Think of Wes Craven and the obvious images pop into one’s head of horror movie satire, unsettling moments, and…..Meryl Streep? Indeed Craven has been around the scary movie circuit, even shifting gears at one time to direct “Music of the Heart”. The editor behind Craven’s modern-day escapades is Patrick Lussier, who has also taken to directing, with “Dracula 2000” and its two sequels, the third of which will be released in July on DVD.
Lussier spent some time with Film Threat recently to talk not only about his association with Craven, but others he’s worked with, including Guillermo Del Toro and his early days with MacGyver.
Between 1989-1991, what was the process in editing MacGyver? Who was present in the editing room, how much time did you have, and what directives did you usually receive? ^ Editing MacGyver was the absolute best training ground. On that show we had 8 days of main unit, followed by 2-3 days of 2nd Unit (which was really just main unit without Richard Dean Anderson), and then another 2-3 days of insert shots (the details of the MacGyverisms). During crunch time we’d have very little time between all of this to turn an episode around. If we had 3 weeks from first day of cutting to turning over to the network we were lucky. The first cut would be on your own, then you’d have the director in for a day then work with the producers, Steve Downing, Hud Hickman and Mike Elliot for 1-3 days polishing the cut as inserts came in (cutting by committee in a big room)… then turn over to the network, wait for final notes and cut the episode to length before sending it to the sound department. Frequently the biggest note or problem we’d have when cutting was trying not to make the MacGyverisms too instructional. There was always a concern that the show would be educating some kid from Anywhere U.S.A. do build some nefarious contraption that could hurt themselves or others. The show also attempted to get political from time to time, dealing with rhino poaching, the Tiananman Square tragedy, abuse of logging rights and the entire underlying anti-gun element of MacGyver himself. Frequently those components would be toned down by the network.
How’d you come to meet Wes Craven and subsequently start work on “Nightmare Cafe”? ^ I was fortunate enough to get the 2nd Editor slot on Nightmare Café when Michael Robison, the editor who gave me my first job on HBO’s The Hitchhiker, decided not to take the job and recommended me for it instead. During the pilot Wes was shooting People Under the Stairs so I actually didn’t meet him until the 5 episodes were shot a few months later. The pilot was directed by Phillip Noyce and I was so fortunate to be the 2nd Editor to Richard Francis Bruce who has since cut films like Seven, Air Force One and Shawshank Redemption. As a side note, I learned more on the 4 weeks I cut with Richard than I’d learned in the entire 3 years previous of cutting MacGyver. He’s a gifted and generous editor and really mentored me through that job.
I met Wes on the series and was lucky enough to cut the episode he directed called ALIENS ATE MY LUNCH. It was a bizarre alien comedy about stealing cows for milk. It was great fun. We hit it off and he was kind enough to ask me to edit his next feature which would end up being New Nightmare in 1993.
How much input does Craven give in the editing process? What does he like to see happen to his movies? ^ Wes is great at giving me a lot of latitude on the first cut. I can generally turn over cut scenes very quickly, complete with temp music and sound effects, basically showing him as close to the final version as possible. Frequently, I can get the first cut close enough that we’ve been able to finish the director’s cuts in as little as 4 days. Red-Eye was a perfect example of this. Once he came into the cutting room, 4 days later we turned over the cut to the film assistants for conforming and we were showing it to the studio less than a week after that. I’ve been fortunate enough to cut for Wes since ’91 so we have a pretty intuitive approach to how we work together.
Humor me for a moment. In 1996, there was the Doctor Who TV movie and D3: The Mighty Ducks. With the directors on those projects, how did they approach editing as opposed to Craven? ^ D3: The Mighty Ducks was a Disney movie. There’s a lot of cutting in it to make the hockey games work because of the shooting style. It’s probably more aggressive editing than the average Disney movie. Doctor Who, directed by Geoff Sax (White Noise) was a blast to cut. We gave the film a very hyper-kinetic feel and Geoff would push for more of that. There are probably more cuts in that movie than any other I’ve done. I especially like the sequence where The Master is trying to take over The Doctor’s body via ‘The Eye of Harmony’. It’s always good to work with different directors, to try on different styles.
Guillermo Del Toro (“Mimic”) and Steve Miner (“Halloween H20”). What were their styles like? ^ Guillermo’s a pure visionary. He’s the master of lyrical images filled with a foreboding darkness that’s almost more like a painted masterwork than film. It was an amazing experience to work with somebody who crafted every detail of every image. In cutting the film, Guillermo has a very keen sense of what he wants and together we’d take the film where he wanted it to go.
Steve Miner is one of those directors that makes the job look so easy. He has such an easy manner to him and incredible confidence. He doesn’t overprint or overshoot. What you get is exactly what you need. He did such an effective job on Halloween H20, making such a lean, mean and wonderfully terrifying movie. We completed Steve’s director’s cut in a day and a half. With half a day of studio changes. The movie tested through the roof. We locked picture after a half day more of changes. It was a great experience working with him. Going back through the film recently, I rediscovered what a fantastic job he had done building great tension in the first half of the movie, setting up the characters, then unleashing this horror onslaught for the final 40 minutes.
So you get through two “Scream” movies and “Mimic” and “Halloween H20” and suddenly find yourself working on “Music of the Heart”. Was that a shock in your mind to suddenly be editing Meryl Streep instead of “jump moments”? And how did you approach that project? ^ Music of the Heart was the most difficult thing I’ve ever edited. That’s not to say it’s not a great film and that Wes didn’t do an excellent job. Both those things are true. But cutting kids whose performances may be uneven and cutting so many scene with kids playing violin, several where they’re supposed to play badly, some to playback, some shot free without playback, was a continually exhausting experience. Gregg Featherman co-edited that film for me and he was such a great partner, especially creating the mood and atmosphere of the concert scenes. It was pretty easy to divorce yourself from cutting scares, especially with Meryl Streep’s amazing performance to ground the picture. Cutting her together was awe-inspiring. You really see why she gets the respect she does when you follow the weave of her performance and the options she gives you in each different take.
When did the idea of making “Dracula” new again come to you? What got you rolling on that? ^ Dimension had long wanted to do an updating of Dracula inspired by Hammer’s Dracula 1972 A.D. As we were finishing Music of the Heart and starting Scream 3, they approached me about coming up with an idea for an updated Dracula. The concept Joel Soisson and I pitched them had the heist element that begins Dracula 2000 but then went in very different directions. Eventually Dimension developed the film into what was made.
How is it for you directing compared to editing? You’re in control of more no doubt but being an editor, how does that factor in too? ^ Editing is just a part of the directing experience. Directing you’re responsible for telling the story, getting each detail right. Editing’s about taking the pieces and making the best story out of what you get. As a director you’re always trying to be responsible to the story and the budget, balancing the needs of each, striving to get the best film.
What comes after “Dracula III”? IV? V? VI? A different horror franchise? What currently makes you look forward to the future? ^ I’ve just been finished editing RED-EYE for Wes Craven. He’s done a masterful job in creating one of his best films since Scream. Beyond that, I’m in talks to direct a survival thriller, which will hopefully start in the fall. If that gets put on hold then we’ll have to see. There’s always interesting things out there.