‘Black Widow’ Editors on Marvel’s First Feature-Length Film in Two Years | The Rough Cut

by Ankit Verma | Jul 13, 2021

What better way to kickstart the appetite for cinema with a new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? After being shelved for a year due to the closure of theatres, Black Widow is now playing on the big screen and is available for premium purchase at-home through Disney+.

Fun fact: Marvel Studios didn’t release any films in 2020—the first time Marvel has missed a year since 2009 (break in-between Iron Man 1 and 2).

The Rough Cut host, Matt Feury interviews Black Widow editors, Matthew Schmidt and Leigh Folsom Boyd on sharing editing duties on a Marvel blockbuster, working remotely during post-production, and their experience collaborating with director, Cate Shortland.

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Key conversations

Making blockbuster movies from home

FEURY: What adjustments did you have to make once you went remote? Was it harder to work on things like visual effects and sound without giant screens and elaborate audio monitoring capabilities?

BOYD: I have to say that the IT department at Marvel is amazing—which we knew—but I have even more respect because they had to keep everyone going. My system at-home is not kick-ass, like you would expect. Studio screening rooms, visual effects reviews; my at-home system does not compare. Technical support really tried to help the key people to make sure that their screens were all calibrated as well as possible and to get everyone on the same page.

Balancing editorial duties

FEURY: How is the editorial workload balanced between the two of you?

SCHMIDT: We tried to break up the action scenes so we weren’t all bogged down with a bunch of action, just because that gets relentless at times with visual effects, postvis, and previs. It just gets to be a little bit too much to juggle, especially with the fast pace that we’re moving. So, we divided and conquered and then made sure that it was of balanced.

BOYD: And we were constantly talking with each other and showing each other scenes and collaborating about story, and stuff like that, to make sure we were both on the same page with everything.

SCHMIDT: Leah and I have both done Marvel movies in the past, but we’ve never worked together. We knew each other from working down the hall years ago, but we’ve never worked with each other. And that’s also an interesting dynamic. How do you divide the movie? How do you know who’s doing what? What kind of relationship will we have together? And what kind of relationship will we have with the director? You hope that you both have a very good relationship with the director, because I’ve seen it where some people have a good relationship with the director and the other editor doesn’t. It builds tension and it’s not really fruitful. But Leah and I, we hit it off right at the get go. We really worked well, together, all three of us.

The sound of Black Widow

FEURY: Audiences are going to have the choice of seeing this film in the theatre or sitting at home with Disney+. Of course, the theatre-going experience is going to be greater, but it isn’t just greater for the visuals, but certainly also for the sound. How do you go about building the soundscape so that you get this great immersive experience, but also one that is clearly understood?

BOYD: I think the first few conversations with the sound team are Cate’s vision for sound palettes of the movie as a whole, and then individually for each scene. The sound department, Skywalker Sound, are amazing. They take what we do in our Avid tracks as a guide. We’ve worked with Cate and we’ve tried to hone our part in building the soundscape; the sounds that she wants to hear for each scene and what we think, to bring that environment alive for the film. As we were getting deeper and deeper into the editing process, we were able to refine so that when we would give turnovers to the sound department, they were able to take that and continue to build from that. 

There’s this one scene that comes to mind. And, in fact, the opening scene which Matt cut so beautifully, where it starts in a neighborhood. And Cate was very specific to say, I want the sounds of someone mowing the lawn in the background, I want to hear some dogs barking; I want to hear the children playing to really bring the neighborhood alive. And, so, you might not see a guy mowing the lawn. But you can create that environment.

Editing the MCU

FEURY: Matt, I’m sure you remember this like it was yesterday, but you and I first met on location for Iron Man 3, which was only the seventh film into this now, 24-film MCU run. How has the post-production process, whether in terms of tools or technique, evolved from your perspective?

SCHMIDT: Their [Marvel Studios] model for making movies has always been the same; giving you the tools to make the best movie possible. Whether that be multiple storyboard artists, previs artists, postvis artists—whatever you need on these movies, because there’s flying characters, it’s pretty intense and a really heavy workload to visualize. I think from Iron Man 3, the process is pretty much the same, which is why the movies all have the same kind of feeling. Kevin [Feige], Victoria [Alonso], and Lou [D’Esposito] are still in all the meetings from Iron Man to now. It’s a very hands-on approach. And everything they allowed us to do on Iron Man 3, they still allow us to do now, maybe on a little bit bigger of a scale. It’s what makes all these movies function on the level that they function on, because they never spared any expense. And they knew what it took to get the creative side of it told.

*Portions of the key conversations have been edited for length and clarity. 

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