Art of the Cut: Behind the Scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections”

In today’s episode of Art of the Cut, we’re speaking with Joseph Jett Sally, editor of the much-anticipated continuation of the Matrix saga—The Matrix Resurrections—directed by Lana Wachowski.

Sally has edited films like Ninja Assassin and Breaking In. He was also editor on the TV series Work in Progress, Messiah, Sense8, and Gideon’s Crossing. As a VFX editor, he worked on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and The A-Team, and he was an assistant editor on Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, Attack of the Clones, and Phantom Menace.

Listen while you read…

HULLFISH: You edited a movie called Ninja Assassin on which Lana Wachowski was a producer. Is that how you guys met?

SALLY: No. But close. I met Lana and Lilly on Speed Racer. I was the first assistant on that and James McTeigue was the second unit director. They were getting ready to do Ninja Assassin while we were doing post for Speed Racer. They gave both Gian Ganziano—who was a VFX editor on Speed Racer—and me the opportunity to cut Ninja Assassin. It was a great opportunity and it started my working relationship with James as well.

HULLFISH: What do you think it was that they saw in you? A work ethic? The kind of person that you were? The way you collaborated? What was it that made them think you should move into the editing chair, or was it just pure editing talent?

SALLY: I think it was all of that. Sometimes pure editing talent doesn’t necessarily translate to a relationship. But Speed Racer was a very complicated film, and I think they could see I worked hard. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to help push the project forward. I worked with Roger Barton on that, who was incredibly kind about letting me work on stuff. They’re all about giving opportunities. So that was the right place at the right time.

HULLFISH: That’s nice to hear, that they’re willing to do that. Did that early experience with her give you a sense of her aesthetics, that when you got on this project, you felt like you knew what she was looking for?

SALLY: I did Sense8 with her, so I got a sense of what she likes, but also it’s good for me—good for her, too—if I don’t know too much. Of course, you read the script. In your mind’s eye you have an idea of what you see, what you hear. And I think for her, there’s also something about discovering something she may not have thought about, “Oh, you interpreted this that way?” So that’s how we go.

She’s also extremely busy while she’s shooting so I just cut away. And then there are times where she has to come to the cutting room because there’s a difficult sequence that we’re working on and she wants to see how it’s going, but otherwise, I’m left alone.

HULLFISH: I’ve talked to a couple of editors about the fact that while you can maybe cut a scene the way you think she wants to see it cut, there’s also value in saying, “She knows how she envisions it. I’m going to cut it the way I want it cut so that she has another perspective.”

SALLY: Correct. There are things that she has in her head, that she knows exactly what she’s looking for. Especially when she’s directing the actors, if she gets what she wants, she can move on or she’ll ask for other stuff. I’m constantly listening to her direction between resets because it’s so helpful to hear and see this sort of performance that’s working for her, but things always change.

That first cut is a jumping-off place. There are some scenes where the cuts don’t change much, but once you start putting scenes together the rhythm changes. You might end up moving things around. She likes to jump in and see how things changed or what’s in her mind’s eye. But she’s also very good at remembering moments that she liked, which is helpful actually.

HULLFISH: Did you watch any of the previous Matrix films more carefully in preparation for this job?

SALLY: Not really. I mean, I watched them again, of course, but I kind of think there’s a danger in that because you just don’t want to do the exact same thing over again. There’s a bit of that that was intentional. The film starts in a way that’s extremely reminiscent of the original Matrix—the style, the colors, the crisp look—and then we gradually get away from that. That was intentional to remind the audience—let them enjoy what they remembered.

HULLFISH: The nostalgia of it, the fandom for this kind of movie—they’ve got an expectation.

The fans take too much ownership of something. They don’t realize that they really don’t want the same thing over and over again.

SALLY: They do. And that’s good because there’s a huge following. The anticipation for this film is quite big. But I would say the danger for fans—I experienced this when I worked on Star Wars—the fans take too much ownership of something. They don’t realize that they really don’t want the same thing over and over again. And there is a lot of the same thing. I mean, we are going back to The Matrix, but the fans also want to be surprised. They want to be taken somewhere that they didn’t expect.

HULLFISH: Did you temp with anything from the Matrix cinematic universe?

