The Rough Cut: “Barbie” Editors are in the Pink
The Barbie editing team of Nick Houy ACE, Matt Garner, and Maya Rivera seemed to have as much fun in the cutting room as what audiences saw on the big screen. Despite this being the first time the three worked together, they described the process of working on Barbie to be an open, collaborative “family” atmosphere where both personal time and creative contributions were valued. Stereotypical “Barbie” (Margot Robbie) and a wide range of fellow Barbies all reside in Barbieland, a matriarchal society where all women are self-confident, self-sufficient, and successful.
While their Ken counterparts spend their days engaging in recreational activities at the beach, the Barbies hold important positions as doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Beach “Ken” (Ryan Gosling) is only happy when he is with Barbie and seeks a closer relationship, but Barbie rebuffs him in favor of independence and female friendships.
Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colorful and seemingly perfect world of Barbieland. However, when they get a chance to go to the “real” world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
In our talk with the editors of Barbie, we discuss…
- First reactions to a film nobody thought could happen
- Building a better Barbieland
- Barbie vs The Irishman
- Whose baby is this?
- Making things up (music? entire scenes?) as you go along
Check out The Rough Cut podcast to listen to this interview.
Editing the movie Barbie
Matt Feury: When I first heard about Barbie, I’m sure I reacted the way a lot of people did, which was “Okay, Margot Robbie, Barbie. Ryan Gosling, Ken. I get it. Sounds like fun.”
And then, finally, the trailer comes out and you watch it and go “What’s it going to be?” Trying to figure out what Barbie was going to be was just futile.
Nick, I usually start off talking about how the editor met the director. But this is your third film with Greta, so I think we can put aside how you two met.
What was your reaction to the concept, to the script? Where were you when Greta Gerwig first told you about Barbie? What were your reactions when she actually handed you the script and said “Hey, give this a look”?
Nick Houy, ACE: The first time I heard about Barbie was when we were cutting Little Women, because Greta had to go meet with Margot Robbie. It was funny because we were in your shoes. We were thinking “A Barbie movie with Margot Robbie? That makes sense. That sounds hilarious!” It was so hilariously commercial-sounding when we were trying to make a movie that was pretty serious.
Eventually, Greta said “Hey, we wrote the script and I’m probably going to direct it.” She sent it to me and it was so funny. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever read.
It was like reading a Mel Brooks script or an Albert Brooks script or a combination of the two. I told her “They’re never going to let you make this. There’s no way. It’s totally bonkers.”
“They’re never going to let you make this. There’s no way. It’s totally bonkers.”
It is a Mel Brooks movie, basically. Greta said “I don’t think they will either, but let’s try.” Amazingly, they did. I still can’t believe it.
MF: I’m glad you said the part about how they’re not going to let you make this movie. I imagine you saying “Us? Make this movie? Lady Bird and Little Women, then Barbie?” The succession there just doesn’t add up. But that’s the wonderful thing about movies, you get to be surprised.
Nick Houy: Greta made it her own. Once I read the script, I thought it was amazing. But I also thought it was pushing too many buttons. I thought it was too risque to greenlight. I was surprised that the studio let this movie represent a huge property like Barbie.
MF: Obviously, you know Greta. But I think some key members of your crew didn’t really know you all that well, or maybe hadn’t worked with you before.
Maya, I get a lot of emails from people with aspirations to work in post production. Here you are, an apprentice editor on one of the biggest movies ever, without a ton of film projects under your belt. I’m sure there are a lot of people leaning forward saying “Maya, how did you do it?”
Tell me about meeting Nick and getting on this enormous film.
Maya Rivera: I met Nick at a screening of Little Women. He was answering questions from the audience. I thought he was the coolest person in the room because I wanted to be an editor. But I had trouble speaking to people who I thought were really cool.
I told myself “Okay, I’m going to do this” and he turned out to be this guy with endless dad jokes.
Nick Houy: Not as many as Abdul (Ndadi, post-production assistant on Barbie).
Maya Rivera: I wanted to shadow him, but we didn’t end up getting to do that. Later, Nick remembered me and asked if I wanted to be part of this project.
“She was the only one who came up to me and said ‘Hey, the movie was great. I want to be an editor.’”
MF: You make it sound so easy. Just show up to the Little Women screening and stalk the editor. It’s actually a pretty good plan.
Nick Houy: It’s amazing more people don’t do that. She was the only one who came up to me and said “Hey, the movie was great. I want to be an editor.” No one else does that. It’s that simple.
MF: Matt, is that what you did? You just showed up to a Little Women screening and said “Hey, I’m a VFX editor. I’d love to work with you”?
Matt Garner: Actually, we were parked right next to each other when he was cutting Little Women.
I was on The Irishman doing VFX editing and he was in the next room over. We had probably met each other before. We probably talked a handful of times in all the years we’ve been in these post production halls. We didn’t communicate too much at that time because everyone was busy rushing into their room and doing their work.
