What Happens When Bullet-Proof Action Heroes Meet Bullet-Proof Avid Editorial. Cutting ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ with Eddie Hamilton.

By in The A-List, Video Editing

The blockbuster success of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation proved audiences around the world still crave the heroics of ‘Ethan Hunt’ on screen. No stranger to editing fast-paced movies, Eddie Hamilton (ACE) was asked to cut ‘Rogue Nation’ by director Christopher McQuarrie. Before this project he edited Kingsman: The Secret Service for writer/director Matthew Vaughn, Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, and was co-editor on X-Men: First Class (with Lee Smith) also for Matthew Vaughn. After nearly 18 years working in the industry, Eddie has cut over 20 feature films in a wide variety of genres as well as TV dramas, documentaries and award-winning shorts.

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Eddie explains how he came to edit this Mission: Impossible movie. “Apparently the production team was looking for British editors who previously worked on Hollywood studio action movies. Around June 2014, while I was still editing Kingsman: The Secret Service, my American agent called me and said they wanted to talk to me about cutting the fifth Mission: Impossible film. Normally they might go for much more experienced, award-winning editors, so I was surprised that my name came up on their list. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I went to meet director Christopher McQuarrie at Leavesden studios in the UK. Because he wasn’t allowed to talk about the script and story of the movie, we just had a two-hour conversation on movies in general. A few hours after my chat with Chris, Ben Rosenblatt from Bad Robot wanted to discuss which assistant editors would be part of my editorial team. That’s when I figured I might have got the job!”

The 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation' editing team: Tom Harrison-Read, Martin Corbett, Eddie Hamilton, Rob Sealey, Chris Frith

“Because my usual assistant editors were still working on Kingsman: The Secret Service, which needed another 3 months of post, the Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation editorial team consisted of myself, two first assistants, Tom Harrison-Read and Martin Corbett, and second assistant Rob Sealey. They had been working on Star Wars: Episode VII in the UK, but after moving post-production of that movie to LA, they joined my team, together with a terrific trainee, Chris Frith.”

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

“Tom Cruise is an excellent storyteller and has a very clear idea of the emotions he wants the audience to experience at various moments in the movie.”

—Eddie Hamilton

Lead actor and producer Tom Cruise not only performed many of his breathtaking stunts, but was also very much involved in the editorial process of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. “Tom Cruise is incredibly hands-on in the editing process. He would join us in the cutting room whenever he was available, and when he was on the road he would call us every afternoon to have a detailed conversation about the progress of the film’s edit. He wanted to be kept in the loop about every little editorial change and decision. What you see in theatres is exactly what the producer Tom Cruise and writer and director Christopher McQuarrie wanted you to see and hear in the film.”

Director Christopher McQuarrie, Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise on the set of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

“Director Chris McQuarrie and I seem to have a similar taste, so I ended up directing some second unit and insert shots. He completely trusted my judgment.”

Without revealing too much of the plot, Eddie explains how the 17-minute opera sequence was one of the hardest scenes to assemble. “It was enormously difficult in terms of geography, coverage, timing and soundtrack. They shot bits in the opera house, on top of the opera house, on the sound stage, beneath the sound stage, in the lighting booth and on the trestles. I worked with opera music from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’, matching the images on top of this existing soundtrack. Sometimes the action landed nicely on the beats, but other times we had to ‘massage’ the music so that everything would fall perfectly into place. Cutting this scene was a process of endless refinement, spanning the entire 11 months of editing the movie. Actually, the second last change we made to the movie was part of that opera sequence.”

“I’m always on the latest version of Media Composer, because there are always new features and shortcuts that can speed up my workflow, like real-time waveforms or muting audio clips for example.”

Because post production had to finish the film five months before its original release date, Eddie came up with some handy workflow tricks to cope with the tight schedule. “I asked my assistants to build up massive ‘selects rolls’ for each dialogue scene, containing every single line, shot from every single angle. That way I could audition all the different deliveries of every line on a single timeline, with each video layer containing the different camera set-ups. At a glance I could easily detect wide shots, medium shots and close-ups, with markers where every line was located in the sequence. When I assembled the scene and Chris wanted to see alternatives, I could then call up these selects rolls, run the forty different takes, and pick our favorite take.”

Editor Eddie Hamilton in the edit suite of 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation'

“I use all the tools available in Media Composer to produce the most polished end result, so that at any point someone can come into my cutting room and watch something that looks and sounds like a finished movie.”

“I do a lot of basic effects compositing in Media Composer to mock up shots as a reference for the VFX team, to provide them with the clearest indication of what I want and exactly when I want things to happen. I even include simple things like muzzle flashes and bullet hits. The VFX team loves it when you can be precise so they can concentrate on making the effect photo-real. My advice is to try and make as many creative decisions as early in the process as possible, to save money and confusion later on. For example, one of the first things I try and do after I assemble a scene is fill in all the green screen shots. Avid’s SpectraMatte key is the ideal tool to do this, especially at DNxHD 115 resolution.”

Reel 1 timeline of Taurus (working title for ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’)

“I also create a single color correction layer on my timeline, running through the whole movie, and from there I tweak the color of every scene. Occasionally I would want to darken a scene, or crunch the overall blacks and make the highlights pop. Underneath that general correction layer, I would then color correct selected shots individually. For example, a visual effects shot would be cut in by the VFX team above the color correction layer, and I would then move that shot to a layer below and grade it, so everyone knows that shot has been corrected and checked by me.”

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

“What I absolutely love about Media Composer is the way it manages its media; it’s just bullet-proof.  A lot of times I take a portable system with an encrypted hard drive to the set. On that drive, I have all the media organized in Avid’s well-known sequentially numbered MXF folder structure. Working this way, I am absolutely sure that the actual media is never ‘offline’. I can move these assets to any another Avid system, plug in the drive, and I’m up and running in a matter of seconds. You can’t underestimate how reassuring that is when you are working on a big film like Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, and time is of the essence.”

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I'm Social Media Manager for Avid and editor-in-chief of Avid Blogs. You can find me on Twitter at @editorbelga.