Editing “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”

Mark Yoshikawa, ACE made his return to The Hunger Games universe after an eight-year break to cut the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Mark’s first experience cutting on the franchise, and for director Francis Lawrence, was on the two-part Mockingjay films. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire editor Alan E. Bell, ACE reached out to his old friend Mark to enlist his help with the increased workload of the two-part conclusion of the Katniss Everdeen storyline.

Plot summary for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is the fifth film in The Hunger Games franchise and is set 64 years before the events of the first film. It explores the events that eventually lead a young Coriolanus Snow down the path to becoming the tyrannical leader of Panem. With the tenth annual Hunger Games fast approaching, the young Snow becomes alarmed when he’s assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. Uniting their instincts for showmanship and political savvy, they race against time to ultimately reveal who’s a songbird and who’s a snake.

Read on to learn about:

  • Keeping pace with a big movie
  • Going back to the book for inner monologues
  • Taking a page on projectors from Alan Bell
  • Bringing back the birds from Mockingjay
  • Coming into a scene later and leaving earlier

Listen while you read…

Editing The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Matt Feury: Mark, this is your fourth film cutting for director Francis Lawrence. I thought we could go back to the beginning and talk about how you joined The Hunger Games franchise.

Mark Yoshikawa: I’ve been fortunate to have a few mentors who have guided me through my career, Richard Chew, ACE and Bob Leighton, ACE, being the big ones. Hank Corwin, ACE was also instrumental. Alan Bell, ACE, who was Francis’s editor on Catching Fire, needed another editor on the Mockingjay films. They were doing those back to back and they needed more help to get the first one out quickly.

I had worked with Alan before as an assistant. At the time, he was making his way into the chair by editing a Rob Reiner film and we kept in touch. Alan’s a great guy, and he brought me in to meet Francis on the Mockingjay films. It was a great collaboration. I learned a lot from Alan. He’s in his semi-retirement out on the East Coast right now. I worked on those films and a TV show called See with him.

MF: Tell me about the interview process and meeting Francis. What did he want to know about you?

Mark Yoshikawa: I think they met with a few editors. I had just come off The Tree of Life. He was a Terrence Malick fan, so he had a lot of questions. Like any interview, he just wanted to vibe it out and see if we got along. That’s so much of what the editor-director relationship is, especially when you’re a co-editor. I already had a good relationship with Alan Bell and they were finishing Catching Fire.

During that era, they were doing the movies back-to-back. There was a new Hunger Games movie every Thanksgiving. They were busy, so it was a relatively brief meeting. Alan called me on the drive home and said, “I think you have the job.”

We shot the Mockingjay movies out in Atlanta. There were two different ways we did it. Alan had a trailer on set that would travel with the production wherever they were going. I was back at the Screen Gem Studios where our main editing hub was set up. But I would drive out to see dailies every day, wherever they were.

I got to see a lot of Georgia, that’s for sure. We shot all over Georgia. Twenty miles in any direction out of Atlanta is a different world. There were filming in a lot of old dilapidated mills and industrial spaces.

I got to know Francis during that time. I was thrown right into the fire. It was a quick post on Mockingjay Part One. Part Two was longer because it was going to be released a year later. We went back to L.A. to work at that point.

MF: Let’s talk a little bit more about the Alan connection. How did you two share the workload and approach post for those two films?

Mark Yoshikawa: For those two films, we just grabbed scenes as they were coming in. I’ve worked on collaborations before and it’s always different. It was seamless with Alan because we wouldn’t share scenes, but we would show our cuts to each other. As far as who worked on what, we just built out from whichever section we were working on. We weren’t cherry-picking scenes. Whatever scene was shot, if it happened to be attached to something we were working on, we would just build that out naturally.

We needed to work fast on Mockingjay Part One, so we were cutting a lot during production. When they went to Europe, I went back to our cutting rooms. We had a 24-hour cutting room because Francis was nine hours ahead. They were shooting in Paris and Berlin.

I remember there was a big climactic sequence at the end of Part One where we were sending cuts back and forth. Francis would cut it during the day, send it back to me at night, and I would do whatever I needed to do and send it back to him. We bounced things back and forth, eventually getting to a good synthesis.

