Whoosh! Issue Ten - August 1997

Part 1 of 2

Exclusive to WHOOSH!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1997 held by author
9157 words

Editor's Note: Robert Field is one of two film editors, the other being Jim Prior, for XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. (Film editor Doug Ibold was brought in during first season to edit three episodes due to very tight deadlines.) Mr. Field perhaps is best known in the Xenaverse as Avicus (perhaps a strange declension of AVID?), an internet presence since almost the beginning. Mr. Field gave a wonderful and fascinating presentation on what an editor does at the Burbank January 1997 Xena Convention. On May 15, 1997 WHOOSH's intrepid correspondent-at-large, Bret Ryan Rudnick, spent the afternoon with Mr. Field at Camp Renaissance - located somewhere in Universal Studios. What follows is the results of Bret Rudnick's visit. Because of its mythic size, this interview will be run over two issues. Part One covers the art of editing and Part Two covers an episode by episode review of Mr. Field's output of the first two seasons. - -- KMT

Yell if you see pidgeons!

Under a spreading "Camp Renaissance" tree, a Xena editor stands.
The Editor, a mighty man is he, quick of eye and skilled of hand,
And the muscles from his golfing arms are strong as sinewy bands.
(Apologies to Longfellow, as well as to the pictured Robert Field)

UNIT SHOOTING, Part 1 (17-29)
CALLISTO (87-91)
UNIT SHOOTING, Part 2 (92-95)
CYBERSPACE (117-126)

Part 1 of 2


[01] The sun is climbing high, beating down on the double row of trailers that are propped up and literally hanging over an outer edge of the property at Universal Studios, perilously close to the raging trickle that nowadays is the Los Angeles River. It is just another day at the office at Camp Renaissance.

[02] Not even lunchtime yet and already Joxer is causing trouble. Or, more precisely, Joxer's shadow is causing trouble. There is a scene that Robert Field is editing for an upcoming third season episode of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS [BEEN THERE, DONE THAT] in which Xena has knocked Joxer down. This in and of itself is not much of a hazard, but due to the camera angle and time of day, Joxer's shadow is clearly visible as the actor (Ted Raimi) gets up and moves away from the action. This simply will not do. Joxer is supposed to go down and stay down. Something must be done.

I take it back! I *like* the editing!

Joxer in trouble again

[03] Mr. Field and his assistant editor discuss options. One choice would be to take a part of a frame from the scene that has no shadow and simply paint over the shadow for the remaining frames of the scene. Unfortunately, the camera is also moving in this shot and that option is not feasible.

[04] His assistant suggests painting in an even bigger shadow of a stationary object to cover Joxer's shadow; but again, because of the moving camera, this option will not work either. It is a problem which may well have to be resolved later by the special effects people. Much time is spent trying to work out a cheaper and effective solution, but this is only one headache an editor has to deal with. Some other minor problems need to be solved. In one case, a scene needs to be extended, so Mr. Field adds a bit of dialogue.

[05] Finally, Robert Tapert [Executive Producer] has called for a freeze frame at the end of the episode. This is an area of creative difference between the editor and Mr. Tapert. Field likes it without the freeze, allowing the scene to play itself out and fade to black. Tapert, however, wants the freeze frame. The top boss wins, and now the freeze must be placed.

[06] Even with this seemingly simple decision, however, there are options. Just where to make the freeze seems like a minor thing, but it is a subtle and important point. Mr. Field puts together several options, based on his own artistic sense, as well as a freeze frame suggested by Bernadette Joyce [Coordinating Producer, who will be interviewed in an upcoming WHOOSH!]. Bernie, as she is called by the post-production team, drops by to see how things are going and decides she likes Rob's selection better than her own previously suggested freeze.

[07] The changes are made, the master tape for the episode is adjusted, and at this point, the editor has done all that can be done to it. Sounds and other effects will be added later, and we will all get to see the finished product sometime in Season Three.

[08] In the meantime, Mr. Field was gracious enough to put up with the persistent pestering of a WHOOSH! staffer.


I'm going to tease you. That coffee cup right next to you?
That's Hudson's cup.

