‘Power of the Dog,’ ‘Dune’ Editors Weave Tension Into Their Cuts

‘Power of the Dog,’ ‘Dune’ Editors Weave Tension Into Their Cuts

January 15, 2022

“The Power of the Dog” editor Peter Sciberras was drawn to the psychological tension woven into Jane Campion’s script. That tension underlined the relationship between the Burbank brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons), as well as their dealings with George’s wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), or the tense dynamic between Phil and Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smith-McPhee). Sciberras says he and Campion talked about how that tension was achieved through restraint. “We talked about elegant cutting without holding shots for as long as we could,” he says.

A key moment is the banjo-piano exchange between Rose and Phil. Sciberras says that it’s a great example of every department coming together to bring it to life, from cinematographer Ari Wegner’s camera work — particularly when Rose looks over her shoulder at the door swinging open — to the sound of the wind coming through the doors and the doors closing. Sciberras says much of the sound came together in post.

Since the scene was about getting inside Rose’s head and how Phil was getting under her skin, Sciberras had to sustain the tension and not let it drop, and cutting became most crucial. “Every time you cut to something new, it builds. We cut to the door, back to her, she looks up the stairs and knows something is up. I think the way we reveal Phil, it breaks this rhythm we’ve created — there’s the boot in the door, the creaking of them and a flash of him in the doorway, and the boots hit the ground,” Sciberras says. “We wanted to disrupt the pace in a punctuating way.”

Sciberras says there was an hour of footage of Benedict’s character playing in the window and stomping his feet, “But in the end, we only used a few seconds of it.”

“Dune” editor Joe Walker also played with balance and rhythm for the sci-fi epic marrying the film’s grand sound design with Hans Zimmer’s wall-to-wall score. But his favorite moment and hardest was the pain box, also known as the Gom Jabbar.

Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother requires Timothée Chalamet’s Paul to place his hand inside the box, which administers pain. Walker had to cut between Chalamet, capturing the expressions of suffering, intercut with Rampling and Rebecca Ferguson outside the door. Says Walker, “It took us a long time; we were still perfecting it right up to the last day.”

Walker also had to cut the film for Imax, which he says was almost impossible to do from the edit bay. This meant he had to check how his cuts were playing out on the big screen.

“You also have to cut things slightly differently for Imax,” he says. “You have to compromise a little bit because if you chop and change too fast on a film that will be seen on such a massive screen, it can give people eye strain. When your eyes are darting across 60 feet, it’s a muscular effort, and you don’t want to overdo it.”

He adds, “Some of those scenes, we approached it from the audience’s point of view and just sat back and enjoyed the grandeur.”

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