MF: While doing the press for Songbirds and Snakes, Francis Lawrence said he considered splitting this film into two parts as he did with Mockingjay. But you mentioned he regrets splitting Mockingjay into two parts. What was it like pacing out one story that could have been two movies?

Mark Yoshikawa: I don’t know that we ever considered editing it as two movies. Maybe they considered splitting it up during the script stage, or maybe Lionsgate considered doing that for other reasons. But like you said, I think Francis now realizes that it may have been a mistake to split Mockingjay in two. If it’s a TV show, then you only have to wait until next week to get a resolution. But for these movies, it’s an entire year.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the longest of all the Hunger Games books. It’s over 500 pages long and it’s in three sections. To me, there’s no natural split, other than making it have a big cliffhanger. We always just looked at it as one big film, and we knew it was going to be a sizable movie. I think contractually it had to be under two hours and forty-five minutes. We wanted it closer to two and a half hours.

It’s funny, your nose is so close to the canvas while you’re working on these things. I didn’t realize how epic it was until the last couple of weeks of the job. Then I watched it at the premiere and I saw it again last night with a bunch of friends. It’s sizable, especially seeing it in IMAX. When you’re working on it, you’re just working one scene at a time. You’re not stepping back to look at how vast the whole thing is.

The biggest challenge of this film was getting the length down because there is so much story in it. It’s so sprawling. The first cut was probably over four hours long and that wasn’t necessarily fat, either. There was a lot of story to tell.

The thing about reading a book versus watching a movie is that you can usually see how much of a book you still have left to read. You can see there’s still a sizable chunk left in part three. But when you’re watching a Hunger Games movie, you know you’re near the end when the game or mission is over. That’s just how the past four movies have been structured.

In our movie, the game is over at the end of part two. We had to be careful because we didn’t want part three to be groan-inducing. You don’t want the audience to say, “Oh my God, I thought this thing was over and now there’s an entire other part!” We had to make sure there were enough loose ends so the audience knew that part three wasn’t going to be an epilogue. People had to look forward to it. Luckily, part three is a lot of people’s favorite part of the film because so much of the story comes together.

MF: With Mockingjay, you had two films that, according to Francis, could have been one film, and they were cut by two editors. For this film, you have one film that could have been two films, and it was cut by one editor. How does being the lone editor compare to being part of a duo? It seems like the Mockingjay movies and this one were similar in terms of workload.

Mark Yoshikawa: It’s a different dynamic. I enjoy working with other editors. I certainly enjoyed working with Alan and bouncing ideas off of each other. It’s the same thing in the TV world. When you have other editors that are working on the same series, you can show each other cuts or have water cooler conversations. You can get other professional opinions.

You’re right, the workload on this movie is probably as big as the Mockingjay movies, but I had to tackle it myself. I didn’t realize how big it was until I stepped back and watched it in full. I knew that I had a four-and-a-half hour cut but I was looking at it in sections and bringing them down individually.

As far as the workload, that’s the beauty of features. I appreciate having the time to sit and think about cuts, length, pace, performance, and all of that. You get more time in features to sit and work on it. A lot more time than TV, that’s for sure. I never felt pressured because of the size of the film. I was working on it as a story. It just happened to be a lot of story.

I was working on it as a story. It just happened to be a lot of story.

MF: Since I’m focusing on the workload, maybe we should try and put some parameters around the production timeline of this film. When did it start production? How long was the post process?

Mark Yoshikawa: They started shooting in July of 2022 and went for about four months. They shot in Poland and Germany, mostly around Berlin and South Germany. I was working remotely in Los Angeles for the whole run. When they wrapped and came back to Los Angeles, we all went to the offices over at Pivotal Post. That’s where we did our last film as well. We worked there for about 10 months, so it was 14 months overall. I just finished during Labor Day. I did our last quality control check of the IMAX version.

MF: It always amazes me how close to the finish line you get on these films. I would be losing my mind. But that’s why I’m not a professional feature film editor like you. Anyways, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has a hand in the screenplay for this film. Did you use the novel as a reference, or did you leave it alone and just go with the script and Francis’s direction?

