Today on Art of the Cut, we’re talking with BAFTA nominee, Mark Everson, about editing Wonka.
Today on Art of the Cut, we’re talking with BAFTA nominee, Mark Everson, about editing Wonka.
Mark has edited both of the Paddington movies, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, and Johnny English Strikes Again. His TV work includes Tracey Ullman’s Show, The Toast of London, and his BAFTA nomination for The Mighty Boosh.
Thanks for having me, Steve. You’re a legend and you’ve spoken to all of the people I look up to, so it’s a real honor to talk to you.
Thank you very much. Let’s start out with the idea of editing a musical. Do you find that it’s different to edit a film where somebody can break into song at a moment’s notice? Or is it no different?
It’s quite a heightened genre. This is the second musical I’ve done. It’s great that I had the experience of doing one before. The big challenge is sort of feathering into those songs. It’s quite a strange act. People going from drama into singing a song. Let’s face it, it is a bit weird and you don’t want it to bump too much.
You just want to feel as organic as possible, feathering into those songs. Also getting out of them is a big part of it. I found the biggest challenge is how songs affect the overall story arc and the pacing. You’ve got to keep the story going and everything flowing and people interested.
With comedy, you’ve got this extra plate spinning that you need to keep them laughing enough that they don’t feel like you’ve switched off the comedy tap or that it’s turned into a different genre. Then when you’ve got songs as well, that’s hard. Not all of the songs are comical, some are emotional. Some move the story on, some not as much.
Editor Mark Everson at the premiere of Wonka
You can play with the durations of songs, which we did. We’ve tried cutting songs out completely. Then putting them back in again. We tried cutting songs in half and we tried different ways to modulate the songs to help the pacing of the film.
I used to be a documentary editor where I used to do quite a lot of montages. That was the main thing I missed, is that you don’t really often get to a montage or cut to the music, so it was brilliant to come back to that. I don’t think the challenge is the songs per se, it’s how they fit into the story and how they affect the pacing overall. We played around with the songs quite a bit.
I’m intrigued by what you were saying about “feathering in to” and “feathering out of” the songs. How do you get from the drama to the singing and make it feel organic?
Joby Talbot, our composer, did quite a lot of what I think will be subconscious to the audience. He feathered the themes of the songs into the scenes before the songs kick in, so the familiarity of it, but equally it’s about where does the song start. You just don’t want it to be, “And here’s the song.”
You’ve got to do a lot of building up to it. A lot of it is down to Joby. He did a terrific job feathering in the themes beforehand so that the songs are familiar before you even hear the actual song. The “Sweet Tooth” theme that the cartel sings is brought in first through the monks.
You hear the theme a lot before you actually hear it in the song, so a lot of it is being done by Joby. He’s a genius. You’ve just got to vibe it and feel the pace and whether it’s dropping or not and modulate as you see fit.
For example the “Sorry Noodle” song is about a minute long in the movie now. It was originally a big back-and-forth between Willy and Noodle. They were separate but they had their own parts of the songs. The feeling was that at that point, the movie was just too downbeat for too long at that point. We tried it “out” for a long time and we tried different lengths and arrived where we did.
I would think that that’s very difficult. When you’re pacing a simply dramatic movie you can cut out a line or you can cut a look, but with music, you’ve at least got to get through the phrase. You’ve got to get through the chorus or the verse or something. You’re a little bit restricted in how much you can contract it and still have it make sense.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which is the first musical I edited, was based on the West End show. Growing up, I used to play drums in a punk band. A phrase that I learned when I worked on Jamie is “musically square.” You can’t just cut half a phrase.
It’s got to be “musically square,” it’s got to be musical. You can’t just cut where you want. You’ve got to have the musical shape and you can’t just have a verse without a chorus, so you haven’t got enormous flexibility. That’s why you end up having to cut a song in half or you lose the middle or cut the song entirely.
We tried all of these things in different places. “Scrub, Scrub” has a reprise. They all sing “Scrub, Scrub.” It’s about the mundanity of their manual work. Later on, Willy’s got a plan that he’s got to change things. One of the overriding criticisms early on when we had all of the songs in at their full length was: “There are too many songs. Too much music.”
