Art of the Cut: Bringing Ghostbusters Back to Life
Today we’re speaking with Dana E. Glauberman, ACE, and Nathan Orloff about their work on Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I last spoke to Dana along with the rest of the editing team for The Mandalorian, and before that for Creed II.
Dana was nominated for ACE Eddies for Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult, and The Mandalorian. Other titles in her filmography include Draft Day, Labor Day, and No Strings Attached.
Nathan Orloff’s filmography includes Plan B, and work as an additional or associate editor on The Front Runner, Tully, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Check out the Art of the Cut podcast to listen to this interview, and stay up to date on all the latest episodes.
HULLFISH: The audience broke into applause when I watched the film in IMAX on opening night.
ORLOFF: That’s great!
HULLFISH: I want to talk about comic timing because one of my favorite comic moments in the film was the music cue after, “Maybe it’s the apocalypse,” and the music just hit perfectly. Talk to me about those editorial punchlines and finding that exact right moment.
GLAUBERMAN: Jason [Reitman] has a way with comedic timing that is just so spot on and beautiful. I’ve learned so much from working with him and with his dad [Ivan Reitman] and through the many years of different experiences, but for me, there’s no right or wrong. It’s really just a feeling. Sometimes you have to play with that, and when you see something that you like, you buy it. To me, it’s that kind of instinct, almost like a 1, 2, 3 punch and then you cut. So, you have to sort of time it that way too.
As an assistant for Ivan, Sheldon Kahn, and Wendy Bricmont, I was told many times, “Always put a comma after a scene, not a period.” That has a lot to do with comedic timing too. When you’re trying to sell comedy, you don’t necessarily want to end the scene on a pause. You want to put a comma on and just keep going. That’s the comma/period difference, and that has always stuck with me. In all of my years of experience, I’ve always explained that to my assistants and my co-editors, and I think it’s always stuck with them as well. Put a comma after a scene rather than a period, particularly in comedy.
ORLOFF: And now it’s stuck with me.
“Always put a comma after a scene, not a period.”
HULLFISH: Just for those that might not understand exactly what you mean by a comma and a period, it’s a way to keep the energy going, right? Because a period would be the end of the scene and the end of the energy, and then you’ve got to start back up again.
ORLOFF: Actually to continue on this subject, in that scene when she [Mckenna Grace playing Phoebe] said, “Maybe it’s the apocalypse,” she winked after that, and in the original version of the movie, winking was a thing that her mom told her to do to let people know she was kidding. We experimented even later putting that back where she said that and then winked, and Dana was completely right. It was funny, but it didn’t keep the energy up and it was like begging for more laughs when you just had a great one. We needed to just keep going, and the movie’s better for it.
HULLFISH: That’s very interesting, and she does wink once, right? She tells a triangle joke.
ORLOFF: Right. That’s why it was diminishing returns because we had already just done it.
HULLFISH: Yeah, it’s a very deliberate wink. It’s adorable and very funny.
GLAUBERMAN: She sells it so well. She was so much fun to work with. We shot this two years ago and started production in July of 2019. We finished production in October or somewhere around there, and she was just a kid. Looking at her now two years later, she’s blossomed into a young woman who is just so vibrant, happy, and such a good actress.
ORLOFF: On that note of comedic timing though, there’s this really interesting thing I remember listening to of people talking about working on Avatar with James Cameron. They were talking about the design of Pandora and they said, “Unlike films where you’re coming up with stuff in this pre-production phase, James has been there, and we’re just trying to be these archeologists that are digging into his brain to pull that out because he’s been there,” and Jason’s a little bit like that with performance and character in some of this timing.
A lot of this stuff is just in his brain and we just have to figure out how to get there. It’s this uncovering, and once it’s there, it’s great. Jason and his sensibilities are just unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with.
GLAUBERMAN: Couldn’t agree more.
HULLFISH: Do you feel like he knows the exact moment that he wants to cut such as after the wink or before the wink?
GLAUBERMAN: In some cases, yes.
ORLOFF: Other times, he knows exactly how he wants to feel and we have to figure out how to do that.
HULLFISH: Are there any discussions before that? I know a lot of directors might not have those conversations right away. Some might say, “Hey, here’s the intent.” Are you guys left on your own to figure it out, and if you don’t maybe he’ll step in?
GLAUBERMAN: This is my seventh feature with Jason, and the eighth project if you count the TV show that we did—not counting the short films that I helped him out on before Thank You For Smoking. So, he has never really brought me to set because he wants me, as an editor, to go about things with a fresh eye perspective. He doesn’t necessarily want me being tainted or influenced by anything that I see or hear on set, so he leaves me to my own devices.
Then, once he’s done with production, we can collaborate. Sometimes I come up with great ideas that he never thought of and it’ll stick that way. Other times, I’m totally off the trail and we have to rework things together.
