19 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
     
“We all felt a lot of responsibility with Elvis’ legacy”, editor Jonathan Redmond discusses Elvis
03 May 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Jonathan Redmond
To mark the 20th anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

John Redmond is IFTA-nominated for Best Editing for Elvis. He was also nominated for a BAFTA and an Academy Award for his editing on this film. Redmond is a long-time collaborator of director Baz Luhrman (Elvis), having previously edited his 2013 film The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and 7 episodes of his Netflix series The Get Down. The creative duo originally met when Redmond was backpacking in Australia with friends, after being approached by an executive who was familiar with his work on U2’s tours.

Elvis follows the life of the titular American music icon, from his childhood to becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.The film stars Austin Butler (Dune: Part Two, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood) as Elvis and Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Forrest Gump) as Col. Tom Parker.

IFTA-nominated editor Jonathan Redmond speaks with us about Elvis, his collaborative relationship with Baz Luhrmann, and finding the structure of the film in the edit.

IFTN: IFTA celebrates 20 years this year. How does this significant milestone reflect the growth and strengthening of the Irish film industry over the past two decades?

JONATHAN: “Ireland has always had a world-class pool of actors, directors, writers & film crew which combined with extraordinary scenery and government support, made it a very attractive shooting location. With recent investment in infrastructure, the production capacity in Ireland is vastly more capable nowadays in that it can handle multiple big projects at the same time. International shows are also staying in Ireland for post-production which is great to see. Technology and the internet have made a huge difference as well. I know some of the posthouses in Dublin now do remote VFX work on  international blockbusters so there really is a global market for Irish talent.”

IFTN: Tell me about your experience working on this project, and your favourite moment during post-production?

JONATHAN: “Baz projects, big or small, are always life changing experiences but this was next level. From the initial chat in New York about doing an Elvis related film to the premiere in Cannes, 5 years went by, and I had two children born on this one project. My son was born in Los Angeles while we were in development and my daughter was born in Australia during post-production. What was meant to be a short 5 month trip to Queensland for the shoot turned into 2 years due to Covid.”

“Baz tends to work with the same people from project to project which is really nice; many of which I’ve worked with for over 20 years now. I met my co-editor on Elvis, Matt Villa, in 2000 while we were working on Moulin Rouge! This creates a very smooth and solid creative environment so that when things get tough going (which they always do), we can circle the wagons and support each other.”

“Obviously when a project goes on for so long there are many memorable moments, in particular the birth of my two kids! But probably the most exciting part of the post-process comes at the end when we’ve wrapped our arms around the film and things such as running time and structure are under control. It’s a real joy at that stage to be finessing the rhythm and making sure it’s as good as it can be. The final mix is always exciting as well; seeing the graded picture being married to cinematic surround sound makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.”

IFTN: How do you approach a project, and what is your process?

JONATHAN: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved at a very early stage on most of my recent projects, sometimes before there’s even a script. Research and a deep dive into the subject is usually where we begin and with an icon like Elvis Presley, there’s a lot of material to work with even before we shoot a frame. We all felt a lot of responsibility with Elvis’ legacy going into the project and historical accuracy was important. At the same time, we also wanted the film to appeal to a younger audience who may not have been all that familiar with Elvis or his music so that was a big focus in development.”

“Baz also wanted to pay homage to some of the cinematic devices from Elvis’ era such as montages and split screens but execute them in a modern way so we did a lot of research and experimentation before we shot anything. Music is always a key element in the work I do so there’s always a lot of collaboration with the music team.”

IFTN: Simple changes to the edit can completely change how an audience responds to a scene: How would you describe the editor's role in terms of storytelling? How do you maintain tone and pacing throughout an edit?

JONATHAN: “Absolutely, even in a simple scene with two people having a chat, subtle changes in how you cut it, can tip the scales in how an audience perceives each character. Keeping an audience engaged is I think the most critical part of any creative story-telling medium and especially true when you expect people to sit in a theatre with no remote control.”

“Our first cut of the film was about 4 hours 30 minutes and we ended up cutting about 2 hours off that for the theatrical release. We managed to do that without cutting outright a huge amount of shot scenes. Instead, we kept what was important about a scene; be it character development, plot or just a terrific performance and managed to compress and weave together disparate scenes in a way that made sense and was dramatically shorter than had we let the scenes play out in their original length.”

“We had a pretty elaborate timeline of each cut of the film marked up on a wall in the office and it was quite remarkable how just looking at that, we were able to see where the film needed to be tightened. It took a long time though and endless editorial passes and revisions before we ended up where we did.”

“I think it’s important to be respectful as a filmmaker of an audience’s time and attention. We wanted Elvis to have a theatrical release and hence the quest for a running time that wouldn’t require a toilet break. That said, there is a loud and vocal shout from social media for our long play version of the movie though I suspect even those people would rather watch it at home where they have easy access to either a bathroom or another bottle of wine.”

IFTN: How did you first get into editing professionally, and what have you learned through your experiences that would be of use to aspiring editors?

JONATHAN: “I got my start in Dublin when a very talented editor, Brian McCue, gave me a chance and a job as his assistant. He was doing a lot of very cool work at the time with a company called Dreamchaser Productions and that’s where my love of working with picture and music began. The skills I learned there were invaluable when I ended up in Australia and got offered a job on Moulin Rouge!”

“Like many creative industries, working in film is rarely a 9 to 5 kind of job. Long hours are involved but if you love what you’re doing, the rewards are many. Just turning up and going through the motions won’t get you very far. Directors rely on their editors for far more than that.”

“The editing systems that I started on used to cost a fortune. Now anyone can shoot and edit something really cool using nothing but their phone and the level of creativity and execution by young people today on YouTube and TikTok is extraordinary. Many editing software providers offer free apps for students so my main advice for any aspiring filmmakers, is just to make something. Anything. And remember that on any reasonably large project, it takes a village of talented people working with a common goal to make something good. So get your friends involved too.”

IFTN: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

JONATHAN: “Baz’s production company has a crest with the motto ‘a life lived in fear is a life half lived’.”

“Working in creative industries can be scary at times but it’s important to jump at opportunities as they present themselves and go for it. Also, don’t be afraid to think differently.”

IFTN: You often hear about things clicking for a film in the edit. Was there any moment on this project in particular when the editing made a major change to the project?

JONATHAN: “There were a few things in development that we created that had an impact on the script and the structure of the movie. 5 years before the movie was released, we came across a clip of Elvis singing ‘Unchained Melody’ shortly before he died which blew us away and we knew it had to be the ending of the film. It felt right at the time and even more so as the movie developed.”

“Col. Tom Parker as an unreliable narrator in the movie was a device that we struggled to get right for a while. Eventually we worked out that ‘less was more’ and the film flowed much better for it.”

“Baz films always undergo dramatic changes in the editing process from the script and the original assembly. That’s both challenging and fun!”

The 20th anniversary of the IFTA Awards Ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 7th.





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