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HomeCraftsEditingMission: Impossible Editor Eddie Hamilton Discusses Some of the Key Editing Moments...

Mission: Impossible Editor Eddie Hamilton Discusses Some of the Key Editing Moments in Dead Reckoning Part 1

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Dead Reckoning
Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (Credit: Paramount)

Editor Eddie Hamilton, ACE, has been involved with the Mission: Impossible franchise since director Christopher McQuarrie took over in 2014 with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, after many years working with filmmaker Matthew Vaughn on action films like Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Rogue Nation proved popular enough that McQuarrie (aka “McQ) and Hamilton (and Tom Cruise) continued to work together, first on Mission: Impossible – Fallout and then on the Joseph Kosinski-directed Top Gun: Maverick. Not only was Top Gun the highest-grossing movie of 2022, by a long-shot, but Hamilton was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the movie, also winning the ACE Eddie.

For the past three plus years, Hamilton has been working with McQuarrie on the two-part Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, an epic that puts Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) on a race against time to get their hands on a key that can stop a mysterious AI, referred to as “The Entity,” but could also give unlimited power and world domination to the country that has said key. Hunt has a new accomplice in Hayley Atwell’s Grace, but the Entity also has some human help in Esai Morales’ Gabriel (who has connections to Hunt’s past) and the mysterious killer Paris, as played by Pom Klementieff.

Below the Line recently spoke with Hamilton following our talk last year for Top Gun: Maverick, ahead of the editor’s well-deserved awards recognition. Please note that there are some minor spoilers for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One in the following conversation.

Eddie Hamilton in Norway Sept. 2020 (photo by Hamilton)

Below the Line: The last time we spoke, you were still in the middle of making these movies. What was the transition like between Top Gun and making the two Mission: Impossibles? I feel like due to COVID, you were still working on Top Gun once the Mission movies began shooting. 

Eddie Hamilton: It was pretty clean. We only had a bit of previs for the scene right at the end of Dead Reckoning Part One, with Ethan and Grace scrambling up through all those train cars on the crumbling bridge. We did a previs of that in February 2020. It evolved, gently, over the summer, as we were still finishing Top Gun: Maverick. I had August 2020 off, and then first week of September 2020, I was in Norway, where they did the ramp jump, and then it was full on, just one week off at Christmas each year, and the rest of the time just going full tilt. But then, of course, we were working on the movie almost a year and a half before Top Gun even came out. We were quite far through the process of photography, and we had done quite a bit of editing when Top Gun came out.

BTL: How long did you end up shooting in Norway? I don’t think there are that many American (or even European) productions that shoot there.

Hamilton: How long were we there? I want to say three weeks maybe? They shot all the train fight there, and a lot of establishers of the train, things like that, and bits of characters running across the train. I think it was about three weeks, maybe it was a month, something like that.

BTL: Was this always conceived as a two-parter?

Hamilton: Yes, always was [from] the earliest discussions. When McQ [McQuarrie] and Tom were spitballing ideas, I think they came to the conclusion very quickly that it would be a great opportunity to do a two-part story, to incorporate everything that they wanted to achieve.

BTL: It’s kind of brilliant that Chris came up with this idea of the Entity when he did. To write something involving AI almost four years ago, and then for the movie to literally coming out just as AI is everything anyone is talking about, it’s pretty crazy.

Hamilton: It is crazy. Also, some of the concepts in the movie, like an AI impersonating Benji’s voice, is not something that even six months ago, we had really wrapped our head around. But now, it’s like an inevitable future, if not a present reality. When I read some of the early ideas, I was quite unsure how we would communicate them to the audience, but now the audience is bringing all this paranoia with them to the movie, so we don’t have to do much work to really sell it. Everyone knows that AI is a potential threat to all kinds of aspects of our lives. When you watched The Hunt for Red October, everyone knew about the Cold War, we didn’t really have to set that up in people’s minds. It’s the same kind of thing now, I think.

(At this point, we went off on a slight tangent on how AI is being utilized beneficially for editing and post, and you can read about that at the bottom of this article.)

Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (Credit: Paramount)

BTL: You mentioned Hunt for Red October, and I did want to talk about the opening scene on the Sevastopol, which doesn’t even have Tom or any of the film’s stars. I definitely paid note to your editing on my second viewing. When did you end up shooting that during the production?