I had already worked with Nick Ramirez, who was also on the team. Ramirez had worked with Nick Houy many times before, so maybe he put in a good word for me initially. Having that closeness and seeing what other projects are being worked on is what brought us into each other’s orbit.
I got a call pretty early on, in March or April of last year, asking if I’d be interested and available, and of course I was. I was just waiting for other things to fall into place and luckily it worked out.
MF: I think people out there listening are going “They make it sound so easy!”
Someday they’re going to teach this film in marketing classes. The way it was rolled out was a master class. I don’t usually ask the post production crew about this, but were you required to do any deliverables outside of the normal editorial duties?
Nick Houy: I’ll let Maya talk about the deliverables. This was the most we’ve ever been involved with promotional stuff. On some things I’ve actually cut trailers and teasers, but on this we were way too busy working on the actual movie.
We were constantly sending the marketing team material and they were showing us things just to say “Can we put this out in the world?” Their work was always amazing. Every week, it felt like there was some amazing visual or teaser that they were sending us, and we were just cracking up and loving it.
We would send them new cuts and then they would use them in the teaser and send it back to us. We thought “Whoa, this is real-time marketing.”
It was just such a great team. It was astounding to work with such a good marketing team. Usually you’re saying “My God, look at this poster. It’s terrible!” or “Look at this trailer, it’s terrible!” That’s usually the vibe when you’re working on a movie. But this team got it. They knew exactly how to get this movie out in the world, which was really exciting.
Maya Rivera: There were tons of turnovers to marketing and to other people as well. We had to mock some stuff up and show it to people at the studio just so they could have eyes on it. That was a constant thing.
Nick Houy: A lot of musicians were involved in songwriting, so we were constantly showing pieces to them. Chevrolet was involved, too. There were a million marketing tie-ins, so we were constantly sending stuff to the marketing team. We had a huge, amazing crew. Nick Ramirez, our first assistant editor, was really the head of it. I’ve worked with him a million times. He’s in Arizona right now, so he couldn’t be here, but he’s amazing and killed it.
Matt was actually one of three VFX editors, but he was the first one we brought on, and the main one. David Massachi and Luis Cuevas were the others. They’re two of my favorite people in the world. They were killing it, too.
We had a huge crew. It was the biggest I’ve ever worked with, by far. We had this whole floor and literally, for 14 months, we had no time to breathe. There was no twiddling your thumbs. We were all busy the whole time, so we definitely earned that $155-million opening.
Not that I ever thought it would be even close to that. But, hell yes, we all earned it. High five to you guys.
Matt Garner: It was the biggest crew I’ve ever worked with and also probably the best I’ll ever work with. Everyone was on their best game.
I completely agree, as far as everyone working nonstop. You didn’t walk by an office and see someone surfing the web or just chilling out. I think part of it was that everyone was enjoying the material.
There was something refreshing and new about everything that was coming in. The creative space we were in was amazing. So, no complaints there. If I could do it again with everyone on that team, I would sign up right now. It was great.
Nick Houy: Exactly.
“If I could do it again with everyone on that team, I would sign up right now.”
MF: I can see why there’d be a big team and why there’d be three VFX editors. The look of Barbie isn’t straightforward. It looks like a mix of miniatures, practical sets, bluescreen, and who-knows-what-else.
Tell me about developing the look of Barbie and how that may have affected you in editorial.
Nick Houy: It started with Sarah Greenwood. All of the production design was unbelievable. She built the weird Barbie house and a miniature of it and the entire cul-de-sac with Skipper’s tree house and everything. You could move through the space completely without any bluescreen, which is unbelievable in 360-degrees, the way Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC shot it. I don’t remember how many suns he had hanging, but it just felt like you were in Barbieland. It was beautiful. It was the most amazing set ever.
On top of that, we had Sarah designing pieces with Glenn Pratt, our amazing VFX supervisor, that we would put into certain backgrounds. Most of those were hand-painted and then composited in. The movie has a very tactile feel throughout.
The look was a slow evolution. We had a lot of those 1950’s pink Barbie Dream Houses, and then we started to put in different 80’s A-frame houses. That was a really fun evolution that we did with Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig.
They said “What about this weird little motorcycle from the ’80s? Let’s put that in.” We were cracking up every time we had a VFX review, which is very rare. We’d say “Look at this insane merman with an earring… This is what we’re doing for our job?” It was a dream come true. It was just like playing. It was so fun.
MF: Matt, compare Barbie to The Irishman in terms of the VFX editor. I’d love to know how those two compare.
Matt Garner: Completely different. On The Irishman it was about developing a new technology. That kind of de-aging hadn’t been done before, and it was using a new technology created by Industrial Light & Magic.
I think it was frustrating for Martin Scorsese because he had to wait three months to see what a de-aged Robert De Niro would look like. Then he’d give notes and have to wait another two months to see the revision.
