Art of the Cut: Wes Anderson’s Latest Tableau, “The French Dispatch”

Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Weisblum, ACE, about the Wes Anderson film, The French Dispatch. I last spoke with Andrew when he edited Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Andrew’s filmography is incredibly diverse; The Darjeeling Ltd., The Wrestler, the ACE Eddie-nominated Fantastic Mr. Fox, the BAFTA-, ACE Eddie-, and Oscar-nominated Black Swan, the ACE Eddie-nominated pilot for Smash, the ACE Eddie-nominated Moonrise Kingdom, and he was the supervising editor on the Ace Eddie-nominated Isle of Dogs.

He also edited the upcoming Lin-Manuel Miranda film, Tick, Tick… Boom!, with another frequent Art of the Cut guest, Myron Kerstein, ACE. You can bet that we’ll be talking with both of them about that film in a few weeks.

Listen while you read…

HULLFISH: What a great film. Holy cow. Congratulations.

WEISBLUM: Thank you. It’s been a long wait for it to finally see the light of day, but it couldn’t be helped, obviously. There were other things going on in the world.

HULLFISH: You’ve got other films on the tail of this one coming up too.

WEISBLUM: Yeah, I had The Eyes of Tammy Faye in September and now I have Tick, Tick… Boom! It’s just a weird pile-up of movies, but I think it’s happened for a lot of people. I’ve been lucky to work steadily for the past two years, there have been a lot of projects that I’ve worked on that are now all finally getting released.

HULLFISH: So it’s not like you’re just working on these films for three weeks at a time? [Laughs].

WEISBLUM: Actually all simultaneously [laughs].

HULLFISH: Oh, all simultaneously. That’s a possibility. I think it was Eddie Hamilton who I interviewed that was cutting Kingsman and Mission Impossible at the same time.

WEISBLUM: No, thank you. That’s a bit too much.

HULLFISH: So, tell us when this film actually was shot and the period of time that you worked on it.

WEISBLUM: We began filming at the end of 2018 into 2019, and the editing process went through all of 2019 and a little bit into the very beginning of 2020 just finishing up the DI and visual effects. The original plan was for it to be released in May at the Cannes Film Festival 2020, but obviously, that didn’t happen. So, cut to a year plus later and now it’s getting released.

HULLFISH: That’s great. I’m sure you’ve been anxious to have people see it.

WEISBLUM: Yeah, with Wes [Anderson’s] films, we don’t do a lot of audience screenings. We have friends and family and people that we share the film with and we know our intentions, but you don’t really know how it’s going to be received until it finally hits the street. When we did Moonrise Kingdom, I think maybe a dozen people in total had seen the film at the time we premiered it at Cannes. So we had no idea what would happen.

HULLFISH: You’ve probably worked on films that have done extensive screenings. Is it just Wes’s feeling that it’s his film and he knows very well what he’s trying to do?

WEISBLUM: Well, I think he certainly cares what an audience’s perception is, but I think that the screening process for a lot of filmmakers is a studio process. It’s a way to engage with the film and test their “product,” if you will, unfortunately, you have to put it that way. It’s to see what makes it marketable, what doesn’t make it marketable, what meets their expectations, what doesn’t.

Do you test a book? Do you test other art forms? The only thing that you do that with is this commodity of filmmaking.

I think from Wes’s point of view, none of that is interesting to him or why he makes a film. I can’t speak completely for him, but he’s much more independently-minded as a filmmaker. Do you test a book? Do you test other art forms? The only thing that you do that with is this commodity of filmmaking, and that’s because there’s so much money at stake, but I think he just doesn’t look at it that way. It’s not a precious thing. I think it’s just that there’s only so much you can learn.

I think it was a little different on Fantastic Mr. Fox, as an example. There was an expectation for a different kind of audience in making an animated Roald Dahl film, to make sure that there was certain clarity for kids and families and that they took to it. So there was a screening process in that. We didn’t really do changes based on it, but we learned some things about storytelling, clarity, and exposition, stuff that you wouldn’t get without that experience.


But now that you’ve seen the film, I don’t know what we would gain from a 500-person screening necessarily. They’re either going to like this or they aren’t, but that’s very clearly aligned with intentions artistically.

HULLFISH: I have heard of other directors—and certainly editors—that the screening process is a studio process, but there are also valuable things that you can learn about story by realizing, “Oh my gosh, the audience is totally not picking up on this relationship,” or, “They’re not getting this backstory and we need to support that a little stronger.”

