Don't Worry Darling
Affonso Gonçalves, ACE, on what it was like working with director Olivia Wilde on her latest film, musicality in editing, and building tension.
Editor Nathan Orloff discusses the films that inspired the action and editing of John Wick: Chapter 4, and the editing test he needed to pass.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
It was our first week in Paris. It might have been the first shooting day in Paris, so I'm much more disoriented ‘cause we're four months in Berlin. I finally find the set and Chad says, “What do you think about paying homage to the most famous cut in cinema history?” He was doing this as a test. I said, “The match cut from Lawrence of Arabia?” He said, “You passed.”
It's such a brilliant cut, first of all. One of the reasons that I think it lands and I think it works — I wouldn’t have kept it if I didn't think it worked — is it really sets the tone for what Chad actually wants to do with this movie. He wants to do something different with every John Wick.
I look at John Wick films as this spiral that gets bigger and bigger in each film. They go bigger and deeper into the mythology, deeper into the themes that he wants to talk about.
In this movie, he's going full Samurai Western, The Good, Bad, and The Ugly, Seven Samurai, Zatōichi — all of these films that he, I think in some ways, is finally given the allowance to do that in terms of, he doesn't wanna do the same movie again and again. He told me that when I interviewed with him. He said, “I'd rather swing and a miss than repeat.”
It sets the tone for this epic that we're trying for, something that's gonna be a continent-spanning, mythological, and hopefully, in some ways, poignant Looney Tunes action movie.
My agent submitted me. Apparently, he interviewed a bunch of people. Evan Schiff was unavailable. There were some rumors that a sound designer friend of mine also put in a good word, but much later in the process — and I mean, I'm talking a few months ago — Chad finally told me, “One of the reasons I hired you was that you hadn't done an action film before like this.”
He didn't want someone to come in and say, “I've done this before. This is how I do it. I'm gonna do it my way.” He gave me all these lists of films to watch and study and what he liked. Notably, my favorite one is Singin’ in the Rain and I watched it on a flight to Berlin.
I kid you not. The way that the dancing is edited in Singin’ in the Rain is my approach to editing the action, 100%.
Show off how good these actors and stunt people are. I'm never trying to use an edit to enhance a punch. It's punch, reaction, cut, gear up for the next thing. I'm in between the action. I'm trying to be subtle and I'm trying to stay wide. I'm trying to cut as little as possible because that's the impressive part.
I don't need to do any work to make Keanu look good. Keanu does that himself. I just need to get out of the way. Something that Singin’ in the Rain and all these old-school musicals did was let you watch the dancing. They would finish a number, like a little beat, then you cut and then they start the next thing and the camera moves over here.
That's kind of the way Chad shoots. The exhibition hall with the nun chucks in Osaka is the quintessential example of how it's just a dance. It's just a musical number. I think it's such a cool way to approach it that I don't think anyone else is doing in the industry.
The Man with No Name trilogy. The Good, Bad, and The Ugly. I have direct cut-for-cut homages in the duel that are just direct out of that. A lot of Buster Keaton, which is evident in the stair fall and the window. It really gave me this lesson on how to make it funny. Making it funny made the violence not violence and made it just entertainment.
I watched more Kurosawa films.
Another one was The Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood. I think that's Chad’s favorite Western. I personally like For a Few Dollars More the most. That movie for some reason, I just think it's flawless. Of course, we have the homage of the locket with the music with Donnie as a direct homage to the musical locket in that movie.
He's just taking these things from all these different things that we love. It's wild.
We removed some backstory elements, just for pacing. We knew that we needed to get to Osaka as fast as possible and to John basically as fast as possible, ‘cause you do leave John for a while.
When I read the script, that was the thing that blew my mind. I was thinking, it's a John Wick movie, and then I bring all these pages like, where’s John? It wasn't until after I read it that he talked about The Good, Bad, and The Ugly, which has these three characters, just like we have John, Donnie, and the Tracker.
