READ Interview with Ralph Clemente, production of “The Way Back Home.
Roger Moore, Sentinel Movie Critic. Orlando Sentinel, Mar 31, 2005. pg. E.1
Legendary actress Julie Harris is on a bank of TV monitors, kneeling at a grave. The scene she played unfolds on the screens. Both the actress and the character she’s playing have had a stroke, and the words don’t come easily.She stumbles, almost shouts through the 23rd Psalm.
“I-I-I- sh-sh–shall not WANT!” She collapses in tears. Director Reza Badiyi folds his arms and calls a halt to the proceedings. Harris’ image freezes on the TV screen.
“What do you think for this scene?” he asks the small group huddled around the editing console.
Badiyi, a veteran of 40 years of TV and film production, answers his own question.
“I was thinking no music. Only the sounds of bells, from a church.”
The bells aren’t there now. They weren’t there the day the scene was shot. But they will be by the time the finished film — with music and sound effects, close-ups and closing credits — shows up on screens, big or small, later this year. The Way Back Home finished filming in Central Florida in December. The “glamorous” part of the moviemaking — the presence of the stars and catering trucks — is over. Now comes the hard, intimate work of turning the raw footage into a movie. Just technicians huddled in a tiny office on the campus of Valencia Community College, which co-produced the film, providing gear and student trainees as labor. This is the way most movie editing is done today, even on the biggest films. Gone are the days when directors and producers stood over “flatbeds” — film cutting tables — with razor blades, glue, whirring film reels and flickering images, with cutters physically slicing the celluloid. Editing — selecting what goes into the finished film — is done on computers.
“The movie is a different movie when it’s written than when it’s shot, and it’s a different movie again when it’s edited,” says editor Oliver Peters. “You put the movie together, and as you do, you take a step back, see the movie as a whole, and make the story concise.”
There are still scenes left behind, the so-called footage “on the cutting-room floor.” But it no longer hits the floor — it’s just deleted.
“You cut away, cut away, and get to the meaning, and the picture only now can come to life,” adds Badiyi.
The Way Back Home is about a young New York lawyer, played by local screenwriter and actor Michael Houston King. He comes home to Sanford to visit his grandmother, who raised him (Harris), and her friend (Ruby Dee). The lawyer’s wife (Mina Badie) has killed herself. He’s trying to pull his life back together, to reconnect with a simpler Sanford life, and with the grandmother, who is recovering from a stroke.
Peters, an Orlando editor with experience in TV and film, has to digitally whack 126,000 feet of film down to the 9,000 or so feet it will take for a finished 95-minute movie.He first created an assembly edit, cutting all the scenes together, roughly. Then he started to trim, tighten and smooth the flow of the film. His are just the first hands to chop the movie into shape.
“I do a cut, then the producers did their cut from that, and in this case, the director makes the final cut, the one audiences get to see,” Peters says.
In January, Peters and assistants logged all the footage, which had been rendered into digital recordings. By early February, Peters was well into cutting shots together to make scenes, finding “the best performance of each take by the actors,” and piecing them together so that they tell the story.
Scene 99, a poignant and flirtatious moment at a boathouse between King and a love interest, Tessie Santiago, lasts just 40 seconds in the nearly finished movie. Peters punches buttons, calling up the takes he wanted from various computer files. Reverse-angle shots, reaction shots, “because a scene is really more about the person listening, reacting, than just the person talking,” cover shots (taking in both actors and their setting), and inserts — of ducks on the lake, looking up at the house on the hill above them, and so on.
There are 22 individual edits in the scene. Peters roughs it out in just seven minutes. His first “assembly” cut of the film clocks in at 2 hours, 7 minutes. King and producer Paul Sirmons worked with Peters to trim the film further, to 1 hour, 45 minutes.
“And in just a day or two that Reza’s been back in town, he’s got it down to an hour and 39 minutes,” Sirmons says.
King says that their goal is a movie that’s in that 95 minute range, one that will allow it to be sold to TV networks (Lifetime, Pax, etc.) for use in a two-hour time slot. And they’re close. Badiyi calls out sound-effect cues to sound mixer Richard Achor – – “some TV sound here, maybe football game . . . a preacher she listens to here.” The flashbacks to the marriage that ended with a suicide are in stark, washed-out colors; Badie, an actress of some repute who is also the director’s daughter, is electric in them. The scenes between Dee and Harris, their first teaming, are warm even without sentimental music underscoring them.
“This scene has really got to stand out,” Achor says to composer Will Baker, when Harris and Dee’s big, tender scene — one old woman comforting another — comes up. “Something warm, to make it feel fuller.” “Very important music,” Badiyi agrees.
It’s all coming together, digital editing, then “color correction” and physically having the film footage cut together to match their digital edit. That’s done at a Miami lab. Add the credits and the music, and they’re done, hopefully with a “locked cut” by late May, when King and Sirmons will get serious about shopping it around.
