The Rough Cut: M:I 7 Editor Eddie Hamilton Sets the Pace for Dead Reckoning Part One
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One editor Eddie Hamilton, ACE, has been immersed in the TCEU (Tom Cruise Extended Universe) since 2015, when Eddie took the editorial helm of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. And with the exception of a quick return to his roots with director Matthew Vaughn for Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), Eddie has spent all his subsequent time working on Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and the upcoming Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two (2024).
Within and beyond these three franchises, Eddie has clearly set himself apart as one of the top action movie editors working today.In this latest installment of the now seven-film-long action franchise, Ethan Hunt and the IMF team must track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens all of humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. Confronted by a mysterious, all-powerful enemy, Ethan is forced to consider that nothing can matter more than the mission—not even the lives of those he cares about most.
Read on to learn more about:
- Cutting two films at one time
- Action first, dialogue last
- “Have 160TB hard drive, will travel”
- The verbal choreography of an exposition scene
- Edgar Wright’s keen ear for storytelling
Check out The Rough Cut podcast to listen to this interview.
Editing Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One
Matt Feury: It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about Top Gun, and at the time you were working on Dead Reckoning – Part One. When did you actually start working on Dead Reckoning? Between Top Gun: Maverick and Dead Reckoning – Parts One and Two, have you had any breaks?
Eddie Hamilton: That’s a very good question. We finished the sound mix on Top Gun at the end of July 2020. I had August 2020 off, and then we started Dead Reckoning – Part One. Although to be fair, we had done about forty percent of Part Two as well. So it’s been nearly three years since we started. We started in September 2020, and I was there in Norway on the day that Tom did the very first jump off the mountain, which was day one of principal photography.
Actually, the behind-the-scenes trailer that was released on Christmas last year, exclusively in IMAX, was an adaptation of a piece that I put together for Paramount Pictures to watch. After that first week of filming in Norway, I built a little sizzle reel, a fast montage of other bits and pieces that we’d filmed in Norway. All that stuff showing off Tom training on the bike and skydiving was something which I had built.
I put that together in the very first week of production and it ended up being seen by the rest of the world two years later, in Christmas of 2022. We adapted it, obviously, and tightened it up a bit, but that was one of the very first things I did on the film.
Then we worked through 2021 and all the way through 2022. I had a week off at Christmas. We had little breaks to edit. I remember in December 2021, I went to New York for a week to work with Chris McQuarrie and we did the airport scene. Then in January I spent two weeks in Florida with McQuarrie and we edited the train scene, almost that whole third act.
We took a break in the summer and went to Islesboro in Maine, where Chris has a lot of friends. I worked there with him for about four weeks. We rented a house and set up a cutting room there. It was literally just my MacBook laptop plugged into a TV and a gigantic 160-terabyte hard drive, which is what I carry around with me everywhere.
After we finished that edit, we went to South Africa and filmed one of the big action set pieces for Part Two, which was on these biplanes. You would have seen a little clip of Tom Cruise that was released on social media. It was in March 2022 when he announced that Top Gun: Maverick would be playing at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, and he introduced it from the top of a biplane. We were filming in South Africa at that point, and then we carried on working.
This year, we were all fortunate enough to be nominated for quite a few awards. I was able to go to the Oscars lunch, which was astonishingly exciting. I couldn’t breathe for looking around me and seeing who was there. If you look at the Academy photographs, I was speechless because Steven Spielberg walked over and stood right in front of me for the photograph. I was able to say, “Steven, hi. I’m the editor on Top Gun.” He was so nice.
He said, “I’ve seen it six times. I took all my grandchildren to see it. I absolutely loved the film.” That was amazing. I also got to say, “Look, I’m going to be the 100,000th person you’ve spoken to who said thank you for the decades of amazing movies that you made. And the amount of pleasure that you’ve given me in the cinema over the last few decades has been unsurpassed by any other filmmaker.” He was so nice and kind.
Then, we got to go to the Academy Awards, which was out of this world. That month of March we went to film on an aircraft carrier in the Adriatic Sea on the USS George H. W. Bush, and I went to Svalbard in the Arctic. We were editing the whole time. I set up my MacBook Media Composer in the captain’s cabin of the aircraft carrier and plugged into one of the TVs to continue editing with Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie. Two weeks later, we were in the Arctic in this tiny little house that we rented, and I plugged in my laptop to a TV and we carried on editing. So this 160-terabyte hard drive is being dragged all over the world with me to do all this stuff.
In April, we stopped work on Dead Reckoning – Part Two and focused exclusively on finishing Part One. We finished about two weeks ago, in the middle of June. That was the two-and-a-half-year journey of working on this movie.
MF: That is quite a journey. I was reading some interviews with Chris McQuarrie recently and he admitted that he doesn’t have an ending for Dead Reckoning – Part Two yet. He also said that the production was complicated because you had to go back and forth between the two films. How does that affect you as an editor and your ability to comfortably make the right editorial decisions for Part One when Part Two is still evolving?
