While at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, we had the chance to sit down with Billy Weber, Terrence Malick’s longtime editor. Beginning his editing career on the cult horror flick “Messiah of Evil,” Weber went on to work with directors ranging from Malick to Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver”) to Tony Scott (“Top Gun”). Meeting Malick as an editing assistant on “Badlands,” the two have become decades-long friends and worked together on four more films spanning over forty years — “Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Red Line” and “The Tree of Life.” Being close to the enigmatic director, Weber gave us some insight on Malick’s upcoming projects, although Weber won’t be involved in either, and laid some rumors to rest. As we shared last week, Weber revealed that Malick is working on a director’s cut for “The Tree of Life.” Here are a few more things we gleaned from that conversation.
1. Weber says at least one of Malick’s next two films — “Knight of Cups” and The Untitled Project Set In The Austin Rock Scene – won’t as experimental as “To The Wonder.”
Weber says despite reports, Malick’s next two films are likely not going to be as experimental and dialogue-free as “To The Wonder.” “’To The Wonder’ is a meditation. I don’t think ‘Knight of Cups’ or the next one will be like that, but I’m not positive…I know what the story is. There will be more dialogue in it,” he said.
Why not completely positive? While still seemingly intimately involved, Weber said, for the first time in his career he won’t be working on either Malick film as an editor, but didn’t disclose why.
2. Despite Richard Gere’s vague claim that “Days of Heaven” was shot twice, Weber doesn’t agree and clarifies the issue.
At last year’s THR Oscar Actor roundtable, Richard Gere suggested that Malick shot the film twice — “I was 26 when I made ‘Days of Heaven,’ 28 when it was released because we went back and shot another movie…” We thought he may have been overstating and asked Weber his thoughts.
Weber stated: “To be perfectly clear about it, there wasn’t a lot of footage for the movie, especially compared to how much people shoot now. A movie today might shoot a million feet of film. On ‘Days of Heaven,’ we shot maybe 157,000 feet, so a huge difference compared to today, but the movie was written with a lot of dialogue that was all shot. We cut a tremendous amount of that dialogue out of the movie… Richard’s a fine actor and he was fine in the movie, but Terry wasn’t happy with some performances and also he wasn’t happy with some of the dialogue he had written in some scenes, so we spent a lot of time cutting it and over the course of time cutting it, we were constantly taking dialogue out until it ended up the way it is now, which doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, and if you want to move ahead to now, if anyone goes to see ‘To The Wonder,’ that’s a movie with almost no dialogue.”
3. A screening of Brian DePalma’s “Sisters” helped cement the friendship between Weber and Malick
“I was hired by someone named Bob Estrin, who was the original, first editor on ‘Badlands,’ who hired me to be his assistant… Before they started shooting, I had to go pick up a check from him to go get the editorial equipment to rent and so I went to the house he was staying in at the time and that’s how I met Terry,” Weber said. “Then he went off to shoot the movie and I didn’t see him again until he came back and then we almost immediately became close friends, just have been close friends ever since.”
“While we were working on ‘Badlands,’ we came to Grauman’s Chinese, to the theater we screened in today, to a midnight screening of FilmX, which was an early L.A. film festival, to see ‘Sisters’ which Ed Pressman (producer on ‘Badlands’) had produced, Brian de Palma had directed. The two of us came together to see it. To this day, neither of us have been as frightened as we were by that movie. It was so scary, so good… We talked about this a year ago, we’ve been friends ever since.”
4. Weber’s biggest editing regret in a Terrence Malick film? Cutting a sequence from “The Thin Red Line” that didn’t involve a main character, but a scene he loved nonetheless
Weber called it, “a moving ten-minute sequence that didn’t have to do with any main character in the movie that was really a very, very good scene. It was a couple of scenes and it was all about this one character, but because we were long, we just had to cut out anything that didn’t have to do with main characters in the movie and so we had to cut a really good scene. Nick Stahl was the star of the scene. It’s a really good emotional scene. That’s the only one that comes immediately to mind.”
For more on the issue, read our feature on the actors who got cut or roles significantly reduced in Malick’s films to date.
5. Weber doesn’t see much of a difference in working with Malick and working with directors like Tony Scott and Tim Burton.
“When you’re a director, your problems are pretty much the same, no matter what you’re directing,” he said. “So they all have that in common and when you realize that as an editor and you know that, everybody reacts and feels the same. You deal with people in the same way, which is you’re there to try and help them make the best movie. That’s the only agenda you really have. The directors I’ve worked with who could be considered mainstream directors, they and Terry would all have a lot to talk about.”
So there you go, a few more morsels from longtime Malick editor and friend Billy Weber. Hopefully that will whet your appetite until the enigmatic director’s next project, whichever of the two aforementioned ones it is.