simple, obvious, revenge film. I think so many people today are trained just to see the genre. They have trouble going beyond the boundary lines, getting out of the box a little bit.

It’s a great idea for what it is, but it’s an idea we’ve all seen before. There’s nothing special about it. You have people who view movies that way. I think we’re living in a kind of an interesting time that way in terms of: how are you going to view movies? I think they’ve gotten a little bit retrained in a bad way.

They go into this movie knowing it’s going to be John Woo, first of all. So you’re expecting a certain thing and you’re also expecting from the trailer an action movie. The movie starts - as it should - getting to know the characters and the set up and feeling something for the characters, but long can you stay in that point of sorrow that starts the movie? When do you know - as an editor - “I’ve got enough of this that people will relate to and feel and care for my characters, but we’re not going to dwell on this.”

I give a lot of credit to the structure of the script. I’d have to look at a timeline, but I’m guessing it’s about 15 minutes in. It starts with a running chase sequence that ends with a really fun car flip.

Our hero goes to the hospital. That’s a really graphically bloody and beautiful scene. 

You’ve set the audience up to know that we’re expecting action, so that buys a lot of license for what you just asked for about: the time it takes to develop character.

Then we spend a long time, a good 20-25 minutes developing character, seeing him train and doing the character through his training and learning about him.

The structure of it with an action-packed beginning allows you to sit for a bit.

Yes, I think so.

Catalina Sandino Moreno in Silent Night

Yeah, that totally makes sense. I’m trying to remember: were there freeze frames in the hospital with the wife on her eyes?

One of the real pleasures of working with John is that he’s an amazing cineaste. He loves movies. He references them all the time in terms of what he’s trying to do.

When Catalina comes into the hospital looking for her husband, he had shot a number of set-ups of her in the hall, going to the front desk as she goes to the hallway, goes to another hallway.

I was not on location. I thought maybe they had something else in mind. I picked the best shot, and I used it. When I showed it to John, he said, “When she goes to the hospital, we had those other shots.”

I said, “Yeah, but honestly, I was a little bit confused as to how they were supposed to be used.” He said, “Well, I was thinking what we would do is a push-in and a freeze frame.” I looked at it, I’m kind of puzzled, thinking, “I want to try whatever you want.”

But he sees that I’m puzzled. He tries to explain it further, and he finally says, “You know. Like they did in Francois Truffaut’s, Jules and Jim.”

Then, of course, I understood it right away. I actually went back and pulled up Jules and Jim. We worked on quite a bit in the editing room - myself and the assistants. We really played a lot with how we moved into the eye.

There’s a lot of really, really delicate work in there. I mean, it looks pretty straightforward, but how we move in this little lens, there’s all kinds of interesting stuff in there and the timing of how long you stay on it really played with it for a very long time.

It’s funny. It’s something I learned on one of the last movies I was an assistant on. I was on George Miller’s episode of The Twilight Zone for Spielberg. I always say that George Miller episode - which is a man on the wing of the plane - is probably the best 20-minute short ever made. It’s just fantastic.

I love that kind of filmmaking. When John Lithgow sees the creature in the stormy sky, he actually had the guys on the set build a little prosthetic. We could pump air, and the eyes bulged. It looked so hokey. The crew was thinking, “What is this guy doing?” He spent like an hour and a half shooting it.

He shot it 18 frames per second, 20 frames, 16 frames, 40 frames, 90 frames. He shot it closer and wider, and he shot it zooming in. He came in, he looked through all the material with the editor, Howard Smith, and he picked two frames that he liked, and he put them in the cut. It’s just the perfect two frames.

I learned a lot from him and generally, I really like working on that movie because of because of George.

There’s a story that somebody was telling me: I think it was Kirk Baxter on Mank where he watched a set up that was just weird. Kirk said, “This isn’t in Fincher’s visual vocabulary. It’s just not right. But he watched the whole thing and he saw one moment of the conversation. Then he saw why he had that angle. It’s just for that one little moment. And sure enough, that was what was true.

You mentioned Wu was a cineaste and references film all the time. Do you have to keep up with that? Is that something where you have to say, “I don’t know that movie, but I promise I’ll watch that tonight.

I’m a bit of a cineaste myself. John is a big fan of the French New Wave. Even more than me. We’re working on our second movie together now and I’ve been catching up on my French New Wave and that period seventies, eighties, French filmmaking movies that are kind of famous for most people, like The Samurai, The Professional. It’s often more of a bonding thing because it’s such a pleasure to be working with someone who just loves cinema.