SALLY: Yep. That’s a good question. When I worked on Sense8—and Lana had done this before with Cloud Atlas—Tom Tykwer, who also did the score and directed on Sense8, Tom and Johnny Klimek did the score, but what they do is read the script, and then they create a bunch of cues based on conversations with Lana.

What they deliver is a full mix. All the stems: piano, brass, strings, synths. There could be four different strings, four different things of percussion. And I get all that. So while I’m cutting, I don’t use anything from any outside score. I’m only using the new score that’s meant for the show.

There’s always that risk of temp love.

I hope that this catches on because there’s always that risk of temp love, and then you hand it off to a composer and you’re like, “Do that.” And then you get the same thing, but different. But also the beauty in this is I have these keys, these charts, the beats per minute, the key that the cue is in.

And I worked very closely with Gabriel Mounsey, who’s our sort of editor engineer, and he’s worked with Johnny for forever. But when I start scoring I will use a string line or a piano line, and I can take some of those stems and sort of recreate what’s there. But if you want it slowed down or sped up, because sometimes we’ll use stems from two different cues, and this gets very complicated when Lana starts with me in post, because she is all about score and she loves music. She loves working with these stems.

So then we have a base. I can give it back to Gabriel and I may not be in the right tempo exactly. He calls it getting it on the grid, but he’ll smooth everything out and give it back to me mixed and with stems if I need it. So it’s an ongoing process, but the “temp” score was always The Matrix Resurrections score.

HULLFISH: That’s really nice. I have heard more and more of people that are getting that kind of thing. I think that the editors on Ghostbusters: Afterlife said that there was a ten-minute musical suite written before they ever started editing.

What about sound effects? Same thing? Did you have a toolbox from the sound team?

SALLY: Yes, a little bit. We borrowed a lot from the stems from the originals. But not too much. We improvised where we needed to, but some of the very specific sounds we did borrow. Again, we wanted new sounds. So Dane Davis created a whole new soundscape for us. The ships sound similar but different. He was very conscious of not doing exactly the same.

HULLFISH: You’ve done a bunch of VFX editing for really big films. You mentioned Star Wars. What did you learn in your VFX editing that you were able to translate over to this film? Because obviously, there’s a lot of VFX in this movie.

SALLY: It helped me not to be afraid of green screens and comping. I do all my work in the Avid. I know a lot of visual effects editors use other programs, but my main focus is telling the story and I do a really good job of just using the tools that I have.

Nothing really fazes me. Lana wants to reconstruct an image. It’s very easy for me to just quickly take the performance from this part of the take, merge it with a performance at this part of the take, add a background, change the timing. It’s all possible. Recreating the frame is fun too, that’s what makes it exciting. And it’s also really great to get those things back from our post-vis team. When you see the final images from VFX it’s like Christmas!

HULLFISH: Do you have any special toolset inside the Avid that you use to be able to pull off those kinds of comps and stuff?

SALLY: Literally, it’s just what’s in Avid.

HULLFISH: No plugins or anything? Wow! That’s impressive!

SALLY: If there are plugins added to my toolkit, yes, I would use them. But, SpectraMatte, resizing, all of those classics. My Motion Effect tool (re-timing tool) is always open because everything, almost everything, is shot off-speed, so it’s pretty cumbersome for my team because normally dailies are all synced and delivered, but because everything’s off-speed, they have to sync it in the cutting room so that we don’t lose all the metadata attached to the material.

So when I’m cutting I always have the ability to speed things up, slow things down, without losing quality, because everything’s shot at such high speeds. Usually everything’s shot at at least 24- and 48fps.

We had one sequence in Tiffany’s workshop that was shot in 96 and 120, 48, and 8fps. There are VFX where parts of the frame are running at 8fps, and other parts are running 24, some are at 120, some are at 96. It was a lot of comping and roto and all that stuff, trying to make those things work together. And the soundscape there was really important because all of those things are happening at the same time. You’ll understand that when you see it.

HULLFISH: I’m really interested in the sound design. How much of it are you trying to do as you’re doing the picture cut? Or do you have to imagine it while you’re doing the picture cut? Or are you asking assistants to do it?

