Editing Everything, Everywhere at Once was surprisingly tricky

Tuesday morning was a big day for everything everywhere at once the quirky sci-fi action comedy that seemed to spring out of nowhere, became a huge hit and, not coincidentally, garnered more Oscar nominations than any other film of 2022, including one for Paul Rogers, the editor, who flock about rode the film, balancing its unrelenting, sometimes ridiculous dynamics with quieter scenes.

Rogers, who I spoke to a few days after he won the Critics Choice Award for Editing on January 15th EEAAOadmitted he hadn’t thought much about industry praise in the past, but this year’s experience had definitely changed his mind.

“As a viewer, I tend to be a bit cynical about awards shows,” Rogers said. “But I think when I was there and saw the kind of love for other actors and other directors that was being shown among colleagues and friends right now, the more I was there and the more I saw that real celebration, that cynicism started to go away the hard work and sacrifice and stories of many people. It was great.”

The film has been around for a long time, debuting at the South By Southwest Festival in March and hitting theaters in April, where it stayed for months before moving to streaming.

It was a fan favorite, a hit in almost every way. It grossed a whopping $104.1 million in worldwide earnings, huge for a small indie project that grossed a modest $500,000 from 10 theaters in its opening weekend. Rotten Tomatoes’ critic rating is an excellent 95% and RT viewer rating is an excellent 89%.

It helped that EEAAO is a happily silly, occasionally confusing, and utterly over-the-top film that was showing in theaters when little else was out Top Gun: Maverick and a few other summer blockbusters.

The film also had some influential champions, like the Russo Brothers (makers of the last $2 billion avenger Movies and Netflix
the gray man, among many other things), who were executive producers of the film. But the initial ambitions for the film itself were modest.

“We weren’t targeting the Oscars or awards shows,” Rogers said. “And I think that was clear at (spring timing of) release. And I knew when we did it, it was like a joke between us, wouldn’t that be funny? As we were working on the goofiest parts of the film, we were like, ‘This is real Oscar footage right here where he’s jumping on a butt plug.’”

The aforementioned butt plug is technically part of a fairly unique accolade and deployed at a crucial moment to ward off attackers who, well, you have to see the movie (maybe twice) to understand. When the film was finally finished after months of pandemic-related delays, at least one cast member thought he made a keeper.

“Actually, the first person who actually mentioned it to me was (main actor) Ke (Huy Quan) after we did the screening of friends and family. He said, “You know, I think that could really win some awards,” Rogers said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way, Ke, there’s absolutely no way. It’s not the kind of film that awards shows or Oscars look forward to.” I was just so wrong. And I realized that I just don’t doubt Ke. He knows what he is doing. This guy keeps proving he’s not the one to be doubted, but we do anyway. He was right.”

Rogers first met the Daniels shortly after moving to Los Angeles when a fellow Alabaman invited him to a birthday party at a roller rink. Daniel Scheinert turned out to be the birthday boy, and his directing partner Dan Kwan was also there. Together they go through the directorate name the daniels.

Fast-forward a decade and the Daniels had a new project, and early on they were in talks with Rogers about the script “to edit without any presumption of involvement on my part.”

Rogers anticipated that another editor, whose work he loved and who had recently completed a film with the Daniels, would eventually work on the new project.

“But I was lucky,” Rogers said. “Eventually we all went to a Korean spa, and while we were cooling off after a bath, they said, ‘Do you want to help us make this movie?’ And I said of course. And then they sent me the script and I was like, ‘Oh boy, I’m going to have my work edited out for me.'”

The story was originally about a relationship between a father and daughter, but when filming began in late 2019, it focused on a messy relationship between a relentlessly normal working mother and her perpetually frustrated young adult daughter.

When Rogers saw the script, he called former editor Matthew Hannam. for advice. They met for a drink in Los Angeles’ hip Echo Park neighborhood just days before lockdown and just as filming was about to wrap up.

“He gave me a lot of good advice in general, but one of the points he gave me was right at the beginning: Don’t think big because you’re going to drown, you’re going to be overwhelmed,” Rogers said. “‘Just take it scene by scene, moment by moment, and just follow that. And when you’re through with it, you can step back, look at the bigger picture, see what’s not working, and start thinking in those terms.’” That helped me to just give myself permission not to trying to figure it out day by day one.”

