Art of the Cut: Breathing New Life into Disney’s Arch-Villain, “Cruella”
Today we’re speaking with Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE, about cutting Disney’s origin story, Cruella, which already has a sequel in the works.
In addition to Cruella, Riegel has edited numerous films including The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Gringo, Million Dollar Arm, and I, Tonya, for which she was nominated for an Oscar and won an ACE Eddie and an Independent Spirit Award. She was also an additional editor on Season 1 Episode 1 of Game of Thrones.
Tatiana and I have talked before on Art of the Cut for both I, Tonya and The Girl in the Spider’s Web. We sat down to chat about the road that led to Cruella, and the role she played in bringing this anti-hero back to life.
Check out the Art of the Cut podcast to listen to this interview, and stay up to date on all the latest episodes.
HULLFISH: Cruella must have been a blast to edit.
RIEGEL: It was so wonderful to edit for a number of reasons. First of all, the film is just fun. From an editorial perspective, it’s just fun. It’s got a bit of everything. It’s got these massive heist scenes with parallel action and it’s got a ton of music. It’s got little quiet dialogue scenes like the Baroness and Estelle at the restaurant, which is actually one of my favorites. It had, I think, two hundred and twenty six scenes or something like that. So there was just a lot of information taking this character from birth until where we are at the end of the movie where she is Cruella.
So it was fun in all of those respects and then it was just fun on a personal level because I’ve worked with Craig Gillespie—this is our sixth feature and we’ve done three pilots or something like that—so there’s this wonderful shorthand and collaboration and ease that you get when you have a director, not only that you know, but who you really enjoy working with.
And then I had the most marvelous crew, both in London and in Los Angeles that was outstanding on every level from their work to their personalities and everything in between. The only thing that was a drag was that last year, obviously, we were at home, so we were not together, which was extremely disappointing on a personal level. Lovely and safe. I actually quite enjoyed working from home, but I really missed my crew. I miss the interaction. I miss their daily, hourly, minute-by-minute feedback. It was great fun. I hope I can reassemble all, if not most of those people again soon.
HULLFISH: Maybe working with Craig It helped because you guys do know each other so well, because otherwise, if you’re with a director that maybe that you don’t know as well and you’re separated because of COVID, that would make it that much harder.
RIEGEL: There were a couple of things. I chose to work with my media local. So I had a hard drive at home, which meant that I had a wonderfully working Avid with no delays or anything like that, which made a big difference.
All my assistants and visual effects people, et cetera, were all on remote systems and they have their drawbacks. It’s great. It works. The technology is marvelous and it’s amazing that we all got to continue working. And I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Now, a year into it—where it looks like we’re all going to have to continue, or many of us will choose to continue working this way, at least to a certain extent or a certain parts of the film perhaps—I think there’s some things that hopefully people are working on to make those systems a little bit better.
HULLFISH: What kind of collaboration tools did you use on this?
RIEGEL: I believe my assistants used RGS, Remote Graphics Software and they were all on PC machines, so they had to make that switch. I just use my regular Avid. I just had them drag it over to my house.
I also have to say Disney was remarkable about getting us up—not just Disney, but all the technical people and our post production supervisor and my first assistant and everybody involved—getting us up and running again immediately or within a week, which to me, at that point, was immediate.
So we shot in the fall of 2019. We started shooting, I think, at the very end of August and finished at the beginning of December. And on March 12th, we were preparing to do our run-through for the director’s cut screening on March 13th, when the post-production supervisor walked in and said, everybody go home and put it up on PIX for the studio, which crushed me!
To have the studio see the film for the first time on PIX, as great as that can be as a tool, it’s not the right place to see a movie for the first time. It’s a big fun movie and needs to be seen on the big screen. So I was very upset about that in, you know, in my own little micro way. But they saw it and they just kept us going. It was wonderful. Everybody liked the film right away.
