Art of the Cut: “The Batman” Takes an Even Darker Turn
Today we’re speaking with William Hoy, ACE, and Tyler Nelson about editing Matt Reeve’s The Batman.
I’ve spoken with both of these editors in the past. William most recently for his work on The Call of the Wild and War for the Planet of the Apes before that. Tyler has long worked with David Fincher, and I’ve spoken to him about editing Mindhunter.
William’s other credits include Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 300, Watchmen, Fantastic Four and I, Robot. He’s also edited the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Tyler has also edited the film Rememory and TV series including Shadow and Bone, Tales from the Loop, and Love Death + Robots. He’s also been a visual effects editor or Assistant editor on films like, The Revenant, Birdman, Gone Girl and The Social Network.
Check out the Art of the Cut podcast to listen to this interview, and stay up to date on all the latest episodes.
HULLFISH: Everybody knows Batman is an orphan. There’s a moment where he shares a little bond with another orphan. I wanted to talk about those moments. How do you know you’re holding something long enough for it to be meaningful for the audience while not overstaying your welcome?
HOY: That’s a good point. There’s a point when sentimentality overstates itself. The kid was very good, giving that forlorn look. So you don’t need much, because we want to get on our journey with Batman and what’s to come. That moment is also revisited when Alfred watches a recording of it. We will feel that in all those places. We also get that connection one more time near the end of the film. In all those instances, you don’t need much because otherwise you’re just overstaying your welcome.
HULLFISH: It doesn’t say “hold look for three seconds” in the script.
HOY: Well, that would make it a lot easier. [laughs]
HULLFISH: The other thing that’s not really scripted out is something like that opening montage of a character that we’re not sure who it is at first, but eventually we learn it’s Batman heading back to the Batcave for the first time. There are just beautiful glimpses of the city as he’s riding back.
In the script that’s maybe just a single line and then you get delivered a bunch of footage. How do you construct a moment like that where the pacing and the order are not dictated by dialogue?
HOY: We’re trying to establish Gotham and get a sense of the city and we get a sense of where Batman or Bruce Wayne lives. We see the Wayne Tower, and those things play into the feel of the city and where he is within it. So the idea of “How long do you stay?” is that you want to catch a glimpse of a mixture and that you stay long enough that it gives you that impression, but again, you don’t overstay your welcome.
There is one shot where Bruce Wayne—the Drifter, as we call him at that point—we’re following him on his motorcycle and then we tilt up to the skyline and we actually see the Wayne Tower. With some of those shots, the speed of the move is kind of how you dictate how long it is. We get out as soon as we get a sense of the skyline.
That’s not to say that we didn’t manipulate the speed of that shot. We did. If it’s too slow getting up there, we speed it up a little and then we settle back. We used a little TimeWarp on it.
When he comes through the tunnel we want to get a sense of how deep and how far he is in the tunnel. We want to feel that and also the music that’s playing behind it—the Nirvana song—gives us this whole atmosphere of what’s going on. As those shots got shorter, we had to find a way to stay true to our song. Once we get into the Batcave, the music is still playing and we have to make sure the lyrics aren’t stepping on his voiceover.
NELSON: Going back to the beginning of that—before we even see that he’s Bruce Wayne—we want to feel this new Gotham and also highlight parts of the movie that you’re going to see in the future. We see Gotham Square and Gotham Square Garden.
HOY: We are also setting up that he has to cross these bridges. They actually gave us a map of Gotham as a wrap present. The city of Gotham is made out of a couple of islands and that needs to be set up. So when he’s riding his bike home, he’s crossing these bridges and you get a sense that Gotham is surrounded by water.
HULLFISH: There are also images of homelessness, so you’re getting a sense that all is not well in Gotham for everyone.
HOY: Yes, that’s right. I mean, it’s Gotham. It’s always dark and it’s raining and it’s an oppressive place. I think it’s rather like Se7en, you just have to get out of this place. There’s no sunlight ever.
“I think it’s rather like Se7en, you just have to get out of this place. There’s no sunlight ever.”
HULLFISH: Let’s talk about music and what you might have temped with. The score is great. I noticed the nods to the theme of “Ave Maria.” You hear those couple of notes used as a theme.
