One of the difficulties in doing the type of complicated practical stunts that are the bread-and-butter of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is the required time and energy put toward making them safe, but paradoxically, the cinematic challenge of how to make them still feel dangerous.
Take, for example, the climatic scene in “Fallout” during which star Tom Cruise is actually piloting himself through narrow mountain canyon in what is essentially an old-fashioned shootout between two helicopters. The very nature of reaching for these types of never-before-seen stunt sequences means that there is no actual road map as to how to shoot it. What compositions and series of shots — that can also be executed within the confines of being safe — are going to give the scene its edge-of-your seat feel? For director Christopher McQuarrie, and his extremely hands-on star/producer, it’s a constant trial-and-error experiment, one that depends on editor Eddie Hamilton to serve as a trusted evaluator who can sit back and quickly let them know if they “got it.”
“To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, every creator needs a built-in, shock-proof, shit-detector and Eddie is ours,” McQuarrie told IndieWire. “He’s emotionally objective and gives it to you straight. If it works for him, it works and if it doesn’t he’s able to articulate why.”
From helping long-time collaborator Matthew Vaughn (two “Kick-Ass” films, two “Kingsman” features, and a lone “X-Men”) determine if his complex choreographed fight shots will stitch together, to McQuarrie and Cruise’s reliance (he’s on deck for at least two more “M: I” films) on him to make sure they have the necessary action story beats, Hamilton is at the forefront of Hollywood’s expanding role of the on-set editor.
Next up for Hamilton: the much-anticipated “Top Gun: Maverick,” in which Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski are updating the 1986 version by transitioning the high flying action from rear-projection sound stage work to actually sending the cast up into naval fighter planes with a multi-camera array. On a day-to-day basis throughout the exceedingly demanding production, it’s been on Hamilton to sift through the mountain of dailies, piecing together quick assemblies, to communicate what they got that worked and what they still need. Simultaneously, Hamilton communicates constantly with the second unit, as he does on each of his films, to make sure they understand what is of primary importance story-wise for the footage they are shooting.
“We’ve never had to reshoot a big stunt or setup,” said McQuarrie. “The devil is in the details and the greatest shot in the world doesn’t matter if the shots around it don’t work. Eddie has the innate ability to look at raw footage and tell you whether or not you have all the right pieces to tell the story, often within hours of shooting it.”
Hamilton’s 20 years of working on no-to-low budget films in the U.K. might not seem like the obvious training ground for the $100M-plus blockbusters he works on now, but his scrappy DIY background meant he served as his own assistant for years. A master of workflow and organization, Hamilton has created a system that allows him to access footage and scenes on his laptop at moment’s notice from virtually anywhere.
That ability to work not only fast, but with conviction in high pressure situations is vital. Hamilton knows there’s times if he raises his hand – recommending they go again, or try something different – that could mean a major schedule complication and cost as much as a quarter-of-million dollars.
“The courage to look me and Tom Cruise in the eye and say: ‘I know you put a lot of work into that shot but it’s not telling the story’ is rare,” said McQuarrie. “To be right when you say it is rarer still.”