The Mandalorian

When developing a series based on the Star Wars universe for the fledgling Disney+ streamingservice, The Mandalorian’s creator and executive producer Jon Favreau knew that he had a special property on his hands which required delicate handling. At a special 2019 advance screening of the first episode, Favreau told the invite-only crowd, “My whole taste in movies was probably formed in a big way from seeing George Lucas’ original [1977 Star Wars] film.” As he led his measured departure in his concept for The Mandalorian, he and Dave Filoni (co-creator, executive producer, and one of the show’s directors) decided to focus on the journeys of the titular bounty hunter. “It has a lot of the qualities and aesthetics of the [original] film, but the novelization of serialized storytelling … opened a lot of freedom and opportunity that we’re not repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced from Star Wars.”

Enter editor Jeff Seibenick, who was thereafter joined on the show by editors Andrew S. Eisen and Dana E. Glauberman, ACE. Seibenick boarded the production in May of 2018, at a very early stage of the series’ previsualization phase. “I was the post department for the first few months,” Seibenick recalls. “I was cutting entire episodes in previs, complete with voice actors, sound design and temp music. Jon and Dave would watch them and then go rewrite the scripts because once they could see an episode fully realized they knew exactly where and how to dial it in well before the cameras even rolled.” Using a process that shared similarities with techniques that Favreau used on his retelling of The Lion King, the team developed a new system that effectively meant production could take place on a stage at Manhattan Beach Studios, where the sets and environments (all created using video game engine technology) would be projected on a giant LED wall behind the actors. The virtual sets would sync up with camera movements using motion-capture sensors which created the illusion of being on a massive three-dimensional set and gave the filmmakers enormous creative flexibility. “It was great how early they brought all of us in because we got to be involved in the artistry, not just the editing.” Seibenick said, “Our entire experience was very inclusive. We were on board as everything was being worked out, which is rare for a TV editor.”

With Seibenick having edited the previs for most of the episodes – save numbers 4 and 6 – Eisen joined the post-production team in October of 2018, coming from the world of features. “I came into this project not knowing what to expect given that streaming television was a new medium for me.

What I quickly found was it felt as familiar to me as any feature I had worked on,” Eisen says. “Not all scripts were locked yet and I started cutting previs for episode 4, [director] Bryce Dallas Howard’s episode, while they were shooting episodes 1 and 3 simultaneously. Dave Filoni was directing episode 1, and Deborah Chow was directing episode 3. The plan was for Jeff and I to cut four episodes each, staggered, based on the shooting schedule so we had time to get through a full first pass before the next one would begin. But as the schedule changed, we were getting back-to-back episodes while still trying to complete full episodes in previs. We had an incredible crew of assistant editors who stepped up to the challenges, especially our associate editors, Dylan Firshein and Erik Jessen, who were instrumental in helping pick up the editing slack when the deadlines were looming.”

By January 2019, with the work on The Mandalorian piling up, Glauberman joined the team, taking over editing duties on episode 4. “My agent, Jasan Pagni at WME, called to tell me about this incredible opportunity, literally three days before I started on the show,” she recalls. “I think episode 4 benefited from an editor like me who is not necessarily a Star Wars super-fan, but does come from the feature world, and has edited movies with a little comedy, a little drama, a little action, a love story, and so much more … all of which this episode contains.”

The trio of editors worked on their respective episodes, encompassing a full year, ending last October. “Previs took quite a bit of time, with the artists and the directors coming up with the ideas,” Eisen explains, “so it was almost like we edited not eight, but 16 episodes. They would shoot roughly three weeks for an episode. As far as post goes, it was a significantly longer feature model only limited by our release date a little more than a year out from when shooting began. We really had no downtime.” Seibenick, Eisen and Glauberman also report that in addition to what was effectively on-set compositing of the environments through the virtual production process, there were an estimated 4,000 post-produced VFX shots in this season. “Jon approached it like a feature. It wasn’t what the studio was expecting, possibly, but he let the directors stay on for as long as they felt they needed to get their cut,” Eisen says.

