Art of the Cut: Eddie Hamilton, ACE, Flys High on Top Gun: Maverick

51 minute read

Find out what it was like to edit the blockbuster and why it marks the return of the movie theater-going experience.

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Art of the Cut has done more than 350 interviews with the world’s best editors over the last eight years. My name is Steve Hullfish and I make my living as a film, TV, and doc editor, so I hope that the questions I ask are the kinds of questions you’d ask if you had the opportunity to sit down with some of the best editors in the business.
Today’s guest has been in the Art of the Cut hot seat several times and always has a lot to share. 
I’m excited to share my discussion with Eddie Hamilton, ACE about editing Top Gun: Maverick. If you’ve been following the buzz on this movie, the hype is real. Please get to a movie theater as soon as possible to enjoy this one — especially one with a great ATMOS sound system. I will preface this interview by saying SPOILER ALERT. There is no stopping the revelation of important moments throughout this interview. While we tried to avoid the major plot point spoilers, I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the movie so you might want to see it before proceeding. 
Eddie Hamilton in Top Gun Maverick editing trailer
Eddie Hamilton, ACE 
A little about Eddie Hamilton: I last interviewed Eddie for Mission: Impossible — Fallout. We also spoke for Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. So to say he knows how to cut an action film would be an understatement.
The rest of his filmography includes the films Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, and X-Men: First Class among many others.
Eddie was very generous with his time, so there’s a lot to cover. Let’s get to it.
 credit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: What a great movie. You must be so proud. This is one of those films you really want to see in the theater. 

HAMILTON: I'm so thrilled you're saying that Stephen, I get quite emotional, to be honest. It was a very tough film to work on and the hardest job I've ever done, and with some very dark days in there where I was feeling very overwhelmed and not really being able to kind of climb out and have a bird's-eye view of the film and just feeling stuck in a sequence and not knowing if it's working.

But I remember as a kid going to the cinema and having almost spiritual experiences in a movie theater, where you just are lost in the film and you don't want it to end and it's just distilled movie magic. And people seem to be reacting to Top Gun: Maverick like that — where they just absolutely love it and I'm so pleased. Everyone's hard work is paying off.

It was tough. We finished the film in lockdown. So we had a couple of very early test screenings in Florida before lockdown and that was January of 2020. The test screenings went well, but it was before we did pickups, before we had our sound mix, before we had music or the finished score in there. So the movie was really not firing on all cylinders and needed a lot of work, quite frankly, but I remember in one of our little focus groups, there was the guy that who said "I just want to say that Top Gun is my favorite film and there is no film better than Top Gun.” We all looked at each other and thought, “Okay, okay.” All the executives from Paramount and the creative team are there and he said, "I would like to say this film is as good as Top Gun."

We thought, “Okay, we'll take it. That's all we want.” I just don't want fans of the original Top Gun to be disappointed. I swear Steve, every day on the production of this movie, I was feeling that weight of expectation because I'm a fan of movies myself — cinema-going — but I'm also a huge fan of the original Top Gun.

I was 14 when it came out in 1986, the perfect age. I saw it six times in theaters because it ran in theaters for a year because obviously back then, things didn't hit TV or VHS or whatever for a while - like a year or sometimes a year-and-a-half where you'd be waiting for the movie to come out.

 If I was sitting down to watch Top Gun: Maverick, I'd have my arms crossed and I'd be thinking, “This is a terrible idea. What are you guys think you're doing making a sequel to Top Gun? You've got no right to do this. It's going to suck. I'm going to hate it before I've even seen a frame.” Tom Cruise, especially, and Joe, both said, “Look, we've got to win people over in the first two minutes of the film.”

And the way that we do that is by starting the movie exactly the same way we started the first film. Bring up Harold Faltermeyer's theme, bring up the description of Top Gun. The only thing I changed was I changed it to say “men and women,” as opposed to just men, and then let's do the montage and hear the theme and then go into 'Danger Zone'. People will feel like we're respecting the movie that they love and that we're respecting Tony Scott and that we are welcoming everybody back into this world and giving you the feeling of Top Gun straight away. 

Then we fade to black and we rediscover Mav elsewhere in his life. We kind of catch up with that character and fill the audience in on everything that's been going on in his life. We wanted people just to relax immediately. Same typeface on the credits — all those details — same drop shadow. We made sure that we used the Tony Scott filters and it's all magic hour and the only thing that's different obviously is the quality of the photography and the sound design and the sound mixing, which has obviously come on a long way. 

It's insane. I mean, you're listening to the state-of-the-art in terms of quality of sound design and sound mixing. We didn't cut any corners. There was no compromise made at all. Tom Cruise just said, “This movie has to be sonically perfect. Every second from the beginning to the end, and I'm not compromising on that.” We took a long time to mix the sound. Seven weeks in total, which is twice as long as the average movie. Mark Taylor, the sound mixer, had just done No Time To Die before the lockdown and that was a three-hour movie. They mixed it in three weeks and ours is a two-hour, 15-minute movie and it was seven weeks.

To be in there and to be part of that and feel the movie come alive. What it's like, Steve, when you're editing, you're hearing the sounds in your head and you're hearing the music and you're imagining it. And all these sequences, I was cutting silent with some lines of dialogue, but all the jet stuff, initially, when you're piecing the scenes together, you're just imagining all the sounds of the explosive bursts of energy on each of the effects, like the lion roars that we used and the gunshots and the explosions and all that stuff that you throw into kind of spice up the sound. It was a treat to be in that theater and hear it. And then to see the reaction from the audience around the world and read reactions on Twitter and read reviews and have people emailing me and texting me, telling me that they've seen it - like you - and just kind of losing their minds. It's so exciting and I'm so grateful and I'm just utterly thrilled that we did it. We did what we set out to do, which is deliver a great night out at the movies for fans of the original movie and fans and people who haven't seen the original movie, so it works for everybody. But anyway, I'm so thrilled. You enjoyed it. Thank you. 


HULLFISH: There's a lot to unpack in what you just said. One of the things is the opening credit montage to get the audience on board with the movie, and you sent me the first page of the script.

There is not a lot of description of what goes on in there. How do you — when you're faced with kind of a formless scene — start? 


Sometimes starting is the hardest thing when you're editing a scene, because you think, “What do I start on?” Because the moment you have a shot on the timeline that shot has its own internal energy and speaks to you about when the rhythm is right to cut to another shot.

So starting is quite often the hardest thing. I remember I had watched the original Top Gun and they did something very similar, which is, you want to feel kind of jets starting to move out onto the deck of the aircraft carrier and you want to choose images that are slightly impressionistic and full of texture. And heat haze and just cool, heavy, long lens, technology, wheels and guns and missiles and wings and cockpits and pilots doing cool stuff. So I had about 15 hours of footage for the first pass of the opening montage and it was four days of photography on the USS George Washington in July 2018.