Eddie Hamilton: It is a challenge. The way that I work is I will sketch out the sequences as the dailies arrive in the cutting room, with the help of my team breaking down all the footage for me. I’m very thorough with the way that I work. I meticulously break down the footage into short beats of action until I have all the dailies from every angle, so that I can review them very quickly. I’ll put a green marker on ones that I think are great or good, and I’ll put two green markers, one above the other, on any clip that I think is a dead cert to be in the movie. Then I can start building from the clips that have two green markers on them.
If McQuarrie ever says to me, “Can we go back and review anything for this tiny piece of action?” I have all the stuff lined up. For dialogue sequences, we do big line strings, which I know is quite common. That’s where we break down every line of dialogue by every setup, so each setup is on a different video track. That way, at a glance, you can see how many options you have for each line of dialogue. If certain lines are covered with certain slates, you can see where there was coverage on an actor and where there wasn’t and all that interesting stuff.
McQuarrie always overwrites scenes so he can modulate the amount of exposition or the amount of emotion in each sequence. It’s the way that he works, because these movies are built around teasing out exactly the right amount of information to the audience when they need it. Some stuff that we think we don’t really need we will lift out of a scene. Some of it goes back in because we realize that we’ve overcooked it or over-trimmed it. Or, something that we thought was insignificant might actually turn out to be quite significant, in the audience’s mind.
“These movies are built around teasing out exactly the right amount of information to the audience when they need it.”
In this film, it was about communicating to the audience what the antagonist of the movie, this Entity, this AI, is up to. The extraordinary thing is that some of the concepts we embrace in the film would have been quite hard for an audience to get on board with in January; an AI impersonating the voice of somebody, for example, which is what happens in this film. Of course, now we all just accept it as the inevitable future, which we’re weeks away from at all times.
Chris and Tom came up with this concept of the erosion of truth. “Truth is vanishing” is what one of the characters says, which we’re all familiar with from the advent of social media. But the fact that AI has now become so powerful means that this is incredibly timely.
But in terms of editing, I don’t worry too much about fine-tuning anything in the first stages. My job, really, is to put a scene up on its feet, knowing full well that it may change a lot. Then McQuarrie will work on it with me for a few hours and we’ll refine it. Sometimes, we’ll work on a scene for a day or two days. It’s micro-surgery, really dialing in the emotions and the beats of performance.
The actors are all well-aware of this process, of the characters and the story evolving as we roll cameras. Hayley Atwell didn’t have a dialogue scene for the first 100 days of principal photography. She didn’t even know the name of her character. The irony is that, when we did get to film the scene in the library where she first has a conversation with Ethan Hunt, we were at a location in central London. They managed to get the wide shots and Tom’s coverage, but they didn’t get to Hayley’s shots. Eight months later, they rebuilt her side of the set and filmed her coverage.
In a situation like that, all I can do as the editor is cut the scene with Tom’s side of the coverage, put in slugs, and imagine where I might cut to Hayley. But I am very thorough about going through Tom’s coverage and picking what I think is the best stuff. I will stack up options. That’s one of the tricks that I do. If I’m not sure which delivery I feel is the best, I’ll stack up four or five options so that I can easily switch to another one.
But the thing is, I work on the scenes with Chris, and we think we’ve solved the puzzle of the scene. Then, a year later, when we’re looking back at what we’ve edited in the context of the film, it will need to be something quite different. So we’ll take another crack at it and recut it again. I’m never that attached to what I sketch out to begin with. My job is really to help Chris see something of the scene and see if it kind of sparks an idea about which way to take the scene. Then we refine it together and keep refining it. Eventually, Tom is invited in. Once we’ve done a few thorough passes, Tom, as the producer, will come in and sit with us and go through the scenes. He reacts to them with terrific objectivity.
“One of the things we do as editors is embrace and trust the process.”
One of the things we do as editors is embrace and trust the process. I know in the process of editing a film that it’s going to start out very average, if not downright poor, when you start to sketch stuff on a timeline. But I never worry about that so much. I always know that it will improve with work. Ultimately, through the process of editing any movie, you start to discover what’s working and what needs to be improved. We just chip away at it. We were working on this movie for two and a half years. We really drilled down on every tiny emotional beat carefully over a very long period of time.
When we get feedback from the audience that something isn’t working, we diagnose the problem and figure out a way to solve it, sometimes with pickups, sometimes with restructuring. It’s the process of editing. Everyone listening to this podcast will be familiar with this. But the way that Tom and Chris work is that we know everything is evolving. We know that we’re allowing the film to speak to us and we’re allowing the characters to speak to us. We constantly confront the film so that we never settle for anything that’s just okay or good. It has to be very good or exceptional. We really strive all the way through to the end of the final mix, with every single note of music and every sound effect, everything. We’re striving for excellence all the way through.