HOY: We were really fortunate on this. Before we actually started shooting, Michael Giacchino went into Abbey Road and recorded for a day. He had already written the Bruce Wayne themes, the Batman theme. He actually wrote a suite for (director) Matt (Reeves) to listen to. So we had that.
He also recorded particular themes for Selina. So we had all these different elements of the score—these different themes. The music editor broke it all down and gave it to us min stems: the horn section, the percussion section. I could play them as a whole or I could break it out and just use the harp.
We didn’t have to find something that could pass as the Batman theme from temp music. We already had the theme from Michael Giacchino. So that part was really a gift. It’s so rare that you would have something like that.
We also worked with Paul Apelgren, who’s our music editor. When he came on, he began to craft it even more. In some cases he would blend it in with other temp scores, and you wouldn’t recognize it. But thematically our music was in there.
In the opening scene, we had another piece of music in there before, but on watching it, Matt said, “Why don’t we put up Ave Maria here?” So when you mentioned those few notes from Ave Maria, if you hear those, that’s the Riddler theme.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about sound effects. Tyler, maybe you can tell me, did you guys get any toolbox of sounds? Or did you just use the more typical sound effects that every editor and assistant editor starts to develop over the years?
NELSON: It started with a bunch of stuff. I remember a whole conversation about what the Batmobile would sound like.
HULLFISH: It sounded AMAZING!
NELSON: That came from the sound team’s side. At the beginning, it was different types of cars. I think the original concept was something like a Dodge Challenger. Something beefy but has a whistling sound to it when it got really revved up.
Once we temped a handful of things with the Batmobile chase, then we could pass the temp version—with our temp sound design—to the sound editors and they did their exploration of what that would be.
NELSON: Supervising sound editor Doug Murray and sound designer/mixer Will Files were really into what the sound of cars would be. They also recorded something like seven different types of rain. They wanted to figure out what the level of rain would be and how it would be felt in different scenes.
When we find the mayor, you just hear it pattering on the glass. When the Drifter is watching, the rain’s coming down, and it becomes a different character. Gotham is a character. There’s definitely a separation of who each of these characters is in the film and sound is big part of that.
HOY: When you’re working on a movie of this size, you’re fortunate enough to get the sound crew on early. Will Files and Doug Murray were on the Ape movies too, but so they were eager to get their hands on something. So we talked about what Tyler was setting up because I knew there were going to be a lot of scenes where we were in this tower, we’re looking out of Gotham.
Well, what does Gotham sound like? I don’t think you can achieve that by just using just generic sound effects, it has to be manufactured. We work in 5.1 and I mix the sound in my Avid even for the screening so I’m receiving all these sound effects from our sound department, in the form of 5.1 or stereo.
We talked about “What does the Riddler sound like?” There were all these opportunities to create different sounds. They also gave us a lot of drone sounds. I don’t know if you felt it or heard it. It wasn’t music. It was just this foreboding drone.
You could really feel it in City Hall, when Batman’s walking up to Colson. You feel this unease because that drone is just underneath there. In some cases, we might lay the template for it, but the sound department took it many steps further and then gave it a whole lot more depth.
So because we were working in 5.1, you could feel it in the songs or you can feel it around you instead of just everything directed just just in your center speakers, so things become spread out. It really gives you a sense of space and place.
HULLFISH: Were you at home or was this in the studio someplace?
HOY: We both were on location in London and then COVID happened. And so we started shooting in January and we left in mid-March, and we didn’t start up again until August. But when we started up, we started it in our homes. We were working remotely.
At that point, there was no reason to be working in 5.1. Nobody was in our rooms watching the movie. Once we went back to Warner Brothers—I think it was sometime mid-February of 2021—at that point, I think we were about to be finished shooting. Then we started to get our 5.1 tracks again.
Our Avid supplied these surround speakers. Tyler’s and my rooms were mirrors of each other. We wanted to make sure that what I was mixing in my room would translate to the theaters. We calibrated the sound in our rooms to play the same in the studio theaters. It was pretty close. It obviously was bigger and more spread out in the theater, which is what you want.
HULLFISH: Do you think it made a difference in the creative picture editorial that you were monitoring in 5.1?