Editor Extraordinaire, Robert Field, in his natural habitat.

[09] By way of introduction, and for the people out there reading this article, I have this picture of an editor as someone who is given a jumble of film and sound, who has to then sort it out, and make sense of it. Is this correct in its most base form?

[10] In its base form, that is relatively true. The jumble, of course, depends on who the director is and how well the material is shot. But simplified even further, a crew of various artisans and performers take a script written by whomever, and then go out and shoot the scenes that make up, in this case, a television episode.

[11] Coverage refers to any number of camera angles and/or takes that the director feels necessary to capture a particular scene to his liking. What is shot on film is then transferred to video tape and sent back to Los Angeles where it gets loaded into editing computers that we work on, they are called AVID systems, which you just saw. This footage is then assembled by the editor -- this is where the first part of the editing process begins. Each scene that comes in may be very simply covered -- maybe only one or two camera angles. Or it may be incredibly complicated and involved, such as the ladder fight in CALLISTO (#22), which alone had over 145 camera setups.

I'll let you go if you promise to kill who ever Gabrielle

The ladder fight sequence for CALLISTO (#22)
was extraordinarily complex.

[12] That could be considered a jumble merely by its volume. So my approach -- and I cannot speak for the other editors, though I have to assume it is relatively similar -- is to take each scene, not necessarily in sequence because the show is never shot in sequence, and edit the scene as it comes in and is completed. I go through the script to see what the intent of the scene is, go through the footage and try to interpret what the director has in mind. I also look for the best performances and the best takes of a performer being true to the character. On the technical side, I look out for camera bobbles or bad camera moves or flares or anything of a technical nature that is not good.

[13] After finding the best elements of all those things, I basically cut that scene down to what would appear to be the best possible way of presenting it. This is obviously subjective and interpretive, but one of the wonderful things about working on this show is that the editors have absolute freedom at this stage of the process in both HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. The editors work completely independently from the production company while this first phase of the editing goes on. Once all the scenes are edited then I assemble them into a full cut of the show and this, after finessing scene transitions and so forth, becomes what is essentially the editor's cut.

[14] So to start with, you are given all the footage available for the episode at hand; then you sort through each and every bit of that; find out what you like and what you do not like with script in hand; and then assemble that as best as you are able to say "This is what I think the episode is supposed to represent"?

[15] Yes, essentially. What is interesting to me, in this particular context, is that you could take the four film editors on these shows, give them the same footage, and even though you would still get the same narrative, the shows would all look different because each editor has a different way of interpreting the material. That is not to say one way is better than another, it is simply to say there is more than one way to assemble the footage.

[16] Even so, we always talk about what is termed the ideal cut, which theoretically would be the one true way to put the material together to best show all its various elements off. But again, that is very subjective and very interpretive. Where HERCULES and XENA have an advantage is that Mr. Tapert has been able -- and I am going to hedge into this because it is going to sound braggadocious -- but he has managed to assemble -- and this is true of all the crew members from the bottom to the top of the production -- a very talented group of people. That is one of the reasons why the show is so successful, I suspect, because there are so many good people working at all the various levels.


[17] One of the things that I hear commented on with this show (XENA) that I do not hear with almost any other show is after an episode airs, you can get a comment on costuming, lighting, sound, cinematography, direction, in addition to the actors and the characters they play. You get more ancillary comment than you do with many other shows. People who watch it pay attention.

[18] There is much that goes into the shows and it is a concept that starts with the original mindset of Rob Tapert, the Executive Producer. His concept was to create and produce a television show that is not shot like a normal television show. These shows are shot like feature films. Obviously there are budget constraints that prevent us from having really lavish sets and really lavish costuming and hundreds and hundreds of extras, things of that nature. But in terms of approach, concept, and execution, they are very much shot like features in many different ways. In many ways, these shows are extremely ambitious for TV.

Seat belts.  I should have invented seat

Stunt work is hard, sometimes dangerous, and few people know who do it.

