Editor James Wilcox, ACE, on the role of the documentary style approach to director Ron Howard's film about the underwater rescue that captured the...
Jay Prychidny explains how horror films use sound, how to construct an effective jump cut and how to make repetitive actions more compelling.
Today we’re speaking with Jay Prychidny, CCE about editing Scream 6. Jay has won or been nominated for numerous Canadian Cinema Editors Awards for projects including The Alienist, Orphan Black, Canada’s Next Top Model, The Next Step, and Lost and Found Music Studios. He also won a BAFTA for The Next Step.
His other credits include the TV series Snowpiercer, Altered Carbon, and Wednesday.
Not only are they two directors, but this is only the third time they've worked with an outside editor. Their last two films: Scream and Ready Or Not were the first two times they worked with an outside editor. The amazing thing was they were in sync with a lot of things.
A lot of time I'd get them confused [laughs] which wasn't bad because sometimes they did operate like a hive mind, which is so amazing. I guess part of that is because they've been working together for so long. It happened that there'd be differences of opinions sometimes, usually over very small things, but, for the big things, it was a very productive and collaborative environment for all of us.
There are the action moments, there are the dramatic moments. In Scream, especially, so much of it is about the lead-up to things and that's something I wanted to bring to this movie, because as a fan of the Scream movies, that's what I love so much in the previous movies is that they take their time and that delicious feeling before something happens gets the audience excited. I love those nervous twitters in an audience when they know something's about to happen.
In terms of the pacing and how that is all part of the macro pacing it’s about how you set up and pay off certain moments. For me, I always wanted to draw out those moments as much as possible, the moments before the moments. Because for me, those are the most delicious, exciting, scary parts. Unfortunately, those are the things that often come under fire if you have to start cutting down for time. But luckily on this movie, we didn't have to do that.
I didn't work on the last Scream, but, apparently, that's what happened. The studio was more impatient, saying, "Just get to the kill! Get to the action!" But, for me, and I think for a lot of Scream fans, it's not just about the action.
The acting is always on such a high level in the Scream movies; the performances, and the character work. People love these characters. I think that also sets it apart from a lot of slasher movies. A lot of times the "Michael Myers" or the "Jason" is the hero and the other characters are just put in there to be murdered. [laughs]
That happens in the Scream movies, too. But it's also 'not' that. There is no consistent bad guy and people get upset if you mess with their favorite characters.
You're just reminding me of my first cut of that scene which is unusual for me. Normally, I do one cut and stick with that to show the directors. That was a scene where I went back and started second-guessing some of my original instincts because I wanted it to be a comedy. I wanted it to be fast-paced and it is all those things. But, I probably pushed it too far - made it a bit too extreme with the reaction shots because for me there's a very precise nature to the way jokes are told. In editing, I always want the editing rhythm to mirror that “set-up, joke, and punchline” with a reaction shot however you achieve that.
I went too far a little bit in trying to just beat out every line, every joke, giving each line its moment, each character, its moment. I went back to that scene a couple weeks later and thought, “I think this is pushing too far.” I went back and just tried to streamline it a little more, trying to not give everything its own beat. Play a little more in a wide shot so you can get setups and reactions in the wide shot sometimes. I always picked, for that scene, the fastest takes, the funniest takes.
The directors also like a sense of comedy that's not so pushed, is more subtle, more like you laugh at something you're not even sure why you're laughing at it. You're not even sure if it's a joke. But that was that one scene where everyone felt comfortable. Let's just push these jokes, let's make them jokes, treat them as jokes, and just make it a fast and furious, punchy, editing sequence.
A very linear editor, to almost an insane degree. I look through all the dailies at the beginning of the scene and I pick the first shot and I put that in, and then I go through all the next little bit of the dailies, and then I put the second shot in. So I watch as I cut, and then by the time I finish cutting the scene I've seen all the dailies, but I don't watch it all beforehand. It's a very organic instinctual process.