“We go through it, and through it, and we make the small changes every time,” Badiyi says. “That is when we see what kind of movie we have made.”
LISTEN (13:04) to an oral history interview with Oliver Peters, editor on the film “The Way Back Home.”
Ralph Clemente passed away in 2015. READ this tribute from his memorial service.
Oliver Peters worked for Century III (CIII - Century 3) Teleproductions from 1985 until he left in 2002 to form his own company. Over the course of seventeen years, Oliver held the positions of videotape editor, project manager and operations manager. CIII was first located in the old Bee Jay Recording Studios on Eggleston Avenue in Winter Park, Florida, but relocated in 1989 to Univeral Studios after being selected from many production houses to be the post production facility on the back lot at Universal Studios. During this time period, Orlando garnered the name "Hollywood East" due to the filming/taping and post production of films and television series in the Central Florida area.
Oliver is currently involved in production and post production of commercial and corporate projects; he is a writer for Videography and other industry magazines in print and online; he is a presenter at conventions around the country; a guest instructor at Valencia State College and Full Sail, and he shares his knowledge of editing systems and techniques as a consultant to television stations and production houses around the country. His web site is www.OliverPeters.com
The following interview took place in May 2011. The interviewer is his wife and Orlando Public Library staff member, Kim Peters.
INTERVIEWER: If you search Orlando Memory for the name Oliver Peters or Century III you'll find info on theme parks, tourist attractions, museums, Jimmy Buffet and motion pictures you may not have seen, but should. Oliver's involvement in most of these projects was as producer or videotape editor while employed at Century III Teleproductions - a video post production facility located on the back lot at Universal Studios Orlando.
Century III closed its doors many years ago, but Oliver is still editing video, teaching video production, conducting seminars, and writing for Videography magazine. Oliver is here today to tell us about Century III during the years Orlando was known as "Hollywood East."
Welcome Oliver. I appreciate your taking the time to share your memories with Orlando Memory.
OLIVER: Thanks. Glad to be a part of this.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that you were part of the original staff of Century III when the company relocated from Boston to Orlando in 1985. Give us a brief background on Century III and how it was chosen to be the post production facility on the back lot at Universal Studios.
OLIVER: Century III started out as a branch office of the Boston facility. It was a post production company doing commercials and corporate videos. When the Studios started opening up, both Universal Studios and Disney, we had the opportunity to become the resident facility at Universal Studios and that was a concession that they made available to a number of companies around the country. We happened to win the chance to be part of it, and were invovled in a number of shows and projects from the time they started until we moved off the lot.
INTERVIEWER: Who were the main people involved with Century III in the Boston facility and when you moved to Orlando?
OLIVER: Century III was owned by Ross Cibella and the company down here was managed by Miles Ptacek and both he and I answered to Rich Parent who was the head of engineering and operations in Boston. Rich and Miles were largely responsible for the original design and construction of the facility which was in the old Bee Jay Recording Studios.
INTERVIEWER: If people would like to find out more about Bee Jays Recording Studio we have a number of items on Orlando Memory that were given to us by Eric Schabacker who had been the owner of Bee Jays at one time.
During your time at Century III you were on the back lot at Universal Studios, and the Florida Governor, Jeb Bush at the time, was actively promoting the state as Hollywood East . Century III benefited from that, and at the time, Century III was involved in the post production for a number of television series, films, and theme park videos. That must have been an exciting time, probably pretty busy, but exciting all the same.
OLIVER: We had a lot of fun doing that. We were involved in quite a lot of different television shows that were being shot on the lot at Universal Studios as well as various feature films being done in and around the area. Some of those included on the TV show side, The Adventures of Super Boy, Swamp Thing, Fortune Hunter, and Super Force. There was also the first one that got us started which was the last season of The New Leave It To Beaver Show. So, it was fun watching some of those people as they came through the lot and I occasionally got to see some of the taping. The various feature films that we worked on, some of those included the First of May and the Michael Winslow film and we were also involved in some more non-traditional projects done for museums and theme parks. We did some of the work that was at Universal Studios itself, including some of the sound design for the original King Kong ride when it went up there. We also did videos for Margarittaville which is the Jimmy Buffet attraction at City Walk and also the Bob Marley restaurant.
INTERVIEWER: I understand ya'll also did some work for Madam Tussauds in New York and for the Smithsonian.
OLIVER: That's correct. The Madam Tussauds Wax Museum did a tour of New York that was sort of an animated virtual tour projected on a dome, and we produced the actual program including all the animation that included live actors, as well, and we did the whole production on that.
For the Smithsonian, we actually did the video for a museum called the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum which is in Memphis in the old Gibson guitar factory. And this was the Smithsonian's first effort in doing something outside of their normal environment, actually being involved in content for other museums both private and public. They had gone through a process of recording interviews with all of the iconic musicians and studio owners involved in creating the Memphis sound and we had the opportunity to work with a lot of the files which made for a really interesting program about the history about both the origins of rock and roll and soul music.