We did some shaving to make sure that all we needed was this simple introduction that Donnie has a daughter being used against him, he's gonna hunt John Wick, let's go. Then, the Osaka stuff was to establish Hiroyuki and the daughter Akira played by Rina.
In getting through establishing all these characters, the hardest part about that was if you over-trimmed, you didn't care. If we trimmed things so that there was less charm, less flourishes, and less character, but it was just the plot and you got through it — by the time (an important death scene), you did not care. We discovered that there were these pieces we had to keep in at the beginning of Osaka, so you cared.
Ooh! That is so good because one of the things I've been talking about to other people — ‘cause I keep bringing up the runtime over and over — is we have shorter versions. They felt longer. It's totally true.
When you're shaving a scene shorter than that scene needs to be and you're doing it for some macro goal to hack it together, that scene stops working and then you're going to go in with less energy to the next scene.
It's this domino effect. I swear, a 2 hour and 40 minute version of John Wick would feel longer than the 2 hour and 48 minute version. We tried it all. We tried everything. There are a lot of people that would've loved a 90 minute or a 2-and-a-half-hour version even.
It was immensely helpful. I mean, one of the coolest things is that he was Keanu Reeves’s stunt double in the back of the day. If the tale is correct, he got injured doing a stunt in one of the Matrix movies and the Wachowskis wanted to be able to keep him on payroll, so they put him in editorial.
He learned about the power of double-cutting. He's such a huge fan of Hong Kong action films and Jackie-Chan-before-he-came-to-America-style editing of fight beats, so he's very familiar with how stunts should be cut.
He and I were in lockstep and in sync ‘cause he had his own Avid where he would look at dailies. I never heard him cut a scene. He never handed me a timeline. He never came in and said, “Change these three frames,” but I would hear him watch dailies. Then, it was this kind of a gratifying process to learn, like as he was watching dailies, we didn't really drastically change the conclusions that I had come to.
Chad and I became very in sync in that regard. He would obviously notice things that I wouldn’t notice, jujitsu moves that are wrong or this person does this. I’d say, “Oh, I didn't notice that,” so we’d change the take or find something else.
There were lots of little things like that. He would always say basically, “The jujitsu community is gonna come after me if I show this. We have to be correct.”
I oftentimes do cut on mute. I'll put a huge limiter on the RTAS and make it all really quiet, so at least I hear the bangs of the gunshot when they happen because obviously, we didn't use blanks. There's no muzzle flashes, but there are pops. They're plugged guns and then there's this tiny amount of gun powders. Nothing is possible for it to come out the front, but shells do get ejected from the side, so there is a trigger and a pull and a little bit of a sound that comes with it. That was useful, but I'd keep it very low ‘cause I totally agree. It was so distracting. I'd sort of played my own music in the background, scores from other movies, just for mood. Or techno or whatever I felt like.
I would assemble them basically almost MOS like that, then I'd start putting temp score in and giving it to this team for sound. But yeah, the cuts needed to work on silent. The guns especially, it was hard. I needed something.
It was a very involved process. My second, Alexandra Andrus, who became the muzzle flash and impact queen, put sound in for everything. She also used SubCap and little dots to put where the muzzle flash is happening and where the impact hits in the next frame. We can use that to communicate with the VFX team. It all came from her.
She would do that, review with me, and now say, “Maybe we add a few more gunshots here. Let's actually fake this and not have this gunshot here.” Then, we'd show it to Chad and Chad would hear the rhythm of the scene. He would always talk about, “I wanted to be like Saving Private Ryan. More, more, more, more!” So we'd always amp it up, amp it up, amp it up.
Then, when the sound sounded right and the rhythm of the scene sounded right and she had all the dots placed in — she had color-coded which muzzle flash was Keanu's, which was a machine gun type of thing — we'd hand to VFX and say, “This is the timing.” ‘Cause we'd already mapped out that this impact is gonna make a chip or this is gonna hit this glass here.