SALLY: I do have to imagine it first and then you grab what you can. I would always sort of temp something out quickly, roughly, and then hand it off to my first assistant, Toska Hartmann, who is amazing. And then she could farm stuff out to the other assistants because there was so much material trying to keep up with the camera.

I had hours of footage a day. I couldn’t get bogged down too much with the sound design. Although I would do enough that they could hear what I was looking for. And then there’s always that point when you start sending stuff off to sound, when you start doing temp dubs, and then we could carry that stuff along with us.

HULLFISH: What are some of the things that you learned coming up as an assistant editor that you’ve carried forward? Like the things that you go, “Oh my gosh. I’m so glad I was an assistant because I learned this important lesson.”

SALLY: I never wanted my editor to need anything. I always wanted them to have everything they needed, so all they had to be concerned about was cutting because if you’re not freed up to just think about the creative process that you’re trying to do, it’s very difficult to lose yourself in the footage and in the scene. This is exactly how Toska, my first, operated as well.

I try to make sure that my assistants are aware of that. I try to let them know what I need and when I need it. Toska was extremely good at delegating. Plus, I had Philipp Schlinder who was solely doing ScriptSync. Whatever they shot today, it was very likely I could start cutting on it tomorrow afternoon, late morning.

They were that fast and they knew exactly what they needed to get done so I could at least start working. I could start making my selects and marking stuff up while the ScriptSync was still getting done, and sometimes I could cut a scene before it was even done.

The ScriptSync is super important for Lana because once we get through our first or second pass, when she really wants to get into the minutia, she likes to hear every line read, whether it’s on camera or off, because sometimes she’ll want to replace just reading. So my team was super good at just making sure I had everything I needed so I could just cut.

HULLFISH: Do you find that your use of ScriptSync is much heavier with the director than it is when you’re cutting during dailies?

SALLY: Yeah. It’s very helpful if I want to go back on something I’ve already cut. And it’s helpful to cut things very quickly. That’s for sure. But the danger is, you miss subtleties that are in between the lines.

HULLFISH: Discovery.

SALLY: Yeah. It’s the same thing if you try to watch dailies fast, double time or something like that, you always miss something. It’s the same thing with stuff that’s been shot at 120fps. If I watch it at real-time, it plays differently than watching it at super slow speed.

It’s super helpful with the director if you’re trying to find the right reading. But for me, I definitely use it, it helps me move very quickly, but I can’t use it just to cut the script together because you’ll miss all that subtle stuff in between the lines.

HULLFISH: And as you mentioned, you were using the stuff between the lines—her giving direction to the actors, right?

SALLY: Absolutely. And none of that stuff shows up in the ScriptSync.

HULLFISH: Can you give an example of the kind of things that you would hear her say—maybe to an actor like, “Oh, I want that less angry.” Or, “I want it hesitant.” What are some of the things that you’re picking up from her direction in between takes?

SALLY: Well, it’s almost exactly like that. She’ll say, “Try that again, flatter.” “Don’t step on the lines.” “Just add a little more subtle humor to that.” Or it could also be, “This time, make sure you can feel the light. Don’t go too far.” Or, “Try it with this.” And she’ll rewrite the script. Instead of, “Can you give me a bottle of water?” “Can you hand me that bottle of water?” That’s a really simplified version.

HULLFISH: That’s helpful because then when you are cutting it together you know not to use the “get me” and to use “the hand me” or whatever the change is.

SALLY: But the danger in that too is like Lana might say, “Yeah, I thought I wanted that, but I decided it’s better this way.” But you’re absolutely right. It is good. It’s always good to hear her say, “Don’t rush the line.” Sometimes she’ll want them to make their performance more internalized so that you feel it.

HULLFISH: And how similar is the structure of the film to the original script?

SALLY: Pretty similar. I have to say, she worked very hard on it for a long time with [scriptwriter] David Mitchell and Aleksandar (Sasha) Hemon. So it was pretty well edited. It was long, so we cut it down. But we didn’t lose a lot of scenes. They did a good job of cutting it down and we were faithful to try keeping everything that was important in the film.

HULLFISH: So the shortening of the film was primarily done inside of scenes instead of by losing scenes

SALLY: Primarily. Yes.

