More Bodies, Fewer Cuts — Editing John Wick Chapter 2

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

The day I interviewed for John Wick Chapter 2 was the first day of production. For whatever reason, hiring an editor had been delayed until cameras were already rolling, and Chad Stahelski, the director, called me for my first interview during lunch on Day 1. By the time I officially landed the job, flew out to NYC and got set up, it was Day 11. To begin a film of this size 11 days behind, with a director and producers you’ve never worked for and who don’t know you, was stressful to say the least. But as I sat in my new office scrolling through all the footage they had already shot, it became obvious quickly that I was about to be a part of something awesome.

Editorial Style

One of the things that the first John Wick is known for is its relentless, wide view action. Chad and David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick, wanted you to see how the action was being done, to see that it was Keanu doing it, and to make it clear that nothing was being hidden behind tricky edits or shaky cameras.

John Wick Chapter 2 follows the same ideology. As the action unfolds, we intentionally stay wider and hold on shots longer than a viewer might be used to. Chad’s edict to me when I first started assembling the action together was that he never wanted to go close on the action unless we were forced to by some other problem, and I think we succeeded in doing that. Keanu and the whole stunt team are so good at what they do that my job was to find the best vantage points for each section of action and then stay out of the way.

With the dialogue, we had a similar approach. The world of John Wick is one with rules, etiquette, and respect. We directly reference this in the film, but you can also feel it in the way our characters interact with each other. For instance, everyone talks at a measured pace and no one interrupts each other when they’re speaking. Our dialogue style is much more John Wayne than Aaron Sorkin. I cut the dialogue scenes to match this performance style, which means I almost always let our actors say their lines on camera and in full. When you have actors like Keanu, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne (to name just a few of our excellent cast), why wouldn’t you?

Production

I won’t get into the weeds too much on Production, but there are a couple interesting moments to call out:

On my first weekend in NYC, I spent a day with 2nd Unit Director Darrin Prescott assembling our big car chase. It was a really fun day, not to mention beneficial for both of us. Darrin got to make sure the vision for the footage he shot was reflected in the edit, and having him in the room saved me from needing to guess at how 5 days’ worth of car footage shot out of order was supposed to be arranged.

Since I started so far behind camera, I forwent my usual temp sound and music work and just focused on getting assembly cuts of every scene as quickly as I could. New footage was coming in every day of course, but I didn’t want to burn myself out right at the start, so I kept to regular working hours as much as possible. All in all it took me 3-4 weeks to completely catch up to camera.

Production wrapped in NYC just before Christmas, and then resumed in Rome in January. I went to Rome for 10 days while they were still location scouting so I could work with Chad before shooting started up again. Most of the film’s big dialogue scenes were already shot, so we focused on refining those first. By the time I left Rome, we had solid cuts of our big dialogue scenes, with some edits that still remain in the final version.

Assembly Timeline

Post-Production

When Post-Production started in LA, I went head first into reshaping the biggest slow spots from the assembly. One result of this is a really fun montage I made from 3 scenes that were intended to be sequential. This montage is now one of the most memorable parts of the film. I also sent some scenes to the cutting room floor that strayed too far from the main narrative, and moved some bigger chunks around to keep the momentum of the story going strong.

For the fight scenes, Chad likes to experiment with his own assemblies, so we set him up with his own Media Composer system and an isolated copy of the project. In this film especially it’s important that the martial arts and gun work are flawless, so making use of Chad’s depth of knowledge in those areas was crucial. He and I would then compare cuts for each fight and make a hybrid version with the best of each other’s edits.

Since we shot more dialogue than we needed, we also spent a lot of time figuring out what the minimum amount of information was that we needed to convey, and then trimming the rest out. This is always a bit of a balancing act, since you don’t want to confuse anyone by moving too quickly, but you also don’t want an exposition scene to outstay its welcome. Plus, there are going to be people who see this film without having seen the first one, and it was important to make sure those viewers don’t feel like they’re missing any required information.

Picture Lock Timeline

John Wick Chapter 2 comes out in the U.S. on February 10th. I’m really proud of the film and hope you all enjoy it!

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I'm a feature film editor based out of Los Angeles. Recent editing credits include Southside With You and John Wick Chapter 2. As an assistant I worked on films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol. You can find me on Twitter as @schiffty.