WEISBLUM: I think that’s absolutely true, and I think there are films where it’s applicable. I don’t know how it would work with a movie like this or with Wes’s films. I don’t know what it would actually mean because the storytelling is so unique. We constantly are conscious of clarifying things, focusing on details, and loading it with details, as you can tell, but I don’t know how much the process would benefit from that. There are certainly other filmmakers and other films where the opposite is true, but I don’t think that’s true on Wes’ films.

HULLFISH: One of the first things that I noticed as I started watching, was the film’s unique aspect ratio. Does that do anything to your editing? There were sections that were one aspect and then switched to another, correct?

WEISBLUM: It’s mostly 1:33, but it does pop to ‘scope [2.39:1] a few times. We started to play around graphically with split screens where we had a larger image in a smaller side subtext image and we moved the images around. Then, we start to play a lot graphically with texts either on the image or alongside the image—kind of like a magazine, but not too literally in that sense.

We did play around with the notion—or at least it was talked about—that when you look at a magazine with pictures and texts, it’s not necessarily laid out in one format; depending on where you are in the magazine, it changes a little bit. So, we riffed on that a little.

There’s that and the switching between black-and-white and color, which was constant and fluid. As I recall, when we originally started shooting, more of the film was going to be in color, but we started primarily with the Rosenthaler story, and Wes, in particular, was loving all the black-and-white. So, more of the other stories took on the black-and-white and the color was used as punctuation or emphasis instead of entire sequences or entire stories.

HULLFISH: Hopefully people will have seen the film by the time they listen to this interview, but to fill people in: the premise is that it’s about this magazine which is like the New Yorker magazine and the film is based on three stories.

WEISBLUM: Well, there are three main stories, but there’s a framing device which is basically the editorializing of the magazine and a travelog piece which is basically just an introduction to the city that our film takes place in.

HULLFISH: So, when you hear us talking about these stories, it’s because each author of each news story or essay has their own section of the film.

When was it determined that they would go back and forth between color and black-and-white? Was it in the script or was it just something that you were always cutting in color and Wes would say, “Hey, let’s make this black-and-white”?

WEISBLUM: No, there was very little of that. We shot on black-and-white stock when it’s black-and-white, we shot in color when it was color, and it was all shot on 35mm. There are a handful of examples of that not being the case where we had some visual effects that made more sense for compositing to do in color, but generally speaking, black-and-white was black-and-white.

In terms of intention, as I say, that’s something that evolved during the shooting process because I think originally one of the stories was going to be primarily in color, one would be primarily in black-and-white, and one would be a mix, but I think black-and-white felt so rich to us. It was so graphic in a way that popped the details and appealed to Wes to a degree that when we do these animatics, we do a lot of storyboards and they have very specific detailing to them in terms of where you want to look and what you want to see, and the black-and-white footage emulated those intentions in a very specific way. That was my take on it at the time as to why it was so appealing to us.

That really evolved during the shoot and then didn’t really change much after that. We didn’t do it as a post thing. There was a lot of experimenting with color, color contrast, and dynamics between shots. When we had a color sequence like the Sazerac’s sequence, which is effectively the tour of the city and the introduction to the magazine and the writers at the beginning of the film with the narrated section that Angelica [Huston] narrates, we played a lot with how to get the most dynamic color contrast between shots and settings that maybe wasn’t photographed that way. We looked for contrast wherever we could.

HULLFISH: What about the structure? I’m assuming the structure inside the film had to stay the way it was or did some of that change?

WEISBLUM: The overall structure of the film stayed the same, even internally. The different stories are very unique structurally. I would say the Rosenthaler story is the most linear. Then, the manifesto Zeffirelli story and the Roebuck/Commissaire story get progressively more non-linear. I would say that we did very little experimenting with that because I’m not even sure that I could unravel that and piece it together linearly. I think the connections from beat to beat are very clear in terms of what train of thought is leading to the next bit of information if you’re following it, but it’s also very lyrical in a way. To try and take that and map it out logistically and get too focused on plot would be missing the point I think.

We didn’t really experiment too much. There are little things that we lifted out here and there like things where we transitionally knew we didn’t need something we had, but there wasn’t a lot of experimenting. It was so tightly constructed in terms of how it was written and how the voiceover was meant to play counterpoint to the images in a lot of ways. It was really just honing it and getting the timing as precise as we could.

