Michael Kahn’s creative relationship with Steven Spielberg dates back over four decades. Sarah Broshar, Kahn’s trusted associate for years, stepped in to work alongside Kahn on Spielberg’s latest film, The Post.
Both earned an ACE Eddie nomination this week. I caught up with them to talk about editing the film, including the crucial scenes when Kay Graham makes that all important decision to print the Pentagon Papers.
Michael, you have a long relationship with Steven, but Sarah, how did this happen for you?
Sarah: I’ve been working with Michael and Steven since Tin Tin. We were working on Ready Player One and we found out about The Post and it was full steam ahead and it was an exciting project.
The train went so fast on this. How did you divide the workload with such a short amount of time?
Michael: Steve and the two of us have a system that has been going on for years and we are prepared to do anything. When this came in, we were able to sit down and do what we’ve been doing for years with him. We had our editorial trailer and whenever he was available we were there for him. We enjoyed going through the movie and we enjoyed when he’d come in.
It was a real surprise. We didn’t expect that movie to be done and we got hit with it, but we got hit with it and we went with it. We were working on Ready Player One at the time, don’t forget that.
What was the day-to-day process?
Sarah: Our assistants work really hard and they work to get all the dailies prepped for us and organized. We pick the dailies and Steven while he’s shooting, he’ll come in run dailies with us in between his lighting setups. It’s amazing that he can devote so many parts of his brain to the filmmaking process. We’ll work on the stuff while he goes off and shoots. Then he’ll come back and look at a cut or we’ll go back and look at scenes. When we had the visual effects review from Ready Player One we’d go and work on that. It was such a fluid process and a balancing act, but it was so incredible.
Michael: It’s like having a football and running down the field with it. There were sometimes he’d bring us in at 6am and look at the dailies before he’d start to shoot. He’d go off and come back later in the afternoon and we already had the scene cut and that’s how fast things were going.
Was there a scene that was particularly challenging to edit?
Sarah: There were a few scenes where there were some really great choices. The scene where she’s making that final decision. That was interesting to look at because there was a lot of footage in that scene, there were a lot of performances and a lot of angels.
Michael: There are a number of places in the movie where Steven felt that some of the scenes were so wonderful and he didn’t want to cut. The scene when she makes the decision to go to press and when she meets Ben for the first time, that’s a powerful scene and he didn’t want to cut those scenes.
The decision to do that was a major decision whether to go to coverage or not and to see how Steven worked and the way we worked with him. Keeping those masters in there allowed us to do other things in the body of the show.
Did either of you spend much time looking at the screenplay to prepare?
Sarah: We read the screenplay so we’re familiar with where we’re going, but it depends on the film we get. It all comes down to what’s in front of you. Michael’s really good at finding temp music that we put in our back pocket. You have to figure out what works with the footage.
Michael: Editing is not a mechanical thing. It’s something you feel and sense will work. You bring it to him or he brings it to you and it’s a beautiful collaboration and that’s where we were. I think we have a beautiful film.
Kay’s journey is so beautiful and that ending is so powerful.
Sarah: We went through the dailies and Steve really shot some great stuff for that. He picked his favorites and with that scene, we tried different performances and we went with what felt right. With the intercutting, we showed the press, the type, people arriving at the house and when she finally makes that decision there’s a huge relief.
Michael: We did a lot of intercutting. That sort of thing adds to the excitement and it was just wonderful.
How would you describe your working relationship with Steven after all these years?
Michael: That’s interesting. We have three people and assistants and we’ve been with him a very long time. We know his shortcuts and he knows how we feel. We know how he feels by how he’s acting and we’re able to make the cuts as we go along and he can see it right away.
With film, we can’t do it right away. With the Avid, you can do things immediately and our relationship has been really sensational. I think Steven was ready for this show.
Sarah: I have to agree. He’s so wonderful and it feels after you’ve been working with someone you know someone. A lot of times we’re all on the same wavelength. It’s a fun collaboration.
Michael: Editing is all about feel. If it feels right we show it to Steven and he has the same feeling as we do.
It’s a great story and Sarah, you’re a female too. What was it like to work on something like this?
Sarah: I didn’t know about Kay Graham’s story. I was thrilled to work with Meryl Streep. When I read the script, it was so exciting. One of the first scenes I remember working on was the boardroom scene and she’s trying to find her voice, and that resonated. It was such a great project to be working on.
Michael: She’s a superb actress. She works with her eyes and her presence is so great. You realize you’re cutting someone who is a myth. She’s mythical. For all the work she did here, we have the opportunity to edit someone who is a master at her trade and her acting. She’ll give you more than you want.
Sarah: We were all so pleasantly surprised. You know she’s a great actress, but when you see all the options, it was so incredible to see the nuances.
Micahel: If you really study her, in the scene when she’s on the bed talking to her daughter. The emotion on that scene is so great. She never had to work before and her husband died so she had to go out and get a job. At the age of forty, she didn’t know how to do it, she had to grow up as a person. What a huge piece of work that it. She really shows it there. It’s one of the scenes I love.