Things were a little bit more difficult for the rest of the crew because they were working on systems where there’s a lag and where the resolution isn’t as good. I’d have the visual effects department calling me and saying, “Hey, can you look at this shot? Is this OK or am I missing something?” And because I was working locally, I had to do a bit of assistant work myself, which frankly, I’ve never done on an Avid. So my darling assistant, Dan, was hand-holding me through this process of where to put what, which was a bit comical at times. Embarrassingly so. But the truth.
HULLFISH: I know how you feel. I’ve assisted myself before.
RIEGEL: Obviously I did it on film and I did it on Lightworks back in the C: days of changelists, but I was never an assistant on the Avid and was blissfully ignorant to it all and fully intended to remain that way as much as possible.
It’s not easy for me to process all of those small technical details—that are very important—when I’m also trying to be creative. So I would spend the first hour of each day downloading new material, music, visual effects, putting it in the right place and then beginning work. And then at the end of the day, uploading all the new bins. My assistants would go through everything and update whatever they had done during the day and then send me back new stuff the next morning.
And it worked. It worked wonderfully and I would do it that way again. I don’t think many people are very fond of that for security reasons. But I was always home. So unless somebody was going to break through the front door and get through me, it was secure—more secure than going through the Internet.
HULLFISH: There have been a bunch of discussions on social media with various people recently about agents and editors having agents. Did your initial meeting with Craig Gillespie many, many years ago, was that through an agent or do you feel like agents are useful for you?
RIEGEL: The short answer is yes. But it was actually a very interesting story meeting Craig for the first time. I was working on another film that was directed by Scott Z. Burns called Pu-239. Through that process, I had met Scott’s agent, Rich Klubeck several times and he had come to screenings in the cutting room. So we finished the movie—it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and I wasn’t going to go.
I was talking to my mother and she said, “What else are you doing?” I said I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to spend the money and bla bla bla bla bla. And she’s said, “You’re crazy. Go. You never know what will happen. You’re not working.” My old college roommate lived in Toronto, so I had a free place to stay. So I went and it was great fun. It was the premiere in a huge theater with something like eighteen hundred people. One of their big, big screens up there.
So I was walking in the door to the premiere with all of these other people, and coincidentally, I happened to be walking in at the exact same time as Rich Klubeck he recognized me and said, “What are you doing here?” and, I said, “I’m here because I’m unemployed and my mom told me to come.” He said, “You’re unemployed, really?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I might know a film for you.”
He asked who my agent was. I told him my agent’s name and went into the theater, and I got an email the next day from my agent with the script. They said, they wanted me to read it right away and meet with the director. I said, “I can’t. I’m in Toronto.” And they said, “The director is in Toronto doing pre-production. It’s shooting there.”
This was for Lars and The Real Girl. I met Craig at 7:30am before he went on a location scout and flew back to L.A., got the job, turned around, flew back up for the shoot. But the thing that is most remarkable about that is that you never know where a job is going to come from.
Success is the intersection of preparation and opportunity. If I had been walking into the theater 20 seconds earlier or 20 seconds later, I would not have bumped into Rich because there were 1,800 people walking in that theater. It was just pure luck that I walked in and that we started a conversation and that we had met before a few times and that he passed me on to Craig.
So did I get that through an agent? Yes. Not my agent, but yes, I got it through an agent. Agents are, for the most part, in my experience, really wonderful. They’ve been incredibly helpful in terms of advice and recommendations and this and that. They’re also incredibly helpful to get you in the door, particularly in editing.
“Your job is to get me in the door. My job is to get the job.”
We tend to sit in small rooms by ourselves without a whole lot of interaction with very many people. And it’s all about networking. And so if you want to meet directors or studio people or whatever—unless you’ve had the luxury of working with them before and having enough time to have a relationship with them, because in all honesty, executives walk in and walk out, they talk to the director, they don’t necessarily have a whole lot of contact with the editors. I’ve just said to my agents, “Your job is to get me in the door. My job is to get the job.” And that’s what they’re there for.
