Editor Billy Weber has been one of reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick’s preferred craftspeople. Their relationship has spanned 1973’s “Badlands,” 1978’s “Days of Heaven,” 1998’s “The Thin Red Line” and 2011’s “The Tree of Life.”
The most recent picture has now been released in a “director-approved special edition” by The Criterion Collection, showcasing a new cut of the Palme d’Or-winning and Oscar-nominated film, lensed by Emmanuel Lubezki and starring Brad Bitt and Jessica Chastain in a story that melds childhood memories with a meditation on the nature of the universe.
Malick worked for decades on the ambitious film, and Weber treasures his collaboration with the director on the project. The Criterion Collection cut includes an additional 50 minutes of footage, and although Weber was not directly involved on the project, he was able to contribute nonetheless. “Some of the passages I initially cut during production have found their way back in,” he says. “And when Terry was doing sound work on the recut, he was at the same studio where I was working on a separate project, so I had the chance to check in with him.”
Over the years, Malick has built an aura of privacy around himself, but “The Tree of Life,” says Weber, is a kind of culmination for the director, since it’s based so much on his own life. “It was the first time he made a film that directly related to his own experiences,” Weber says, “and I’m so proud of him for doing that.”
The film took root many years before it would eventually get made. “We started working on ‘Life’ when we were finishing ‘Days of Heaven,’ so I had 30 years to think about how to edit the picture,” Weber recalls. “And when it finally came time to work on it, my mind-set was still in 1979. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. All of Terry’s films are different, and yet you can tell they were all made by the same person.”
After cutting “Days of Heaven” at Paramount in 1979, Weber got noticed by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who hired him to edit the trend-setting comedy blockbuster “Beverly Hills Cop” for Martin Brest, then paired him with director Tony Scott on the iconic fighter-jet adventure “Top Gun” (1986). “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “Days of Thunder” followed. Weber calls Simpson and Bruckheimer “the best producers I’ve ever worked for.”
The editor has frequently collaborated with directors more than once. He cut Walter Hill’s “The Warriors,” “48 Hrs.” and “Extreme Prejudice,” as well as Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth” and “Rules Don’t Apply.” Other credits include “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” “Iceman,” “Miss Congeniality” and Brest’s “Midnight Run.”
Weber recently helped cut Shane Black’s “The Predator,” which he calls “a very different Predator movie.” He remains excited about the future. “I’ve not decided on my next project,” he says, “but I’m hoping to do something small and smart.”