HULLFISH: Was there some thought of making sure it was the right length or that a specific story needed to be paced a little differently or that the length of that story needed to change?

WEISBLUM: No, we didn’t really encounter that. It’s interesting because we worked on the stories so independently from each other as if they were their own films. Those are short enough that you don’t really start to think about the overall pace, you’re just thinking about keeping it moving and keeping the ideas layered, which is what we went for: a film that was constantly coming at you and flowing.

In a way, it was very hard for us to look at it as a whole piece. We did a few times, but we really just focused on the stories one at a time until we had them the way we wanted them, and then we maybe switched and worked on a different story because they all had their unique approaches.

It was the same with the shoot. We basically would shoot one story of the movie for X number of weeks, and then suddenly the next week we were shooting what felt like a completely different movie because there was almost no overlap with the sets and almost no overlap with the actors. It was just an entirely different situation, which was a bit of a challenge for prep, but it carried through in our editorial process.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about music. Some of the pieces played with very sparse music and some of them had more score to them. How did you temp that stuff? Even the stuff that didn’t have score was beautifully sound-designed.

WEISBLUM: The way the sound design works with us is that we do animatics, as I mentioned before, and the sound starts to enter the picture even that early in the process with animatics. A lot of times key sound effects will carry over. We work with Wayne Lemmer, our sound designer, through the whole editing process, and there’s no temp love. He gives us sound effects early on and that becomes our library for the sounds.

So, once we put something in, it tends to stay unless we specifically want to change it. There’s not a lot of last-minute experimentation with sound in the mix. The mix becomes about making the dialogue as clear as possible and incorporating the score which is usually newly recorded.

Again, the different stories have different approaches. The middle story has little to no original score. It uses some pieces from Georges Delerue and some songs such as “Aline,” which is a song that repeats itself over and over again. There are a couple of other pieces of music that work in a motif sense.

Then, the other stories are scored by Alexandre Desplat. Our process with him is that he’s introduced to the film early on. We’ll share with him our earlier cuts. He’ll usually come by and watch with us and we’ll have a little conversation about Wes’s ideas and references if anything. Often, we don’t use much temp. Sometimes we do, but we usually don’t bother. Then, Wes will communicate with Alexandre and he’ll have some demos for us.

Once they arrive on certain thematic ideas or things that might be useful, then he will deliver those demos with the music editor in a whole bunch of different modular ways as stems essentially of different instrumentations of the same themes and ideas and rhythm tracks, orchestral tracks, melody lines, and so forth. Then, we build the score pretty much editorially as a roadmap so that we know, “At this scene, we want to change the instrumentation here. At this cut, we want to change the instrumentation here.”

Alexandre Desplat, composer for The French Dispatch
Alexandre Desplat, composer for The French Dispatch. Image © Searchlight Pictures

Once we have what we think is the functional roadmap, usually Wes will then sit down with Alexandre again and share that with him. He will then make it into what is a coherent, organic score because usually that construction is somewhat repetitive and has loops in it that are not particularly elegant but still show our intentions of what energy we want.

Every time we’ve done this Alexandre brings some other inspired layer or instrument line or suddenly a flute is a featured part of the score… who knows what it is. It’s a device that finds its way into the score that ties all the ideas together. Then, we record. That’s the process in which we build a score on Wes’s films that’s been developed over time since Mr. Fox.

 HULLFISH: Do you animatic the entire film?

WEISBLUM: Pretty much. I’m not usually the one doing that. Usually, Wes’s former assistant, Eddie Bursch, is the one who does it with the storyboards. The main purpose of that is to plan the shoot. It’s not really to define the cut. Wes will do all the voices and we’ll have all the storyboards.

Ultimately, if you’re building a set or you’re building an environment, you can basically just tailor it to your shots.

This is something that came out of the animation process because it’s essential there and that’s literally how you design and paste the whole film, but he started to understand that as a valuable tool in the production process too. Ultimately, if you’re building a set or you’re building an environment, you can basically just tailor it to your shots and not just an environment that you can pick up whatever coverage you want. You can get much more detailed, specific, economical, and efficient about how you’re putting things together and how you’re shooting things. It becomes a useful tool for everybody.

I will say on this film, we were challenged by the fact that the first story had an essentially complete animatic. The third story, the Roebuck Wright story, had a two-thirds complete animatic I would say, and the Zeffirelli story really only had the one sequence where they’re barricaded. Otherwise, that one was basically—I don’t want to say on the fly—but it was a lot less mapped out in detail.