The tough thing is - in the early stages - you haven’t got all the drama scenes firing on all cylinders in exactly the rhythm you want, so it’s really hard. You’re refining the drama and you’re also trying to judge the pace of the songs as you go. You’re doing everything all at the same time, as you refine everything else, it informs all the other decisions.
One of the things we did with “Scrub Scrub” was that we deconstructed it as a song in editing. Willy used to sing the song with the rest of the cast, but we re-cut it so that Willy’s not in the song.
They Wash House gang are all singing the backing vocals and Willy’s kind of derailing it. As with editing, you don’t want it to sound like, “Oh, that’s a really brilliant reworking of what you had.” It needs to sound and look like that was the intention.
That’s the challenge. If it doesn’t look like that, then we’re back to the drawing board. So it took us days to get this concept of a deconstructed song. We actually did pick-ups for the magical dog-powered washing machine. It’s also in “Hatful of Dreams.” It’s about a shop Willy wants. In the original song we felt it hadn’t nailed it – that we hadn’t specifically said, “That’s the shop for me.
That’s my dream shop.” It didn’t hit the nail on the head, so we created a series of storyboards for a pick-up shoot and some head replacement on a preexisting dance scene .
Paul is a fearless re-imaginer. If something isn’t right, we’ll rip it out by the roots and put storyboards in and re-imagine it.
That was one of the moments I did question: “We’re going to rewrite a song that’s already shot?” There’s been lots of work in changing the songs.
That’s amazing. You mentioned the heightened nature of this movie and musicals in general. Especially with Wonka did he give you multiple tones - temperatures of performance - so you could dial that in?
A very astute question. We were blown away by Timmy’s performance. What he offered us was incredibly brave as an actor. He was throwing all kinds of attitudes and temperatures at us. He was very free at trying all kinds of things.
What you often receive in the edit is an actor aiming towards a performance and they slowly kind of get there, whereas what Timmy gave us was different shades, different angles, different choices. That was incredible to have.
What some people misunderstood about Timmy’s character of Willy Wonka is that he’s not the same jaded Willy Wonka that Gene Wilder portrayed. Timmy was the Wonka before he’s been twisted and betrayed.
Our Wonka was wondrous. It’s not really the work of a cynic. Gee, you know, to me, I don’t think he would have created the chocolate factory if he was that cynical character to begin with. So that’s what we were aiming for with Timmy.
There was a song that we cut that was later reprised during a particularly sad moment where all is lost, basically. There are about 14 takes of it. Each one gets sadder and sadder until - during the last two or three takes - he’s crying while he’s singing.
His voice is breaking. We ended up cutting the song and it feels like absolute madness! We’re dealing with world-class everything! Part of you is saying, “How can we cut that? It’s insane! The most amazing performance!” But we lost the song that it was reprising and we didn’t need that song at that moment.
Editorial team for Wonka at the premiere
One of the other interesting things about performance is the rhythm of the dialogue. The dialogue has a very specific rhythm, especially in interchanges between people. Can you talk about some of those?
The dialogue has a music of its own. Particularly with Wonka we wanted the dialogue to dance. We knew we were going to have to serve his songs. If you’ve got a song, the pace of that song is the pace of that song. We knew we were going to end up with a movie that was nearing 2 hours, and we pay particular attention to the dialogue scenes.
The same was true on Paddington. We don’t really want to have a frame more than there needs to be. It took us a long while to get to the proper pacing of the comedy and the dialogue. We over-tighten and then we back it off again. I’ve worked with some directors who are very scared to see how far it can go, whereas - working with Paul – we quite often push it to the point where it breaks and then ease back again. I’m particularly pleased with the fluidity of the rhythms of the dialogue. In the end, it is a heightened rhythm.
It’s not the rhythm that it was ever performed. It’s a rhythm that feels natural for the film. It’s like a heightened comic rhythm to dialogue. The challenge is to make it feel natural in a heightened sense, if that even makes sense.
Absolutely. I noticed some great transitions. You used some wipes in there! Talk to me about making those decisions: the choice to do a wipe instead of a dissolve, or instead of a simple cut. They certainly feel natural to the film.
