Art of the Cut: Inside Spike Lee’s War Drama “Da 5 Bloods”
Adam Gough, ACE has a collection of notable entries to his resume, including the acclaimed 2019 film Roma (for which he shares the BAFTA for Best Editing with director Alfonso Cuarón). More recently, he’s added an Eddie for Best Edited/Variety Talk Show to a shelf that’s already sagging with accolades.
In episode 102 of Art of the Cut, we caught up with him to talk about his experiences as the editor for Spike Lee’s latest joint, Da 5 Bloods.
On the surface, this is a war/action drama about four men who return to Vietnam to recover a cache of buried gold. But it also sheds light on the experience of Black soldiers in Vietnam that might be best summarized by Muhammad Ali, who said “you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t stand up for me here at home.”
This article contains minor spoilers for the movie, as well as reference material that some may find distressing.
HULLFISH: A lot of the movie or all of the movie is shot in Vietnam. Did you go to Vietnam to edit?
GOUGH: Yeah, the majority of the shoot was in Thailand, and we were there for ten weeks, and then there were ten days in Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam at the end for doing all this stuff, kind of around the city to not doubling up. The plan for Vietnam, I was only meant to go for one day to watch dailies with Spike because we had a nice cutting room set up in Thailand on a Nexus and shared storage. And when I turned up in Vietnam to see Spike, he realized that he liked having me around. So that one day turned into the entire ten days just with my overnight bag.
HULLFISH: One of the unique things about the visual aspect of the thing is a change back and forth between aspect ratios. Can you talk about the evolution of that, and did it ever happen when you weren’t planning on it? Was it always scripted?
GOUGH: That idea was in place from the beginning, so I remember Spike explaining that idea and how we wanted to use multiple formats as well. So the Vietnam-based elements in the late sixties, early seventies are shot on 16mm. So that was everything which was in 1:33, so that was the bonus with that, there was leeway to do these animated aspects ratio shifts. Those were never an idea.
I remember playing around with those in the casino room, and Spike liked the idea of it. So we tried to incorporate more into the project, but you couldn’t always get away with them because the shots may not have been framed that way. The first aspect ratio change in the movie is coming out of the opening montage with the archive; I use a jump cut where we found this shot of the majestic hotel, which the Bloods are staying in from the period in Vietnam, which is at the end of the war, in the seventies, then going into modern times kind of similar-ish angle. And I actually had the effect build out the archive shots so I could do an aspect ratio change from 1:33 to 2:40.
HULLFISH: Not all of them are animated though, were some of your cuts, then?
GOUGH: No, because they were never framed to be animated, so they didn’t always work. But then there’s this idea as well of playing around with memory. So it’s not so much of a flashback, you know, Paul, the lead of Da 5 Bloods, has PTSD, and it is playing into this memory with that as well. So they get a little bit quicker and a little bit more jarring, and I tried to play off those ideas.
HULLFISH: The other thing that’s a big part of the film is it starts out very documentary style with the CG and lower thirds, and then that’s continued throughout the film. Was that also scripted? Those other kinds of references into the past?
GOUGH: The references weren’t scripted in the script for cutting back to. The only two moments that were for using archive footage was the opening montage, which just said, “We’re going to use this track, and it’s going to be a great montage to get us in the right mood,” and also for Dr. King’s assassination, because it talks about seeing the destruction and the protests going on at home, back in America. So those moments were archived, and then it just evolved, and it’s something that Spike had as a directing style over the last few years; it was present in BlacKkKlansman and I think he’s been developing it further in the She’s Gotta Have It series that he’s been doing.
The interior of the Apocalypse Now Bar, a location for Da Five Bloods.
We’ve just been using cutaways when they’re referring to someone because it’s completely going into documentary of Spike teaching; he’s trying to give a lesson at the same time. So the lower thirds are there to give you information and to show who these people are. So these historical elements are very important, and that’s why it’s kind of portrayed more documentary style than dramatic.
HULLFISH: Did you have to track down all that stuff? Or were you just going to YouTube and saying somebody will figure out the licensing on this later, or was there a researcher or Spike giving you source material for that montage?