Now, it’s really hard for them to get people in the door a lot of the time. I mean, we have this blissful hope that they have all of this power and ability to make a phone call and get you in. And they don’t. People have to respond to your résumé or the titles or the people with whom you’ve worked, and seeing what you’ve done, too. A lot of times that’s the problem. Early on, I worked on a lot of small independent movies that a lot of the big studio people either hadn’t seen or didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t like. I felt like I wasn’t getting in the door.
The other thing is different agents and agencies have different personalities and strengths. You have to figure out where you need to be at whatever point you are in your career.
If you’re in the feature world, you really need an agent. There are some who don’t. There are some who just have lawyers and they can do the deals. But they are people who are in this really luxurious position of fighting people off.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk about Cruella for a bit. Talk to me a little bit about using narration. Did it change? How close was it to the script?
RIEGEL: It wasn’t close at all to the script. There was some narration in the script—much less—which I would say at first is a good thing. I’m never a big fan of voiceover, although I have done many films with voiceover. And I think voiceover can be a wonderful asset, obviously, if it adds to the film. I think a lot of times voiceover can be written very poorly where it’s just sort of reiterating what we’re already seeing.
HULLFISH: Or it’s a cheap shortcut.
HULLFISH: This narration was beautifully written and added to her character. I think the very first line—when they’re literally showing her being born was—“Oh! So we’re going to start THERE!” It gave a sense of her personality right from the very beginning.
RIEGEL: Precisely. And that’s what I liked so much about this voiceover or narration. I think it really added a lot. It had a lot of character. It added a lot of depth and personality. And it was just fun. Some of it’s just very funny.
There wasn’t that much in the script originally. There was a little bit in the beginning and a little bit at the end, and maybe one or two sentences in the middle. When I was reading it—when I would get to the voiceover—I’d think, “Oh, that’s right. Voiceover. When was the last time?” And it just didn’t feel integrated at all or necessary, to be perfectly honest.
“We kept trying to make it less, less, less, less, less.”
However, when we began putting the film together—because it did start with birth and we’re waiting to get to Emma Stone, as fantastic as the kids are and as much pipe as you have to lay to tell the story and to have the emotional attachment to her—her background and her mother and all of that—that whole first 15 minutes of the movie probably is where we spent most of our time, to be perfectly honest, because there was much more and you always just want to get the movie going.
And we kept trying to make it less, less, less, less, less. And every time we did, we had less of an emotional connection and the rest of the film therefore suffered. As much as we all would have liked to have made it less—trust me—it was impossible.
But the kids are great and there’s fun stuff and I think it really does work. But ways that we began to shorten what we had was by rewriting some of that narration. And so we had—as we all do in the cutting room—we had the director’s assistant do the scratch narration. And then we eventually had our visual effects producer do it because she was British and had the accent, at least, for screenings. And then eventually we had Emma Stone do it just on her telephone because it was going to be temp. She just said it into her iPhone. She fortunately has a good microphone so it came back and not only did it come back in good enough quality, that frankly, a lot of that is actually in the film right now.
HULLFISH: Recorded on her iPhone?
RIEGEL: We did re-record everything. We brought her in for multiple ADR sessions but there was something that happened with that initial reading that was just a bit magical. She—within the privacy of her own four walls—just nailed it, nailed the character. And I have to say my opinion of her as an actress, was high already, but it just went through the roof.
She hadn’t seen anything. She just had conversations with the director and did it into her iPhone. She got the email with the voiceover and did it. And I just thought it was spectacular. It had such personality and energy and fun to it that it really worked. And so then we began to build a little bit more here and there and again, had her do temp lines at first. And then she came back and redid it all. So some of that is in the final. But honestly, most of it—I would say probably, 80 percent maybe—is just her original stab at it.
HULLFISH: Did you watch any of the old movies or no?