I always wanted to get a clock wipe in there, but it never felt right. You put a wipe in one place, then you feel like, “Well, you can’t just have it in a couple of places. You’ve got to run with it and find more places for them.
There’s a point when Noodle gives Basil a sweet and sets it down and then we line the shots up and this little circle wipe opens. I think that was the first. Then you just sort of extrapolate from that. I think there’s a kind of classic feel to it, and those shape wipes just felt quite good.
Certainly in the musical numbers they felt really nice, and I’m a bit of a shape wipe addict.
I think we ended Paddington 2 with a little circle wipe. I’m a bit of a sucker. But yeah, I think it’s it’s those early Warner Brothers cartoons that maybe I got it from, and maybe The Muppet Show.
Oh, The Muppet Show for sure! Talk to me about the animation that’s in the movie, which is limited, but it’s there and important. Did you have that stuff as you were cutting? Or did you have to imagine it?
Paul is a fearless and constant re-imaginer and is always thinking about how to affect the film, even in the mix where you can’t do anything. Paul is always thinking of new ideas and putting in new jokes.
Anything we can rewrite - any bits of ADR, so the whole idea of animation came in during visual effects reviews. Everything’s done by Framestore. The Giraffe, unfortunately isn’t real, but looks incredible. And we used animation during that sequence, then we reprised that idea at the end.
There’s a whole sort of blueprint idea when Abacus - one of the Wash House gang - tells Willy all he needs to know about the security involved in breaking into the cartel’s chocolate supply. Paul had this idea to open it up and zoom in to have this animation play out.
One of the big challenges, apart from all of the songs, was the fact that we’ve got lots of characters that all have backstories. Wonka arrives as a fresh character, which is a classic storytelling trick because we experience it through them.
They don’t know anything and people can tell them information and it doesn’t sound like terrible, clunky exposition. He’s arriving with a back story and ambitions that need to be conveyed. Everybody’s got their own back stories -and on top of that - the world that need explaining. That was one of the big challenges: how much backstory?
No more and no less, and do it in an interesting way. So the blueprint was something we came up with later to make the backstory a bit more fun and palatable and to be able to show everybody what they need to know. They all came as afterthoughts, really.
You mentioned the giraffe, which is beautifully done. Talk to me about VFX because I’m sure the giraffe was not the only VFX shot in the movie. How do you deal with editing those scenes where there’s no giraffe? What do you have at your disposal to help you figure out the pacing and the timing and what it’s going to look like?
Well, our imagination more than anything. The actor brings an entire performance that you end up bouncing on, whether that’s where they flick their eyes or the expression or everything an actor does, you bounce off as an editor.
They give you your end point, your out point - absolutely everything. You discuss what the performance should be because you can ask for that performance from Framestore. These were all the same conversations we had on Paddington. Paddington could do a lot more than the giraffe.
With pacing it’s the same as it was with Paddington: you’re completely guessing and it’s possible to guess without rushes. As Framestore gives you more and more, the performance comes to life and you slowly realize you can get things terribly wrong.
You gave them a three second plate and they might need six seconds, or vice versa. The other big visual effect in the film is with Hugh Grant. People might think it’s motion capture, but it’s not. Hugh never had green hair or orange skin or wore a costume. We just had video reference in a similar way to Ben Whishaw on Paddington.
The visual effects team would prefer that we just choose one take of a line, but we get a bit naughty and decide, “Well, we like the first half of that take in the second half of that take.” Or “Guess what? We like the first half of that take, the second half of that take audio wise, but the face that you pulled on the second half of that take from this other one.”
Framestore started off saying, “Well, that’s impossible. But they ended up working out how to do it. The film is very similar technology to Paddington in the sense it’s a kind of a digital maquette animated by an enormous team of animators. It’s not just Hugh’s performance digitally transferred onto it. So you have lots of visual effects meetings.
It’s incredibly, incredibly painstaking. And you have to sort of modulate the edit. Paddington was had it in every scene basically. It’s really, really difficult because every time there’s new animation, the rhythm changes.
