Cutting Grand Budapest Hotel:Oscar-Nom Editor Barney Pilling
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Cutting Grand Budapest Hotel:Oscar-Nom Editor Barney Pilling
Wes Anderson's Oscar-winning film The Grand Budapest Hotel is an adventure that crosses multiple time periods (depicted by aspect ratio) while maintaining the director's trademark visual style -- a combination of challenges for the very best of editors. When Anderson's recent frequent editor Andrew Weisblum became tied up with another film, editor Barney Pilling (Never Let Me Go, An Education, Life on Mars) was recommended to cut Grand Budapest, and things moved quickly from there.
An unmistakable visual style
During production, Pilling spent ten weeks in Göerlitz, Germany, starting to get a feel for the film and assemble a cut. Working in Avid Media Composer, he worked with no assistants for most of his time in Germany, eventually bringing in associate editor Steven Perkins to help handle the high amount of footage coming in each day. From there the cutting room moved to Kent, England (with time also spent in Paris to cut alongside composer Alexander Desplait) for weeks of intense one-on-one work crafting and refining the film, eventually relocating to London for finishing.
Barney spent in Paris to cut (alongside composer Alexander Desplait) for weeks of intense one-on-one work crafting and refining the film
Grand Budapest is very much an homage to a bygone era. Not just a bygone era of the setting and story itself, but also the bygone era of filmmaking. Many of the techniques Wes used to make the film, not just the aspect ratio, but also some of the projection techniques on set for having backgrounds outside windows for example, it was all part of trying to invoke that era and view the film with a sense of nostalgia. He likes handmade films.
Creative COW: In a film with so many visual effects, how do you work so your cuts are judged based on the cuts without distraction from any missing effects?
We spent quite a bit of time assisted by [associate editor] Stephen [Perkins] and Jeremy Dawson, our producer, who has a strong background in visual effects. Once filming had stopped, he rolled his sleeves up and started helping us out with plates and compositions and things like that. We would work hard on temporary visual effects to get them as good as we can. We did most of it in Avid. We also used After Effects as well because sometimes it was just too complicated.
But also there were a couple sequences in film, like the chase down Gabelmeister's Peak in the snow, which was really complicated because of the broad range of source material we were drawing it from. We had some material shot from a helicopter shooting vistas of mountains in Europe. We had 35mm film footage of architectural artifacts in the town of Goerlitz which we used to build up some of the sets. We also had animated stop motion puppets which were being done by Andy Biddle in London. We had miniatures built in Germany. There were an awful lot of areas and countries this material was coming from, so it took us a long time to get everything we needed together for that one big sequence.
I saw you mention that the mix of aspect ratios in the film wasn't a challenge because of the testing beforehand. Can you tell me about that?
It really was very, very easy. We did so many tests beforehand, and ARRI in Germany handled our film rushes on a day to day basis. They were extremely efficient in getting the material to us but also in making sure the media that was being created for the Avid matched exactly the framing we had chosen for the different timelines. In truth, working with it in the Avid itself didn't feel any different than working with a show that had the same aspect ratio. It was all maintained with hard masks built in and it all worked pretty seamlessly. I think the biggest challenge was when we created the DCPs and film masters, but we didn't have to worry about that in the cutting room.
What was Wes Anderson's working style with you? Was he a hands on director in post?
Wes Anderson's working style -- unique in the broadest sense of the term.
Not so much during filming as much as I'm used to. We communicated obviously, and every three days or so at most we would sit and watch material together and start building preferences. We did sort of hone in on two of the biggest sequences while we were in Germany and started to polish those quite intensely, not just loosely roughing them together but making sure we had everything we needed.
Once filming had finished, it was a huge undertaking for him. He set the bar so high for what he wanted to achieve in Germany, given the scale of the story and the meager budget in terms of how many visual effects we had. And obviously the cast is huge, so every few days there was a Hollywood legend coming into town, and that takes up a lot of a director's time.
We didn't spend a lot of time together in Germany, but those first 8 weeks [in Kent] we were spending six or seven days a week, 14 hours a day, together the whole time. Obviously he would leave me to do some sound work, or if there was a particularly tricky special effect to create, but we worked very closely together throughout the whole post production process. Even through the mixing, sound editing and color grading, we were together.
A "Wes Anderson film" is known to have a very distinct look and style, almost its own genre. Is it difficult to work for a director whose visual style and pacing is so well-established?
In a sense, that kind of revelation at the beginning of Grand Budapest is a reinvention that happens on every single film you do. Perhaps if you've only ever worked with one director in your career or a coupling of editor-director over the years, that sense of reinvention may disappear.
Wes Anderson's visual style and pacing is so well-established.
I've worked with the same director a couple of times but also lots of directors. There's a different format for each film and a recalibration of what is expected of me in terms of other areas of expertise in the Avid that I haven't had before, and my next film may be with a different director and that may require its own personality and changes as well. You have to reinvent yourself for every film, and this was no different.
There are many great cameos in Grand Budapest, with a cast led by Ray Fiennes. Do all of these great performances drive your edit, or are you more focused on a few performances to pace the film?
The key relationship and the key performances of Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori playing Gustav and Zero, they're so much the ticking engine of the film in term of its pacing. With Tony as the energetic one, how much running he did on that film was incredible. Wes had worked very closely with Tony leading up to the first week of photography. They'd done quite a lot of work together so right on day one they could hit the ground running.
Ray is such a technically proficient actor. The beautiful script that Wes wrote is very verbose with such beautiful language and great long stanzas, and I can't imagine anyone else being able to handle the English language like Ray Fiennes did. The other cast members are absolutely wonderful, but the film relies far less on those guys than it does on Ray and Tony who provided all the energy, comedy and pace that I think Wes achieved.
Post production is known for its long hours and crazy schedules, and it certainly sounds like Grand Budapest kept you busy for a long time. How do you find a balance between your work life and home life?
There's a balance between work and home life? Hmmmm.
I haven't found one yet. I'm really passionate about what I do and it definitely suits the way Wes makes films, that I'm similar in that when I'm doing any job, there are intense periods where it's totally all-consuming. If I do get time off, it's spent recharging. There isn't much time outside making the film to do a great deal with the family. It is very difficult to find that work-life balance, but I'm so dedicated to what I'm doing that whenever I'm working, I hit it full tilt.
I think the benefit is that I'm still freelance. A film may take the better part of a year, perhaps ten months, but that leaves two months of the year where I may not work at all, and sometimes those gaps are even longer, I've even had gaps of four months. So I just have to embrace those times off and reconnect with my family, take up the reigns of being a responsible parent again.
My wife works in the industry as well. She works incredibly hard as a post-production supervisor. And her task is harder than mine in many respects because I'm sort of jetting off around Europe making this film and Jess has to stay and while still doing her job, keep her firm reign on the family as well.
It does pay off in that sometimes I get weeks at a time where I can become a father again, and have a period of reconnection. It feels a bit strange when I'm not working. But I have a very loving and supportive family. I wouldn't say I have a healthy work-life balance, but it's working.
You've cut so many great things, film AND television. Is there a piece of advice you carry with you that applies to every job?
Lots of them. It's hard to me for create an overview of what I do because I'm sort of a spontaneous person. I tend not to plan too much. I tend not to look at the past too much. I tend to just be in each moment, because that's all that's real. Positivity and hard work go an awfully long way. I think the approach as well, being television or film is almost no different. The demands and pressures and time scales have very different characters, but once you've actually sat down at the Avid, responding to an actor that's performing something, your mindset and ethos hasn't really changed.