Eddie Hamilton, ACE, on cutting Mission: Impossible and the value of the “real thing”

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the latest installment in the iconic franchise, directed by Christopher McQuarrie and co-produced by McQuarrie and Tom Cruise. As always, the film weaves together jaw-dropping stunts and mind-bending twists in a riveting, action-packed story that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

We caught up with esteemed editor Eddie Hamilton, ACE, about work adventures around the world, building the narrative in post, and his perspective on shooting action scenes practically in the age of AI and CGI.

What was the biggest challenge you faced working on Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One?

Well, this was a truly global production. We were working in all kinds of locations around the world and streaming our work. I’ve edited this film in Norway, in London at the studio and in the main cutting room, in New York, Florida, Maine, even on an aircraft carrier, though we didn’t stream anything there—there’s no Wi-Fi because it’s all secure. And then I was in the Arctic for a bit in a rented house in Svalbard. 

We would almost always have Evercast running; we had an Evercast editorial room, a VFX room, and a music room. Chris McQuarrie [the director] loved to invite his friends in, and there was also an open invitation for the cast to log into Evercast and watch us edit. The writer, Erik Jendresen, would log in almost every day from Charlotte, North Carolina. And there would be all kinds of friends of Chris’s dialing in from the US. He would work closely with Cecile Tournesac, our music editor, and Lorne Balfe, our composer. Very often, Tom Cruise would log in wherever he was in the world to review music, VFX, and edits on Evercast. We would do that quite a lot, and it was in use constantly for at least two-and-a-half years.

Because I was sometimes away from my core editorial assistant team, who are based in central London, I would leave Evercast running when we were editing, so they could log in and just see which bits of the movie we were working on. When we did all of our color reviews, we would use Evercast as well—and again, for our VFX reviews with all of the vendors all over the place. It was mostly Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), but there were quite a lot of vendors on Mission: Impossible just because the shot count was quite high. And then, of course, people would be logging in on their phones or iPads with the app, which was super cool. Chris McQuarrie was almost always on the move. When we were doing graphics, he would always be in the car on the way home from the studio. He would sit on his iPad and do graphics reviews or VFX reviews in the ninety minutes or so that it took him to get home at the end of each shoot day. Occasionally, we would do marketing reviews on Evercast so they could play trailers for us and things like that. It was very reliable for us. We did quite a bit in person, but we also did a lot remotely. It was the only way to be efficient with the time.

The main thing for me was that I was rarely in the same space as my editorial team, so Evercast was a really great way of communicating with them. That was the biggest challenge. 

And how did you set up Evercast for your gear and workflow?

I would take the HDMI signal out of the Avid Media Composer and I would split it, so one of them would go into an AVIO box, which plugs into the computer, and I would stream from that. That’s what everyone on the team did, pretty much. Even my assistants, when they’re working remotely, sometimes they’ll use Evercast to log in and look at their own machines; they’ll transmit their video signal over that just to see if it’s working smoothly. 

Evercast has become essential, quite frankly. It’s just another tool we use in filmmaking that has become absolutely invaluable, and it has allowed us to communicate and collaborate remotely. Sometimes I would be abroad for months at a time.

So you were following the crew on location?

For the most part, yes, in the last couple of years. When COVID kind of settled down a bit, then I would go on location. It just means I can be right on top of everything as it’s happening, give feedback, and also collaborate with Chris McQuarrie in the mornings and the evenings in the same time zone as him. I just take a big hard drive and my laptop, and we plug into a TV wherever we are in the world. 

When I was on an aircraft carrier, I literally plugged my laptop into the captain’s cabin, and he had four TVs, so we could literally switch it up and see whatever we wanted. He was very generous to let us edit in there. That’s never going to happen again in my life, is it? That’s insane.

Oh, I’m sure it was a thrill for him, too. How fun.

Oh yeah, it was. I mean, Tom Cruise is obviously a rockstar in the Navy, so it was quite cool to be there with him and all of the sailors.

I can only imagine! So, on the creative side, were there any scenes that changed significantly when it came to editorial?