We had another moment in the movie where Godlock, the main character, is coming out of a hardware store. He sees the bad guy, he pulls out a knife. You think he’s going to throw the knife.

He almost has an opportunity, but there are kids around. He doesn’t do it and he reaches the knife. I was sort of putting it together and John was happy, but says, “You know, the way I want to do the sound in that?

Do you know the scene in All That Jazz when he’s reading the script? I said, “Of course, it’s one of my favorite scenes in movies.” The sound in that loosely comes from that All That Jazz scene - the whole idea of everything going away.

My assistant felt the same way. We all - as a crew - would get so excited at those moments.

The beginning of the movie doesn’t really show the death. You see the death in a flashback, right? To me as an editor, especially since there’s no dialogue, you could put that almost anywhere. Was it where it was scripted?

Joel Kinnaman and Catalina Sandino Moreno in Silent Night

Yeah, I think it’s good, though, too, because once again, going back to your original question about the structure of the film, where I mentioned you have this action scene, which is also an intrigue scene, what is this about?

Because the death becomes a little mini action scene a bit later in the interrupts the character he’s sitting mourning.

We do this many times in the movie where we go back in time with our character. Remembering something comes out of a character moment, but it becomes a little action scene. So it’s a good way of peppering that through the movie.

The writer Robert Archer Lynn, he really worked on the script hard, pacing.

There’s a training montage early on. What are the keys to cutting those montages? Is it based on music? Do you cut those training montages with music or without them?

I never edit with music - like, never. The only even minimal exception would be if the scene is designed to have a certain song in it at a certain point earlier than I typically will, I’ll put the music in just to see how it’s feeling. 

Not to get pretentious about editing or anything, but I think great editing has a tremendous amount of musicality to it.

Oh, 100%.

Silent Night, locked reel

One of the compliments that I treasure was from a composer some years ago. So many composers now kind of write music that kind of floats. This is something I share in common with Paul Hirsch. I borrow this expression from Paul: “I like music that’s kind of shrink wrapped.

That kind of wraps around the action underlines it leaves room, works hard with the score.”

A lot of more old-fashioned composers would have a music editor break down the cuts of a movie and then try to figure out what time signature they’re going to write.

The composer told me he had the hardest time figuring out the time signature, but once he found it, he said, every cut hit.


I was gratified to hear that, because to me, that kind of proves what I’m saying to you is that I think there is a musicality. Something I learned from George Miller when on the Twilight Zone episode that I alluded to earlier, George would come in at least once a week and he would just turn off all the sound and watch movie, and it was a full dialogue thing.

He just wanted to watch the cuts. I highly recommend it. 

I’ve come in to fix a few movies that have been done by more inexperienced directors and editors, and the first thing I’m going to do is take all the music out and they all freak out. Every time I’ve done it, they’ve all said to me at the end, “I’m always going to do it this way.

This is the way to do it.” If your cut is playing just as a cut and the music is enhancing it, if you try to work with music right away, I think you’re kind of hobbling yourself. And if something’s worth working, you don’t have any incentive to make it better. A good composer will always figure out a way to make the music work for what you’re doing.

Kid Cudi in Silent Night

Once you realize you have to recut something, you have to do it without the music, because otherwise, subconsciously, the music is telling you, “You can’t cut here. You’re in the middle of a musical phrase.” when you should be cutting based on the visuals.

That’s exactly my point about how having fairly successful temp music in there and using it hobbles you. I love working with temp music eventually. I usually don’t do it until I’ve got a really solid cut of the movie, though so much of editing is just in your gut.

The best way to learn about how to do those kind of things is to watch movies that you think are great. Really, really just study them.

I read a really interesting psychology paper that said intuition - which is that idea of cutting from your gut - is really a hidden version of insight. In other words, you have intuition because you’ve watched all these movies and internalized them, felt the patterns, and are able to know when those patterns match your patterns. Right? That’s what the intuition is.

I try to explain that to people a lot, especially to assistants who are interested in trying to figure out things. I always tell them to two things they should do: They should watch Jaws like six times in a row.

Okay. Jaws specifically? All right.

I just think that movie is so well-done. The more you watch it, the more you realize all the tricks between Spielberg and Verna Fields, were doing, both using the camera. And the other thing I like to say is watch every Hal Ashby movie from The Landlord through Being There and watch them in order if you can. He’s one of my personal heroes. He was an editor.

He won an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night. He edited for Norman Jewison, and then Norman Jewison gave him his first break on The Landlord to direct. His movies are sublimely edited. I was also lucky enough to work briefly for him.

