BILL PAXTON is one of my favorite actors of all time. Not just because of his scene-stealing roles in Apollo 13, Tombstone, True Lies, Aliens, Titanic, A Simple Plan, Twister, and SHANGHAI CALLING. (See what I did there?) He’s also a talented filmmaker who knows the process inside and out. I recently had to rely on his experience during post production.
A few weeks ago we were in the picture edit, and the movie was turning out too long. I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down to time. Producer JANET YANG mentioned the problem to Bill over lunch, and Bill generously offered to take a look at the cut and offer suggestions.
I met up with Bill a couple of days later. “You’re ruining your movie!” he shouted at me. (Bill Paxton pulls no punches.) According to Bill, I was making a classic “rookie director” mistake: I was being self-indulgent and precious by leaving unnecessary scenes in the movie, hurting the film as a whole. Bill’s suggestion: cut out a key comedy scene in the middle of the movie, which in turn would lead to two other cuts and lose about 8 minutes of running time.
Now, Bill’s a very confident guy (he’s a movie star!) and he’s very good at getting his way. Unfortunately for him, I’m extremely stubborn. Bill kept telling me to cut the scene, and I kept refusing. The scene had taken weeks to put together, and it was really f—ing funny. It has to be in the movie, I told him.
Realizing he wasn’t going to bulldoze me, Bill changed tactics and told me about one of his first directing gigs. He was very proud of a gorgeous shot that had taken hours and hours to set up, and he was determined to keep it in the film. But the scene wasn’t working, and his editor suggested that the gorgeous shot was getting in the way of the scene. Finally, after weeks of trying and failing to make the scene work, he cut the shot and suddenly, the scene worked!
The moral of the story, according to Bill: “There’s three movies that you make. First is the movie that you write. Second is the movie that you shoot. But the most important movie of all is the movie you create in editing.”
I nodded, and then headed back to the edit bay, determined to prove Bill wrong. Editor PAMELA MARCH and I cut the scene in question and looked for ways to bridge the gap. I was one hundred percent convinced that Bill’s suggested cut would turn the story into a total mess. When we thought we had implemented everything Bill suggested, I sat back and watched what we had just done.
“Damn it,” I said to Pam. “It totally works.”
When I got home from work, my wife asked me why I was upset. “Because Bill Paxton suggested that I cut one of my favorite scenes from the movie, and now the movie is better.” She smiled and told me not to feel bad — after all, Bill has many more years of experience in this business than me, so I should be thankful for good advice wherever I can get it.
So thank you, Bill. You ingenious bastard.armando salas, bill paxton, editing, geng le, janet yang, pamela march, post prodduction