Colin Feature Image

Editing “Rogue One” In 27 Months: With Colin Goudie

How would you feel editing the same movie for 27 months? Sound painful? Tedious? Even boring?

Not if that movie is Rogue One.

Colin captured during an interview with Into Film

Colin Goudie, one of three credited editors of the latest Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, was interviewed during the latest Soundstage event in Stoke Newington, UK. Colin started working in television 30 years ago in the sound department on Bergerac and has come long way since. He’s edited multiple documentaries, TV series and features including Gareth Edwards’ critically acclaimed Monsters.

FEP: What do you find satisfying about editing?

CG: Retelling the story. When you are editing, you are writing, it’s the final draft of the film. First, you need to review the material you get from the set. Human beings never see our own reactions to things, but as editors we see other people’s reactions. You can see what happens between characters and make choices on who you want from which angle. That is the real gift.

FEP: You have over 30 years’ experience editing. How did you start?

CG: I left school when I was 15 – they’d let you do that at the time. I went to art college where I discovered photography and painting but I found 35mm film fascinating. At that point I wanted to have a career painting movie posters.

I got my first running job at Ridley Scott’s company. I would sit in the edit room and watch all the ‘deleted’ Alien cuts. Then I went on to a BBC training. I wanted to specialize in drama, but I was very lucky and got trained both in drama and documentary. The BBC was more than happy to hand over things to cut. They only said ‘don’t f* it up’. When you get your break, you don’t go and ‘f* it up’. For example, you don’t go home at 6pm, but when you are an editor you wouldn’t do that anyways.

When you get your break, you don’t go and ‘f* it up’

After 10 years at BBC I went on to freelancing. With the invention of lightweight digital cameras all drama makers wanted to do cinéma-vérité with handheld cameras and all documentary makers wanted professional dolly shots. Thanks to my experience with the BBC I knew how to do both and managed to avoid pigeonholing.

FEP: How did you meet Gareth Edwards?

CG: Gareth was the VFX supervisor on the Heroes and Villains BBC TV series and also directed an episode on which I was the editor. End Day was the first feature film I saw from Gareth and my reaction was ‘God, this guy can direct’! We also bonded over some geeky Star Wars stuff and usually celebrate our birthdays together.

Later, Gareth made a short film for the 48 Hour Film Project competition and won. Vertigo gave him the money on the back of it and we made Monsters. We shot in Mexico with a crew of 5 (my department was the biggest with myself and my assistant), it was very cheap. He’d film 2 hours and I’d cut 1 minute. Soon he went on to direct Godzilla.

On the set of Monsters with Gareth Edwards (photo: IMDB.com)

FEP: How did you find editing Monsters?

CG: My first cut was 4 hours. We didn’t have a script, it was all improv but we’d put up classical movie posters which reflected the type of film we wanted to make. Gareth shot about 100-120 hours. I removed 96 hours of footage for the first cut. Sometimes there was improv for the same scene on two different locations, I’d leave in both then decide with Gareth and the two producers which one to keep.

In a week I cut it down to 2 hours 15 minutes but then it took us 3 months to cut it down to 90 minutes. The director’s cut was 97 minutes. Our producers suggested to cut it down even more but I said ‘shortening is not pacing it up, it’s not a Michael Bay film, more like a Terrence Malick…I can cut it down to 60 minutes and it will still feel slow’.

FEP: At what stage did you start working on Rogue One?

CG: I started working on the story reel for Rogue One in 2014. One mistake I commonly see writers make is inserting a sentence into the script such as: ‘shuttle lands on planet‘ but they don’t account for the fact that it takes a lot longer on screen than just reading that sentence. So, the idea was to use other films to see how long the action scenes last. It’s a very good mental exercise to time out the script properly.

I went to Lucasfilm and started ripping off scenes from as many films as I could. Then I got some concept artists feeding in sketches and I’d add that on the screen too. At Lucasfilm I also had access to all the John William archives. This story reel was designed for Gareth – nobody will ever see it!

Quite often with directors they don’t know what they want, but they know what they don’t want. My advice for editors is that you should never have a blank timeline, put anything on it!

Quite often with directors they don’t know what they want, but they know what they don’t want. My advice for editors is that you should never have a blank timeline, put anything on it!