HULLFISH: One of the things that I’m interested in is perspective, and how you might edit the film from one character’s POV. With this film you’ve got a character—he’s Mr. Anderson, but he’s Neo—you’ve got multiple POVs inside of one human being. Is it always the perspective of a specific part of his character? Or does that not matter, does that not play into it?

SALLY: It does matter, but I think you want to be in the perspective of the character at the time, because otherwise, it wouldn’t feel authentic. Like when he’s in the matrix, you want to believe that he’s there, that he’s not aware that he’s in the matrix, and that’s kind of how they trick the audience to begin with. In the beginning of the film, when you’re in the matrix, and then all of a sudden you pull out and you realize, “Huh, where am I?”

There are things that are different about this matrix from the original matrix.

The beauty of that is in this film Thomas Anderson—Neo—is back in the matrix. He becomes aware that his character is stronger, because he can do things that most people can’t do. There are things that are different about this matrix from the original matrix. But you want to make him feel right in his skin. Whether he’s in the matrix or not.

HULLFISH: You’ve worked on some very big films—this one included. Talk to me a little bit about the editor as manager. Are you being managed by your assistant or post supe on a film this big, because you just have to have your nose to the grindstone? Or are you trying to edit and manage and handle VFX and all this other stuff?

SALLY: It’s a little bit of both. I have to rely on my assistant for some scheduling things and she would always make me aware of things because I don’t know how many emails or phone calls she gets in a day, but she knows how to filter them. Our post supervisor in Berlin, Tina Mersman, is very close to her because it’s important for me to know what’s going on.

But I am also very good at putting that stuff aside and not letting it cloud my head. And fortunately, during dailies, I’m really good at just putting the blinders on while I’m cutting.

Things are happening so fast that I think everybody’s on the same sort of schedule because production is dictating how we’re moving. Once you move into post, you have deadlines, but it’s not quite the same as when every day they’re shooting. They’ve got to wrap a set and start building another set.

She was very good about keeping me up to date on anything I needed to know—whether it was coming from Warner Brothers or internally. I was also very good if Lana needed something or wanted something, making sure that Toska was aware of it so she could request whatever it was and make it happen. I also stayed very close to Lana’s right hand, Aimee Allegretti, who’s one of our executive producers. She and I talk all the time. So it’s very important. You know what it’s like with these big films.

HULLFISH: I don’t know about the big films. I know about the smaller films.

SALLY: Big and small, they all need to get done on time. There are all these things that have to happen. And with big, big films there’s also marketing happening. Fortunately for us, those things were happening in the background, or we were made aware of them later in the game, so we could focus on cutting. But yeah, there’s a lot of those things happening in the background that just have a life of their own. You have to just hit those dates.

HULLFISH: On smaller films, I feel like the editor takes on more of the management role. And then on the bigger films, it feels like you have so much to do that that has to go to somebody else and it’s more like your job is to keep your head down and get scenes done and nothing else.

SALLY: That is true. Plus, the volume of work has something to do with it too. We had a local post supe in Berlin, and we had a head of post at Warner Brothers. They were probably talking daily. There’s so much going on. The stakes are so high. I don’t want to say people are micromanaging out there, but they probably are. But we were left alone a bit so we could just focus on cutting. And Lana was always in touch with the studio. There was always open communication when they needed to talk to her.

HULLFISH: You mentioned a couple of times the speed of the film, you know, 96 or 120 or 48fps. Talk to me a little bit about making those time choices of when you’re going to be in real-time—basically 24fps—and when and how you get from regular time to slow-mo.

SALLY: I’m sure you’ve done it. You see it a lot of time in action sequences to exaggerate a moment, go from real speed to super slow and then really fast. Unlike those things, the sequence I mentioned earlier, in Tiffany’s workshop, because we go into a bullet-time sort of thing… without giving too much away.

The timing was super important because it was part of the scene, not just used as an effect in an action or a dream sequence that we usually think of when manipulating speeds. This was a version of bullet time used to add beauty to things that are happening in the background. We changed the speeds, or we would morph the speeds of the shot because there were multiple cameras shooting at the same time.

It was like working on a live painting or something because you were trying to also make it beautiful. For Lana, lighting is super important. She will tell you how John Toll taught her about lighting. And she’s known about lighting her whole career, but how her relationship with lighting and real light has changed over the course of her career. But where this warehouse was located would get early morning sunrise and it was only available for a few hours.

