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QTR 2 / 2013 / VOL 63

A Super Man Returns Again


iven his numerous incarnations for film and television, including

a historic 1978 feature film, traditionally animated short cartoons,
and an array of dramatic series, Superman as a character has been
active throughout the decades since his June 1938 debut in Action
Comics #1. The original creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,
Superman had a down period in feature films from the misbegotten
1987 sequel Superman IV: The Quest for Peace until his 2006 reboot in Superman
Returns. When that latter film failed to meet studio expectations, Warner Bros. sought
to reinvent his starring role in films with a new project. Called Man of Steel, the film
was conceived by Batman re-imaginer Chris Nolan with a screenplay by notable
genre writer David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder at the helm.

52 CINEMAEDITOR QTR 2 / 2013 / VOL 63

Above: Henry Cavill. Photo by Clay Enos. 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

Considering the many previous onscreen incarnations to feature

the character, audiences are well familiar with Supermans journey.
Producer Charles Roven explained that Man of Steel takes the wellknown story in a new direction, making the character more relatable
to a modern audience. We felt in this movie that we had to create
a character more complex, he said. As hes getting older, he has a
certain level of desire. Hes on a quest to find out who he really is.
We are on a quest in our own lives.
Expounding on that thought, working with Nolan for the
first time, Producer Deborah Snyder (Zacks wife) believed that
Nolan added a freshness to the 75-year-old concept. He didnt
feel contemporary in the pastthis perfect boy scout who was
hard to relate to, she said. Weve all been in this place in our
[lives] where we dont know if we are doing the right thing. We
can really care about him in that way. It feels really grounded in
reality. Superman transcends the superhero genre.
During pre-production, Zack Snyder developed the script in a
unique manner, according to his wife and producer. The script
was in really great shape, but after seeing it in the development
process, we did some work on [it], she said. Zack takes the
script and draws every single frame of the movie. There are
volumes of books, and it takes him six months. He draws it in an
editorial manner. You can take the frames and edit them together.
Simultaneously, previsualization takes place with Visual
Effects Supervisor John DJ Des Jardin. We go to computer
models and break it down and start to build the shots, said
Deborah Snyder. Previs is a stepping stone for the visual effects
shots. When Superman flies, we shoot a portion with our actor
and use a digital double. The previs helps us define when the
live-action transitions to a CG piece.
During this process, which started in fall of 2010 and ran until
summer of 2011, Des Jardin, Stunt Coordinator Damon Caro, and
Zack Snyder are pre-blocking what the riggers are going to do
with the stuntmen. This is our third movie with this particular
team, Deborah Snyder explained. Damon has worked all of
Zacks films. They have a shorthand, and they are not afraid to
try things. We were going to go from this really tight shot of a
live-action girl to a digital double. It works really well, and we
couldnt have done it any other way.
After nearly a year of pre-production, Man of Steel was
prepared for principal photography. Roven, who produces
everything from comic book adventures to dialogue-intensive
dramas, noted his role as production ensued. The most important thing is making sure that Zack has all of the tools that he
needs, Roven said.
By any account, Man of Steel was a massive undertaking, with
125 shooting days across six months of principal photography.
When production started in July of 2011, Snyder, shooting on film
with much handheld material, shot for four weeks in Naperville,
Illinois, doubling for Smallville and the countryside near Plano,
Illinois, where Clark Kent is raised. Then, production moved to
Chicago for two weeks of Metropolis exteriors after which they
moved to Vancouver Island and a glacial area. Two weeks in the
Mojave Desert followed near Edwards Air Force Base. Wrapping
in February of 2012, post-production continued for another year.

