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‘Gone Girl’ Editor Kirk Baxter Talks the Art of Cutting Solo with David Fincher

'Gone Girl' Editor Kirk Baxter Talks the Art of Cutting Solo with David Fincher

Two-time Oscar-winning editor Kirk Baxter (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Social Network”) enjoyed the narrative complexities and satirical fun of  “Gone Girl.” Gillian Flynn’s adaption of her bestselling thriller is like a Punch and Judy act for Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, which David Fincher likens to “Fight Club” for marriage. The editorial trick was creating a language for three different storylines that was easy to follow and compelling — while getting out of the first act as quickly as possible for this 149-minute thrill ride.

“You’ve got three different timelines intercutting at the same time: Nick’s story [Affleck], the police procedural [led by Kim Dickens], and Amy’s voice-over [Pike],” Baxter explains. “We set up this language of presenting the flashbacks where we go to black and show Amy’s diary. We were very sure footed in how it was presented and David was on me so that we didn’t race by that too quickly. But I didn’t want to be pedantic about it when we returned to the present. As long as the viewer doesn’t have to work too hard to [keep up]. It’s all about maintaining question marks.”

“Gone Girl” marks the fifth consecutive Fincher film for Baxter since “Zodiac,” but the first as solo editor without Angus Wall. Baxter quips that the only difference is that there was more work to do. The shoot was around 110 days and he spent 10 months in post (slightly less than “Social Network”). 

“It was an absolute joy to edit because David had all of the moving parts, but we were constantly going for months, ‘How can we make it faster, what can we trim?’ And we typically wanted it to tear through as quick as it could but still be ticking all the boxes of the questions that came before it,” Baxter says.

“But we found in the first couple of assemblies that act one was taking too long. We concentrated heavily on how to reduce that first act. And one of the best areas was the searching with Nick at the top of the house. We decided to trim back a question there of whether he’s seeing this for the first time or not. So we really stripped it down to its bare essentials. It helped our quest to reduce time for the sake of the overall flow of the movie, but I think it also made it a better film.”

However, once all of the story lines converge, they break the rules and then just run with it. “It’s presented in the way that it’s written yet it’s so modular that we kept picking at it, and it was working 10 edits back, but David kept refining and really put me to task on it. And it did improve. I love where we ended up. But we definitely moved things around and rebuilt it so you have different timelines interacting with each other that weren’t designed to be that way. But we managed to manipulate it that way.”

Baxter says Fincher’s always good at playing with character dynamics and not being too on-the-nose. For instance, left to my own devices, Baxter would’ve “blitzed through” Affleck being confronted by detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) as the prime suspect in his kitchen. Boney’s unrelenting attack worked just fine, according to the editor, but Fincher wanted him to dial down Dickens’ performance, so he reshaped it and rebuilt it with more nuance, allowing the detective to be more cagey and delaying their confrontation.

It wasn’t difficult honing the two lead performances from Affleck and Pike. He’s a likable asshole and she’s alternatively cold as ice and sympathetic as a bestselling author who can’t live up to her “Amazing Amy” alter-ego.

Yet the relationship between the twins (Affleck and Carrie Coon) offered the best interaction. “In terms of cutting dialog scenes, those were the most enjoyable. When she comes after him, upstairs in his bedroom, just getting that argument where all of the dialog is right on top of each other. How do twins act when they know all the answers? It’s OK to shout in their faces, they’ve been doing it their entire lives, but it’s the speed of it and getting it on rails. You can never go too fast with twins screaming at each other.”

“Gone Girl” marks the first major Hollywood feature cut on Premiere Pro CC, which is a big boost for Adobe. The decision was made because of the tight integration between Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC, which allowed multiple editors and VFX artists to work on the same project. And, Premiere Pro CC was able to play back 6K files in real-time for VFX review.

“As an editing platform, it’s similar to the others I use,” Baxter suggests. “I’m the easiest person to please with that sort of thing. The reason for choosing it was to bring all the After Effects closer. Shots could be stabilized, have split screens done perfectly, all the editing within scenes of inside monitors. There’s VFX in every couple of shots. It allowed assistants and compositors inside the building and updating things and not coming into my timeline immediately. It’s about speed and working with the most up to date material immediately. It’s creating the best sort of utopia for a village.”

 As for Baxter’s “Gone Girl” takeaway: “Nick and Amy belong together.”

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