Every take of every setup. I'll look at the notes and stuff. Just for maybe a general sense of what the directors want but sometimes even then, it doesn't even give you a proper sense of what the directors are looking for. So I'll just look at the notes as just intellectual knowledge. Then I'll look through all the takes...
I don't even know what that means. "Favorite takes" [laughs] I've never worked with a director who's said, "was this the take we selected?" Because within every take there are little moments that you're not going to mark down.
It's very emotionally driven. Yes, there are certain guidelines sometimes, if you're in a certain size, you have to stay in that size. I don't know. So sometimes there are guidelines like that. But, for the most part, it's very emotionally driven.
Before I get into a scene, I'm aware of what I want to get out of the scene, where I think the moments of the scene are, and then I just look at the footage and react to it very instinctually, and assess it. like where do I get that feeling that I want to be feeling here?
I just watch the little bits of footage with that emotionally open posture. Just feeling myself where I'm getting that feeling that I want to be generating in an audience. I don't think about it in terms of what shot size.
I might get that feeling from a wide shot. I might get that feeling from the master. I might get it from a close-up. It's whatever the feeling that I'm trying to achieve is, and wherever I find that in the footage. Because wide shots can have their emotionality. Sometimes you get an emotion more strongly by being farther away from an actor. So, from my subjective view, what is the right emotion? And, where in the footage do I find that?
That was a bizarrely controversial moment in the editing. The number of times we went back and forth on this moment. That was one moment where the directors did disagree on what to do. It's such a simple thing. We're talking about unlocking a door. It's funny that there were so many arguments about it. I love doing stuff like that, but this movie didn't seem to be that type of movie to me, and the directors didn't seem to be like that type. When I first got the footage, I cut it very naturally. I tried to pace it up because it's boring to watch. [Laughs] There was just a lot of debate back and forth.
They thought it was boring to watch her unlock a door, but they liked the story point of her having so many locks. I tried to argue by saying, "Can we just cut on the inside of the room? Just hear the locks and she walks in, can it just be really simple, not make a big deal?"
We tried that so many ways. Every possible way. Because one director was very sure we wanted these intercuts of the locks. And the other director, I remember, had a line that we made fun of for months after. At one point in the editing, he said, "In a movie, as soon as I see a key going towards a lock, I'm out." [Laughs]
It's this very dramatic proclamation and we made fun of that for a month. "Oh, if you see a key, you can't do that in a movie." So, those were the two versions that were competing. The extremely rapid intercut locking and just a simple version of the camera already being inside the door and her walking in. For whatever reason, the one with the rapid-fire cutting stuck. It's unlike anything else in the movie. But there it is. I always laugh when that comes up because I'm saying, "this is an interesting style thing that is not anywhere else but cool."
That's why I tried to just bypass it and say, "why don't we just skip past this and cut into the room already just to avoid it and still tell the story?" Because one director was very sure he liked the different intercuts of the locks and the different inserts. And I think the other director was bumping on it being such insert-y shots. So, anyway, we came to a compromise, a consensus.
I don't think so. I mean, it was a very smooth process. It was a lot of work getting to the director's cut. A lot of changes and exploration. The directors finished their pass in about six weeks. And then we brought in the writer-producer to also be involved. We did his pass for another couple of weeks or so.
From that point, we were pretty much at the first preview. We didn't change the movie a lot from, Jamie, the writer-producer, finishing his pass. We made some changes, but it was pretty much the movie
The subway sequence was interesting because probably out of all the action sequences, it's the most similar to my first cut. That was the scene when I did my editor's assembly the directors said, "This is in great shape."
We made some changes, but, overall in terms of the structure and the pacing of it, it's quite similar to my first cut. It's such an interesting sequence because it's very long, it's very drawn out to an almost absurd degree. Again, if we came under running time fire that would've been cut up.
But to me, the exciting things are the setting up of the situation. That to me was the part I was most excited about going into the movie. I knew I wanted to have fun setting up situations. So, where Mindy is standing. Where Ethan is standing. Ethan's perspective. What can he see? Then going to Mindy, getting her perspective, what's her setup? Who are the people around her, and just taking that time to set up the physical scenario of the scene?