I heard that on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny they were getting dailies back and already seeing what young Harrison Ford was going to look like. That’s come a long way in just a couple of years.
This movie was a lot more creative, too, and all sorts of bubblegum pink. I’d never seen that much pink in my life.
Having two girls at home made it even more joyful because I was seeing it through their eyes, even though they’re a bit young for the movie. One is eight and she’s dying to see it. I think we’re going to go this weekend.
With a lot of the backgrounds, you wouldn’t know what was bluescreen or not. Sometimes it was just a little corner that needed work. Having so much shot on a stage helped a lot. There were probably about 1,500 VFX shots. It was similar to The Irishman, although Irishman maybe had a bit more.
The tricky thing about this is that we needed to get a version of the movie prepped for a director’s cut. We had to basically turn over everything for a post visualization version so that the executives and other people involved could see it without bluescreen in it. Then we had to redo all the work again. It was basically turning over 1,500 shots and all the materials. Then we’d get a temp version of the VFX shots in. Some of the temps we did in house, but some we couldn’t.
Then we had to redo all of that again as the cut was being fine-tuned. Tracking and managing that with all our vendors was quite an undertaking. It was the most I’ve ever had to deal with.
That’s why we had multiple people on our team and everyone had one key thing they were doing. At the end of the day, we made it. But there were still some shots flying in at the last minute, as is always the case.
Nick Houy: That, and we were changing the cut drastically every day. It would be really big changes. In and out and back and forth, constantly. The VFX team was always on their toes. It was the most amazing team I’ve ever seen in how they were able to handle that. It was a sight to behold.
MF: When you say drastic changes, what were the kind of things that necessitated drastic changes almost daily?
Nick Houy: We were just trying a ton of stuff. There were days when we had a bunch of big ideas we were trying in every reel. Literally, there would be twenty pretty significant things that we wanted to try before the next screening, which would be in two days.
“There would be twenty pretty significant things that we wanted to try before the next screening, which would be in two days.“
We would delegate to everyone. The whole team would stop what they were doing and try all these crazy ideas. A lot of them involved temp visual effects and crazy sounds and music because it is such a crazy movie.
We would have our post production assistant Abdul, who is amazing, find horse images while he was designing a spaceship, while also searching for music. Maya, as apprentice editor, was also doing that. The other assistant editor, Gloria Tello, and Nick Ramirez, if he wasn’t already being pulled in twelve different directions, was also searching for music, usually while he was on a phone call with some other person.
It was just unbelievable, full-tilt creativity every day.
Maya Rivera: I remember that after some big milestone, you would come in with your giant manila pad with a hundred notes and Gloria would be on her laptop, typing them away.
Nick Houy: Then we would all knock them out. All the notes. There was so much to do after every screening.
Maya Rivera: There was a lot of blue-hole-filling that Gloria and I had to do, especially before screening, just so that people got the idea. That was fun.
Nick Houy: Just trying like crazy. What were some of the songs that you tried in the transportation montage? I feel like we tried a million things.
Maya Rivera: I remember trying a lot of old 70’s songs. Diana Ross.
Nick Houy: That worked pretty well.
Maya Rivera: That was really good. Everybody really liked that one.
Nick Houy: We have a million iterations of this movie that are fantastic in totally different ways. This is just the one we ended up with.
MF: Maya, you said old 70’s songs. That stings a little bit, but it’s a good jumping off point because Greta, in her promotion of the film, has been talking about reference movies. She had screenings of these movies for the crew.
I’m only going to list half of them because there’s around thirty films. Greta has cited The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, Heaven Can Wait, Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Red Shoes, Oklahoma!, Wings Of Desire, Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story, and best of all, The Godfather, which actually makes its way into the movie.
Tell me about those screenings. Did Greta say “For this film, this is what I want you to concentrate on” or “The vibe I’m trying to convey to you is this”?
Nick Houy: All of those were done at a movie theater in London while they were shooting. Every Sunday they would go do that. Our whole editorial crew was in New York. But we watched them all and those are all things that we talked about early on.
I think it’s important to see those references because you also realize how bold some of those movies are. They just go for it. You can’t be afraid to do that. Greta and I would often sit and watch a scene of The Godfather and say things like “Look, they’re not cutting at all. This is amazing!”
I don’t know why people have such short attention spans nowadays, but we need to change that. We need to lean into the material and make it the best we can make it and not be worried about what people think of it. You just have to make what you think is the best thing.
So, that was the vibe. Seeing the production design of these movies was very helpful for people. That, and the tone of things like Singing in the Rain helped us understand our crazy dream dance sequences.
MF: Nick, how did this compare to something like Little Women or Lady Bird in terms of scale and amount of turnovers? How did you, Maya, and Matt build out this workflow and set up this gear in a way that supported this massive film that has such dramatic turnarounds?