The lockdown, so devastating for so many Hollywoods, proved a secret boon to the complex editing work required to deliver the Daniels’ intricate mix of alternate-world sci-fi hopping, outrageous visual jokes, slow-motion action sequences, Talking Rocks and so much more.

Unlike the rest of the industry, Rogers said, “I had this really wonderful project that I cared about with my friends that I could talk to on Zoom (call) every day and then take my mind off the world by focusing on it.” focused the story. And the story really seemed to lend itself to what I was going through at the time, which was these feelings of isolation and longing for connection, nihilism and cynicism. And that’s what this film was about, and how you can fight it by going with it. It was a great form of therapy for me to work on this film. It was great.”

In fact, Rogers called this editing process “a truly wonderful time. The worst day of the film was the day we wrapped (the print) and I realized it was over. It was a very depressing day.”

Ironically, the lockdown ended up giving Rogers about twice as much turnaround time as is typical for such a small budget film, or as originally planned. With the entire industry on hold and cinemas shut down around the world, distributor A24 “basically told us to work on it until you think it’s done. And so we worked on it for 11 months. If we had stopped at that (originally planned) five-month mark, we would have had a pretty good film, but it wouldn’t have been the film we have now.”

To work on the project when lockdown kicked in, Rogers “grabbed an iMac from work” and placed the device in the living room of his family’s small Highland Park bungalow. He put on headphones and turned on Adobe
Premiere Pro and get to work, using the program’s project sharing features to remotely muddle test cuts with directors.

“The way Dan, Daniel and I work is incredibly collaborative,” Rogers said. “And they work with me. They are both talented filmmakers in all aspects of filmmaking because they grew up in the era where if you wanted to make a music video you had to shoot it, write it, act in it, edit it, color it (grade) and do the visual effects .”

Premiere’s flexibility and can-opening abilities were particularly useful for creating these test versions of a scene, adding crude visual effects, or performing tricks like speeding up a background character’s movement while keeping the main character at normal speed, Rogers said. That kind of flexibility gave him the ability to tweak fight scenes, for example, or remix portions of multiple takes into a single scene so that the final images looked like they came from a much bigger budget movie.

“All of these things are really helpful in leveling the playing field between these big-budget action films and these smaller indie action films,” Rogers said.

Premiere was particularly useful as it allowed the directors and Rogers to work together remotely to create the eye-catching, 2001-Quick style cuts required when characters quickly switch back and forth between alternate worlds or possibilities or their own life story.

“It was really fun to work on,” Rogers said. “But I’ll say they weren’t the things that kept us up at night, right? They were the things we knew were almost an escape from trying to figure out the more complicated mechanics of the story.”

The bigger editing challenge came during the film’s more thoughtful moments.

“How we can ensure that the audience is emotionally invested in these characters and that we remain true to the characters’ journey throughout this two-and-a-half hour film,” Rogers said of the challenge. “It was the stuff where you just stand in the shower with the water rushing over you with your head in your hands and you’re just like, ‘I have to find out or the movie isn’t going to work.'”

A scene in the first 15 minutes may need to be repeated later in the film to create emotional resonance, Rogers said as an example. More importantly, such scenes balanced the frenetic action and conveyed humanity and connection.

“There was so much visual experimentation and ‘bombasticity,’ there’s a lot of opportunity to lose the thread or lose connection with the characters and just be washed clean with explosive visual filmmaking,” said Rogers. “So we had a lot of figuring out when to give the audience a break, which didn’t happen that often.”

Unlike the slow-start-and-build approach of many action films, Rogers said EEAAO took a different approach, starting off at an explosive pace before more or less ending with a scene of two rocks “talking” in the forest. Scheinert patched together a trial version of the rock scene in the woods near Los Angeles that ended up “essentially intact” in the film.

“Sometimes you just have to know when to avoid a good scene,” Rogers said. “I think this film proved that you can tell a story in all sorts of ways. And yes, you don’t have to follow a formula.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *