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Last December, the producers of RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE granted FANGORIA exclusive access to the Toronto set of the fourth chapter in their action/horror franchise, derived from the best-selling Capcom video games. For 10 weeks, right up to AFTERLIFE’s September 10 release from Screen Gems, Fangoria.com is presenting a series of one-on-one interviews with the movie’s cast and crew.
Written and directed by film series originator Paul W.S. Anderson, AFTERLIFE once again stars Milla Jovovich as mysterious heroine Alice, who teams with a small group of postapocalyptic survivors in a world overrun with zombies, monsters and agents of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. For more on the movie, start tracking back through our previous articles here.
British editor Niven Howie returns to the RESIDENT EVIL universe after cutting 2007’s EXTINCTION. Following a career in music videos, the award-winning editor made his feature debut on the Mickey Rourke action flick BULLET in 1996, before earning kudos for LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS two years later. He earned his genre chops on THE HOLE (2001), CLOSE YOUR EYES (2002), GODSEND (2004) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), as well as Anderson’s DEATH RACE. Earlier this year, Howie’s credit graced the similarly titled Liam Neeson thriller AFTER.LIFE.
FANGORIA: What are the challenges of working on AFTERLIFE, compared to EXTINCTION?
NIVEN HOWIE: It’s a much bigger, bolder and more ambitious idea that we’re trying to achieve here. And having 3-D also complicates matters slightly. However, it’s looking wonderful; the sets look amazing, and everyone’s going to love all the different environments we’ve created. As far as challenges, it’s the same deal for me, really. I’m just happy editing away and doing nice bits of action, and it’s all coming together nicely.
FANG: One of the producers said that there’s actually less camera coverage when shooting in 3-D. How does that affect your work?
HOWIE: Well, the cameras are actually quite cumbersome; they’re fairly big monsters. So you can’t actually move them around as much as you’re used to doing. You can’t do handheld, you can’t put it on Steadicam. So…
FANG: In other words, Michael Bay would never shoot a 3-D movie?
HOWIE: I don’t know. I mean, looking at TRANSFORMERS, there are so many wides and big shots in his stuff. Michael Bay will probably take to it as well. But the style of shooting [in 3-D] is a little more conventional, and therefore the shots tend to be a bit longer. The 3-D presents itself in such a way that you don’t even want to cut as quickly as you do normally. It takes a little while for your brain to take in a three-dimensional image, so we’re holding shots a little longer and using close-ups a little less. So, yeah, it’s a slightly different rhythm for 3-D films.
FANG: Are you editing AFTERLIFE with 3-D glasses on?
FANG: What kind of marching orders did Anderson and the producers give you on this film in terms of cutting, and the aesthetic or style they were looking for?
HOWIE: We had a little discussion about the fact that the shots would probably need to hold longer because it’s 3-D. As with all films, I find that the images tell you how they want to go together. It’s very hard to impose a style on a film that’s contrary to the way it has been shot. My editing is dictated by the way it has been filmed.
FANG: How does it compare to EXTINCTION in terms of your workload?
HOWIE: It’s pretty similar, actually. We have some very, very big fight scenes in this that took several days to film, and I do have a lot of coverage on them, as I did on EXTINCTION. I remember on the Las Vegas sequence, I had 27 hours of footage for it, and the sequence ended up being about eight minutes. The coverage, although probably on the whole it’s a little less, I’m finding I steal a lot for some of the big fight scenes.
FANG: Those battles are always the showstoppers of the RESIDENT EVIL films.
HOWIE: Yeah, and one thing I’ve seen happen on this is that Paul has managed to emulate lots of angles and shots that are absolutely the way they are in the [RESIDENT EVIL 5] game. So the gamers will really enjoy this one. He’s tipped his hat to the game a lot more than prior entries.
FANG: You also had some zombie fun on the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake.
HOWIE: Yeah, that’s why I was of so much interest to [producer] Jeremy Bolt for RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. I met him and interviewed for [films] one and two, didn’t get the gigs, and then when they saw how good DAWN OF THE DEAD was, they thought to call.
FANG: How would you compare the zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD to the ones you’re working with now?
HOWIE: It’s slightly different. RESIDENT EVIL is much stronger on the main characters, and certainly Alice is really the linchpin of the movie, whereas DAWN OF THE DEAD was more of an ensemble cast. The zombies? Same, but different.
FANG: What is the key to editing a good, scary scene and getting that jump out of the audience?
HOWIE: The key to getting a good scare is to lull everyone into a false sense of security. So if you manage to get everyone calm, and then give the shock, it’s really unexpected. You get a big jump. So normally, I try to build a nice, gentle lull before the storm.
