When we talk about Green Book we talk about the “chicken scene”, the music playing scenes or even the interaction between Mahershala Ali’s Dr. Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen’s Tony. As Doc goes on a music tour through the South, he takes Tony as his driver, the two form a strong bond and friendship, and learn lessons along the way.
It’s a fascinating and brilliant film by Peter Farrelly, but acclaim must be given to editor Patrick J. Don Vito who strikes the balance between comedy and drama. Can Mahershala Ali play the piano with such fine expertise? Don Vito talks about how editing and visual effects seamlessly wove in Kris Bower’s performance with Ali’s. Read our chat about how Vito worked with Farrelly to set the tone and pace to take us through the South for Green Book.
I found it interesting that this Green Book was actually a thing and what was more interesting was speaking to so many people who just didn’t know it existed.
Believe me, not a lot of people knew what it was. My assistant, Petra is African-American and she didn’t about the green book before this movie and it’s kind of been lost a little bit in time.
There’s such a great pacing to the film. Especially as the road trip takes place. What was the collaboration process like with Peter?
Working with Peter is great because he’s so kind, he’s so smart and he’s very funny. From the beginning, he was always about telling the truth and having the comedy come out of the situations and so that was my way when starting the film, to keep things as real as they could be.
What you’re seeing in the movie, most of those things in the movie really happened to those people.
New Orleans was amazing. I got to go there and be close by. Pete would come in on the weekends and we’d work on sequences. He’d leave and go shoot and then have the freedom to play with it and try different things over the week.
During the shoot, we’d work together on weekends and we got it together fairly quickly. I got it together in Ojai and we did six weeks there. We started showing it to people and getting feedback seeing where things were a little too slow or too fast and seeing that balance of comedy to drama. That’s really the trick of the movie, how much of that do you include? We have lots of different comedic elements and Pete let Viggo and Mahershala try things and that led to a lot of different options of how to structure it tonally.
That’s the thing, the comedy comes in such great pockets. In the car scene, for example, talk about the cutting there and how that works.
It was so much fun. The challenge of the car scenes is you can only have so many angles in a car. With those scenes, the hero shot to me was always the two-shot because you could see the interplay between the two of them and they were just so good together that I would get takes where I didn’t have to cut and I could stay there. Sean Porter our DP and his crew were really good at rack focusing. When there was a lot dialogue going back and forth and they would rack the camera, it was right on so I didn’t get a lot of takes where the camera ruined a take. They were brilliant. Having all those people on it really helped make it. Then it was about the length of the car scenes because they were so integral but you didn’t want to overstay your welcome.
There would be dialogue pieces we’d lose because we felt it was going on a little too long. In one of the car sequences, there was a JFK reference, we decided to get rid of that. Even though it was funny, the scene was going on too long and there was a later reference to the Kennedy family so it didn’t need to be there. It then ended up that the later reference was more of a surprise. That kind of element was something we got rid of.
All of the sequences in the car are in the movie, they were just shortened but nothing was deleted.
Mahershala’s reactions are priceless and that’s what works for me. That’s what is so funny. What’s so great is that when things go wrong or when things happen organically in the scene, they are so good, they stay in character.
There’s a bit where Viggo’s character bit into some gristle and he spat it out, but that stayed in the movie because it didn’t throw him off. He just stayed in character. He was also committed to eating in every single take. It was ridiculous. Being in New Orleans, I gained about twelve pounds. I want to get a pizza and fold it in half.
A testament to great editing is the music playing scenes and how you cut those.
That has a lot do with our visual effects and it was a process getting to that. Mahershala studied with our composer Kris Bowers for months so he had that background. He wanted to be able to look real even if he couldn’t play it. His face had the right looks. In some sequences, in Mahershala’s eyeline, Kris would be there, doing the part like air piano so he would mirror Kris.
We’d shoot everything with Kris playing, we’d shoot Mahershala playing and then we’d combine the two. That’s the visual effects.
That’s great editing I have to say. I heard there’s a story about one scene where Kris is through Mahershala’s sleeves.
Yes. It’s in the middle and he’s on stage, you see him from a side angle. Those are Kris’ arms through the jacket. He put his arms through the jacket. It’s a little cameo, but we had to cut it so you couldn’t see his head. His head is on Mahershala’s back and he is playing it blind. He’s amazing.
He’s such a great guy and super sweet.
What was so great about the music. We didn’t have a ton of money for music so we had to be careful over what songs we used. I really wanted there to be songs from the period in it. They gave me a big bank of music that they could get that wouldn’t break the bank. There were 30-50 songs and I just placed my favorites throughout the movie. About 80% of what I placed was in the movie. What they got was so brilliant so I could place it in the right spots. It was going to be hard getting period music for a price. We did pay a lot for the Sinatra song, other than that, the period music helped drive the sequences and it helped make it a feelgood movie A lot of those songs were ones we didn’t necessarily recognize.
I liked doing the transition where we started on an exterior and as you got into the car, it was coming out of the stereo and that was fun to connect the pieces together.