Rian Johnson and Editor Bob Ducsay on Cutting ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Knives Out’

The Middleburg Film Festival, which will take place from October 13 to 16 in Virginia, will open with the film by Noah Baumbach
“White Noise”, with Adam Driver, and the centerpiece “Knives Out” sequel “Glass Onion”.

Other films announced for the 10th edition are “The Whale” by director Darren Aronofsky and “Somewhere in Queens” by Ray Romano. Other films should join the list.

So far, the festival has announced that it will honor Stephanie Hsu with the Rising Star Award; Baumbach
with its 10th Anniversary Spotlight Filmmaker Award; “Nope” composer Michael Abels with the Distinguished Composer Award; and Rian Johnson with his Distinguished Screenwriter Award.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer Johnson knows a thing or two
about editing a movie, after all, he cut “The Brick” in 2005. But editor Bob Ducsay is his go-to guy, who he says “really taught me how to collaborate with an editor.”

Having met just over 10 years ago, the two have since collaborated on five films, including their latest, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a crime sequel to the 2019 film.

Johnson and Ducsay will be honored with the Variety Creative Collaborators Award to celebrate their work together.

Here they talk about their relationship and the secret to working together.

Going back to your first meeting, how did you meet?

Rian Johnson: I was looking for an editor for “Looper,” and my producer Ram Bergman met Bob and really liked him. Bob, where did we sit?

Bob Ducsay: It was somewhere in your neighborhood. Ram and I had met two years prior on another film that needed work. I didn’t end up getting the job, but he remembered me. When Rian was looking for someone on “Looper”, he put us in touch.

It’s been over a decade, how has your relationship evolved, and Bob, how does it help you as an editor when Rian brings you on board early in the process?

Johnson: I feel like Bob taught me how to work and collaborate with a publisher. Before my first film, “Brick”, I had made a ton of short films and cut them all myself. I cut “Brick”. I worked with a charming and wonderful editor, Gabriel Wrye, on “The Brothers Bloom” and was actively engaged. But throughout our working relationship, a lot of patience on his part, and building trust between us, he taught me to be a true collaborator. I still have an editor’s brain, but at this point it’s almost two minds working together, synchronizing when we’re working. It’s like we’re finishing each other’s sentences.

Ducsay: It was very interesting coming in early because Rian had his first two films. I think it must have been very difficult for him because it’s such an intimate and precise process. Every detail, every nuance, down to the frame, which is 24ths of a second away, is debated in your mind as you cut a movie. So if you already have an editor’s instinct, which Rian does, I bet it was hard to get someone to come in and do that job. I found that we got along well from the beginning, which is true of all film collaborations. In this decade of working together, I think it’s been such a comfortable and positive working relationship, because you hope to bring things beyond what anyone could do on their own, and I work very hard to achieve. But at the same time, you also learn everything the director, in this case Rian, wants from his film and what his vision is.

Your job is always to work towards that vision. I think it’s especially complex with the editing because it’s so involved in the storytelling. Where we have come above yours is extraordinary. But even beyond that, I think one of the interesting things about the editor/director relationship is that it’s a very close relationship. You can stand in a room for 12 hours a day. I think that’s the best thing because we can have so much fun doing really hard work, and we love doing it.

What has been fascinating is watching the two of you evolve in different genres, starting with science fiction for “Looper”, passing through “Star Wars” and finally whodunit. How did the two of you work on that going into these different worlds?

Johnson: Every film has its challenges. But I think what strikes me the most is how similar they are all in terms of working process. “Star Wars” didn’t feel significantly different from “Looper” and it didn’t feel significantly different from “Knives Out”. We’re still sitting, and it’s the same hard choices in terms of what you cut. It is the same decision to keep the balance. These are the same timing considerations. It’s different for every movie. But I will say one thing, I really enjoyed having Bob for “Star Wars”. Beyond the creative collaboration, it’s difficult to communicate the technical challenge the editorial department faces in cutting a film of this size and complexity, technically. I had never come across such big movies before. Reality is when something is this big and complex in terms of effects, sound, and it all becomes almost different in terms of technical challenge. Bob had done these big movies before, so he and his team made it easy and they just faded into the background so Bob and I could engage in the creative work.

Ducsay: For Rian, it’s an incredible technical challenge. Anyone who does them knows that. But being able to manage them and stay focused on what’s most important, the character and the story, is sometimes difficult. Regardless of the scale of the film, you try to tell a good story and create great characters.

“Knives Out” is called an editor’s film, how about that?

Johnson: It’s really true that these are publisher films, 98% of the editing is about shaping the performances, loving your actors and trying to do your best to shape their performances to present the best of what they gave you.

Ducsay: The real secret is that good actors and a good script make the editor’s job extremely easy, and that’s it. It’s the truth.

TIP SHEET

WHAT: Middleburg Film Festival WHEN: October 13-16
WHERE: Middleburg, Virginia.
THE WEB: middleburgfilm.org