For this, we shot in Calgary, and I went up there for the first couple of days of production just to be there. Then, Nate actually went up and did a lot of work on set with them while I stayed back in LA and just continued working on other things. So, I think it was helpful for Jason with you there, Nate.
HULLFISH: What was the value of having you there?
ORLOFF: Going off of exactly what Dana just mentioned is that having that fresh perspective is a perfect use case and perfect execution of what his process is I think, but this is his first movie with big special effects and action which requires more planning.
I haven’t worked on all the films that Dana has worked on with him obviously, but I can imagine this might be the first movie he’s ever worked on where he shot one part of a scene with a different unit and then two months later on a soundstage finished the scene. So, this would be the first time he had these piecemeal things.
There’s one chase sequence in the middle of the movie in particular that I worked on the storyboards for before shooting. Then, they did second unit in the summertime when the weather was perfect, and so then I would add these second unit shots and cut to a storyboard.
When I went up to Calgary from when they were shooting stuff on the stage for filling in these holes, I was figuring out if the storyboards we planned to be there actually worked. Most of the time it did. There were sometimes though where I realized, “Oh, this didn’t quite cut like we thought it would. Maybe we need a new shot,” and that I think was something that was helpful because it’s something that Jason’s never done on any of his other movies.
HULLFISH: Did you cut storyboard animatics?
ORLOFF: They were just raw storyboards. Jason tried to do a little previs, but it didn’t jive with him as much. Then, I had a lot of fun putting sound effects and music to these storyboards months ahead of time to really try to get tone, pace, and vibe. It was incredibly collaborative to say, “Well, what if we had a shot that did this?” and then the storyboard artist would draw it, send it to me, and I’d put it in. It turned out to be like an animated film that was one frame per second.
Then, all the music and sound effects actually transferred into the Avid, so when I started cutting the scenes I used the same stuff. That informed even Rob [Simonsen’s] music in the end, which is tonally consistent with what I started doing almost exactly three years ago in January 2019.
HULLFISH: So, let’s talk about temping because, as a Ghostbusters fan, there are two movies that I’ve probably seen more than any other movie in the world: The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters. Those are my two.
GLAUBERMAN: And now you could add three with Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
HULLFISH: I swear I’m going to see this movie 20 times this year. I loved it that much.
So, the question is, I recognize a lot of themes from the original Ghostbusters. What did you use to temp with, and did you go outside of the composer’s realm or outside of the Ghostbusters universe to temp?
GLAUBERMAN: Nate, you could talk more about this because generally, I don’t cut a lot with temp music, but Nate does and I think you did such a fantastic job with our temp and being able to communicate that to our music editor. So, you take this question.
ORLOFF: Thank you. I do have to say that the cut has to work without music. The cut has to work on silent. I like cutting with temp music because I like getting in the tone and the headspace, but especially for action, you’ve got to put it on mute and make sure every cut of it is smooth. Otherwise, you’re leaning on it and then all of a sudden it’s not actually a good cut. It’s just good music.
GLAUBERMAN: In dialogue scenes too. That’s partly why I don’t cut with music at all because I think music needs to enhance the cut, not dictate the cut. But I agree with what you’re saying, Nate.
ORLOFF: Regarding the temp music, we obviously had every note of the original score, which we discovered is not that much. It’s kind of funny because I think there was one fan or someone talking at the friends and family screening who asked, “So how much new music is there?” And it’s actually all new music. It gives the feeling that Jason wanted, which was to feel like it was all this uncovered stuff that Elmer [Bernstein] did, and Rob [Simonsen] did just an incredible job expanding it.
Before we started shooting, Rob sent us a ten-minute suite that incorporated Elmer’s stuff and new stuff that went through all these tonal shifts in order to get the job or to prove that he really knew what he was doing. It’s about 10 minutes of this beautiful suite which I wish that we could just put on the soundtrack. It’s so reminiscent and so accurate to what we ended up doing, but he did it in May before we started shooting.
So, we had this vision of where we were going. Then, he would start doing these sketches and we’d put that in. I would also use temp from Elmer and we tried to use these John Williams cues from movies which you don’t recognize John Williams. Using temp music is always dangerous when you can just recognize that it’s Indiana Jones. You don’t want that feeling
HULLFISH: Exactly. Try temping with anything from Pirates of the Caribbean. You instantly recognize it.
ORLOFF: It was a very difficult process, to be honest, because it’s such a specific tone. Those early sketches that Rob would send over really saved us. For instance, the basement scene when Phoebe’s going through the basement and there are these specific beats that make cutting that scene without music very difficult. The flashlight’s on, boom, things are on, here’s some mushrooms, here’s some wind… But with music it slows down; there’s a beat and there’s a rhythm to it that’s like what we talk about with comedic timing. It’s this sort of weird Ghostbusters tone that’s not horror or thriller but is tense and not overly scary. It’s a very specific feeling that I think Jason really knew in his heart.