[19] The camera crews are very, very good. Donnie Duncan has been the D.P. (Director of Photography) for most of the episodes in season one and two. The stunt crew is one of the best in the business. Peter Bell is in charge of that. Every effort from every level of the production is to try to create something that is not like normal television. It is more like a feature film - but with obvious limitations. There are very few television shows that I am aware of that utilize principle first unit photography *and* a second unit crew. The second unit photography makes a big difference in the action sequences, and the small details and nuances in cut- aways and inserts. All shows use inserts and cut- aways of that nature, but having a second unit crew to go out and do it well, we get the extra footage that the editing teams need, and that is a rarity.

[20] This second group of people is entirely different than the first?

[21] Absolutely. They are an entirely separate crew.

[22] They film establishing shots, or...?

[23] The second unit crew will shoot a variety of different kinds of material. They do shoot establishing shots. The basic difference between first and second unit is that first unit shoots with the principle actors, and is directed by the main director of that episode. The second unit director, who in the second season has been a gentleman by the name of Andrew Merryfield , will go out with his own separate crew, and he will shoot establishing shots like a building or a mountain, someplace that will be traveled to, or he may use doubles of Lucy [Lawless] and Renee [O'Connor] traveling through the countryside if they are not available and that shot has not been done by main unit.

[24] They will shoot fight action with stunt doubles. First unit will shoot with the principle actors and the camera will be on the principle actors. For example, the camera will be shooting on Lucy as she is facing the camera and she may be fighting with a stunt double who would have his or her back to the camera, or the lead villain if he or she is up to doing that sort of physical action. The second unit crew will then shoot that same fight action from the reverse angles, say Lucy Lawless' stunt double from her rear, and likely the lead villain, who will now face the camera, because he is still available to shoot on that particular episode while Lucy and Renee will go off to film the next episode which he is not in. The second unit will also shoot other bits of action -- knives being thrust, swords being thrust, impacts of swords, punches, kicks to the stomach, whatever. It is the minutiae of detail that the second unit shoots that adds to the richness of the show.

[25] Second Unit sometimes will shoot entire scenes where the principle actors are not involved. This is a way to help maximize the efficiency of the first unit because the main unit director can devote his energies to the lead actors. It is also not uncommon for the editors to call down to New Zealand and make requests for specific pick-up shots that first or second unit either missed, or did not realize they had missed, that the editor needs to complete a sequence. One example of this occurs in A FISTFUL OF DINARS (#14) where Xena has jumped across the chasm to rescue Gabrielle on the rope bridge. Well, first and second unit did a good job of getting Gabrielle up the ladder, but they somehow forgot to move Lucy or her double. So, I had this problem where Xena is still hanging down on the middle of the ladder and the next cut, if I did not have the footage, would have been Petracles pulling her up to the top - which would have been a big jump cut. So, I told second unit what kind of shot I needed and they did a piece where they are relatively close on Lucy's double's feet and she climbs up out of frame which then integrated with the shot of Petracles pulling her up.

Who ordered the salmon?

A hastily dressed Xena swings a mean bunch of fish

[26] A kind of humorous example of this came from Rob Tapert. In ALTARED STATES (#19), we have a fight in the beginning of the show where Xena beats up a bunch of guys using what we called fish-chucks, which was basically a string of fish that she used to whomp on these guys. We kind of joked that they were fish num -chucks (sic). Anyway, Tapert called me after he watched the director's cut and said he needed to sell the fish better so I had second unit shoot a simple insert of the fish on the ground - a hand reaches in, grabs the string and pulls the fish up out of frame. It was really a minor detail, actually, but it certainly helped to clarify that it was fish that Xena was hitting the bad guys with - which may not have been as obvious in the wider shots.

[27] They are usually pretty cooperative about getting the footage that we want. Sometimes they cannot do it because of schedules or budget reasons, but they really do try. I have this interesting relationship with the second unit scheduler in New Zealand, Phee Phanshell is her name, and she knows whenever I call that I have some kind of problem. So the conversation normally begins with her asking me, "Ok, what do you want NOW?"

[28] So they will do also what people have come to know as chakram cam?