Enter veteran editor David Brenner, A.C.E., who had cut

many different types of films throughout his rich career, including
such genre films as Independence Day (1996), The Day After
Tomorrow (2004) and 2012. Brenner traveled to Naperville to
begin work on Man of Steel in the production offices nearby. As
the film was processed in Los Angeles and dailies sent back to
location, Brenner would watch dailies with Snyder at lunch and
begin cutting the footage the night of the succeeding day. At
first, I was apprehensive about the first cut, he said. No matter
how many years you have been editing, the first time you show a
director a scene, it rattles you. You want to make sure you have
milked everything out of the material.
However, his fears were ameliorated after showing Zack
Snyder a cut sequence early in production featuring young Clark
Kent. I polished it and did all of these tricks, speed ramping and
sound design, Brenner recalled. He really liked it. When the
next sequence came, he told me, Um, were not releasing the
movie yet. It doesnt have to be perfect. I just want to know that I
have everything and that its going to cut together.

Top: Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams. Photo by Clay Enos. Bottom left: Michael Shannon. Bottom right: Russell Crowe.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

No matter how many years you

have been editing, the first
time you show a director a scene,
it rattles you. You want to
make sure you have milked
everything out of the material.

CINEMAEDITOR QTR 2 / 2013 / VOL 63 53

Getting over that fear of

taking something out enabled us
to get to where we need to be.

Continuing that thought, Brenner related that cutting a visual

effects-heavy film as with Man of Steel is made easier due to
Snyders familiarity with such material. He can see things in
the green screen that arent there, said Brenner of his director.
Its already in his head.
When the shooting company moved to Vancouver to shooting
on stages, Man of Steel had to move even more quickly. At
this time, Brenner devised a three-tiered strategy to cutting his
versions of a scene. At first, he showed Snyder a cut scene a day
or two after he wrapped shooting itthis rough first cut usually
had no sound or music. The second pass occurred after Snyder
reviewed the first cut and Brenner had spent more time refining
the scene, incorporating Snyders notes. Warren Paeff would
cut sound effects on everything. That went into the second pass
and I would mix it. Thats when [Snyder] would give more notes
and say, Lets start to turn over some of these shots to the visual
effects vendors. When Brenner created a third pass, Snyder
would see his notes come to life.
As with most large-scale, action-adventure films, the first
assembled cut of Man of Steel was longthree-and-a-half hours.

54 CINEMAEDITOR QTR 2 / 2013 / VOL 63

We would share sections of it with DJ, said Brenner. We would

choose hero shots from every sequence, maybe 600 hero shots in
all (out of a total of over 1,100 visual effects shots in the film).
This is all before we wrapped. As we get into the last three weeks
of the movie, Zack has time only to see the first pass. We were
rushing to the end.
When production wrapped the last weeks of shooting at
Edwards Air Force Base, Brenner and Snyder embarked on the
yearlong process of getting their lengthy film into a manageable
shape. Two weeks after he was finished, I was done with the
editors cut, or first cut, Brenner explained. A lot of editors on
huge movies like this, they get hit with a request to have their first
cut done within a week. I really needed two weeks. You are always
looking at other takes and other ways.
As he did during pre-production, Snyder referred to his
pencil sketches during the post-production process, which was
also useful to the visual effects vendors on the film. As the 1,100
effects shots developed, Brenner integrated the various versions
of the shots into his cut. Sometimes you have to cut in black title
cards for something thats onscreen thats a fully CG moment,
he said. Usually though we had previs. DJ and Zack use previs
artist Kyle Robinson to do the previs on the movie. A lot of it was
changed as things were developing.
With a year ahead of them plus several additional months for
3-D conformation and sound, Brenner and Snyder planned out a
routine for their workday. I would come in at 9 a.m. or so, and I
would start to clean up things that we had done the day before
tweak the cuts and heal the temp music and temp sound effects,
said Brenner. Zack would work out and come in at 10 a.m. We
would work together from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 4 p.m., we would
look at visual effects. We had effects reviews every day to look at
animation, blocking, temps and finaling shots.
Though the Man of Steel script wasnt overly long, it was
one which was thick with action, where a few sentences on
the page would become several onscreen minutes once action
moments were prevised. That was our big challenge: getting it
down to time, Brenner revealed of the cuts, which evolved over
the months in post. We were at 2:40 and feeling like this thing
was flying. The scope was quite big. The problem with watching
something at 2:40 or 2:35, you ended up with some battle
fatigueits action-heavy at the end. A lot of it is background
and personal story at the beginning.
Chris Nolan assisted Brenner and Snyder to pare down Man of
Steel. He really got us to see that with something like this, we
really had to summarize a lot of moments and get through them in
a much more brutal way than we were doing, Brenner confessed.
He would tell us that we had to put the screws to get through this.
Another thing that we learned which Chris suggested to us,
Brenner continued, if you are cutting for time and listening to
the music that [you have] temped the film with, its going to feel
like its hitting these beats and working so well. We turned it off
and suddenly we would take a minute out of a reel, easily. Thats
one of the tricks that really helps you. I use temp music in the
beginning to help me feel what the pace should be like. Later, as
you are really trying to carve it down, we turn it off.