RIEGEL: I don’t think I’ve seen the animated film since I was a little kid, so I have very little memory of it. The Glenn Close ones—I haven’t seen them. Ironically, I almost worked on the first 101 Dalmatians because I had worked with the director on Mr. Holland’s Opus. And I was really hoping to get on to that one. It didn’t work out. It was edited by Trudy Ship, who I love.
HULLFISH: In our previous conversation about I, Tonya, you mentioned, as many editors do, that you prefer not to cut with music. You like cutting dry, at least musically. This movie has a ton of music drops. Were you able to continue to do that or did you have to have the music?
RIEGEL: Well, I, Tonya did, too. It had a ton as well. And we cut that one dry as well with the exception of, obviously, the skating sequences. I cut this one dry as well. I really, really like to do that. For me and my process—which I think is one of the very interesting things about your podcast—is listening to how different editors work and how many different ways there are of doing things. None are right and none are wrong. They’re just right for you.
For me, I really, really like it this way. It does a couple of things. One is that I think it really forces us to get these scenes in fantastic shape because music is phenomenal at adding emotion, adding pace, adding tone—all of these different things to a scene—and in my opinion, can become a little bit of a shortcut in the same way that we were talking about voiceover. It’s a great Band-Aid. It can be an asset. It can be a Band-Aid. Sometimes you need Band-Aids. That’s fine, but it forces me—and also gives me the time—to really, really get those scenes in very good shape.
Very early on in the director’s cut—because I haven’t spent any time on music—the cut is in much, much better shape, I think, than it would be if I was spending time on music. Music takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to find those things. And I find that until you really know what the film is, which you don’t until you’ve gone through it a few times. The first assembly is not the film, it’s just an assembly of the script. It could be in great shape, but it is an assembly of the script. I’m not going to take anything out—even if I can see it at 100 yards that we’re going to lose that scene—I have to leave it in for now. The director has to see why it doesn’t work.
“Things that you think you want to lose oftentimes end up coming back because there’s a reason for it to be there in the first place.”
There may be the rare occasion where he’ll call me and say, “Let’s drop this scene” early on, but as you form the film, things that you think you want to lose oftentimes end up coming back because there’s a reason for it to be there in the first place. Now, all of it? No. But it’s that puzzle of taking things out, putting them back, taking them out and constantly working and massaging this thing until we discover what it is.
Then when you discover what it is, then I feel like you put music on and you’re just golden. Even sometimes the simplest transitions can be beautiful with music and it’s temp music. But you’re leaving it that way to a certain extent because it works so well with that. If it’s bare and painful to listen to without music—and it does get very painful—which is usually my sign of “OK, it’s time to put music on.” You start hearing it in your head.
Then also with Craig’s films, it’s always a little difficult with score because he often has these two things going at once. He has something that is very emotional and very funny and finding music for that—that doesn’t say one or the other—can be really, really tough to do. And that’s always been our biggest challenge.
In terms of the needle drops you’d think it would be really easy to drop songs on. It’s not. The lyrics pop out in certain moments and they’re completely inappropriate; the pace; the song will kick in and kill dialogue; whatever it is. So it’s a lot of throwing spaghetti against the wall until we find stuff. The way we do that is Craig usually sits next to me with his laptop and he has hundreds of songs at the music supervisor has sent—or his own collection—and we just try different things. “What about this?”
Because of that, we have these great happy accidents that happen where we would never expect something to work. I probably said this during our interview about I, Tonya, but there was this scene where she did the triple axel, which in my mind—if I had temped it myself—probably I would have gone the normal route of using the song when she’s skating and then when she does this, it would have switch to temp score and it would have been this sort of very straightforward thing. But we ended up doing the complete opposite because by then we knew the tone of the movie and what we wanted to do. And by some wonderful, happy accident, he played this song that I never would have put on that. And it worked perfectly.
The same thing happened in moments in Cruella where we thought, “Let’s try this. Let’s try that.” And it’s fun.
