Boyhood may have premiered at Sundance last year, but it also had a significant presence at SXSW. Even though I wasn’t quite on board with the Best Picture nomination it received, I enjoyed the movie, and the technical aspects of how this film actually got made are some of the most interesting parts to me. So it was a joy to get to listen to a panel of people who worked post production on the film, including editor Sandra Adair and post-production supervisor Laura Yates. Joining them was first assistant editor on Boyhood Mike Saenz and colorist Parke Gregg.
As editor, Adair was certainly at the center of the entire conversation. A question I’m sure many had she addressed right away. “Every year I just concentrated on that year,” she said, adding that that meant about a month of work on Boyhood each year. She’d cut that year’s work together, and then after the first few years, began assembling all they had to date. Especially after a few years in, director Richard Linklater would use the cut of previous years to plan for the next year, including how to transition from year to year.
She also talked about the importance of music – popular music – and accruing libraries of possible songs to use as they went. “Every month that the film takes place…we would collect a list of the top songs.” She said they got kids about the same age as Mason, the boy in the movie, to write paragraphs about their experience with the songs, and they’d use those stories to start flagging tracks that might work well. Adair said it wasn’t uncommon for her to load 10 or 15 audio tracks into the editor to try them all on a sequence. I asked her if running sequences like this ever led her to loose perspective and back a piece of music that just didn’t work with the film; she laughed and said not especially, although there was one sequence with a Sheryl Crow song over it that made it to test screenings only to be so reviled by the audience it had to be cut. She also added that a lot of the process was about finding the right style of music for each character and building a track list to augment and amplify their personalities.
A hurdle that neither I, nor it seemed much of the audience, had spent much time thinking about were the simple technical hurdles of a progressing technology. I didn’t follow all the specific details of editing technology since I’m not a video editor myself, but just think about the progression personal computers or cell phones have made since 2002, when Boyhood started shooting. There were several stories shared about struggles to make vastly different kinds of film line up. “Every now and then there’d be a shot or a scene that looked just completely different from everything else,” said Gregg.
Likewise, legal clearances were a bit of a mess. Yates spoke to this specifically, talking about how some parts of the film were cleared year to year, but others were left incomplete and had to be followed up on before the movie could be delivered. In fact, one piece of music from one of the Harry Potter movies wasn’t cleared until the last minute before Boyhood was being delivered to theaters worldwide; a couple copies had already been printed before the official OK from Warner Bros. came through.