I can’t go to London to interview editor Matt Chessé as he’s working on Quantum of Solace, his seventh collaboration with director Marc Forster. This Bond girl is broke. So I settle for a late-night phone call—1 a.m. in New York, 6 a.m. in London—and make the best of it.
Erika Latta (MM): I wanted to start by talking about collaboration: Do you find that your work with Marc Forster has approached a Bergmanesque way of collaborating? You are working with many of the same artists on each movie, so do you come more as collaborators than as individual artists?
Matt Chessé (MC): We have definitely evolved a system of working together. Our roles have become refined and our tastes have become aligned. I am actually working with another editor, Richard Pearson, because of the time schedule on Quantum of Solace and it’s the first time I have collaborated with another editor with Marc… Working with another editor has pointed out to me how comfortable it has gotten with Marc. I think because of the amount of time we’ve worked together I could drive everything in a direction Marc likes and he can sign off on things very quickly and there isn’t a whole lot of talking… it just flows. It is sort of like that secret language of twins.
MM: How do you take this core collaboration and put it into such a large-scale movie?
MC: You have to open up your method. It is a positive thing to learn to be able to do, to be able to let a lot of other people into the room, to delegate, to share and leave your door open. It’s been a growing process. You can actually get incredible results without having to do everything yourself. Marc and I, and also Roberto Schaefer, the DP, we have done all the movies together and we come from a very indie background where you do everything yourself. It’s hands-on and you are responsible for every gear turn. On this movie, because of the time constraint, you just can’t work like that. It’s been great to have a huge team and let everyone help and let everyone in.
MM: In editing Quantum of Solace, I imagine you have to be aware of the history and “genre” of Bond movies as well as how to manage audience expectations.
MC: When you’re working on projects like this you’re aware that it will be seen. It is a juggernaut of expectations to step into that’s both exhilarating and intimidating. It’s like walking in somebody else’s shoes: It’s a crazy rush, but you start with the smaller moments… You try to get the acting and the little moments and you try to forget that it’s a James Bond film. You try to look for a good scene or whatever the germ of the scene is. I get the impression that Daniel Craig tries to go that route and forget that it’s a James Bond film. If you carry that weight the entire time, you get a little stuck.
MM: On a Bond movie, you can easily fall into the idea of spoon-feeding the emotions, which a lot of Hollywood movies seem to do.
MC: It’s true. I am much more aware of the audience on this movie than I normally am. Generally, I am just trying to communicate ideas to Marc, but this is a bigger game and there are more people to consider. As we watch the film, as we go back and refine it, we actually have to “turn up the Bond.”
Our style is not to pull punches but to use restraint. In films that are overtly emotional, we try to do it with a sense of class. We try not to put too much sugar in there and put some nobility in it; we try to earn the viewers’ emotions honestly, to not to lean into things with music or craft it in such a way that it comes off too saccharine, on the nose or begging for the emotion. Generally, we try to have some restraint that brings the audience closer to the movie because that makes them work a little harder.
MM: Something unexplainable?
MC: Yes. I think that served us well in Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner and Stranger Than Fiction; we never tried to go for the throat. That style doesn’t always work when you’re doing a Bond film. You have to find the “Bondness” of it. You don’t want to pull back too much for too long or you will make something too subtle… It’s fun to let it out a little bit and be more action-oriented. There is room to be slightly over the top with the characters, to cut on a line with an arched eyebrow.
MM: You must have learned a great deal on this movie, just with the amount of footage in the action scenes alone. Did you ever find yourself in the madness of millimeters and think, “I am on the next boat out of here!”
MC: (laughs) No, I’m a workhorse. I have never shirked my editorial duties… I took some Hippocratic oath along the way. There is a point where you have to rip through the footage or it will roll over you. There is a lot more footage than I’m used to. I tend to hover, reflect and digest slowly. On a regular picture Marc will call and ask, “How’s it going? Are you happy with what you’re getting?” Normally he will say, “Don’t rush—soak it in.” On this film, he never said that. Instead he said, “How are you? Are we going to make the deadline?” (laughs)