Joel Kinnaman in Silent Night

How is it different to edit the gun training montage than the kind of body training montage?

The whole montage thing was the part of the movie that was probably in the biggest flux. I mean, where we were moving scenes around because it was about character.

We all understand this: We work on a scene and we make it right. We get it to where we like it, and then we put that in with a larger group of scenes, and you have to adjust things to make it work again.

Then you put it into an act or something, expanding that idea all the way out to the finished movie. So if you look at the whole training sequence - the physical training, the gun training, the car driving training as one thing - that was a good example of that.

I got them all, where I liked them as units and then we started moving the units around because you’re trying to establish a kind of emotional tension and a dramatic tension and keeping the audience involved for all that time.

Then all of a sudden scenes became felt like they were too long, typically.

The other thought that occurred to me when you were talking about seeing things in context is: how long you can be in a specific tonal place? The father is so angry, he’s so bitter. How long can you stay bitter before having a moment of tenderness, for example, between the husband and the wife?

That’s just something you have to feel. You’re absolutely right about it. The majority of that - structurally overall - was in place from the script. I give Robert Lin a lot of credit for that. But the anger part could either be 20 minutes or 14 minutes. That’s where you have to exercise the kind of control that I think you were asking about.

When you’re watching dailies for the big action scenes, are you looking for kinetic camera moments? How are you harvesting what you’re watching when you’re watching dailies for action?

I love camera moments. That’s one thing I love about John. He doesn’t shoot a lot of masters. The camera is always moving. Michael Kahn once made this comment to me about a cut. We were talking about a specific cut when we were looking at stuff on the Twilight Zone.

He was editing Spielberg’s sequence and he referred to the cut as “flicking the eye.” I always took that to mean: that something happens in front of your eye, and you pick that motion up on the next cut and it kind of flicks you into it.

I always look for little things like that, whether it’s a simple thing, like a left to right movement that you continue or you’re pushing a certain way or there’s certain kinetic energy that can cross a cut. Even sometimes on a simple dialogue scene there’s often little things like that that make a cut so much more interesting.

Joel Kinnaman and Catalina Sandino Moreno in Silent Night

I think I have an example in this film that I might offer, and I was interested whether it was scripted or not. Was the cut from the door handle of the car to the door handle of the house scripted?

No, that wasn’t scripted.

I loved it. It gave that connectivity between the two scenes.

I do look for things like that. I think that the way I arrange dailies comes from being a film editor. I arrange them like I used to arrange KEM rolls. I would set them up in little groups. I still arrange my bins that way. I show my assistants how I like them, and they usually get it pretty good. Then I’ll tweak them a little bit.

Silent Night, locked reel

Do you bother doing an actual KEM roll where you string stuff together in a sequence?

I know people who do, but I don’t do that. I use markers a lot… locaters for things I want, It’s so easy to find stuff in the Avid, and I like the process of continually looking through the material. You really can’t mark everything and anything within an action scene as it’s taking shape. I’m looking for a moment, right?

So I’m looking through all the material. I’m trying to find something that’ll work for that moment, but sometimes I’ll find an other moment that’s better. I should use that instead of something I have in there. It’s like what George Miller did for those two frames with the eyeballs.

A lot of people say that that’s the biggest problem with selects reels: you’re getting rid of stuff that you don’t know that you still need.

Absolutely. I don’t make selects reels.

I’m going to circle back on this idea of how long to make something using the big car chase scene. How long do you make it before the audience has had enough of this car chase scene? 

I remember I was cutting an action scene on a film, and my first cut of the action scene was 12 minutes, and I felt really good. “That’s a good 12 minutes.” But in context, in the final movie, it’s only two minutes.

Silent Night, Cards on a Wall

That’s a big difference. That’s exactly what I said before: you cut it first and you love it, but then you put it into a bigger context and you have to adjust it and you keep adjusting it. I think one of the hardest things in editing is to continually feel the arc of the entirety of the story.

You have to understand and feel the sub-arcs from scene to scene. It’s almost like playing multi-dimensional chess where you’re watching the subtle arc of what you’re doing, but you’re also conscious of how that’s fitting into the where the audience is as a whole and watch the movie with the audience and feel how they’re feeling and if they’re bored or if they’re with you. Things like that

Did you learn anything from any of the screenings that you did with audiences?

On this particular movie? We had no audience screenings. We just showed it a few times to our producers and that was it. The only other time I’ve kind of done it was on the first Matrix: we had one audience screening and that was it.