From a cutting point of view, we take the animatic and I’ll usually build a first assembly based on that and whatever Wes’s selects are. Then, we start to experiment outside of whatever the animatic was originally whenever there’s something that doesn’t quite work as intended, but for a sequence like the Zeffirelli story, we’re just cutting it together from scratch.

HULLFISH: Does that influence you in any way that things are so meticulously constructed?

WEISBLUM: Yeah, that’s a big part of it even inside a shot. You’ll look at a shot and think it’s just holding as a shot, but if you see two people on the screen, there’s a split-screen. If you see three people, there are two split screens and so on. I’m not exaggerating. If you look at a shot that has 12 extras in it, each one is from a different section from a different take with a different re-speed because it’s all just timing. It’s all just getting it as precise as we can, and we can manipulate it extensively. That usually never just rides. I’d say that’s very much the editing process for us.

A lot of times there isn’t coverage, so we’ll have a scene that’s basically built of these elaborate—not oners necessarily—but fairly elaborate shots with moves and pans where we’re well aware of where we can hide our cut, and they’re planned. It’s assumed—even if it isn’t shot that way—that we’re probably going to throw a cut here and we’ll just switch takes here. For example, maybe the chef is better in this take, but Mathieu Amalric is better in this take. Whatever the combination of ingredients we have, we’re constantly playing around with ways we can push it and manipulate it to get the timing exactly the way we want.

HULLFISH: I felt so much of the pace of this film came from things that were interframe. It was stuff that was happening inside of a shot at an exact moment, and then something would happen at an exact moment with camera.

WEISBLUM: That’s absolutely the case, and that was the bulk of our editorial process. That’s exactly what we did. Sometimes the shots are well-planned for that. Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes it’s an afterthought, but once you start doing it in one spot, it’s like painting a house; you start doing it everywhere. You can’t not nibble out the two frames on that pause there. It’s all detail. The life of the film is all from those details, so to not do it is kind of remiss.

HULLFISH: Totally understand. A lot of editors do that split-screen re-timing so that two characters are speaking more on top of each other or there’s more space, but it sounds like you’re doing that to an extreme.

WEISBLUM: Yeah, we do it on these films more than most I would think. I do it plenty. I don’t see why not. It’s just a tool that we have and it’s something that we can fix.

We also do what we call “post-production design,” which is adding a lot of different decorations, ideas, or changes to sets, environments, tableau shots, or things that are sometimes informational. There’s a sign that we’ll add, or there’s some graphic that we’ll add that is built in the set that you wouldn’t necessarily know, but it’s a clarifier. Or maybe we’ll add a painting somewhere. The frames are constantly worked on. In a strange way, it is an editorial process because it’s about conveying information, emotions, ideas, or context for things. That’s something we’re constantly playing with.

HULLFISH: There are numerous of those scenes throughout the film, but the one that I can just remember is a low angle of a French street and the sewer pumps water out at an exact time, and then various people come onto the street and you see them come out from their windows.

WEISBLUM: That shot is made up of maybe 15 splits.

HULLFISH: Because it’s a oner.

WEISBLUM: That’s a oner. You have three different takes of the dog to get him to run from this corner to that corner and end up in the butcher shop by the end of the shot, and then there’s a miniature in the back to expand the city. There was one pickup element that went into that shot too. If I were to lay out all those ingredients for you, it’s crazy, but it does make the shot work just so.

HULLFISH: Yeah. It felt perfect.

WEISBLUM: There’s no way really unless you did 50 takes that you were going to get that exactly right in one take, so why? You don’t have to. You can build it from the pieces. You get these amazing characters just doing their thing.

It’s not even about photo reality. It’s just about a style and an energy.

The way Wes shot that—I remember I was there—is that he’s just focusing on each one of these effectively non-actors at a time, telling them what to do. Each time he gets what he wants from each one, and then I know pretty much how I’m going to combine it all, except to figure out how to get the dog to do what he’s supposed to do, but other than that it’s all pretty clear.

It’s not even about photo reality. It’s just about a style and an energy. There are some impossible things that happen in those shots, but that’s the fun.

HULLFISH: How long did you have to wait for the sewer to pump the water out? Did you just sit there all day?