So Joe Kosinski and Claudia Miranda went and filmed for four days, just deck activity. Quite a lot of it was not magic hour because they don't do much at sunset because it's bad visibility for the pilots and all that. I was really trying to steal shots, which didn't feel too top-lit and too kind of mid-day.

Some of them are still in there, but we managed to find some stuff, which was kind of not too kind of midday lit, top-lit. But I remember looking through, and as I was breaking the shots down, we were breaking them down according to kinds of activity and how people are pointing and saluting or catapults being loaded and all that stuff in the back of my mind, I was always thinking what's going to be the first shot of this scene? Like when we fade up from black, what is it going to be? And I remember seeing a shot of some jets, like three jets stacked up on a long lens, taxiing out and just thinking that feels like the opening shot. And then when I went back and looked at Top Gun, the original did something very similar. They found a shot of some long lens wheels taxiing out and then it's just a case of allowing the images to kind of reveal more and more of the activity and the geography on the deck.

Also, you're looking just for kind of cool compositions and the way that the light bounces off the cockpit and then you're looking to see deck activity and the magic is trying to find something where the guys on the deck, they know they're being filmed, so sometimes they're a little self-conscious. So you're trying to find stuff where they're just natural. And I remember it probably took around two weeks to build the first pass of that montage. And we showed it to Paramount Pictures, but before the main unit started filming on the ground story of the movie, we went into the Paramount theater and screened it for the executives. Tom was there and he introduced everybody to the cast, but we built the opening title sequence with the correct font and the music and the sound design I stole from the original movie. That was one thing I did do is I got the stems from the digital remaster that Paramount had done. I think it was in the year, 2000-ish they did a DTS ES surround remix. So it has left, right, and the center surround channels. So it's like 6.1 as opposed to 5.1. I had all those tracks and one of the first things I asked my team to do was break out all the different jet sounds and write descriptions of them. We built a library of sounds from the original movie that I could use of afterburners and engines warming up and catapults launching and all that cool stuff. That montage stayed for at least a year, it stayed untouched in the edit because it worked.

It did its job. And there was so much else to do on the movie. In April 2019, they went back to another aircraft carrier and they filmed Tom Cruise launching off the deck for real, in an F18, which is one of the shots we use right at the beginning of the third act of the movie. They filmed four more days of deck activity there.

We were able to get a lot more stuff of people saluting and pointing and the lighting was better and they were able to get more interesting camera positions. So we're putting cameras right near where the jets take off and stuff. It must've been February 2020. So a year and a half after we started, I took another two days and went through all that additional footage - started to revisit the sequence and started to spice it up even more with more cuts and more activity and every other great shot that I'd found from the second load of photography. It just started to really hum and just be alive with activity. Tom said, "You have to feel like this is the coolest job in the world and wherever you are, you just want to be on that aircraft carrier ‘cause it's awesome to be amongst those cool pilots and everyone doing their jobs really well and all this amazing technology being used to launch these guys into the air.”


credit: Paramount Pictures

So I think we managed to capture that. Then they managed to go inside the little bubble on the deck where the guy's launching all the catapults and controlling them all, so you got more of a sense of the deck activity than when you've got in the first movie, cause we were able to get cameras in more interesting places.

The trick is, Steve, just keep putting shots on the timeline, regardless of how shit it is, until you get to the end of something, and then you can go back and start refining it, but it's always getting something down on the timeline for the first time that's the hardest thing. And that goes for all the aerial sequences in the movie, it was just an overwhelming amount of footage and choices and angles.

How are we going to tell this story? But you have to not worry that it's any good and you have to just start putting shots on the timeline and then worry about making it really tight and exciting later and know that it's going to take months. That's the other thing: you can't rush it when there's that much footage to explore, you've got to give yourself time to be thorough with it. I'm probably like you. I'm a very thorough editor because that's what kind of, what you're paid to do.

Tom Cruise walks into the cutting room and he wants to look at me and know that I've been through it all and I've picked what I think are the best shots. And the other thing I do is that I deliver options. I'll have five or six stacked up for almost every moment in a sequence. If you don't like this angle, how about these five other options which kind of tell a similar story with how the jets are moving or they're just slightly different geography? Providing those options is a way of evolving a sequence quickly with producers or directors.

Providing those options is a way of evolving a sequence quickly with producers or directors. When the director is in the room and they're saying, "Can you show me what else you've got?” You've got stuff stacked up. I had quite a large team of assistants who were all brand new to me. I had to hire them all because I moved to LA to work on the film. I didn't have any of my usual London team. 

One of the assistants I hired was Laura Creecy, I brought her on really knowing that she had some editorial experience and there was a point where I was so overwhelmed with footage, I said, "Laura, I think you should be promoted to be associate editor on the film and I want you to start building these sequences. Find all the moments. Break down every aerial sequence by all the beats that we discussed on the day as we were filming.” So she made these gigantic timelines, which took her weeks and weeks and weeks of work. And then I said, just start throwing shots together because I don't have any time to edit anything. I'm watching so much coverage every day just to know: “Did we get the emotional beat or did we not get it?”We went to six different Naval bases over months and months of filming in the first half of 2019, filming almost all aerial photography and what we did was we did interiors of the jets first. So we started to build up a library of the pilots inside, but we didn't film the exterior shots of the jets until a long while later, so having all the material to tell the story took such a long time that initially it was hard to build the sequences. Sometimes we'd slug in a storyboard. Sometimes we'd put in bits of previs. We did try and previs some sequences like the Dark Star sequence from the beginning of the movie was previs-ed and we actually use a lot of that in the movie and the shots evolved into the shots that are in there now, because that you could plan that because the plane doesn't actually fly.

We would get jet models on wooden sticks and we would film them on an iPhone doing maneuvers, literally. It's what the pilots would discuss in the briefings every morning, they would get these planes on wooden sticks and they would say, "I'm going to be in front. You're going to be on my five o'clock, I'm going to do a hard left bank. You're going to follow me down". Then we would film it on an iPhone and sometimes even edit together a very rough animatic of what the sequence was intended to be, which was always way too long. All of these scenes that we filmed were like four times longer than they are in the finished movie because everything in the movie has to be dynamic and exciting constantly. Whereas when you're flying planes, it's not dynamic and exciting constantly. It's dynamic for very short bursts of action. And then the planes take a while to settle down and then they line up on each other and then they can start doing other movements. The actual photography of the jets doesn't really match the previs very closely at all. You're filming jets flying 700 miles an hour on a very long lens from a helicopter or another jet or the ground. You kind of get what you get, but it gives you this very immediate energy in the shots because the camera's trying to find the jets in the air. So you get like really fantastic foreground sometimes. If the clouds are out — if there are clouds in the sky — you get a lot of cloud movement.

tgm-ff-031rcredit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: Let's talk about a couple of other things. Editorially speaking, there's a really fun montage of Miles playing “Great Balls of Fire.” It's a big party scene. Fun, happy, energetic. And then it takes a pretty severe tonal shift. How do you deal with those tonal shifts in editorial? 