HULLFISH: There’s an incredible shot of Estella (Emma Stone) going to the Liberty Department store for the first time. Can you tell me about constructing that?
RIEGEL: Let me tell you about one other one that’s just a smidge earlier—which I think is a similar kind of thing, which is literally her introduction, which I really love the scene—where young Estella is dying her hair and she puts the hair dye on and then she leans down into the sink and then Emma Stone comes up, but then the camera goes through the mirror into the lair and circles around in there. I think it’s just a really fun shot. And it’s so wonderfully seamless being on this side and going through the mirror that really nobody notices it, and I love the shot.
Similarly, the Liberty department store shot is a wonderful visual effects shot. That is—I’m going to say—seven different shots. I could be wrong. The visual effects editor or my assistant can correct me. It starts with the drone shot outside where we see her walk up on the street with the dog on the corner, and then the drone carries over the street as she crosses the street and then gets to a window—which does exist in the top of Liberty’s.
They only had one day to shoot at Liberty’s, and that was on a Sunday morning. That was also the first day of shooting. So they shot that drone shot and then they also shot at them running out and getting on the bus and the stuff of her walking into the front of the store, you know, after the alley scene.
The alley scene was actually shot behind it. But everything else is a set that’s built—or at least upstairs at Liberty is a set—downstairs may be a location.
So anyway, we go in and then visual effects take over and take us through the window. If anybody’s familiar with Liberty’s, it’s this great five story atrium that they built in the camera swings down there. And then we join up with another shot that is coming around on the floor—which is actually another two shots—coming around on the floor, which is also a set with set extensions and stuff like that, which is all visual effects. And then it goes around and goes downstairs to the basement of Liberty—which originally was, I think, an extra floor. We ended up combining it because it just got to be too long. It was a location that Craig shot in one direction and then they redressed and shot it in the other direction to descend all the way down into the bowels of the store where Estella is the lowly housekeeper cleaning the floor.
It’s a great shot. You think that the world is her apple and it shows the reality of where she begins this whole thing.
HULLFISH: When you were assembling that, did you piece it together with dissolves or wipes or something like that?
RIEGEL: Yeah, we had a little bit of postvis at one point, just for the middle section where we come from the window down to the floor. The visual effects editor that we had—Tom Reagan—was really tremendously helpful with stuff like that. We had a lot of communication because things had to move a few frames this way or that way often, so we would always talk about it and discuss it.
It also gives you a beat to kind of settle because the whole first part of the film has been a lot of information coming at you. The introduction at Liberty’s is a moment where you stop and settle and watch and kind of take in the eye-candy.
HULLFISH: I did actually have a note on that mirror scene that you talked about, because that’s, of course, a transition from young Estella to Emma Stone. That seemed like editorially just the way it’s got to go.
RIEGEL: That was always designed that way. But there was a lot more material that came before that. It was something that we lost pretty early, but I believe that transition was pretty much designed that way.
I know that they had to do a little bit of adjusting while they were still shooting with that. I think it’s a great shot, though.
HULLFISH: You had two great leads—two really strong characters—the protagonist and the antagonist in this thing. Sometimes I wanted to see a split screen because both performances are so excellent. Having to decide who to be on in some of the scenes between Emma Stone and Emma Thompson must have made for some tricky editorial decisions for you.
“The thing that I really like about Craig’s films is that he always grounds everything in a reality.”
RIEGEL: It was amazing. They’re both always amazing in their performance—and varied, too. There were degrees in their performances that they both supplied that was really helpful to finding exactly where they needed to be.
This is all based on an animated movie and because of that, the danger is that the characters could be caricatures. The thing that I really like about Craig’s films is that he always grounds everything in a reality that then when these bigger, crazier things happen, you buy them because so much of the film is real.
