Editing Narnia’s ‘Prince Caspian’

For the Cinema Editor

by Scott Essman

When Andrew Adamson surmised that he would not direct the sequel to 2005’s critical and commercial blockbuster, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one sensed that he would not be able to stand up to the temptation of being creatively involved in the inevitable follow-up. Alas, a Narnia sequel, Prince Caspian, was immediately put into production, and predictably enough, Adamson and his entire crew were on board again.

Naturally, the week he signed up to do Caspian, Adamson spoke to editor Sim Evan-Jones, the man on whom he relied to assemble the first film’s myriad elements. Surely, the two discussed doing the sequel together, but the conversation was a formality; nearly a decade ago, Evan-Jones, coming off numerous animation projects, was an ideal fit for Adamson’s groundbreaking Shrek computer-animated films. In many ways, that collaboration has continued on course, though the methodologies and techniques used now have obviously expanded in both form and content.

Nonetheless, the relationship that the two had established on Lion continued in its essential manner on Caspian. “We had the same basic process,” said Evan-Jones from London. “However, there were huge efficiencies we gained from having been down the same path before.”

Given the production’s tight schedule, Evan-Jones deemed it essential that he be on location to maximize face time with Adamson. “We started work in June of 2006, were filming from February 2007 through September 2007. We will be on Caspian right to the end of post in May 2008,” said Evan-Jones. “We set up shop in Los Angeles for storyboarding and previz,” he said. “This work continued in Prague, as Andrew supervised the building of sets at Barrandov from October to December of 2006. In January we moved to Auckland in New Zealand, and then from February on we followed production. We had our main cutting rooms in Auckland, and then Barrandov, but satellite locations included Christchurch, Wanaka, a South Island New Zealand village, Usti, a town in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia. First assistant Tania Clarke was able to keep the media flowing to my location assistant Coral D’Alessandro, without a single hiccup, over our seven months of shooting. On numerous occasions weather would close down shooting for a day, and Andrew was able to work in location to view cuts and work on sequences for visual effects turnover.”

Quite graciously, Evan-Jones credits second editor Josh Campbell and the editorial assistants with making Caspian flow despite numerous locations and vendors working on the show. “I think the most important thing I did was hiring Josh who knew all the pitfalls of our pipeline on the last show, and, as importantly, knew about Andrew’s expectations,” he said. “We’ve had a great international crew, and have always had a local contingent. Josh is a native of Montana and resident of Prague. In New Zealand we took on Grant Kronfeld, who knew the ropes in Auckland and down on the South Island. In Czech Republic we took on Martin Hubacek and Michal Krumpar. Coral came from LA to Auckland and then to Prague. Francisco Ramirez started in LA and is still with us in the UK. From England came our amazing first assistant Tania, and visual effects editor Alastair Grimshaw, as well as Debs Richardson.”

As with Lion and other films such as Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Evan-Jones and Adamson decided to previsualize the entire film prior to principal photography. “We took the same approach of editing together the entire movie as storyboards and 3D pre-visualization before shooting began,” he said. “It’s something we had done in animation and the same approach had worked really well on Lion. We recorded temp voices, picked temp music and laid up temp effects, and ended up with a movie length version of the film.”

Previsualizing Caspian not only helped Adamson and Evan-Jones plan the more complex action sequences, it also helped them develop the story. “Knowing how important these ‘reels’ had been on Lion, we started this process six months before shooting began, and were able to experiment with multiple versions of the script,” he said. “As Andrew and the writers reworked the script we would adjust the ‘reels’ and the screen results. They would update and edit the script, we would adjust the ‘reels’ and so on.”

Early on, Evan-Jones and the Caspian filmmakers determined to cut the entire show in HD. Campbell even traveled to Avid in Boston to research the possibilities; the team wound up cutting on Avid HD Adrenaline. “Being all HD meant we could screen the whole movie in HD, without a lengthy, difficult and expensive conform,” said Evan-Jones. “As our original ‘pre-viz’ was in HD we were able to incorporate elements into our rough cut live action footage as temp effects, or ‘post-viz’ as we called it, to great effect. We screened dailies on location using our DNX115 Avid Media, which shared storage with an editor’s and assistant editors’ Avids wherever production went. It’s just made life so much easier. I have my room set up with a twelve-foot HD projection screen coming straight out of my Avid. Anytime I want I can flop onto the sofa and watch a cut.”

Nearly every feature editor and most TV editors now know the process of using computer-generated imagery in their show, but the Narnia films might represent an extreme example with both the amount and frequency of CGI that Adamson utilizes. “Having so much of the story relying on visual effects means that you have to start locking sequences very early on, so that the effects work can be completed in time,” Evan-Jones relayed. “Cutting together temp visual effects also becomes a huge part of the process, as you can find yourself screening the movie long before you see temps from the actual visual effects vendors, who are Moving Picture Company and Framestore CFC, plus Weta Digital in New Zealand. Putting together pre-visualizations of the movie before shooting gives us a great idea of what Andrew is after, and an opportunity to help shape what will be shot.”

Until May 2008, Evan-Jones and his team were cutting in the London neighborhood of Covent Garden, which he described as a five-minute walk to the visual effects vendors, digital intermediate facility and soundstage used for post. “Compared with the last picture, we have saved hours and hours driving from Hollywood to Marina Del Ray, to Burbank,” he said. “Not only do we save time but we get to see that there is life beyond the cutting room, which certainly helps with the stress.”

As Evan-Jones and Campbell described, their task was honing the mass of footage they received to Adamson’s satisfaction from that point forward.  “Andrew likes to shoot a lot of coverage,” said Campbell. “He sometimes offers comments or notes at dailies or in the script notes about how he wants to put a scene together, but it’s often left open and he’s curious to see what we’ll do with the footage. Andrew often likes to try re-ordering scenes, so many of our conversations revolve around potential restructures of the film.”

When asked to reflect on the business at hand of creating a sequel to an already significant marvel, Evan-Jones and Campbell were confident that their work left ahead would lead to fantastic results. “I think we are all mindful of trying to create an even better film,” said Campbell. “At the same time, we want to make sure that it’s not only a bigger production but that the story works in its own context.”

Since the mid-1980s, Scott Essman has been writing and producing projects about motion picture craftsmanship. He has published over 350 articles as a freelancer and has produced over twenty publicity projects for Universal Studios Home Entertainment where he made video documentaries and wrote publicity materials.

Featured in StudentFilmmakers Magazine, January 2008 Edition.
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