Wonder Woman – 1984

February 13, 2021

Twenty-two months. That’s how long editor Richard Pearson, ACE, worked on Wonder Woman 1984 – the longest, by many months, he’d ever spent on a single project. “I had seven cutting rooms in locations as varied as Washington, D.C.; the Canary Islands; Soho in London; to the lot at Warner Bros. in Burbank,” he says.

Granted, some of that time was living in scheduling limbo on account of the pandemic – the film was slated for release on December 13, 2019, then moved up to November 1, 2019, then delayed to June 5, 2020, then moved to August 14, 2020, until finally settling on October 2, 2020 … before deciding to push it one last time to Christmas and a simultaneous release in theaters with HBO Max.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, WW84 is the sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman and the ninth installment in the DC Extended Universe franchise. Set in 1984 during the Cold War, it follows Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as she clashes with Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah, portrayed by Kristen Wiig in her first major role as a movie villain. Composer Hans Zimmer, who back in 2016 said he was done working on superhero films, created the dynamic theme song and score.

“It’s not just muscles and quips,” Pearson points out. “Patty and Geoff [Johns] developed a character in Diana filled with tremendous compassion, truth, honesty and vulnerability; of course she has impressive gifts as a demi goddess but she can feel pain, both real and emotional.” Pearson describes his approach. “I want to shape how the audience discovers the scene as if they are with one of our characters,” he explains. “I rarely, unless it’s intended, want the audience to be ahead of our players as I find it much more engaging to be on the journey together.”

The creative chemistry between director and editor was critical, and Pearson and Jenkins were in alignment right off the bat. “Working with Patty was like working with the younger sister I never had,” says Pearson. “We came from similar places, were fascinated by the same things as kids, and I felt like half the time we were swapping stories of our youth. One of the things I loved most about working with her was her absolute unbridled enthusiasm for the project. Often, rather than just talking about a scene or character she would ‘act’ out the emotional beats for me with her own facial performance and gestures.

“Early on in post we had a meeting with Hans Zimmer where she stepped into the center of the room and walked/ performed us all through Wonder Woman’s emotional journey during one particular set piece. She will do whatever it takes to communicate the goal that she’s after and her passion is absolutely infectious.

“One of the things that particularly impressed me was Patty’s insistence to capture as much in camera as was physically possible. When Wonder Woman is using her lasso to ‘fly’ through a mall in an early set piece, those are real (extremely talented) women moving through that physical space. It was quite something to see, and I think the authenticity lends itself to the audience’s experience.”

He continues, “One of the things I love about working on these types of pictures is the potential malleability of the material. In a heavily laden VFX sequence we can make a decision to change course with specific shots to suit the story we’re telling. You have to be careful obviously, as there are real repercussions to both budget and the calendar.”

When it came to the collaborating, it took Pearson a little time to get used to Jenkins’ stay-away approach during the edit process: “I’m used to showing directors cut footage weekly,” Pearson explains, “but Patty was pretty hands-off. I realized early on that she was focused on production. Unless there was a real problem she wanted to keep her head in that game. We discussed in those first weeks that I would be a sort of lighthouse captain.

If something looked like it was headed for the rocks I’d bring it up, otherwise I’d keep cutting and she’d keep shooting. That meant, however, on her screening of the first assembly she’d be seeing about 95% of the film for the first time. That first screening could have easily been my last day on the job!”

Clearly it wasn’t. In a career that has spanned nearly 30 years, Pearson’s work has run the gamut – the gritty dramas (United 93), the absurdist comedies (Bowfinger), and the sophisticated thrillers (The Bourne Supremacy). He grew up in Minneapolis in the ‘60s. “There were no VHS tapes, obviously no streaming, so I had to go to the library and check out Super 8 and Standard 8 films and watch them on the wall in my bedroom.”

Early on he became obsessed with the technical side of filmmaking – the ‘how the heck did they do that’ parts most people let go. “I used to watch Buster Keaton gags, and go back and forth over and over trying to figure out how he accomplished the stunts. I remember dissecting one gag where he seemingly jumped off a tall building and landed on his feet. It was only by examining the footage frame by frame that I could see he cut to a dummy dropping midway through the shot and then match cut to himself to complete the jump. For some reason that kind of editorial manipulation really struck me.”

In 1987, Pearson spent a couple semesters at the London Film School before deciding to use the funds he’d set aside for two more semesters to trek to Tinseltown and dive into the real world of Hollywood filmmaking. “My first job in L.A. was a film in the late ‘80s called Mutant on the Bounty – I cold-called the production when they were in prep and finally convinced them that I’d be an excellent hire as a production assistant … an unpaid production assistant.

After two weeks they were so happy with my performance they decided to give me the princely sum of 50 bucks a week for the remainder of the shoot.” Pearson’s big break in Hollywood came on a day he found himself sitting across from director Frank Oz over breakfast at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “I know you could have 10 people in here with resumes much longer than mine,” Pearson appealed, “but they all came from somewhere … this is me, coming from somewhere.” The Jerry Maguire approach sealed the deal. He got the job. It was for the movie Bowfinger. His career went wheels up after that.

While working on WW84, Pearson was also in the throes of a movie he was helping out on – Godzilla: King of the Monsters – and with all the screaming serpents and battling beasts flooding his ‘other’ Avid, he found an unlikely respite: “Gal Gadot was an escape,” he says heartedly. “I truly enjoyed working on Godzilla and with all of the folks involved, but looking at her dailies was a kind of release for me. She comes into camera, that honesty, that kindness, so loving, so humble … it fits her character and that really is her in real life. So much of Diana Prince’s charm and depth are echoed in Gal. She’s truly a remarkable human being.”

“Working on films of this scale requires the successful collaboration of so many people with skills both technical and creative. With WW84, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a tremendously talented group of folks from my entire editorial team to visual effects, sound and music, etc. It was a pleasure to work with them all and I’d be honored to do it again.”

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