GLAUBERMAN: Rob just nailed it. His score is so beautifully done, so specific, and incorporates Elmer’s themes with a little bit of his own stuff. I’m blown away by just the blend of the two worlds. It’s pretty impressive.
HULLFISH: I’ve got a t-shirt that I made for one of my post-production crews and it’s the 10 commandments of editing. One of the 10 commandments is “Temp not with John Williams. He composes not for thee.”
ORLOFF: I love that. That’s great [laughs].
GLAUBERMAN: That’s awesome. I like that.
ORLOFF: We were trying to find the music that Spielberg’s films temped with, so that it was one generation removed.
HULLFISH: There was an incredible little sequence of edits when Phoebe puts the backpack on and they’re out at the Foundry and she lights that thing up and fires it for the first time. Talk to me about pacing that. Also, so much of that scene is about the sound that the backpack makes.
GLAUBERMAN: A lot of that sound is from the original. Most of it, right?
ORLOFF: That one specifically I think was a very intricate hybrid where Will Files took apart the original and put it back together. A lot of the other stuff was from the original too but that one specifically was a little rougher because it was supposed to be turning on for the first time, so it was supposed to be expanded out like it’s really getting going. We all did little switches and flips and stuff. That was the first day of production actually.
GLAUBERMAN: I was there for that.
ORLOFF: That was the first thing I cut. That was fun.
HULLFISH: That’s a blast. Because there’s not a lot of music in that scene, would that be one of those scenes where you feel like you have to take the sound effects off to feel if you got it right?
ORLOFF: What’s weird is that I don’t think that cut changed that much.
GLAUBERMAN: I don’t think so either. A couple of tweaks here and there just in terms of camera angles, but the timing of it pretty much stayed fairly close to the original cut of it I think.
ORLOFF: That was the intent was to fill this up and then Will Files and Perry Robertson just infused all that space. That was a rhythm and timing thing where we just wanted the scene to say, “Here we go.” But yeah, that was something we cut on mute because we didn’t have that sound effect.
HULLFISH: I also think of needing to leave space for it. Like you were saying, it hasn’t been turned on for a long time, so the first time the button goes on, I’d think you gotta wait long enough to imagine the sound effect in your head.
ORLOFF: Right. I’m sure the assistants think I’m crazy because I was just making the sound effect out loud trying to figure out the timing [laughs].
GLAUBERMAN: That’s what I heard through the walls…
HULLFISH: Yeah, I do the same thing. You’ve got to do the sound effects with your mouth.
GLAUBERMAN: I just talk to the screen. I don’t necessarily do sound effects. I talk to the actors all the time.
ORLOFF: “Why don’t you just hold that? Stay there longer.”
HULLFISH: Or to the focus puller, “Just pull focus. Come on.”
GLAUBERMAN: Exactly. I talk to everybody.
HULLFISH: So, I was just really cognizant of the use of close-ups in this film. You guys almost saved them for critical moments. Talk to me about the value of a closeup in a scene and when you do or don’t go to it.
“In a typical dialogue scene, you want to build to a certain point and that’s when the closeups really count.”
GLAUBERMAN: I think in a typical dialogue scene, you want to build to a certain point and that’s when the closeups really count. When you’re having dialogue, you might do a traditional approach of starting wide, going in a little bit tighter, and then when something of great importance is said, you want to be in for a closeup. That’s the general idea to me of the value of a closeup: when you want to make an impact, emphasize something of importance or just the reaction.
ORLOFF: I completely agree with what Dana said. For me, one of the values of closeups is that you want to build to these moments and they’re not always at the end. Sometimes they work in the middle of the scene and then you pull back wide. One of my tricks I realized—and this is totally tied into starting after a comma, not after a period—is that in the middle of a scene, I’ll cut to the closeup of the character whose head I want to be inside, and then I’ll cut wide.
A perfect example would be Trevor sitting down in the mine. He steps on the wood board, then we cut to Trevor, and then we cut wide. I just wanted to be in his head. I didn’t want to lose tension and lose POV. To me, that’s some of the important value of closeups.
There’s that famous cut in Boogie Nights where it’s wide shots with chaos in this drug lord’s house when they’re selling cocaine. Music’s blasting, and then halfway through the scene, it just cuts to this tight closeup of Mark Wahlberg. It cuts to this tight closeup and the effectiveness of that is off the charts.
HULLFISH: Dana, you mentioned doing some short films for Jason?
GLAUBERMAN: Yes, when I was an assistant editor on many Ivan Reitman-directed films, at the end of the day Jason would come into our cutting room and use our Avids to cut his short films. I was often there late, he would ask me questions, and I would help him out. I never actually cut one of his short films, but I definitely helped him out with a bunch of stuff on the Avid.