Mark Yoshikawa: I read the book when it came out because I was a fan. I just love the world in general. But I didn’t reference it in the cutting room. Maybe we had to pull it out once or twice. There was a copy laying around and we would have one of the PAs look up line references. One thing that Francis and Nina Jacobson, the producer, were very intent on is being true to the fans of the book.

This goes back to the length issue of the movie. We wanted to honor Suzanne’s story and her characters and also the fans who have grown to love it over time. A lot of adaptations stray from the book for cinematic reasons, but I’ve always felt that all the Hunger Games films stayed very faithful and very true. I love that because the stories are so good.

I sometimes went back to see exactly what Coriolanus, the President Snow character, was thinking. Suzanne’s book is written in first person and it’s all from Snow’s perspective. There’s a lot of internal monologues. That’s something you can’t do on-screen unless you do cheesy voice overs or something.

Fortunately, we had a fantastic actor, Tom Blyth, and a stellar cast across the board. Tom conveyed a lot of the internal battles and emotions that are written in the novel with his eyes. We set it up through context, and music and sound help too.

MF: Once you read a script and agree to do the film, what do you do next to prepare for a very long project?

Mark Yoshikawa: We were finishing another film called Slumberland before this movie. Francis was off to prep Songbirds and Snakes while we were posting on Slumberland, so there wasn’t a lot of prep on my end. I was trying to finish that film. But I read the book when it came out during the pandemic. I was glad to be returning to this world.

As far as prep, because we were finishing that other film, we just left our Avids and walked away. Everybody had to take whatever vacations they could. Then we came back a month and a half later and started dealing with the dailies. They were coming in because Francis had been prepping the whole time out in Germany and Poland.

But back to your question. I did go back to the book every once in a while wondering, “What is Coriolanus thinking?” and a lot of times it was already right there on the screen.

It was easy to get back into it because I love this world and I love working with the people in our crew. Almost all of the principals came back on the production end as well. We had a lot of the same people on our side too.

MF: Editors often tell me that a director will leave before they’re done and start prepping their next film. I’m not saying that’s what happened with you and Francis, but I imagine that can be frustrating for the editor. They’re left saying, “Wait a minute, we’re not done here. Can you focus on what we’re doing?”

Mark Yoshikawa: I never felt like that. You want a director’s time but you’re also honored to have his trust. At that point, you’re just hoping that you’re not doing something that he’s going to completely undo, which almost never happens. The director will have the final say, but he’s trusting us as a team to steer the ship in his absence.

I would feel more pressure if it happened with a new director. But when you’re familiar with a director, there’s a little bit of trust. That goes for the cutting as well. I’m not precious about my cuts and I try to send him stuff at the end of every week. We send him cuts and VFX to review over the weekend.

Early on, I realized that no news is good news from Francis. Before the pandemic, I was used to working with him directly on set. When I started sending him cuts remotely, I wouldn’t hear anything. Every once in a while I would email his assistant and say, “What’s going on?” She would reply, “No, everything’s great. He even showed people on the set. You’re doing well.” So I stopped asking.

It’s not that I was self-conscious. I was just hoping for notes. Once I realized that was going to be the pattern, I knew that he trusted me to shepherd the movie until he could come in and make the final decisions.

MF: How do you have your editing room set up? What do you need to be productive and comfortable for six to 18 months of cutting?

Mark Yoshikawa: It’s different as far as the technical aspect of each project. Take Slumberland for example. It’s a Netflix film, so we knew it was going to be mainly seen on TV and stereo. We had a TV and stereo set up in the room until we started getting 5.1 mixes from Jeremy Peirson, our sound designer. But Hunger Games was going to be a big theatrical IMAX movie, so I took a page from Alan Bell. He had a projector over his head, so we got the biggest screen we could fit on a wall.

I’ve got a three-monitor setup and I work on my Avid at an adjustable standing desk with the projector over my head. In this case, we were in a nice big space, so there was a couch in front and I could lower my desk to make eye contact with Francis if I needed to. Francis and the producers would watch the screen and I could do all my work behind them. For sound, we were cutting in 5.1 from right from the start.