That’s a long way of saying that I don’t worry about it too much. There is a very solid story for Dead Reckoning – Part Two which is amazing, so I’m not worried about it not delivering or not being emotionally satisfying. I know that what we’ve set up in Part One will all pay off in Part Two quite deliciously. I’m also sure that what we think Part Two is now will be different when the movie comes out. It’s just the process. I don’t worry about it too much.
MF: In terms of organizing everything, is this in effect one big film for you? Or is it really two films with a firewall between them, in terms of organization and also crew?
Eddie Hamilton: Well, we have one crew who all signed on for the long haul, which is wonderful because they’re terrific. My assistant and my team are great. However, I spoke to some of the team who worked on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One and Two, and I asked them if they had any tips about working on a “Part One” and a “Part Two.” It’s too far back in time for me to call Arthur Schmidt and ask him about how they did Back to the Future Part II and III in 1989. Those, astonishingly, were only six months apart, and it was all done on 35mm, and it was mixing on reel-to-reel. It’s mind- boggling to me that they managed to do those two movies six months apart, given the complexity of all the photochemical visual effects and the split-screens and actors playing multiple characters. All that stuff is mind-blowingly complicated, which they did brilliantly.
But I was able to talk to the Harry Potter team and I got a little glimpse of what it might have been like for the Avengers team doing Infinity War and Endgame. Initially, there was discussion of having scenes one-to-500 be Part One and scenes 501-to-999 be Part Two, and have one big Media Composer project. But in the end we decided to have two projects and have two sets of scene numbers independently of each other. The 160-terabyte hard drive I have is almost full of dailies from everything we’ve shot so far.
There are so many databases and so much media. It’s well over 1000 hours. I think it’s maybe 1300 hours of footage so far. It’s a staggeringly high number. I can give you the exact number if I look at my phone. Therefore, the Avid project does take a minute to open now, because it’s having to scan so much stuff. What I’m going to do is archive a lot of the Part One dailies so I am only focusing on the Part Two dailies, just to speed up my media management. That’s how we broke it down, effectively.
Occasionally, if I’m working on a little sequence for Part Two, I’ll have a little workshop folder in the Part One project, so I’ll just be working in that folder so I don’t have to switch projects. But generally speaking, we’ve stuck with those two projects and we switch over.
MF: Hearing you talk about Back to the Future being shot in 35mm reminded me of this data point from your new film: it’s the first Mission: Impossible film shot digitally. How does that affect you as the editor, going from everything on film, and now doing this digital? Does that change anything for you?
Eddie Hamilton: Well, there is a little less discipline on set for stopping the camera because people can’t hear film whirring through the camera. The real reason that we ended up doing it is because of COVID regulations and social distancing and trying to keep the minimum number of people on set. We were one of the very first productions to go back. The moment that lockdown was up, we were in hard pre-production and then rolling cameras shortly after. Also, there are some sequences that would have been very challenging to do with film cameras.
The sequence in Rome where Tom and Hayley are driving in the little Fiat, they would have two or three little Z-cameras with spherical lenses mounted to them. It would have been difficult to have that many film cameras on that tiny, tiny car. It would have offset the center of gravity quite a bit and made it hard to drive.
But really, it was a COVID necessity. I certainly miss film, and I know that Chris McQuarrie is anxious to get back to film with whatever he does next. This was just a side effect of where we were and the practicalities of our filming.
Also, we were in South Africa for four or five months and there were no film labs nearby. It’s very challenging, and we need to be able to look at the footage and download it. I need to start cutting it together quickly. There’s nowhere to process film in the Arctic either, and there’s nowhere if we want to work in some of these very remote locations. There’s some practicality to working digitally as well, just being able to keep the mags safe, and eventually get them back to the lab to download. They’re all archived on set, and sometimes we’ll even put them on LTOs, wherever we are. But we did apply live grain in the DI, so it should feel like it’s alive and shot on film.
MF: While we’re talking about cameras, your last film famously had a ridiculous amount of cameras and footage. I think it was over 20 cameras and something like a billion hours of footage. How does Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One compare to Top Gun: Maverick? Did you ever just call Chris and go, “What, is this all there is?”
Eddie Hamilton: I never had that problem, I will be honest with you. What’s great about Mission is that there’s only one unit rolling cameras at any time. Chris McQuarrie directs every single shot, as does Chris Nolan, for example, on his films. There’s no second unit because Chris really likes to find the compositions and the lenses and direct all the actors. He also likes to have the actors in his inserts.
You’ll notice that in Rome we only have clean shots of a foot going on an accelerator. We’re always looking up through the pedals towards Tom and Hayley. You’ve also got your A-list actors in the inserts, which show the actor holding the item. We’re always over the item looking up towards the actor rather than in a clean POV. There are some clean POVs, but not that many.
