Star Trek Into Darkness – One Editor’s Journey

Cannes Film Festival

Paramount Pictures

As the Australian premiere of “Star Trek Into Darkness” commenced, in Los Angeles editor Maryann Brandon gave a sigh of relief. The editing team had finished their final pass one hour prior to the event’s start.

“We were so up against time,” said Brandon. “I was prepared for the 3D, and I don’t think we had many changes, but it was all happening so fast.”

The moment she saw the size of the script, loaded with huge action sequences, Brandon knew she’d be committing many long hours at the edit bay – a mission she gladly accepted. She had co-edited “Star Trek” with Mary Jo Markey and knew there would be a second, and possibly future, installments. Looking ahead, she was excited to see what choices the actors would make as their characters evolved and she wanted to return to the familiar Enterprise territory. However, as a freelance editor, she was uncertain if her schedule would allow her that opportunity.

“Life happens, and it’s really hard to say at the time,” said Brandon. “I have co-edited all of J.J.’s films, and I love working with him. I hope I get to work on all of his films, it’s something I really want to do.”

A mother as well as an editor, Brandon has resisted traveling for productions that would take her out of state, or overseas, for several months at a time. To remain close to her family, she’s had to pass up many jobs and take what becomes available in Los Angeles. Fortunately, several directors Brandon prefers to work with have set up bases locally, Abrams amongst them, and the timing worked perfectly for “Into Darkness.” Reuniting with Markey, they dove into the script and divided the big action scenes between them, each woman providing their own style and interpretation of the section’s rhythms in their work.

A previs pass had been done on scenes with a lot of effects, giving Brandon a strong understanding of visual effects placement and overall scene layout. While finding it a useful tool, Brandon was able to make her own decisions as the best structure for the sequence. In many cases, Brandon also had multiple camera angles at her disposal. However, Abrams had specific and clearly defined intentions for his work’s look. Despite multiple angles, the shots usually dictated how a scene began. Brandon reviewed all the material carefully, then determined the rhythm of the scene and edited it accordingly. When the entire sequence was completed, Abrams would join Brandon in the edit suite to review the pass.

“There’s no rough cut; J.J. likes to work with each scene unto itself,” said Brandon. “He has a strong hand in editing. We have lots of discussions on how to make alternative edits.”

Brandon often pre-prepares an alternative cut of a large action sequence, giving the director an alternative choice for mood and tone. The two discuss the alternatives, mutually found the best arrangement that completed the scene and complimented the story. While there was collaboration after a sequence have been completed, Brandon enjoyed the autonomy the director provided. She always had the ability to stray from the story boards and original concepts to benefit the action and tension in the chase sequences, and drama in the emotional scenes.

Brandon knew the film would have a stereo conversion and was able to plan her edits accordingly. She has found that, when working with 3D, edits shouldn’t be too tight – a little more time is needed between cuts. Abrams had designed the shots in mind for 3D as well, and a post- vis pass also assisted with that final planning. While she feels 3D generally doesn’t complicate editing, waiting for the final 3D clips is time consuming. It sometimes results in an editing crunch, as it did with “Into Darkness.” While the editors weren’t able to attend the Australian premiere, they did attend it’s LA debut. Brandon found watching the film for the first time with a large audience a very tense experience.

“It’s nerve-wracking, everyone’s got their own take on it,” said Brandon. “The film walks a fine line of respect for the classic Star Trek fans while providing an exciting world to bring in new fans. I think J.J. does a great job with that. It’s a fun movie!”

While Brandon loved working on the action scenes and sites the film’s opening as one of her favorites, it’s the themes of friendship, love and loyalty and the dramatic scenes that explore those issues she’s especially fond of.

“I love the scene between Kirk and Pike at the bar. It’s simple, just dialogue between two actors that conveys a quiet, believable moment,” said Brandon. “And the (quarantine) scene between Kirk and Spock; when Spock finally understands how to say thank you. It’s all about how we become empathetic, and shows the importance of friendship.”

Brandon will be gearing up for another action packed adventure in a universe far, far away this fall when she begins editing “Star Wars: Episode VII.” Prior to that, she’s stepping away from action sequences to work on a remake of “Endless Love.”

“It’s interesting, it’s very different tonally,” said Brandon. “I don’t know the director but she has a great sensibility. And there are no visual effects.”