MM: Was the two hour length based on your edit or were there specific plans based on Orson’s notes and what he wanted?
BM: There never was a specific plan dictated and starting the project knowing the amount of footage that we had, we didn’t know how long the first cut would be and we were looking at all the footage saying look we have hours and hours and even more than we thought. We knew we had a lot but, when we sat down and calculated, it turns out we had 96 hours of footage. It was incredibly overwhelming but, when when we finally put the first cut together. it ended up being about two and a half hours, which seemed like a really manageable amount of movie. That was with pretty much every scene in it. Orson shot a lot of footage, but was such a professional that he shot a lot of multiple takes. As an editor, I’ll never complain about having too much footage. And then it was just a matter of us working together and knowing Orson’s theory about editing. He always wanted to be tough on the movie. Orson famously said of 2001: A Space Odyssey: “I’ll go see that movie when the guy cuts it down to under two hours.” He was always a director who prided himself on making his movies succinct. He felt like two hours was the limit of any audiences attention span. Even Citizen Kane, which feels like a long movie, is under 2 hours. We always knew that Orson would’ve wanted this movie to be under two hours. The actual movie itself is an hour and fifty seven minutes, sans the longer end credit sequence listing all 45 years of people working on the same movie. Orson himself may have cut the movie ten minutes shorter, or maybe under 100 minutes. He was always afraid of boring the audience. He wanted movies that were succinct and didn’t overstay their welcome.
MM: With all these mounds of material, what was the moment you realized ‘We can do this. This is going to be a movie?
BM: I would say when I got that first two and a half hour cut together. There were a lot of dark ages in the beginning of the process where we didn’t really know there would be a movie. We didn’t know if we had everything to craft a cohesive, interesting story that felt engaging from start to finish. Once we put that first assembly together and watched it, it really felt like a movie. It had a structure and a character who had a dramatic arc that you could follow from beginning to end. It was important that it had a character could emotionally connect with, that the whole experience didn’t feel like a novelty, an academic exercise of putting together this lost movie from a bunch of old footage. We watched that two and a half hour cut and all felt that it was very emotional at the end, connecting with the arc about this old director trying to make a comeback before failing and ultimately dying. I know, especially, Peter did because he was on the project for so long. Just as a lover of film, to know that we really had something felt great. Of course, there were all the technical challenges of dealing with sound and the picture, but that was secondary to having a movie that worked on a surface level.
MM: How did you prioritize your research, between Peter Bogdanovich’s wealth of knowledge to the notes that Welles left. How did you manage all of these different sources in their influence on how you perceived the project?
BM: It was really about immersing myself in Orson and his thought process. I could see that, as his movies progressed, he started making more independent projects. I could see the shift in his style away from more in-camera filmmaking to a more edit-based filmmaking style. I understood the reasons for this and it made the whole experience much more palatable for me. I would also read various interviews to search for clues as to what he wanted to do with the movie. He wanted to explore the theme of betrayal—of the older director by the younger director. Even though it’s mostly in Hannaford’s head, he still feels as if he is being betrayed. It was also interesting to know what a low opinion Orson had of editors. He always referred to them very dismissively in all the interviews he did, even refusing to call them editors. He said they should be called cutters, because all they do is cut. So he had this low opinion of editors, yet here I was, having to finish a movie for him. I also made a point of calling the editors that he worked with when he was alive and asking about his work. John Gillen who worked with Orson up until the point that he died, said, “Orson had the whole story in his head and knew what he wanted to do, but he was also always experimenting. You should really just do what you feel you need to do to make the movie work. Orson was never afraid to try. He always said he was more interested in experiment than accomplishment.” For me, he was a very experimental filmmaker. And that’s something I realized from reading his notes and talking to everyone. He felt that the editing room was really where a movie came to life.
MM: The editing seems erratic at first but, as you fall into the rhythm of the film, you realize that everything has a purpose.
BM: At the start of the process, we had this old, dirty print that was jumpy with lots of scratches that made it seem a lot worse than it was. Once we actually got back to the original negative, one cut flowed into another and it seemed a lot more eloquent. It’s definitely a style that blends itself to the movie. It was also about trying to figure out when to keep that style and when not to use it. With the dramatic scenes between Peter and John Huston, it necessarily demanded a smaller, more intimate style. He hadn’t really edited a lot of those scenes. He had shot them so that they didn’t really lend themselves to the more overly cutty style. He also talked about how a movie needs to work musically. As you get into these more overly dramatic scenes, they should mimic the flow of an orchestra. Once you get into the faster cutting scenes, it’s more like the allegro section. It was really tough to know exactly what he wanted but we hopefully came up with something that faithfully represents what he would’ve wanted. MM
The Other Side of the Wind is now available to stream on Netflix. All images courtesy of Netflix.