Interview with Jenny Hicks (Assistant VFX Editor, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin May 21st, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Jenny Hicks from the official Matrix website.

MATRIX: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?

JENNY: I do essentially the same job as Allison [Gibbons, Assistant Editor] so we’ve split our days a little bit so I come in earlier and do some of the database entry for all the information that we get from the various departments: sound, camera, lab, continuity. It all has to be input so we can find any frame out of fifty billion frames whenever we need it over the next eighteen months. That gets done in the early morning before we actually start to break down the film. After that I work through the film with Allison and get it all ready for dailies and check it on the machine to make sure it’s all in sync. I don’t actually go to dailies because I’m getting too old to stay up that late, so I go home at a reasonable hour and leave her here to deal with the Brothers.

MATRIX: What kind of information do you get from Continuity Department?

JENNY: Continuity gives us pretty much everything if they are on the ball: the slate number, a shot description, how many shots were shot, which ones they printed up to see and which ones they don’t want to see but printed up anyway, camera roll number, the lens, frame rate, sound roll number, whether it’s synced or not synced, and the date. So it’s basically everything you need to know about that particular shot that goes in the database, and then you cross reference that with the camera sheets and the sound sheets to make sure that everybody agrees on the same thing… which most of the time they don’t.

MATRIX: How does one deal with that situation?

JENNY: You try to figure it out. You put it up on the Steinbeck [a device for editing film] and have a look at it and try and figure it out from that, or you go down to the Continuity girls and say that things aren’t matching up, and they’ll track back and figure it out. There’s an awful lot of information that channels into the computer that, all the way down the track, means you can find any frame out of however many million feet.

MATRIX: Just for the Australian shoot there’s already almost two million feet, how many frames are you looking at overall?

JENNY: At sixteen frames a foot something like thirty-two million frames, and we could find any one in about five minutes, so that’s why we spend so much time putting information into the computer. Quite often, right at the end of the film when they’ve locked off the cut and they get the numbers out of the AVID of how it’s actually cut, it comes back to us and we cut the celluloid back together, and that’s when we’ll need to look for certain frames.

MATRIX: Why would you be looking for a particular frame for something?

JENNY: If the film is being cut and they take it to test screenings they’ll often bring it back to the editing room and re-cut, so then we re-cut the celluloid again, and again, and again; if you’re going to be re-cutting you never throw anything out. Shots are adjusting – a little bit this way, a little bit more of the head, a little bit more of the tail, so you actually have to go in and out of the boxes of film and make all the adjustments on celluloid frame for frame that they make in the AVID [digital editing suite], so quite often you are looking for frames here and there.

MATRIX: Do you have special codes to abbreviate all this information?

JENNY: Yes, though a lot of it you make up as you go along, really. Basically you’re just chopping words down: camera left is CL, camera right is CR, all the characters’ names are abbreviated, and up screen is US. There is a standard in the film industry, but then I think it changes a little bit with everybody; Continuity have their own idiosyncrasies and then we add ours, but you can pretty much understand it if you’ve been in the film industry.

MATRIX: What is the red, yellow and white film used for?

JENNY: That’s called painted leader. Basically you’ve got your roll, but you have to have something at the head and tail of it to protect it — to stop it from getting scratched, and also to label it — to be able to write on it to say what it is. Usually you put red at the tail because red means end, and any color you like at the head — we’re using yellow on this one — and we’ve got the white for if we need to space anything out or use another color.

If, for example, when we’re screening dailies and we’ve got ten shots that we want to see, and then another ten shots we don’t, we put white in the middle so the projectionist can switch it off and not show the Brothers something that they’re not supposed to see or they don’t want to see. It’s used as filler and for labeling because the celluloid you don’t even touch, with your fingers.

MATRIX: How long have you been in the film industry?

JENNY: Twenty years.

MATRIX: Did you start in film?

JENNY: Actually my first job was as a props person in television, but I only lasted six months — I hated it. Then I got into editing and I’ve been in the cutting room ever since, in features.

MATRIX: How does the pressure change from during shoot to post shoot; or are you not involved at all in post-production?