The same with Lars and the Real Girl. It was such an emotionally grounded film. Because the premise of the film is so crazy, you needed the film to be super emotionally grounded. And honestly, same with I, Tonya. You can’t get off that track. In terms of sculpting performance that was it. Sometimes you wanted those bigger moments—those bigger funnier crazy moments—because that’s what the film is. It’s supposed to be really fun, but you always have to make sure you stay with this sort of sense of reality—all things relative.
This is why I say one of my favorite scenes in the film is when they’re having lunch, because it’s such a simple scene editorially. It’s just a conversation. You’re cutting back and forth, but it’s not because there are so many layers in their performance. The thing that I really love about the film is that people ask, “Where are these great female roles?” This is two great actresses with two great parts and they’re battling against each other and they have their successful careers and they’re not battling over a man.
It’s amazing how many films where their character only has to do with the man in the film in some way. And this is not. As evil as they both are, I still think it’s a really good example for girls and young women, for really strong characters and personalities.
Anyway, that particular scene is the scene where Estella is still hidden from the baroness as to what her identity is, but you can see in the performances—these wonderful little eye movements and subtleties and just hanging on her a little bit more—that she wants praise from the baroness. She wants to hear that the baroness likes Cruella and admires Cruella. And you’re also getting this the same from the baroness, where this is her first challenge and this is not usual for her. I just think that that scene is very delicate in that way.
It’s a funny scene and it’s a great scene and you think it could be just a very simple scene, but it actually took a long time to find the exact right place to be with both of them. And then, in all honesty, the scene didn’t change again from basically the first assembly. It took a long time to get it there—and it’s a relatively simple scene—but then again, NOT in my opinion.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about constructing parallel action scenes and how you decide to break from whatever the script’s “edit” of the parallel action is to what actually ends up being parallel action.
RIEGEL: I would imagine that there’s not a single film with big scenes like that that actually follows the script, because when your dailies actually start coming in, this whole concept of time expands and contracts in those scenes, and that’s always the thing. It’s always the dance of who are we following? Who have we been away from for too long? How come it took them too long physically to get from one place to another? You have to have all of the characters working in a way that makes sense physically and logically.
Then there’s the whole emotional aspect of how do you build a scene with tension? How do you begin to ratchet up those elements? And then on top of that, you have just the fun and emotion of the scene. And then the last thing is you have often scenes that are much, much longer. For example, the black and white ball. I can assure you the first assembly was way longer than what it is. It’s a big scene still, but it was way longer.
I remember when I was putting it together I can remember that I couldn’t figure out why it was taking me so long to edit it because it was scripted out and seemed very simple. And then as you get into it: this isn’t working and you got to start to move these things around and it was a lot to to figure that out. And as we went through the process during the director’s cut and even a little later, we began to lose more and more. There was more conversation between Estelle and the baroness. There was more that happened with Horace in the safe. There was more that happened with Jasper downstairs in the basement. All of these different elements and compressing and making sure that the time still made sense, that the tension still built and that we could save as many of the fun jokes and stuff as we possibly could.
HULLFISH: You think you’ve got a single scene great and then you realize, oh, the film’s got to be, not necessarily a certain number of minutes shorter, but it’s just too long. Then you can’t just cut one scene out because it’s a domino effect.
RIEGEL: It really is a domino effect indeed. And there’s just a lot of storytelling, too, in that scene. There’s the whole flashback and there’s a big discovery in that scene. How do you do that with literally chaos happening around you? How do you do it musically? What images do you need to see? What sounds do you need to hear? How do you switch from the song to the score and back again and all of these different elements? Just in that one moment? There’s a lot that’s happening.
HULLFISH: Some of the editing, especially with Estella rising in the Baroness’s organization and her taking on this role of feeling stronger about herself—some of that felt really sharp, like a razor sharp edits, which I thought were beautiful. Can you talk to me about using editing as like a percussive, sharp attack as opposed to when in a scene like the one you were talking about, the subtlety of the lunch conversation where it’s supposed to feel very natural and organic and that there’s a difference between those types of editing?
