“I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something.” That’s Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert in the new feature film Eat Pray Love — based on Gilbert’s best-selling memoir — signaling both her frustration with her current life and her intention of taking the journey that will famously turn it around.
The movie, like the book, follows Gilbert from New York to Italy, where she indulges her senses; to India, where she explores her spirituality; and to Bali, where she finds love and the balance she has been seeking.
But punching that ticket cinematically was a daunting challenge for director Ryan Murphy and producer Dede Gardner. And logistics were easily their biggest challenge. To faithfully translate Gilbert’s journey from page to screen, the filmmakers lobbied to shoot the movie entirely on location in chronological order. And after nine months of intense scouting and preproduction planning, Murphy led 40 cast and crew members — including Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson — on a four-and-a-half month rolling production effort that generated 422,000 feet of film, or roughly 70 hours of footage.
Because Eat Pray Love was post-produced as a digital intermediate (shot on film, posted digitally, delivered on film), the distance between the shooting locations and the editors introduced a significant hitch in the workflow. Film shot in Bali, for example, was flown to Australia to be developed (there are no film processors in Bali), then to EFILM in Los Angeles to be color corrected and scanned before it was delivered to the editors on a hard drive in HD format. Sometimes the editors would not see footage until 7 to 10 days after it was shot, so they needed a fast, efficient editing format.
“Technically, the editorial challenge was to maximize efficiency,” says Buecker. “We wanted to be able to see the highest quality image with the lowest possible file size, and be able to move files quickly from notebook to desktop and from room to room.”
The editors found an efficient solution in ProRes 422 (Proxy), a new version of the Apple ProRes codec introduced with Final Cut Pro 7. As soon as dailies arrived from EFILM, Assistant Editor Doc Crotzer would transcode the files from ProRes 422 (HQ) to ProRes 422 (Proxy), organize the footage into bins, and prepare the material for editing.
Using background exporting, another new Final Cut feature, Crotzer was able to continue editing even as he was compressing the files. “That feature saved us many times,” says Crotzer.
He adds, “The ProRes codec was the foundation of our workflow and absolutely instrumental in our editing process. The quality and the small file sizes allow us flexibility we wouldn’t have using any other codec. We were able to cut in Proxy and in a few simple keystrokes be reconnected in ProRes 422 (HQ) to output for a screening.”
The high quality of the proxy images also made Buecker confident that he was seeing all the detail he needed to make accurate edits: “With Robert Richardson as Director of Photography, the lighting, compositions, and quality of the footage were just unbelievable. So it was very important not to be getting surprises when we started up-resing.”
Fit and Finish
Even early on in the edit, Buecker and his crew used Final Cut Studio to polish every aspect of the cut. “Sound is a huge part our process. If on the fly there’s a hum in a scene that we can’t get out, and there’s no time to send it to the sound department, we go into Soundtrack Pro, and twenty minutes later the scene sounds good.”
When they needed to turn over footage to the sound and music departments, they used Compressor to output the many different kinds of files requested as QuickTime movies. “We didn’t have to think about whether this department needed dialog on track 1 and effects on track 2,” says Crotzer. “We’d just click their setting, which we’d preset in Compressor, and Compressor did the rest.”
Exporting these QuickTime movies enabled the editorial team to operate with an entirely tapeless workflow. “We just take for granted that QuickTime is multiformat, that it can go anywhere, be played anywhere, travel anywhere,” says Buecker. “It’s hands down one of my favorite things about the architecture of the system.”
With an efficient editing workflow, Buecker could focus entirely on finishing his editor’s cut. “The movie involves Elizabeth Gilbert living in four different countries, so it has an inherently episodic structure,” he says. “It was a structural challenge to bring out what she was feeling at each stop along the way and still have the story build as a cumulative experience.”
Because Murphy was filming in highly challenging remote locations, he was not available to consult with Buecker during this stage of the edit. “There are pros and cons to being 8000 miles away from the director,” says Buecker. “The pressure is intense, but it’s also a great opportunity to take chances and try things you normally wouldn’t.”
When Murphy returned to Los Angeles he watched the movie in sections, starting with New York. “Ryan is a great storyteller, and he has great ideas in the editing room,” says Buecker. “From time to time, though, we were able to surprise him. A few of the chances that we took actually paid off.
“There was a big Indian wedding at which they’d just shot tons of footage. And we cut it together to a song, as a montage. It’s about Liz Gilbert watching this other woman’s wedding and remembering her own. And Ryan just loved it, even though it was very different from what he might have done with the scene.”
Reactions from the studio to the overall edit were equally positive. And with the picture locked and ready to open, Buecker has had time to reflect on his own year-long journey through 70 hours of footage inside the editing room: “The story of Liz Gilbert is about going against the grain, doing something for yourself, and being a better person when you come out on the other side. Editing this film has been that kind of experience for me.”