HOY: Oh, yes. I don’t know if that would be pictorially, but it would give us a sense of place. When Selina goes into the club and she’s got her contacts on and she’s got her headset on, that was 5.1.
That was mixed in so that when we heard a difference between what was in Selina’s head and what Batman was hearing? So when we’re with Batman, we’re actually hearing all of the club and the music and all the things that are going on. I don’t think that the sound actually dictated what the cut would be. It would be the other way around. The sound would then amplify the ideas that we wanted to get across.
NELSON: I would agree with the 5.1. I think that the inclusion of the sub [-woofer] was quite helpful for making the creative choices for prelaps. For instance, there’s one in particular that Matt was really focused on with the thumb drive scene. At the end of that scene we cut to Batman’s face and we can see his wheels turning and we start feeling the rumble of train tracks in a sub, then all the speakers.
Then that has a visceral cut to a train coming in. A smash cut to the train on the B-side of it. Having those speakers available helps.
HULLFISH: There were a couple of transitions—prelap edits—with big sound design. So those prelaps are not just preparing you for the next scene, but it’s getting you in Batman’s headspace. What are the other values of those prelaps?
HOY: I think it propels you into the next scene. And sometimes in an unexpected way. I think one of the things that comes to mind is when the Riddler makes that viral video about Bruce Wayne’s family. Bruce Wayne is watching it and he realizes that his father is not the good guy that he thought he was.
At the end, we’re in a wide shot and we had this kind of throbbing beat coming up, and you’re not sure what that is and then we’re back at the club. You think the prelap is telling you one thing, but if it throws you into an unexpected place. We want to propel you across the cut and get you in the next scene in an unexpected way. Even if it’s expected, in a more powerful way,
HULLFISH: There’s a great car chase with the Batmobile. Can you talk to me about whatever previs was done, and how much latitude you still have after that in the edit?
NELSON: There was definitely an evolution from its inception. It started pre-pandemic when we shot about 25 percent of the movie. The Batmobile second unit shot all that material. They were emulating what was in the previs, but also a handful of storyboards that were added in.
So we had a guide to put all this stuff together, but it wasn’t “gospel.” That was a really good template for constructing all the bits that were necessary. Of course, once you have a version of the scene and it’s as close to the premise and boards as you can get, then you strip it down to its bare essentials—reworking everything.
A lot of it is practical photography, but there is also a lot of stuff that was not practical, so the postvis team helped sell those beats.
HOY: When we got shut down because of COVID, it allowed us to get a bigger and better Batmobile chase. I’m pretty sure that it would not look the way it does now because of what happened during the break.
Matt, our director, had an opportunity to go in there and revisit that scene. He spent a lot of time with the stunt people and the previs people so that the Batmobile chase was shot over a long period of time. It wasn’t like they shot for three weeks and then they gave you all the footage.
Basically, they shot from the time they started again until they were almost done. All the shots of our characters in that scene were all shot different times and sometimes twice. We get little bits of the Maserati and we get a little bit of the Batmobile sometimes, so it evolved.
I would say that the final product has no relationship to the previs except for a couple of key moments. That’s how those things evolve. When you put the scene together, you have to have some kind of guideline. And I guess that’s what the storyboard in the previs are good for, but as an editor, you look at it and—in a way—it doesn’t make any sense at all, so then you have to go in and find all these little bits and pieces.
HULLFISH: Can you tell me how long the editor’s cut was? The assembly?
HOY: I think it was like three hours and 20 minutes…
Nelson: 3 hrs 24 minutes is the time that’s coming to my mind.
HULLFISH: Were you under any pressure to get the length down? Every movie I’ve ever been on, there’s pressure to get the length down.
HOY: Warner Brothers pretty much allowed Matt to make the movie he wanted to make, especially when we put it in front of an audience. That was not one of the things that screening audiences talked about.
For the second preview we had—I had never experienced anything like it when they announced that they were going to see The Batman—the crowd got up and high-fived and cheered for five minutes. I had never seen anything like it—and that’s before they saw a frame of the movie.
The studio really allowed Matt to make the movie that he set out to make. Certainly, they had hinted, “Could you just see what you can do here?” But they never said, “Listen, lose 20 minutes and you’re good.” With a lot of other pictures we’ve done, we get that all the time. “Look, it’s great, but lose ten minutes.” But it’s always “Where?”