FANG: What about the challenge of marrying animatronics/makeup FX with digital FX? A shot starts out with a zombie with regular makeup on, and all of the sudden, via CGI, its mouth opens up and mandibles come out. Is there a difficulty in making a seamless transition with these different techniques?
HOWIE: To get that to work, you need to know a little bit about effects in order to seamlessly block something into the movie. A lot of that is down to the on-set technician who’s looking after that—they have to measure everything out, and they put tracking markers on someone’s face if they’re going to add something so that they can literally lock into that move. The technology they’re using is getting better and better all the time, and if you look back at films that are five years old now, you’ll see that the effects are getting so photo-realistic, it’s scary.
FANG: How’d you first get started in editing?
HOWIE: I started off cutting music videos. I was a musician at college, and I loved music. I wanted to record it and was thinking I was going to be in a studio. I got sidetracked and ended up as a music-video editor. Did about 500 of them.
FANG: You probably worked with EXTINCTION’s Russell Mulcahy quite a few times, given his music-video background.
HOWIE: Yeah, I was around in that time. I transitioned into doing more TV drama, short films. Eventually, one of my video clients gave me a break and let me work on a movie. Went back to doing commercials and music videos until LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS fell in my lap, which really put me on the map.
FANG: Had you always been a fan of these kinds of films before you took on RESIDENT EVIL?
HOWIE: Yes, well, I’ve always enjoyed movies with action in them, so RESIDENT EVIL certainly was on my radar. I love films that are fantastic, take you out of reality and journey into the unknown.
FANG: You got your start in music videos, and one of the criticisms we hear today is that too many movies adopt that style.
HOWIE: Unfortunately, this is the MTV generation, a generation who have grown up to expect things to be cut and pasted very quickly. I myself find that I’m getting a lot of pressure from the studios to cut quicker and quicker. So it’s not necessarily the editors coming from music videos who are making things quick, it’s the pressure from the studios and producers to deliver that pace. It’s frightening, really, when you look at a film that’s 20 years old and it seems so slow. We really have moved on to a much faster pace. Some [older] films could never really exist today.
FANG: Even Ridley Scott recut ALIEN for its anniversary rerelease to tighten it up.
HOWIE: Steven Spielberg also has had a big impact on the pace in movies. His films were cut very quickly by some of the oldest editors in the business, so it’s not just young, linear editors who have caused it. It’s just the MTV generation, who play video games, who expect things to move very quickly. People’s hand-to-eye coordination is so fast these days, they find classically shot films very boring.
FANG: Do you think today’s audiences are missing out on anything?
HOWIE: A little bit. If it’s gorgeous imagery, it’s a shame to have to cut it too fast. But I think there’s a happy medium, and some people manage to achieve that. I have my base in there somewhere.
FANG: What kind of base are you looking to hit in AFTERLIFE?
HOWIE: I had a good balance in EXTINCTION. I had some fairly dull scenes where we had dialogue, dramatic scenes, playing fairly traditionally, not overcut. And then in the action, we’d go crazy. We do have some beautiful, big scenes that are on huge sets, and you can’t let those shots go too fast. So there will be some calm moments, but we’ll get quite fast with the action.
FANG: When you were cutting your music videos, the music component obviously had an effect on the editing, but in feature films, I assume it’s not as apparent, or essential.
HOWIE: Every film has a rhythm, irrespective of the music put on. There’s a rhythm to the cutting, and that’s one thing I react to when I see a bad movie; it’s normally completely out of rhythm, it feels structured badly, the rhythm of the cuts starts to grind on you. I can completely watch a film if it’s done well, but if it’s done badly, all I start to notice are the cuts. So rhythm affects how you pace shots, how you pace holding onto characters, leading scenes, just as much as music does.
FANG: What advice would you give to people starting out who want to become editors like yourself?
HOWIE: It’s tricky nowadays. I managed to be around at a time when music videos were very groundbreaking. We were trying new things, it was a very experimental period and a lot of top directors moved across to cinema. Nowadays, music videos aren’t as groundbreaking. There are very few chances to do something too risky, because today they are three-and-a-half-minute commercials. You just have to dog it. If you really, really want to do it, you really, really try and have a go at using a camera, learn how to shoot, learn all aspects of filmmaking…if you’re really desperate to do it, you’ll find a way.
Stop back next week for an interview with RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. And check out the cover story of FANGORIA #296 (on sale in August), featuring an all-different AFTERLIFE set visit article.
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