The Art of Being Industrious: Dody Dorn ACE on Cutting Fury
CreativeCOW presents The Art of Being Industrious: Dody Dorn ACE on Cutting Fury -- Avid Media Composer Editorial All rights reserved.

FURY - Official Trailer: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Dody Dorn, ACE
Dody Dorn, ACE
Film editor Dody Dorn, ACE, is best known for her work on films like Memento, Kingdom of Heaven, and End of Watch, collaborating with such directors as Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, and David Ayer. Her latest film directed by Ayer, Fury, involved 16 Avids across two continents, with 1.3 million feet of film shot over 69 production days.

In a "fast and furious" post process that included adding to the editorial crew after post had already begun, Dody (along with editor Jay Cassidy, ACE) and the team effectively ran a 24-hour editing room between London and Los Angeles, preparing dailies in LA and emailing bins overnight for use in Media Composer.

Dody noted, "We also used the AMA [Avid Media Access] file creation to deal with the video tap, which I sometimes used for preliminary edits if I was waiting for the dailies. There was a 3-5 day turnaround for dailies. If the director wanted to see an edited scene immediately or the production needed an assembled reference clip, having the tap ingested for me to cut in the interim became invaluable."

While Avid's stable environment and solid media management played a major role in finishing Fury, Dody brings with her a lifetime of editorial experience capped with an industrious, can-do attitude. After working her way through various jobs in the film and television industry, she landed in the edit room by accident – and never looked back.

After time spent as an assistant film editor, she made a lateral move to sound where she spent a decade as foley, dialogue and supervising sound editor (and won a Golden Reel for sound editing on The Abyss) before returning to being a film editor in the early 1990s. I talked to Dody about the challenges of working on Fury, and about the insight she's gained about the craft and business of post-production over the years.

Creative COW: What editorial challenges did you face when editing Fury?

Dody Dorn: Every project has its own set of challenges, and [with Fury] because of the scope of the movie and the already short schedule, there wasn't as much time for contemplation to test the various shifts and changes in the tone. The release was moved up and we added two more editors, so that meant things were changing fast and furious. Ultimately, everything came through my room to make sure we were all in sync. I always think that's a challenge with a short schedule and multiple editors: making sure that everything stays cohesive.

You cut Fury with Avid Media Composer, but you've also cut plenty of film. How has your role as an editor changed in the transition from film to digital?

I think with digital there's a potential for multiple versions, and there's more expectation for multiple versions. And those multiple versions all need to be kept in a very screen-able state so they can be referred to at any point. So that means, that in terms of crafting, you aren't necessarily going down one road and then refining. You're trying this road or that road or a combination of the two. A lot of that kind of work used to be done inside your head before you started cutting. I usually keep everything I've done because if I'm sitting with a director, and I tried something once and the director has seen it, invariably that person will say "oh, I remember when you did this, let's look at that again." You'll try something and want to go back, so we keep versions organized and accessible.

There's also the expectation of adding a higher level of sound work and music, and doing dissolves, opticals, split screens and simple VFX in the Avid – all of that has come into the editing room. The concept of "never showing unfinished work" is at play in the editing room now more than ever because a lot more refinement can be done and there's an expectation it will be done. You can't show something too rough, you have to take the time to refine the sound or fix an audio bump or put in music or add a visual effect. There is an expectation for it and without those refinements that used to be left for the finishing process, it tends to get in the way of the evaluation of the tone or shape of a scene.

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2014 CTMG, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photos by Giles Keyte.

Let's put it in terms of a sculpture. You have a big hunk of clay. And if you start carving away at it, the knife strokes are very crude. But before the sculpture is finished, you smooth it all and it looks like a body. But if you're reviewing something when you've just done crude strokes, and all they can see is the roughness of those strokes, the response may turn into something you can't necessarily evaluate. And I think if you talk to other editors, you'll find it more and more common that they feel they can't show anything unless the sound is right and the music is right, at least gesturally, because people will say "this needs sound, this needs music" instead of reacting to something from a point of view of where it will ultimately arrive.

The layers of finishing a film take time and cost money for a reason, because there's craft and skill involved. It's not that I, the editor can't do all those things, but generally there's not time. That's why there are people that come on and do that work later when the film has taken shape more. I think that is one of the biggest ways digital has affected all editors.

You've worked with some well known and beloved directors – Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, James Cameron (as a sound editor) – how do you work out how to work with a director, especially one that has a reputation?

