“Twelve years went by like that,” said “Boyhood” editor
Sandra Adair with a snap of her fingers.
The end result of the Oscar-nominated film appears
seamless, but for Adair and her colleagues, the process was unprecedented.
Filmmaking technology has changed enormously over the past decade, with editing
programs becoming obsolete in a virtual heartbeat. How in the world did they do
Joining Adair on the SXSW panel was assistant editor Mike Saenz, colorist
and digital intermediate editor Parke Gregg and post-production supervisor
Laura Yates. Below are the key takeaways of the discussion:
When you have an editing project of this magnitude, be Zen.
Director Richard Linklater would shoot for three or four
days every year and then pass his work to Adair, who would work on her edit for
about a month. But Adair said it was a Zen process to not have to worry about
what was coming next. All she had to do was focus on the current year and the
moments that resonated with her the most. “I really didn’t know what the film
was going to become,” she said. “Nobody really knew how the film was going to
end. We’re not fortunetellers and we didn’t know how [the character] Mason was
going to develop.” For Adair, it felt like a little project in her editing
room. “Every year it was a treat to pull out the ‘Boyhood’ boxes, plug in the
drives and remind myself where we had been and then discover where we were
going that year. I can’t believe it’s over.”
You should never feel the presence of a good colorist.
Colorist Parke Gregg had the challenge of working on a
movie shot on different film stocks. “As a colorist, my job is to enhance the
storytelling, hopefully subtly, so you don’t notice me,” he said. Gregg’s work
needed to compliment the seamless flow of Adair’s editing, but “Boyhood” was an
unusual production where the cameras and lenses would change over the years. “There were all sorts of technical barriers to get past so it didn’t distract
from the storytelling,” he said.
Finding the right songs for a 12-year movie requires a lot of
For every month and year in which the film takes place,
the post-production team would collect the top Billboard songs for nearly every
genre of music—pop, country, alternative and more—and pick out the songs that resonated
with them. But Adair and Linklater rightly knew that their tastes would be
different from the tastes of a teenager, and so they enlisted young consultants
to write paragraphs about why they liked certain songs. Consultants told Adair, “I remember listening to this song on the way to soccer practice” or “My sister
really loved this song, but all the boys hated it.” In the end, they had binders
full of music for the film, but the painstaking research paid off. Each year of “Boyhood” served as perfect music time capsule.
Be prepared for unexpected visual effects when rights don’t
The post-production supervisor Laura Yates had the
Herculean task of clearing rights for all the music and background elements in
the film. In many cases for what was shot in the background, Yates and her
lawyers relied on fair use, but one particular scene in a bowling alley became
at problem shortly before “Boyhood”‘s theatrical release. The bowling alley had
posters of sports teams in the background, and one team refused permission to
be in the film. The “Boyhood” team couldn’t go back in time and reshoot the
scene. Gregg had to step in and fix the shot at the last minute using the Scratch
toolkit. He replaced the poster in the background, but after the fifth shot, an
extra sat down in front of the poster and started eating. “And the guy had
bushy hair!” Gregg bemoaned at the panel. “I have to make this work,” he added, “and so a taught myself something to fix it.”
Always back up your stuff.
“We lost everything once, around year 11 or 10,” admitted
assistant editor Saenz. Thankfully, Saenz was able to recover the files.