MF: You were on location during Mockingjay. Is it better for you to be close to production or do you like to be removed from the action?

Mark Yoshikawa: I don’t mind being removed from the action. It’s always nice to be on set for the first week or two, especially if you don’t know the people that you’re going to be dealing with. But I don’t need to be on set for the entire shoot. Even though I like being on set, I always feel like I’m not doing much while I’m there. It’s an opportunity to lose time when I should be back in the cutting room.

I like working at home remotely during production. First of all, I can work at any time. I can still have dinner and even lunch with my wife if I want to. I like to be able to walk upstairs and downstairs. But after they wrap shooting, I think it’s invaluable to be editing in the room together.

You hardly get the director’s time during production anyway. That was one of the things on Slumberland. I planned to go to Toronto for the shoot because there was another wave of COVID. Canada was especially strict during that time, so Francis said, “Look, you should just cut from home. I’d hardly be able to see you in a normal situation. And because of the COVID protocols, I couldn’t see you anyway. Let’s just do remote co-editing.” Up until that point, he had always wanted his editor on set. I ended up just sending him cuts and then him giving me back notes.

After he wrapped, we all got back to the cutting room. That, to me, is the best hybrid situation. Stay at home or cut remotely instead of on set during production. You know what it’s like. It’s like the post office. You’re just dealing with sorting, cutting, and trying to get things together. You don’t need the distractions of being on set. But once you’re sitting down with the director, especially for those ten weeks, you have to be in the same room.

MF: For this film, you almost have to serve two audiences. You have The Hunger Games devotees who want to see how Snow’s origin story connects to the Katniss Everdeen movies. But you also have an audience that has never seen the other films. They don’t have a clear picture of what the Hunger Games are, why they exist, or how they work. Did you have that in mind while you were cutting? Did you try different versions to make sure both audiences would be satisfied?

Mark Yoshikawa: We tried to tell the story as its own piece. I’ve heard that people who weren’t familiar with the books liked this movie in and of itself. They probably knew that Snow was going to become the villain in the later movies, but they enjoyed the film because it’s so epic and sprawling by itself. Those newcomers enjoyed the movie just as much as the fans.

We wanted to make a new mythology while honoring certain Easter eggs and callbacks that would delight the fans. Most of those callbacks were also already in the book.

MF: When I’m doing interviews about certain franchises, usually Star Wars or Marvel, I’ll ask if there were any assets reused from film to film. Did you have any media assets, most notably sounds from the previous films, that you brought forward? Or is everything in this film brand new?

Mark Yoshikawa: There were a few things from the previous films, especially from the sound and music world. The music is still James Newton Howard. He came back and we temp tracked a lot of the original Hunger Games score. We had four movies worth of temp tracks to play with.

I usually like to do the first pass of the music myself. After I’ve done a first cut, it helps me in certain sections, especially during montages or emotional scenes. We had a lot of assets that we brought in and we tracked it with James’s music, which was all later improved and replaced. But some of the themes stayed. We felt like they worked as long as they weren’t Katniss-specific.

I was surprised by how many of my original ideas stayed in. They all became different arrangements because it was sixty-four years earlier. The music in this film is more analog than the original movies. There were no electronic instruments used on the score. This score has a more tactile feeling.

On the sound side, we were fortunate enough because Jeremy Peirson, who’s done all of Francis’s movies, was on Catching Fire and the Mockingjay movies. There were certain sounds that he put in there, most notably the mockingjays. Not to give anything away, but there’s a big climactic sequence at the end that involves mockingjays singing.

I said to Jeremy early on, “Do you still have those mockingjays? The ones from Part One in the quarry when Katniss starts singing?” He had to go back through all of his stems and unarchive a lot of these elements, but he found them. I was able to get those and start playing with the mockingjay tweets. That was a very specific sound asset that Jeremy dug up.

MF: You said the first cut was about four hours. The final runtime, if I’m not mistaken, is two hours and forty minutes. That means you had to lose 90 minutes of the movie. Which scenes or story points did you spend time refining or removing?