And you know what it’s like setting up, and you want natural light filtering through these massive windows. It was also the time of year—I think we were heading towards August—she had someone checking lighting every day and we knew that we had three weeks to get it, because if we lost the sun, that was it. Or if it was rainy. In Berlin there’s a lot of rain.

We were right up against the wire to get that natural light filtering through this set. It’s such a stunning set. When you look at this you’ll be like, “Oh my God. I know what he was talking about.”

HULLFISH: I’ve cut a couple of regular old fight scenes where it’s a cop and a bad guy or something, and the thing to know for people who haven’t edited a scene like that is that the punches don’t actually land. There’s no sound of the punch. Sometimes there’s no sound of the “effort.” But the reality and brutality of the fight is so much about the sound—which doesn’t exist in the footage you get.

SALLY: All those efforts and stuff, a lot of those were added later, but I did use what I had. We used punches from the original movie. We also hyper exaggerate. Early in the film, there’s a fight sequence. The kicks are hyper-real because you want the audience to feel those things.

HULLFISH: When you’re in the matrix there are sounds that people might think, “Oh, that’s the way that sounds.” but it’s animation and there’s no sound to it.

SALLY: Yes. I mean, I’m probably taking a lot of this for granted because I was in that world for so long. But yeah, there are some CG characters where Dane [Davis, Sound Designer] created sounds for us. Sounds that you’ve probably never heard before, but they sound familiar. So when you meet this character it makes sense. It’s not like you look at this character and the sound doesn’t make sense. It’s sentient, so it’s sort of a machine, but it feels humanlike. It moves humanlike.

So Dane did a really good job, of course, with those sounds. But a lot of our sequences are based in real-ish world settings, so familiar, but maybe hyper familiar.

HULLFISH: Hyper familiar. I’m going to start using that term. I like that. Let’s talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of editing. When you are cutting a scene, when you walk in in the morning and you’re faced with a blank timeline and a full bin, first of all, how do you ask the assistants to prep that for you? And then, what do you do with that?

SALLY: Well, I have a folder at the top of the project, it says, “To view” or, “To cut”—something like that. So I know that anything in there is prepped and ready for me. And then of course, when I’m done, I move it out so that they know that they can file it away into the scene bin. Everything is grouped (multicam) when there are multiple cameras.

And then I have everything in 24 frames, and then they’ll also leave everything for me at whatever was shot at. If we shot at 48 or 96, 120 I always have that available too. And then I will read the scene once, maybe twice, and then I start watching dailies and they’ll usually build them for me in shot order.

HULLFISH: So you put your dailies into a KEM roll (stringout)?

SALLY: No, I watch every take. I actually don’t like to have them strung out, because when I’m watching dailies, I’m making marks for my selects. It was a little cumbersome for me, because if I start cutting from selects or only looking at selects, again, I’ll miss something. And then if I match back, like if I pulled a select and then I start playing a select and I think, “Oh, what happened before that?” I have to match back and back up.

Whenever I load a take, I’m the only one who’s allowed to use a green marker, which goes to my selects. So when I load a take I see exactly where my selects are. And, the assistants will mark resets so I always know where a take is reset and starts over, or they’ll make a note that it starts from this point to whatever, and I’ll get used to the timing.

So if I see a bunch of resets, I get used to what happens within that take. But it’s just easier for me to go back to a locator of my selects because I can start playing a little before it and play into it. Then I just start watching everything, I load a take, watch it, mark it, load a take, watch it, mark it. And I go back and forth between real-time, slow, real-time, slow.

HULLFISH: This seems like a crazy question, but in what order do you watch either the takes or the setups?

SALLY: I usually just watch them in shot order. If they shot something—let’s say early on they picked up an insert which actually happens later or some dialogue—I will have talked to my assistant about that and they would reorder it. But generally, it’s easier for me to watch them in shot order, because they’re usually shooting it in script order, more or less. At least I should say, in a scene.

In a lot of the big action sequences, it’s like building a puzzle. You work on the frame and then, the next day you get this piece over here and your work on that, and then you get this piece over here. I just have to start working on it in pieces and then put it all together.