Hamilton: It’s very interesting. It was a challenge. There was a whole other chunk of that sequence, which was after the torpedo hit the submarine, we ended up cutting out. The first assembly of the scene was much more suspenseful and mysterious, and we had a version of the scene where they could hear the enemy submarine, because obviously, everything underwater is about what the sonar one can hear. They put it on the loudspeaker, and there’s this kind of ghostly echoing noise, and everyone was looking at each other going, “What’s this?” With a very long movie, you can’t hang around for things like that, and you have to get to the point of the scene, which is the enemy submarine launches a torpedo, and then they have to react to it very quickly.

We really compressed it massively, which is the process, obviously, of editing. We’re down to the bones and the frames when we, in our last passes through the movie, we’re going through and really analyzing every single frame of the film, and asking ourselves, “Does this need to be here? Does this need to be here?” When we’re building a scene like that, which is ramping to a climax in the middle, you’re constantly interrogating the speed of the cuts and how it’s being scored, and what we’re doing with the sound of the beeping sonar, and the homing torpedo, things like that. We shot it about… I want to say it was last summer, somewhere around there, maybe?

We’ve been rolling cameras for two years, so I kind of lose track a little bit of when things happened, but it was built on a very incredible set, obviously, on a gimbal that could roll and tilt and pan and all those cool things. Erik Jendresen, the writer, was sent all the casting tapes, and he picked great faces. Everyone has a really great face, and you’re connecting with the characters in a tiny amount of time with very minimal behavior or dialogue. But you still do start to lean in, and you’re invested with the captain. He’s a Polish actor, he’s terrific. The audience may not understand the significance while they’re watching it, but hopefully, they’ll think back on it and realize this AI caused the submarine to destroy itself. They may not be necessarily aware of why that’s significant or how that’s going to play out, but you do see the Entity starting to cause trouble to Ethan and the team through this movie.

Like every scene in the film, it starts out quite long. We do it silent, because the whole film has to work as a visual story first and foremost. I remember doing an assembly of the scene, and I had dialogue on it, but McQ was like, “Just turn off the dialogue. Let me see the images of these faces,” and these strong angles that he created, and how the camera moves and all these great close-ups. He loved the lighting in there, so I remember the first assembly of that scene, he just got everyone in and just said, “Watch this.”

It was a process of evolution, obviously, as these things are. We first did an edit of it, like last summer, so we probably were filming last spring of ’22, and then over the summer, about this time last year, we were editing that sequence. Yeah, that’s how it came together.

Eddie Hamilton (back center) with his editing team; (back row l-r) Christopher Frith (First Assistant Editor), Grace Couzins (Trainee Editor), Hamilton, Rob Avery (Second Assistant Editor), Tom Kemplen (VFX Editor); (front row L-R) Cécile Tournesac (Music Editor), Tom Coope (First Assistant Editor), Lydia-Marguerite Mannering (Second Assistant Editor), Abbie Hawkins (VFX Assistant Editor), Susan Novick (Post Production Supervisor) (Photo by Rosalind Furlong)

BTL: You were actually editing while they were still shooting, because I think you mentioned having done that on Top Gun

Hamilton: Oh, I always do. I always try and keep up to camera and build whatever sequence they’re filming, so that there is a version of it. Also, it allows me to be very thorough with understanding what the camera has captured, and all the different angles and coverage and variations of performance that we’ve got, in case McQ or Tom or the first AD or whoever calls me to say, “Did we get this? Did we get that?”

And then, what we did was we would take breaks in filming. I said, “Look, if we’re going to get this film edited, we have to have a hiatus.” And so, over last summer, I said to the producer, “Look, it would be a great idea if we actually just took a break in filming for four weeks and allowed me to go away.” I went to Maine, where Chris McQuarrie has quite a few friends. We rented a house, and I set up my laptop and my big hard drive in the basement, and we edited there. It was very pleasant. It was sunny, and we were in the middle of nowhere, and we just started at 7:30 every morning and cranked and cranked until we got through everything. We managed to do the submarine, and all of Rome and pretty much all of Venice last summer. We had done the airport before, and we had done the train before, so those were the outstanding sequences.

BTL: When you’re editing the submarine scene in Maine, and you go, “Oh, we really need a shot of this…” like maybe the computer or something like that, is it still possible? Do you have time to get any pick-ups?

Hamilton: For sure. A lot of the close-ups on the switches and the screens, all the Dutch angles on the screens, we had some, but we wanted to get them better. McQ loves a really dynamic, strong insert, and always tries to get the actors in the insert shot. He will often do a low angle, looking up at a character who’s holding the object that would normally be an insert of a POV. He likes making sure that we are as thorough as possible with all those inserts, so that they feel like they have great production value, and they weren’t just taken to a second unit and grabbed. Chris McQuarrie directs everything on this film.

