Hi Film Folk,
Stephen King movie adaptation It has wowed the world, raking in over $500 million at the box office and beating 1974 creepy classic The Exorcist’s record as the highest grossing horror film of all time.
Read below to find out how Jason got to where he is today and all things cutting It.
Jason, tell us where you’re from and how you got into the film industry?
I grew up in a small city called Adelaide, in South Australia. I did a visual arts course after leaving high school as I wasn’t really sure of my career direction. During those four years there was a lot of creative exploration.
The university had a film and video course which was a newly discovered passion. I won categories of a young filmmakers’ competition which led to work experience at a local television commercials house. My first introduction to editing as a professional craft.
Up until then I leant towards the typical roles of filmmaking, like being a cameraman or director. However, once I witnessed the manipulative power editing has over storytelling, I knew that’s where my true career interests lay.
In 1992 that television commercials house bought one of Australia’s first AVID Media Composers. Fortunately I was given the task of learning the system. And I loved it!
I started operating for local Editors and Directors. It was a great opportunity to learn techniques, terminology and the rhythms for cutting under their experienced instruction. Eventually I had my own small client list cutting commercials or corporate videos.
An opportunity arose to be the Assistant Editor on a television mini-series, wanting to use the AVID. This was to be my first long format experience. I suddenly realised you had 400+ people all working to a collective goal, as opposed to commercials where last minute decisions are made by Executives flexing muscle.
Soon after this mini-series experience, a Sydney based film production company called asking to rent the AVID for a long period of time for their feature film ‘Babe’ (1995). The Editor was interested in using AVID and offered to teach me how to be a film Assistant Editor in exchange for supporting him with the AVID operation.
So I moved to Sydney, which for me was very much moving to “the big smoke”. This relocation also coincided with the birth of Fox Studios opening in Sydney. With the Australian dollar low and these new shooting facilities, a healthy amount of international films were shooting locally.
This presented a great opportunity of gaining international credits and experiences as an Assistant Editor.
So what did you do in the assistant role?
I worked consistently for over 10 years as an Assistant Editor on feature films. Primarily non-creative, a technically challenging role preparing dailies, syncing and arranging them in a manner the Editor requested.
This extended to preparing nightly screenings for the Director, taking notes etc.
The best part was a first hand, fly-on-the-wall opportunity to observe the collaboration between Editor and Director as the film developed.
How did you make the transition from assisting to editing?
I think this one question presents the greatest hurdle for aspiring Editors. You fortunately don’t need any formal qualifications but unfortunately you need someone to trust you enough to do the job. Creating that one opportunity is different for everyone.
When the creative bug was biting, I would ask to take Editors for a coffee and chin wag, asking how they made their break. Making others aware of my intent helped generate opportunities too. Talking about my desires was also the first step to believing I could do it.
Cutting short films is excellent practise.
Making the creative leap into editing also came at a financial cost. I was moving from a consistent fairly well-paid Assistant on bigger U.S. films to smaller rates cutting lower budget Australian films occasionally. I knew it would be a short term sacrifice for a long term gain. Not only financially, but most importantly personally fulfilling.
‘Wolf Creek’ (2005) was my first feature Editor credit, which fortunately was well received at the time with screenings at Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals and being bought by the Weinsteins.
After the success of this film, I didn’t really have to do any more explaining about wanting to edit over assisting. The transition of wearing a new hat in a small industry was secured.
And how did cutting ‘Wolf Creek’ come about? Did you know the director previously?
I didn’t know the Director Greg Mclean prior, it was just the coincidence that I was from Adelaide where the local government funding body were aggressively enticing local productions with rebates.
The personal recommendations came through mutual friends, some from that first commercials house job and some from Sydney.
We met, chatted about our mutual love for breakdancing, then Greg offered the job!.
Every head of department was doing their respective role for the first time. Everyone was so hungry to make it work, not only for the film but themselves.
Tell us a bit about how you ended up working on ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.
‘Gatsby’ was a complete surprise. Co-Editor Matt Villa is my life-long friend, we were an Assistant Editor team and worked on a few films together. Some previous films being Baz Luhrmann’s.
One day we got an email out of the blue from Baz asking if we’d like to edit his upcoming film. It was a dream come true to edit a film at a budget level I had only previously assisted on.
Similar circumstances with ‘Fury Road’. I had assisted on a few of George Miller’s previous films, including working for his wife Margaret (the Supervising Editor).