GOUGH: We had a researcher on duty that’s worked with Spike for a long time. She was fantastic because the shoot got pushed back by a week, so I had to set up weeks in Thailand at the beginning, I think ten days. So the first weeks were just organizing all of this by hours of material that came in. The Ken Burns series had just come out, and I remember it being on Netflix, so I use that as research.
I remember just watching it and the archivists saying, any shots you like, let me know, just give me a time code of the episode; I have a friend that worked on the series; we’ll track it down. So that turned into my grab bag rather than trying to grab stuff on YouTube. I watched a lot of original CBS documentaries from the time and the Walter Cronkite episodes, like the news nights that he was doing, and that became very useful for the MLK assassination because we could actually see where the uprising was starting and where the riots were going on, that we could pick from. It’s a sort of fascinating universe to be in because this year we’ve got The Chicago Seven and also Judas and the Black Messiah. There’s a lot of similar shots going around between these three movies.
HULLFISH: I did a movie called War Room that starts with a Vietnam montage, and I remember finding a documentary series on Vietnam and just going as long as we can figure out where these people got these shots, we’ll be okay.
GOUGH: I still find it fascinating with the usage, though, because Hearts and Minds was another great documentary, so Spike and I watched that just for research, but the shot in the opening montage, where the Vietcong guy is shot in their head, I’d only seen that shot but never him falling to the ground. I never realized it went on so far. I think it was through the Ken Burns documentary were suddenly realizing it’s like, oh wow, there’s complete tail ends on some of these gory shots where they’ve been limited in the story that they’re telling you and not showing you the whole graphical damage of war. So we started trying to get longer versions of things as well. We’re not holding punches again, it’s a history lesson, and Spike is telling a story, and it’s war, and you can’t put kid gloves on dealing with these kinds of subjects.
Warning: the following video contains scenes of war and death that some may find distressing.
HULLFISH: Yeah, exactly, I agree. Can you talk about temp choices and how the music was chosen?
GOUGH: Spike has a very, very personal relationship when it comes to music. So there was no temp until Terence Blanchard’s finished score came in; there were even places I wasn’t aware we would have some. We did temp it up when we did our studio screening for Netflix, so we put in some of Terence’s scores that he’d done with Spike previously. So a little bit of Do The Right Thing went in, and Miracle at St. Anna went in, and then after that screening, we pretty much muted it again, and when we turned it over to Terence, there was no temp that went over with it. It was a complete clean slate for him to start with, and I quite liked that approach.
When I started editing, I loved temp, I was throwing it everywhere, and the more I do the further away I get from it because I know, especially with a Spike joint, that totally is moving around a lot, and music can completely set you in a mindset for things like that. So the longer I can stay away from that, the more I can hone on the rhythm and especially those tonal flows.
Even as an assistant editor, that was always the job I would love the opportunity to do. I’d be listening to scores and always had my go-to and had ideas. I think now I’d probably be more of a fish out of water trying to attempt something. So I know where we want the cues to come in, me and Spike have conversations very early on. So I do have music tracks in my timelines when working with Spike, but there are just markers on there just with ideas of what we want music to go. We can give that as a cue sheet to Terence later on.
I think I could very happily avoid temp coming in until the end. Then, of course, there’s a moment later on; you can never show it dry to producers for a studio screening. You’ve got to get some music in; otherwise, I’m sure their minds would explode. I think that’s probably something that’s just come from working with Alfonso Caurón because on Roma there was no score, it was all source music, so there was no need for that. Music is always a great tool for us to have in our toolbox as editors. It helps you transition, to move between scenes it’s the easiest way to transition, but by restricting yourself from using temps to make those transitions work on their own, I believe they just become stronger when you then put the music on later on.
By not having music, there’s a lot more detail that has to go into the environments in my timeline. So you still need to have nice clean environments and atmospheres because I’m using that to design tone in a way, rather than having music there. So you have to do more sound work because you don’t have some score covering a scene.
I find that’s always very interesting, kind of looking at transitions as well, kind of like, okay, what’s the win going from here to there because, for me, a cut is a barrier. I like the idea that I don’t do many J cuts or L cuts, that’s something that could come later in the process of trying to just get a time down of a film, but I generally don’t do that on a first pass or experiment with that too early. I always try to use a scene transition as the barrier it is, as a straight cut, and on that cut, the environment changes, so that means the sound changes, and everything goes with it.