That means that there is a manageable amount of footage coming in each day. It’s still a lot, but it’s not like six-to-eight hours, which it is on some movies. I think the most we had was four hours, and that was a heavy day. On average it would be two hours, or even ninety minutes. Sometimes, if it was a very light day and they were doing really difficult stunts which take a long time to reset, we may only get forty minutes of footage. That means it’s quite manageable in bite-sized chunks day-to-day. It does mean that we end up rolling cameras for significantly longer time than a lot of productions.
You’ve seen the film, Matt, so you know that nearly every sequence is incredibly complicated. They are all very challenging little mini-jigsaws to put together with all kinds of coverage and cross-cutting and keeping characters alive in dialogue scenes, or switching between different locations in the airport, or whatever it is. Every sequence is just this intricate, challenging puzzle. Nothing fell together easily, apart from maybe the very first scene where Ethan gets the mission. That was a fairly straightforward scene to build. But everything else was extremely time-consuming and required a lot of very specific coverage to tell those stories.
Because Tom and McQuarrie set the quality control threshold at the highest possible level, no detail is too insignificant. Every shot of the movie, even something that’s only going to be on screen for a few seconds, or even less than a second, will still be a whole set up. Everything is done to get all those shots. So we did have a lot.
I’m looking at my phone now, because I asked the lab to tell me. On Dead Reckoning – Part One, we had 781 hours of footage. So it wasn’t quite Top Gun‘s 814 hours, but it’s still a lot. That did include around thirty-five hours of camera tests, which isn’t actual daily footage. But my editing muscles had been well and truly flexed on Top Gun. That amount of footage was not daunting, especially if you stay on top of it on a day-to-day basis, which I do. It’s such a privilege and a joy to watch all this amazing footage come in.
“When you’ve climbed the mountain, it’s enormously rewarding to have finished.”
Editors are the first person on the planet to see the film come to life in any sort of form. When you build shots on a timeline for the first time you’re seeing something which, in several years time, will hopefully be enjoyed by thousands of people in theaters around the world. I embrace the challenge of working with all that footage. Ultimately, when you’ve climbed the mountain, it’s enormously rewarding to have finished.
MF: Going from Top Gun: Maverick to Dead Reckoning, as tight as that is, were there any new twists and turns to your process or your workflow, or tools that you’re using?
Eddie Hamilton: There is one thing that I took from Maverick which I have embraced wholly on this film. In Top Gun: Maverick I would color the sub-clips depending on the character, for the aerial scenes. But for the dialogue scenes on the ground I stuck to my usual method of making all the odd scene numbers green and the even blue.
On Dead Reckoning Part One, because there are some scenes with so many characters, I asked my team to color the sub-clips according to character. What’s great is, on a multicam clip, the two sub-clip would be colored differently, so if I switched camera from one character to another I would see that the sub-clip would change color on the timeline. I’ve actually embraced that fully on this film. You can see at a glance who is talking in a dialogue scene because you can see the color of the clip. Ethan has a consistent color all the way through and Grace has a consistent color too. My team has a little chart with all the different colors listed out so they know what color belongs to who.
The other thing that I tried to do, and failed, was to use LCR [left, center, right audio] tracks from our sound design team. With five one-tracks you fill up the timeline on Media Composer very quickly, and it stops being able to play them all. So I thought I could use LCR and have twice as many tracks. The way I would do the LCR is I would import it as a stereo and a mono and then line them up on the tracks next to each other. I would color the clips the same, and then gang them on the audio mixer so that I would have more options. Then I could have left, center, and right, and the sound team can pan it. It was really challenging for my team to do that. I embraced it for maybe a year of the two-and-a-half years we worked on the film, but the moment that we got to any kind of temp mix, I jettisoned that and went back to using five one-tracks.
I did the Dan Lebental method, because I heard him talking about what he does effectively, which is five one-stems. So we get dialogue, some foley effects, additional effects, backgrounds, and music. Music I don’t really get until the first temp mix, but up until that point I’m getting all those tracks from the sound team. I keep those tracks live in the timeline, mute all my temp Avid effects, and then cut-slice through the stems where I need to make changes and then heal them up, so I’m always working with whatever the current configuration is from the sound team.
“The great thing about that is that I can evolve the mix on the timeline.”
The great thing about that is that I can evolve the mix on the timeline. I can add keyframes and adjust certain sound effects to make them louder and adjust the levels of the backgrounds and the foley. I can work on the dialogue, too. If I swap out a take, I just nudge the dialogue to silent on their track and bring up a live monotrack above in my dialogue tracks.
The great thing about this is, from our first temp mix, we had the same sound mixes. Chris Burdon did the dialogues and the music, Mark Taylor did the sound effects, and James Mather was the sound supervisor– the same Academy Award-winning team from Top Gun: Maverick. They did our first pass on the temp mix and then all those tracks came in. As I was recutting towards the second temp mix, I kept all those mix tracks alive.
