Eddie Hamilton A.C.E is no stranger to impossible tasks.
From seamlessly piecing together fight sequences in the Kick-Ass and Kingsman franchises, to completing one of the most ambitious of all Mission: Impossible films, Eddie Hamilton has mastered the art of combining high-action and high-emotion to create memorable cinematic experiences for audiences.
We sat down with him to talk sequels, stunts, and storytelling in the latest chapter in the Mission: Impossible franchise…
What was it like returning to the Mission: Impossible franchise?
Very exciting! I’m a fan of these movies. A lot of the same people are coming back – same writer/director and all of my team that was with me on Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I really enjoy working with Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise is a great collaborator as producer on the film.
I got to travel to New Zealand and Abu Dhabi where they were filming. I got to travel to New York. I got to do test screenings in Arizona and Las Vegas. I’ve been able to travel a lot and have a real adventure for the last 16 months as the film has evolved in the editing room.
Is there usually lots of traveling involved?
On Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I didn’t travel so much with the unit. I did travel a little bit but I think this one has probably been the greatest adventure in terms of traveling around with a portable edit suite — my laptop, Avid Media Composer and a 40TB hard drive attached with all the media.
Tell us about building Mission: Impossible – Fallout in the editing room.
We worked on Avid Media Composer. All the 35mm film was scanned at 4K at Pinewood Post. The 4K DPX files were transcoded to Avid Ultra High Definition DNxHR LB 2160p MXF files which we imported on a daily basis into the Media Composer so I always had incredibly high-quality original files to look at. My team of assistants would prepare scene bins for me and then I would work through the footage and build the scenes as they were coming in on a daily basis.
We filmed for about 160 days in total with a twelve week break about two-thirds of the way through because Tom Cruise broke his ankle. This allowed us time to look at the film and really figure out what would be the very best to film for the rest of the period where they were rolling cameras. We tried to look at it as a positive thing. Tom’s broken ankle gave us a chance to really take stock of the movie and improve it.
We started filming in April . We finished filming at the end of February  with a twelve week break. We raced to prepare friends and family screenings and test screenings every few weeks. Chris McQuarrie is a strong believer in testing films with an audience and listening carefully to the audience responses to make sure that any concerns they have are addressed. He committed [himself] to making a very successful piece of mass entertainment that works for a large number of people in the audience. He’s extremely sensitive to that and wants the film to be great fun for as many people as possible.
He is also aware that you don’t have to have watched any of the previous movies to enjoy this one. The film stands on its own as well as being part of the franchise. For fans of the films, there are a lot of easter eggs in there from the other movies, but if you come to the film fresh, you can still watch it and enjoy it as an action-adventure suspense movie.
Does it get easier from sequel to sequel or are there new challenges?
There are always new challenges with every film. Each film is a unique jigsaw puzzle and you only ever make each film once. However much experience you’ve got, you’re only going to be creating that film once, and then when you start another film, it’s a whole other puzzle. There’s a lot of experimentation and there are a lot of mistakes that get made during the creative process until you find the best combination of images, the best story and the best pace for the film.
There were several challenges on Mission: Impossible – Fallout. There is a very ambitious helicopter sequence towards the end of the film which had a lot of footage shot in New Zealand on Digital IMAX cameras. That was a very challenging sequence to go through all of the footage and then find the very best little sections.
What would surprise fans to learn about how it all came together?
It’s mostly how long it takes to make these films. 160 days filming is quite a lot. A lot of movies have a second unit [camera department]; we only had the main unit the whole time so Chris McQuarrie directed every single shot in the film. All the action was directed by Chris including the helicopter sequence which was incredibly complicated to film and took many weeks. It’s astonishing footage when you see it so it was worth all of the technical challenges.
The film evolves a lot through the filming process and then through the editorial process. We’re constantly evolving the story as every film does but we are specifically using music, sound design, and colour correction to help the audience perceive the story correctly. Every single little detail in the film has had a lot of thought put behind it. Nothing is accidental. Nothing is left to chance. Every note of musical score and every sound effect and every word of the dialogue is carefully crafted to hold your hand through the story so that you’re as engaged as we want you to be.
You have never shied away from using the M-word when discussing the role of an editor: manipulation. In what ways can the editor influence the audience, the tone and the overall meaning of a film?
The editor is manipulating the audience from the very first image to the very last image. [The editor has] total control over everything the audience sees and hears, and how long they see it or hear it for. People want an emotional experience when they go to see a film. They want to be manipulated — that is what they’re buying a movie ticket for — so it’s very important we are aware of the power of that.
Where we choose to edit, who we choose to show, what line readings we choose to use, how long every shot is in the film, what music plays… everything like that is a tool we can use to help shape the story and generate an emotional reaction in the audience. It’s something which we take very seriously and never stop refining.
You want the audience to engage naturally and effortlessly as though the film has always been like this. Usually, the easier something looks, the harder it has been to build, and there isn’t a single easy sequence in this film. Whether it’s a long dialogue scene or an action sequence, all of them require enormous amounts of love in the editing room to get them to really play well. It’s making sure that from the very beginning of the movie to the end, you’re constantly leaning forward engaged with the characters and the story and the mystery and the conflict because you want to find out what’s going to happen next.
With that in mind, what are some of the lessons you have learned about successful storytelling?
You’re going to fail a lot before you find the right version of the film. Don’t expect to ever succeed early in the process. Great stories evolve and take a lot of work to find. There is actually a terrific book called Creativity, Inc. written by Ed Catmull which is about enabling creativity at Pixar. It’s a fantastic book about storytelling and one of the things he talks about is allowing people to fail safely. It’s very important. In any creative collaboration, you’re going to fail more than you succeed. Don’t be afraid of failure, and ultimately, if someone has a suggestion, try it out even if you might disagree with it. Try every idea however confusing it may sound to you. Give it a go and you might be surprised.
Founder + Film Editor / Sharing her thoughts on all things film! When she's not writing about filmmaking for So Theory Goes, she is writing weekly posts for her new video editing platform, Working Womxn. workingwomxn.com