HULLFISH: Let’s stick with that idea of tonality because I think that’s really important, especially to directors, for sure, but for editors delivering that to a director. Talk to me about the tone of the film and how music can either put you in a totally different spot or drive you in that same tonal range.
GOUGH: There are some beautiful comic moments that came out through Terence’s score and heavy emotional moments as well with how the themes come together. With that in mind, that all came as a bonus. So I feel we had it in a very strong shape tonally before the music went on, and it was just a process of just continuing to work on it, which bits weren’t coming together. Spike movies, they’re like a rollercoaster; they can take very sharp turns very quickly. The tone will change as quick as a gunshot, and a single edit will put us into a different tonal environment and pace and rhythm.
It was just weekly; we would watch it on a big screen, and that’s always great, just sitting back and watching everything in a run just to kind of get the flow and just to see where the bumps are and where you’re not feeling it.
We also did a few screenings for Vietnam war vets. It was important to Spike to make sure that this was the audience he was making the film for. They appreciated everything in it, and they could give us any advice, and there was a lot of additional tension in the cut that I didn’t even realize, so that was a very interesting experience from one of those early screenings.
Click/tap to reveal spoilers
That completely came out of the landmines, we know we set the landmines up, you know one’s going to go off later on, but there’s a moment where David goes down a hill to go to the toilet and the way that we cut that, the way we set that up, there was never an idea of tension existing in that scene.
HULLFISH: Really? Because as soon as he goes to the bathroom and starts walking off in the woods, I’m thinking, “He’s stepping on a landmine. He’s going to step on a landmine.”
GOUGH: It feels like such an obvious thing I missed, but when we were in the room, and people started gasping, we were just looking at each other in complete shock.
HULLFISH: I was totally ready for a landmine to go off. Absolutely.
HULLFISH: How did you and Spike meet? You’ve done a bunch of projects with Spike now; how did that relationship start?
GOUGH: Just a call from my agent one day before working with Spike, the last feature I did was Roma, but I hadn’t worked in about four months. I was waiting for an opportunity to come off the back of Roma once the movie was released. I didn’t know how it works. It’s my first time with an agent, and then one day, my agent calls, and Spike was on the phone, and that was that.
His usual editor, Barry Brown, was directing a feature, so he was just in need of an editor, and when Spike makes his mind up, he’s pretty adamant on his decisions. It just came out of nowhere, and I’ve really enjoyed our relationship and the collaboration that we’ve had. I’m currently on my third feature project with Spike, and I’ve done a lot of commercials and shorts with him. He keeps himself so busy, which keeps an editor busy.
HULLFISH: One of the things that I noticed was, every hug in the movie is a double-hug. Can you talk about that choice, and is that a Spike thing? Is that a you thing?
GOUGH: That is a Spike thing; there’s a couple of moments that you knew it was coming up. The “double dolly,” which is a famous signature for Spike, and has been around longer than any of his other stylistic elements. Then the double-cut is something that has been present from the early nineties in his work. Usually, he just throws it in for fun. It was a process of us finding the right places for it in Da 5 Bloods.
It started as kind of an action beat when people were kind of getting shot or falling down. When the helicopter exploded, that was a double-cut, and it turned into those and just through experimenting. I can’t even remember how it went because the great thing with Spike in our collaboration is I feel like I’m in a strong place in his mindset. I don’t always know if it’s something I’m doing because I think he’ll like it or if he’s asking me to do it. We put the double-cut on one hug, and Spike really liked it, and he was like, “We should just do that on this scene,” and it just immediately expanded. We stripped every other double-cut out of the film apart from a couple that we use for PTSD moments with Paul, and then it turned into their connection, so it’s all of the hugs, and then there’s also a fist bump in the Apocalypse Now Bar early on in the film.
The great thing about a double-cut, it’s such a great cheat at crossing the line; you can just throw the camera around the room. I found it incredibly liberating, it’s nothing that I’ve experimented with in style before, but finding a thematic pulse to use that style, I felt quite confident that it kind of worked out. You’re either into it, or you’re not; in that first meeting when the “Bloods” meet together, I think there are five or six double-cuts just with them all hugging in the lobby. Some of them are very subtle, it might just be a cheeky little eight frames where you see the movement going in on the shoulder because there’s a lot of hugging and reminiscing, but there’s a lot of double cuts in that scene.