JENNY: I’ve done other jobs in post, although not this one. The pressures with a shoot are different, since you’ve got stuff coming in every day. You never know how much or how little it’s going to be, and whether it’s going to be smooth or a mess. You’ve got a deadline every day because you’ve got dailies, and you don’t know when that deadline’s going to be a lot of the time either. It’s a matter of getting in and trying to get through it and get it done and through the system and on the shelf before the next lot comes in. But it’s not really that much pressure if everybody’s on the ball; it’s just relentless, especially on this one because so far it’s been eleven months of shooting in Sydney where every day you come in and you’ve got a deadline.

You don’t have that in post, but then there are a lot of other complications that go on in post-production; a lot of which has changed now because of the AVID. I came up through the film world and it’s a lot different now for assistants with the AVID; it depends a lot on the editor and his style.

MATRIX: What are the changes in editing over the years?

JENNY: Firstly, editors used to cut on film, so the assistants worked with film all the time, and every time they made a cut or cut a scene there’d be a whole lot of trims left over that they didn’t actually use. The assistant was constantly going through big trim bins in the cutting room getting bits and pieces of film and putting them back in the rolls. I haven’t actually done a lot of assisting on AVID because I’m just not particularly interested in it; I feel that as an assistant you’re not as involved anymore and you don’t learn as much. For whatever reason they now do a lot more number crunching rather than celluloid crunching; before it was much more physical and tactile. It also depends on the Editor; some editors let you get involved in cutting or doing the soundtrack on the AVID, and some don’t.

MATRIX: Are there less people involved now that the process has changed?

JENNY: No, there are more — I don’t know why. When I used to do films there’d only be one assistant on film, and now we’ve got five, but this is a very high-tech movie with a lot of visual effects work going into it.

These days a lot of people don’t bother even getting the film printed up to celluloid; they just get the negative transferred and celluloid never eventuates. You could probably do it with one assistant, but if there’s film and AVID involved, then that’s really a two man job at least.

Catherine [Chase] is the 1st [Assistant Editor (Film)] and Dave is the AVID 1st [David Birrell, AVID Assistant Editor]. Catherine does film work with us, but she actually tries to let us do most of the grunt work while she can since she’s got a bunch of other things coming in. Requests to get things printed and reprinted, things for the lab, and film to be graded. She also does a lot of work on the AVID where she goes in with Zach [Staenberg, Editor] and gets everything sorted out in his bins and handles a lot of paperwork — there’s heaps of paperwork.

MATRIX: How has handling paperwork changed with the advent of computers?

JENNY: Well, there’s more — don’t ask me how, but there’s more because you actually print out a hard copy of everything you put in there. Before computers everything we did was handwritten on sheets — the whole database was just on paper. Now it goes into the database on the computer, and it still comes out on paper. Then there’s your mark-up script, and your screening notes; we’ve got shelves and shelves of folders.

MATRIX: Is there a particular order in which the dailies are screened?

JENNY: In my experience people mostly screen dailies as they shoot them. So if they shoot shots one to ten that day you just get them and you screen one to ten, the way you get it in the camera rolls as they come; though you actually put them into scenes so that everything’s in the right sequence.

However, Zach likes to show the dailies the way he’d cut them, which is wide shot, mid shot, close-up, cutaway, cutaway. I’ve never come across that before; I don’t know whether that’s something that the Brothers have asked for or whether that’s something Zach prefers.

MATRIX: It seems the proportion of what is shot to what is shown is kind of high.

JENNY: That’s new, too, and I think that comes from the Brothers because they’re so tired at the end of the day they don’t want to see everything, especially not with footage from three units to go through. So they just pick little selections, but then they do print up other portions that they’ll look at later when they’re fine cutting. They try to keep what is screened at dailies to the basic minimum because sometimes it’s ten or eleven o’clock at night before they sit down, and they can hardly keep awake let alone look through miles and miles of footage.

I think the cutting room changes on every film. On every film it depends on what the Editor wants, what the Directors want, and how the Assistants usually do it. There’s a basic system but it changes not only with technology, but also with the requirements of each job. This is the hardest job I’ve ever done; the most complicated film I’ve ever worked on.

MATRIX: Is that because there are so many units generating so much footage?

JENNY: Plus a lot of visual effects work. So instead of a slate having a straightforward number like Scene 42 Take 5 it’s got about eighteen digits, all visual effects gobbledegook. And when you’ve got hundreds of them, it’s just mind-boggling. I’m not good in the afternoons, the numbers all start swimming together.

MATRIX: Thank you Jenny.

Interview by REDPILL

August 2002

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