HAMILTON: You are constantly asking yourself: “Whose point of view?” The movie's called Top Gun: Maverick. A lot of Tom Cruise movies are very subjective experiences. So you are subjectively experiencing the emotion of the movie through the main protagonist. Who is Maverick? Who is Tom Cruise? And most of his movies are single protagonist stories. Even Mission Impossible, to an extent— which is a team film— is still mostly following Ethan Hunt and his emotional journey through the movie. So for a sequence like that, we've spent a long time in the Hard Deck bar. 

We're with Maverick almost exclusively through the entire sequence — even when we're with Hangman and Rooster and Phoenix - we're still introducing the characters by pivoting around Maverick at the bar. We're feeling that he's watching these pilots from across the bar with Penny there and when Hangman comes over and says, "Can I have four more on the old-timer?" Penny gives them a little smile. But you feel Maverick in the sequence throughout and when Hangman and Payback throw him out of the bar, we stay outside with the character and we're playing everything subjectively from his point of view.

So you feel the crowd behind the closed doors of the bar and Maverick's excluded from that for a bit. Then you hear “Great Balls of Fire” strike up. We're on the back Tom and we just spend a moment with him as listens and then we see him walk up to the window. But again, we're in his point of view at all times. So the tonal shift comes because the character is experiencing an emotion. We're always rooting ourselves in how Maverick is feeling at that moment. He sees Rooster playing the piano and then we cut to a closeup and we see these flashback of Maverick and Goose from the first movie and the boy Bradley on the piano. You get reminded of the story of Maverick and Goose and what happened. It's so interesting because for people who've seen the original Top Gun, those images of Maverick holding Goose in the water instantly trigger the feeling that you had when Goose died in the first film. 

We use Harold Faltermeyer’s “Memories” theme played on a French horn. The sound is distant and echoey and we're putting you in Maverick's point of view. That's all it is. So constantly through the movie we are finding ways to center the audience in Maverick's point of view and experience the emotions of each scene through that character.

That was a good example of that. You come out of that little sequence and he's looking at the pilots and he's thinking, "What's going to happen to them all?" Tom said - in the mission brief earlier - “Someone's not coming back from this.” When Tom Cruise says that in a scene, he's normally telling you the truth. We're basically planting the seed in the audience's mind that one of the characters is not going to come back and he's looking at them all. He's thinking, “If I don't help these kids it's not going to go well.” 

We used to have a scene where — after that you saw Maverick pick up the phone and call Cyclone — he said, "I'm in, I'll see you at the hangar tomorrow" but we didn't need it. It was all self-explanatory. So we leave it with Penny realizing that there's something up between Maverick and Rooster. We play the very end of that moment. We go into Penney's point of view, just for four or five shots and then we actually end the scene with Maverick backing away. We fade to black there and we cut straight to the hanger the next morning and we hear, "Attention on deck!" and then the pilots are in the classroom. We obviously didn't need that scene where Maverick made the phone call because it was quite clear to the audience that he turns up. He's made the decision. Then there's that delicious moment where Hangman and Coyote and Payback realize: “That's the guy we threw out of the bar the night before.” That’s the guy who's going to be teaching them. 

It's a kind of straightforward editorial answer — which is: “Whose point of view are you in?” Which is a key question that editors ask themselves constantly. Whenever they're looking at a sequence, it's: “Who am I identifying with?”  Especially if it's a single protagonist movie. We had coverage on everybody for every scene — don't get me wrong — but when you're choosing who to give weight to — dramatic weight— when you're choosing who to give a closeup to, there's a pyramid. Maverick at the top and then Rooster and maybe Hangman. 

The central relationship of the movie is Maverick and Rooster and how are they going to resolve their differences and when are they going to resolve their differences. We can discuss the when of that. We tried lots of options of when they resolved their differences and compared the emotional effect it would have at different points in the third act of the movie. Ultimately we decided that they would only resolve it on the deck of the carrier once they'd got back from the mission. So you get that right at the end of that sequence where they're hugging on the carrier deck. Then Maverick allows the emotion of that whole experience to flood out.

When I cut back to Maverick's reaction, in order to extend the moment, I'm using his reaction to Rooster saying the line. So if you watch, you can see Rooster saying the line again in the closeup, over Rooster's shoulder to Maverick, because we needed to extend that moment. So just a little nerdy editing thing to keep an eye out for is that you can see that we used that trick because Tom gave such a great performance there. You just want a real moment for the emotion, the relief, and you've experienced everything that's happened between him and Rooster and that's all playing out on his face and the relief of the fact that they've seeing eye-to-eye and they've resolved their differences and he's going to be able to be a father figure to Rooster again, which he has failed to do successfully, obviously, up to that point. But all of that emotion just pours out of Tom at that moment. So we needed to extend it and allow the music to do its job there. 

tgm54925r2credit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: There is some bravery as an editor to do that. People could detect it but I never noticed that his lips were moving. I've done that trick a million times. I think many editors have.

HAMILTON: Everyone listening to this has done it.

HULLFISH: Right. You needed to extend that moment. And so you have to say, “No one will notice the lips. Don't worry about the lips.” I'm guessing also in that scene, there's so much background movement and the camera might've been handheld that you couldn't do a typical split-screen. Because many people would do a split screen.

HAMILTON: We've had many, many, many many split screens in this movie. I did a lot of them and a lot of re-timing of performances and playing reactions in slow motion and all the tricks that you do to get the emotional ride completely smooth. But we did a lot of split-screens but it wasn't possible in that because there is a lot going on in the frame. I don't mind it being old school, where back in the day if you're cutting work print, which, obviously, the original Top Gun was edited on 35 mil, which is an astonishing achievement when I know how hard it was for me to edit all these action sequences.

A lot of people have said this, but the central premise of the third act mission is to fly down a trench and drop a bomb in a tiny three-meter exhaust port right below the main port, which is...

HULLFISH: What does that sound like? (The trench run in Star Wars)

HAMILTON: Exactly. Several times I went back and watched the original Star Wars: Episode Four climactic, dogfight and trench run to get a sense of: “how did they do it back then?” Again, Marcia Lucas worked on that sequence predominantly and had Richard Chew and Paul Hirsch there as well, but Marcia, I think, worked on it mostly. I just had a massive amount of respect when I went back and rewatched that and how they did it because I was struggling to make the third act kind of feel like it didn't have air in it. It was much, much, much longer at one point. We were desperately trying to figure out ways to compress it and get it so that you were just literally on the edge of your seat the entire time. But sometimes when you're doing these editorial tricks, you just want to leave it like it was in the old days because we can watch The Godfather or we can watch Goodfellas, or we can watch any number of classic movies where those tricks are being used constantly. You never notice because you're in the emotion of the scene. Sometimes you just want to leave a little bit of old-school analog not fixed in the film because you're thinking: “I don't have to… I can't really fix it in this case.” It's nice for people who care about that or are curious about studying editing to see those tricks being used on these big movies where you'll never notice this stuff because you're in the moment.

HULLFISH: Sure there is some discontinuity there because his lips are still moving, but the most important thing is the emotion and you just go for the emotion.

HAMILTON: A hundred percent. From the beginning of this movie to the end of this movie, that's all we went for. What Tom is really focused on is giving the audience an emotional experience, a subjective, emotional experience in terms of being in Maverick's point of view, but when we're not, still making sure that they are emotionally engaged with every single moment of the movie and not confused. They understand the parameters of the mission, they understand what a G is; they understand angles of attack, how low you have to be, how fast you have to be going. 

In that sequence where Maverick does the canyon run and proves that it can be done in 2:15, as the audience you're with the pilots. You're saying, "Wait 2:15? That is impossible!” You've learned enough about the parameters of the mission and how hard it's going to be that when that timer clicks from four minutes down to 2:15, you're totally with the pilots. You're completely connected emotionally with how they're feeling and how Cyclone is feeling when he's like, "Damn Maverick! He's going to prove me wrong!” and you see him start off furious, but as Maverick is working his way through the course and you see the time tick up and the music's building and you're cutting to all those reactions of the pilots, the low angles, which are just beautifully emotional shots, and you're seeing Rooster realize that this guy is actually going to prove that he can do it, and that Rooster's going to have to find the strength within himself to do it basically, even though he's scared, it's completely emotional, all the way through to the end where Maverick hits the target and you see the pilots celebrate and you see the G meter and it's gone up to 10. We cut to Cyclone. You see all the emotion on his face — “I'm furious but he's proved me wrong and what am I going to do?” 

The other thing about that sequence — which Tom was super keen to communicate to people — is how physically demanding it is to fly these F18s for sustained periods of time when you're going at very high speeds and you're subjecting your body to these enormous G forces for a long time. So what we did there subjectively with the sound is you can almost exclusively hear his breathing and his efforts prominently in the sound mix and then there are these long swells of emotion as the sequence reaches its climax, but the music is very much taking a back seat. You've got this beautiful jet sound design, but when we're in the plane with Maverick, you're just hearing his efforts and you're hearing the movement of the joystick and a little bit of foley of his flight suit, but you're with Maverick and you can really feel that he's having to put his body under enormous pressure. So at the end of that sequence, when he rips his mask off and he's properly out of breath, you really feel the exertion of that. It's something that most lay people would just not have any sense of at all - that it's physically demanding. Formula One drivers, they're under enormous pressure and they have to be very physically fit in order to drive those cars for extended periods of time. So it's the same with an F18 pilot, although the G-Force is much, much higher. I think we were successful in that.

I remember Tom, when we got that sound mix working and he came in and watched it, he was like, "Okay, that is a tour de force!" and Joe Kosinski said to me, "When people get their new home theater system, I want people to think, ‘I'm going to get Mav's canyon run from Top Gun: Maverick and put it on to test it out.’ This has to be one of the most cutting edge sonic and visual experiences that money can buy in the world right now." 

You talked about the Dolby Atmos. We really used every speaker and used that sound system and gave people that ride so you can feel the afterburners in your body. I remember asking the sound mixers to pan so when the jet is rotating 45 or 90 degrees or sometimes 180 degrees as it's flying, you feel the sound swirling around the theater - which you can do so well using all those Atmos speakers in the ceiling. 

That was a treat to do that. As an editor, it's like dessert because you've done all the work. Plus, we were still cutting the movie even as we were sound mixing because we would look at each other sometimes and say, “This still isn't good enough. We're going to have to revisit this moment.” Tom was very strict about that. The reason that I was there all the way to the bitter end is we're still editing the movie and even in the last week of the final mix, the very first kind of big dogfight sequence where we play 'Won't Get Fooled Again' by The Who and Maverick's initially going up against Rooster and Payback and Fanboy, and then goes up with Phoenix and Bob and Hangman. In between you've got the bit where he's shooting down the guys, saying "That's a kill, that's a kill,” and the pilots are doing pushups — that sequence was about six minutes and we were mixing the sound, trying out different pieces of music and we all looked at each other and said, “This is just not good enough guys.” 

Tom looked at us and we all knew. I'd been working on that scene for, I'm not exaggerating. Over a year! Every day for more than a year, that particular dogfight— we just kept coming back to and it still wasn't punchy and fizzing with energy. There were just a few extra shots in there, they were great shots, but the rhythms were just off. So he said, "Eddie, you've got to take another go at this. We've got to get even tighter.” So we took the reel off the soundstage. This is in the last week of the final mix! All the sound designers are thinking that they're on the home stretch and they know that I'm about to take this sequence and slice it up. Every shot's going to get trimmed.

Steve, if you trim shots too short, they just become a blur and have no reason to exist in the sequence. It's like each shot has to have its own internal rhythm and energy and if it's too short, it just becomes a mess of disconnected things that don't make sense as you're watching. So the trick was to compress it as much as possible, but also lift out shots that just weren't as good as the shots around it. As I was compressing it down, shots would kind of pop out organically because they were only a nine and a half out of 10 and every shot had to be a 10 out of 10 in that sequence. I got it down to four minutes, 10 seconds. So I managed to take another minute and fifty out. 

We had tried, 'Won't Get Fooled Again' by The Who about a year earlier on an earlier iteration of this when the scene was 10 minutes long. The song is just not long enough to sustain that, but because we got it down to 4:10 we could use it.

We had this big speech from Maverick about, "Good morning aviators and welcome to basic fighter maneuvers" and they chat about the 200 push-ups and "Where is he? Is he on the radar? He's not on the radar. He must be somewhere behind us” and all this stuff, so we needed one-of-the-kind classic rock intros to sustain through that opening preamble of Maverick giving the rules for the hard deck and all that stuff. 'Won't Get Fooled Again' was one of our candidates and then we got my great music editor, Cecile Tournesac, she spent a while cutting that track and found the Roger Daltrey scream as Maverick blasted through the jets. Then we found ways to cut the song up and use the different instrumental breaks to underscore the tiny pieces of action that we needed. A day and a half later, we went back onto the stage and the poor sound designers had to reconform the whole sequence and it was the last thing we mixed on the last day: this re-edit of the basic fighter maneuvers dogfight scene. Then Tom came in on the last day and said, "That is awesome. That is now working.” It's exactly what we all wanted it to be which was just a relentlessly entertaining dogfight sequence, like a classic Top Gun sequence, but all shot in camera and all real, and every dogfight was filmed for one intention. Then I would go through and cherry-pick all the best shots and use them in totally different positions to tell a whole different story, which is what we always do in editing.