[29] Yes, I would say second unit would usually shoot the chakram cam, and they will shoot the chakram impact as well. The chakram itself, as it is careening off various buildings, walls, trees, and huts, not to mention people, will generally be added in CGI [Computer Graphic Images] by the special effects people after the fact. But what the second unit will do in the shooting is use a little squib that sparks. I will get a piece of film to edit with just a spark on it - say on a wall or tree. I will think "Oh, chakram hit," and that goes into the show and the effects people will add the chakram itself later.


[30] Do the special effects people get it after you have done your first cut? Or are they the last people to get it?

[31] I am going to go back to an earlier question you had then I will jump forward.

[32] The basic process is that the editor cuts his version of the show. Once the editor is finished, then the director of the episode comes in and he works with the editor for a period of time making whatever tweaks, changes, and so forth as he wants to get the show more in line with what he was hoping it would be. To my immense satisfaction, the directors I have worked with have been very kind to me in this respect. I have never seen any major restructuring of the show. They might want to see a different performance on a take, or they had something they really liked during production that they are not seeing, or if there is some extraneous bit of detail or action they thought was important but did not make it into the cut, we will go back and look for that kind of material and finesse the cut to something that is more in keeping with what they had in mind originally.

[33] From that point it goes to the producers for their input. The show usually gets locked pretty fast. The effects people get involved in pre-production and production. If a show is known to be special-effects-heavy from the outset, a lot of that pre-production has to be done in advance both for the shooting and the effects. Kevin O'Neill [Effects Supervisor] has a lot of input into what kinds of shots need to be gotten in production so they [the effects crew] can do what they need to do at the back end.

The skeeters are *big* here!

Xena faces a CGI Dryad, which was not even there when the episode was shot,

[34] A chakram being shot with a squib, an effect inserted later, that is a fairly simple device for them to work with. If they are adding CGI monsters, such as Dryads in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (#28), that becomes a much more complicated circumstance and the production staff needs to be made aware of what the special effects people require so that they can put those images into the show and have them look as realistic as possible. So the effects people are getting their say both at the outset and after the show is edited, normally after the director's cut. At this point we call in the effects people to go over all the various effects in the show as cut. That is when they start doing actual work on their computers.


[35] I imagine over time the process can get a little easier in that you might be able to reuse things.

[36] (hesitantly) In some cases, yes.

[37] Not much because you do not want to fall into something like cheap animation where they use the same backgrounds over and over again? But sometimes it might be suitable to reuse something.

[38] This is a very minor example, but there is a very particular shot of the chakram flying either from right to left or left to right that has possibly been seen over a hundred times. Because that is the one we have. It has been used so much, it has become an icon of its own, in a sense. It is like "Oh, yeah, the chakram flying shot." People just accept it and they do not really question it. Most of the effects are specific to an episode and cannot be recycled but some of the chakram shots can. Stock footage of locations and locales, such as Lucy riding on a horse and jumping over that same d**n log 500 times, that is a different story altogether. Sometimes these kinds of stock images get used over and over.

[39] There is also what we refer to as the New Zealand Tourist Board Mandatory Two Minutes because you get some glorious scenery in almost every episode.

[40] The scenery down there is gorgeous, there is no question about that. It is very rugged in some places, very lush and tropical in others. For a production company, it offers a veritable bounty of possibilities. It makes it fun for me as an editor because it is much better than looking at the walls of the editing room all day. I think, "Gee, I'd like to be there."

[41] Have you had a chance to go?

[42] No, because of the schedule of the show, the post- production crew basically works year-round, which is unusual for a television show. Normally, they will shoot for a period of time then go on hiatus and post-production goes on hiatus as well. XENA's shooting schedule goes all year except for a three month hiatus during New Zealand winters. One would think post-production would stop working during that time as well but generally the heavier effects shows are shot early in the season and then we have that three month gap to catch up and finish those shows off because the effects people -- indeed, all of us complain we do not get enough time to do what we need to do -- and the effects people are no exception to that. They need that extra time to complete their shots. Sometimes they have as little as one or two weeks to work on their effects for an episode, which will obviously have to be simplified. In the case of GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (#28), they had about two and half months to do their work for the Dryad sequences and that still was not quite enough because it was a complex show.


RUDNICK: [43] I notice also over time that there seems to be a teaming of sorts as regards writers and editors -- that sort of thing.