HULLFISH: Have either of you cut any shorts recently and what’s the value of that?
GLAUBERMAN: Not recently.
ORLOFF: No. Shorts are hard. I honestly think shorts are sometimes harder than features in some ways. It’s funny, I’ve actually been watching the Cowboy Bebop animated series to prepare for the live-action version because I have friends that worked on it. I’m just absolutely shocked at the efficiency of storytelling in 22 minutes in the first episode. In one shot for three seconds, I learned so much about this world and the characters.
Short films are like that where you have to be that efficient. In a feature, you get them settled in, have some popcorn, and enjoy these quiet moments and arcs that you can develop slowly over time. It’s also the difference between features and long-form series where you can have these big arcs.
GLAUBERMAN: Act one of a feature is your first two minutes of a short.
ORLOFF: Exactly. A great short to me is just incredible, but it’s been a long time since I’ve cut one.
HULLFISH: A fairly big editor that I talked to recently had cut a short film and they said, “Well, I love it because they’re not usually three-act structures. A lot of times it’s a one-act and it’s just quick storytelling.” As you said, it’s all about how efficient you can be in your storytelling. So, it’s a practice and a learning tool almost.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about the structure of the film. You know how fans are often saying, “I wish this movie was six hours long.” No, you don’t, but I do wish it was six hours long [laughs]. I was wondering whether there were parts of some of the characters’ stories, either the mom, Paul Rudd’s character, or Finn [Wolfhard’s] character and his girlfriend, that got trimmed for efficiency’s sake?
ORLOFF: There was a lot of stuff that expanded on Callie and her relationship with her father that was alluded to, and even Callie with her relationship with Phoebe. But, just like we were talking about with short films, is that what you really need? What do you really need to tell the story? If you have the beats there, it’s what the movie is. The final runtime is about two hours, right?
“We played around with putting scenes back in, watching the movie, and actually even living with those scenes that we had taken out.”
GLAUBERMAN: With credits, I think it’s just under or just over two hours.
ORLOFF: Yeah. You think you want more but you don’t. Sometimes I feel like we shoot these movies and are capturing all of this stuff, then you just keep sifting to find the best nuggets.
GLAUBERMAN: We played around with putting scenes back in, watching the movie, and actually even living with those scenes that we had taken out. Then, we’d put them back in, live with them back in, and then realized it just didn’t do anything to keep the story moving, so we took them out again. All for the better of the final product.
HULLFISH: You mentioned some scenes with Callie and her dad, and I have to say that I cried at the end of the movie, so I definitely connected with the character. But the danger is that if you cut those scenes about her and her dad out then you might lose the power of the connection.
ORLOFF: I respectfully disagree because first off the scenes that I’m talking about are just about her relationship with her father and they actually had scenes with Annie Potts talking about it. I think the more ambiguous a relationship is, the more you put your individual self in it. I talked to my dad this morning and he told me, “This made me think of my dad and I miss him so much.” So, the less there is, the more you put your own life into it. It’s like a Rorschach test.
HULLFISH: I buy that.
GLAUBERMAN: But here’s the other thing about how this movie is: we stripped things down but we didn’t necessarily take them out because when Callie goes downstairs into the basement, you get that sense of connection that she felt lost and she felt that he didn’t care about her—and I’m sorry if this is a spoiler—but you realize that he did. So, you still get that connection and we left enough in there that you can still emotionally connect with. Even if you don’t put yourself in it, you realize what’s going on, and so we didn’t take it out completely.
ORLOFF: It’s the nitty-gritty details when you read a script that sometimes makes you say, “I didn’t understand the mechanics of when this happened in her past,” and so there are scenes that explain stuff. Those are the details I’m talking about that are not as important as if you accomplish that arc, like Dana just said.
HULLFISH: You guys definitely had me. Emotionally I had enough material to have it affect me by the end, but the danger when you’re cutting stuff out is that if we lose too much of this, will it hurt us when we finally get to the end? It helps you at the beginning because you realize, “Oh, we’re cutting stuff out. We’re moving the thing along,” but then you ask, “Will there be enough for the audience to hold onto?” Well, there certainly was for me.
The other thing that I’m really fascinated with is that a movie like this obviously has great writing, a huge development cycle probably of many people that were very wise speaking into the script, and yet there were scenes that you shoot that everybody thought you needed, but they ended up getting cut. Can you talk about how a movie changes from writing to shooting to editing?
ORLOFF: It’s just such a different beast. I always thought that the script is like reading an owner’s manual to a car. It’s extremely descriptive, and if you can read it and have feelings then that means it’s successful at its job, but you’re not in the car and you’re not driving it.
The heads and tails of scenes are a perfect example, where you think you need to understand why this character is walking into this room, but then you realize, “No, we just cut to them and we’ll buy it.” Or there are things you can sell in a look that is so emotive. You couldn’t have written, “Then Callie did this look that made you feel this way… and thus we don’t need this whole other scene.” That’s the magic of capturing these humans on film.
