Filmmaking: A ‘Fury’ in the Editing Suite with Dody Dorn, ACE

By in The A-List, Topics

“If you grow up in Los Angeles, it’s more than likely that you’ll end up working in the movie business in one way or another,” says Emmy® and Academy Award® nominated editor, Dody Dorn. Having worked with many of Hollywood’s top directors, including Christopher Nolan (MementoInsomnia), Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven, Matchstick Men) and Baz Luhrmann (Australia), Dody was primary editor on David Ayer’s latest World War II blockbuster starring Brad Pitt, Fury.

Dody has Hollywood running through her veins. But bizarrely, her Hollywood High School education initially gave her ambitions to become a math teacher. Soon after, however, with the silver screen in her blood from her father, she took a step into the film industry – and never looked back. “I’ve been surrounded by film-making all my life. My dad was a set designer and film producer, and my first part-time job was working the switchboard at his shooting stage. This gave me a taste of things to come,” she recalls.

“When I started out in film, I approached it from a blue-collar, industrial viewpoint; I was keen  to get hands-on and find the role that felt the most natural.”

“When I started out in film, I approached it from a blue-collar, industrial viewpoint; I was keen to get hands-on and find the role that felt the most natural. I didn’t go to film school so I’m completely self-taught,” she adds. Her work at her father’s studio took Dody into her first role as a PA. Following this, she spent much of her early career getting a taste of different strands of the film industry, working in a variety of roles including assistant location manager, assistant to the producer, and, at the age of 22, assistant film editor. “For me, my journey is made up of a series of various roles, each a learning experience that’s taught me something different to take on to my next project.”

After initially finding the transition into picture editing difficult, Dody tried her hand at sound editing, working on projects that included State of Grace, The Abyss and Silverado. During this time, she continued to work on small independent projects to keep her finger on the pulse of the film editing industry. It was the editing of the unusual documentary cult film, SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, which brought Dody’s feature film editing to the attention of the rest of the world. This led her to work with Nolan on both Insomnia and Memento. In 2002, Memento was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Editing.

Dody’s journey into the world of editing stimulated her to explore cinema and it’s rich history. “I’ve always enjoyed exploring the great classics of cinema, particularly German expressionism, French New Wave and Italian neo-realism,” she explains. “Getting inspiration from the way legendary  directors like Bresson and Rosselini told spellbinding stories through simple, sharply defined imagery has served me well throughout my career. These emotive works of cinematic art always remind  me that in my role as an editor, it’s vital to root out the emotional essence of any given moment and reflect this in the finished product. The tools and technology we utilize on a daily basis to complete our job may be transient, but that essence of storytelling remains the same.”

“The on-going challenge that we editors face is that more material is shot in one day than you can watch back in that time frame.”

Dody has anything but a transient relationship with Avid. She began her love affair with Avid Media Composer in 1992, working on the special edition of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: JudgmentnDay. “I think of myself as pretty fearless when it comes to new challenges, especially when I’m dealing with new technology. I’ve worked with various non-linear editing systems over the years, but for me, nothing beats Avid. The on-going challenge that we editors face is that more material is shot in one day than you can watch back in that time frame. With the volume of material increasing, Avid provides us with the most powerful and resourceful tools to help us organize, view and access these ever increasing volumes of material.”

“When I was working on Fury, and this goes for every movie or TV show, the complex, multi-layered process of editing is made so much easier by Avid Media Composer. In terms of ease and functionality, for example, creating my own bins helps me further familiarize myself with the footage and gain a greater understanding of the overall picture. Avid always listens to the needs of its editors, incorporating new time (and life!) saving features with every update.”

“On Fury, we’d originally planned for all the editing to take place in Los Angeles, with four Avid systems provided by Fotokem, and set up at Flashcuts in Atwater – one for me, one for additional editor Rob Bonz and two for assistants. Rob and I also each had a Media Composer at home as back-up. But our best laid plans quickly changed! Six days into the shoot, while cutting at home at 1am, I was notified by producer John Lesher that the director wanted me closer to set. Overnight, the Fotokem team put together a portable Media Composer system, and I headed out across the pond.”