Nick Houy: Well, thank God we had Company 3 and we had this whole team of… cats! This cat is one of the best IT cats I’ve ever seen.
MF: That would not be the first cat to walk into the frame on one of these interviews. And it won’t be the last.
Nick Houy: You can probably speak better to this, Matt, but we had a whole technical crew at Warner Brothers who came and set up our own network and were very helpful.
Company 3 is fantastic. They supported us beautifully. We were fully supported technically and in the number of rooms and the amount of space we needed on the Nexus and all that.
Luckily, it was a huge movie. We had our own beautiful floor with a screening room in the middle so we could screen VFX on it. It was amazing. It was in the middle of Manhattan, so it was very convenient for everyone.
The actual VFX workflow was constantly evolving because it had to change for each stage of what we were doing. Matt and Nick Ramirez could speak to that way more specifically. Ramirez was always saying, “Let’s all huddle and talk about this new workflow that we have to do because we have to get this organized.” He was really good about doing that along with Matt. It was amazing.
Matt Garner: It was the first show that we cut in 4K. There were twelve or so editing systems and everyone had their own space, their own room with their system.
We were a little nervous about cutting in 4K. None of us had done it before, and not many shows that we talked to had done it. Company 3 seemed positive that it would work well.
We were on the newer ‘cheesegrater’ Mac Pros and a fairly new operating system for Avid, all of which we hadn’t really experienced before. But I have to say it ran really smoothly.
We only had a few minor hiccups here or there. As far as the VFX tracking and workflow, that was constantly evolving with the amount of elements and tracks. Luckily, Nick was open to pretty much anything we could throw his way as far as what would help us out.
We didn’t have to have two separate sequences. Everything was in our own shared timeline. We had a couple of tracks that were our own where we could do what we wanted. We just tried to make sure that everything below it, all the key tracks, were kept solid.
Every show is different. Every show has a different crew that works differently, depending on the database work and depending on the production side.
VFX producer Nick King came in from England. I had not worked with him before. He and VFX supervisor Glen Pratt both had their own way of working. We had a database that was basically FileMaker. It was constantly being rejiggered and written with scripts and things. Nick King was great at making it fold into our workflow and our demands. It was pretty robust at the end of the show.
My head is still spinning at night. Sometimes I wake up at four in the morning thinking “Could we have done this better? Or maybe this was better.” At the end of the day it all worked out. But sometimes you start to go down a road, thinking “What if what we did a couple of weeks ago comes back to bite us?”
There was a little bit of stress and anxiety, honestly, because we had such a big crew. Everyone was in such good spirits. I’m talking from the top down. Greta, Noah… Luckily, the producers were amazing too. There was no mean person, there was no different agenda going on. Having that in the background helped raise everyone’s spirits. Everyone wanted to do the best for the movie and for the team. It was fantastic.
MF: Matt, I think it’s safe for you to exhale now. The movie turned out okay. Try not to lose any more sleep over this. It’s all good.
Maya, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that you’re just beginning your career and this movie is huge. I hope your next one is even bigger. I’m sure you realize that they don’t all turn out like this.
What surprised you most about this role as apprentice editor for Barbie? Do you look at it and think “Wow, I didn’t realize this would be a part of my duties, that I would get to do something so impactful.”
Maya Rivera: A lot of my duties were the same as an assistant editor, so I really got a lot of experience there. Also, I didn’t know that I was going to have so much creative input. Nick would have us try so much stuff, test things out, and a lot of what all the assistant editors and I did is in the film and it works.
Nick Houy: When I think back to being an apprentice and an assistant, the best moments were when I said “Can I just play with a scene and try a bunch of crazy stuff?”
Sometimes you have the time to do it. We were always working 100%, but I also told everyone “If you have ideas, you have to try them.” There’s no getting around it. That’s the whole fun of this job, trying crazy ideas. It might be terrible. You’ll do six things and one of them will be great.
Maya had this hilarious idea. When Kate McKinnon is looking down at Barbie, who has given up and is laying on the ground, she goes “Hey, how’s it going, Barbie?” Then we flash to a weird Barbie with crayon all over its face and this horror music sting. It’s such a weird idea, but it was so great. It ended up in the movie. There’s so many cool things that a team can come up with.
When you’re working with a director who’s as creative as Greta and a writer who’s as creative as Noah, you’re always coming up with all these amazing ideas. It’s just hard to get them all on paper, so to speak, and try them out in a way that is cohesive.
Having a big team of people who are also super creative and excited is totally necessary. That’s why we have such a crazy, bonkers movie that actually works. I’m glad it seems to be paying off. The world is excited for it, too, as excited as we were every day in the cutting room messing around with it.
Matt Garner: There’s a beach scene where everyone says “Hi, Barbie.” We must have seen fifty iterations of that.