“The script is like reading an owner’s manual to a car. It’s extremely descriptive, and if you can read it and have feelings then that means it’s successful at its job.
But you’re not in the car and you’re not driving it.”
HULLFISH: I love it. How did you guys collaborate? Did any scenes go back and forth between the two of you or did you pretty much work on your own scene?
GLAUBERMAN: A lot of them did go back and forth. Originally, I was going to focus more on the conversational character development and character-driven scenes and Nate was going to focus more on the heavy visual effects action sequences. That’s how it really started, but then once we got into post-production and Jason started working with us, we really fed off of each other.
Sometimes I couldn’t crack a scene and so Nate would take it and do a version of it. Or sometimes Jason wanted to get another perspective of something and go into Nate’s room and say, “Let’s work on this for a minute.” But that’s the advantage of having two editors.
Sometimes there are movies with two or more editors where it’s very specifically said, “You do this. You do that.” With us, we were involved in each other’s stuff all the time. Whether it’s saying, “Nate, can you take a crack at this?” or, “Dana, can you take a crack at this?” or “Let’s work on this together.”
Whenever we would review stuff, Nate would come into my room with Jason, I would go into Nate’s room with Jason, or sometimes if Jason wasn’t there, we’d bring our assistants in to get their perspective. So, editing to me is 150 percent a collaboration between the entire team that’s working on it from pre-production on prep, to production, to post-production. You can’t have a successful movie without everybody’s expertise being put into it.
ORLOFF: Totally. Some of my favorite scenes are ones that flipped, things that I was stuck in my head on a certain way to do it, and then Dana took a crack at it and it was great. Then, there are other scenes where we found a B cam of a certain thing and it flipped the entire scene to the other side of the line, and then it was like a whole different scene.
Just having two editors, having two perspectives allowed us to lean on each other constantly. It felt really good to have a partner and have someone that I loved and trusted and who I could show something to because when we showed the movie to Jason, it was Dana and I showing the movie that we did to Jason. It was together. So, there are sequences in which we’ve talked about every cut. Every single one.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk about the collaboration after the movie’s assembled when you’re trying to decide, “Do we cut out this story with Annie Potts? What’s that going to mean to the two scenes on either side of it? Do those cut back together now that the scene’s gone?”
GLAUBERMAN: There was a lot of communication about scenes that slowed the first act down, and you have to get the first act right in order to keep the audience captivated.
Deciding all of that was an ongoing conversation that goes back to the question of, “Do we put this scene back in?” and we would put it back in, try it for a while, and realized that it didn’t work. In our cutting room in the hallway, we had one wall left on the cutting room floor and another wall with scene cards of every reel. Things just kept going back and forth and back and forth from one wall to another. It’s a conversation that is ongoing that is held with everybody. “Do we need this? Do we not need this?” We would have meetings in the hallways literally with our assistants and Jason.
HULLFISH: That’s what I was going to ask. Were there a lot of conversations in the hallways?
GLAUBERMAN: Yeah, a lot of hallway conversations with Jason and our assistants. Everybody would get involved and give their two cents. It’s collaborative.
ORLOFF: One of the first things I told Dana was, “I’m not afraid to be wrong.” When I’m wrong, I will do a 180-degree turn and march in the opposite direction.
A perfect example of that—and this is the opposite of instead of putting the scenes back in and then realizing, “Yeah, we don’t need them,”—at one point we started the movie way later. We still had the opening sequence but we started the movie at the arrival of the house. I was a proponent of that saying, “Look, you figure out all the information and throw your audience into the middle of it,” and I was very wrong.
GLAUBERMAN: I was kind of talked into that. I was a little bit against that because I felt like you needed more of an introduction with the family.
“You have to drive off the cliff to understand where the edge is.”
ORLOFF: Yeah, it’s because I thought it was a very interesting way to introduce your characters by having them arrive at the house that they inherited. You didn’t throw them into the perspective of the film. So, for a little while, we had that whole opening gone, and it broke the characters. It breaks the movie, but you have to do that. I always say you have to drive off the cliff to understand where the edge is.
GLAUBERMAN: I love all your analogies.
HULLFISH: That’s a great quote, as is the car manual.
GLAUBERMAN: Yeah, you’re going to use that in your next interview [laughs].
HULLFISH: You guys have to save some stuff exclusive for Steve Hullfish and Art of the Cut. You’ve got to come up with some new analogies that are not as good for other people [laughs].
GLAUBERMAN: We’ll work on that.
HULLFISH: All right. To your point, I’ve seen movies where it’s a single mom with the kids and it just starts with them on the road and you don’t see all the backstory, but it’s very interesting that it didn’t work here. You try it and you feel like it doesn’t work.