You take a wild gamble when you do that. I think audiences screenings can be great, but they get abused a lot, too. I love them. I would love it if it was just me and the director and maybe a really creative producer watching and trying to make the movie better.

Lots of editors have talked about what they like about audience screenings is just them being in the room with an audience and feeling the lulls, feeling the happy, the excitement. When people are sitting forward. You think, “Okay, we got them!” I love the little moment for pacing - I call it “the time out” - before the big battle when Godlock drives to see his wife.

Joel Kinnaman in Silent Night

She’s moved into her new apartment. He’s on the street looking into a second-floor window.

That’s a lovely little moment.

It is.

But you could have cut that out of the movie if you wanted to drop a minute or something.


But it’s a great “breath.” It’s a reminder that he’s still a human being and he still cares.

Then that’s followed by visiting his son’s gravestone. They work in tandem.

Joel Kinnaman in Silent Night

He’d been pretty dismissive and uncaring about his wife and obsessed with his quest, so it let the audience know he’s still human and he’s a good guy.

His son’s death turned him into something that was just mean. I think his wife was more practical and worked through it as best she could.

You were talking about sound design, and I loved the sound design in the final battle. As the movie is leading to its conclusion -its finale - the sound design helps the audience actually know where they are in the building. You know he’s getting closer and closer to his final destination by the sound.

Yeah, we already knew that the bad guy had his personal quarters in that building. But when I was editing it, I hadn’t actually seen that room yet, but I knew that he was there. I said to my assistants, “Let’s play this where all of the music is source and it’s coming from his penthouse.

That’ll be how we play the whole thing. I really didn’t know anything about EDM or house music. It’s not my thing, but I learned a lot about it and one of the assistants was pretty well versed in it and introduced me to Swedish House Mafia - bands like that.

Then we found some more obscure bands, frankly, for budget and probably for interest. Then - talking about being in sync with John Woo - when I finally saw the villain’s lair, he’s got these floor-to-ceiling speakers! It’s almost like you’re on the main stage of Coachella!

So he was clearly thinking the same thing. I thought I had a great idea and he had the same one, visually. It’s always great to be in sync that way. Anyway, the audience always knew where they were in relation to the sound coming from those speakers. Hats off to David Giammarco for mixing this.

Yoko Hamamura in Silent Night

Action is happening in multiple places simultaneously. How do you choose when to cut between two things that are happening at the same time other than scripted? What’s driving your edits?

Well, you know what is scripted, but there’s always a certain amount of latitude. It’s mostly just a feeling and finding of a really great moment that will help the cut go across. For example, when the bad guys are coming up the stairs and they hit the trip wire and Potluck was in this mano a mano fight.

The main bad guy - Ruiz - is slugging it out with him, and frankly, I was getting a little bit tired of it. So I found a little piece of Godlock in one of the takes where he whips his head a little bit to the right then back to Ruiz.

Before that, in the fight, we went out on a big punch to see the guys creeping up the stairs. They do the tripwire explosion, then I cut to Godlock for just six, eight frames where his head whips really quick and he lands a knife on the bad guy.

So it’s almost like you felt that he was using that moment of the explosion to his advantage.

Is there a key to going between slow motion and regular speed?

I love doing it. As you probably can see! We started doing a lot of that in The Matrix. I also did it on a running film called Personal Best before that. Those days were pre-digital and they actually did those things in the camera, where they would change the speed as the take was going.

The Wachowski’s called those speed changes “Speed Aperture.” Now you can do it digitally.

I experiment a lot like that. George Miller’s idea of looking at two frames, scrutinizing him, the connection of how you’re going from one speed to another.

Do you want to make a gradual ramp? I have done direct cut from 24 to 96 many times where they’re almost invisible, believe it or not. But sometimes you want them to be visible - where you want to feel it.

But there’s something in there that that underlines or punctuates like a really good edit does. I think you have to just love it and want to want to play with it, you know?

Director John Woo on set

I talked to Thelma Schoonmaker about Raging Bull. They did that “speed aperture” in Raging Bull with a rheostat changing the speed of the camera.

Those were the days of the film, Personal Best. Exactly. Raging Bull is a good example.

You mentioned Matrix. That’s probably one of the most famous cutting between slo-mo and regular speed. Everybody thinks about that, for sure.

But we all got it from Sam Peckinpah! The Wild Bunch is one of my personal Pantheon movies.

Was The Wild Bunch something that you watched intentionally before you cut The Matrix?