It’s very challenging because there’s no script on Mission: Impossible, so everything changes all of the time. It’s a very fluid process where Chris McQuarrie will write pages the day before we film, and then they will get tossed out and rewritten during the day, so what we have at the end of the day is usually quite different to what we started out with. The whole movie is created in the editing room; there is no script up until we start building the film in the edit. Everything is up in the air. Chris McQuarrie understands that the writing only really happens in the editing room at the end of the day because it’s a visual medium, and so you’re writing with images. You have words on the page, but honestly, everything gets revised so much on the set. 

That’s a kind of well-known feature of these movies at this stage; the cast talk about it all of the time. It’s quite a challenge, but you have to lean into it and trust the process. And the movies have turned out great, so everyone on the crew has faith in this process. It’s the way that Chris McQuarrie’s brain works, but it does mean that we really refine the movie heavily in editorial over months and months and months and months of really detailed, fine, hard work. And all of the scenes in this movie are very complex. There’s a lot of intercutting and there’s a lot of parallel storytelling and there’s a lot of characters. To make sure you have the right balance of everything is very challenging, especially when you have a movie that’s over two-and-a-half hours long (thankfully people say it doesn’t feel that long when they watch it in cinema, which is a huge relief). But yeah, a lot of it changes in editorial. It’s not typical of the way that other movies are made, I would say.

You have to be a certain kind of editor, you have to have a certain mind, I would think.

Well, I’ve done it a few times now. This is my third Mission: Impossible with Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise, so I do understand the process and I trust it. There is a very good structure and outline, but all of the individual pieces are revised depending on the locations we find and what we need each scene to achieve, which can vary as you discover the strengths and weaknesses of what you have. It’s more like, what you need to improve, what you need to lean into, and what you see the strengths of the cast are. That’s what Chris and Tom do so well—they work with the cast, they build the characters, they build the action out of the locations, and they figure it out as they go along to make sure that they get the best of everything, rather than limiting themselves to what may or may not be on a written page.

There’s been a lot of buzz about how so much of the movie was “real”—how Tom Cruise really rode off the cliff, how the train really did crash. At a time when we’re moving more and more into the time of AI and CGI, what are your thoughts on shooting these types of scenes practically? Do you think it simply gives great marketing value, or how do you view the impact of that?

I think it’s absolutely essential to create a sense of reality and truth to what the audience is watching. It gives a very unique feeling to these movies when they’ve been done practically, and a real camera was filming something actually happening. I personally love it. I think a lot of the greatest action movies share that. A lot of people say that Mad Max: Fury Road is right up there, and they did all of that. There’s visual effects, obviously, to remove safety cables and do compositing and stuff, but there’s something so tangible and real about the physics of something like that.

You know, we don’t have spaceships and dinosaurs and superheroes in these movies, so we have to rely on classic film storytelling and filming stuff for real, which I absolutely love because I think it’s tangible when you watch the film. It’s a bit of a lost art, having epic stories told on a broad canvas with large sets, lots of extras, and all of that stuff. I really think it gives these films a unique feel, which I think is different to what other films are doing, so it makes it worthwhile for people to buy a ticket to go and see it in the cinema.

Yeah, it seems to me no matter how good technology gets, there’s still something energetically different about the “real thing.”

I agree. If you’re looking at the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, that clearly doesn’t exist. So, you know that it’s all made up. And if something is based in the real world, then at least you have some tangibility. But I’m not saying that Avatar isn’t astonishing, because it clearly is, and there’s so much amazing creativity. I would love to do one of those movies—I know they’re seven years of work, but I would love to do one, maybe at some point in the future. But it’s just different. There’s room for everybody and I want all movies to do well. 

It’s amazing where we are with Barbie and Oppenheimer just exploding. It’s awesome for cinemas who are all starving, and have had such a tough time. It’s great for the industry, it’s great for the town, despite the strike, and it’s great for original movies. Barbie is obviously based on IP, but it’s completely nutty and original. Greta Gerwig is astonishingly talented and they’ve done an amazing job. It’s just exciting for everybody to know that the audiences are there if the right movies are in the cinema.

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