Nick Houy: At least. There’s more than fifty iterations of that scene. And some of them are completely abstract works of art, in my opinion. They were worked on by multiple people with different ideas. They could be in the Tate Modern. They are that bizarre. Or they could be in a 70’s avant-garde screening.
We really went there. We went there with everything. That’s why some of it survived and some of it didn’t. But it was all amazing. I do wish we could screen alternate versions of it for people.
MF: You might get your chance. Warner Brothers would love to do multiple cuts of this, I’m sure. Speaking of stakeholders, you must have had a lot of very interested parties weighing in.
I don’t know what it was like working on Lady Bird, but it was probably a more intimate environment where it was just you and Greta. Here, you’ve got a giant corporation like Mattel, you’ve got Warner Brothers, you’ve got Margot Robbie and her production company.
You have a lot of people that have skin in the game and want to have a say about how the movie is made. Tell me a little bit about that element. Did it change your process at all?
Nick Houy: No, amazingly. I think that’s what’s so great about Greta as a director. She’s able to let us have our space to do crazy stuff. It’s exactly the same to me as Lady Bird and Little Women in that way.
I’m at my desk, Greta’s on the couch, there’s probably a baby somewhere in the room, and we’re just doing the movie. That didn’t change at all. Notes will come in, but they’re coming through Greta, and she’s filtering them. She’s digesting them.
When we have screenings, we’re all looking at all the comments. We’re looking at everything from every producer, too, but there’s no pressure. Nobody is saying, “Hey, you need to do this even if Greta says she doesn’t want to.” None of that is a thing.
Greta is an auteur filmmaker. She’s the one who we go through. Of course, we’re constantly saying “I’d rather do this” and “Let’s try that” and then we see whose idea is right. That’s what you have to do.
It’s not “Just because I want it, that’s what’s right.” We are always screening the movie for people and talking. Eventually, we come to what we think is the right decision, no matter if it’s an amalgamation of someone’s choice or whose choice it was.
“It’s not ‘Just because I want it, that’s what’s right.’ We are always screening the movie for people and talking.”
Sometimes you forget whose choice it was. Maybe Margot suggested something six months ago and now we’re putting it back in, and it’s actually great now in a certain context.
Speaking to that, Margot is an amazing producer. She was one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with. She would come in and have brilliant ideas. She was the coolest. It was really refreshing that she was not only saving the movie as this brilliant actor, but then would come in and have all these great ideas as a producer too.
Sitting there with Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, trying to make the best movie you can make, is a dream. Luckily, I’ve been doing it for a while now.
But yes, on Lady Bird, it was just me and Ramirez. That’s it. On Little Women, the team was a VFX editor and an apprentice and second assistant. That felt huge. We had a whole townhouse that we were in.
This one was on a whole other level. Everywhere you look, there was another person working on the movie. I didn’t even know all of their names at first. It was crazy.
Matt Garner: I’ve never seen anything like Greta’s work ethic. She was out for a week to have a baby, then came right back in. That was amazing to see. There was no stopping her. Post just kept going. Our pace was strong and it was very admirable. I’d never seen anything like that before.
Nick Houy: Great mom and a great director. Now we’ve done two movies with a baby.
MF: I’m glad you cleared up whose baby it was. The way you said it, I was a little worried that some sort of random baby just wandered through the cutting room.
Nick Houy: Just random babies.
MF: Babies just showing up.
Nick Houy: There’s always dogs running around, too. Everyone brings their dog to work. It’s a very lively atmosphere.
MF: I asked about the stakeholders because Greta had been talking about a really fantastic scene that takes place when Barbie is sitting down with an old woman on a bench. Barbie looks at this old woman and just says “You’re beautiful.”
I guess Greta was encouraged to remove that scene, because if you look at it from a plot standpoint it mechanically doesn’t move the story forward. But thematically and emotionally, it’s a very important scene.
Nick Houy: That’s always been one of our favorite scenes. That’s actually the legendary costume designer Ann Roth. We were never going to cut it. I think that story has been blown out of proportion a little bit.
We were vetting it very hard. For every scene in this movie, somebody said “Do we need it? Maybe we lose it.” That scene was one of them. Pretty much every scene was on the chopping block.
“For every scene in this movie, somebody said ‘Do we need it? Maybe we lose it.'”
We were very hard on the material, and some of the scenes did end up on the cutting room floor. But that one never had a chance of being cut, in my opinion. I never felt any pressure to actually lose it. It was just an idea.
MF: When I’m watching a movie, I always try to pick out at least one favorite scene. It’s hard to choose, but I guess my favorite is the “I’m Just Ken” battle-dance musical extravaganza. Tell me about how that scene came together.
Nick Houy: One thing that’s really important to note about that sequence is that it wasn’t even in the script. They just went and shot that one day and no one knew it was happening.
They were running the choreography and Ryan was getting the song, and Mark Ronson had written the song with Andrew Wyatt, and then it was just “Oh, now we’re going to shoot this dance sequence.”
