Tech and storytelling converged during a fascinating series of discussions at the Academy on May 15 about Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, and Star Trek Into Darkness, hosted by screenwriter John August.
After showing a funny collage of clips about ditching cell phones and revealing how he could literally adapt Roald Dahl’s fantastical squirrel sequence from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, August engaged writers and editors about storytelling priorities in the age of social media, short attention spans, and sophisticated VFX .
ZDT producer-writer Mark Boal talked about dispensing with exposition in the first briefing with Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her CIA colleagues. Taking a page out of All the Presidents’ Men, it wasn’t about the arcane historical data but the subtext: the clash between Maya and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle). The narrative was
And the two ZDT editors, Dylan Tichenor and Billy Goldenberg, revealed how they found the right flow through the maze of info. By contrast, the suspenseful raid to get bin Laden, which was shot in darkness, required a choreography of action and clarity, alternating between the green light from the night-vision goggles and one of the SEALS as a sign-post.
Meanwhile, Academy Award-winning editor Goldenberg reiterated the blend of styles and shooting techniques that made Best Picture Oscar winner Argo such a unique storytelling experience. It was a period movie made with a contemporary vibe.
With Star Trek Into Darkness, there was a great synergy between editorial, previs, and VFX, according to co-writer and producer Damon Lindelof. He even proclaimed that updating Star Trek is like walking into Tomorrowland (which is also the title of his latest time travel adventure with Brad Bird).
But in this new digital paradigm, all of the departments now work more more closely up front, which is particularly helpful to editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. But it’s still about the actors setting the tone in assembling incomplete sequences, despite the prevalence of previs. Still, the editors will occasionally request expanding sequences that are vetoed because the VFX would be too cost-prohibitive. In one case, they recalled ILM’s VFX supervisor Roger Guyett saying it would be an addition $1.5 million to to continue the scene.