When I made a change, I would add a marker on the timeline with a note of what I’d done. Whenever we did a turnover, those markers would be exported for the sound team so they would be aware of changes that I had made. When they were conforming and updating their tracks, they would be able to take the changes that I had made on the Avid Media Composer timeline and incorporate them into the ProTools timeline. Then it would continue for Temp Mix Two. I would get all the 5.1 stems from that and then recut, recut, recut. Then on to Temp Mix Three. Eventually, we’d get the final stems.
That’s how we worked on the sound, I effectively had live five-ones. Everything else on the timeline was muted, and where I needed to step back, I could unmute. If we decided that we preferred something from Temp Mix Two, I could open those and patch them in and make a note, and we could reactivate something that we preferred from an earlier mix.
In a perfect world, I would love an option for Media Composer to have LCR, to have 3.0, 4.0, because composers always work in 4.0. In their studios, they never have a center channel, they never have LFE [Low-Frequency Effect]. They just have left, right, and left surround, right surround. For them to give us an accurate guide from this music studio, I would love to have 4.0 tracks and then 5.0, because dialogue never has LFE, foley never has LFE. Then I would save the two tracks just being full of zeros. Ideally, I would have mono stereo LCR 4.0, 5.0, 5.1…
Then you could chop and change on the timeline, which I’m sure will come eventually, but it can’t come soon enough. It would allow me to not burn through all the five one-tracks and fill up the timeline, and run out of Media Composer’s ability to play back in real time. A lot of it is just playing back zeros with silence. You understand what I’m saying. But that’ll come eventually, I’m sure.
MF: When we were talking about Mission: Impossible Fallout, you did a great job of really setting up the anatomy, the architecture of an action movie. You talked about how you’ve got this short scene of exposition where you have to set up the goal and the consequences that happen if the protagonist doesn’t meet that goal. Once you’ve laid that all out for the audience, you can have a really fun set piece without having to worry.
Considering the way you’re approaching Parts One and Two, and McQuarrie saying, “Well, I haven’t quite finished the story for Part Two yet” would it be better to work on those exposition scenes towards the end, because so much of that stuff is left up in the air until later on in the process?
Eddie Hamilton: That is exactly what we do, Matt. A lot of the action is filmed first. Everything on location is filmed first. The reason that happens is it gives the art department time to build the sets back in the sound stages.
For the months that they’re away filming on location, art can be building some of the more complicated sets. As I said, Hayley Atwell didn’t have a dialogue scene until one year into production, and that was the first time she even got a hint of her character. The fact that her character was an orphan, that she had this entire backstory that is quite similar to Ethan Hunt’s story, is one of the great things about this movie.
You’re learning about people being recruited into the IMF through Grace’s character, which I think is quite delicious in a way. You’ve never really seen that in any other movie. It gives a great extra dimension to the mythos of the IMF, understanding that people are offered a choice and they choose to accept it… all that cool terminology which has been sitting there ready to use, but has never been embraced fully in any movie up to this point.
But we do shoot all the dialogue scenes right at the end. Sometimes they don’t work. But what Chris does is he makes sure that all the exposition is filmed in small, confined spaces, in cars or in the back of a plane, or in a safe house set, for example, in Venice. There’s quite a few scenes in the Venice safe house because we can go back on those sets and pick up additional lines of dialogue, or rewrite and reshoot the scene to re-contextualize what is coming up, which we ended up doing.
“One of the secrets…is making sure the audience is given the information that they’re hungry for when they’re hungry for it.”
The scene where Ethan and the team are talking about introducing the White Widow and “Does she still think you’re called John Lark” and “Didn’t she have a price on your head?”… That scene was one of the very last pieces of exposition we filmed. Through the process of screening the movie to audiences and listening to them, we worked out the information they were hungry for at that point in the film. One of the secrets to making these movies work as completely as they do is making sure the audience is given the information that they’re hungry for when they’re hungry for it.
McQuarrie overwrites all the scenes so he can modulate what is actually in the scene when we’re editing it. For example, there’s a scene in the train car between Gabriel, played by Esai Morales, and Denlinger, who’s played by Carrie Elwes. That had a lot more backstory about the submarine in it, which we ended up taking out because the audience didn’t need it. It was clutter. The whole scene is such a careful balancing act between being with all these people. You have to be really careful modulating how much time you’re away from each character. You have to make sure that you are giving the audience just enough without overstaying your welcome. You’re also making sure that they can click back into each story when you rejoin each character.
It was enormously challenging to get the balance exactly right. We tried hundreds of combinations of different scenes, trimming stuff down, moving stuff here, moving stuff there, which is the nature of the editing process. It’s also the fun bit of the process, where you get to really flex your storytelling muscles. McQuarrie and Tom and I work very closely on all that stuff. But to answer your question, yes, we do film all the expositions last for those reasons.