In order to get it down to this really tight four minutes and 10 seconds, I had to just ignore what the original intention was and reconceived the scene, and build a whole different geography of ideas. Playing with choreography and stuff in order to make it work. We got there in the end and that is why on these big movies, the editor's still around because you're still editing the movie until the last possible second. 

tgm21994rcredit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: So what was the total schedule from the first day you edited until the end of the sound mix?

HAMILTON: I started in August 2018 and we finished at the end of July 2020. So it was exactly two years, maybe a week less than two years. It was extremely tough. There were times when I was so genuinely very overwhelmed with footage and times when I felt creatively drained and couldn't think of a creative editorial idea or a solution. It was really tough. I will be honest with you. I was setting the bar so high for myself and I just wanted it to be awesome. 

There was a point where I'm saying to Jerry Bruckheimer, "I think I'm going to need some help because I'm going to fail if I keep doing this on my own.”

There's there was one day I remember in March 2019, when they had 27 cameras running on a single day. I'm not exaggerating. More than there are letters of the alphabet. You know how we label cameras with letters of the alphabet? We ran out of letters of the alphabet and we had to kind of go round and have double A's and AB. I remember there were six cameras on one F18, 6 cameras on another F18, 4 cameras on another F18, 4 cameras on another F18, and then two units filming on the ground with several cameras each, which added up to 27 cameras. There were 23 hours of dailies the next day. 

I had to work on this dogfight that was happening and two dialogue sequences on the ground with different characters. I remember phoning up some editing buddies and saying, "I'm struggling. What do I do?” Everybody was incredible. I phoned Alan Bell on a Sunday morning asking, "What do I do? I want this movie to be great, but I'm exhausted." Evan Schiff was someone else I talked to. Jason Ballantine was another editor that I talked to, a lovely guy, and Stefan Grube, who was working on Star Wars at Bad Robot. 

Bad Robot is a short walk up the road in Santa Monica from Jerry Bruckheimer’s office. I remember sitting with Stefan on a Friday evening. Late at night I just stumbled out of my edit room and I walked up the road to Bad Robot and I sat and it was just the two of us. The whole building was deserted because it was so late at night. I remember just saying, "I don't know how I'm going to get through this because it's such a challenge."

And he said, "Nobody will mind. You're being professional. You've just got to tell people that one person can't do this.” So I said to the guys, “I'm gonna need help.” They invited Steven Mirrione to come on and he very kindly said yes. He had a few months available and he came on. I said, “Steven, thank you. You've immediately halved my workload. My blood pressure is down and my heart rate is down and I'm feeling like I can manage this.” 

Steven was brilliant. He's a genius. He worked quietly. I was busy building the third act action sequence and it took me about three months to do the first pass of that from the moment Mav blasts off the carrier to when Maverick and Rooster land back on the carrier. It was about three months of work. I said to Steven, "The assembly of the movie needs a lot of work, so please dive in and do anything you want. I'm not precious about any of it. Just whatever will move the needle and get the film better.” He cracked some nuts for us tonally which were incredibly important.

At the end of the second act, I remember that was a challenging sequence when the pilots are being briefed about the mission. You're intercutting that with Maverick inspecting the F18, then you go to Rooster and Hangman, having their little moment where Hangman says, "Give ‘em hell," and then Maverick's there talking to Rooster and they're trying to have that conversation and he says, "We'll talk when we get back.” 

Some of those things didn't quite work on their own and obviously, a common solution is: can I intercut this with another scene and create another emotion, which never existed in either sequence? So Steven went away and worked on that for a long time and found this great piece of temp score. He got a six or seven-minute piece of the movie to really work well and what’s in the movie now is almost identical to what he presented. 

I was so grateful to him because I was absolutely struggling. After Steven moved on to another movie, then Chris Lebenzon came on for a bit. Along with Billy Webber, he was one of the editors of the original Top Gun, obviously a complete genius, and has worked with Tony Scott and on many movies over the years. The nicest man. Again, I said, “Do anything you want to any bit of the movie and just try stuff out. The best idea wins. Whatever's best for the film.” So he came on for several months as well and really was instrumental in figuring out some of the scene where Maverick gets chased by the helicopter when he's in the snow. That didn't work in its initial pass. It wasn't exciting. It was a bit far-fetched in places. So we really needed to experiment with that and come up with an alternate way of playing that sequence.

He worked with Joe and came up with the idea of Maverick waking up and hearing the jet in the distance and then seeing the jet turret. Originally the helicopter turned a little earlier and was chasing Maverick across the snow for a lot longer, which just didn't work. So he worked out a way to delay the helicopter’s movement so that when it opened fire, Maverick was able to dive over the log. So he came up with that solution. 

Then there was another tricky section later in the movie when Maverick and Rooster come across the 5th gen fighters. There's a section where Maverick dives down into the canyon to try and fool the targeting sensor of the enemy ship. Originally in that part of the story, Maverick chased the 5th gen down so Maverick was behind and the other jet was in front. When Tom Cruise saw that, he said, Maverick's gotta be on his back foot at this point so we've got to feel him under more pressure. So we had to take this sequence where Maverick was chasing and we had to make it so he was being chased. That kind of editorial challenge is great fun because you have to take three steps back from the scene, look at all the dailies again and ask: how can I repurpose this to tell the exact opposite story of what it was intended to do?

Chris Levinson said, "Look, let me have a crack at this. And he went away for a week and reconceived the first half of that dogfight until Maverick does the cobra maneuver in the plane - splits the wings of the F14 and manages to get behind the pilot for the second half of the dogfight. I was so grateful because I just didn't have a week of time to go in and do that. So Chris Levinson was able to help me with that, which again, I'm eternally grateful for. Those two guys dug me out of a hole when I was really struggling. Eventually, we got through that and then we were able to continue to refine the movie for several more months. But there were some really essential solutions that they came up with. So I'm really grateful to them for that help.

HULLFISH: You are definitely a guy who is at the top of your game. You've cut some great movies and yet you understand that there's a process that takes place with the edit.

HAMILTON: Most of the film didn't work. Most movies don't work. It's always a process and you have to trust the process. I remember the one bit that I got right the first time was the second half of Maverick's canyon run. The canyon run section was filmed months after the blasting over the desert and the imaginary pop-up over the mountain but I remember the first time I put that together, I thought it was pretty good and that didn't change much, but a lot of the scenes, like the Iceman scene, was a real challenge, the bar scene, all the stuff with Penny— getting the tone of the relationship between Mav and Penny right. So you feel this history and this playfulness and this mutual respect for each other and feeling like Penny has a real soft spot for him and she doesn't want to fall for him and yet she feels that she's back where she was before. 

tgm75782rcredit: Paramount Pictures

The scene where Penny is riding on the back of Maverick's bike before he drops her off at her house and she leaves the door open. That scene was originally after the sailing scene but when we watched the film, we got the sense that she looked too comfortable and relaxed on the back of his bike. She looks like she is in love and she's feeling those emotions too early in the story. If we put it after the sailing scene then it’s about them reconnecting and the fact that she is a bad-ass on a boat and he can't sail even though he's in the Navy. We're poking fun at Maverick so he's on the back foot in that scene, which is tremendously entertaining and true to Naval aviators: None of whom can sail. It's a running joke in the Navy and we play on that. We lifted out the shot of Penny riding on Mav’s bike and we crossfade to them arriving at the house and then we did that shot where she rests her head against the door. We did maybe 15 takes of that as a pickup to get that in the exact emotion on her face. It’s a very specific nuanced performance that Jennifer Connolly gives at that moment and then what we did is we took the bike, and we put it after the beach football scene.