HULLFISH: Did you worry about the color grade at all? I’m just thinking about the 16mm stuff, or is it just the way it was shot is its own color grade. Did it automatically look different, or did you try to make it look like The Seventies in the offline?
GOUGH: They shot a 60mm reversal, so that came in with that look in place. The one element we did have with that, though, was matching the helicopter footage. When the helicopter is in the air, that’s all shot digitally just for the ease of doing visual effects. Not on 16mm. As soon as that helicopter hits the ground, we then go into the 16mm. It was trying to match everything pre-crash to match the 16mm, which was the only challenge with that. Tom Sigel, the DP, he’s quite involved with his onset color, so he was always going in with the colorist that we had out in Thailand and setting looks, so it was nothing that we had to worry about.
We did have issues in VFX when we started having shots come back, and they looked nothing like the dailies. We had to design a brand new workflow to try and take some of these resolve grades that have been applied back onto it. It was an extra pain for us to deal with during the process, but when you have nice footage, and you can screen nice footage, it kind of pays off.
HULLFISH: At one point, Paul leaves the group. The group goes one way, and Paul goes on his way, and his story is intercut with the rest of the group. Can you talk about whether all those intercuts were scripted the way they were, and if they weren’t, when and why did you go off script?
GOUGH: I think it was about two-third scripted. It was in a very strong place for how that was designed in the script. Spike’s scripts are great for editors, by the way. It makes so much sense on the page; it’s not ambiguous in any way. You know what he has in mind, so it’s quite easy to build on. As soon as we were honing the movie in and tightening up those areas, then it was making more logical sense to say, “Okay, we’re away from Paul too much; we need to bring him in a little bit more.” It turned into a game of chess, just moving the pieces around until we felt like we had the right moments and weren’t missing anyone.
HULLFISH: What were some of the challenges for you on this film?
GOUGH: I think my biggest challenge was how much energy Spike has, but that also played out very well. This was a new relationship, a director I’ve never worked with before. I was hired because he loved Roma; when he was talking about films that he was referencing for this, he kept talking about David Lean, and I came in with this idea of “All right, so long takes, sweeping, we’re going to have nice pauses.” And it was not what he was after at all.
“His style is a lot tighter than I’m used to. He doesn’t like the camera to settle; he likes to cut in and out on camera movement.”
He comes into the cutting room to watch dailies every day, so I took advantage on the second day to show him a cut I’d already done of the footage, and I’m glad I got that out of the way because that’s one of the worst reviews of an edit I’ve ever had, it was all wrong. Which was fine, I’m only a day in, and there is time to revert. I can just steer the ship from here. It wasn’t like I was showing him a cut of the whole film and it going wrong at the beginning.
I immediately understood he has his style; his style is a lot tighter than I’m used to. He doesn’t like the camera to settle; he likes to cut in and out on camera movement, all of that stuff I was aware of. I can pick up with that, and then I suddenly realized, oh, okay. Now I understand the Lawrence of Arabia reference. This is the journey inside of Lawrence’s mind. It’s the journey that Paul is on. We’re not talking editing style; we’re talking a character journey. As soon as I understood that, it clicked in quite quickly, and I’m very glad I had the opportunity of reviewing a cut with Spike.
What I was saying about Spike and his energy, he would come in every day to watch dailies, which is great. I love watching dailies with a director if they can. I know a lot of directors can’t because they’re focusing on the shoot; their mind is somewhere, some directors just can’t get into a cutting room during shoot. If you have a director that can, then you’re lucky as an editor. I think it puts you ahead of the game. You can save some time by working on cuts earlier on.
So Spike would come in and do reviews of all the dailies. I would take notes, and then I would always show him the previous day’s dailies cut the following day. So building this new relationship with a new director, he understands me, I understand him, then on the sixth day, that turned into a review day. So we just come in and watch the car every day. It was great at the beginning until about four weeks in where this cut is getting into 60 minutes, and then it’s getting to 90 minutes, and not only am I dealing with dailies and cutting scenes every day, I also then have a 90-minute cut I’m addressing notes for the following week.