NELSON: Bill and I talked about this just the other night. It is a long movie, but it works at that length because it’s such an intricate story and everything kind of interweaves together. You can’t just take a scene or even a part of a scene out because you just lose the thread. We tried to strip out as much as we could, and sometimes it was only like two or three seconds per reel with every pass.
HOY: Steve, you work as an editor, so you know—you pick a specific frame when you’re cutting something then you get to the end and you go through the movie to see what you can lose.
We lost seven plus minutes and that’s a big difference. We lost a few scenes, but not a lot and they were great scenes. Matt wrote the script and it just goes A, B, C, D, so if we were to lose something, we would have to somehow explain it.
HULLFISH: The other thing that I think would happen is that some of these nice, slow moments of character development might get cut, and then you’ve lost that emotional connection to the character. And sometimes that can even make the movie seem longer, because now you’re not involved.
HOY: I think so. We had such wonderful actors in all the roles that it would be heartbreaking to compromise their performance, really. The movie offers this opportunity to explore these characters, which was still there because we are setting up another Batman and these characters inhabit his world. So we take our time. Hopefully, the characters are rich enough that you’re just taken in by the performances.
HULLFISH: How did you guys share the workload when you were in dailies?
HOY: As the dailies came in we just kind of checkerboarded. Then when we worked with Matt after the main shoot, we worked two different shifts. I’d get in and by dinner time I kind of wrapped up what I was doing and I’d fill in the visual effects editor about what I needed—if they need to temp something for me or just get the visual effects department some heads up on what’s coming down the line. Then after Matt had a little dinner Tyler would take over and pick up where I left off.
HULLFISH: So the director was working double shifts?
HOY: He’s the hardest working guy.
NELSON: We would work until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore and had to go home. When it came to dividing scenes, in some cases we had a version of a scene that we’d each cut. Sometimes Matt would be inspired by one or the other of our edits or would completely want to start from scratch.
HULLFISH: Tyler, you and I have talked on previous projects and they’ve all been Premiere Pro. I’m assuming this was cut in Avid. How did that go for you? What were some things that you missed about Premiere Pro and what were some of the things that you liked about being in Avid?
NELSON: This is not the first time I’ve ever used Avid. I’ve cut in it multiple times throughout my career. It just so happens that I’ve been working with David Fincher, and his team is on Premiere Pro, and FCP7 before that. I’m software agnostic. There are benefits of each application. Avid is great and stable, but I’m not a fan of their visual effects.
HULLFISH: Anybody would have to agree with that statement.
William, you’ve done a bunch of very big, VFX-heavy films prior to this one, like The Planet of the Apes movies. How does that prepare you for this? What does your experience on one VFX-heavy film get you on another visual effect film?
HOY: It’s great to have a big VFX department behind you, so if you’re lacking something—lacking moments, or you want to make something more impactful—you can get a shot as dramatic as you need.
One of the more difficult things VFX-wise had to do with all the monitors and what was in the monitors in this particular movie. When we get into the first Batcave none of those images in the monitors were there. They weren’t laid out for us. When I put that scene together, how is this going to work? They just shot something very simple.
I had very little input from Matt because he was busy shooting. They had playback on the monitors, but it was just to give light on our actors’ faces. It all had to be replaced. Everything that you see on the monitor had to be replaced. Not only replaced, but had to be put in there with the timing of how it played against other characters Alfred and Bruce within the scene itself.
Also, the telephone that Colson is holding in a pivotal scene all had to be replaced. And when Selina is walking through the club with the contact lenses, that had to be put in there. VFX are tools that I have that help us tell the story. So I think it is about knowing how to let visual effects help you.
HULLFISH: Tyler, what about you on a movie like this which has heavy VFX in it? Did you learn anything from this process? And what was it that you learned?
NELSON: It’s a big learning curve for sure. I’ve always had a real interest in VFX. So it wasn’t like a fish-out-of-water scenario. I knew what you could achieve with certain visual effects and enhancements and full CG. The conduit of how to convey that information to certain people and the communication of who to talk to and when and what to ask for: those are the things that were the biggest things to learn.
“The conduit of how to convey that information to certain people and the communication of who to talk to and when and what to ask for: those are the things that were the biggest things to learn.”