[44] I am not sure what you mean.

[45] I notice that you do most of the editing for the R. J. Stewart episodes. I was thinking, "Aha, this is a Callisto episode, I can almost guarantee R. J. Stewart wrote it and Robert Field edited it." I was wondering if that was deliberate.

[46] Let's put it this way: If there is a deliberate nature to that going on, I am not aware of it. I cannot say for certain if someone is sitting behind the scenes going "Oh, yeah, we will have R.J. write the Callisto and we will have Rob cut it." I do not think it is that simplified or that intentional. I could be wrong, but as I say, I have no awareness of that at all.

This chick is nuttier than a fruitcake

The demented and recently freed Callisto gives instructions
to her devoted lieutenant, Theodorus

[47] There seems to be a certain coincidental nature of that, though. It seemed for awhile I was being assigned to a lot of T. J. Scott's episodes, who directed CALLISTO (#22), RETURN OF CALLISTO (#29), and also GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (#28) all of which I cut, but Jim Prior, the other editor on the show, did IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (#24) and GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (#12), also T. J. Scott episodes. I believe it is just a matter of coincidence. Whether it is intentional coincidence or not, I do not know.

[48] I certainly do not complain when I get an R. J. Stewart script, or Steve Sears either, for that matter. Actually, I cannot complain about any of the writers. So I won't. (smiles)

[49] The way the shows are distributed between the other editor and myself are that he works on the odd numbered episodes and I work on the even numbered episodes. So however those scripts and directors get assigned to the production is how they fall into the editor's room. It seems to be fairly non-planned from what I can tell. Keep in mind that this numbering system is applied to production sequence and not necessarily broadcast order.

[50] So does he have an identical trailer setup to do his thing as well?

[51] Yes, except his editing room is much neater than mine.

[52] Is he one of those guys who knows where everything is at because he is very organized?

[53] He knows where everything is at because there is nothing in there. It is an interesting study in contrast. I am the king of clutter and he is the king of clean.


[54] Your mention of the ladder fight in CALLISTO (#22) brought this other question to my mind -- Are you a fan of any of the Hong Kong-type of martial arts films and does it influence you in any way?

[55] That is an interesting question because, while I am aware that the Asian action films have a great deal of influence on what we do, I have never really seen any of them. It is, shall I say, kind of a required course for the directors working on these shows. They will be sent a package of videotapes to view, which contain many Asian stunt tapes that Renaissance has compiled. It is a condensation of action sequences from these films as well as episodes of XENA or HERCULES depending on what show the director's going to work on. It is a very intentional approach to the shows, but it is not one that I have been steeped in. Basically, whatever style in terms of editing that XENA has developed, the perceptions have grown out of how the material is shot. I do not know if that answers your question -- maybe in a roundabout way.


[56] It does, it also leads into another area that I wanted to ask about which was how did you in fact get started doing editing?

[57] I will try to encapsulate this quickly. I started at Universal Studios in the feature trailer department. This is more years back than I am going to admit to. Trailers are previews of coming attractions.

[58] As opposed to the actual physical trailer that you work in?

[59] Precisely. When I was working in the trailer department, this guy called once and wanted to know why the trailer was not downtown where it was supposed to be. I guess he did not understand the nomenclature even though he was working in the industry. Trailers got their name from the fact that back in the silent days, when the movie theaters changed shows weekly, they would put a card at the end of the show that would advertise what next week's movie, short subject, double bill, whatever it was going to be. Those cards at the end of the program came to be known as trailers because they trailed the show that everybody was watching. Eventually the trailers became more sophisticated, became more involved, and they were moved to the front of the program where, to the average movie-goer, they became known as previews, but in the industry the name stuck. So they are still called trailers even though they do not trail anything.

Hey you! Yeah, Lady with the sword! Get your b*** over

Sam Raimi, director of DARKMAN and other "cult" films.