We did it from a sound perspective ‘cause I knew this needed to come from editorial. If we asked VFX to do it without sound, the amount of revisions would be such a nightmare because it would take so long to come back and they'd spend so much time working on stuff that isn’t wrong.
Absolutely, but I'd have a dot to know something was there.
There were definitely spots. For instance, with the fight in the club, there was actually a bunch more stuff downstairs. We knew that between the music and the waterfall, there was a hard limit. Luckily and organically, we were able to lift a big section. I think that the fight in the club is the perfect length now.
With Osaka, it was sort of about when are you cross-between groups of people. It's one of those things where it's always obvious at the end. You think, oh, this is the obvious order. The suicide girls go here.
Yeah. Most of it was, but there was definitely a little bit of rearranging. Probably the bigger changes came in the third act, where you do have almost an hour of nonstop action. My whole ethos around that became music. Obviously, visually, these things change, but they could not be scored all the way, not that they were even more written that way.
We had this DJ that is a direct homage to The Warriors. I love that movie. Chad had written for this DJ to be flagging where he is, so it is this perfect thing to cross-cut between the scenes. Give that breath. My favorite one is the Arc de Triomphe sequence where she says, “We can do better than that.” She then does another needle drop.
I alternated so that we did a true needle drop, literally, for a French version of “Paint it Black” in the Paris street fights, where he gets the car and the doors come off. Then, it switches to a score for the beginning of the Arc de Triomphe sequence and the car portion.
Then, it switches to a needle drop with her. Then, it's score for all the top shot. Then, when we get to the bottom of the stairs, we get our last needle drop, Justice. Chad said it best: “With a needle drop, you get 90 seconds, maybe two minutes. Anything longer than that, you're making a music video.”
You can't ever put a full song in. This is as much as you get. The only exception is with Gesaffelstein in the Arch de Triomphe, most people think it's score ‘cause it's instrumental and it's techno, but it's got this weird breath stuff. It's actually technically a French band. All the music she plays is French. Justice is French and the Gessafelstein track - that's the only exception because we can keep that long because there are no lyrics.
Oh, not at all. The only one written was “Nowhere to Run,” which is again a direct homage. That was the montage that actually I'm in when they're all getting ready.
Editor and "henchman" Nathan Orloff
I was a henchman. I'm in two shots. I'm coming down the stairs behind Marco, the guy with the goatee. Then, when John's in the Barracuda at the Arc and he does a 180 and fires out the front, I get shot five times. I'm very honored to be killed by John Wick.
Nope. I think there was one instance where Chad showed me on a laptop. Chad used stunt vis to sort of map out setups and shots. It was always about “this is what we're gonna do from point A to point D in this setup.” They would kind of do that with stunt vis.
Then, they'd say, “Okay, the next one will be point C. There'll be a little overlap to F,” and then they would sort of map that out. But I would just get the raw footage and he wanted me to come at it completely fresh without any preconceived notions of what it should be.
The story in the fight was actually always really easy to find ‘cause of how clearly he shoots it. The trick was the linking. How do I link this setup? Maybe the hardest one to cut - because it was my first one - is the exhibition hall in Japan.
I literally just landed. I was still jet-lagged. They were shooting these nun chucks and this really long sequence in that little museum. I was struggling to find the linking points and overlap between one setup and the next and how to get through it and make it feel like I'm not jumping or cutting to a B cam just to get to it.
It's just these moments where they are never usually the same, especially at the end of a stunt where they've landed might change every take. Then, they go and start the next thing and then they do that landing, ‘cause there's a little bit of overlap. But wait a minute, it's not the same. I can't cut on the land. I have to cut before. Do I cut on the throw?
When Chad looked at dailies when we got back to LA, he just kind of discovered that was the only way to cut that. There are not a lot of options ‘cause they would shoot a stunt until they got it right and then they move on. Unlike dialogue, where sometimes you can sort of pick and choose the best line here and there. Maybe I'll put the audio of this take under this performance or you can really do a lot.
Our hands were very tied again around the philosophy of not cutting and around the philosophy of letting you watch it. It was really challenging.