It was crazy. It wasn’t in the script. It wasn’t on the call sheet or anything. So that’s another insane thing to realize. Greta was able to just do that out of nowhere. She knew she wanted it and she was going to get it, and she did it.
We were all just saying “What the hell is this?” just like what an audience is saying when the scene comes on and it’s the dream ballet. That seems obvious to me. I thought “Of course Ken should have a dream ballet”. Most people don’t think that way.
What’s crazy is that it comes off the heels of a scripted scene where Ken is singing Matchbox Twenty, which is already extremely bizarre. I’m still wondering what all those people who bought tickets are making of that.
We always say reel seven is our favorite. Not that this movie is long, but we had eight reels from the beginning and we never changed it. Reel seven starts right before the Matchbox Twenty song and ends when the Kens finish their dream ballet song.
We would always say “Let’s watch reel seven just as its own short film.” It never disappointed. That was the one reel I could watch a million times. It was so fun.
MF: How about from a VFX standpoint?
Matt Garner: That sequence went through some iterations. The cut itself was constantly evolving. As far as the battle scene, what and how much to put in effects-wise, that was one of the last scenes that we were getting locked down.
Most of the worlds outside of that were locked down earlier and were coming in and progressing and evolving. But that one we were working on up to a month before we were finished.
As far as the explosion that happens out of the battle to bring them into the dream ballet, the transition there went through many iterations. Finally, we zeroed in on this ‘bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’ effect that brought this amazing energy together.
Even if the ideas are thrown out, everyone’s loving it and laughing, just having a great time. The effects aren’t that high-level, as far as needing a ton of time to develop. But, because so many ideas were thrown at it, it took a while. It took awhile to understand how much background action was going on in the battle sequence and how ridiculous we wanted to make it. Everything was thrown at it.
“Maybe we do this, maybe we do that, maybe we have more lounge chairs, now we have a big ball.” That was one of the last VFX scenes to be creatively locked down and therefore be finished. I think everyone was pretty happy with the results.
MF: The note is always more lounge chairs.
Nick Houy: No, it was quite the opposite, actually.
MF: There’s so much I don’t understand about this movie…
Maya, is the approach in managing those timelines to keep everything in, layer it up so we see all the different iterations in there? Or is it more like “No, I’m going to have different versions and they’re going to be as Spartan as I can get away with”?
Maya Rivera: We didn’t have everything stacked so that we could go back to the last version. Though, sometimes that did happen. There were so many versions, that would have been impossible to do. Matt had a very good marking system going.
Nick Houy: Yeah, that was amazing. What was it again, Matt?
Matt Garner: We created subclips of every shot that we turned over and those subclips then became our version zero. That way, we would have a clip that would represent exactly what was turned over and that clip was then muted on the track.
If Nick was extending a shot, he’d run out of that clip and say “We don’t have that turned over to the vendor”, if that makes sense. We didn’t ask him to pay attention to that part of it, but we were paying attention to that and having a reconciliation. Then we’d conform every couple of days to see what’s been set off.
That was one part of it. We also used markers all over the place. Even when elements were turned over, they were stacked. We would collapse clips together on one track. That track was for our VFX tracking. It was muted and placed above the main track, and we would use it in conjunction with our database to follow along with the edit.
As far as the iterations go, luckily, decisions were being made. We didn’t have many places where Greta or Noah or Nick were thinking “Let’s keep that in our back pocket, because we may want to switch it on or off later.” There were a couple of those, but over the course of 2,000 shots in the movie and 1,500 VFX shots, I think there were only four instances where we said “Let’s just have that in our back pocket.” We could go back to an old sequence if we decided to go back to an old idea.
We had the tracking layer and then we had other layers that were just active VFX. We would only have one or two tracks as far as what was actually being seen in the playouts.
MF: It seems like there was a fluidity to the creative process. There’s the script, but then Greta and Noah and everybody were not afraid to say “Let’s just see where we can take this. Let’s see all the different ways we can go.”
I read that Greta and Mark Ronson were recruiting artists to do songs for the film as it was being edited. How does that affect you in editorial? Does it affect your ability to get the scenes done or to complete the deliverables that aided in the recruitment process?
Nick Houy: It was unbelievably time consuming. It’s not like the movie was put together and we were pretty close to lock. It was nothing like that. We were constantly, drastically changing the cut.
What saved us was doing really great temp music that synced with the vibe of the film, and finding that vibe and being really hard on it. Not saying, “Oh, this song will do for now. It’s not right, but it’ll do for now.”
We said, “Let’s make this entire movie sing, 100%.” As far as the temp score, I think getting the needle drops as close as possible to the actual tone helped the musicians. When they saw the cut with the temp music, they said “Oh, I get what you’re doing.”
We were constantly working on it and trying different music and making sure it was the very best for each tiny screening we had, or any big screenings, too. We were hard on the material and made it as fun and emotional as possible.