No. But because I loved it, I probably had seen it ten times before I did The Matrix. It’s one of my favorite movies.

Joel Kinnaman in Silent Night

Was temping tough because of the tone of the movie or the tonal shifts in the movie?

No, temping was pretty easy because I wanted to keep it in a kind of a a wide but narrow palette. I just found a couple of scores that really, really worked well. I used United 1993.

The other one was the Alexandre Desplat score from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I really liked a lot. I think I also used a little bit of couple of times some Desplat from Birth, which I like a lot as well. That and the United 93 score played well together.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about a little boy who loses his mother in the World Trade Center. So it actually flips the whole idea in his head. So I just felt instinctively it would be a good place to look.

That is a great idea. Do you do that often: try to figure out temp scores based on similar feels in other movies? I definitely think about the type of movie - or you think about the character’s arc - and say, “Oh, this movie’s got a similar arc.”

Absolutely. I love playing with music. Silent Night - because it’s a pretty low budget movie, like a $15 million movie - we didn’t even have a music editor. We had one for the final score, but we didn’t have a temp music editor for the rest.

I love working with a great temp music editor collaboratively and discovering things like that, too. One of the assistants was really good with scores and one was really good with source… then I’m really good at picking it!

So the source guy is the one finding Swedish House Mafia?

Yeah, and Brent was really terrific with the actual score moments.

Is there anything we haven’t touched on about Silent Night that you feel like you want to talk about editorially?

One scene that I’m just proud of in a very functional way is when John Woo and the crew left location, they knew there were a few scenes they hadn’t gotten and they all assumed they’d go back and do them.

It came down to a big fight about money, how many days we’re going to go back for. I think they were about five or six scenes we needed, but I managed to work it out, so it came down to three scenes. In the car chase there was one moment we called “the separation moment” where Godlock is kind of trapped between the SUV and a motorcycle, and he ends up going down an alley and they both show up again later.

But you had to have this separation moment where he loses the SUV and the motorcycle, but it simply was not shot. The closest thing we had was kind of a wide shot. You’re kind of behind the vehicles.

Motorcycles on the right. Godlock’s Mustang’s in the middle and the SUV is on the left. And it just kind of dribbles to an end. Nothing happens. They don’t turn or anything. They never shot the moment.

I told them we had to shoot it, but then it was clear they were not going to give the resources that John required to shoot it. So I sat down and thought about it really, really hard: “Okay. If I was going to shoot that scene - and now I know how John Woo would shoot it - how would we do that scene? Well, the first thing we have to do is get rid of the motorcycle, right?”

So then I thought, there’s a great scene later on in the movie where the same motorcycle luckily is chasing the bad guys into the garage and he lays it down to squeeze under the garage door just as it’s closing. So we took that piece and we rooted out the motorcycle.

We found something we could use as a clean plate of the street, then we found stuff of Godlock whipping the wheel that we pulled from other takes. We did it all ourselves in the editing room, then turned it over to visual effects, who did it a little better.

We basically created about six shots - literally created them out of bits and pieces of existing shots and I showed it to John. I said, “It’s a little bit of a hodgepodge, but think it could work.” He says, “Fantastic. Love it. Thank you very much.”

Director John Woo with Kid Cudi on set

Creating something that was not shot!

It was just did not exist. It’s made of pieces all from the surrounding area. One of the things I love about editing now is that you can do so much. I do so much VFX stuff that is not planned.

I’ll easily make 300 shots in a movie. Some are simple things, up to more complicated split frames for changing performances.

Oh, are you a big split-frame guy to create better multi-person performances?

I like doing that. When I hire assistants, I put together a crew who are good at that because I know I’m going to do it. And I also like doing it WITH my assistants because I always find assistants who are good at that and want to edit.

I like to work with people who want to edit, they want to do it. And I give them stuff to edit all the time. My little jokeL they say, “What if I mess it up?” I say, “If you mess it up, I’ll fix it. If it’s really good, I’ll steal credit for it.” Just kidding, of course.

It’s so easy with digital now to do that. So when I’m doing it with one of my assistants it becomes a back and forth. It becomes a creative conversation. We make it better - maybe even better than my original idea. They say, “I remember this shot where he whips the wheel back and forth. Maybe we could use that?”

That’s the great thing with having the assistants watch all the dailies, right?

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Silent Night, project timeline

Like, “There’s a better take where the motorcycle lays down and it hits a bump. That would be like hitting the curb or something.”

That’s right. Exactly.

Zach, thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Cut, and it’s been a real pleasure learning about this movie.

It was really fun talking about it.