WEISBLUM: Oh no that’s just a prop [laughs]. But that’s an example of something because that street looks nothing like what you see on the screen. It’s an entire construction but kept efficient because it’s done exactly to the frame based on what we storyboarded and what we planned for. So, there’s just that much street that they built as a platform at the right height in front of the camera and the facade on top of the butcher shop and the other things are all exactly constructed to what the angle’s going to be. There’s no coverage plan. It’s just going to be a shot.

It’s funny when I read the screen originally and I spoke to Wes, I said, “Every sentence here is a new set. How are we going to do this?” Then, I realized, “Yes, of course. Every sentence is just a shot. It’s not a whole set. It’s not a whole thing. It’s very specifically tailored.” That’s the hyper-focused approach that the films have.

HULLFISH: There’s another scene at the very beginning of the film where a waiter gets a little platter of food and drinks together and he carries that up through a building. I was watching that with an editor’s eye thinking, “Well, that seemed like that was in real-time. Then, I think that was sped up.” He’s gone for a little bit, but he couldn’t have made the transition from this window to that window.

WEISBLUM: That’s all just one setup we did and we had the waiter walk from setup to setup. The cat was from one section and we just had the guy sweeping long enough to cover the whole shot for the section where he crosses him. Of course, what he’s doing there physically is all impossible. He couldn’t do it all, but we just cut out all the pauses and the shot is made up of the split for each window, basically.

Then, the drinks are the same thing where we had two different people off camera doing the hands making sure they never overlapped but by a frame. Then, that tray was done over green, and then the camera booms up and the waiter carries the drinks. That’s all just made up of little pieces.

HULLFISH: I love it.

WEISBLUM: It’s a lot of fun to put together, obviously, but it’s all pretty silly.

HULLFISH: So I’m assuming you have to be an expert at AniMatte in the Avid..?


HULLFISH: The audience could not see the eye roll in that.

WEISBLUM: Well, the truth is actually I ended up doing a lot of that stuff in After Effects rather than the Avid, because it’s just too klutzy with all the layers that you have to deal with. I’ll figure out the general timing and pace of things in the Avid, and then I’ll boot it out into After Effects and do it there.

As I said, we shot on film but Wes wanted to do this film in 4k. A lot of people when they shoot on film do these throwaway 2K scans and then re-scan for the final DI, but we decided for our dailies process to do proper 4K scans on a Scanity as part of the dailies process.

So, everything in the Avid was a down-convert of those 4K DPX files. Anything that I did in After Effects could easily be uprezzed to the original DPX because the files I was working with were a proxy from those. In some cases, I would just call up the DPX and do a shot in After Effects with the DPX, and then it was done and we didn’t have to turn it over to a vendor or anybody else.

It allowed us not to monkey around with registration issues or things like that. What we were seeing was exactly what we were getting. The other thing that we could do is that we could take style frames from the DPX that we had transferred and set looks and colors with them that saved us time in the DI later because we had a very specific reference based on the scan that ended up being our final master. We didn’t touch the film after the shoot.

HULLFISH: There’s a little animated section, and you have done plenty of animation as you pointed out. Was that a typical animation edit process of editing storyboards and an animatic?

WEISBLUM: It was done as an animatic, which was then taken by Gwenn Germain, who did the 2D animation Isle of Dogs, took that sequence on and it had a Tintin-esque quality to it. It was a normal animation process, but there was very little I needed to do with that editorially because we had figured out in the animatic exactly what it was meant to do.

HULLFISH: You said you didn’t cut the animatic of the live-action stuff. Did you cut the animatic of the animation?

WEISBLUM: I re-cut it a little bit, but not extensively. It was pretty much exactly what Wes wanted anyway. More of it was figuring out the aesthetic translation and how we wanted to do certain camera moves and things that were represented by the storyboards and experimenting with that a little bit that to make sure that didn’t feel out of character with the aesthetic.


I think that was a challenging part of the process. It took a while to find the right looks for the characters that it was clear who was who and so on, but it was fun to play with. Also, just the color scheme for it wasn’t fully saturated. It looked inked like a comic strip, but what the palette was for that was an interesting experiment because we were suddenly seeing things in colors that you hadn’t seen up to that point.

HULLFISH: Is there a trick to choosing performance? Some of the performances are very naturalistic and other times they are almost theatrical. There are very specific rhythms to the dialogue in ways that might not be completely natural.

WEISBLUM: It is very rhythmic and it has a very specific musicality to it. It’s usually what’s in Wes’s head unless there’s some surprise that comes out of a performance that is unpredictable and that is just interesting and feels alive, truthful, or exciting in some way.