Yeah, the geography. Which Is not strictly necessary. You don't need that to have an exciting subway murder scene. Because it's a simple scene. Ghostface is there. He's getting closer. You don't need to set up the geography.
Setting up the geography, in a lot of cases, was the thing because you're explaining to the audience: This is here, this is there. There's just something uneasy about that whole thing of taking your time with that. Because the audience says, "What's going to happen?" That's the feeling that I wanted to generate. And, that was something the directors loved: how much time that scene is taking. Also, when Ghostface is starting to come up on Mindy and Mindy's going in the dark. Again, just hanging in the black, and just, really drawing it out so the audience starts searching for themselves. They're peering into the darkness and trying to see. And for me, that was the intention of just making things fun and uneasy by them being unnaturally long.
That is something that ended up getting tweaked a lot in editing. We paid a lot of attention to where are the lights flickering. How long are the flickers? How long are we in black? How many frames can you see, Ghostface? All those things.
So there was a lot of editing trickery in there. Things that look like single shots have a lot of editing in them just to make the flickers happen at a certain time. Because they shot what they shot, the lights did what they did. It's more just in the editing. The directors would say, "Ooh, it would be great if this was longer, or it would be great if there was like a moment of darkness and then ghost space pops up. Or it would be great if this happened or this happened." And then I'd say, "Let's figure out how to do that with the footage that we have."
Your audience knows what's going to happen. So you have to trick them first into thinking it's not going to happen by lulling them into thinking nothing's happening, and then make something happen. [laughs] it's this bizarre, second-guessing game you're playing with the audience because they're so smart and savvy. You need to subvert what they think is happening. That was one of our techniques. We called that “Lulling.” We want to lull the audience into believing nothing's happening and then have something happen.
Probably the scene that is mostly constructed, or tightly constructed in the edit, is the ladder sequence. That's a very fast-paced scene. It's different from a lot of the other action scenes that are more drawn out and more suspenseful.
One of the main problems with that scene that we had all along until very close to the final edit was just this feeling of you need three people to cross the ladder, 1, 2, 3. Once you've seen the first one, we know what that looks like.
If it was cut how it was shot, it would be very boring because there's one person slowly crossing the ladder. The next person slowly crosses the ladder. The third, and there's no action or fun here. We didn't want it to have that repetitive feeling. We wanted it to have this feeling of building to a climax. The ramping up of tension. How do you do that with essentially repetitive footage? It’s just the nature of the scenario. You have Ghostface banging on the door. He's slowly getting further into the room. But still largely repetitive. In that scene, we were focused on how you continually ramp this up and pace this up. Another thing I wanted to bring to the movie before I started, something I love from the other Scream movies is that sense of operatic tragedy, which a lot of the other Scream movies have.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
I wanted to bring that tone back into this movie. This was the scene to do it. You're ramping up, ramping up to this point where Anika's on the ladder, and Ghostface appears behind her, and then there's a gear change. We switch to this emotion because it's not really about the action. Everyone knows, at that point, where the scene's going. For me, it was about switching gears into this operatic, emotional, tragic tone, telling the audience this character's going to die.
Playing with that is getting into the emotion of that as opposed to just playing the game of who's going to die. Because once Ghostface Face is behind Anika, it's over.
There are a few instances that happened in camera. One is when Mindy doesn't get on the train. The subway passes her by. She's just standing there and looking off. And the classic fake out jump scare: [laughs] Someone taps her on the shoulder and there's a loud jolt of music and everyone jumps. That one was done in-camera. But, in every take, the timing was different. In one take he tapped her on the shoulder immediately. This was the medium-level take where there's quite a long pause. There was also one where it was even longer.
Like so many of our jump scares the idea was to lull the audience into thinking nothing will happen and then have something happen. The take that's in the movie, just to me felt the most that conformed to that there was an end of the scene. There's a breath. The audience has enough time to think it's over, and then something happens. That was just within the camera. But, a lot of them were done with cuts but it was that same feeling.