But they would go back and shoot a different part of the scene and then I have to go back and re-cut. It’s hard for me to say, cause I kind of lose myself in the scene. And sometimes either it’s time to go to lunch or I’m done for the day and then I come back the next day and I watch what I did and I was like, “Wow! Cool!” Because I get so involved and I remember this piece from somewhere and I start pulling little pieces that I’ll just save.

And then I start building, and it starts making sense, and I’ll massage it a little, and I’ll keep going. Sometimes it is strange that I lose myself in the process of cutting so that the scene takes on a rhythm of its own and I’m just sort of guiding it.

HULLFISH: Totally understand that. Absolutely. Do you approach a scene differently if it’s a simpler scene, like a dialogue scene as compared to one of these big, complex action scenes?

SALLY: Yeah, I think so. Because, one, I can move a lot faster. Two, there’s probably not as much footage. So it tends to move faster. And a lot of times with dialogue sequences the actors can set a pace. But action sequences rely heavily on editing because you’re shooting an explosion and then you’re shooting a chase, a crash, and you’re creating the timing rather than what was done during production.

HULLFISH: Or a fight feels like an entire dance, but each part of the fight is only a single move. So you can only go so far in one shot.

SALLY: I remember seeing a ballet that was shot, one camera, and it was stunning. Beautifully performed. And you’re just saying, “Wow, this is an amazing piece.” But then you see the same exact thing edited, and it was probably shorter I think, if I remember correctly, but you can move in and see an expression, or a leg comes down and it hits the hand and you see the dust fly and, you’re setting a pace, an emotion, drama. That’s what chase scenes are like for me. You can film a chase scene or a car that’s rounding a corner and a collision. But it’s not until you add all those other pieces that it comes to life.

They look good to you. They feel good. You like, ’em. Good. Let’s put them in the movie.

HULLFISH: Absolutely. So during dailies, you’ve cut scenes by themselves—out of order and with no context. They look good to you. They feel good. You like, ’em. Good. Let’s put them in the movie. And then you put all those scenes together and you discover something is wrong. Either at the transitions or with the pace with those scenes in context. What are some things that change when you see things in context?

SALLY: Actually, a very good example of that is there’s a sequence that we call the Treadmill of Life—it will be obvious to you when you see it—it’s this recurring thing over and over again that we do in our lives. It’s your routine. You go to work, you have lunch, come home, dinner and you start all over. So it was quite long the way it was scripted because there are all these little things that are happening in Thomas’ life and things that are happening in the office where he works. And it was just way too long.

Lana loves montage, and it was always meant to be sort of montage-y, but we built it into sort of two montages. And even then it was too much by itself. It was amazing. You’re totally invested in it. It was great. But in the context of the film, it was too long. If you saw the first trailer, they used Jefferson Starship’s White Rabbit. This montage was scored, and then we transitioned into the White Rabbit montage. And then literally this is the sequence that we worked on for a year and a half. Over and over.

We were on that treadmill ourselves. Over and over, trying to find the sweet spot. Because it’s such a great sequence and there’s so much information and it’s a really smart sequence.

We were on that treadmill ourselves. Over and over, trying to find the sweet spot.

The dialogue, I think fans will really appreciate how much went into this sequence. We kept molding it down till it becomes one montage that’s connected throughout and it becomes more emotional. So in the context of the whole film, it works really well. On its own, it worked really well, long and in two parts, but for the reasons that you mentioned we had to work at it and work at it to make it work in the context of the film

HULLFISH: Are you ready for some questions from some Art of the Cut fans?

SALLY: Let’s go.

HULLFISH: Travis Krolicki asks: Does music soundtrack influence your edit?

SALLY: Yes. When I’m thinking about a scene, I’ll very often just put up a cue and let it play in the background while I’m cutting.

HULLFISH: Not even attached to the timeline?

SALLY: It depends. If it’s something I want to use, I will unlock those tracks so I can cut without cutting up the music track. And I’ll just keep playing with that and then go back and adjust the cut. Because sometimes, as with that treadmill sequence—where we did our version of White Rabbit—cuts were very dependent on how that piece of music hit. So I had to go back and keep readjusting.