Mark Yoshikawa: We lost a lot of intros and exits. You can always come into a scene later and leave earlier. Some of the games became shorter. We realized that in all the other films the games are the highlight, but in this movie, they’re just a piece. In a sense, you already know what’s going to happen. You know who might win because it’s a prequel.

You can always come into a scene later and leave earlier.

This movie also has 24 tributes and 24 mentors. That means there were 48 main characters that we had to establish. Normally, the Reapings would have been a much bigger deal, but we had to use a montage to get through them quickly. You still realize who is important, whose face you need to follow, and the names you need to recognize. We definitely had to shorten all that expository setup.

Certain scenes needed to come down, like the classroom scene. That scene had a lot of exposition and philosophizing about nature. It’s Viola Davis as Volumnia Gaul versus Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andres Rivera). It’s the authority of law versus people’s freedoms and rights. There was a lot of that in the book and unfortunately we had to lose it. It just slowed the scene down.

MF: Hearing that you might have tightened the games is interesting because of one scene in particular. I consider it one of the most pivotal scenes in the film. It’s where Coriolanus has to rescue Sejanus from the Hunger Games arena.

It’s set up like a classic action set piece. You have Dr. Gaul, who tells Coriolanus what the consequences will be if he doesn’t succeed. She explains that she’ll freeze the feed of the broadcast so he can perform a feat without anyone knowing. It’s a relatively short scene. Other movies would have dragged that out a little bit more. Can you break down the mechanics of that scene as well as the character beats? I feel like that scene is the first time Coriolanus shows his dark side.

Mark Yoshikawa: That’s a good example of a scene that started relatively long. He wakes up and gets the assignment from Dr. Gaul then walks through the quiet arena. The darkness and the eerie sound of him walking on the gravel was modulated. It could have been a long, tense horror movie moment. But we got him through quickly because the movie was running long. We knew that we needed to get to the meat of those moments.

Coriolanus talking to Sejanus was the first scene they shot. The shots of him walking around the destroyed arena was a pre-production shoot, but him talking to Sejanus was the first scene that they shot.

That conversation used to be longer. There was a little bit more back and forth. The creepiness that’s pervasive in the situation, the creaks and sounds in the distance, and that kid Bobbin (Knox Gibson) attacking them is classic horror. It’s the jump scare piece of the film.

But it’s interesting to have Coriolanus turn dark there. He has these warring angels and devils in his life. There’s Sejanus and his cousin Tigris trying to keep him on the good side. Then there are people like Grandma’am and Dr. Gaul that push him toward darkness.

When he hits that kid, he hits him twice and the kid falls to the ground. Francis shot it two ways. In one, Coriolanus hits him and he’s horrified by what he did. He drops the hammer and runs away. You don’t know if the kid died until the next day. But we found that we needed to start hinting about the path he would take. We needed to see Coriolanus deliver that third death blow. He even admits afterward that he felt powerful at that moment. Once we put that in, we said, “Okay, we know this is the direction that we have to go.”

We started laying these seeds throughout so that it wasn’t such a change at the end. That’s the trick with prequels. You know how he’s going to end up but he starts in such a different place. You don’t want it to feel like a sudden shift at the end.

MF: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is broken up into three parts. You have The Mentor, The Prize, and The Peacekeeper. The film gets progressively darker throughout as Coriolanus Snow takes his journey to the dark side. Any comedy that exists in the film is solely in the first two parts. It primarily comes from Lucky Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), the host of The Hunger Games broadcast.

Humor has always been a tricky thing in The Hunger Games because of what a dark concept it is. Were you and Francis cautious about letting the film become too dark or possibly using humor in ways that would seem wrong in this very grim reality?

Mark Yoshikawa: We knew it was a dark film, much darker than some of the other films. The humor in the middle of the film was written in. Jason Schwartzman was so funny. They let him write some of his lines with Michael Lesslie. We knew the film was going to need some levity in the middle. It was also playing off of him being an ancestor of Caesar Flickerman, who was played by Stanley Tucci in the other movies.

Also, it shows how The Hunger Games became such a big spectacle later on. Jason Schwartzman starts out as this humble weatherman. But by the end, he’s playing it up and understanding the spectacle of it all, just like Stanley Tucci did as Caesar.