So normally as an editor, you go home, and come in the next day and you’ve got the same film. But with Paddington, you go home, come in the next day: “Oh, there’s a whole load of new visual effects that’s been delivered and cut in.”
And suddenly the rhythm doesn’t work and you have to recut every single frame, which can drive you mad, but it’s endless and every scene is at least three months in the development.
The other aspect to VFX were the set extensions. Nathan Crowley built one of the biggest sets I’ve ever seen. They really built that town square. It was a colossal set. It was two stories high and you could even get extras in the second story, but everything above that is extended.
The challenge with it is really how it impacts your schedule and your process and the way you work, and the tail ends up wagging the dog because you get this delivery schedule that dictates when you need to turn over the scene. Paul and I will be thinking, “Well, that’s not the scene we need to crack now, really.
There are other things that have more ‘knock on,’” but you end up having to just do what the visual effects department requires because the lead time on the scene they want is eight months. “We need to get animating this and get it turned” so you end up concentrating on things that you wouldn’t necessarily concentrate on.
There were quite a few pick-ups. Certainly the finale of the film was a pickup. I think we would have been asked to turn that around as one of the very first scenes if we’d have known, but it was one of the last things we turned, and I couldn’t believe Framestore managed to get it finished.
I always notice pre-laps and post-laps. There’s a lovely post-lap which is relatively rare. Lots of people pre-lap. But going into the “Sorry Noodle” song, the cartel’s giving Willy his ultimatum. The cartel continues to talk to him as you’re watching him walk away from the cartel.
Yes. Normally my wife and I play the “Spot the ADR” when watching films where there’s key dialogue played off camera. But actually, that wasn’t ADR, that was in the script.
I didn’t think it was ADR, but I just noticed that it was a post-lap and I thought maybe you were pulling up time a little bit.
One of the things that Paul and I really concentrate heavily on is questioning absolutely every frame. If we can economize and it still has the impact, then we’ll do it. It just felt right to push it under that shot. They had the space for it and it just felt right. We’re always looking for what’s the optimal pace and we’re always trying things. I will push the pace till it breaks and then ease it back off again.
One of the big challenges was with all the backstories of all the characters and all of the exposition. We used to open with a whole prologue of young Willy and Sally Hawkins, his mum. We opened on the boat and it was lovely and really warm and really a beautiful scene. It set them up, then we went to Willy as he is now.
Then, when Willy ends up in the Wash house, he has a scene with Noodle and there’s a little flashback in the middle of there. That used to have a song that told us a bit more about what happened to his mum and it’s sort of a heart-wrenching story. The feeling was - with the prologue - we’re best off starting with Wonka now.
The strange thing that happened - when we were having quite a serious prologue with no jokes - is that people started laughing a lot later. It set the wrong tone for the film. Although it was a beautiful scene, the accumulative effect was that it slowed the film down, so we actually combined that with some of the back story stuff. We got rid of the song because it felt like there were too many songs. We combined those two things together to make something else.
This isn’t the instance for Wonka, but when you’re not quite sure if you’re watching a comedy or drama, you want to give people permission to laugh early in the movie, because otherwise, if you have a long period of drama and then something funny happens, the audience isn’t sure if they should laugh.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” But if you put the laugh at the beginning, then they audience thinks, “Oh, okay, there’s funny stuff that’s going to happen throughout the whole movie and sad stuff and I’m good.“
You have to interrogate it and you have all kinds of conversations. What quite often happens when you cut things, is that it informs you about actually what the scenes do that isn’t really as evident while it’s in. It takes cutting it to actually show you what you’re missing.
By starting without the prologue, it said “this is a comedy, this is the tone.” It really just set the tone up and it got people laughing early and that gave them permission to start laughing. I think that’s really important with a comedy.
Timeline screenshot from the Avid of Wonka
I love the idea of what I call a “slash and burn cut” where you cut things out that you think that you need or might be impossible for the movie to do without. But you cut them. Then you realize this other thing that we didn’t think could go can go, but this thing cannot go. And you don’t realize those until they’re gone.