ORLOFF: Going back to the point of trying to decide to cut a scene or not, to me, the most important thing that’s really hard to even convey to very general audiences—and I say this to people that are trying to understand what I do for a living when I meet them—is every movie you’ve ever seen was almost twice as long. It’s not just scenes that were left out, it’s trims.
Every scene was probably twice as long in its assembly form. So, there is the task of deciding what scenes should completely go, but then the even harder task to me is finding out how to trim these scenes down that don’t need to be that long.
Then, when a performance is so good that you can lean on it and you don’t need all this other stuff, that’s very hard. That’s one of the reasons that in the early assembly form, we panic at that length and I say, “Let’s jettison the whole opening,” but that’s not what we needed to do. It just needed to be tight.
GLAUBERMAN: I remember standing at our continuity wall and saying, “These two reels will eventually come down to one,” and it was a huge discussion of, “No, there’s no way we could cut that down.” Sure enough, after a while of just little trims here and there, taking things out, and when music started coming in, those two reels ended up being one.
ORLOFF: Dana, I also remember early on we had this assembly of the whole third act or something that was just shot and it was about 25 minutes. I just got back from Calgary, which by the way, was important for me to be there just for geography perspective on this blue screen of a farmhouse. So, the assembly I think was 25 minutes long, and I said, “Hey, this has got to get under 20.” Then I think Dana said, “13, 15 minutes.” I thought, “What? It can’t be that short. That’s impossible,” and I think it’s now within 12 and a half or 13 minutes.
GLAUBERMAN: It’s so funny. Those numbers, granted, were kind of pulled out of a hat. They’re general numbers, but the point is that losing five to seven minutes out of a sequence is a lot.
ORLOFF: I just remember you were very right.
GLAUBERMAN: Thank you.
HULLFISH: I love the idea that it is important as an editor to be able to be wrong. That’s hard for me. When I cut a scene and a director’s not happy with it, it hurts.
GLAUBERMAN: I’m not saying being wrong doesn’t hurt. There have been plenty of times where you just feel completely defeated when the director’s not happy with what you did because you have put so much time and effort into it with finding certain beats, finding certain moments, and crafting this to be what you feel is this beautiful scene, and it is beautiful. It’s just not what the director had in mind for what they wanted to put out there. So, it’s not easy to be wrong in anything in life, but the important lesson is to accept it and then go and collaborate and make it better.
“It’s not easy to be wrong in anything in life, but the important lesson is to accept it and then go and collaborate and make it better.”
ORLOFF: To me, our jobs are to say, “Okay, let’s try this,” and in my head I’m screaming. I probably don’t do a good job of this but I try. I put so much effort into it and then we rework the scene until the director is happy with it.
When I say I’m happy to be wrong, it’s not to say that I instantly can pivot; it’s that I have to be open at the end of the day when the director says, “This is what I’m looking for.” I have to be open and not have an ego about anything else by saying, “Yeah, this is better.” Once I think it’s better and I’m open to that and accept it, that’s when I realize, “This is the way it needs to be,” and I become a huge proponent of that vision. But your heart has to be open otherwise it’s just ego and it’s not pleasant for anybody.
GLAUBERMAN: At the end of the day, our job as editors is not just to collaborate, but to also bring the director’s vision to the screen. So, it’s not all about us. It’s about bringing a particular vision to audiences nationwide around the world and being happy and proud of what we’ve done.
HULLFISH: Absolutely. I’m intrigued by the idea that you saw this 20-minute sequence and thought it should be 13 minutes or 12 minutes. I had an old boss I’d say stuff like that to and he would say, “You can’t do things by the numbers.” But you’re not doing things by the numbers. You’re seeing the scene and you know because of experience and what else you know about that sequence that you can probably cut it by a third.
GLAUBERMAN: Right, and that’s when I say that the numbers are just arbitrary. It’s just pulling numbers out of a hat, but the point being is the 20- to 25-minute version of it felt way too long and way too embellished and we need to take a lot out.
HULLFISH: Absolutely. Tell me how each of you approach a scene when you are looking at dailies. When you’ve got this great footage, great performances, are you going into a bin to look at individual scenes? Are you a KEM roll kind of person? Do you create selects?
ORLOFF: If I hadn’t had two jobs already since Ghostbusters I would not be admitting that this is my process, but I don’t watch dailies. I think it’s a waste of my own emotional energy because there’s diminishing returns after I watch the same line over and over again, or I watch a whole clip, or a whole scene over and over again.
“I don’t watch dailies. I think it’s a waste of my own emotional energy because there’s diminishing returns.”
What I do is methodically go from the top beat and start cutting without ever seeing the end of the scene on any take. Obviously, I reread this scene in the script really quickly. I look at the notes on the editor’s log. If it’s a dialogue scene, I use script view a lot and I just keep comparing each beat across the board on every setup and go with my gut of, “This feels like I really need to be in this shot level,” or, “This performance is really good.” Then I’ll say, “Oh, now I really want to cut to a wide.”