As far as the humor, they let Jason go wild. One of the things as an editor is you get to see the outtakes. Sometimes the editor is the only one who is ever going to see them, especially if the actor is ad-libbing. When Jason was doing ADR, I told him how fun it was to watch him doing different bits.

But you’re right, we had to modulate him because sometimes it was just too glib and too sarcastic, or it was just ruining the moment. You don’t want to joke about death too much. But it’s also showing the difference in perspective between The Capitol and the reality of what’s happening.

MF: That final part, The Peacekeeper, is the darkest part of the movie. It’s the section that connects to the previous Hunger Games movies. I imagine that that section was the most difficult part to edit, considering the tone shifts even darker. You can’t give a short shrift to that even though you’re being sensitive to the runtime. Was that the case? What were the things you focused on in that critical final chapter?

Mark Yoshikawa: In the shooting schedule, they shot that arena first and then they went out to Poland and shot all of part three at the same time. So I had more time to work on part three. It’s my favorite part of the movie. You have these vistas and these beautiful environments. It’s different from the rest of the film.

Filming locations for Ballad included the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig and the Centennial Hall in Wrocław.

At that point, the characters are also having their moral dilemmas put to the test. You’re seeing Lucy Gray in a different environment. You know what the games are, but you don’t know where you’re going in part three. When Coriolanus gets out to District 12, you don’t know what betrayals might be happening or what everybody’s motivations are.

One of the biggest challenges about the film was modulating the romance, the Romeo and Juliet aspect of the Snow and Lucy Gray relationship. We realized that part three seemed off. Their relationship either seemed to develop too fast or the turn of what happens at the end was too abrupt. Their relationship didn’t feel earned. They didn’t feel like they were where they should be emotionally in part three.

Early on, we had much more romance. They were much closer in parts one and two. There was a scene in the zoo when he pulled away from her. Originally, they kissed and we felt like that was too early for them to kiss. We wanted to make sure that the romance was believable and that they were these star-crossed lovers. But when the turns started happening at the end, it felt too sudden. They were so believably in love. We had to tone that way back to make the turn work.

As a result, there was a lot less romance, less romantic music, and more scaled-back moments of romance. We put in more wariness early on so that in part three, that hesitation worked. When the turn happens at the end, you understand the motivations a little bit better.

MF: As dark as the film can be, something lightens things up a bit: singing! And with Rachel Zegler in a lead role, you can add an American Idol aspect to The Hunger Games. How were those elements done? Was it pre-recorded and played back on set? Was it a live on-set recording?

Mark Yoshikawa: This was one of the most amazing aspects of the movie. Rachel sang every scene live. We did pre-records and we had them available on set. We had the instrumental pre-records too. She had come right off of another movie and the first thing she did was go into the studio and record all the musical sections.

When we got on set, we decided to keep an open mike and see how she did. She said she didn’t like to lip sync and she didn’t want to sing to playback. She said she could do it. She did every single take of every single musical scene live. Not only that, but she was exactly in key every single time.

As an editor, I could cut between takes and not have to worry about rhythm, tone, and pitch. Everything that’s in there is her singing right into the microphone on stage or onto a boom mic off-screen. She’s amazing.

Her voice didn’t even waver at the end, except for maybe in the snake scene, when she has to belt it out. That may have been the only time when her voice got a little fatigued. She was impressive.

MF: You talked about James Newton Howard, the composer. Other than Hunger Games creator Suzanne Collins, I don’t think there’s anyone from the cast and crew who has been a constant throughout the franchise except for him. I could be wrong, but I think he’s the only one attached to every single Hunger Games movie.

Mark Yoshikawa: There’s Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson, the producers. They were on from the start. But as far as the post production side, James Newton Howard has seen it all.

MF: Producers don’t count, Mark. I’m just kidding. Please don’t take me seriously, ever.

Going back to the score, one of the things I noticed is that there was a lot of it. Except for some dark moments, the score was always present. Did it feel that way to you? Was that something that you, Francis, and James wanted to do?