Top (L-R): Amy Adams, Henry Cavill and Antje Traue. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Bottom left: Editor David Brenner, A.C.E.
Photo courtesy of David Brenner, A.C.E. Bottom right: Henry Cavill and Director Zack Snyder. Photo by Clay Enos.
2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

At a certain point, with so many visual effects shots in the film,

there are limits on an editors ability to cut down dense action
material. Your ability to recut becomes somewhat limited, said
Brenner. The handles on your visual effects shots are very small.
You are either going to have to add another visual effects shot
quite late in the game or work out a different way to do things. As
you get the shots, once they are fully rendered, we would often
use the handles we had. If youre using animatics or temps, once
you get iterations that are starting to look final, you are going to
want to open it up.
From his Man of Steel experience, Brenner offered advice
to other editors. If you really are having a length problem, be
brave and be bold, he counseled. Chris Nolan encouraged us
if you are not sure whether the shorter version works, leave that
version in and screen the whole picture with it. You are going to
feel differently about the pace of the story. Getting over that fear
of taking something out enabled us to get to where we need to
be. We were cutting so that we could get into the ballpark, then
we let scenes breathe.
As Brenner and Snyder would get final visual effects shots,
they knew that they were getting particularly close to their final
cut. Very early on, nobody understands how fantastic it is going
to look, Brenner said of Man of Steels visual effects shots.
Sometimes, the previs or animatics created confusion, [but] we
knew that they were being addressed; we knew that [visual effects
provider] Double Negative had the notes. These final battles, they
do go on for quite some time.

Above: Henry Cavill. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

Naturally, later in the process, [Composer] Hans Zimmer created

his dynamic score for the film integrated by Music Editor Melissa
Muik and Brenner in winter of 2013. Often I will use a lot of temp
music at the beginning, the editor said. It helps create a skeleton
of what the sound and music design is going to be like. Our original
track hit everything, every moment, every scene transition. When
Hans Zimmer saw the movie, his instinct was to tie more sections
together. Less stops and starts. This, I think, is his style.
As opposed to traditionally-written underscore, Zimmer created Man of Steels music by composing and recording suites based
on each of the main characters. The music editors are taking
those suites apart and starting to try to fit them, Brenner said.
Its a little bit like editing; it was really quite fluid.
Of his summative Man of Steel experience, Brenner stepped
back to note his overall accomplishments. You are trying to
tell more than one story and create suspense and build drama,
he said. Thats what I really love. We are tracking three things
that are happening at different places in the world. That was
the most fulfilling.
On June 14, audiences will finally experience the result of
Brenners efforts, shared with Zack and Deborah Snyder and
Charles Roven. As much as Superman is an icon that in many
ways because of his extraordinary powers is aspirational, said
Roven, one of our biggest goals was to make him relatable.
We knew we had to make it exciting and make it a lot of fun,
but we did that because we made the characters and particularly
Superman so relatable.

CINEMAEDITOR QTR 2 / 2013 / VOL 63 55

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