Then, I just keep snaking my way through the scene until I get to the end and then I go back, look at it, and ask if I missed anything. Then, I recheck all the audio tapes and swap out any performances I want. That’s my process. Although the usual reaction is, “Oh my God, you don’t watch dailies,” I do watch them. I just slowly do it as I go.
GLAUBERMAN: You do it over time.
HULLFISH: I totally get that. It’s a brave thing to say because everybody I talk to says, “I watch every moment of every daily.” Most of us do by the end eventually. But for example, say you’ve got six wide shot takes, why should you watch six wide shots from beginning to end? You know that you’re only going to use that wide shot in a certain place. Maybe there’s a nice vocal performance or something in there, but why watch all of that? Eventually, you might watch it all because you find the great wide shot and you say, “Oh, I wonder where I can use this?” But I get it.
“I do watch dailies, but what I do is I watch one take of each setup, usually the last take.”
GLAUBERMAN: My process is a bit different. I do watch dailies, but what I do is I watch one take of each setup, usually the last take. Sometimes I’ll look at the first take and the last take, but it’s usually the last take of each setup, just so I know in my head what I have to work with.
Then, a lot of editors will have their assistants do a stringout of line reads, but I like doing my own. The reason being is usually I have found that when assistants do stringouts for editors, they go right from the line as opposed to a lead into the line, and I like to find special moments when another character is talking. There are certain looks and reactions that I could find that I could use as a reaction for something else.
So, I make my own stringout of lines, sort of like a KEM roll. Basically, I have two or three different choices of the same setup, two or three different choices of a line of another setup, and then two or three choices of a line of another setup, then I go to the next line. That’s how I compare.
Then, I take that KEM roll, make a copy of it, and that’s where my sequence begins. I start cutting out things that I don’t like, so it’s back-to-back reads of a certain line in different setups and I decide what read I liked best and what angle I like best for that line at that particular moment. Now, if I am not sure how to start a scene, I’ll start in the middle and work my way to the end and then go back to the beginning because I know where I want to end and kind of where I want to be in the middle, but I have no clue to start it because there are so many different ways. So, I’ll sometimes do the beginning of a scene last, not always.
ORLOFF: That’s a discipline I have a hard time with because I have not been able to start in the middle of the scene. I don’t know how.
One of the reasons I got frustrated when I would watch all of the dailies religiously was that I didn’t know what I needed yet. I would find these great performances, these special moments, that I got really attached to and I would realize, “Actually, this is not useful.” Then, later on, I’d go digging and I’d find I’d be able to repurpose some things and say, “Wow, look at this gem. This is great,” but I only knew what I needed after I had assembled the scene.
GLAUBERMAN: To your point, Nate, my process changes all the time just in terms of swapping out takes and deciding, “This read isn’t right for this moment, so let me go back and look at others,” but I have my stringout KEM roll to go back and look at other takes that I actually like line reads of.
Unless I’m in a complete rush, I don’t use Scripter in the Avid to actually do my assembly because I find that I miss those gems of certain moments, but it does come in handy later on when I’m working with the director and they say, “Let me see all the line reads for such and such line.”
HULLFISH: I just think of it as the triangle joke about being obtuse. Let me see all the lines of “obtuse” and the wink.
GLAUBERMAN: Yeah. Well, we did do that. Jason wanted to see all those lines, and I think the one that we originally had in is what’s in the movie because that was the best. We all agreed on that.
ORLOFF: Yes, and honestly we all agreed on most things. It was just us banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out what to lose because we loved a lot.
GLAUBERMAN: That was probably one of the hardest things was figuring out what to lose. There’s a lot that was left on the cutting room floor.
HULLFISH: Do you know how long the first cut was?
GLAUBERMAN: The first assembly was 2hr 56min.
HULLFISH: 2hr 56min. Wow.
“We’re watching the assembly with the assistants and it turns into a comedy club.”
ORLOFF: There are more jokes that Phoebe told at the stairs and it was very long because I just cut every joke in because they shot a lot of jokes to find the best one. So we’re watching the assembly with the assistants and it turns into a comedy club.
GLAUBERMAN: We used whichever ones we all laughed at the most.
HULLFISH: Nathan, tell me a little bit about the VFX because it sounded like a lot of those sequences were going to fall to you even if they didn’t eventually. Tell me about trying to pace that stuff when the VFX haven’t been done. Are you working with previs or postvis, or is it your imagination?
“It looked like a 2D little Mario ghost that I would keyframe in Avid.”
