Editor Bob Murawski was finishing Spiderman 3 when he got a call from friend, Paul Ottosson, who had been hired as sound designer on The Hurt Locker. Director Kathryn Bigelow was looking for an editor and wanted to meet him. Desperate to find an editor who would go to the Middle East, she was already location scouting in Jordan.
“I had been a big fan of hers for years,” said Murawski. “I loved Near Dark and was excited about the possibility of working on her movie. I read it and Chris liked it. We thought it was great.” However, Murawski was not only exhausted from his work on Spiderman, but had other commitments, so he was unable to take on the project immediately.
It was agreed that editor Chris Innis, Murawski’s partner, would edit on location and advise the production on coverage. Murawski would join the film when it returned to Los Angeles. “When I got there they had already been shooting three days,” said Innis. “They were relieved to have someone come out to the Middle East during the Iraq War surge. It was an amazing experience.”
Editorial worked out of the production office in Amman, Jordan. First assistant Sean Valla also went on location to help process the massive amount of dailies. The 16mm footage was couriered to a lab in London once or twice a week by Rupert Lloyd, the editorial runner, who would then transport the taped dailies back to Jordan where they were ingested into an Avid system that had been brought from New York.
Because the film was shot documentary-style with four to seven cameras shooting twelve hours a day, the production had about 200 hours of footage – almost a 100:1 shooting ratio. This was an extremely large amount for Innis to assemble on location.
“Obviously there was no going back to Jordan for reshoots so Chris had to get together as many of the scenes as possible just to see if anything was missing or if there were any problems,” Murawski explained. “It was really important to stay on top of the huge avalanche of dailies.”
“Even sitting down to watch that material would take three to four weeks,” Innis added.
In addition to the nine weeks of editing in Amman, when Murawski and Innis returned to California, they got a couple of extra weeks to complete the first polished cut of the film, which ran about three hours and forty-five minutes. “The way Bob and I work… we polish the film the best we can while we are cutting it,” explains Innis. “It’s not just an assembly. We are putting in music, effects.” The editors spent another six months tightening in Los Angeles until the film was down to a 130-minute running time.
“Kathryn did not want to approach the film as one big chunk,” shared Innis. “She wanted to approach each sequence, one-by-one, as if they were short films unto themselves. By doing it that way, we made sure every sequence was as perfect as possible and as tight as possible.” As they worked, the editors would trade scenes back and forth, so the film looked like there was one editor and one vision.
“When we looked at the film as a whole, then it was a case of making sure that everything fit overall into the movie,” said Innis. “Things were moved around to have more impact, to create more tension and more conflict between the characters and the storytelling.”
The original script was great and unconventional, but because writer Mark Boal had been a journalist, the structure posed challenges to the editing pair. He set-up the characters beautifully, but losing pieces of scenes in the shot film allowed for more subtext to emerge. “We were able to enhance that with the editing,” says Innis. “Subtext is interesting to play with. Less is more. Trying to say something visually, that you don’t need the character to say out loud.”
Having 10-12 hours of dailies for a ten-minute scene was tough, but Murawski admits all films are tough. “It is just a matter of doing the work. It’s about figuring out how to tell the story in an elegant way and telling it in a way that flowed and had some artistic integrity. The footage was shot in a rough documentary-style, but we did not want to follow that style in the editing. We wanted to cut it conventionally.”
“We wanted to treat it in a more formal way, like a classic Hitchcock thriller…playing with suspense,” Innis added.
With all the action, the team also wanted to avoid frenetic editing. Because the footage was shot in a loose style, often with the actors improvising, the editors wanted to provide blocking in the editing so that the scenes not only made sense geographically, but they also wanted to find the true, up-close-and-personal moments with the characters, emotions and storytelling. The scenes could be cut various ways, but ultimately the editing was about focus. “Bob is really good at that,” said Innis. “It’s about logic and about setting things up and making them pay off. It’s always having the right shot, at the right point.”
Previous Noms and Wins
2010: Nominated, Academy Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, The Hurt Locker; Won, ACE Eddie, Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic), The Hurt Locker; Won, BAFTA Film Award, Best Editing, The Hurt Locker; Won, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Best Film Editing, The Hurt Locker; Nominated, Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice Award, Best Editing, The Hurt Locker; Won, Online Film Critics Society Award, Best Editing, The Hurt Locker. 2009: Won, Las Vegas Film Critics Society Sierra Award, Best Film Editing, The Hurt Locker; Won, Satellite Award, Best Film Editing, The Hurt Locker. 2005: Nominated, Golden Satellite Award, Best Film Editing, Spiderman 2 (Murawski).