My workload every week just increased little by little, and Spike was always planning on this being a three-hour movie. I know a lot of people complain when they see a runtime for a movie and see that it’s two and a half hours, they think it’s long. It’s only long if it feels long. I think if you don’t know how long the movie is, I don’t think you can guess the length from watching it because it does go like a rocket in places. I think in people’s minds. If you make a movie, which is three hours, people say, “Okay, great. It’s three hours, it’s epic”. However, if you make a movie which is two hours and forty-five minutes they think it’s long, why they left it that long. It was designed to be a three-hour movie, and we just kept cutting it until we found its natural length, and that was where we ended up with.
HULLFISH: So that’s interesting that you were building your editors cut week by week because not everybody does that. Have you done that before? Did you do that on Roma?
GOUGH: I was doing that, but I co-edited with Alfonso. That was just me checking footage myself, so that gets thrown out, and then we start again. I’ve never reviewed with a director week by week before, this was a new process and also taking notes and continuing to work on scenes as well, which was quite intense, but it helped with some of the VFX elements as well. For example, in the helicopter scene, by cutting early, we knew what plates we needed to do.
Spike was very adamant that he traveled halfway around the world to shoot this movie, he didn’t want to come back to do pickups or any reshoots, and we succeeded with that. Once we left at the end of principal photography, it was done, and I think Spike even came in about four days under as well.
HULLFISH: Did you ever have a point where you said, “I think I need something? Can we get this picked up, or do you think that we need a transition?”
GOUGH: One single shot, which was a closeup of a foot on a landmine. Some scenes I wanted more, I looked at it, and I wanted more coverage, but I cut it, and Spike was happy, so it was fine.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about changing directions with the director. Like the way that you work with Alfonso and the way you work with Spike, how do you navigate that socially or politically?
GOUGH: I see myself as a research base editor if that makes sense. So when I go on any projects, I like to read about the setting, the environment. My feeling as an editor is this is a Vietnam war movie. I’m watching Vietnam documentaries; I’m reading books on Vietnam; I’m just understanding what was going on because I have a feeling that that informs my process.
A lot of us, when we’re talking about editing, we talk about these instinctive decisions that we make. I feel that I’m doing research to assist me with these instinctive decisions and both Alfonso and Spike are incredibly research-orientated directors. So they have huge amounts of material that I can dive into and share with them and have discussions with. That’s been the basis of our relationships on those projects.
Even though they’re stylistically incredibly different directors with the grammar that they use to tell their movies, they still have the same laser focus to detail as each other. It just understands that if there’s a gunshot sound effect we go in, we’ve got to make sure it’s the right gun. If we were adding birds into a VFX shot, we’ve got to make sure that the birds would be at this location at that time of year and they were the correct birds, and we have the corresponding sound effect of it. That’s all normal to me. Even though we’re watching their movies, they’re incredibly different.
HULLFISH: I also think of Spike as being such a student of cinema. Did you guys watch Apocalypse Now? There are definitely Apocalypse Now elements.
GOUGH: When we first spoke, he gave me a watch list, and on that watch list was Cool Hand Luke and Midnight Cowboy they had nothing to do with the movie; they were just films he loves because he’s also a lecturer at NYU where he teaches directing. He has this element of wanting to teach you about cinema as well, and a shared passion for film, so we talk about films a lot, it doesn’t have to even stylistically or narratively have anything to do with the film you’re working on, just watching films is important and talking about them.
HULLFISH: For younger editors and even just for me, because I’ve had this experience as well. I love the idea that you were willing to share about that first disastrous edit that you showed him on the first day. That’s something that just happens, and you could let that fluster you and throw you, and it would be kind of humiliating, but you realize you just did what I thought was right, and You can recover from this.
GOUGH: I can be honest to a fault sometimes, and you just realize you’re on the wrong foot sometimes, but you can, you can make mistakes, it was early, and it was just a conversation you’re experimenting, and that’s fine. I’ve always had a little bit of an imposter complex as well.
HULLFISH: Everybody has that imposter syndrome to some extent.
GOUGH: I think it’s just because we care about what we do, and if we lose that, then we are probably going to lose the spark of what makes us good at what we do. So I will use that and pretend that it’s a benefit that doesn’t occasionally give me sleepless nights and stresses me out.
Going back to that early moment with Spike and a cut going wrong. Something that we have a great relationship with, and it’s the same with our sponsor and experimentation. He would like me to occasionally show him an absolutely oddball idea in the edit, and I’m always very happy to do it.