We did pick-ups of Penny watching them play football. She’s looking at Maverick, checking out the pilots and stuff, and then they ride back and you'll see she's wearing a completely different wardrobe. Another editorial trick, people change wardrobe all the time when you're doing these things and you're moving scenes around. She was wearing white trousers so we used visual effects to make her look like she was wearing blue jeans, but she's wearing a totally different top from before and after. It's one of those things, you're in the emotion of the moment, all that is telling you is that it's a very romantic portrait of these two people riding at sunset on a motorbike and it is movie wish-fulfillment. Jennifer Connelly looks absolutely stunningly beautiful. Tom Cruise looks great. It’s a Top Gun image: this sunset, the bike it's so romantic riding through San Diego and then they pull up at her home and you've put the audience in that romantic place emotionally. So when she leaves the door open, you totally go with it and you're feeling the connection between them and you're feeling that they're ready at this point in the story to go to bed. The love scene is barely a kiss, you have the stunningly beautiful shot of Penny, lying on the bed when Mav goes in for a kiss and then we crossfade and we see them communicating in bed. It's a beautiful scene, I love that scene where they're just sitting and talking. You're just watching two great actors hold the screen for several minutes in this movie, which is a kind of non-stop action blast. Yet when we take these moments to have very intense little conversations between two characters and you learn about why Maverick pulled Rooster’s papers and Penny's talking about her daughter and allowing her daughter to make her own mistakes, which is exactly what Maverick does when he allows Rooster to come on the mission at the end and then you have that great moment of humor, where the daughter comes back early and they both sit up in bed. It's interesting because it's a very middle-aged gag, a lot of the youngsters are going. “What's the big deal?"

HULLFISH: It's also the reverse of the typical situation where it's the youngsters in bed and the parents come home early. 

HAMILTON: A hundred percent and also we have Maverick's going out the window, and then there's that great moment where he says, “I'm never leaving you again” and then he jumps down right in front of the daughter. That's one of the biggest laughs in the movie where you realize that he's been caught and the daughter says, “Don't break her heart again” and you see the impact of what she says on Maverick's face and he realizes that he's got to take this seriously. He's then given the mission almost immediately, so you don't get that resolution between Penny and Maverick because he turns up at the bar and we played that whole scene with no dialogue, and you just see him whisper to her, and he's basically saying “I'm going on the mission, I may not come back.” Then they're standing on the beach. We initially played that scene with dialogue between the two of them, but it was so much more powerful without it, so we removed the dialogue and let the audience be in the emotion of that scene with the music.

They don't actually say anything to each other for the rest of the movie, because the next time we see them, she turns up in the hanger at the end and all you get is that moment where they see each other and they kiss before they take off in the P-51 and fly away. You see a future for them, which is what needs to be at the end of a movie.

HULLFISH: There are these incredible heart-racing sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments, but a movie cannot sustain that for two hours.

HAMILTON: No, that is true. One of the ways that we did this is we had these scenes with Maverick and Penny which automatically change the tone of the film into a slightly slower vibe. We had the sailing scene and we had the beach football scene, which we knew was going to be a nice breath of fresh air after the scene with Iceman, which is a very serious, emotional, and powerful scene. We wanted to make sure that the audience was pulled out of that emotional slump. 

Originally, the beginning scene with the Darkstar plane played out as almost like a heist of Mav, Hondo, and the team trying to get the plane up before Ed Harris arrives, but we ended up making it exclusively about character and about the fact that Maverick is trying to go to Mach 10 to save everyone's jobs. Initially, we didn't make the whole Mach 10.1,10.2 thing that was, we hadn't stressed that enough. It's about the fact that Maverick is going up there to save everybody’s job. We managed to get the emotion of that to play off the closeups of the characters in the control room with very little dialogue.  It's about them looking at Maverick and you feel the emotion of the crew watching him go to Mach 10 and know how dangerous that is and that he's risking his life to buy them some more time in the program and not get shut down. 

Then it's about the fact that Maverick can't help himself as he gets to Mach 10 and push a little past. That tells you everything you need to know about the character, then of course it explodes and you have the great scene in the diner with the little kid saying, “Earth” which again is tonally giving the audience a nice little interlude of humor before you go back to Ed Harris, who is telling Maverick that his days are numbered. 

After that, we have the whole scene in the bar where we're introducing all these characters that we are going to get to know and we haven't been on a plane for a while.  When we get to that first dogfight training segment, we've really got to deliver a proper Top Gun dogfight action sequence, which is why we didn't do anything too tricky, we blasted out the rock music, we play the scene, we're having fun with the pushups and then we have the confrontation between Maverick and Rooster, where they do the death spiral down to the ground and you're learning about Hangman asking Rooster what the deal is. So you're getting a sense of that, but then we really take a moment after that blast of action, we allow the audience to calm down. Maverick gets shouted at by Cyclone and he has that very funny scene where he's got the permission to lower the hard deck in his hand the whole time. After that, we have the sailing scene with Penny so we are reminded of his romance. Then we go into the scene where the pilots are learning about the low level and about staying low to avoid the S.A.M’s.

The writer Chris McQuarrie came up the idea of intercutting that scene with classroom shots and the intense jet action moments. So we are crafting a specific rhythm and it was very difficult to get the balance right but we allowed the music to punch in, we're hearing the dialogue and then the music stops when we are in the classroom. 

Maverick is feeling like he's losing the pilots and he's not doing a very good job teaching them. He goes to see Iceman, which is a very powerful scene. Everyone watching the movie is wondering how we're going to handle that. It's such a tight rope that you're walking with that scene Maverick is talking a lot about himself, but the audience has to give him permission to do that. So we have to make sure that Iceman is telling him to talk about what's happening at work. It's a very raw performance that Tom gives at that moment and all you're doing with Val Kilmer is bouncing off his reactions, which are so good and so still, and so confident, and you feel this history of this friendship between decades of history and the love between these two rivals and then there's that wonderful moment in the end when Iceman says “So tell me who's the best pilot?” and Maverick laughs and says “It's a nice moment, let’s not ruin it.”  It may be the last time they're talking as friends and he’s still not giving him that win.  You feel they've had this conversation every single time they've talked and it works so well. You're just bursting the bubble of that very intense emotion of that whole sequence and he's struggling to talk at the end, which is very moving. 