Yeah. I think another reason that he threw stunt vis out the window is that when they get there on set, I know they change the angles a lot. The way they do the angles is very old-style musical, where he doesn't shoot a lot of “cross” ever. It's just “at.” (Nathan describes crossing angles with his fingers, then straight on for “at”)
So you're seeing John and you're seeing the goons and you're just seeing these people acting and you're just watching almost like it’s theater, almost like it’s a stage. The B cam was usually a few feet away at a different lens, at a slightly different angle. It was not dramatically different because they had to be out of the way of the action. It was very methodical in how he wanted to shoot from these angles.
I think it's 380 something. You know what the weirdest thing is? I never once thought about this until I heard people talking about it. It didn't occur to me ‘cause everyone does speak for him and at him and he has to prove everybody wrong.
His dialogue is his action. His dialogue is his fighting. That's what he's saying. But then also, the less he says — it's this very Clint Eastwood — my favorite line is a toss-up between “Loving husband,” which gets me, and then when he stands up and says, “Winston, will you take me home?”
When someone is sort of silent and not speaking a lot — when they do say something and it’s something that layered, it gets me emotional every time. It's so good. I think there's more power the less he says, you know?
The pacing of that scene was fun because it's not that John's being manipulated. John is wrong. The whole thing of the movie is John learning that he's an idiot, that he's fucked up, that he's hurt the people he loves, that he has made these mistakes.
It’s both the actions of his past prior to his marriage and then also especially his quest for revenge and killing the Elder. What is his solution? I'm gonna kill them all. Hiroyuki tells him you can't kill them all.
That's why it’s so important that Donnie says, “I didn't kill Koji. You did.” In a weird way, the structure of this movie is non-traditional. It is not a three-act movie. It is a five-act movie. Osaka is this gigantic prologue.
The movie starts at the scene you’re talking about, at the mausoleum in the snow in New York, where John tells Winston he’s going to kill the Marquis.
Winston: Well, what then?
Wick: Then he's dead.
Winston: Have you learned nothing?
To me, this is a pivot point, not just in the movie, but in the series, where John is told “You are being an idiot.” Winston’s right. He wants to figure out a way to end this and be done with hurting people and it's really important.
Doing that in a space like the mausoleum where it's under the weight of Charon’s death — rest in peace, Lance — creates a whole other layer to the emotionality of the scene.
Yeah, it's 20, 25 seconds. For one, I'll start with this. I cut out so much walking. You have no idea. Nobody has any idea. The montage in Berlin when he gets to Berlin, he walks all the way across the bridge, then walks all the way under the bridge.
It's so beautiful. As a quick aside, I remember watching Mission Impossible: Fallout, which is my favorite Mission Impossible. I just remember there's one scene when I was just so awestruck at Eddie Hamilton at the audacity to only give me two seconds on some gorgeous shot and never cut back to it.
I'm thinking, how dare you? This is beautiful. But it’s cool. It makes you want more. At a certain point, if you just linger on it, it's nothing. You do it once. You don't need to return to it. Great. You're done. You just told the story.
With the shot with Winston, it was incredibly important to establish the Marquis, his power, his reach, and really underline that he's on this pedestal, the same thing as they're walking through the columns of New York to get to him. Winston has to walk all the way here to get to him. The Marquis is not someone that walks to anybody basically except the Tracker, but that's actually a good reason to invert it.
The other thing is that the paintings actually do mean a lot. We're talking about the paintings like “The Wrath of the Medusa.” That's my favorite in the Louvre. But the painting that depicts the idea of freedom that the Marquis is staring at — he's thinking he's the wrong person. He's thinking he's the one holding the flag when he's really the people that are killed on the ground. It's important to establish the artistry, I think, of the space and for people to think about it. If we had just dropped people into the scene, it'd just be another scene. We had just come off this big, loud techno section with music and action.. Let people enjoy some art for a second.