MF: I thought we could compare and contrast two scenes in particular. First, the Fiat chase scene in Rome. I want to break that down, but also contrast it with something that I think is sneakily difficult, and that is the debriefing of the intelligence agencies scenes at the beginning of the movie.
Eddie Hamilton: Oh, my word. Oh, my word.
MF: You have lots of verbal choreography going on there. You’re in this one room, but you have seven or eight characters. It’s basically a script and they’re each reading one line from it. Each character is carrying the exposition. When I was watching that, I thought, “This is the kind of scene where nobody’s going to notice how difficult it is.” Let’s start with that one.
Eddie Hamilton: Here’s an interesting thing that McQuarrie has discovered as a filmmaker and how he’s chosen his lenses and composition and choice of coverage, especially in dialogue scenes. The length of a lens is directly proportional to how intimate the lens is with a character. If you have a long lens, you’re closer to the character. If you have a wide lens, you’re further away from the character. Also, information is the death of emotion. We are giving the audience an emotional experience. Any movie should be giving the audience an emotional experience.
“Information is the death of emotion.”
But the wider the lens is, the more information it captures. The longer the lens, the more emotion it captures, because emotion in a movie comes purely from a close-up on someone’s face, and what someone’s face is doing. There is behavior, which is also emotion, and a lot of comedy comes from behavior. But in terms of pure emotion, in terms of having a lightning rod to what a character is feeling, you want to be on a close-up. Then you can read the minute movement of muscles in their face and in their eyes and their eyebrows, and you can start to connect with them emotionally.
You’ll notice in this film that there are very few wide shots in the dialogue scenes. McQuarrie will cover a scene, for example, in the Department of National Intelligence scene, you’re on a close-up of Cary Elwes. He’s looking out of the window. You’re on his face and you can see all the characters behind him. So you get the geography of where everyone is standing, but there is an emotional presence from his character in the foreground. So McQuarrie will cover the scenes with close-ups, but the coverage will be relational. You’ll often be in a close-up of one character, but you’ll see another character behind them. Later in the scene, you’ll be over that other character.
For example, in a scene in the Venice nightclub, you could be over Esai Morales to Tom. You can be over Esai Morales to Ilsa. You can be over Ilsa to the Widow. You can be over the Widow to Grace. You start to build geography in your mind based on the relationships between the characters rather than on a wide shot showing you the geography.
Quite often, McQuarrie will choose a very specific moment in a scene to have a wide shot. In the Department of National Intelligence, the wide shot comes when Kittridge stands up. When we introduce Henry Czerny, who plays Kittridge, we start on the back of his head to give him a mythic presence. Then he stands up and walks over to the TV. That’s our first wide shot in the scene. He walks back over to the room, and through his character, you see the wide shot of the room, and the camera is moving very elegantly.
Another example is in the airport, when we first meet Benji and Luther. There, we’re playing it on beautiful close-ups of these characters and the wide shots are based around when something is handed from one character to another. So, when the key is passed from one to another, or when the lighter, which is the Geiger counter, is passed between them, McQuarrie will hinge around those essential props and reveal the geography of the characters in space. But the rest of the time you’re in tight, emotional close-ups. Not quite ‘Tony Scott’ close-ups, but they’re still very interesting, powerful angles of the characters.
McQuarrie also really likes to find the right lens, so he found this close-focus 60mm lens that he loved to use. Sometimes he will use a 75mm on certain characters. The goal is to subconsciously feel like we’re on a lot of close-ups, but without losing the geography, because you’ve always got a relationship built in your head as to where all the characters are. Geography is king with any sequence, understanding where everybody is.
MF: Talk about how that compares to the Fiat chase sequence. Do throw geography out the window, because as these cars are careening through narrow alleyways in Italy, well, who cares where they are? I just want the energy.
Eddie Hamilton: The interesting thing about that scene is that Ethan and Grace are almost always in a two-shot, because we are selling the idea that they work well as a team and they’re a great on-screen couple. Not that it’s meant to be romantic, it’s just great to see Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell on screen together. And we’re not relying on editing to create chemistry between them. Because we’re always showing them in a two-shot, the chemistry is palpable. There’s a great scene where the Fiat comes out. Tom gets in and he’s a little bit embarrassed because he doesn’t know how to work it. It’s a high-tech IMF car where no buttons are labeled, and it’s very powerful.
Here’s a story: Tom actually crashed the Fiat into that wall! He wasn’t supposed to, but that car is incredibly powerful and really hard to drive. He did actually crash it. So, we embraced that as a piece of behavior. Nine months later, after we filmed that crash in Rome, we picked up these close-ups of Ethan and Grace reacting to it. There’s a moment where she’s looking at him sympathetically, going, “It’s okay!” and he’s going, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s the way they set up these cars sometimes.”