RIEGEL: Absolutely, yeah. I think a lot of it just comes from watching it a bunch of times. My general process with stuff like that is during dailies is I’ll put a scene together, without music, then I always go back the next morning first thing and kind of watch it again. And sometimes I’m very pleased, and other times I’m like, “Wow! What was I thinking?” So I recut it.
I still tend to go back through things a lot, even though I have the intention when I’m putting something together each and every time, having it be as efficient and tight and compact as I can. And sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes you need to stop and let things breathe. Then when the music comes to it, obviously music can help a lot, but then it just really comes to what do you really need?
“We do this pass that is just the brutal thing: just take out everything, drink way too much caffeine and just take out everything and not be precious or emotional about any of it.”
When Craig and I are working together, it’s actually quite fun, so we get to the point where we have the whole film together. We go through it. We make all of the big broad stroke changes at first, like, “Yes, we know that scene is not going to be there, or at least not right now.” We’ll take out big chunks and then we start getting more and more down to the minutia. An exception might be if there is a scene where we need to work on a performance or something. But we’re usually so in sync that that’s not much of the case.
But what happens is—later in the process—we do this pass that is just the brutal thing: just take out everything, drink way too much caffeine and just take out everything and not be precious or emotional about any of it, even if it’s your favorite scene or moment or whatever, and you just cut it back to the bare minimum where you break the movie, basically—because you’ve cut too much out. And then you figure out where are those broken moments and where are the things that you really just miss. Scenes that you just think are fantastic, that you just have to put them back in.
And then the other thing that’s just really important is to screen the film as much as you can, because whenever you’re looking at it through somebody else’s eyes, you realize, “OK, I’m being a little precious with that. It’s time to cut it short. You don’t need it.” And it’s amazing what people get. I’m always so pleasantly pleased how much audiences understand that we don’t give them credit for. And then when you can figure out where those moments are, where they really don’t get it—that’s what I mean, about breaking it in some way—then you put that back in and you figure, “Wow! We can live without all of this other stuff”
When you’re talking about sharp editing, I’ll take that as a compliment. That sharp stuff is like you don’t need those extra bits. Your eye sees it. It’s working in the moment, you understand, and you can move on.
My father complains. He says things are too short now and too fast, and other people say the movie is too long, so you’re never going to please everybody.
HULLFISH: You were praising Emma’s acting chops. At the end of the movie. There’s a two or three minute shot of her, a hand-held shot when she goes back to the fountain. Was there anything else to do other than just find the best performance?
RIEGEL: Yes. Yes, there was, because what happened with that scene—and it is about a three page monologue —
HULLFISH: Without cuts or without apparent cuts.
RIEGEL: Well, I’ll tell you: Craig called Emma the day before. He had intended on shooting it with coverage the conventional way, then the day before, he decided that he was just going to shoot it at Magic Hour. No lighting, just the DP with a handheld camera, one shot. He said, “I’m going to shoot this over and over again till the sun goes down.” So it has nothing to do with your performance, don’t think that I don’t have it. Just keep doing it over and over again. So they did seven takes of that and every single one was fantastic.
You could have picked anyone and it would have been fine. But as I’m watching the dailies—and I always watch all of the dailies—and I know a lot of people who don’t—which I find amazing because I use bits and pieces of every single take, whether it’s lines or even just audio or a reading that I put in somebody’s mouth or whatever, or I just find those moments and figure out emotionally what I think is real and what I don’t think is real and what hits me as the audience.
The editor is the first audience, in my opinion, of the film. Everybody else involved up until that point has been through all of these iterations of scripts, different writers, locations, casting. “We can’t shoot this because it’s raining so we’ve got to do it this way,”—however long a shot takes to set up—whatever baggage comes with that or just even simply knowing the geography of a room. Whereas when it comes to me and I’m watching it in that two-dimensional way on my Avid and I have to decide, “Do I get it or not? Do I believe it or not? Do I feel it or not?”
So as I watched take one through seven and I got to take six… Also Craig never gives selects. In the beginning It makes script supervisors kind of crazy because they’re used to getting that and he never does. He just wants me to watch it and pick… so I was watching Take Six and all of them were fantastic and take six was outstanding. Really, really good. But right at the end when she turns to walk away, the camera jammed. It almost threw me off my chair because I was so into this monologue and it just stopped! And it wasn’t like there was a flash frame with film or something like that. I couldn’t figure out what happened to the rest, so I called my assistant and there was nothing notated on the script notes as far as I remember and I asked them to go back and find out if it was transferred properly, and it turned out it was a camera jam and that was it.
“Right at the end when she turns to walk away, the camera jammed.”
So we ended up having to splice or seamlessly join that take and another take for her turn and walk away. And because it’s handheld, it’s a tough thing to do in a visual effects world. It’s a really hard thing to do. The parallax is all off the it’s just a very different thing. I have to say that they did an amazing job with that shot among many, many, many others. There were just shy of 2000 visual effects, I think, in the show, most of which you would never know.
HULLFISH: Did you do any split screens to be able to kind of have the best performances on each side of a two shot?
RIEGEL: There were a few moments where we did. Absolutely. I really try not to have that happen. I mean, it’s a great tool to have in your pocket if you need to make that work. I guess I’m just a little old-school where I feel like that can start to be a little bit of a gimmick and a shortcut to make a scene work rather than making the scene work. I really push and shove and do everything I can possibly do NOT to do that kind of stuff at first.
I’ve come on to movies to help with fresh eyes or whatever and I look and there are split-screens everywhere. “Why?” And I take them apart And I think, “This was fine!” or there’s another take. Or you can work around it this way or that way. I guess I’m just old-school. I try not to do that, but yes, I do, on occasion. There are times where you absolutely have to do it. There’s no other choice.
HULLFISH: Are there other scenes that you want to talk about for any specific reason?
RIEGEL: There are just so many fun and funny moments in the film that I just really love. It’s really nice to be able to work on a film where you are—at the end—still happy to watch it again. It’s a luxury to be that way, because I’ve been somewhere early on in the process. I feel it’s going to be hard. But there have been a few that I’ve worked on that have I just feel like I can watch it over and over again.
The interesting part of the film is what’s not there because there’s a lot that’s not there anymore. For example, the whole opening with young Estella where she takes the dog into the ball and chaos ensues. There was a lot more to that scene. In fact, Emma Thompson was introduced in that scene originally. She comes down in the swing that Estella eventually ends up with the Dalmatian swinging on that swing where they’re nipping at her heels. But yes, the baroness used to be in that scene and she came down. She had a big entrance on that swing and dialogue and all of that. There used to be dialogue with her and the mother out on the cliff.
We decided early on that that was not the right thing for the movie. That the audience would have been way ahead of the characters for a long time and that that didn’t work. And so then it became: How do we do that scene with the coverage that we had without the main character in the scene?
There was a lot about the baroness and what she did and the House of Baroness. We put her ad on busses and billboards and stuff like that so that you could understand who this character was before we finally met her at Liberty’s when that shot became this fantastic introduction of Emma Thompson with the shoes coming out of the car and her walking through the doors and stuff like that, that’s a spectacular introduction that all was diluted by this other scene earlier that got taken out.
It’s all an interesting process: what comes and goes. When we took stuff out, the film suffered in certain ways, either the story or whatever—it really suffered. There’s probably only one or two small scenes that could be lost, but they’re wonderful and we just didn’t. But not much. Not a lot of screen time. You have to ask, “Do we want to lose this great moment for twenty seconds?” No. If it was something where we could have taken out five or ten minutes or twenty minutes or something, perhaps, but other things began to suffer.
HULLFISH: Tatiana, thank you so much. It’s so good to talk to you again. And thank you for shedding some light on this beautifully edited movie.
RIEGEL: My pleasure. Thank you for asking me.