During the production of Fury, a total of 16 Avid Media Composer systems were used, split across four global locations. “The beauty of Media Composer is its ease of set-up. I could start working at the production base camp, my hotel room or at the director’s house as soon as I arrived in England. It was only my jetlag holding me back! This meant I could keep working while my UK assistant Emma McCleave set up the fully equipped editing room in a container provided for us by the production. To maximize productivity, we continued to maintain four separate yet perfectly synched suites – the UK edit container, the LA editing room, my portable Avid, and Rob Bonz’s home system.”

Media Composer’s flexibility was vital to the daily running of the edit and Dody elaborates on how Avid helped streamline her work day-to-day. “I assign audio right from the start of any film, so that it’s already laid out for the assistants later down the line. The audio channels get full relatively quickly. With Media Composer, I manage all of this on an enlarged timeline view, keeping open the audio mix, equalizer and audio suite tools, and a timecode window with readouts of source information across various channels.”

“The biggest challenge on Fury was time, or a lack of it, but Avid’s speed and collaborative workflow were a godsend. We used it to deal with the video tap, which meant we could view footage and get on with the preliminary edits while we were waiting for the dailies. Having the video tap ingested for me to cut in the interim was invaluable, as it let the director see an edited scene immediately.

Dody also notes a number of processes that dramatically saved her both time and a lot of headaches. “Avid allowed me a 100% fluid information flow across the board, keeping me up to date with the latest notes from anyone on the editorial team. I tend to use a lot of locators and titles to track various tasks throughout the process, for example sound or VFX that need to be looked at by other departments.”

It’s not just the on-screen digital editing that is beneficial to the editing process. “Being able to print out single frames from a scene is a far cry from the old days of handwriting the scene cards for the continuity that traditionally hangs on the editing room wall. These screen grabs really help both editor and director, adding a visual element when contemplating the evolving flow of the film, and the inevitable juggling or removing of scene cards during the editing process.”

“Our 24/7 editing operation, split over two continents, meant I could request assistant work and dailies prep from the LA edit room just as I was heading home at the end of the day.”

“Match back and reverse match back are my best friends! They’re a huge timesaver and give me the option to go back to that specific point in the dailies and take a fresh look at things, or even just to remind myself of a certain scene or take as originally shot. Since it gets asked so often, I ask my first assistant to keep an up to date long play sequence built in order to have the total running time available at any point. Way back when, the longwinded process of running all the material through a synchronizer and adding up the total running time was a stressful task. Avid allows us to easily build all the reels in a long play sequence and get a running total in a matter of minutes.”

“Our 24/7 editing operation, split over two continents, meant I could request assistant work and dailies prep from the LA edit room just as I was heading home at the end of the day. And overnight, during their workday, the LA team would do the work, and email the bins to us.   Then in my morning in the UK, I’d be back to work editing using the work done overnight. This also worked well for cuts of scenes that were done by me in London and Rob Bonz in LA. We swapped those edit bins back and forth so I was always up to date with the LA edit room and vice versa.”

“Of course, throughout the edit so many Avid tools came into play. We did our own color correction for screenings, digital opticals like split screens for continuity fixes, dirt and scratch repair, simple VFX temps (adding tracer fire or explosions and muzzle flashes) and dialogue balancing and addition of SFX and/or music. But rather than individual features, it was more the sum of the parts – the productivity, the integrated workflow and the flexibility of the Avid editing network – that allowed us to deliver Fury on time. I’m very proud of the team and my part in it.”

After growing up in the city where the film industry was born, and having experienced many elements of it, Dody concludes, “So much of my role as editor is about relying on gut instincts, and then decisions, but it is also about relying on the technology I use on a daily basis. One thing I do know is that indecision is death – you have to make choices, and even if there are changes and adjustments, or even major restructuring, this work will inevitably take the movie in the direction your director and you feel is right. I say, jump in and don’t be afraid to try things. Don’t be afraid of happy accidents!”

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As a Field Marketing Director for Program in EMEA I am lucky enough to work with some of the most interesting and inspirational artists, content creators and distributors in the media industry. Follow me on Avid Blogs for industry news and updates from across EMEA.