Editing Spanish Feature Film ‘Gernika’: The Story Beyond the Bombs

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

At the end of 2012, I got a call from Jose Alba, producer at Pecado Films. He wanted to know if I would be interested in editing a film about the bombing of Guernica. As we hung up, I started searching if any film about this event had already been made. I was really surprised when I found out that there weren’t any film about the bombing. So this was going to be the first time that this terrible event would be brought to the big screen.

María Valverde plays Teresa

The project couldn’t be in better hands: Koldo Serra was going to direct this fascinating story after a brilliant debut called Backwoods, starring Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine. Together with Koldo there was a team of producers ready to get the project off the ground and making out a great movie: Carlos Clavijo (Travis Produce), Daniel Dreifuss (Anima Pictures), Nahikari Ipiña (Sayaka Films) and the previously mentioned José Alba.

Koldo Serra directing his second feature film

The film tells the story of the horrible air attack carried out by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe above the Basque city of Guernica April 27, 1937. The result was devastating. Dozens of innocent people died in the incident, which was meant to be a clear testing ground for the Second World War.

The impact was so huge that Pablo Picasso painted his famous “Guernica,” inspired by the harmful images and stories of what happened there. The film focuses on the complicated relationship among a troubled journalist, played by James D’Arcy (Agent Carter); a censor, played by María Valverde (Exodus); and her heartless boss, played by Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean)

The movie was filmed during eight weeks, in several locations in northern Spain. Since the beginning we followed an editing workflow that let Koldo see a first version of the edited sequences less than 24 hours after filming. For that purpose, we moved the editing equipment to Bilbao and Pamplona during shooting. After that, we completed the final cut in Madrid in about 24 weeks.

Gernika was shot with several ALEXAs with Panavision anamorphic lenses during eight weeks. Daniel Saavedra (our DIT.) transcoded the RAW material into .mxf files compressed with DNxHD 36 codec. These files were daily transferred to Cora Herranz, our assistant editor, who digitized and synchronized them, and prepared Kem rolls for editing. Cora was a key person during all the process; thanks to her and her coordination skills, everything worked out perfectly.

Editing a film like this was a real challenge. We wanted to combine a powerful love story with thriller elements, in a warlike context full of drama and suspense. Once we had finished the first cut, we played with the film structure until we achieved the right balance among all the elements.

As Gernika is a character-driven film, we were obliged to cut about 26 minutes of scenes that didn’t fit either in the story or in the character development. Koldo was very smart and practical, and he didn’t hesitate to reject complex sequences for the sake of the film as a whole.

Another one of the challenges of this film was the extensive VFX work, carried out by the company User t38, which provided us with hundreds of shots, ranging from erasing anachronistic elements to providing astonishing airplanes, which carry out the bombing in the last third of the film. This post-viz work helped us to build some of the most complex and amazing sequences of the picture.

I’ve been in love with editing since I was a teenager. Since those first works in Hi-8, I have had the chance to learn the importance of structure, narrative, rhythm and acting. Gernika has been a perfect chance to combine all these elements in a fascinating and exciting way. I’m thankful to our fantastic team that has worked hard so that this story can be told to the rest of the world.

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I've been editing since I was 15 years old. The technology has changed but the passion always stays the same.