Working with Paul, he likes to try things out. I do as well. I think it’s very freeing because the scenes we lose can come back and you often learn why you miss them and sometimes you learn. What about that scene you don’t miss? And maybe you can cut some of that – that informs the decision-making process.
We experiment with all kinds of cuts and it’s sometimes quite hard to tell, but you slowly build up a picture of what needs to be in by these different combinations. It’s like trying to break the combination lock of what the content of the movie is going to be.
When you’re dragged kicking and screaming away from the movie and when it’s been your job for 20 months to focus on what’s wrong with something… that’s the job. We’ve been so forensic and meticulous about our choices that by the time the film is finished, you don’t necessarily walk away feeling like this is a triumph. When you solve something you don’t have a little party and slap each other on the back.
With outside notes, the note just stops coming. There’s no “Well done. We cracked that.” You just forget the note and you move on to the next problem. So you’ve spent a year or two years moving on to the next problem and you just get to the end and think, “Oh God, did we solve them all? Was that good enough?”
Your mindset to not be too self-congratulatory. It’s just on to the next problem. How do we focus on what needs to be made better? what’s suboptimal? When people watch it and enjoy it, it’s a big relief.
That’s like the old saw that no movie is ever finished, it’s just abandoned.
If you thought it was perfect, you’d send it off to the mixer and you’d be done, but nobody ever thinks their movie is perfect. What else could we interrogate to get this better?
Talk to me a little bit about your process of looking at the dailies and constructing a scene.
A lot of the scenes in Wonka have really beautifully directed and blocked camera movements that are specialty shots where - as an editor, at least - I’m watching them thinking, “Well, of course, you start on this amazing camera movement! You couldn’t start on anything else!”
Talk to me about the choices of finding those things.
You’ve got to stay up to date with the crew to a certain extent. There’s always a bit of a pipeline for the rushes to get through, so you’re always a little bit behind. You want to be in touch with the team and tell them what pick-ups you might need or what you think is missing.
There’s always pressure, really, so the early assemblies are what you can get done in the time.
We did have some quite long tracking shots, but we’re really so keen on the pace that we do - even on the specialty shots - we try and cut into them.
There’s one of the specialty shots where we tracked up some stairs and went quite far before we found Noodle in the coop, but we just felt it was too long, so we ended up putting a CG door in and cheating her, so the first hall she goes through wasn’t necessarily the door that took her to that corridor. She went up some stairs.
There was a bit more dialogue - and to eliminate any shoe leather that we don’t really need - she comes through the first door frame, but she’s not actually pushing that so we could sort of foreshorten it.
Even with these sweeping specialty shots we’ve always got our eye on the pace and just getting exactly what we need and not just letting the shot really dictate the pace of the movie.
You had some really big tonal shifts. You’ve got funny things, you’ve got heartfelt things and sad things and dramatic. You never want to be in any of those places too long, right? Talk to me about the work you did to keep tonal sections the right length.
We were really sensitive to how long the sad scenes went on. You’ve got the scene where the chocolatiers come into the shop. We cut a song there, so a song had already gone.
We had “Sorry Noodle” which had a number of verses. Willy had a verse, then Noodle had her verse, and then Willy sort of finished it off, so it was a full, rounded song. We tried it with like a third of it cut out.
Then the whole song was out for a long time. Willy just goes straight to the jetty, but it was strange that we had carved ourselves out as a musical and that’s the movie we were making. It felt like “Why don’t you have a song for this ultimate sad moment?” So we came up with the idea of just making it the shortest it could be. It’s a minute and it’s just Timmy’s side of it and it’s him packing up and you see his mum in the case and then you see him leaving.
In the longer version, Noodle sees in the window and she has her whole reply and you know, it was beautiful and she walks past his room and it was great. But we felt like there’s a “double down” there.
You’ve got the scene in the shop. He’s bereft. He’s been told to go and you don’t want 3 minutes of “more down,” followed by the jetty. We just thought “this is a real dip”
and that’s where we ended up after a lot of deliberation and trying different things.
That was my point: even though you have great things in a certain tonal section, you’ve got to ask, “How long can this tonal section be here?” Whether it’s funny or sad or whatever it is, it can only be in a certain tone for so long. Then you’ve got to come up with solutions to be the right length.