I was surprised by the amount of time that you would spend in VFX reviews. We were on Zoom calls for quite a long time talking about the same visual effects shot over and over and over. It’s all important information, too. So those are very important conversations to have.
All that stuff is really important to talk about. It was an amazing process. I just was not completely ready for what I was about to embark on.
HULLFISH: Editing is not about being in front of the timeline in the NLE all the time.
St. Georges Hall in Liverpool was one of the locations for The Batman.
HULLFISH: What kind of a post team did you guys have? We mentioned a VFX editor and we’ve mentioned a music editor. What was the size of the team and who was involved?
HOY: There was myself and Tyler and my assistant, Matt Simpson; Tyler’s assistant, Ben Insler; second assistant editor Lian McFalls, and then we also had post production assistant Rachel LaFond, two or three VFX Editors, and a lead VFX Editor, Marty Kloner. We had second VFX editor Derek Drouin, then we brought in Mike Wilson as the third, because there was just so much material to go through.
Those monitors—there are so many layers to them and they all have to be laid out for the visual effects house—so they’re just really complicated in that sense. The other part is that we were using The Volume. We were using LED screens for some scenes so we didn’t need green- or bluescreen there, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t visual effects because they needed life in those panels, too.
So that was added a bit later. In some cases, we didn’t have Batman’s cape because the wind wouldn’t pick it up right. So sometimes that was CGI.
HULLFISH: So was The Volume used for the location with the Bat Signal?
HOY: Correct. It was also used for the Penguin, when he’s driving so that he was more reactive to what he was seeing.
NELSON: The final scene.
HOY: Exactly. The final scene at the cemetery.
NELSON: The evacuees from the top of Gotham Square Garden.
HOY: (laughs) I’m only laughing because I’m thinking about the element that comprised the people on the rooftop. We get the dailies and there are, like, twelve people laying outside one of the stages outside of London. And I thought, “This is a $200M movie? People laying on some 12’x12’ rubber mat?”
“This is a $200M movie? People laying on some 12’x12’ rubber mat?”
HULLFISH: That really makes me think that a lot of the job has got to be just having a good imagination. How long is this shot going to last if you don’t actually see what’s in the shot—the movement? Like with the Batmobile flying out of the flames.
HOY: You’re talking about that Batmobile coming through the fire. That’s real. That was a real shot. That and in the rear view mirror. But as far as the experience of working on visual effects pictures, you kind of get a sense of the timing of how long something takes. You see how fast the camera in the plate is going, but you just have to imagine it.
Sometimes we cheat a little bit by taking some shot from another movie. Then we tell the visual effects department, “This is the speed we want, but we want the camera to be a little lower, or a little higher, but we want to follow it across the screen like that.” So that gives them a template of how to get those shots closer when we first see it.
HULLFISH: I worked on a low budget car racing movie and we didn’t have money for previs so I went on YouTube and got a bunch of car racing and car crash footage. I cut it together at the pace I wanted with the approximate shots in the sequence I wanted to tell the story, then the VFX folks delivered very similar shots with some handles using cars and a track to match our “hero” cars.
HOY: Exactly, because then you get to the final shot a lot quicker because everybody has a different concept. If you say, “I want a shot of the bumper coming up and crashing.” What does that mean? How close are you? This close? This close? Are we here or there or there?
“Matt Reeves has a specific way he wants to work and it’s worked that way for multiple movies.”
HULLFISH: How much management are you having to do? On a movie like this there are all these meetings with the VFX people, as Tyler pointed out and you have a team to manage.
NELSON: Luckily we have a great team that’s able to take direction and do a lot of the stuff on their own. Our post-production supervisor, Tina Anderson, is absolutely amazing and she put together this amazing pipeline through the finishing process. But, basically just delegation of tasks.
Matt Reeves has a specific way he wants to work and it’s worked that way for multiple movies, so Matt Simpson—Bill’s first AE—helped delegate all these very specific things Matt Reeves expects when he’s working one-on-one with Bill or myself. But as Bill articulated earlier, once he’s done with Matt for the day, he conveys various things to the VFX editors.
From my perspective, it’s a lot of moving parts. But most people really know the tasks that they’re trying to accomplish on a daily basis.