There was a good full month where we experimented with different orders of the scenes. We had all different kinds of versions. We had versions that had the “Nowhere to Run” montage earlier. We had the versions where the church scene went after the scene with the Marquis and the Harbinger or where you did the boat scene and then you start the montage.
That scene is an interesting one ‘cause I'd actually argue I don't think it could be any faster. It's a downshift because of the story. That was actually the one fun change in that scene. What they shot originally was Keanu got through all this dialogue and then the Bowery King spoke up about his gravestone.
I put that instead in the middle as an interruption because I wanted to bring it back to sentimental. I wanted to set up the sentimental, interrupt it with a joke, and bring it back so that “loving husband” landed and it worked much better and also actually shorten the scene.
It is pretty much as scripted. The assembly was 3 hours and 45 minutes. There was a time when we were just really screwing around, doing anything we could to sort of cheat and change time and do stuff. We ended up pretty much exactly as scripted in that order there.
I think the only difference is the church scene in the order of the bounce back between Marquis and Harbinger, John going underground, and then back to the Marquis to kick off that “Nowhere to Run” montage. We could have theoretically pushed later or earlier, but kind of felt good there.
For one, definitely beginning my relationship with Chad. When I was talking about the linking issue in shots, there was one time where I came — it wasn't a stunt issue, it was actually just a timing and camera movement when Donnie and Keanu were standing with each other for the first time — and I said, “Chad, I really think we need a wide shot here. I can't cut these. The camera's moving differently.”
The ability to go to set, show 'em on my iPad what the problem was and be there when they shot the fix was so worth it. Having the feedback, there's something so different about, let's say if I was in LA sending him something on PIX and then he'd email me notes or something, that sounds terrible.
I'd go to set, I'd talk with Dan Lausten the DP, talk with Chad, show him some stuff, get excited, hear our thoughts, have an organic conversation, and really be a part of the crew. The movie's so much better for it.
Brutal and ever-changing. It was constantly changing. Full credit to the production team because it's a very hard movie to shoot. It's all nights. Especially ‘cause of COVID, we got into some crazy locations. But I worked normal hours and then I would come to set at 8:00 pm and stay till their first shot and maybe show Chad. Then, I'd be home by 11 or 12. They'd stay up all night and shoot.
I flew out there at the very, very end of June 2021. Stayed in Berlin until about mid-September, I think, and then we went to Paris. I think we were in Paris for six weeks, maybe seven. I was back before Thanksgiving. Halloween in Paris was weird.
We got back in November. Chad took a little vacation. I think it became very quick. Thanksgiving happened really quick. Then, there's only a few weeks. I think I didn't end up showing him the assembly - maybe I just showed him in December.
I remember in January of 2022, Chad's back, we're here, let's go. Lionsgate knew how big the film was that they gave us a little more time to turn in the director's cut. I think they gave us maybe five extra weeks. We had a long post schedule and everybody knew that just ‘cause of the release date.
It's just a big movie. I think we showed the studio a cut that was — I don't remember, if it was 3 hours and 20 minutes or 3 hours and 15 minutes or something like that. It was a long movie [laughs]. We showed Keanu a version that was 3 hours and 30 minutes and he loved it. Keanu wants a longer version. We made a special version for Keanu and Chad. We took the final film and then I added back some scenes, added back a bunch of walking. It’s about 3 hours and four minutes, I believe, or something like that.
Oh my god, the first previews I will never forget. It was incredible. The audience response was so good. I do think that there was a lot of concern ‘cause what we previewed was, without credits, 2 hours and 55 minutes.
I think a lot of people walking in thought, “This is suicide. You don't preview a 2 hour and 55 minute movie. We're not Avatar.” Our final film, the final cut, is 2 hours and 40 minutes without credits, so it was 15 minutes longer than the current version and we scored a great response.
People cheered. People were laughing. People were hollering down the stair fall. It was one of the best audience experiences I've ever had. It was so fulfilling to realize, “Okay, people will dig what we're doing. People are into it.”
We took a long time to shave it down and try things, but it was so wonderful to get the response that we got.