We then get to the part where we learn more about the mission and getting those two consecutive miracle shots. Maverick’s narrating and we're seeing the pilots attempting to do this trial run and failing and missing the target and we spend some time establishing all these rules. It’s a monumentally difficult sequence to edit because you must not be lost ever. You're cutting to the graphics that we've designed and iterated endlessly. I see the planes diving over this imaginary mountain and then diving down towards the target. It's a lot, but we're doing it so that you're feeling the frustration of the pilots. We’re keeping the antagonism between Maverick and Rooster alive and the fact that the mission gets moved up a week raises the stakes and the tension. You’re giving people an action sequence that is different from everything they've had before. You get that incredible moment where you think Coyote is going to crash due to passing out. When they filmed that for real, the jet was actually barreling down towards the ground and the pilot pulled up at the last second and the actor in the back was having to pretend to be unconscious. He's totally relying on the pilot to pull up, and he does it with only 200 feet to go. I'm not kidding! It is so incredible to see the dailies of that and the skill of these Top Gun pilots. Each of the aerial sequences has an internal rhythm by design that was on the page. The way that those sequences were described on the page was deliberate so that you had a variety of different ways of using the aerial sequences to teach the audience the parameters of the mission. There's that phrase about eating your broccoli earlier in the movie so you can enjoy the brownie later. You don't want broccoli and your brownie mixing, which is where you try to explain it as they're doing it later so we do all the broccoli and the vegetables earlier for the audience. All the exposition is done and you're absolutely educated about what everything is and how it is supposed to go.

When they go into that final mission, you can just be subjective with Maverick and feel the pressure of are they going to make it? Is Rooster going to pull through? Are they going to get shot down? All that stuff which we let play out.

TGM_58712R_rgb-1200credit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: You mentioned the very emotional low-angle reactions of the pilots. Talk to me about interspersing that kind of stuff into an action sequence.

HAMILTON: You get it wrong a lot to start with, but it's a feeling about when you've been with Maverick too long and you want to check in with the crew, with the pilots. I wasn't far off the first time with those reactions. Some of them we did go back and pick up because we wanted the camera to be pushing in to give that emotion of excitement and anticipation of the pilots watching. So to have the camera pushing in towards them on a low angle was required to get that emotion exactly dialed in correctly.  The mountain isn't there so we have to show the fact that he's climbing up this virtual mountain by cutting to the tactical room screen, reminding the audience of that part of the story as well, and making the cuts shorter as you get towards the end so that the rhythms are faster and you're feeling more breathless because you're being fed more visual information. You literally are feeling like you're processing more as the audience, in order to give them that experience, and then it's just a case of building to that crescendo, where he hits the target and allowing the pilots all to have a moment where they're just in awe of what they've seen. The fact that he's proved to them that it can be done and that what he was teaching them wasn't a waste of time. This movie had to be a slam dunk. We wanted it to be brilliant. 

When we went into lockdown, we were supposed to roll cameras on Mission Impossible Seven. I was working in a hotel room in Venice, and that's actually where I did the recut of the opening titles. It was March 2020 when we went into lockdown and when Italy became a hot zone in Europe and everyone was evacuated. We immediately left Venice and I went back to London, but that gave us some time that we didn't have before and it really gave us a chance to take a deep dive, a deep quality control pass through the entire movie and stress test every frame and every second of the movie and ask ourselves, “Can this be better?” And the final movie was improved as a result of that.

HULLFISH: A lot of people I’ve talked to who cut during COVID said that their movie benefited from the extra time they got. 

HAMILTON: Yeah, a hundred percent. Quality takes time, it’s just a fact. Sometimes being on a deadline and your first instinct, being forced to come up with something can result in very interesting choices as well but generally speaking, if you want a world-class product, it takes time. We wanted this to be a timeless classic, we wanted to make a classic film that audiences would be able to enjoy for years to come. Perhaps become someone's favorite movie, which is a high bar, but that's where Tom Cruise is setting his sights on a daily basis.

We were pretty confident by the time we finished the film that we had a really great movie, but of course, we've seen it 300 times so we have no idea. We did a cast screening for the Mission Impossible Seven cast, which was only eight people, but Simon Pegg was there and he is a total nerd and a geek and loves all these movies and loves Top Gun. I said to myself, “If he likes this movie, we're going to be in good shape.” And I remember him buzzing at the end of the film. I remember him saying: “Guys this is sensational. I absolutely loved it. I'm not just saying that. I genuinely did love it. I'm very emotional. I was crying. I was laughing. It was great.” To hear Simon say that was an early indication that we may have achieved what we set out to do.

HULLFISH: You talked about sound and the importance Atmos. What did you have to work with audio-monitor-wise in the cutting room, when not in Venice. 

HAMILTON: I actually had 5.1 in Venice! Actually, we got a home cinema set up. We had one of those very portable, 5.1 setups with a really good subwoofer. EPS-Cineworks was the Avid rental company in LA that we used and they outfitted a trailer for me with 5.1 sound. It was very useful because even when we were doing little showreels for the studio and trade shows I would mix the sound straight out of the Media Composer timeline. So Tom could sit in the trailer and check out what was happening and he knew what sound was going to be shipped off to wherever we were presenting the film. The other thing is - during lockdown - I was up here in my loft (in London) so I took the little surround sound system from Venice, set it up here at my loft and I ended up doing a whole sound mix on the film in lockdown. By the time the lockdown was starting to open up, I was able to show the sound mix as a 5.1 mix that Tom Cruise had heard at his place in London with his own 5.1 system. 

I was able to go into the theater and watch a reel of the movie with my 5.1 Avid mix and the sound mixers could understand our intention for each sequence, which evolves enormously once we dove into all the individual tracks and the Atmos mix and stuff. I find that a sound mixing stage is a very expensive place to try experiments and so if you can work out the sonic intention of your film on the Avid timeline in a cutting room with the director and the producers so that during your friends and family screenings, you're listening to the sound. I'm sure there are a lot of editors out there who do this, and I know that you agree with this, but if you can evolve the sound during the editorial process so that when you get to the stage, all you're doing is enhancing what exists already. Everyone thanks you because everyone knows that we're going in the right direction, the sound mixers, know they're not going down many blind alleys and they can take the intention and they can make it a 10 out of 10 sonically. The Avid mix is 6 out of 10 because it's limited by what I have. It's still kick-ass but compared to the amount of ass that it kicks when it's done in Atmos. It’s a wholly different experience when you've got truly gifted sound mixers and sound designers working on the scene all the way through, 

HULLFISH: To play the devil's advocate, Joe Walker disagreed with editing in 5.1. He said editors (at least, his space) are in a space that's too small to listen to 5.1 and that you are only two feet away from the speakers so LCR is good enough. 