MF: And Maya saved you with those 70s hits.
Maya Rivera: I know Mark Ronson and Greta had particular artists in mind for certain scenes. The rest of the assistants and I would gather those scenes and show them to each artist and see what they thought. Then they would go off and create something cool.
Nick Houy: No one really knew where anything was going to go, even up to the very end. We kept trying things in different places. It was really exciting to hear Greta say something like “Oh, you’re wearing a Lizzo shirt. She’s going to come and sing the opening song for us” or “Billie Eilish is going to sing a song for us.” When she sent that, it was out of control. Everyone was going “What?!” And that just kept happening. Ice Spice, PinkPantheress, it was an insane deluge of awesomeness.
Not to mention that Ryan Gosling killed it with his songs. He was so great. And Dua Lipa… You can’t keep saying people without leaving out a huge artist.
Matt Garner: Kevin Parker.
Nick Houy: Sam Smith. It just kept going.
MF: Maya, I don’t want to say it’s all downhill from here, but I’m having a hard time.
Nick Houy: We kept saying that to her. We were also saying “It’s never this fun, either. You understand that, right?” And she said “I guess.”
“We were also saying ‘It’s never this fun, either. You understand that, right?'”
MF: I want to make sure we talk about the emotional beats of the film, too. Were there times working with Greta where you felt like “We’re leaving something too important on the table?” or “We’re leaning too hard into the emotional stuff? We’ve got to remember that this is Barbie.” You want to keep it upbeat.
Nick Houy: Finding that line and making sure to strike the right balance is always important. There were a lot of big slapstick humor scenes that wound up on the cutting room floor because the movie tells you what it wants to be. It just takes time to go through that process.
You start to realize “Oh, this huge comedic set piece is just not right for the movie. We have to lose it. It’s affecting this emotional scene after it.” Things like that always happen. An emotional scene may be too long and it’s affecting the comedy after. You have to trim it down and try it again.
You just want to sing the song and hit the right notes, and you just have to keep finding it and keep working on it. This movie was very personal to all of us. Even in the ending montage, we put our own home videos into it. It was our family and our friends and things.
I sound like a broken record saying we were all working all the time, but we were just pouring ourselves into it. All of us, Maya, Gloria, Ramirez, Matt, and everyone else who worked on it put their creative energy into it in the best, most beautiful way.
Continuing to do that and then running it through the sieve, making sure only the best bits rise to the top, was just our process.
MF: I’m glad you brought up the home movies, the personal footage that became part of the film. I said there were two scenes that I wanted to talk about. That was the other one. Was that scripted? Because you’ve already said that some things weren’t scripted.
Also, what was the process of getting all that footage together and finding a way to make it work?
Nick Houy: This is what’s funny. When I say that the entire dream ballet sequence wasn’t scripted, I think it was one line. It said “The beach battle ends and a dream ballet ensues. Then they go to the cul-de-sac.” It was just one line. So everyone was like “What is this dream ballet?” No one knew until we saw the dailies. It was a similar thing with the end montage.
The script was hilarious throughout. It had pictures of mermen and stuff. At some point, I think it just said “A Terrence Malick-esque sequence occurs.” That’s it. We never shot anything for it. We never did anything. So we just tried a bunch of stuff. We tried stock footage, we tried footage of life.
We were constantly referencing Malick, obviously, but also Godfrey Reggio movies like Koyaanisqatsi and Naqoyqatsi and, of course, Man with a Movie Camera and Baraka, all these movies where it’s about life and you see a flower blooming quickly.
We thought that none of it quite worked, so we started using old Super-8 footage and then our own personal footage. It was a constant evolution. While we were working on this huge Warner Brothers movie, we were also making thousands of Stan Brackage-esque short films, all of us, with our own material or whatever we could find.
In that sense, it was like a film school where we were all putting together little pieces of footage and trying things out. Where we landed was ultimately the right place, where it’s just women. It’s telling the story of becoming human and becoming a woman. That was what we needed to tell at that moment.
MF: Nick, that might be the most New-York-filmmaker answer I’ve ever gotten in an interview. Congratulations.
Nick Houy: Thanks. I got the New York Filmmaker Award.
MF: That should be a thing.
I know we were talking about shouting-out the crew. I did notice a special thanks to Deborah Neil Fisher in the credits.
Nick Houy: Yeah, she’s great.
MF: I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons to thank Deborah, but why in this case?
Nick Houy: She did the Austin Powers movies and The Hangover. She’s the coolest. I’m going to be more ‘New York’. When you read that book Monster: Living Off the Big Screen about the making of Up Close & Personal, she was the one that was in the cutting room during that time.
She’s a legend. She’s the coolest person and she has a history with Mike DeLuca, who is the head of Warner Brothers now, along with Pam Abdy. They said “We love the movie. It’s amazing. Do you want to see if this amazing editor can make it funnier?” And we said “Yes, please!”
