Keeping Film Alive
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Recently I sat down with assistant editor and friend, Andrew Blustain. He’s been fortunate to work on some of Hollywood’s biggest films that were shot on film. We talked about his experience and the directors who are committed to keeping this craft alive.
Mike Bruining: You’ve been an assistant editor on “Boogie Nights,” “Munich,” “Enigma,” “Dunkirk,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and are currently working on Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Tenet.” Good to see you.
Andrew Blustain: It’s an honor. Thank you.
Mike Bruining: Andrew and I met back in the day when we worked on a film called “Autumn in New York.” When we were working on that film, I was the assistant editor on the Avid and you were the assistant doing the film conform.
Andrew Blustain: That’s right, when I worked with you in the nineties, digital editing was really kind of overtaking film editing, but film was still being printed and conformed because studios and directors like to see film still being projected. They weren’t as comfortable with the resolution of a digital projection for audience previews or studio reviews or whatever. And now it seems that that workflow, to have a cellulose based printing backup is all but gone by the boards except for the few directors that insist on working with a 35-millimeter backup. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with all three of them, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan.
Mike Bruining: What got you interested in editing?
Andrew Blustain: I’ve always been interested in film since as long as I can remember. My dad took me to a lot of movies growing up. I grew up in the seventies and we went to see a lot of movies. Films by Scorsese and Altman and Coppola and they had a really strong impact on me. And I knew from a young age, I wanted to be involved somehow in the making of films.
It’s interesting because it’s the only aspect of the filmmaking process that is unique unto itself. I mean, every other part of filmmaking kind of comes from another discipline. Acting comes from theater and cinematography comes from photography and art direction and costume come from theater and scoring comes from musical tradition, but film editing is something that can’t be traced to anything else.
Quentin was amazing. He was great when he would come in the cutting room it was like a big family, it was just a blast.
Mike Bruining: You’re kind of in this cool position where you know how to work with film. And like you were saying, there’s a lot of these really big filmmakers still using film. Is it hard to find people like yourself?
Andrew Blustain: Absolutely. The pool of people to choose from that know how to handle 35-millimeter film, know how to log, know how to conform, know how to splice — a lot of them have retired or passed on and just aren’t interested in going back to that discipline. So there is a pretty short list. It’s very rare. There’s not a lot of people that know how to do it.
Mike Bruining: It’s interesting because there’s some of these filmmakers who want to keep that craft alive, but then it’s shrinking in certain areas. How do you get the next generation of filmmakers interested in learning the process?
Andrew Blustain: I think that there’s a lot of filmmakers who are interested in it much in the same way younger audiophiles are embracing vinyl. The problem is that it really is an expensive undertaking. Because to print film and to finish a photochemical finish is an expensive proposition. There are a few labs in Los Angeles like FotoKem who, did all the film work for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and did it for “Dunkirk” and on “Tenet” is one of the few labs that has a working infrastructure to support 35 millimeter, 70 millimeter and IMAX.
Mike Bruining: Speaking of “Dunkirk,” let’s talk a little bit about that.
Andrew Blustain: It was 35 and 70 millimeter and there was some IMAX and the IMAX was going to be used for visual effects. The larger format has such a rich detail that you don’t really get a lot of degeneration when you’re using those plates for visual effects. I worked in the visual effects department. I was kind of like an assistant in the visual effects department because on those shows you need a lot of people. I was working in the visual effects department keeping track of a lot of the 70 millimeter and the IMAX clips that were being used for visual effects.
Mike Bruining: Walk us through a little bit what’s it like working in that format
. Andrew Blustain: It has its own set of challenges, cataloging and keeping track, keeping a database of where the negative was, where the negative got sent, where it was at any given time, keeping a kind of a workflow chart of what iteration of a given visual effect was at that time. And in a lot of ways, just keeping track of things, making sure that nothing got lost in the shuffle.
Christopher Nolan… He’s really upping his game on this one and it’s going to be really exciting.
Mike Bruining: Talk a little bit about your work on “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Andrew Blustain: I’m so happy to have had that experience. It was a great experience. It was wonderful. It was a great crew. And that’s the other thing about working on a show that prints film is that the crew is much bigger. You need more people as opposed to two or three people that can do everything on a digital show. When you’re printing film, you need assistance, you need visual effects assistance. It was so much fun from beginning to end, even though there was a lot of work, it was a film that was imbued with the love of film and everyone on the show was a film lover. Every inch of that film was just chockablock with great references, from film and music.
Mike Bruining: And they shot 35 millimeter?
Andrew Blustain: There was a lot of different formats because different parts of the story demanded a different kind of look. So as opposed to shooting everything on 35, and then if there was going to be a portion of like the “Bounty Law” show, he actually shot all that stuff on 16 millimeter. So, it was a multi-format endeavor, but everything was so correct. And it’s part of the storyline. It was necessary and it was accurate. So that had challenges in and of itself when you’re shooting in different formats and different aspect ratios and stuff like that. But everything went really smoothly. We had a really good team of people that were really on top of it. We just laughed a lot and had a great time. And Quentin was amazing. He was great when he would come in the cutting room and we were working at his house in Hollywood and it was like a big family, it was just a blast
. Mike Bruining: That’s cool. Cause he’s such a film lover, film historian.
Andrew Blustain: I’ve never met anyone that has encyclopedic knowledge of film like he does. If you mentioned something that he doesn’t know and if you’re even lucky enough as I was to kind of turn him on to something that he hadn’t seen and he came back and said, “Oh, that was amazing.” It was like, wow, what an accomplishment.
(Note: Later Andrew told me the movie that Tarantino hadn’t seen is called, “The Comedian” starring Mickey Rooney. A 1957 live television drama written by Rod Serling from a novella by Ernest Lehman, directed by John Frankenheimer. It is really intense and worth checking out. I was able to see it on YouTube)
Mike Bruining: That’s great. So, they’re shooting on film, but then they were transferring the dailies too.
Andrew Blustain: Yeah. It was shot on film. It was cut on Avid. But we print all the film, we conformed the work picture, according to the cut. Our editor, Fred Raskin would give us lists. And we would conform the work print to the cut that they were working on. So we could screen it in a theater, so he could get a feel of how it played. There is a feeling among some directors that when you project a film, celluloid film in a theater, as opposed to a digital projection, there is a little bit of a difference. It plays different, some people don’t agree with that, but they want to see it on film.
Mike Bruining: It’s amazing how the experience is so different when you’re watching it on the big screen it just looks different. It’s different than watching it on a TV.
Andrew Blustain: It absolutely is. And especially a film like that because there’s so many references to old films, old TV shows. But I think that the real way to see that film is on a big screen.
Mike Bruining I know, I agree. So currently you’ve been working on “Tenet”, Christopher Nolan’s new film. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Andrew Blustain: It’s quite an undertaking. It’s going to be really an astounding film. It’s beautifully shot. It’s shot in many different countries and has an amazing cast. It’s all 70 millimeter and IMAX. So it has this incredible scope it’s very immersive. And anyone that knows anything about Christopher Nolan is that he is one of the number one proponents of the theater going experience. During this pandemic, he’s almost made it a one-man crusade to try and preserve that tradition and not let it disappear. He’s really upping his game on this one and it’s going to be really exciting. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the theater
. Mike Bruining: I’m hoping for that as well.