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Old and new filmmaking techniques merge in Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! is the highly-anticipated new film from the prolific filmmaking duo of Joel and Ethan Coen. It joins an impressive lineup of Coen Brothers work that includes box office hits, cult classics, and Academy Award winners. The Coen Brothers are known for taking a hands-on approach to all aspects of filmmaking, from writing and directing, to editing and producing, and Hail, Caesar! is no exception.

The Coen Brothers made a commitment two years ago to move to Adobe Premiere Pro CC for editing, and worked closely with Adobe to create their new post-production workflow. Additional Editor Katharine McQuerrey and Post-Production Supervisor Catherine Farrell worked closely with Joel and Ethan to create a post-production workflow that fit their unique style of filmmaking.


How did you approach making the switch to Adobe Premiere Pro CC?

McQuerrey: We met with Adobe a year before we started editing Hail, Caesar! There were certain tools we had to have because Joel and Ethan work in a very specific way. We gave our feedback to Adobe and they were great about including some of the things we felt were necessary to cut comfortably, such as support for embedded keycode , larger waveforms, and instant clip updates in the Media Browser.

How easy was it to learn the new software?

McQuerrey: A couple of months before Hail, Caesar! started I taught myself Premiere Pro using web tutorials and other resources. It was a remarkably smooth and seamless process. There are certain naming conventions and ways that you have to work that are a little bit different, but coming from Final Cut Pro the actual cutting is very similar to what we were used to. We thought we’d need two or three weeks to get Joel up to speed, but within two days it felt like the cutting process was normal.

What is unique about the way the Coen Brothers work?

McQuerrey: Joel and Ethan are known for their process, which includes not cutting any dailies. The entire film is cut after shooting, something that is very rare in filmmaking. Ethan does the assembly, finds the good takes, then rings a bell when he gets to a point in the scene when you can start editing. Joel then picks up the content and cuts it in.

Farrell: Unlike most filmmakers today, Joel and Ethan still like to shoot on traditional 35mm film, so our job starts the minute something is shot. In this case the film was shot in Los Angeles, developed at FotoKem, and sent to EFILM for scanning and color grading. That’s the color we use until the final DI.

Tell us about some of the challenges you encountered.

McQuerrey: The scenes with CG effects that are created during the editorial process are always the ones that tend to be the last scenes cut. There are certain editing rules that are difficult to follow when you don’t have real shots.

Hail, Caesar! is also a movie within a movie so we had lots of transitions going from a film to a studio executive watching the film in a screening room. We used green screens and did a tremendous amount of temp comps in Premiere Pro. We occasionally used Dynamic Link between Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro, but the effects in Premiere Pro were really good and easy to use so we often just stuck with that workflow for things like split screens, time remapping, and other manipulations.

What features in Premiere Pro CC helped your workflow?

McQuerrey:  We constantly used the Media Browser to access different versions of cuts and visual effects. I work in Joel and Ethan’s office, and we have another cutting room four blocks north of us, so we have to do a lot of communicating back and forth. The Media Browser makes it easy to look into and open other projects that the team is working on.

Joel liked being able to look at everything Ethan was doing as he worked in a project, and after Ethan rang the bell, we could open it right up on our computer. It was crucial to the editing process. The fact that it is non-destructive was also key because Ethan marks in and outs that are different for audio and video. If different takes are selected, we have to keep the original so we have a history of the edits we’ve made.

What were some things that were the same or different from your previous editing experiences?

McQuerrey: With Final Cut Pro, after 20 minutes we always knew we would have to do some sort of reel break. Working with Premiere Pro we easily cut an hour-and-a-half sequence with no problems.  

Farrell: After the offline edits are complete, we send everything back to EFILM and they go back to all of the original material and make sure every aspect of the cut is preserved to the final product. For this film, they did the assembly, punched in the visual effects and opticals from our in-house people, put everything in order, and then sent it back to the cutting room to be checked. We were worried because it had to match back, and the Adobe video workflow hadn’t been used in this way before, but it worked just fine.

What advice would you give to other filmmakers making the switch?

McQuerrey: How you set up your program, projects, and Media Browser is essential to getting Premiere Pro to work quickly. I would often cull the project so they wouldn’t get so big that we would get bogged down by wait times or render times. In general, Premiere Pro was extremely fast at making outputs and rendering; the amount of content we didn’t have to render was also great. We could do pretty elaborate visual effects in Premiere Pro and they would all be real-time effects, which was terrific.

What reaction did you get when you told people you were editing with Premiere Pro?

Farrell: Everyone we talked to was surprised to hear we were working with Premiere Pro. For many editors it is a leap of faith because it means changing from what they know. But as more people like us are successful, more people will realize the benefits of this workflow.

McQuerrey: Editors may be resistant to it until they realize the fluidity of the editing. It is really intuitive and a good editing tool. People may wonder if Premiere Pro can handle a big film. It can.

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