[60] I essentially worked in advertising for many, many, many years, and I probably worked on more than 500 campaigns in the course of...a lot of years. It was through that trailer-making that I actually made contact with Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi [Executive Producer] by working on a trailer for a movie they had done called DARKMAN (1990, Dir. Sam Raimi). I had worked in the trailer department for many years, left, and came back a few years later to actually be in charge of it. I ran it for seven and a half years. It was during this time I edited this trailer for DARKMAN. Even though I had met Sam Raimi once during that time, I had never met Rob Tapert. Sam, at our meeting, expressed to me that he was very happy with the trailer and kind of jokingly said he wished his movie was as good, which was quite a compliment.

[61] Skipping forward many years, I was leaving the studio and Rob Tapert was coincidentally producing the HERCULES movies for Universal. Initially there were only three of them. He was looking for someone to edit a prologue, which is essentially a main title prologue, for those movies. He contacted my boss looking for a suggestion of someone he might utilize. My boss, thankfully, recommended me to Mr. Tapert. I did the prologue for him and he was very happy with it. It was basically that circumstance which led to XENA because I had mentioned to Mr. Tapert at that time I was looking to do long form editing as opposed to trailer advertising. This was in March of 1994. At that time no one knew the HERCULES series was going to take off and certainly XENA had not even been thought of yet. Apparently the seed was planted and when XENA came along Rob Tapert gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to come to work on the show. Of course I said "Yes", even though who knew?

[62] To me, that is just another brick in the paving of the fact that the series is so cinematic. Not just in how it is filmed, but in the experience of everyone who helps make the show. You have more of a cinema background than a television background. Is this the first television you have edited?

[63] Yes. The advantage I have in trailer experience is that trailer editing tends to be very dynamic and usually quick. You only have a minute or two to sell an entire movie. You have to rely on the editing, as well as the concept of the advertising people and whatnot, to show things off to their best advantage. You learn to be very economical in your editing as well as having impact.

[64] That style of editing, I believe, is one of the reasons we are as successful as we are because it really works well for the action sequences. I am certainly not trying to take anything away from the other editors because they are very talented. But in my case, I think that training has been as asset.

[65] Is the work on XENA the only work you are doing at the moment? Do you have other projects or things you are doing in parallel?

[66] I try to sleep once in awhile, and hopefully get a golf game in occasionally. No, I work only on XENA, and believe me, that is plenty. Times vary from episode to episode, but it is an average of two weeks to do an assemblage of the episode. Then another week or two, generally, to lock it into the finished cut. It is about that length of time that the next show's dailies start rolling in. There is always an overlap -- and I would say this is true of the other editors as well -- there usually seems to be an average of three shows in the computer, all in various stages of completion. One show is rolling in; one show is waiting to be completed in the finishing stage, that is - waiting for opticals and special effects, and one show is in a limbo period between those two sections waiting for producers' notes. So, in a way, it becomes kind of a juggling act because the shows are in different stages of completion.

[67] Kind of makes it tough to take a holiday.

[68] A little bit.


[69] I was curious, from an editing point of view - -- or not even from an editing point of view but in general -- what are your favorite films or television shows? Is there anything that stands out as a pinnacle of the art or something you particularly appreciate?

[70] It is probably not fair of me to say but I am not a big television watcher. That has been my habit since graduating from college. It is ironic, I am not even sure I would watch XENA if I was not working on it, but I just don't watch much television, except for some sports or news, even though there are a lot of good shows out there. I know there is a contradiction there, but I have no explanation. I do have several favorite films, however, all for different reasons. They are all multi-varied and multi-leveled.

If zat guy Ares weren't in a tomb, ve vouldn't have lost ze

Peter Sellers as the spooky Dr. Strangelove.

[71] One of my favorite movies of all time in terms of being what I consider to be the most successful film I have ever seen on most levels is probably Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1963). Why that particular film, I do not know, but I cannot find any fault with it. I also love Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) for a lot of reasons. There are so many films, and filmmakers, that I admire that is really hard to single any of them out as the one. So, backing into your question in a more non-specific way, I think the film most successful for me, or television show for that matter, is when the execution of the production, and by that I mean the totality of what is there -- set design, costuming, acting, writing, cinematography, lighting, editing, scoring, everything that makes that piece of film or television what it is -- where everything seems effortless and correct. Where nothing draws attention to itself and where nothing seems out of place. Obviously, that is a very difficult thing to achieve.