ORLOFF: Combination. We did not have any previs. We had some postvis. For instance, the Muncher chase that I did the boards on–this was before our wonderful VFX editor was able to do some very good temps—but I did a cut-out of Muncher from the storyboards. So, it looked like a 2D little Mario ghost that I would keyframe in Avid. So, we just had to take it 100 percent seriously and it was so silly. It looked so stupid. It looks like Roger Rabbit’s going through town, and it was just me keyframing stuff.
I don’t know how I would do this next time differently, but my instinct on the film was to keep shots longer VFX-wise, especially since what happened organically is that I’d have a title explaining what’s happening and you need time to read that. I figured it’s better to have something longer and we trim later than try to have a shot that’s really quick and you don’t know what the hell is going on.
Since most of these shots got so much shorter, I do think that it would be better to have some previs next time in some of these sequences so that the shot length doesn’t change as much as it did in some of these sequences where I kept things longer than they needed to be. Like you’re saying, pace is really hard to determine when there’s no character there.
HULLFISH: Or no fantastic visual, right? When you have a fantastic visual, you say, “Oh my gosh, I would love to be looking at this amazing wide shot or crazy ghost or whatever it is,” but you don’t know that until you see the crazy ghost.
ORLOFF: Yeah. That’s why the puppet in Walmart was so much fun to cut because it was there. That was easy and I thought it was funny.
I chuckle to myself almost every time because Dana and I have talked a lot about cuts on blinks. Sometimes even subconsciously you don’t realize that you’re on the reverse of someone and you can cut on the blink of the person that’s out of focus. We do that with the Terror Dog on behind, and we cut on the blink on the front and I thought, “This is fun to cut on blinks with puppets.”
GLAUBERMAN: That’s hilarious.
HULLFISH: Walter Murch would be so happy right now.
GLAUBERMAN: I do want to recognize our incredible team in our post department. We had Mike Fay as our first assistant, Nick Ellsberg as our second assistant, Allie Andrus as an assistant editor as well as Tom Cabela as our visual effects editor, and Jeff Mee as our visual effects assistant editor. We could not have asked for a better team. In addition, Curt Sobel, our music editor, who has worked with Rob Simonsen on a number of projects.
Our team really became a family and we would sit after hours in my cutting room, drink whiskey, and do puzzles together because we just loved being together. The trust that we had with one another and the respect that we have for one another could not be any better than it was and still is. Both Nate and I thank all of them tremendously.
ORLOFF: We went through the pandemic together, and that was a huge thing. I can’t imagine a better crew to have gone through that together.
HULLFISH: Most of the cutting was pre-pandemic, right?
ORLOFF: Most of it. The film did change considerably after the pandemic but mainly just trims and sharpening. I think Dana said previously, there was a version before we went into the pandemic that we were very happy with because we were going to come out that July, but having extra time and even a little distance from it and then coming back to it really let us make it as sharp as possible.
GLAUBERMAN: I think every movie should be made that way.
ORLOFF: Just step away for a month and let everybody go to Mykonos or something.
HULLFISH: That was very specific, Nathan.
ORLOFF: I was just in Europe and that’s where everyone went on holiday.
GLAUBERMAN: You became very European because you say, “Everyone went on holiday,” instead of “vacation.”
ORLOFF: I got food delivered the other day and I opened the door and said, “Bonsoir.”
GLAUBERMAN: That’s awesome. And our team was just top-notch.
HULLFISH: I did watch all the credits and I saw Sobel in there and saw [Kevin] Zimmerman in there.
GLAUBERMAN: Even our sound team. Will Files and Perry Robertson were our sound supervisors, and Will Files and Mark Paterson were our mixers. I just can’t be more proud of the entire team.
ORLOFF: Absolutely. I know Will Files from back in the day at Bad Robot, so he and I go way back and it was very much a joy to work with him in his capacity on this movie because, like me, he grew up with this stuff. To be able to play in the sandbox is just a joy. That first scene that they shot and the first thing that I cut was the one where Phoebe turned on the proton pack and fired it. Like we said, I don’t think that scene actually changed that much at all.
GLAUBERMAN: I think we turned that over to Will and Perry and the entire sound team early back in December. They came to our cutting room and we actually sat and watched that scene and talked about what Jason wanted and his vision. They were involved really early on.
HULLFISH: Do you still have the Avid project for Ghostbusters?
GLAUBERMAN: We turned it over, but I emailed you our timeline.
HULLFISH: Perfect. I was really interested in seeing specifically the timeline for that proton pack. There was something about the editing of that scene that I really loved. The other great timeline to see would be the opening chase of Muncher through the town, also another great scene.
GLAUBERMAN: That’s Jason’s favorite scene. I saw an interview where he said, “I could watch that scene every single day for the rest of my life.”
HULLFISH: That is a great sequence. Thank you so much for all your time. I just love this movie. Thank you so much for cutting it and for chatting with me.
ORLOFF: Thank you for having us.
GLAUBERMAN: Thank you so much, Steve. This was a joy.