Mark Yoshikawa: We had a lot of music at the beginning. Toward the end, we realized that there may have been too much music in certain spots. Something that you learn as an editor is that you’re going to live with the decisions you make in the mix stage forever. Earlier in the editing process, you have the luxury of repenting your sins. If you took something out and you wanted to put it back in, you can always go back and do it.

But in the mix stage, if there’s an ADR line or a piece of music that you take out or put in, that’s it. That’s what’s going to come out. When I go to a premiere, I often feel regret for something that we left in or took out at the last second. A lot of times it’s something that we didn’t put in.

Near the end of this film, Jeremy Pierson and our music editor Steve Durkee, had a feeling that there was too much music in certain spots. So we took a lot of it out. Because I was so used to it, it felt empty to me. But when I watched it last week at the premiere, it was the first time I ever said, “We made all the right decisions. Francis was right, we did not need music in these spots.”

It’s always tricky as an editor. You get used to certain sounds and music. You have to trust your collaborators and your director. He was right.

MF: Your Mockingjay co-editor, Alan Bell, is big into VFX. He does things in Fusion for temp VFX. Do you also do a lot of VFX or is that something you leave to other people?

Mark Yoshikawa: I am not like Alan Bell as far as the VFX side of things. He is amazing. I would watch him work live in Fusion when we were working on Mockingjay. He would do it right there in the cutting room. I do my fair share of effects in-house but my first assistant Fulvio Valsangiacomo is very good at green screens and tracking.

One thing that I got very good at during Mockingjay was doing monitor comps. I mean having different layers and cutting out the hole, but then using a different layer to edit what’s happening on the TV. There are so many shots of people reacting to what’s happening on monitors in this film. You want to have the flexibility to change what’s on that monitor without having to do a lot of renders. It’s great to be able to play with one layer that’s being played on the monitor and another layer for what’s happening in the foreground.

MF: Clearly, Alan is a unicorn when it comes to visual effects. Did you pick up any other editing techniques from Alan?

Mark Yoshikawa: I always thought it was funny that I had come out of the Terrence Malick world right before Mockingjay. I noticed Alan would cut dialog very tight, and that’s the antithesis of what happens in the Malick world. I always felt like it was very, very quick cutting.

I noticed Alan would cut dialog very tight, and that’s the antithesis of what happens in the Malick world.

Now, I’ve grown to understand the technique of cutting for dialog and getting the tone of the words right. That is one thing that I remember feeling, is that Alan shined a light for me on how to cut dialog.MF: Since The Hunger Games has a lot to do with mentors and you just happened to name-drop Bob Leighton and Richard Chew, I can’t let you go without asking about them. What did you learn from them?

Mark Yoshikawa: Richard and Bob are great. While I was an assistant coming up, I was bouncing back and forth between the two of them. With them, I learned how to run a cutting room and how to have an easygoing mentality about approaching a cut methodically. I also learned about respecting your director, trying to see his vision on screen, and trusting your instincts.

Richard was a good friend and a great mentor. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. Bob was laid back. I also worked with Andrew Dickler during those days. I also met Alan during that time.

I find that you can’t necessarily teach instincts, but you do have to trust your instincts. Because those Alan films are comedies, sometimes he would watch us to see what we were laughing at. You have to trust your instincts but also make sure they translate to other people. Those guys are the best. Richard, Bob, and also Hank Corwin. I learned a lot from Hank.

You have to trust your instincts but also make sure they translate to other people.

MF: You could do a lot worse than learning from those three guys. Let me ask you one of my patented awful last questions. This is a question that’s in line with the holiday season, albeit in a very twisted way.

In The Hunger Games, the players can be gifted things that will help them in combat. They get water, food, weapons, stuff like that. If editing was like The Hunger Games and you were competing in the cutting room, what would you want to be gifted by your mentor?

Mark Yoshikawa: I would say Sugarfish sushi. That would be the one thing you could fly in. As an addendum to that, maybe going out to Sugarfish. That’s what I’m thinking of. You would be able to see the daylight and have lunch outside.

MF: You’re an easy guy to shop for, Mark.

Matt Feury

Matt Feury is host and producer of The Rough Cut podcast, as well as the Sr. Director, Market Solutions – Video & Post for Avid.

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