“There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you’re creatively trying to do something.”
Working on Roma was very early in my career, so that’s informed a lot of my process. Alfonso would always say try this idea, so I would always do his idea. I would always do my idea, and I would always do a third idea, which was a combination of the two. Usually, it was that third idea that we went with. Just by doing experiments, it can inspire something, and I do love that with Spike; he’s happy to see anything, even if it’s terrible, he tells me there are no bad ideas.
There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you’re creatively trying to do something because all you’re learning is, “Okay, not that way. I can do something else.” You still learn something. Even if it’s something in your relationship with the director, that’s an important lesson to learn.
HULLFISH: One of the things that you said that I thought was very interesting was it’s very easy to cut a Spike script. Tell me a little bit about that; what makes it easy to cut?
GOUGH: You know, the POV, which is what we’re always searching for. You know, what he has in mind. There’s a nice clear blueprint in what he has in mind or the way that I read his scripts. I know how he wants to move around, even if he’s shooting plenty of coverage. It’s not Ikea instructions. It’s not listing the shots and the angles around the room. I just find there’s an emotional flow to the script, which is very easy to then transfer visually as an editor.
HULLFISH: How did you collaborate with Alfonso since he was editing with you?
GOUGH: He has the luxury of the sofa with his laptop while I’m working away on the Avid. I remember the scene where Cleo tells Sophia that she’s pregnant because that was something that Alfonso did 62 takes on. It took two and a half days just to watch all of the dailies to make the select which is why two heads are better than one. Alfonso doesn’t give strong notes; in fact, he doesn’t give any notes to the script supervisor. If the script supervisor writes something down, it’s probably a lie. Ignore all of that. We work out the best takes in the cutting room.
HULLFISH: So you are working on other projects with Spike now, music projects say a talking heads documentary?
GOUGH: Last year, I did a David Byrne concert film which was a lot of fun. It was just before the lockdown here. In fact, COVID closed down Broadway; it was one of those last productions they managed to get in.
HULLFISH: Was “Da 5 Bloods” pre-COVID?
GOUGH: Yeah, that was a normal post. I think we were the last production to go through Company 3 in New York before they closed their doors. We knew the lockdown was happening, and we were getting our HDR trim and our final deliverables out the door before they closed it.
HULLFISH: So you didn’t have to worry about any of that craziness that I’ve talked to some other editors with remote workflows, although you’re probably doing that now.
GOUGH: I’m Brooklyn-based, so I’m working with Spike. Remote workflows just wouldn’t work for him; he needs the collaboration. We’ve got the social distance space that we can all work in his offices. In fact, we finished the end of American Utopia that way when New York went into lockdown in April. So I was stuck in the apartment, sending QuickTimes out to Spike and trying to do the best we could that way.
We all went through that heartbreaking experience last year with stuff that we wanted to see on the big screen and then missing that because I know Da 5 Bloods was going to premiere at Cannes. Spike was the president of the jury, and we even did a 35mm breakdown. We were going to make prints of the movie, and that was going to go out to theaters, and then all of that got taken away. There were some very early discussions for the David Byrne documentary getting an IMAX release. Another opportunity missed.
HULLFISH: With Spike, were there any specific styles that you needed to learn that he liked?
GOUGH: There’s definitely a dialogue-orientated rhythm that he likes. He likes to be on the act of talking, and then that’s the dance that I have with him to try and pull it back to try and keep more of a flow in it rather than cutting like that. Movement is more of his thing; he doesn’t like the camera’s setting and the unmotivated pan or move.
HULLFISH: Can you speak to some of the dining room scenes?
GOUGH: In the first two reels, there’s plenty of round table scenes. You’ve got the Apocalypse Now Bar scene where they meet the guide, and then you’ve got Otis, who meets his old flame, and they sit down for a meal. Then when they meet Desroche, they’re sitting around a table. It was kind of trying to constantly find new rhythms and movements. I didn’t want to repeat myself in the movements or the scene where you start to feel that repetitive nature slowing you down.
HULLFISH: A very tricky scene is where they’re on a boat, and a bunch of vendors comes to sell them stuff. There’s a kind of PTSD moment with Paul, the camera’s confined, and there’s a lot of action and craziness going on.