With any of these directors, it starts with a large dose of respect and human connection. Depending upon where you meet somebody in their career, if they already have a god-like reputation – which both Jim [James Cameron] and Ridley had when I was working with them – it's really essential that I can meet them on a level playing field as a collaborator and not be afraid to openly give my thoughts and opinions. We have to have an honest, open dialogue. Whatever comes out of that dialogue, being their ideas or my ideas, there's a discussion that comes from the communication. Sometimes that can be hard when somebody that has the stature of those two guys, to get someone to really dig in and just get to work and collaborate.

I did have a brief moment the first time I was meeting Ridley, for example, where I was walking to his office and I was like Whoa, I'm going to meet Ridley Scott! That falls away when you come together with somebody as creative partners in a sense. That's really the most essential thing. A lot of listening and a lot of discussion, sometimes even way beyond the project where you get to know the person and you start to understand what their aesthetic is at a really deep level.

You've also worked on lots of different kinds of projects. For example, Memento's editorial structure was a big part of the narrative, whereas a film like Fury has more "invisible" editing, and more VFX. Do you approach these contrasting styles differently as an editor?

Anytime I'm working on something, the style of what I'm doing has to follow the intent of the director. The style is implied and it manifests from the material – not always at the script stage, sometimes it's revealed during shooting. I do tend to gravitate to material where the editing is more visible, and I know that's kind of counterintuitive to the general concept that editing should be invisible.

I did a movie-of-the-week for German television that was two films, running simultaneously on two different TV channels. The viewer was encouraged to switch back and forth. It was a really fun project because the two films had to run in perfect sync with each other so when the viewer switched, they were at the same point within the story.

It was something I talked about in my first meeting with Chris Nolan because reading the script of Memento, I got very excited about the prospect of helping to make the film work since the structure was very firmly embedded in the script. I used a lot of tools for myself and for the various collaborators – sound, music and negative cutters, where I built banners that said when material was repeated and whether it was the first or second time you were seeing it.

The beetfield battle, some with Fury Crew in Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2014 CTMG, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
The beetfield battle, some with Fury Crew.

All of that had to be done so people down the line doing the other work could copy material and make it be exactly the same in those places. So it was technically tricky because we had to keep track since we were cutting negative, and we had to make duplicate negative before we cut that negative. And then we were also precisely matching sounds and those decisions about the precision of the matching sounds or music was very specific as to how we wanted the sound to be.

The repeated sound effects and music choices were presented as signals for the audience. That was just really fun stuff to do and after working with Chris, we really liked working together so I did Insomnia, which is a more straightforward project.

And with David Ayer, it was kind of a similar story. I read the script [for End of Watch] and it was a point of view movie, and I got excited about that because I think in point of view films, the editor is sort of a character in the film in a way. I was reading a bunch of scripts at the time, but I really wanted to do that. Again, we just had a lot of fun working together and did two more films after that. It's not to say that I prefer one or the other style, but because those films where the editing is very visible and prominent don't come along every day, I leap at the chance to get involved.

I read that your original career intentions were to be a teacher until you worked on a sound stage. What was it about that experience that changed your mind about your path? What kept you in film?

Some of it has to do with my upbringing and cultural background, because all of the women in my family were teachers. So when I looked around as a teenager and thought about what I would do to support myself, I never thought about aiming for the stars or really anything other than how to be an effective and useful part of society. And all these women – my aunts and grandparents and so on – were teachers and that seemed like an obvious choice. And I think that for women, that kind of choice somehow, at least in my generation, seemed to be pre-ordained. I didn't know about all the options that were open to me, so it wasn't like they were presented on a table and I went hmm, I'd like to be a teacher.

I was a switchboard operator on my father's sound stage and I met people who were working in film or television and started getting other jobs. Los Angeles is a blue collar town in some ways when it comes to the film industry and I was very industrious, so I kept advancing. It was sort of a natural trajectory to keep getting work because whatever I did, I did it earnestly, and people kept offering me work.

Director David Ayer with Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf on the set of Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2014 CTMG, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Director David Ayer with Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf on the set of Columbia Pictures' FURY.

