Editor Greg Levitan came onto Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem had a new brand of turtles to assemble. What partly sets the film apart from the others is that they have actual teenagers voicing the Turtles. For Levitan, it actually added a challenge to the editing process because of all the dialogue overlapping during the recording process.
Levitan mentions how the film was once substantially different during a screening six months into the job. It was “really fun,” but in that early cut, the Turtles were attending high school, which doesn’t happen until the end of the finished film. As a result of the change, it took about another year and a half to rework the film and retell the story.
On January 25, Levitan was nominated for an ACE Eddie from the American Cinema Editors. Below the Line spoke with him about how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem evolved and more.
Below the Line: How did you first become attached to working on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem?
Levitan: I worked with [director] Jeff Rowe on The Mitchells vs. The Machines. We were doing the final mix on that where he got asked to come aboard Turtles. I continued with The Mitchells and it was about four months after that he called me up to see if I wanted to join. But yeah, we had a great time working together. It was such a blessing to be part of another movie with him especially his first time directing his own feature. But yeah, that’s how I got started on this one.
BTL: What was the shorthand like with Jeff Rowe since you previously worked on The Mitchells vs. The Machines?
Levitan: Both coming from television, we understood a lot of fast turnarounds is one thing. We definitely like to try as many ideas as possible. He has a strong writing background but I think through The Mitchells, we all gained so much experience, especially in animation where it’s such a big collaboration world. We have good banter and we always want to go the distance in trying so many things out, especially with this story.
BTL: At what point in the process was there more or less of a rough cut of the film?
Levitan: Oh, boy. I’d say six months into me coming on, we we did a rough screening of the movie, which is completely different than what it was. I think that’s always the case with animation, which is great. You’re not reliable on a script-to-screen process. We have so much changes throughout.
It was a completely different movie. I believe all the turtles were already going to high school at that point. When we watched it, it was really fun. We knew the idea of what the chemistry was in the turtles and the relationship, but now we needed to go back and kind of retell a different story.
BTL: How long did that take?
Levitan: Probably about year and a half. I think we got another another six months or eight months, we did another screening. We found a good 50% of the movie that really worked well but we needed to go back in and do another change on the 50%. It was just these moments of tying great relationships with the characters together, especially [the] Splinter and Superfly.
April was a big part of that—we were kind lacking and we needed to really move forward with her. So yeah, it was about a year and a half where we were really coming together in making the story work. I wasn’t very happy with the next part of the process because the animation had to be done so fast, which they amazingly did a great job. But yeah, it took a while to get the final story out.
BTL: What software system were you using?
Levitan: For editorial, we were using Avid the majority of the time. That’s our main system.
BTL: What was the most challenging scene or sequence when it came to editing the film?
Levitan: There’s a few. I think the challenging overall, I would say, was the recording of the Turtles. We decided that even though they were all great individually recording that when we put them in a room together, the magic happened. We went off script in those sessions and it was such a delight, but when we brought it back in edit and we wanted to fine tune and move dialogue around—in the recording, when you get back, everyone’s overlapping each other, so when you start moving character here and there to make something for more comedy or emotion, you can hear the overlap that’s still there from the record.
That was a big challenge of how we get into technical-wise and separate that and try not to break the magic they have because of how the recording was. Their sequences—we always had them overlapping—were some of the most challenging. But overall, it was pretty fun.
I’m trying to think of some sequences that were hard. I think the ones that were late in the game were in the boat, before Superfly fights all the Turtles and the mutants, I think that was because it was so late in the game of building that, that was a bit of a challenge. But yeah, for the most part, I think that the dialogue of how we worked in the edit was tough.
BTL: How involved was the Point Grey team in the editing process?
Levitan: Oh, yeah, they’re so great. Seth, Evan, sometimes they brought some of the writers along, but they were in it a lot along the way. For screenings, they would come in. We would go weeks and change things. Certain deadlines would happen. But yeah, they were always—if we ever needed another eye to look at, we would bring them in and bounce ideas, so they were a big part.
BTL: Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtle?
Levitan: I used to say Mikey because the comedy of him, but I think I’m gearing towards more Raph. I think I’m a Raph fan now. I think it’s a good split down the middle—Mikey Raff.
BTL: The one thing I will say is that it was just so different hearing actual teens as the voices as opposed to the cartoon series when I was growing up or even the earlier trilogy of films in the 90s.
Levitan: That was something that they really, really honed in on in the beginning. They knew that we needed to have real teenagers playing these parts. They went through thousands of tape and eventually found these four are so talented, each one is so unique, and when you get them in a room together, it’s purely magic. It blows my mind thinking of that first session—they’re walking in, I don’t know who the these kids are, and then just as soon as we say go, what’s coming out of their mouth is just pure gold. It’s so fun and they go off one another. It’s just pure magic.
I mean, I wish we could we had tape we could show how it was. It was really funny. We had to tell our director Jeff and Seth to kind of—they would laugh so hard that their laughs would pick up on the record. You know that Seth’s laugh is so infectious and Jeff’s laugh is just as good. It would just be like, you guys—they would bust out laughing in the middle of a take because the kids did such a great job and brought so much humor but it was like calm down, you guys gotta stop laughing over their reads but no, it was a great call from them to really stay on point to find teenagers to play the roles.
BTL: It’s almost like you need to put them in a soundproof room so that the laughter isn’t picked up!
Levitan: Yeah, it’s impossible. In the beginning, that’s what we were trying to do but we found that everybody in the room together, it just is that comfortable. It just brings out more energy but yeah, we tried to put them further back (laughs) in the recording studio.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is now streaming on Paramount+ and available on home video.