Mike Andrews joined the Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse crew as the film’s editor about a year into the process. While the film was very rough and in storyboard form at the time, it was running much closer to three hours before the decision was made to cut it into two different films. Andrews told Below the Line that working with producers/screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller was a factor in signing onto the film.
One of the aspects about the sequel that Andrews touched on is the decision to forgo the standard mid-credit or post-credit scene featured in Marvel films. Unlike previous films, including the Oscar-winning predecessor, this film comes to an end before just outright rolling the credits. Andrews informs BTL that this wasn’t always the case. They were playing around with a scene featuring Spot but ultimately chose against including a coda because the audience knows that Spot is coming and the dangers that that entails.
Andrews was nominated for an ACE Eddie from the American Cinema Editors, but Below the Line spoke to him back in December.
Below the Line: How did you first become attached to working on Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?
Andrews: The animation industry here is weirdly small and you get to know almost everyone just by jumping around in various shows. I’ve been in the industry for multiple decades now. I have worked with Peter Ramsey. I’ve worked with Bob Persichetti. I’ve worked with Christina Steinberg before. I spent 20 years at DreamWorks—they were all at DreamWorks when I was there. We all kind of crossed paths.
I was coming free off of a movie around the time when Spider-Verse needed someone—their editor was leaving the show. Christina Steinberg, who knew me, was producing and she gave me a call and said, “Would you come over?” I thought about it for 48 hours and then I jumped at the chance. When I saw the first one, I was so blown away by the first one that it was something I wish I had been part of. It looked like a fantastic party that I didn’t get to go to and I wanted to join the party this time.
BTL: At what point in the process did you start working on the film?
Andrews: They had been working on it for a year, but when I first came on, it was in storyboard form only and it was very rough. It was also much bigger and longer than what it became because we had to reach a decision where we had too much movie. We had to chop the movie in half and create a two-parter out of it, which we did maybe six months after I got onto the movie but I was on it for a good two years.
BTL: I’m so used to talking with live-action editors who have have a rough assembly cut ready to go ten days after production wraps.
Andrews: Yeah, I mean, we’re very different and this is where there’s a lot of confusion about what I do. I’ve spent my whole career trying to explain what we do. It’s different and it’s the same. We have the same software, approaches, goals—we want to make the best story we possibly can as live-action editors. We just have different methods and different departments that wrangle all the materials that we use.
We’re also on from the very beginning—we’re on from the pre-production phase so we have the joy of being involved heavily in the story and creating the actual story. We try to work on the movie and get it honed to a point where it’s ready to go into production. It’d be like cutting a movie before you shoot it, essentially. It’s as close as I can describe to what live-action people do.
Essentially, we’re doing the same thing, which a lot of people assume I’m just taking animated shots and chopping them together, and it’s just not the case. We’re reworking the movie and story in storyboard form for a year and a half before anything even goes into production, but that even never stops. Even while it’s in production, we’re still honing the story to the bitter end.
BTL: One of the things I’ve always been curious about with animation film is all the voice recording. Are the mouths already moving when you’re working on the film or does that come later?
Andrews: There’s so much confusion about—no, see that’s the thing is like, we will build these versions of the movie in storyboard form where we’ll have to use our own crew as temporary actors. I’ll send my assistants to go record. I have my little crew of five people and I call them the editorial players because they have to go in to act and perform. Each one of them takes on a character and we use other people around to do it. We recreate dialogue wherever we can for the moment just to get an idea of what it will feel like. We also don’t want to waste the actor’s time, once they’re in the booth. We want to know that we like the words they’re going to say and then give them the room to build upon what baseline we give them.
Once the scene feels good, they go record it with the actors. We go through all that dialogue and that’s a whole process in itself is finding the best takes, finding the best performances, making it all gel. The way they record our actors—they are all separate in a booth are not interacting with each other. I’m combining a record from New York a month earlier with the record that was done in LA way after the fact and hoping they sound like they’re talking to each other.
Once that is settled upon to some degree, that can go to the animators. We don’t want to give the animators the scratch dialogue, we want to give them what the real performance is. They use that. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out so perfectly and they have to start animating so they will animate body movement and things like that—they’ll leave the mouth alone until we get the final dialogue in place but they really need it to guide the performance.
BTL: How long was the cut before you all decided that it was time to split this into two films?
Andrews: It was pushing three hours. It was pretty obvious we had to split it and I was having panic attacks about how long the movie was and how we were going to make a movie out of that. I didn’t feel like there was much we could lose. There was so much story to tell—I didn’t know where to cut and that’s where the dilemma of my job comes in. I was personally extremely happy to hear that we were going to split the movie. I thought it made for a much more interesting movie and we can actually take our time and make the first half really land without trying to rush through anything to get to all the stuff that we need to get to.
BTL: It would not have been the only three hour movie of the year.
Andrews: True. I mean, for some reason animation—they tend to be a little shorter and I don’t know what that is. But yeah, for us, we were one of the longer movies. We might be the longest animated movie ever, I’m not sure. The goal was—we spent a lot of time in the last few months getting it down to the right length—was to make the audience not feel like it was long.
I think across the board from every review I’ve read and from all the responses I’ve heard, people wanted more—well, at least we succeeded with that because nobody ever felt bored or like it felt too long. Some movies, you go in and it feels like four hours. I don’t think our movie felt like it was two hours and 20 minutes.