INTERVIEWER: Now, I know Century III was not just involved with editing. I know on your work that you did for Madam Toussads ya'll actually shot the video against green screens that you had set up in a studio in your facility. What other types of things did you do in addition to editing on some of the projects that you had there?
OLIVER: Well, Century III was a full service company, so we did, in addition to video editing, we also did extensive graphics work including 3-D animation. As you mentioned Madam Tussauds involved both live action and animation of the entire city of New York - 3D replicas of the buildings and so on. We also had an extensive audio department that did sound recording and mixing, obviously on the TV shows that I'd mentioned before but we also did films. For instance, one of the two Christopher Columbus films that played internationally around the world, we did all of the sound on one of the films. And that included everything from sound effects all the way through to a finished mix.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that CIII also did work for several of the theme parks here in the Orlando area. I know one of which was Splendid China and that has closed, but you worked on...had something special to do with the ET Ride that was there [at Universal Studios] and also at EPCOT. What can you tell us about those.
OLIVER: Well when the park opened up at Universal we did sound design for various attractions and that included ET. When the ET character says all the different names of the people going through the attraction [at the end of the ride], the recording of all the variations of those names was something we were involved in and also installing where the various sound effects occurred thoughout the ride.
Kim: The biggest project you worked on was Illuminations which is Reflections of Earth at EPCOT. Can you tell us a little about what role CIII played in that and you in particular, and how long it took to get to the final video we see on the large earth globe at EPCOT?
OLIVER: Right, that was designed and started in time for the Millennium Celebration, so it's been running over ten years at this point [debut was at EPCOT October 1, 1999]. And we produced the video content that you see projected on the earth globe which is a 30 foot tall structure and the images are actually shown on what amounts to LED signs. So, we produced that as video and worked on that for about a year. And that included a little bit of R&D (research and development) trying to figure out what kind of images would actually be recognizable as well as actually doing the content.
I was involved not only in organizing and editing but sort of working as the co-project manager on that. Any of these projects take a lot of different people and in that case we had a team on and off throughout the year of probably a dozen different people involved in the project including Craig Stickler who was an art director on the project and Fawn Trivette who was one of the lead artists and compositors. We also had live action. At the very end of the presentation there's a sequence of people handing off a torch and lamps and candles from one person to another, so the recording of those various actors was done by Jack Tinsley who is a director here in town.
INTERVIEWER: And this was all coordinated through Don Dorsey Productions?
OLIVER: Yes, Don was the show director which is a position that theme parks have for the person involved in designing the creative design of a show and seeing it through to its end. So Don was responsible for all creative aspects of the show. Not just our part, but also the music, the lasers, the fireworks and interfacing with the Disney management and getting the job done.
INTERVIEWER: And Orlando Memory is really happy that Don Dorsey provided us with some images of the trips to China to select the proper fireworks and also the recording of some of the music that was done at Abby Roads in London.
In all your years at Century III, there any experiences that stand out or any individuals that you met that you would like to tell us about?
OLIVER: Well, sure. During the time we were on the lot at Universal Studios a lot of interesting people passed through there. We had a chance to meet with Steven Spielberg. Of course we worked with a number of the actors on the various shows. We did a movie that included Ernest Borgnine (Hoover) and he's an interesting character. Of course, we also were involved in lots of different projects that really related to the start of a lot of production activity in the Central Florida area. For instance, that was the time period when Valencia College started up their film technology program and we were very actively involved in a number of the projects that they brought through in classes there. There was a very active high school video competition that Universal Studios was involved in and we met some folks like Jim Hensen and Robert Duval who came through at one point doing audio work in our studio.
INTERVIEWER: That sounds interesting! CIII closed around 2003 and you left in 2002 to start your own company. What type of activities are you involved in with your own company?
OLIVER: Well, I continue working in the post production field primarily as an editor and a colorist, but I'm also involved in overall post production supervision. I've worked on various projects for area clients; a lot for the Walt Disney World Company. In the last few years I've done projects such as a series of videos for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina and other projects that include local documentaries and films as well as television commercials and training videos. I am also involved as a speaker and as a writer and I've been to various seminars and things like that giving instruction in post production processes and various aspects of the industry.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it seems that you really enjoy editing and all the aspects of post production. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
Century III at Universal Studios had a listing and advertisement in the 1992 Florida Production Sourcebook. A copy can be found in the Florida History collection at the Orlando Public Library (call number FLORIDA COLLECTION 338.47791 FLO).
Century III's listing is as follows:
CENTURY III at Universal Studios - Film and Video - Pamela Lapp
2000 Universal Studios Plaza, Orlando, FL 32818 - 407-354-1000 FAX 407-352-8662
Complete on-line/off-line computer editing for video and film post production. Digital recording, audio editing and mixing available, Synclavier sound design and composition, SFX libraries, 2-D/3-D computer animation, 16/35mm film transfer, C/K-U Band Satellite Uplink/downlink, Duplication, all formats.