But we do spend a lot of time on dialogue in the performances. Even though you’re looking at one picture, any given line could be made up of ten. We do really get into it on that level where we have a stacking process where we basically line up every take of each phrase and build out stacks of them. Wes will say, “I like these three words from take 5, but this word should be from take 7 because that’s the funniest one. Then, take 15 for the rest of the sentence.”

Then, we’ll try that and there might be some weird bump or some difference in projection and then we have to unravel that and do a couple of passes until we get it all to fit with the picture that we’ve chosen, which sometimes is easier said than done. It depends on what it is we’re going for, but it’s almost never just the sync dialogue that you see. We’re always playing with that. Again, it’s something we have the flexibility to do, so we do it.

HULLFISH: You’ve worked with a bunch of other directors. Is there a specific way that you collaborate that is different with Wes than you have with other directors, or would you say it’s just different with every director anyway?

WEISBLUM: Well, it’s certainly different with every director, but it’s definitely unique with Wes, especially with the sequences that have animatics. We put those together first and we tinker with those for while. It’s only really after that’s done that we get together and watch the scenes together and start playing around with them a little bit.

That’s the point where I might see something that’s worthy of an alternate, or I’ll have other ideas that I want to contribute that might improve something, or I might just have a suggestion. It’s exercising the ideas in his head first and then it becomes much more of a collaboration as we go forward, but that’s not the case with most other directors that I work with.

It’s a little bit different every time. I have my own approaches to those things, but when I’m working with somebody new, I try and find a way to communicate with them to feel it out with each different filmmaker.

HULLFISH: Because it’s so planned and there’s the animatic stuff, what’s the process from getting beyond that first assembly? Is it much more of that fine tweaking that you’re talking about such as interframe-type stuff and the little audio things? Is the general framework pretty locked in at that point?

WEISBLUM: Pretty much. Certainly on this film that was the case. I would say there have been exceptions to that where we knew we had certain patterns or narrative challenges that we had to figure out and it changed as a result.

Certainly on Mr. Fox, I would say, the movie barely resembles the script. We went through so many narrative changes and ideas. We even had a full narrative character that we then removed who was in there in the script to begin with but really was a way to help us figure out the plot. We didn’t realize it at the time, but it was like our guide.

But on this film there wasn’t any of that. It was so beautifully constructed already that there was nothing to throw out or to experiment with that I could see.

HULLFISH: Was there a specific challenge you faced, or can you remember a scene that you’re particularly proud of?

WEISBLUM: No, they’re all very different. There are just so many different styles. The precision of the stuff that I was talking about before with the waiter and also the stuff that I was cutting with Timothée [Chalamet] and Frances [McDormand] with their characters and Timothée and Lyna [Khoudri], the young girl, where it was just kind of jazz. We played with the energy of that, which was much more of a fluid process.

I felt there weren’t difficulties in that sense. It was just honing to find the best versions that we could. The challenge was in getting the details to work, getting the visual effects done, and making sure that the details are carried through all the way to the end correctly. It was a lot to keep track of.

I had a lot of design and sound elements that are more than just the cuts that are really dense in a film like this, so you just have to make sure it’s constantly evolving. Anyway, that’s just the job.

HULLFISH: I’ve talked to a couple of editors about the value of being at the mix —and almost everybody does it —and maybe even being at the DI, but If you had to justify that to a director that thought it was a waste of time for you to be there, what would you say?

WEISBLUM: I would say that I know the tracks better than anybody. I cut them. I know what I did to get that line to fit in there. I know what I stole here and I know the changes there and why I used this track instead of that track, and all those other things. They’re not temporary. They’re built along with the visuals.

I know the tracks better than anybody. I cut them. I know what I did to get that line to fit in there.

Particularly on these films—especially since we’re working with the sound designer from the beginning and working with the composer from the beginning—I’m the one most intimately familiar with them. Obviously, Wes would never say that I shouldn’t be at the mix on a film like this. There’s just too much to carry through, but I would hope to not work on a film where a director didn’t want me in the mix. Then, I would feel like they don’t understand what I do.

I’m pretty concerned with sound. I think it’s half the battle. Also, with rough cuts there are never any jagged cuts sonically. I’m always sure there aren’t any tone bumps or any things like that, which comes from my assistant days when I used to clean up tracks like that. To me, in order for an edit to feel smooth, I want to not hear that stuff.