Did you read the original Roald Dahl book?
My relationship with the book, apart from reading it to my son is really about my memory of it being on television every Easter holiday in England.
It sounds like there’s a lot of writing that goes on in the editing room.
Working with Paul, the edit suite becomes an extension of the writing more than with any other director because he is the writer. He’s got a very “root and branch” approach to any problems.
Let’s come up with some storyboards. Let’s write what we would like to pitch as a pick-up. We reach this point where there’s quite a few proposed pick-ups.
Paul’s a master of these tiny pick-ups throughout the film that just keep things on track or economize or boost the emotion or the help the flow. Sometimes the pick-ups are just one headshot saying a line all the way up to a whole scene rewritten.
There’s scene where you’ve had this “ultimate down” and then Willy returns. There is a scene there that was actually three different scenes to do, basically the same job. We rewrote it into one scene that basically did everything and before it just felt like, “Oh, it’s too long before we’re propelled into Act three.
We just need one thing to do it all.” We have loads of these little things throughout. It becomes quite a hard watch. We have test screenings with these storyboards, with temporary dialogue - sometimes recorded by our actors on their phone, sometimes not - and it’s really hard for a regular audience to watch and they’re always gets bumped out of the story.
You can feel it in the room, but we’re trying to watch it as experts, trying to make a judgment call on it. But it’s really hard to judge because it isn’t a finished scene.
Paul’s a fearless re-imaginer. We always change a lot in every movie.
In Wonka there’s a whole heist aspect. Towards the end of the movie there was another element, which was that there’s a code to the safe and the cartel have the safe code numbers that change every day. It was this whole sequence of how they’re going to get them. One of the downsides was that Wonka had to explain this information before we executed it.
Some screening audiences suggested that we remove it and simplify that whole last part of the film.
We had a scene where the giraffe comes through the church and Rowan Atkinson’s character is running away from it, and we kind of felt like the stakes hadn’t been set up enough. We needed a scene to set out what that day was going to be in order for it to be ruined.
So we had a pick-up in there just to invest in Father Julius - in that day, in the evil Chocoholic monks – so that all was simplified.
We used to have a scene where “Pure Imagination” was sung by a different character in a different part of the film. Again, that was one of those difficult things where it didn’t really service the story and we thought, “We can remove this.”
It was a really difficult decision because it’s an animated sequence and had loads of visual effects. At that point in the movie, it felt like you wanted more of a plot and not an “aside.” It was one of the things that was tipping us over the edge, so we removed it, and gave Wonka the song at the end.
We also had this problem that the end wasn’t joyous enough because we had a song at the end that was very melancholy. And the tone of it is “you’re leaving and I’m going to miss you, but that’s the best thing for you.”
That’s very melancholy, and essentially you ended the film like that. It was beautiful. It’s a beautiful song, but you just wanted something that was going to make you punch the sky and say, “Yes!”
Everybody loved the Oompa Loompa, though we only really knew that right at the end, because the screening audiences are watching this “temp animation” where the lips aren’t moving and audiences can’t really react to that. You test screen these various stages of Oompa Loompa and you’ve really got to have faith that it’s going to be funny.
The finished product, they absolutely love, but you have to sit through these screenings where the animation isn’t finished and they just can’t laugh because they’re just thinking, “What the hell is this?” So anyway, we rewrote the ending. The original ending was a bit more “Casablanca,” walking off into the sunset, but instead of walking off into the sunset, we walk with them.
But now we have this amazing end where we see what the chocolate factory looks like, and it takes us right up to the beginning of the movie. The film did change a lot over the course of the editing. Like I said, Paul’s a fearless re-imaginer and re-writer.
A lot of the conversations in the cutting room are “What should this scene be?” Not editing what we have, but editing what we want to be shot.
That’s amazing. Thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Cut. It was a pleasure learning about this movie. And wow! As you said, “a fearless reimagining.”
Yeah, exactly. It’s great when people, like the end product. It’s really, really rewarding.
Well, the audience I was in certainly appreciated it, so congratulations.
Thank you very much and thanks for having me. It’s been great talking to you and an honor for me.