By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 19, 2013 at 1:32PM
AT: One of the challenges in the screenplay is the end and the whole question of the two stories and the narration and how they're balanced together. Did you have trouble with that? Was it a debate to get that exactly the way it should be?
TS: To get it to where it is in the finished film, yes, we went through a lot of changes. There was never any thought of removing that, even though a couple of people suggested just doing the tiger story. But we just wouldn't have made the movie if that's what we were going to do. The way the book ends is with an idea, which is not the way to usually end a movie. You don't usually end a movie with 'here's something to think about.' You want people to feel something. So trying to not compromise on the idea of something to think about but also getting emotion in as well was a challenge. To kind of end a movie on a philosophical, theological point is a curious thing to do. But that's what we were going to do. We went through a number of iterations trying to get that right.
AT: How did you figure out what was working emotionally? How as an editor do you test whether it's working the way you want it to work?
TS: One way is to show it to audiences. If you think something's really funny and nobody laughs, you learn something. But that's one of the hard things in editing. When I get the scene, for a one minute scene, I'll get an hour of stuff. I've got to put it together. And you see things in there that strike you when you first watch it. They strike you emotionally. And it's hard to hang onto that when you've seen it three hundred times. It's really hard at some point to connect to it the way an audience will. It helps when you show it to people for the first time. And you talk to them afterwards. We had a bunch of meetings in New York before we came out here to finish it, and we'd have long conversations with people afterwards to find out what people got out of the movie. It was very helpful to hear people talk. Some things we were worried about, everybody got. And other things didn't work at all. It's easy to get caught up in the technical stuff and the structure, but keeping the audience emotionally involved is the hardest part.
AT: It must have been very difficult when Ang had to replace Tobey Maguire on the film.
DW: I think the main issue, as Ang put it together--and Tim can elaborate--he felt having somebody who was recognized as a movie star in the role took away from the flow of the piece. I think that was a tough decision artistically and emotionally for him.
TS: You mentioned earlier about getting the end of the movie right, and we had to substantially change it. We had to reshoot it anyway, so it's not like we reshot it because Tobey didn't work. We had to go in and make a lot of changes anyway. As part of that process, we looked at all the things that weren't working right in that sequence, and one of them was that some people found Tobey was a distraction just because he's Tobey.
DW: It's a role that doesn't really have a huge arc, so when you put that kind of personality in there, you set up expectations. I think that's something Ang reconsidered.
AT: Of all the things you all did on this movie, what are you absolutely proudest of?
CM: I love the big pool with all the candles. We were scouting and I said, 'we'll need to have 50,000 lit at the same time.' And the art department got over 120,000 candles, and everyone was lighting them. It was a great moment--David was lighting, I was lighting. Everyone was there with lighters and we would shoot these cameras for a frame or send them out. But that was the major source for that scene, and I think it looked fantastic.
TS: I'm going to go with the opening credits. I did that in about four hours. A bunch was shot in pre-production, and some were shot right at the end, so I just ignored it for a long time. Then I thought, 'OK, it's time to do the credits,' and I put them together really fast, and thought, 'that's a first pass for now.' I called my staff in and played it for them, and they were like, 'wow, that's really good.' It was a different song, but it was similar. I had three days of dailies piled up so I thought, 'I'll just ignore that and work on other stuff.' And then it just stayed exactly like that for months, and we tweaked it a little bit, but it came together really fast and I think it puts you in the mood to enjoy the movie.
BW: Certainly the visual effects gets the most attention for the technological things that we create, but the sentiment that Ang shared with me was the idea that this was really a chance for visual effects to create art and to show that a visual effects team can contribute to an aesthetic in a picture. That's something I'm really proud of.
AT: And what are some of the sequences that your team created on your own?
BW: A lot of the stuff in the ocean, we used a little bit of the tank but all the skies and the sunsets are ours. Ang would give us direction--the sky reflects the water, the whale, the jellyfish--any ocean scene you look at was ours to create beyond the lighting and the time of day.
EDB: I think for me it's the teamwork. If you wonder why the credits are so long, it was because we had over 400 people work on this. We literally had people painting tiger nails all the way up to people looking out to our render farms. And then realizing that we somehow managed to get all those skills and talents together and make one animal, it was really cool.
BW: What was great working with them was that our direction to these guys was always emotional. It's about Richard Parker feeling some way--he needs to be more hesitant, he needs to be more angry. We would rarely get into more technical stuff; we gave emotional direction and they would translate that into pixels. It was fantastic.
Audience question: The book has spiritual aspects. In Ang's vision and direction to you, how was that spirituality to be conveyed? How did he talk about it?
DW: One of the things Ang did was work with Suraj, since he'd never acted before. He called it the Ang Lee boot camp because it involves both physical, spiritual and emotional training, whether it was doing yoga or reading all these books from the 70s. He took Suraj on his own kind of journey. I think working with Ang in general, the vibe leads you to look for things that have some kind of higher intelligence to them. One of the things he did was to accept the complexity of the story and the animation. We didn't even talk about the crazy wave tank and the lighting and putting the cameras in the water. He wanted to do this all without a lot of cuts. A lot of the design of the movie was already in his head. The flow of the movie really illustrates those ideas as well.