BTL: One of the other things I really enjoyed on second viewing were the shots of actors putting on a mask to become another character (with another actor playing them). Those transitions were so smooth and seamless. I wasn’t sure if they figured out a way for them to be done in-camera or not, because that would be tough.

Hamilton: We did use some VFX stitches and things like that. McQ actually dislikes mask gags, because he feels that they’re a trope. He tries to do something fresh with each film, but we ended up finding that they’re actually quite useful. They end up actually being really useful storywise and great fun as well. When people buy a ticket to a Mission: Impossible movie, that’s literally part of the fun. They’re like, “When are we going to see a mask gag?”

Shea Whigham in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (Credit: Paramount)

BTL: And I loved how Shea Whigham just walks up to people and starts grabbing their faces to make sure they’re not wearing a mask.

Hamilton: That was totally him! He was like, “I should know about this guy. I should know about this tech, because I’m aware of the IMF.” And he has a history with them, which he hints at in this movie. He knows Ethan’s wily techniques. And that one with Kittridge in the train at the end, that was a pickup because we did Henry [Czerny‘s] coverage. We turned the camera around, we did Shea’s coverage, and he said, “You know what I should do, McQ? I should reach forward and grab his….” And McQ went, “Oh, that is genius. We should have shot that.” So they brought Henry back the next day, and they redid that shot of his face being grabbed, because we knew it would play, and it’s all Shea Whigham’s idea that stuff, it’s really great.

Eddie Hamilton (photo by Rosalind Furlong)

BTL: When you’re making a movie (or two) like this where you’re literally filming for so long, is there always a point where you can stop and say, “Okay, now we’re in post, now we’re editing” especially in this case when you’re doing a two-parter and filming is going on constantly?

Hamilton: It’s insane. It was really the only way we could do it. The production obviously wants to keep shooting, because the crew wants to keep working, and everyone wants to keep busy. I remember having a conversation and saying, “Look, I’m not sure that we will actually get the editing done.” Having the editing done means turning over the VFX shots with certainty they’re going to be in the movie. You can’t do that right at the end. You have to give them time to finish the film. The productions on Mission are very fluid, so the script is evolving, and the ideas of what may or may not be in the film is evolving the whole time. The crew are very used to thinking that something’s gonna happen, and then, there’s a bit of a pivot in the middle of the day and things change.

It wasn’t that much of a surprise for them to be told, “We’re going to edit for a bit, and everyone take a break over the summer,” which everyone probably needed. I did a bit of a deep dive into how they did Back to the Future 2 and 3 in 1989, which was only six months apart. I can’t imagine how complex that must have been, when they were doing it all on mag and 35mm workprint and photochemical visual effects with all those split screens with Michael J. Fox playing all the characters. I remember just thinking, “How on earth did they ever do that film, those two movies six months apart?” And Harry Potter 7, Part One and Two, and then Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. All the crews who worked on those films, I’ve got massive newfound respect for them now, because I’m in the same boat.

BTL: You mentioned a few times now about dropping or cutting scenes. I think I read somewhere that the train sequence was a lot longer as well, maybe 90 minutes or so?

Hamilton: All the scenes were much longer. That’s what happens when you’re editing, because they will try a lot of stuff out on the set and stuff that they think is essential, and I’ll put it all in. It’s very lumpy and uneven and you can’t watch it. It just goes on and on and on, and there’s no focus and the intercutting isn’t right. It just needs tons of work, and we did watch a version of the movie, which was that long. It’s almost silent, because we don’t really do sound effects work much, because McQ wants it to work totally visually. We didn’t have any score on it, because McQ doesn’t like using temp score. We only use score that Lorne Balfe has written for this film. That’s how the score becomes so unique on all these movies, because we’re not temping it with anything.

We’re just using the suites that he writes, based on watching dailies, and then starting to play with those to picture much later in the process. But yeah, everything starts out much longer, and the fun bit of editing is after that, where, once you’ve got everything on the timeline, you can then start to really get to work and refine it and find the truth in each moment and what the minimum amount of screen time that you can tell the story in, which is the holy grail. If you’re looking at a two and a half hour movie, you’ve got to get on with it. You can’t be self-indulgent at all. Literally, every frame has to earn its place in the film.

Esai Morales and Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (Credit: Paramount)

BTL: Of course, when the second part is released next year, people are going to want to sit through both of them, regardless of the length.

