The collaboration between director Taika Waititi and editor Tom Eagles goes back to Waititi’s ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ and other projects, so Eagles knew in advance that Jojo Rabbit was in the works. Eagles says he was impressed with how Waititi was able to take the horrors of war and retell it through the eyes of a child.
The key to Jojo Rabbit was setting the tone right from the beginning, Eagles explains how they found black and white footage of Nazi propaganda cheering hysterically for Hitler and a German version of The Beatles hit, I Want To Hold Your Hand. His challenge was to sync the two pieces together to show the mass hysteria.
I caught up with Eagles to talk about pacing and the rewards of cutting Jojo Rabbit.
You’ve worked with Taika before on What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. What was the conversation you had around Jojo Rabbit?
The conversation was fairly minimal because there was so much detail in the script, and I like coming in with a clean slate. We tend not to go into too much detail about how it’s going to go because he likes to discover that in the edit.
We had some conversations about other films and filmmakers. We talked about Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in terms of the mother and Rosie, our mother. We talked about Elsa being like someone out of Heathers. She was someone who was cool, and we get to know her better and we see her vulnerabilities as the film goes on.
Let’s talk about how you paced the movie, especially in terms of the invasion and cutting that scene?
We were going for a dreamlike space at that moment. What you’re seeing are his dreams crashing down and the whole idea of the “Mighty German Army” is crumbling around him. His idea of what war is, collapses. It’s also slightly hallucinatory, and they were shooting off-speed a lot. We tried to stretch it, so you could see the vulnerability of these people coming through in stages. We start with a bunch of old people and eventually, you see the little kids. By the end of that, you see what’s in store for Jojo if he sticks around. You also have Captain Klenzendorf and Finkel charging in which is also a fever dream in a way. That was a balance in editing but it wasn’t the trickiest to edit.
Well, I have to ask you what was the trickiest scene to edit?
It was the sequence following that. Although the film was about the horrors of war, really the film was about Elsa and Jojo and that relationship. We had a lot more material for the end of the movie. We had everything from a Fraulein Rahm death scene which I think some people would have liked to have seen. We also had a wonderful scene with an American propaganda officer played by Rachel House investigating the kids and re-brainwashing them. They were all great scenes, but we found that if we spent too much time away from Jojo and Elsa the film lost its way a little bit. You just want to get back to her. You also don’t want to get too far ahead of Jojo. Once the Allies win and the Nazis lose, she’s out of there, so we didn’t the penny to drop for the audience too far ahead of. We wanted people to be experiencing it in the same timeframe as he did. Getting that balance right was tricky.
Taika’s style is giving flexibility to his actors so he can allow the performances to grow. Ra has said it too. How does that style work in a scene like the dance scene between Jojo and his mother?
That scene had everything. My first cut of it was probably 6-8 minutes. We’d go from the two of them debating at the table, cut to where she impersonates the father to where we see them dancing together. It was a beautiful act of subversion because the Nazis had banned Jazz music.
Taika had such a strong script, but he’s always prepared to put that aside and improv with the actors. There was a bit of that going on with all the actors. Even in that sequence with Scarlett and Roman were trying things out. We had this enormous well of material, and it was just a question of boiling it down to what was emotionally resonant. I think Rosie really helps us to understand Jojo and why he’s created this imaginary figure. She shows the gap in his life where his dad should be.
I love the opening of the film with the archive footage and The Beatles.
The archive stuff was really fun. Taika had written this great parable bringing together the idea of Beatle-mania and the adulation that people showed Hitler, and that put Jojo’s adulation of him into perspective. It’s easy to forget that a lot of people loved Hitler and saw him as a father figure. There was this mass hysteria about him. It was interesting and fun to show that through the combination of those images and the music of something that you wouldn’t normally see together. It was fun trying to sync bits of old Nazi propaganda films with people singing, but to get them to sing along to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in German instead. That was really fun and interesting to work on. We originally had the real Hitler in there. In the end, it was better to play shots of the back of his head or cut away just as he appeared in the shot. We focused instead on the hands and communicated this mass hysteria of people just wanting to touch him.
They were all challenging and rewarding in their own way.
I loved that because right from the get-go, you set the tone of the movie right there. I love how the film is bookmarked with the Bowie song.
Taika had both those needle drops in place. I don’t know if they were written into the script, but he certainly had them in mind. Then it was a question of fleshing out the music of the film.