FEP: There were three editors on Rogue One, you, Jabez Olssen and John Gilroy. When did they come on board and who did what?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

CG: After Christmas I started cutting the pre-vis (previsualization is a method of visualizing complex scenes before filming to save money). Editorial at the time was just me and 20 pre-vis artists. They could generate shots in a number of hours. I’d cut it, add some temp music then screen it to our producer, Kathy Kennedy. We never really finished this section, we were working on it right up until the shoot date. The pre-vis team also generated scenes that could be projected behind the actors on the green screen, which helped a lot with lighting.

I always knew they were going to have a studio editor on Rogue One, who has experience with editing on this kind of budget. Jabez would came on board at the beginning of shooting. I did line-strings for him, which meant that every time an actor would say a line, I’d put every single angle on the timeline and feed it to him. He came up with the idea of Vader’s lightsaber scene. The end product was slightly different, but effectively the same. It was very collaborative work!

Jabez asked me to cut the scene on Edu which is about 20 mins. That was my baby. At some point, Tony Gilroy (writer) and I came up with the idea that we could cut the whole scene. We ran the film without it, but didn’t have the emotional connection that we needed later! With Jeda, initially Jabez cut it, then Gareth gave it to me and told me to give him three different versions. I also cut the space battle originally, then handed it over to John Gilroy. He was the fresh pair of eyes brought on in the last few months.

On an editorial team your job is basically to re-write the film until the last minute. It was the same with Rogue One but on a completely different scale.

On an editorial team your job is basically to re-write the film until the last minute.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..L to R: Director Gareth Edwards and Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso)..Ph: Giles Keyte..© 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

FEP: Rogue One had a very big set, completely the opposite of Monsters. How did it work?

CG: Gareth would operate camera on all the ‘guerilla’ fighting, hand-held stuff. He is always looking for the ‘moment of truth’. It’s a complete nightmare in the edit bay because it makes finding those 5 second gems so difficult but that’s his style. Also, I shared a house with the costume designers and we would look at dailies every night together. I like that level of collaboration.

FEP: Were you using a temp-score when you were cutting?

CG: Yes, in the first year I temp tracked everything! However, my advice is not to fall in love with the temp score. Try and swap it out quite often. Get any song from Spotify that is the vibe of the film, it gives you a metronome without falling in love with it. Music can show weaknesses, for example, if the scene needs to breathe. It’s a good technique to see if another score makes a difference.

FEP: You worked on Rogue One for 27 months. Did that feel long and stressful? Were you under a lot of pressure?

CG: Usually it takes a year but because of all of the story reel and pre-vis it was longer than usual. Believe it or not, the 11th of December was my last day cutting – a day before the premiere. It was very tight!

I don’t do stress, not editorially. Editing films is never going to be anything but pleasure! You are editing a movie and people pay you for it! Every day on Rogue One there was a reason why I felt it was the coolest job. There were X-Wings on set! Those kinds of things are a total boost!

Even though I was not stressed, there was definitely pressure. Your brain goes to overdrive, so the main thing is to keep your energy. There was a big crew on Rogue One and without the assistants I wouldn’t have been able to do it! Very often there is a demarcation line between the editor and assistant. I’d never do that! Firstly, I wasn’t treated like that. Secondly, there is too much work and we need help.

FEP: Can you tell us about the pick-ups?

CG: Pick-ups were scheduled by the studio from day one. Gareth loves doing pick-ups. We did a lot on Monsters too.

Colin joining other Star Wars fans in a :15 recreation of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back at Starwarsuncut.com

FEP: You say you are a big Star Wars fan, but how big of a fan are you really?

CG: I remember when Star Wars was released in the UK in December, 1978 and tickets were sold out a month ahead but I managed to get some in January.

Before Rogue One I had a friend over who asked me how many R2D2’s I have. He bet me it was going to be over 20. We counted and there were more than 20 in the room we were in…I’ve added so many more since then — they gave me the key to the factory!

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Zsófi Szemerédy

Zsófi studies Marketing & Distribution at the National Film and Television School in London, UK. She also produces the Indie Film Distribution Summit. She's been an ardent Star Wars, Harry Potter, and sci-fi lover since the age of 5.