I finally landed in the editing room by accident because I was working on a TV movie-of-the-week – John Carpenter's Elvis – which went on to be re-edited by another editor for European theatrical release, and the producer asked me if I wanted to work in editorial for that part of the process. I knew nothing about editorial, but I took the job, learned on the job as fast as possible and got in the union on that very show. I never looked back because I just loved it. It was an instantaneous "this is what I'm doing." Everything else I did, it was like this is a job I CAN do. But THAT job, when I got into it, it was clear to me that editing was what I WANTED to do.

I saw Memento when I was just getting into editing as a teenager and it was really influential to me, but it was also a surprise and delight at the time to discover it was edited by a woman. How do you think the visibility of women in behind the scenes roles is important to getting more young women in those roles?

The visibility of women in those roles is definitely important so women know it's open to them. In the creative roles of the film industry, it can be hard for women, but I never felt it. I never personally felt like I was held back from doing whatever I wanted to do because of my gender. I don't know if that's because I'm a product of a generation with women's liberation and the concept of doing what you want was encouraged, but I was always surprised when people said "you're the first woman to do this", I thought "Wow, really? Who knew!" That was always kind of funny to me, if something was presented to me, I just did it. I think that having that sense of "if it can be done and you can do it, just do it" is probably one of the most important things for women.

At the same time, women may have to face the fact that dollar for dollar, even if they're doing the same work as men, they may be paid less. I just did some research while we were talking about women film editors and how many there are, and I pulled up an article from June 2014 and the headline is "How Women Dominate the Film Editing World." And I'm sorry, but there's no way on planet Earth that anyone can say women dominate the editing world. There are quite a few women in film editing, but in no way shape or form is it dominated by women.

When you had a difficult time transitioning from assistant to editor, you jumped to assistant sound editor. What can today's assistants learn from that kind of decision to make a lateral move?

The reason I did that is because I was working with an editor who wasn't really teaching me anything, and I learned as much as I could by myself. I'm always eager to learn new things, so I moved sideways where I could learn.

It's funny because it turned into a long trajectory where I worked in sound for almost ten years. I love what I learned and had a very successful career in sound. I think it's important to keep learning, and it's also important to know that life isn't just an upward trajectory. I was criticized by some of my peers for going to sound. In the film world, sound assistant is considered a lower rank than assistant film editor, so a lot of my friends were like "why are you doing that?"

My attitude was "well, it pays more than unemployment and I'm learning something new, so why would I turn my nose up at that?" That has always been my attitude. I took a job as an assistant on a documentary once and another friend said "what are you doing that for, you do features!" And I'm like, you know what? It's 16mm. I don't know 16mm, so I'm going to learn it and they're going to pay me. What's wrong with that?

Of course I edited several films later on 16mm and I had no fear of handling that material and knew exactly what I was doing. And that's because I openly took a job on a documentary for a month or so. When somebody offers me a job and there's an opportunity to learn and it doesn't interfere with something else, I am likely to say yes.

How did your jump to sound editing affect your film editing when you came back to features?

I put more sound into my narrative editing definitely, but I learned how to edit as a sound editor. I worked on films as a foley editor where you learn rhythm, because if the rhythm is wrong, then you know it. Or you can even cheat the foley to match the rhythm.

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) with Norman (Logan Lerman) in Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2014 CTMG, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) with Norman (Logan Lerman).

I also was a dialogue editor, and as a dialogue editor I was examining the dialogue tracks of all these great editors I was working under. I got to see the film from the first cut to the end, and see how these things were refined over time. Plus I'm listening to the dialogue takes and I'm seeing how they're picking performances and creating rhythm with editing. To me, it was a privilege to cut dialogue for some really great editors, seeing how they did their work. I got to take all that with me forward as an editor. So it's more than just "because I was a sound editor I put a lot of sound edits under my cut", it's much more than that.

An industry adage is to "never stop learning", but I know some people think they've been through it all at a certain point in their careers. What is your advice?

For anyone to ever believe they've seen it all is almost the same as saying there's nothing left to live for. I will never say I've seen it all, because every project is comprised of personalities and people and circumstances and situations and weather and technology changes and script changes and actor changes and so many things, and the way in which all those pieces come together is unique every single time.

You have to be on your toes and ready to react to every new situation – which to me, is one of the most beautiful and wonderful things about the film industry in the first place. You're creating narrative with editing, but you're also living a narrative. You have a beginning, middle and end to every project. And you get to experience and refine and learn and grow and change on every project. I never stop learning. Each film has its own narrative: the experience of doing the work.

All promotional stills from Columbia Pictures' FURY. Photos by Giles Keyte. © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.