GOUGH: Yeah, that was probably the hardest scene to cut in the film because there was a large amount of ad-lib in that scene, and they were also developing it as they were shooting. They first covered the scene off the boat with wides, tracking shots, maybe the side of the dock, and then the scene developed in a way where those immediately became useless.
So my coverage as that scene goes on is consistently narrowing until I think the last 20 seconds; I’ve just got two cameras. It was very tricky to find a path through that and to try and keep it natural. Once the PTSD kicks in, I completely play with that. Jumping around, trying to create confusion. It gets loud and moving around; you’ve got Eddie with his 8mm camera, which he was actually shooting and rolling with, so that was the real take from the 8mm we were cutting with.
There were even takes where they were standing and leaning on different sides of the boat. So those takes would fall away as well. It was then trying to find a route to the destination. We knew what the destination was; there was always this hero-take with Delroy Lindo that when, once they hit it, there is nothing else; we know that this is how the scene ends. Now we just have to get there.
HULLFISH: Do you try to back time from that moment, or you just know that that’s where you’re trying to reach by the end?
GOUGH: It was a little bit of both on that one. As I said, I struggled with it, so when I get stuck, I just move on, and then I come back to it, and by taking a different route, by working backward to it sometimes can solve it.
“I’ve had moments of lying on a sofa, looking at the ceiling, absolutely not knowing what to do.”
HULLFISH: You mentioned that when you get stuck, you just leave it?
GOUGH: I know that it’s right stepping away and moving onto something else or even a little bit later in the scene, so I can come back with a fresh perspective. I normally find that even just on cuts in general, at the end of the day, you just need to keep coming in with those fresh eyes on it. It can help you realize the issues that you’ve missed.
I’ve had moments of lying on a sofa, looking at the ceiling, absolutely not knowing what to do, and the easiest thing to do is to just do something else and not stress about it. There’s always a scene you’re going back to; there’s something you never got right, there’s something that just never settles with it. Every time you watch a screening, you always have a note for yourself.
There always seems to be that one Achilles heel of every editor; on every movie, there might not even be anything wrong with it. I remember that moment in Roma for me was a cut that I absolutely couldn’t get right. However, when I went to the premiere, I hadn’t watched it in maybe four months, and it flew by. Absolutely was fine, no issues at all.
HULLFISH: That’s a good example of why you should step aside from a scene and come back to it later.
GOUGH: It’s when you’re on a movie where you get a Christmas break, or you have moments where you can actually leave a project for a week or two weeks is always great as an editor so you can come back with that fresh perspective.
HULLFISH: Adam. Thank you so much for talking with me today.
GOUGH: Thank you very much. I’ve been a listener since you started the podcast.
GOUGH: Mark Sanger gave me my first job in the industry. He was the person that actually picked the phone up and gave me my first work experience placement for a film called Stormbreaker back in 2005. I was just out of university and didn’t know how to get into the industry. I didn’t live in London; I had no connections to it.
I was already at the bottom of my student overdraft in my bank account, and I knew that I had to get a real job at some point to start paying money, but I was somehow wanting to try and fulfill my dream of working in editorial. I must have sent out over a hundred CVs and just made loads of phone calls. Then one day, I turned on the news and saw a producer talking about this movie that was shooting at Pinewood, and I was just like, “Oh, that sounds low budget with big ambition. I’m sure they would want someone doing work experience and an extra set of hands.”
So I got the Pinewood switchboard number; I went onto IMDB and found the first assistant editor’s name, Mark Sanger. I phoned it up, asked to be put through to the Stormbreaker production office, and confidently went, “It’s Adam Gough calling for Mark Sanger.” and they put me through.
I pitched myself, and he invited me in for a couple of weeks’ work experience. After that finished, I went back and started worrying about how I’m going to have to get a real job now. Then I got a phone call; there was this lady called Jane Winkles that was the first on a film called Children of Men. They’d put a crew together very quickly, and they needed a PA. She knew Mark and asked, “Do you know anyone who’s available?”, he gave my name, and that was my first paid job in the industry.
HULLFISH: You’re doing very well for yourself, and it was wonderful talking to you. I really appreciate your time today.
GOUGH: It was wonderful talking to you. Thanks so much.