So, I work pretty hard to make sure that all things are working, even in a temporary form in concert with the picture. Even if we know we’re going to expand on it or it’s going to be a 7.1 or 9.1 mix later, I still want it to be representative of our intentions dynamically. So, that’s something that gets developed along with the picture. They’re not independent.

HULLFISH: There are also things like the character of a train whistle. They can’t say, “Oh, we didn’t like your sound effect. We’re going to put in this sound effect,” but there’s a reason why your sound effect has a different feeling than mine.

WEISBLUM: Right, and it’s not even about being precious about it. We chose it for a reason and it influenced other things in a way that I can’t always even articulate. It’s also part of why we use stuff from the sound designer and not from a library is that when you change stuff at the 11th hour you’re not considering the ramifications of it. It’s not arbitrary that you’ve chosen to live with a sound, put it in there, and it stayed with that for eight months. We haven’t just ignored it. If it was not working, we would have changed it and I think that’s important to respect.

At the same time, I feel that there’s really no reason that the sound designers can’t be brought in as soon as possible, and that’s true with directors and other filmmakers as well. I try and argue to share the film with the sound department and the composer as soon as I can because it doesn’t have to be the final cut. It doesn’t have to be definitive, but at least they understand the trajectory. They understand what they can bring to it. The more familiar they are with the project, the better their contributions will be, and the less misunderstanding there will be about where we’ve taken the film.

I would say that’s not always true for dialogue mixers because I want to know from them what they can and cannot understand and what they can’t hear. Sometimes that’s a question that somebody with fresh ears can tell us.

HULLFISH: Totally get it. It sounded like you were at the DI?

WEISBLUM: Yes. The DI was an ongoing process because as I said we knew our colorist, Gareth [Spensley], and we shared still DPX frames from certain shots with him where we would establish some looks that Wes could discuss with him and play around with before we hit the DI.

The color material I think was useful for that process. It was also useful for visual effects. It’s an important part of the process with Wes because he’s hypersensitive to those details if you were to change or disrupt the color later on. To change those arbitrarily late or to walk into the DI and have the film look nothing like its looked for nine months is unnecessary at this point. There’s no reason not to have it look the way you’d expect it to look the whole time.

HULLFISH: Did you do some kind of tweaking of the dailies color inside the Avid?

WEISBLUM: We did. I would do some tweaking inside, and then we would translate those numbers over to Gareth. Sometimes they would give us new dailies with those corrections, but if it was secondary corrections or things like that, we didn’t do that. It was mostly just level things, but there was plenty of color work that’s done in the Avid.

Frame from one of The French Dispatch’s animatics. Image © Searchlight Pictures
A frame from one of The French Dispatch’s animations. Image © Searchlight Pictures

It was why we had this whole idea to work with 4k scans is that I felt like I didn’t want another transfer off the film element that has other components to it. Let’s work from the same root the whole time so that we can always get back to something that Wes liked or that we liked along the way because we’re always working with the same source. That seemed important after previous experiences. It seemed like it made a lot of sense for us to work that way.

HULLFISH: Andrew, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Your work on it was fantastic, and I couldn’t even see most of the work.

WEISBLUM: Thank you. That’s the idea, right? You’re not supposed to see the work. It’s hidden. Don’t tell anybody that we did all those cuts.

HULLFISH: It’s like when I talked to Lee Smith about 1917 and I said, “Lee, there are only eight edits in the whole film. How hard could it be?”

WEISBLUM: If you only knew, right?

HULLFISH: That’s exactly right. If you only knew. You see that oner of the water coming out of the sewer drain and it’s 15 different shots and 20 different pickups.

WEISBLUM: Well, got to fix it in post.

HULLFISH: And I’m sure that that’s not the way you or Wes thought about it. Always planned.

WEISBLUM: No, never.

HULLFISH: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate it, and I hope everybody gets a chance to see this, especially on the big screen. Awesome film. Talk to you on Tick, Tick… Boom!

WEISBLUM: Yeah, coming up soon. Thank you very much.

Steve Hullfish

Stephen Hullfish is an internationally respected producer and editor, and has written six books about the professional scene in Hollywood. He has edited seven feature films, including "Courageous" and "War Room", as well as "The Oprah Winfrey Show". Steve has also worked with industry leaders like Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic, Fujifilm, and Tektronix on technical and creative projects, and produces bespoke training for companies like the NHL, MLS, NBCSports, and Turner Networks.