HOY: When you talk about time management we would talk to the sound team over Clearview. Matt would say, “Let’s just get them on for ten minutes.” But it would end up being an hour and a half, so we have to be specific about what we want, and the conversation sometimes evolves to different things.
The music discussions tended to be very quick because we’ve worked with him for so long, but the visual effects meetings would go on forever. “Oh my God! I’ve got to get back to cutting!” But a visual effects-heavy movie is always going to be like that because you have to give input, otherwise, you’re not going to get what you want.
That’s the way it is with all of the departments, then at the end we’ve got ADR with the actors. We have group ADR. Oh my god, it’s just endless.
HULLFISH: Speaking of ADR and voice over, there is some voiceover by Bruce/Batman. Is there anything to talk about there with trying to pace that or finding performance or any of that kind of stuff?
HOY: Robert Pattinson actually recorded that voice over on the last day he was on set. They hustled him into this thing that was best described as a little box. He gave three takes and they were really good. It managed to stay through most of post-production into the previews. But because it was recorded in that little box, we had to re-record it for technical reasons. So he came in in ADR to re-record those lines at the beginning and the ones that bookend it at the end.
It took him a while to get back and find that character because it’s a very specific thing. The voiceover plays against the images and how he feels downtrodden in Gotham, but he found that voice. and we cut the new lines in again.
Certainly in the script it gave a blueprint of where it might be, but ultimately when they finished shooting, you have the picture and so the pacing of it and the spacing of it is where it’s most impactful against the image. So that’s kind of how it layed out.
I think the end scene for me had even more impact because it had more emotion too, because you’ve gone through this journey with them. With the beginning one you’re just discovering what’s going on and you’re trying to catch up with them. But at the end, it’s much more emotional. He’s describing how he feels with this music playing that you’ve been hearing through the movie. It’s reaching its emotional conclusion here. So finding the spacing of that and the way it played out worked out pretty well.
HULLFISH: I want to ask about the structure of the movie. It sounds like the way it was written by Matt, there’s not a lot of chance to restructure or juggle scenes around. Is that true?
HOY: Yes. I don’t think we juggled any of the scenes around because the way it was written it just flowed from scene to scene. We ended up omitting a few scenes. And we abbreviated a couple of scenes and it worked for the better. But the movie plays basically as written.
NELSON: The only other change I can think of—that was fairly small, structurally—was the intercutting between Batman and Selina as they’re going into Penguin’s lair and the Riddler talking about his plan.
HOY: Chronologically, the way it appears in the picture is the same as what was in the script, but the moments to intercut from one storyline or character to another changed to be more impactful emotionally.
HULLFISH: With the few deleted scenes, do you remember what those discussions were like? “Yes, we can get rid of it, and here’s why.” Or “What else do we have to do to get rid of some scene?”
HOY: Batman gets a second card from the Riddler when he’s in the morgue. So the next scene was that he goes and visits somebody in prison and asks them, “What is this? What does it mean?” It just seemed wrong for Batman to not take the initiative and go do something on his own instead of going to ask somebody, which is passive.
There was another scene with the Penguin. I think you get a sense that he has a crush on Selina, but there was a scene that showed he outright has a crush on her. But the point of that section of the story was just for Selina to go down to the club to find out what’s going on down there. So it’s smaller things like that that kind of stop the narrative.
HULLFISH: Tyler, any scenes that you loved cutting that you want to talk about?
NELSON: There are so many cool parts about this movie. There are so many fun things to work on. One of the ones I absolutely loved working on was the scene with Alfred and Bruce at the hospital. That was a nice emotional scene to work on and if it was a delicate balance to get those performances dialed in.
Overall, it was just an absolute joy to work on this movie, and I’m happy that people can go and enjoy it. It’s been a long time coming.
HULLFISH: What were the approximate dates of your editing schedule?
HOY: I landed in London January 19th, 2020, and I finished January 7th, 2022.
NELSON: I was committed to another show so I couldn’t start right away, but I flew out on Oscar Sunday [February 9th], 2020. I finished up in December.
HULLFISH: Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed talking about this movie and I loved the movie. Great film.
HOY: Thanks Steve.
HULLFISH: You’re welcome. Good talking to both of you.