The Old Guard

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and adapted from Greg Rucka’s comic book series of the same name, Netflix’s The Old Guard centers on a group of immortals who neither chose their powers nor find their immortality to be particularly enjoyable, but see it rather as a cross they must bear.

“When I read the script, I knew pretty quickly that it was a story I needed to tell,” says Prince-Bythewood. “I was drawn to the characters who felt so real and grounded despite the fantastical conceit of immortality. I loved that it was about this group of warriors from different backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientations and genders that have come together to save the world.

That is the world I want to see. I loved that it was fronted by two female warriors, one being a young Black female hero. It just felt like if I had written the script, it had all the elements that I would have written in.” The diverse cast includes Charlize Theron who plays Andy, the oldest of the immortals and the most burned out by their mission, and also features KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire, ACE, reteamed with PrinceBythewood, marking 20 years together as collaborators, adding to their already deafening list of work that includes Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights and the pilots for both Shots Fired and Cloak & Dagger. Shropshire’s deep canon is filled with the elevation of Black stories. Her work serves as a compilation of powerful voices, spanning decades of repeat collaboration with directors like Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom), and Vondie CurtisHall (Waist Deep). She also cut she the pilot for Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us.

For both Shropshire and Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard represented an opportunity to both build and cross a bridge into large-scale action films – a bridge largely closed to Black women. “The film means a lot to me personally,” reflects PrinceBythewood, “the journey that it took to make it, the fight at times to protect my vision, the incredible collaborators who I had a chance to work with. The excitement of Teri and I being able to go on this journey together and make this jump to the big sandbox and also being able to prove that I could do this type of film and that Black women are capable of doing this type of film when given the opportunity. What we want is to be given the opportunity to showcase our talents.”

Shropshire met Prince-Bythewood when she interviewed for Love & Basketball. “I had edited a few independent films, most notably Eve’s Bayou, which had caught the attention of Gina and producer Spike Lee. During our interview,” she remembers, “Gina was definitely a hard read; I left not knowing how the meeting went. I was to discover Gina’s poker face is one of her ‘superpowers,’ a quietly intense focus that reveals nothing she does not choose to share. A 20-year collaboration has allowed us to grow and to evolve as both artists and women. Her trust in our process gives me the freedom to experiment, to share an uncensored perspective, and at times, to push back. We can engage in truly passionately vocal exchanges because we share a commitment always to fight for what is best for the story.

As relentlessly demanding as editing a film can be, I feel that we have built a safe space to create or to pause when life requires our attention. I feel fortunate to share both personal and professional milestones with Gina.”

In Rucka’s The Old Guard, the story of Nile (played in the film by KiKi Layne of If Beale Street Could Talk) was less of a central character and more of an entry point for the reader in understanding the shock of immortality, the psychological scars of battle and endless loss. It was Prince-Bythewood’s vision to further flesh out the character and give voice to power with the juxtaposition of Andy and Nile’s very different backgrounds, but shared reality.

“Greg and I worked very closely” notes Prince-Bythewood. “It started with my absolute respect for his story and the characters he created. When I came aboard, I wanted to work on expanding Nile’s character, giving her a fuller backstory, more agency in the plot, in the narrative, in the climax, and really fleshing out her being a Marine. I also worked on the team dynamic, making sure that every character felt full and distinct and dynamic. I really wanted to add the psychological toll that killing has on these characters who have taken lives to save many more.

Andy, who has been killing for such a long time and doesn’t know why, juxtaposed with Nile, who as a Marine has killed a person for the first time found common ground that connected them as soldiers, as warriors.” “We had to show in both mood and physical demeanor that Andy is a timeless but burned out warrior,” adds Shropshire.

“We needed to give the audience the beats to feel Andy’s frustration from being pulled in on another job, the anger within herself for going against her instincts to trust the contractor, and the last straw of a new immortal appearing in Nile.

In Nile’s introduction it was important to establish her innate goodness, her leadership and her strength. It was necessary to see that Nile was a warrior in her world before she meets Andy. You needed to know that she was not going to acquiesce to Andy’s will easily. Nile was going to question everything and fight for herself before she decides to join the Old Guard. When Nile decides to escape from Andy in the desert and Andy stops her, it is as essential to understand what it is about Nile’s character that compels her to escape as it is to understand Andy’s immortal warrior conceit to stop and to educate Nile in the most efficient way possible. Those choices are deliberate.”

A profound elevation in The Old Guard lies in the story of Joe and Nicky, also immortals and members of Andy’s team, but who began as enemies only to evolve into lovers. In a moment of capture, their kidnappers remark, “What … is he your boyfriend?” to which Joe (Marwan Kenzari) gives a moving and eloquent description of love.

“Joe and Nicky’s story was one of Gina’s favorite sections to shoot and one of my favorite pieces to edit,” remembers Shropshire. “We talked about honoring Greg’s vision for Joe and Nicky – the depth of their love over 800 years and how it unfolds during the journey of the film. By the time Joe voices his true feelings for Nicky, we’ve seen so many layers of these men. Joe and Nicky are truly old souls who have had many centuries through which to teach us about love.”

For The Old Guard, Shropshire also surrounded herself with a dedicated editorial team comprised mostly of women, including first assistant Corinne Villa, second assistant editors Angela Latimer and Danielle El Hendi and music editor Jen Monnar. Two decades of collaboration have provided an inherent shorthand, depth of process and a great deal of trust between director and editor. “Teri is one of the first people to read my scripts,” affirms Prince-Bythewood. “Whether I’ve written them or it’s a project I’m looking to take on, editorial absolutely starts in our discussions about the story, the characters and the meaning of what those choices will be saying to the world. That dialogue continues throughout pre-production, production and when we’re in that room together for 10 weeks of the director’s cut.”

Shropshire shares that she starts by “watching” the script to envelop herself in its journey. “Once I’ve read the script, I do my best to forget what I know and be of service to the film,” she says of her process. “Even before a frame is shot, Gina and I will have discussed the script extensively, so I try to become a fresh audience when dailies arrive in my edit room. During production, we usually talk every day about what I’m seeing come into editorial and the challenges of her upcoming shoot days.

It’s essential for us to maintain an open conversation so, if necessary, additional photography or adjustments can be made,keeping Gina informed of her options.” Adds Shropshire, “As an editor, I feel that I’m one-part gypsy and one-part Mary Poppins. I do adapt to the needs of each project and its director, while pulling the necessary tools and experience out of my ‘carpetbag’ to get the job done. Editorial journeys with directors can be vastly different and still have the same basic needs of persistence, patience, and ‘what if,’ which is my favorite dwelling.” Those magical ‘what ifs’ started for Shropshire as an assistant editor on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Today celebrated the 20th-anniversary release of Love & Basketball,” Shropshire relates. “I found myself watching the film in a theatre with Gina once again. What struck me about our shared journey through stories is the consistency of Gina’s commitment to lift up and embrace characters who are searching for their place in the world. Gina’s reach may extend over a wide range of stories and genres, but her lens remains focused on reflecting the strength, resilience and humanity in her heroes’ hearts. I saw that in Love & Basketball, and I still see it 20 years later in The Old Guard. I think that’s what I look forward to each time we work together: who gets the GPB lens.”

“When I look at our body of work,” sums up PrinceBythewood, “each story is told through a different genre, yet that Black female lens is the connective piece. The elevation of Black women at the center of their own stories is something that has always been important and worth the fight.

 

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