HULLFISH: But for those who might not be experienced editors, do you tend to cut with music from the beginning when you’re cutting an action scene? Is that something you normally do, put music in right at the beginning?

SALLY: It usually depends, but I do like to have score playing because it sets a pace—especially if I have an idea for an action scene. It really does help set the pace. I may change it, obviously, but yeah, when I’m cutting, usually I do like to hear the score.

HULLFISH: Before I move on to the next question, once you’ve cut with score, do you ever turn the score off to watch the cut without the score?

SALLY: Yep. Both.

HULLFISH: Simon Gibbs asked: What was the most difficult obstacle that had to be overcome in the edit?

SALLY: I think the Treadmill of Life was a big one because it comes relatively early on and it sets the tone for a lot of things that are happening within the matrix, and we needed to get it right so that things didn’t grind to a halt, and so that it propels you forward. One of the other things I will say is Trinity and Thomas’s, and Neo’s, relationship, Carrie-Anne nailed it when she meets him, this, “have we met before?”

HULLFISH: Even in the trailer, that’s a great scene.

SALLY: Yeah. We’re so glad that made it in. And even Neo’s reaction to her, that sort of silly butterflies in your stomach kind of feeling. But we had to be careful because they don’t really know each other yet. And there is a moment when they actually meet later, in the cafe, we took it out because it was too sweet, too much, too soon. And it was an amazing moment. Those two have such great chemistry that you want to keep it all in, but we had to be careful.

HULLFISH: Totally makes sense. Andre Bob asks, Did you feel nervous about taking on the job, given that this is such a monumental franchise?

SALLY: Sure. Yeah.

HULLFISH: You worked on Star Wars. You’ve done huge films. So this is not your first rodeo.

SALLY: Well, I will say, there’s so much anticipation. I mean, Warner Brothers has wanted to go back to The Matrix for years. And the fans, the chatter that’s out there, it’s a huge undertaking. So there’s that. And then when you think, if there’s an enormous budget, there are hundreds of people working on this production. And, if you think of an hourglass or a funnel, all of that work funnels down and lands in editorial. I try not to think about it. It can be overwhelming.

HULLFISH: Chancler Haynes asks: Any action pre-vis? What about stunt pre-vis?

SALLY: There were definitely scenes where I had pre-vis, and I will say post-vis. As we were cutting, the post-vis team supplied me with animation that I could use.

HULLFISH: Tim Lewis asks: What stylistic choices, if any, did you adopt from Zach Staenberg to give Resurrections the Matrix feel? And what new stylistic choices did you choose to add to it, whether by necessity or personal touch?

SALLY: Viewers will see, in the beginning of the film, it’s very reminiscent of the original: the color palette, the style, the cutting pattern. It’s fairly reminiscent. And then we gradually get away from that. The camera loosens up. It’s all handheld. There’s a fight sequence on a train that you’ll see, it’s very chaotic. The camera’s everywhere. There’s a frenetic energy to it. That was just different because it wasn’t so blocked out and rehearsed.

After the beginning, the color palette changes. We move away from the look and feel of the first. So it becomes its own thing.

HULLFISH: We’ve talked about this in the first part of the interview, but Max Fetter says, “What was it like working with such a VFX-heavy production?”

SALLY: I’ve worked on so many heavy VFX productions that it’s part of the nature of my work and cutting room. So it just felt natural, normal for me.

HULLFISH: Tera Rodocker Smith’s son asks: Is there a post-credit scene?

SALLY: All I can say is…

HULLFISH: Watch all the credits, no matter what!

Enjoy it. Sit back. Relax. Think about the film. Enjoy the score. Take in all the people that contributed and worked so hard to make it happen.

SALLY: Audience goers should always sit through the credits because of the score. It’s so beautiful—what the composers do—especially in films like this, where it’s a long credit sequence. Enjoy it. Sit back. Relax. Think about the film. Enjoy the score. Take in all the people that contributed and worked so hard to make it happen. And then you’ll see for yourself if there’s a post-credit sequence.

HULLFISH: Beautifully said. Joseph McGowan asks: How much of a goal was editing the film as a standalone story for incoming fans versus as a part of a longer story for the fans that already exist?”