It’s all done in two-shots, and Hayley is so great. Even when she’s reacting to Tom, she’s great. She’s so active the whole time. That’s really what you should look out for in that scene, how we cover that without coverage on the two of them. We always play it in two-shots. There’s a lot that we cut out of that scene, obviously. There always is. We’re making a deleted shot montage for the home entertainment release, so you’ll get to see a lot of the stuff that we cut out. It’s all good, fun stuff.
But we are very sensitive to the audience telling us when something has outstayed its welcome. Even though Tom Cruise is driving a BMW with one hand, and he’s handcuffed to Hayley Atwell, and he’s skidding through the streets of Rome… It’s incredible precision driving. He’s knocking over scooters with the back of the car. When the audience is telling us there’s too much, then we lift out chunks of it until they say, “Oh, that was the right amount!” Or, “We wanted more!” Ideally, what you want the audience to say at the end of an action scene is, “I just wanted a bit more of it.” But these movies are a very rich meal and you don’t want the audience to eat too much with any course.
We’ve seen Tom drive BMWs, quite frankly, in other Mission: Impossible movies, even though he hasn’t knocked the doors off the car and he’s driving with no doors. But the money was the Fiat. That was really the most entertaining part of the sequence, so we ended up getting to the Fiat as quickly as we could and then enjoying all the antics that the car gets up to. Especially the roll down the Spanish Steps, which was something which we were never sure that it would work. McQuarrie had this idea of driving these cars down the Spanish Steps and then having the Hummer smash through and down. We ended up building the Spanish Steps at Longcross Studios so we could smash them up. There’s even a little thing that says at the end of the credit roller, “No cars were driven down the Spanish Steps in Rome. They were built on a backlot. Nothing was damaged.”
The first time I saw that scene all cut together and working… you realize that Ethan and Grace have swapped places in the Fiat, and she’s going to have to drive, and Paris is coming in the Hummer… It’s so entertaining and so much fun. They discovered the spinning Fiat at the bottom of the Spanish Steps when they were filming in Rome. I don’t believe they necessarily were that popular, spinning the Fiat round. But it’s comedy gold. It’s so entertaining and so much fun. I’ve sat next to people in this film crying with laughter because it’s so entertaining. It’s obviously enormously rewarding for the people who made the film, to see the audience enjoying the storytelling that much.
I was able to put that scene together fairly quickly. When it all came together, I refined it with McQuarrie. The main challenge was getting it as tight as possible, so that, literally, you’re breathlessly watching the whole chase. Just as they get to the end and they’re confronted with all the police cars and Paris is coming up behind them, and you’re thinking, “What are they going to do?” you also feel like, “Okay, I’m ready for this next chapter.” It hasn’t outstayed its welcome.
Honestly, the biggest challenge was making sure that the audience always was left wanting a little bit more, rather than giving them too much. We only really cracked it right at the end. We kept holding onto little pieces of behavior and fun, and the audience kept telling us, “It’s still too long. It’s still too long.” We literally went through shot-by-shot, going, “Do we need this? No, let’s take it out. Do we need this? No, let’s take it out. Does it still work? Does it make sense if I over trimmed it? Do we need to put back in a tiny bit of air?”
One of the things McQuarrie is incredibly sensitive to in all these scenes, dialogue scenes or action scenes, is air. And by air, I mean moments where the audience is given even a tiny moment for their mind to wander. It’s where you feel like the dramatic weight in the scene has just slightly overstayed its welcome. Whenever you’re editing, you put in all the dramatic pauses that the actors did on the day, because you just never know. The process of editing is compressing everything down to get the maximum amount of story in the minimum amount of screen time.
McQuarrie will go through the scenes and he’ll say, “I’m feeling air here” and I’ll trim six frames off. Then he’ll go, “Okay, now that feels great” and, of course, you go through the whole movie thinking you’ve trimmed all the air out. Then you go through it again and you realize, “Oh, no, there’s still air here. We can still compress it more.” Three frames off there. Six frames off there, two frames off there.
“That’s the process, and that’s what we owe the audience.”
Every editor listening to this knows that we really do go through the process hundreds of times to make sure that every frame of the movie has earned its place. It’s exhaustive. But I never mind doing it, because every time you do it, the movie is changing. It’s evolving and becoming something different to watch. Greg Tarzan Davis, who plays the character of Degas, was very keen to learn about editing. He would log in when he woke up in LA, and he’s an early riser. He would get up at 05:00, sometimes 06:00, he’d work out, then he would join us and listen.
He would watch us go over these four lines of dialogue, over and over again, to really make sure we were wringing every single tiny emotional moment out of it. Every detail of the film is pored over so many times to get it right. But that’s the process, and that’s what we owe the audience. We want the audience to have a great time, ultimately, and not worry about all that. Just enjoy the movie, don’t think about all that stuff.