There was definitely stuff where Chad said, “I'm gonna let this go. This should go.” But it was also a known thing. We also knew that it was long. The funny thing is is you get a preview and everyone has that reaction and they love the movie, but they still say it was long and we agreed.
But we thought, “But you liked it!” So we just knew that we couldn't make it too short where it ruins it. It was a very delicate, careful process to get it to the length it was, just ‘cause we all could feel it. There were scenes that lagged and pacing that lagged.
This is my first movie on this scale as a solo editor. I say that with an asterisk because I wanna give a massive shoutout to Nicholas Lundgren, my first and additional editor, ‘cause he helped me assemble a lot of scenes. There are a lot of his cuts that are totally in the movie the way he put it together.
Not only that, he sat in the chair when I had to step away for some vacations that I planned before I got the movie. He was so instrumental in creating a bunch of alts, especially the train scene with Rina. Chad would say, “Let's try a version with this amount of dialogue. Let's try a version with no dialogue. Let's try a version where we have this, then this line, and then what about this?”
We had 27 different versions of the train scene. While Nicolas did that, I could keep focusing on other things as he's working on these notes.
But this is my first film as a solo editor on something like this. I'm beyond grateful and feel so honored that people are digging the movie ‘cause we just made it for ourselves. We do some weird things in the movie. Chad constantly teased me and said, “I can't believe you convinced me to have a cross dissolve in the movie, let alone four.”
I am a weird defender of cross dissolves. I think they are a lost art and we need to bring 'em back.
I’ve worked with editors who say, “Can't solve it. Dissolve it, huh?” and I’d say, “Ouch.” I could hard cut if I wanted. My favorite thing is the very Indiana Jones map. We go to the Arc. She puts the John Wick marker on the Arc and then it dissolves into the actual real Arc.
Then at the end of the Arc de Triomphe sequence, it dissolves from a big drone shot into the Marquis’ map of the Arc. Then, we matched the positioning. Then lastly, I dissolved from John at the church to the ocean to New York.
Then, the buildings in New York dissolve into the gravestones at the end ‘cause New York is the city of death out of all these movies. To me, the cool thing about a cross dissolve is that you can say a lot with the juxtaposition, but when you're literally laying two images on top of each other, you're saying something different. I actually have somehow put cross dissolves in every single movie that I've cut. There's two in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. There's definitely some in Plan B and there's 80 in Wyrm.
Yeah, I’m out in London right now, working on the new one.
Yeah. As long as you're saying something, as long as there's an intent behind it — and maybe that's my bullshit is that I have an idea behind a cross dissolve of why I'm doing it, whether it's a simple visual thing, like the Arc or the ocean and why water means something with John at the church, you know? — then you're making film.
Oh, felt awful. The end of the movie to me is like you've had 45 minutes of pure action and then you have this intense duel. I always like to consider the emotional state of the audience, basically ‘cause it's how I feel when I watch the movie. When it was a hard cut, you think, “Ow! you just showed me this. I can't believe you show me this and then you hard cut. That's rude.”
At the end of this movie, I wanted to gently bring people: “yes, this has happened. Now we're going here. I'm really sorry. It's ending now. We gotta go.” That's my attitude: gently taking the audience into the next scene and making that as smooth as possible because a hard cut was real harsh.
Film dissolves, but then I tweaked them at Company 3. I'd sit there and get a little obsessive.
Thank you very much.
I'm working on the new Ghostbusters movie, directed by Gil Kenan, and so far having a blast. I just assembled part of a first action scene today and I'm very excited.
Thank you. I can't wait for you to see it. I can’t wait to finish it.
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you very much.
Affonso Gonçalves, ACE, on what it was like working with director Olivia Wilde on her latest film, musicality in editing, and building tension.
Alan Edward Bell, ACE, on editing book adaptations, recognizing what an audience wants or needs, and working with a women-led team.
Editor Monika Willi on working on the Cate Blanchett tour de force, the physicality of editing, and when to keep an audience in the dark.
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