She came and hung out and we ate a lot of food together. She tried some stuff and we just laughed a lot, and then she went home. We said “That was fun.” I want to work with her on every movie, where she could just come in and try stuff.
Honestly, what’s crazy about it is we were all doing that all the time. We were all saying “Hey, why don’t we try to make this moment funnier? Just go ahead and try.” I’m always collaborative in that way, so it didn’t feel unusual.
It was just like having another assistant trying a bunch of stuff, but she’s one of the coolest, greatest editors of all time. It was just a nice bonus.
MF: That’s not too much of a New York answer. I think that’s a universal answer. Everybody wants to work with Deborah.
Nick Houy: Okay, good.
MF: Speaking of who you want to work with, I’m going to put you on the spot, Nick. What do you look for in a good assistant? What do you look for in a good VFX editor?
Nick Houy: It’s all about finding somebody I want to spend twelve hours a day, six days a week with. Someone who doesn’t shy away from working really hard, because they know it’ll pay off. I think that’s the most important thing, a really good attitude and wanting to do your best.
The only flip side of that coin is making sure that people aren’t being taken advantage of and working too hard. Also, making sure that they’re the kind of people that aren’t going to get upset with working too much and will actually be able to communicate.
I think communication is key. As long as you guys can talk in a way that’s not veiled or heated in any way, then you’re going to do great. Some people do hold things in instead of just communicating. I always look for somebody who’s comfortable saying “Hey, I really need to leave at six because I have my nephew’s soccer practice. I have to go.” Then everyone can say “Great, do it.” There’s no problem with that. We all work hard when we’re there. That’s what I look for personally, but everyone is different.
MF: Matt, when you’re interviewing for a job, what do you try to get across in terms of your own skill set? What are the successful techniques and practices for interviewing for a job?
Matt Garner: That’s a good question. I’m at the age where I have to show my true colors and be honest from the get-go. I know that if it’s not going to work out, it’s just not going to work out, and that’s fine. I’d rather protect what is important to me, like my home life and family, and know that I’m going to be able to maintain a good work-life balance at home.
“I know that if it’s not going to work out, it’s just not going to work out, and that’s fine.”
I think I’m a fairly fast worker, but I obsess. I get anxious. I put a lot of care into the job, no matter what it is, how small or how big. But when it’s something like this, with a great crew that I want to impress, I want to make sure that I’m hitting those marks. That’s part of my own ethic and where I come from.
If I say to Nick “I need to work from home for a couple of days because I’ve got two young kids at home. But I’m still going to show up. I will be there, even if it’s at midnight, or I’ll wake up early. I’ll cover those hours and make sure nothing falls through the cracks” I’ll say that pretty early on.
I giggle a little bit because I remember telling Nick that Martin Scorsese doesn’t use many Avid temps. Working with him, you have to send it out and get a proper temp back from a vendor.
I said “Because of that, I don’t have a lot of experience doing temps, so I won’t be able to support you much there.” Well, cut to the end of the movie and I did about 900 temps. It was a little bit of a learning process for me.
That just comes with the territory. I was willing to take that challenge and be excited about it, so I made that clear early on. He didn’t seem to have an issue with that. At the end of the day, it worked out well.
MF: Maya, we already know that your approach is to show up to the screenings. Be fearless. Don’t be shy. Get out there, express your intentions, and say “I want to be here. How can I be a part of this?”
Now let’s look at it from the other side. After having gone through this experience, what are the big takeaways for you? What did you learn from working on this project?
Maya Rivera: Oh, wow. I’ve learned so much. I’ve gained so much skill. But one thing stands out in this work environment. For the crew, there’s such a recognition of your personhood and your humanity. If I wanted to go to Jamaica, I could go. Which I did. I went for a week, and then I came back and kept working. It was no problem for them at all.
My personal life was taken into consideration, so I think that’s something I would be looking forward to seeing in other work environments. In the past, I won’t name names, but I couldn’t even go see my mom for a weekend, which was crazy. But now, with this crew, I can actually have a life.
MF: I know it’s only opening weekend, but have you seen the film yet with a paying audience? Anything about their reactions that surprised you?
Nick Houy: We haven’t. It was hard to get tickets, honestly. I have already seen it with audiences so many times. I’ve heard things from millions of people texting me saying “I saw it with an audience and they loved it!” and “People were putting out rubber chickens to save seats!” and weird stuff like that.
It’s playing better than anyone could have anticipated, even though we had really high-scoring test screenings. You still never really know. It’s way above and beyond what anyone could have imagined.
MF: You really surprised people in a great way. You surprised me.
Nick Houy: Thank you so much.
Matt Garner: Thank you, Matt.
Maya Rivera: Thank you.
MF: Congratulations, Maya. What an awesome start for you. Again, I don’t mean to depress you…
Nick Houy: But it’s all downhill from here.
MF: It’s all downhill from here.