Or, sometimes in creating a jump scare, I'd try to interrupt my cutting pattern so sometimes leading up to a jump scare. Oftentimes movies can have a repetitive rhythm. I try to play with that leading up to a jump scare. I have this shot last this long and then the shot after it lasts a certain amount of time. And then before the jump scare, you cut to another shot, but then you interrupt that shot. Often there'd be slower shots. Then, the shot right before the jump scare would be a lot shorter so that the audience isn't expecting an interruption of rhythm there.
I'd say this project, more so than a lot of projects I've worked on, the directors were looking for a slightly different editing style than what I had done. Not so much in the action scenes. They were quite happy with the style of that. It was more in some of the dramatic scenes, especially, the opening scene in the restaurant with Samara Weaving. The therapy scene with Sam and her psychiatrist is near the beginning of the movie. I often like things to feel quite tightly structured. And, really have the editing dictate the pace of the movie. Often they like the performers to be more foregrounded, the performers to set a little more of the pace. And, for editing to be less visible.
That was a slight re-engineering in my brain of just how to play the scenes that way. It was in the dramatics. Those were probably the two main ones that I mentioned, where they got re-edited quite a lot to really background the editing a lot more. The scenes are still highly cut of course. It's just giving the illusion to the audience and trying to play the game of this isn't really cut. [laughs] This is just all how it's happening sort of thing.
Through a producer friend of mine who I worked with on Snowpiercer and The Alienist. Ben Rosenblat, had a relationship with Paramount Pictures. He'd made a few movies for them in the past and for whatever reason, they were very late in the game in finding an editor for this movie.
I was hired close to the movie’s start. Paramount was just looking for an editor and they reached out to him and asked for recommendations. He somehow sold them on the idea of me being the right person for the job. I don't know how he did that. [laughs] But they were convinced.
Paramount put me forward to the producers of the film as a candidate for editing. It was very simple. I met with them and had a Zoom conversation. I mean, I was such a fan of the movies, so I'm sure that helped because the directors are huge fans of the movies, as well. I'm sure that was big in getting the job.
I'm a really big fan. I think I'd probably seen them maybe about eight months before. I did see the previous film, Scream V when I was in Romania editing Wednesday, because Jenna [Ortega] was in it. So I was quite familiar. When I got the job, I think I did just go back and watch Scream V again, just to remind myself of these directors and their style and that sort of thing. But I already have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the Scream franchise though.
Oh, for sure. If for no other reason than because the fans you're making this movie for have an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire franchise. So, it does help to understand how the fans will be looking at it. What their background is. What they will come into it expecting to see what they might not expect. I think that's all helpful in constructing the film.
It's interesting because a lot of the Scream films don't have much of a denouement, especially the first one. The action ends and then you just cut to Gail giving a news report and we're out. There were certainly times in this movie when I just fantasized, saying, "Why couldn't we have done that? [laughs] Why couldn't we get outta this earlier?" because the ending for me was the most problematic part of the movie. That was the biggest red flag I raised during production.
That was the part where I said, "I don't think this is right." Just because it kept going on and on and there was a lot more dialogue in there than it is in the current film. That's one way we tackled it. But, I was worried about it because it's all interconnected. It's not like you can just lift this scene or lift that scene. So I did raise the flag, saying, "We maybe want to think about if this is really what we want. Because we're going to be stuck in editing if we decide later we don't like it." There was a lot of massaging to get it there. Just paring it down. We took out some of the conversations. We streamlined it.
One of the other biggest problems was just this moment of Mindy running up to them. The last time we saw her she was stabbed and now she's sprinting. We have lots of things that are physically unbelievable in this movie, but, for some reason, that was something that was sticking for everyone. The way we addressed that was by seeding her into the third act a lot more in dialogue. With ADR we wrote new dialogue. Quinn talks about her earlier in the third act, which was ADR. And then, Danny talks about her later in the third act, which was ADR just to start seeding this notion that she's going to appear. There were things like that to just make everything feel more cohesive and not just random and out of the blue.
I’d love that! Thanks for inviting me on Art of the Cut again!
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