Hamilton: I hope so. I absolutely think it will actually enrich the experience of watching the first movie. One of the things I feel we got right was it does feel satisfying at the end. Even in our very early screenings, the audience always said, “It’s very satisfying. We can’t wait to watch part two.” That was one thing that we did crack quite early in the process, which was enormously rewarding, because whenever you’re doing a Part One, you’re always wondering how the audience is going to feel. Tom always said, “They have to feel satisfied at the end of this movie. We can’t rely on the second movie to save us. We have to make sure this one works on its own.”

BTL: I certainly was a little worried, as someone who regularly watched the original Doctor Who serials as a kid, where each part was 20 minutes and almost always ended on a cliffhanger. As I was watching the scene on the train, I got a little worried that the train would approach the blown-up bridge, and then we’d get a “To Be Continued.”

Hamilton: No, no, I totally understand, but you can have faith, because Tom Cruise is producing this film, and he will not let you feel like that at the end of one of his movies. He knows that’s not a great way for the audience to feel when they’re leaving the movie at the end. He wants them to feel like, “Damn, that was amazing, what I just saw. I can’t wait for the next one. But I’m not in suspense.”

I did love those Doctor Who episodes though with the cliffhangers, don’t get me wrong. Tom Baker was my Doctor Who, and I remember it was every week here. You had to wait a whole week for the next episode. I also remember watching all the 1930s Flash Gordon serials, which was shown here on one of the TV channels at 6pm every day, so you could watch part two the next day, but I do remember being totally enthralled by all those cliffhangers. It was great…  ha ha! Field trip down memory lane, gosh.

BTL: These movies do end up on IMAX and other premium formats. Is there anything you have to consider for that on your side of things?

Hamilton: That is a good question. I’m aware of it, so this is what I do. I have an 80-inch TV in the cutting room, but I also have a little action figure of Kurt Russell from The Thing stood in front of the TV, which gives me a sense of scale. If you imagine holding a Star Wars figure up to a TV or something, that gives you an immediate sense of scale of a person to the size of the screen. Kurt Russell sat there on my desk, and he’s always reminding me of the size compared to the humans, and I am very conscious of that. It’s certainly in our thought process, but ultimately, I want the movie to work, regardless, really. You don’t rely on the overwhelming sense of scale. T

here’s nothing like going to a movie and having the big screen experience and the Dolby Atmos sound. I also love the Screen X version of the movie, which is where the sides of the cinema come on. They did about 53 or 54 minutes, about the same amount of the movie as Top Gun, and it’s such fun to be immersed in that. I saw The Flash in Screen X as well, and they did a terrific job of that film. All the time travel and all that was just so well done, it was great.

Tom is very keen to embrace these other ways of seeing the movie, because it is something you cannot get at home. You cannot get IMAX, you cannot get Screen X, and you cannot get 4DX, where the seats move and they blow wind and smoke and water. That is so unique to a cinema. We really need to embrace it as filmmakers because it gives people a reason to go to the movies.

In the industry, we’re all desperate for people to go to the movies. There’s been a shift in the audiences’ behavior, for obvious reasons, and we want to remind people of the joy of the big screen. If we can get people in there with the big screen and the big sound, and they can forget that they need to look at their phones, and they’re there with their family, and they’re just having an amazing experience. I have been to see the movie quite a few times with audiences, and it’s so much fun when you’re in there with a crowd, and you can feel everyone laughing, and on the edge of their seats. It’s just so rewarding.

BTL: You’re preaching to the converted here, man.

Hamilton: I know, I know, Ed. I know that you’re there as a kid watching all the movies, as well, same as I was.

BTL: I often watch panels from Manhattan Edit Workshop and they recently did a panel on AI. It turns out that for editors and post, it’s a really useful tool.

Hamilton: It’s definitely useful in some ways. I mean, you can eliminate quite a lot of the heavy lifting, repetitive work to an extent at this stage. Maybe it’ll be more so in future, but it would be useful to just say, “Show me all the close-ups of Ethan Hunt in this film.” And it would just go [makes a sound like a computer search engine] and bring them all up, because it knows what Tom Cruise’s face looks like. That kind of thing I imagine is going to be quite useful in the future, especially on documentaries and things like that, where you’ve got just hundreds of hours of raw footage. I mean, not that we didn’t have on this film, but I can imagine that kind of… AI is in our phone, the facial recognition on your phone, is going to be useful in moving images and things like that, but it’s the nuance of pace and line deliveries and emotional connection with the characters, which is way off with AI, if it’ll ever get there.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 is still playing in theaters across the nation.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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