William Hoy came well-prepared to edit War for the Planet of The Apes. He worked on the previous Apes film with director Matt Reeves and by now the two have a relationship built on mutual trust. For Hoy, it’s about the performances and the characters. When I spoke with him we discussed how the workflow with WETA helps him achieve a unified vision, and how certain scenes moved him to tears when he saw the finished product in his editing suite.
This is your second Apes movie, what was different coming in this time and how had your relationship with Matt Reeves changed this time around?
A few things come to mind. One of them is the trust factor. He had never worked with me before 2014. He’s a fine and meticulous director. There were a lot of things he had envisioned that he wanted to see. I asked him to take a look at what I had in mind and maybe there would be another point of view. Halfway through Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes, I saw there were some scenes that needed some help. It was during the battle scene led by the rebel ape. You don’t want the humans to lose, and you don’t want the apes to lose. Which asks, what point of view is that scene because going into it there wasn’t a point of view. Going into it, the rebel ape led the army against the humans so you didn’t know whose eyes you were watching it through. We went in and took a lot of elements and shot a bit more for the motion capture team and played it through Caesar’s son’s eyes. He was the one being led into this battle, being idealistic, but he realized in the heat of the battle that it’s horrific on both sides. That was something we did in the editing room. Through that, we bonded and had this trust that I could help him realize his vision.
With War, the learning curve that we had with motion capture, 3D and technology in the first one, the second one allowed me to put scenes together more efficiently. Let’s say the eye lines weren’t correct, the take was consistent and so was the performance where I could use it and place it in the scene. One of the characters could be looking the wrong way and talking but with the consistency of performance. Also, the visual effects house would help us get there.
Can you talk about the workflow with WETA? Because you have the human performance and then it’s so layered after that.
I begin with the human performance because that’s the most important thing. It’s amazing to watch the motion capture actors in their PJs with the sensors and dots and watch the movie for the first time and divorce yourself from the fact they look funny.
Almost everything is based on the performance of the actor. We shoot mostly in live locations such as the rainforest. There’s also the fact you can separate each actor from each shot so you can mix and match. They shoot the scene three times, once with the actor, another with the motion capture actor, and one with the background and camera movement and all of that comes together at WETA.
In that process, once we get a scene that Matt and I agree on, that’s when we’ll send it there and talk to WETA about it and what we need them to generate. So, as you imagine it’s a lot of phone calls. I think our longest session was a seven-hour call.
WETA worked on all three, so they understand this technology better than anyone else and they understand what we want. It’s more us telling them what we like and they accomplish it as you can see from the end results.
They’ll send us back different versions and they start by placement of the characters in the shots and we talk about lighting on the eyes and other details. So, where you talk about the realism of the apes, it’s about going back and forth to get that absolutely correct and matching. We play it to the original scene to give it that realistic picture.
What’s it like for you to edit and create that story flow with those elements all missing and coming together?
Thankfully, I have the experience of the first picture to have great faith in what they do. I have to say, when I come in, we get the VFX that have been sent overnight.
The first thing I do is look at those and sometimes I’m moved to tears. If you see those frames where Maurice and the little girl are exchanging those looks, it’s only for a few frames, my breathe was taken away. I knew it was going to look good, but I could never have anticipated how good it would look.
It hit me so hard when I saw it. We’re working with a picture that is not in its final stages. If you went out and shot a motion picture with real human characters, you’re editing what is there and what’s going to be there for the most part. With a film like this, it’s ever-evolving. We were doing it right through until the final stages. There were some scenes where we even ripped out the music because it could play out without that music we had put in.
It’s a fun to work on a picture where all the visual effects budget is spent on the performance.
What’s an example of when you stripped out the music?
When the apes burst in and discover the girl. There was music playing throughout that whole scene, but it was so mesmerizing. The apes were expecting something else and there’s this little girl, it was so expressive that we didn’t need any music. If you pay attention, you’ll hear the breaking of the waves and Maurice’s breathing. Music would step on something.
How did you edit the first battle to create that pacing?
The approach is you want a character that you can hold on to and see things through their eyes. One minute you’re with the humans and then the gorilla shows up. With the pacing, we tried to build to this crescendo and when the music can’t go any further and you can’t cut any quicker, we go to this gorilla who’s watching his fellow apes get massacred and you wonder what he’s thinking. His look is ambiguous and you’re not sure where he is whether he wants them to die or not. That’s when you see those smoke bombs and it picks up again. That was the pace and how we laid it out. It’s all about getting into his head and how he later becomes this important character later on, so we have this story within that scene. The action and pace get you caught up in the battle but yet, we want to know how to be looking at it. We think we should be rooting for the apes and you’re torn between rooting for them and the humans. That centerpiece dictated the pace of what was around it too.
What about the speed change. Were there any scenes that required you to do that?
There were quite a few. That scene we talked about has a few. Working with Matt, he shot some scenes at different film ranges so I could take them and slow them down, letting it play at 24, I used the speed change to get into his psyche. You see the sound change, and it becomes subjective where you hear subjective sounds. It’s what it would be like if we were in a sports stadium and you can’t pick everything out.
When Caesar is running and one of the soldiers shoots him, if you watch, you’ll see the speed change when he picks up the grenade and he throws it. I feel if you’re slow you’re more in that subjective point of view, and then we speed it up to get back into the action. It’s something I’ve done a lot to get back into the action. Each film has its own style, but I adapt my style to what the film needs.
War For the Planet of The Apes is on DVD now.