MF: Well, Eddie, per usual, we didn’t even get through half the questions I have for you, which is okay, because that means we’ll do this again sometime. I also want to follow your lead and leave the audience wanting a little more. But if you could indulge me for one more final question… One of the people that saw the film is Edgar Wright. He came to one of the later screenings and asked a question about an audio cue. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Eddie Hamilton: Edgar came to watch our very first friends and family screening. It was the first time that McQuarrie and I had ever watched the entire movie from beginning to end. We had been working on individual scenes and McQuarrie likes to set a date of when we’re going to press play on the movie and work up until that moment.
The movie was long and it had no music. We took a break after the Venice scene so everyone could have a pit stop and get some refreshments. The main reason for showing it that early was to see if there were any major red flags, story-wise. But there weren’t any, so that was great. We knew we had the potential for a movie that was going to work. We just had to really do the due diligence of compressing it as much as possible.
As I said, there was no music. It’s a very weird, slightly spacey experience watching a movie with no score and sometimes with no sound at all. During the action scenes, we didn’t have any sound on. All you could hear, if I turned on the dialogue tracks, was big fans and the noise of wind howling on a microphone. It’s not anything useful.
Then Edgar came to our third friends and family screening, which was about two weeks before we finished editing. He said that the character of the Entity, which is the AI, should have a sound effect. We had underscored it with a music cue originally, which we thought was working, but it wasn’t really landing for the audience.
I remember having a feeling that when we’re in the VIP room of the nightclub and we see the entity graphic on the big screen, we should hear a very powerful sound, like a bass resonance to indicate that this thing is very powerful. A room shaking, low-frequency kind of sound. We never really got to it. My idea was to have it only on those shots, but Edgar suggested that we incorporate it whenever the Entity is playing a part in the story, even in the submarine. In the airport, when the suspicious baggage alert appears on Ben’s laptop, you can actually hear the digital click sound.
We leaned into that enormously. It became very helpful for the audience to identify and feel the presence of the Entity in the nightclub, for example, or in the submarine, or in the airport, to an extent. It’s also there when Benji is solving the riddles on the bomb, an early iteration of it. It’s present when Ethan is being guided to the wrong place by the AI “Benji” voice. The audience really understands that it’s the AI talking to Ethan through the comms, not Benji and Luther. That actually could happen to us. Our phones, on Waze maybe, could send us anywhere, because we trust the phone. We could end up being driven to a trap in a weird, Black Mirror-style future.
The interesting thing is that we only landed that sound in the last few weeks of the mix. We were wondering, “What should this sound be?” and James Mather went, “Guys, I’ve got a great idea. I’m going to play you a sound.” He played us this sound on his phone, this alien-sounding, digital, choppy noise, which is what you hear in the film. It wasn’t like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wasn’t like other things we had heard. It was just this weird digital distortion.
“Some of them sounded like a human voice and some of them sounded like a wild animal.”
James told us that, about two years ago, his Sonos sound bar malfunctioned on his home cinema system. There was some weird HDMI signal discrepancy, or some cable that was malfunctioning. This sound was coming through his sound bar, and it was really cool. So he got out his phone and he recorded it. Then he thought, “I’m not going to waste this” and he got a proper microphone and recorded it, because he thought there might be something there.
Then, literally two years later, we’re on the stage, and he goes, “Hey guys, how about this?” And it was perfect! He recorded about five minutes of it, so we had all kinds of different textures and levels of sound. Some of them sounded like a human voice and some of them sounded like a wild animal. There were different textures in there, because he was recording it for such a long time. So, we chopped it up and layered it into the movie. That’s what you hear in the film as the identity of the antagonist, the artificial intelligence. The stakes for this get much, much higher in the next film, obviously, because the AI grows in power, which it is doing week-to-week now in real life. We all know that Chat GPT is getting smarter and smarter. Our film will hopefully reflect that.
MF: I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anybody that, once again, you and Tom and McQuarrie have absolutely knocked it out of the park. You’ve mastered the art of the action movie. You’ve firmly entrenched your reputation as the go-to action editor.
Eddie Hamilton: That’s so kind of you to say, Matt. Thank you so much.
MF: Well, it’s the truth. But maybe next time… Maybe a little Nora Efron thing, okay?
Eddie Hamilton: Absolutely! Listen, thank you, everybody. Thank you for listening. Thank you for having me on, Matt. It’s always a pleasure. I listen every week. I get tips from everybody who is on the show. It’s my pleasure to speak to everyone out there in Editing Land, listening to this wherever they are, if they’re in their car, or on a run, or in the cutting room watching hours of dailies, which is what I do every Monday when the podcast drops. Thank you very much.
MF: You are the best, Eddie.
Featured image by Christian Black