HAMILTON: Well I always say it’s whatever works for each individual person. Most of us spend a lot of time watching sequences silent with no sound. Most of my initial passes on sequences are cut completely silent. It’s so I can feel the rhythms of the images, the inherent rhythms that are not relying on sounds to give life to what's going on in the story so I completely understand Joe Walker’s point of view there. 

A lot of the time I work on a laptop and I just have headphones and a surprising amount of Top Gun: Maverick was cut on a MacBook Pro in Naval bases, hotel rooms and in cars and planes. As I flew from a to B, or when I was at Tom Cruise's apartment, I would take my laptop and I'd be editing with him and my 96 terabyte hard drive.

I’d put it on the big TV in his room and we’d just be working on the edit together. I really loved the immersion of 5.1 surround sound in a cutting room and I really love how the music can surround you. That’s the thing I find most powerful about Atmos mixing is having the full range of speakers around so I can really feel the intense, emotional content of the music and the sound effects being spread around the room as well but it's music where Atmos really has a profound, emotional effect on the audience. I do a lot of showreels for the studio and very often the sound mix is coming off the Avid timeline and being put straight up in a theater so I like to know how it's going to sound. 
credit: Paramount Pictures

HULLFISH: That's crazy that in addition to cutting the movie and all these scenes, you’re also doing these showreels and marketing materials.

HAMILTON: Yeah, it is what it is. The Mission Impossible Seven trailer that premiered before Top Gun: Maverick was edited by us completely in-house. A lot of it is to do with security in terms of not allowing footage out to trailer houses so that you can maintain the surprise of the film. 

When I was in South Africa earlier this year, we were working on a big action sequence for Mission Impossible and I’d asked some of my assistants to edit a trailer for fun during a quiet week, so the way that the trailer opens with the images of the different locations and you hear the voice of Kittridge who was a character from the very first film. That was actually an idea that one of my assistant editors had and then I had done a sixty second music montage of the big visual moments from the movie and we ended up combining those two ideas to create a hybrid teaser trailer. We wanted to make it very music-heavy. There's very little sound design in it, there’s a little bit, but most of it is this beautiful piece of music and Kittridge’s voice at the beginning. We wanted this teaser trailer to have a very unique feel and be different from the usual teaser trailers, which use quite a lot of intense sound design. We wanted our trailer to have a different feel from what the kind of current fashion is, which is another reason why we did it in-house. You are presented with these challenges sometimes and it does allow you to change the channel on your editorial muscles and work on a ninety-second story or a two-minute story rather than a two-hour story.

HULLFISH: You’ve got a big cast of supporting players in some very snappy dialogue and repartee. How do you manage reactions? When do you want to see a reaction instead of the line “on”? That is a very difficult thing to manage, especially at the speed of some of these dialogue scenes.

HAMILTON: Yeah, you’re right it is tricky and you try a lot of things that don't work before you get the rhythms that do work, but again, you use the pyramid. So Mavericks at the top of the pyramid, then it's Hangman and Rooster. In the bar scene for example, when Hangman and Rooster are facing off over the pool table, they get the majority of the screen time, occasionally you'll cut to Bob or cut to Coyotes or Phoenix. So you feel the family of these pilots around, but it's also who has the power in the scene. For example, when Phoenix walks into the bar, she goes, “Fella’s this is Bagman.” and  Hangman goes, “It's Hangman” and she goes, “Whatever.” Now you could play that, “whatever” On Hangman, and then cut to Phoenix for the next line but if you cut back to Phoenix saying “whatever", you're giving her power, so you're cutting off Hangman and Hangman's been ruling the roost, he's the man, but when Phoenix walks in, she immediately takes command of that little group around the table and we are giving her power by using terrific lower angles and framing her with Payback and Fanboy so that you feel that she is the one that's in control. We're giving her the power by cutting to her, showing her make the decision to allow Bob to play pool with them. So in that moment, Bob is effectively the rest of us schmoes watching the movie, who are not cool and are not incredibly good-looking the way that Glen Powell and Tarzan Davis are. Bob is wearing his glasses and the audience sees themselves in him. They think, “He’s like me. I'm bald, I not very good looking, I wear glasses and I don't have a cool call sign.”

Those are the things that I'm thinking about when we're building a scene like this, who's got the power and when you choose to use the closeup indicates who's in charge. I always put too many reactions in initially and then I take them away. 

When Maverick walks into the big hangar with the massive stars and stripes flag, we see a couple of reactions, but really it's about Maverick and Rooster because you want to feel the antagonism and you've got to start it at that point. So that then when they walk onto the tarmac, you're feeling that animosity.

There is a really interesting editorial trick we do where Maverick and Rooster are having an intense conversation on the tarmac before he walks away. It was initially really short but we wanted to extend it so we cut in to shots of Phoenix and Hangman watching the conversation play out but from their point of view the jet engines are too loud so they can’t hear anything. In reality they are seeing the same conversation play out repeatedly since it was so short yet when the sound is covered by the jets it makes it feel like it’s much longer. When we cut back Maverick and Rooster you feel like they've had more of a discussion off-screen but you're not privy to it. 

HULLFISH: At the beginning, you said that there were like 15 hours or more of the opening montage, and then you shot another series of montages. How do you structure your project? Because that's obviously not in one bin. 

HAMILTON: So what I'll do is I'll use different video layers for different types of shots or sometimes I would color the shots based on which character was in them. So the close-ups of Hangman would be orange based on his helmet, Rooster would be red or blue or whatever but if you look at my timeline, you’ll see lots of different colors. It means that I can see when I’m using which character in each scene. I can visually see who is getting what amount of screen time for the montage.  In the beginning, I would have all the people pointing on V3 and the catapults on V5 or close-ups of the pilots on V6. I could see all these things stacked up and it gave me a visual representation of the kinds of shots that I had and the kinds of shots that I still needed

I use sub-caps a lot, I’ll break everything down and I'll go, "here are all the shots of catapults being loaded" and I'll put a sub-cap on it and I'll write “cool catapult shots.” That means that when I come back to this massive select roll later in the process, I have these sub-caps and I can scroll down the timeline and I can see exactly what I need. I do that a lot, even now with the sequences that I break down, I put all the similar beats of action together and I'll use a sub-cap on the top so that I remind myself when I come back to it later, what I was doing when I broke the footage down.

The real trick for me is to get it away from a sunk sub-clip in a bin and get it on a timeline broken down by what kind of story function that piece of footage is serving so that when you're building the sequence you have all the similar bits together and you can go down and audition them and put it in.

My assistants sometimes help with that as well, if say I am looking for a jet turning left in a particular piece of geography and they'll go through and since we marked it all up it's quite easy for them to put it all down for me. It’s far more useful than having 45 minutes of jet footage doing all kinds of different things.

HULLFISH: Thank you so much. It was a great talk and I can't wait to talk about the new Mission Impossible film coming out.

HAMILTON: Yeah. I love it. Steve, thank you for your time. I love your show. I love what you do for the editing community. Thank you for your support. It really means a lot.


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