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Edward Norton Walks Us Through Every Part of Making Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton Walks Us Through Every Part of Making Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton Motherless Brooklyn

Inside MM - How To


Edward Norton: If possible, you should plan for post- production to be longer than the amount of time typically spent on it. I think the DGA’s whole convention of “Ten weeks, or one day of editing for each two days of schedule photography, whichever is longer,” is actually half the time that should be allocated.

We had about 680 shots and some really complicated stuff in Motherless Brooklyn, and there was no way we were going to have the film in any kind of shape to be putting in front of people in that amount of time. I said from the beginning, “Let’s plan for this to be an attenuated process.”

I don’t believe in assemblages, where a director and an editor have already spent time in advance addressing what the intended version of the film is before you even start shooting. That will put your actors on suicide watch: When they’re auditioning something that an editor has already put together, all they’re thinking is, “I can’t assess if this is working or not, because this might not even be the way the scene is intended to play.”

For me, it’s better to just dive into the editing process as it’s happening. Get into the weeds, bounce ideas around frequently, don’t do everything in sequence. Just cut the footage up like a pie and work on the pieces, and eventually your film will start to take on a shape, a form, levels of transition and flow, and a clear sense of how much information your audience needs. I’m a big believer in polishing component parts to a very fine degree before you start assessing the film as a whole.

Score feels like it always comes into the process too late. On set, you’re almost always working with temp music. Wes Anderson is one of the few people I know who has managed to get his composers to work with him along the way, but score is intrinsically late. As a director, if you’re trying to assess whether a scene is working during the shoot, it’s hard to make a judgement call before a fine-tuned score or good sound design is on it, even if you suspect it’ll work absolutely beautifully when those things are added. It’s one of those terrible dysfunctions of the post process that composers, on the whole, feel like they need to see your film in some advanced state before they even bother writing the music, and it creates real problems. But it is what it is.

One thing about post that’s changed for the better is Avid’s visual effects suite: The stuff you can do now with that software at a fairly low cost is astonishing. You can polish just about anything up with the tools available. With your own in-house VFX team, it’s pretty amazing what you can do these days.

Edward Norton Gugu Mbatha-Raw Motherless Brooklyn
First Past the Post: When directing Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose (L) and himself as Lionel Essrog (R) in Motherless Brooklyn, Norton says he didn’t want to follow a shooting scheme pre-determined by the editor. Photograph by Glen Wilson

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