Rian Johnson and Editor Bob Ducsay on Cutting ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Knives Out’: ‘98% of the Editing is Shaping Performance’ — Creative Collaborators

The Middleburg Film Festival, running Oct. 13-16 in Virginia, will open with Noah Baumbach’s
“White Noise,” starring Adam Driver, and the centerpiece “Knives Out” sequel “Glass Onion.”

Other films announced for the 10th edition are “The Whale” from helmer Darren Aronofsky and Ray Romano’s “Somewhere in Queens.” More films are expected to join the slate.

So far the fest has announced it will honor Stephanie Hsu with the Rising Star Award; Baumbach
with its 10th anniversary Spotlight Filmmaker Award; “Nope” composer Michael Abels with the Distinguished Composer Award; and Rian Johnson with its Distinguished Screenwriter Award.

Academy Award-nominated writer, director and producer Johnson knows a thing or two
about editing a film, after all, he cut 2005’s “Brick.” But editor Bob Ducsay is his go-to, who he says really “taught me how to collaborate with an editor.”

Having met a little over 10 years ago, the two have since collaborated on five movies including their latest, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a whodunnit sequel to the 2019 film.

Johnson and Ducsay will be honored with the Variety Creative Collaborators Award in celebration of their work together.

Here, they talk about their relationship and the secret to working together.

Going back to your first meeting, how did you two cross paths?

Rian Johnson: I was looking for an editor for “Looper,” and my producer Ram Bergman met with Bob and really liked him. Bob, where did we sit down?

Bob Ducsay: It was somewhere in your neighborhood. Ram and I had met on two years prior on another movie that needed some work. I didn’t end up getting the job, but he remembered me. When Rian was looking for somebody on “Looper,” he hooked us up.

It’s been over a decade, how has your relationship evolved, and Bob, how does it help you as an editor when Rian brings you into the process early?

Johnson: I feel like Bob has taught me how to work with, and how to collaborate with an editor. Before my first film, “Brick,” I had made a ton of shorts and I cut them all myself. I cut “Brick.” I worked with a lovely and wonderful editor, Gabriel Wrye, on “The Brothers Bloom” and was actively engaged. But throughout our working relationship, a lot of patience on his part, and trust building between us, he has taught me how to be a true collaborator. I still have an editor’s brain, but at this point, it’s almost two minds working together, that lock in sync when we’re working. It feels like where we are completing each other’s sentences.

Ducsay: It was very interesting coming in at the start because Rian had his first two movies. I think that that must have been very difficult for him because it’s such an intimate, precise process. Every detail, every nuance, down to the frame, which is 24th of a second, gets debated in your mind when you’re cutting a movie. So, if you already have the instincts of an editor, which Rian does, I bet it was difficult to have somebody come in and do that job. I found that we hit it off right from the beginning, which is true of all collaborations in moviemaking. Over this decade of collaborating, I feel it’s such a comfortable and positive working relationship, because you hope to bring things beyond what someone could do on their own, and I work very hard to do that. But at the same time, you’re also learning everything that the director, in this case, Rian, wants out of their movie and what their vision is.

Your job is always to work toward that vision. I think it’s particularly intricate with editing because it’s so involved in the storytelling. Where we’ve gotten to over yours is extraordinary. But even beyond that, I think one of the things that’s interesting about editor/director relationships is that they are really close relationships. You can stand in a room for 12 hours a day. I think that’s the greatest thing because we can have an incredible amount of fun doing a really hard job, and we enjoy doing it.

What’s been fascinating is seeing you both move through different genres, starting with sci-fi for “Looper,” going into “Star Wars” and finally the whodunnit of it all. How did you two work on that going into these different worlds?

Johnson: Every movie has its challenges. But I think what’s more striking to me is how similar they all are in terms of the working process. “Star Wars” didn’t feel significantly different than “Looper” and that didn’t feel significantly different than “Knives Out.” We’re always sitting down, and it’s the same hard choices in terms of what you cut. It’s the same decision of keeping it balanced. It’s the same pacing considerations. It’s different for each movie. But I will say the one thing, I truly appreciated having Bob for “Star Wars.” Beyond the creative collaboration, it’s hard to communicate the technical challenge that the editorial department faces in cutting a movie of that size and complexity, technically. I had never encountered movies that big before. The reality is when something is that big and complex in terms of the effects work, the sound, and all of it almost becomes a different thing in terms of the technical challenge. Bob had done those size movies before, so he and his team made that easy and they just faded into the background so that Bob and I could engage with the creative work.

Ducsay: To Rian’s point, they are an incredible technical challenge. Everyone who does them knows this. But being able to manage them and maintain focus on what’s most important, character and story, is sometimes challenging- ing. Regardless of the scale of the movie, you’re trying to tell a good story and craft great characters.

“Knives Out” is called an editor’s film, what would you say to that?

Johnson: It really is true that these are editor’s movies, 98% of the editing is shaping performance, loving your actors and trying to apply the best you can to shape their performances so that you’re presenting the best of what they gave you.

Ducsay: The real secret to it is that great actors and a great screenplay make the picture editor’s job extremely easy, and that’s it. That’s the truth.

TIPSHEET

WHAT: Middleburg Film Festival WHEN: Oct. 13-16
WHERE: Middleburg, Va.
WEB: middleburgfilm.org

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