SALLY: Super important. We want to make sure that the fans are happy because frankly, the fans are the ones that drove the interest for another Matrix film. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over. But I’ll say, our use of flashbacks from the originals, we didn’t want to overuse them, but they’re super-emotional cues for fans. And it also informs the new viewers who aren’t very familiar. So it triggers something that gives them information about the scene. But we were very careful about not overdoing it.

HULLFISH: Most of the people who follow Art of The Cut are experienced editors or people that know editing pretty well, but we have a couple of questions that are a little bit more elemental and I’m going to ask you about those. “At what point do you start editing?”

SALLY: Always when they start shooting. The fun thing is, in this case, I visited Lana about a year before production ever began and she said she had a surprise for me, and she read the first third of the script that they had at that time, which got me super-excited, because she came up with a very smart, clever way to go back to The Matrix.

I went to San Francisco for the table read. I got to meet all the actors and see a lot of the crew that I know and meet new crew members. Shooting began in San Francisco. I went to Berlin. And while they were shooting, everything was sent to us there. So I just started cutting straight away while they were shooting in San Francisco.

The sad thing is for everybody globally, they happened to wrap shooting right around the time COVID was starting to roll out. Production moved, everybody moved to Berlin about two weeks before we’re going to start shooting, and we had to shut down and we were all sent back and then started up about two months later. But I do edit throughout production, and the idea is to try to stay up to camera. [“Staying up to camera” means to edit in a single day what was shot in the previous day.]

HULLFISH: Someone asks: How do you feel about starting editing during production?

SALLY: I love it. I mean, the thing is, I suppose if you started after you would have the ability to cut in script order. You could follow the script and watch the arc of the character, the story. But it’s really good for production if you do cut with production because there’s so much money involved.

You have to strike sets. If I feel like I’m missing something, I can send a note to the director, or call them and say, “Please, get these inserts before you move to the next location.”

Lana will come to the cutting room and look at stuff and think of things that she wants to go back and get. I mentioned the one practical set that was dependent on the morning light, she would come and look at it every day to see if it was hitting right. And figure out if they would have to start earlier the next day. So it’s very helpful.

HULLFISH: What do you think she was looking for when she hired you? Why you?

SALLY: I have a good working relationship with her. We have very similar sensibilities. And I think the one thing that she loves is that we’ve always had this rule of “Just try.” There’s no “No.”

If she says, “What about trying something like this?” I say, “Yes.” Or I’ll cut a scene, it looks good, and then if I have time, I think, “I’m going to try something else, just something different.” She loves that. She doesn’t want to ever hear “No.” She loves that you want to just try something different. [Producer] James McTeigue was with us a lot.

He’s worked with her forever, so he was also there in the cutting room most of the time, and he thinks the same way, “Just try.” You never know what you’ll discover by just trying stuff.

HULLFISH: Carlos Mendoza asks, “How long was the original editor’s cut?”

SALLY: Let’s just say it was probably around 3 hours and 15 minutes. Something like that. which isn’t outrageous.

HULLFISH: How long is it now before credits?

SALLY: It’s just over two.

HULLFISH: Somebody had a very specific question about one of the scenes in the trailer where somebody’s running up a wall. Can you talk about a scene like that? Is there anything to your editing of a scene like that?

SALLY: It’s part of the script. They’re running down a hallway, but then Dan Glass, our VFX supervisor, works with Lana about style choices. Because you’re in the matrix, they can bend the physical world. And so when they’re running to escape, she does run up along the wall. And if you look really closely, the walls are separating and you can see a hint of code there. I take my lead also by what’s shot.

HULLFISH: Green screen probably, right? If the walls are separating and there’s code behind her.

SALLY: Yes. But that actually was a set. She was running up a hallway. It looked and felt like a real set, but visual effects broke it apart so they could move it. But they did that in the digital world.

HULLFISH: You’ve made a lot of Art of the Cut fans very happy because now they are officially Art of the Cut interviewers!

SALLY: Thank you for having me and thanks to the fans. This wouldn’t be possible without them. I’d also like to add a shout-out for the crew; first assistant Toska Hartmann, assistants Karen Kramatschek and Philipp Schlinder, post PA Clara Zimmer, and VFX editor Tino Brodt. They were AMAZING.

HULLFISH: Thank you for your time.

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.

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