Tell us how you wound up editing ‘It’.
I was introduced to Andy Muschietti through our mutual talent agent WME.
I was a little unsure at the time, as I’ve mutilated children onscreen before and don’t find pleasure in that on weekends [laughs]. It took the smarts of my Agent Jasan Pagni to convince me to do it.
I met with Andy and Barbara Muschietti (the Producer). After a great conversation I understood their intent which was very appealing.
We shot in Toronto for three months in the summer of 2016. We then went back to Los Angeles to do post at Warner Bros for Newline. We cut on Avid Media Composer, by my choice of familiarity and comfort with how stable and reliable it is in a shared storage environment.
Have you ever cut using anything else?
The only other films I worked on using something other than AVID were ‘Happy Feet’ (Final Cut) and ‘Moulin Rouge’ (Light Works). This was the decision of those Editors.
So how long was post on It?
Post was around 9 months, after principal photography. During the shoot I would race to assemble on the toes of the shooting crew.
Each day would entail receiving the previous day’s dailies. The Assistant Editors would ingest, sync and prepare the dailies, checking all is accounted for. I would make selects and then work towards a first assembly. Making sure the story points were covered and sending to set any requests for insert shots etc.
I assemble to the script. However a good read doesn’t always make a good watch. Things like story repetition and scene lengths become apparent in the assembly.
Every Friday we posted the edits to an online secure server and the Director Andy would watch them giving notes over the weekend.
When back in LA after the shoot wrapped, I had a week to finish the assembly before Andy arrived. Our first assembly was around three hours and forty minutes. We started the process of culling down, finding pace deficiencies or rearranging scenes for better storytelling.
All scenes go through some minimisation in an effort to loose screen time rather than just cutting whole scenes. You want to give them a chance of life to stay in the film.
The film’s overall duration is never determined by an arbitrary number. It’s what feels right.
Andy had ten weeks to produce his cut, then screening for the Producers, after that to the Studio (Newline) and then on to audience test screenings over the course of a few months.
Tell us about the audience testing side of things because that’s an area we haven’t often delved into with our editors.
We did nine audience test screenings, that’s a lot. Normally it’s two or three, but the recourse is invaluable. It’s nerve-wracking putting your work in progress in front of an audience.
It was invaluable in this case as we ended up filming more. Not only for story clarity but strengthening the characters.
I’m always taken aback by how concise the notes are, sometimes talking about a particular scene or a feeling. As the filmmakers, we have to determine if the comments are actually relating to a specific scene or the culmination of scenes before it.
If you were to get audience comments on “not liking the baddie”, is that because they’re a poor actor or they’re doing a fantastic job onscreen?
What was it like – on a personal level – working on such an iconic property with such a big fanbase and expectation?
It’s really exciting to work on a project that already has a pre-existing audience. With that comes expectations however. The tremendous response for the film was icing on the cake.
I think the film should be looked as a coming-of-age story with jump scares. I’m not sure I’d devalue it by calling it just a horror. There are as many laughs as spooks, as sensitive as it is suspenseful.
The biggest balancing act outside the number of characters was tone. In the early preview screenings we were getting feedback that it was an emotional roller-coaster. People were having problems constantly switching.
The emotional rhythm of the film had to be crafted. We took out some jokes and made other areas more aggressive, all the time trying to keep it fresh and unpredictable.
What changes – lamentable or welcomed – have you experienced over your career? What developments would you like to see take place technologically and is there anything that’s changed that you miss?
Tech advances take a little bit of time to settle into an established industry, however by in large they are for the better.
If there was any detriment to be spoken of I would say the Assistant Editor is now somewhat removed from the cutting room creative process. Non-linear editing has been around for over 20 years, so it’s old news, but there is that divide with the Editor and Director working in their room and the Assistant Editor in another.
Then of course shooting digitally has given a freedom for rolling the camera. Good for coverage and cost savings (relative to film acquisition), but not so good for the Editor left to watch six hours from one shoot day. I still would never complain about getting a lot of coverage, as I’d rather have more options than none.
Looking to the future, I hope that cinemas always exist in some form of public exhibition. Watching a film amongst a group of people is a really fun way to experience storytelling.
What advice can you give to Assistant Editors or aspiring Editors hoping to follow in your footsteps and work on big exciting projects?
Stay true to your end goals. Mix in the circles of those that can help you advance. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.