BTL: I don’t even think I looked at my watch even once.
Andrews: Great. That was the goal.
BTL: I will say that I stayed through the end of the credits thinking there was going to be that additional scene because I’m so used to Marvel either having a mid-credit or post-credit scene. Was there ever an extra scene?
Andrews: There definitely was. We made many attempts at doing some coda at the end and most of them involved the villain character, Spot. We chose to not have it because we felt like we had done a really good job wrapping up the movie and we built Spot into that so you at least know he’s coming and the danger of what he’s trying to do in killing Miles’ father. We felt like we had told the story and bonus material would only feel like we were elongating the movie and we just didn’t want to do that so we opted to leave it out.
BTL: What software system did you use?
Andrews: Avid. Avid is pretty much the industry standard. It’s the most reliable and it’s what I’ve used for my whole career, basically.
BTL: What was the most challenging scene or sequence when it came to editing the film?
Andrews: Wow. They all have their own challenges. One of the joys of working in automation is you have to be able to cut various types of tone and feeling. You have to build a comedy, you have to cut action, and you have to cut scenes with heart, which are usually the most important. When you really look at the movie, it’s kind of a mixture of scenes of action with these much calmer scenes of two people talking in a room. There’s a scene with Miles and his mom, that’s really emotional and she’s basically saying goodbye to him. Those things are challenging just to wring all the emotional threads you can out of it, just get everything you can. It seemed like that, even to the bitter end, it would make me well up, even though I was so numb to it.
Challenging-wise, sometimes those dialogue scenes are more challenging than the actions scenes because the action scenes sort of speak for themselves. There was a scene we really, really struggled with in the beginning of Gwen going into the Guggenheim Museum and meeting Miguel and Jess and all these characters. We were trying to accomplish a lot in that scene and we ended up reworking it many, many, many, many times because we kept trying to make it a scene from Gwen’s point of view.
Sometimes, you have to remember when you’re cutting action that you always have to stay anchored to the person whose point of view the scene is; otherwise, it starts to just feel like stuff going before your eyes. We always had to keep reminding the audience that her dad was there. She had a lot of things going on at once—she was trying to wrangle the Vulture, she was aware that her dad was in a room, she didn’t want him to be in danger but she also didn’t want him to discover who she was.
We laid a lot of groundwork prior to that to make that land and when she does have to reveal herself to him. It became Gwen’s opening. She took over the first 20 minutes of the movie, which is very unusual for a sequel where you you think you would start off with the main character that you left off with in the last one, but we chose not to. I think it was a bold and great choice because the audience found it to be the unexpected, which is always preferred.
BTL: How did the pandemic impact the editing process?
Andrews: It definitely affected us, especially in the beginning. When I first came on, everything was being done virtually. Thankfully, there is the means to do that. A lot of people had to figure that out very quickly to be able to play a full picture or full res image to multiple people around town over the internet was a challenge, but we made it work and it worked well. I don’t think I even met everyone in-person for the first nine months or so and then we decided that we were going to start coming in. I prefer to be in-person but I love having the option of working remotely because I can come in and I can have creative sessions with the directors, be in the room with them, we bounce ideas off each other, and I think that’s what you need really need to make these movies.
When you’re home, you’re a little isolated, it’s a little awkward, it’s a little weird. The dogs are barking, there’s distractions, there’s things going on. I definitely prefer being in but the fact that I could actually get up from my desk and go home and have dinner with my family and then if I had to continue to work to catch up on something, I could. I had that option, which was great. We weren’t so bound to our desks at the office, so it made our lives a little more balanced, where we could be with our families. I found that very—if anything good came out of Covid, that kind of work design helps all of us.
BTL: What about co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson? How’d you all get on and achieve this vision?
Andrews: Great guys across the board. Joaquim Dos Santos did a lot of—they all kind of have their own superpowers. Joaquim is a storyboard artist by trade and he would come in and just draw entire scenes himself. He did the whole train chase scene. It was just so perfect, beautifully done. His boards are amazing.
Oftentimes, when we go from storyboards into production, we think everything’s going to just automatically improve once you get into CG and you have that ability to shoot with a camera setup but with Joaquim’s boards, it was always a matter of no, do it like his boards. They’re perfect. You don’t want to mess with that.
Kemp Powers is a great guy. He’s a brilliant writer. He was always in editorial and he was very good at keeping us on track and focused and he always had a really good story sense. He knew if we cut too much or not enough. He was always really good at steering us with that sort of thing.
Justin Thompson, obviously, was a production designer on the first movie and a brilliant mind at work there to pull off that alone. They’re all geniuses in their own right. They all bring gold to the table.
BTL: How much of an impact did the double strikes have on this third film in the trilogy?
Andrews: It definitely slowed us down a little bit but we were trying to finish the last one when the strikes occurred. My office is right across the street from Amazon and we could hear the strikers out on the street with their bull horns and music. We were in here trying to finish the movie.
We were just trying to finish so we had to cross the picket lines to go into Sony to go to the mix stage and do things like that, so that it affected us even while we were making the second one. Things were able to function on the third one so it was moving along to some degree.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now available via streaming on Netflix.