Regarding the freedom afforded by a streaming platform, Eisen notes that the three Mandalorian editors were unencumbered in their efforts, given the creative approach offered by Favreau and Filoni. “Each director had their own unique vision, and Jon embraced that. So the episodes are very different. Rick Famuyiwa’s episodes [2 and 6] are very different from episode 4 which [features] Bryce’s unique style. Jon was very open to that.” “The Mandalorian greatly differs from traditional episodic shows in that Jon and Dave really kept the editors involved in every step along the way,” adds Glauberman. “On the few episodic shows that I’ve edited in the past, I have not had the opportunity to see my particular episodes through to the end; something that I really enjoy. However on The Mandalorian, Jon and Dave wanted to include us from the beginning to the end, all the way through to the final mix, just like on a feature. It was a true collaboration between all filmmakers; also something that I really enjoy.” Given the enormity of the production, the editors expressed that, in addition to cutting, they served as overseers for their individual episodes. “We were deeply involved in the visual effects process since we were so familiar with every aspect of our episodes,” Seibenick relates. “We’d catch little details in the blocking, or the timing of an effect shot that only an editor would notice – but was ultimately hugely important to the overall story.”

At the outset of The Mandalorian, Favreau sought to plan the trajectory of each episode in its entirety, which was why he insisted on requiring previsualization for every scene of every episode, though many elements eventually changed once shooting took place. “[For] the big action scenes, the directors did their best to stick to the previs,” Eisen says. “When it comes to the talking scenes, the previs looked nothing like the finished product. It did help Jon pre-approve the whole episode, making changes ahead of time, so by shooting, they were just more prepared, and they could get through it on a much shorter schedule.”

In addition to proving useful for visual effects artists and directors, previsualizing The Mandalorian was also informative for the show’s talent. “Our actors were able to watch previs cuts prior to shooting any particular scene,” Glauberman explains. “This, coupled with not having to act in front of a greenscreen, but instead having the backgrounds and environments being projected behind them on the LED wall, really helped them feel like they were in that world. And if all of that helps their performances, it certainly helps our editing and the outcome of the show.”

Industrial Light & Magic served as the lead VFX house, though additional vendors also created shots. “Our in-house visual effects team was terrific,” says Glauberman. “They would filter visual effects through ILM up north, down to us [in Los Angeles]. So, like on any big VFX project, as shots came in, we would have VFX reviews with Jon and Dave and the visual effects department for each episode.”

With ILM having been opened in 1975 to create the visual acquainted with the machinations of The Mandalorian’s realm. “Everything in season 1 came through visual effects supervisor Richard Bluff,” says Eisen. “He would look at everything, and it would have to get his seal of approval before it even came to us. We would spend about four or five hours in the visual effects review room and scrutinize every shot. Jon would scrutinize the tiniest of details down to the lighting on a leaf on a tree; he was that specific, and it’s what made the show.”

Oftentimes, a visual effect came to the three editors unlike what had been planned, necessitating that the editors stay flexible. “We would have to adapt,” Eisen says. “It was a very detailed process. We had such an amazing team, coordinating everything, and keeping track of all of those changes over eight episodes.” Not only did certain visual effects change over the course of the yearlong post period, some of the shots would fundamentally alter the storytelling process in the editing room. “A lot of the time, our VFX reviews became editorial sessions,” Seibenick explains. “We would start to see shots or whole scenes come to life that would be drastically better than the temp shots we’d been living with and would give Jon new ideas. Sometimes we would literally rethink whole scenes based on the visual effects. Jon would say, ‘Oh, that’s good. Now let’s make it better.’”

Referring back to the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucasfilm ensured that sound was a critical aspect of The Mandalorian. Says Seibenick, “Half of the Star Wars universe is created with sound, and Jon was insistent that the editors and the [Skywalker Sound] artists work together to perfect the soundscape for each episode. All of us had an opportunity to make everything better every step of the way.”

Summing up, Eisen says Favreau “gave everyone a lot of free reign, but, in the end, he and Filoni pulled it all together. They made sure that everything was cohesive, tight and engaging, and then hoped that the public would love it as much as they did.” “The whole reason I wanted to make movies is because of my love for Star Wars, so getting this job was a dream come true!” Adds Seibenick, “Star Wars changed the face of cinema as we know it and here we are, trying to continue that legacy – by building upon the foundation of greatness.

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