[72] What I am referring to is that seamless integration of the environment, whatever it happens to be, where you, as a viewer, get pulled into that and carried with it, and do not think about it. Many people have said that working in the industry probably ruins you for watching any kind of show and I say "Yes, if it is not working." But if it is working, if I just get pulled along by the story and forget that I am watching something, then I know it is successful. Whether or not I personally help do that on XENA, I do not know. But that is what I strive for, to have what I do remain invisible to the viewer so they do not have to think about what I am doing. They just watch the show.


[73] Do you keep around any editor's cuts of episodes that might be different from what aired or that you particularly like or are particularly close to?

[74] Every cut that is made is kept because that is just how we do it. Every editor's cut is kept, every director's cut is kept, and every producer's cut is kept, merely as a record. I do not know of any instance where we have had to go back to any of those cuts.

[75] Do I feel that my editor's cut was better than anything that was aired? No. Do I feel that there are things that I have missed? On rare occasions, but by and large most of the changes done to the shows have always been improvements. There is nothing to complain or quibble about.

[76] My publisher and boss, Kym Taborn, wanted me to ask if you can be bribed to share any of those editor's cuts with anybody, say at conventions and such.

[77] (smiles) Well, I would have to think about that. The bribery part certainly appeals. (both laugh)

[78] Whether or not I have anything to share is another matter entirely. As I said earlier in the interview, I have been very lucky in the sense that most of the cuts that I have done have not been terribly or dramatically restructured. Obviously there is always going to be something I may disagree with what a producer or director is asking for, and if I feel strongly about it I will fight tooth and nail. But I have a rule of threes on that which is I will only fight three times, and if I am still not getting my way, then I back off. But I do not think that any of those changes have been a mistake or wrong because the kind of work we do is too subjective or interpretational. Just because I would like to see it done one way does not mean it is the best way or the right way. That is just my instincts on it. I cannot recall offhand of anything making it into a cut that I thought was a huge mistake.


Who's the tagalong wannabe NOW?

Gabrielle doing her Xena impersonation

[79] On sort of a related topic, do you have any particular instances that stand out or shine as a personal accomplishment where after the fact you look at it and say "That's really good. I really like the way that turned out."

[80] (A voice from the adjoining room, where Mr. Field's assistant toils, calls out "GREATER GOOD!")

[81] Although I have edited a number of shows I am very fond of, THE GREATER GOOD (#21) is probably still my personal favorite. Not so much because of what I did, although I feel I contributed to the overall success of the show, it is just that it worked so well on so many different levels. The comedy was good, the action was good, and the dramatic scenes worked very well. From a sense of overall satisfaction, that was one of my favorite episodes.

[82] Even though it does not have much action in it except at the very beginning, A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) is also one of my favorite episodes because it was just so much fun to cut.


[83] It is safe to say in terms of fan reaction that A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) ranks in general as one of *the* all-time favorite episodes.

[84] Well, it certainly generated a lot of discussion, didn't it? As for it being one of the all-time favorite episodes, I cannot really say. I know many people have objected to certain aspects of it. There is a certain contingent of fans of the show who prefer Lucy to keep Xena's character within a certain confine -- which is more laconic, more dark, and not playful. A writer friend of mine was not happy at all with that show because he felt Xena's character ballooned over what it should be -- it became too large, too broad. My feeling about that is Xena can be whatever Xena wants to be. (laughs) And that is true no matter what she is doing, jumping backwards up a tree or being zanier than normal. Obviously, this is a choice of the producers and the writers and how Ms. Lawless interprets her character for that episode. [85] A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) was rare. In all of the episodes I have worked on there have been gratifying moments and there have always been struggles or footage that does not cut properly or that is difficult to work with. There is always a battle going on. Somehow A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) was one of those rarities where the whole thing was just a delight to work on from beginning to end. The first cut took a week and a half, which is very fast. I have only had one other episode done that quickly which was A SOLSTICE CAROL (#33).

Again with the fish jokes

Those able to get to a convention where Robert Field is appearing will enjoy a reel he brings with him -- every take of Gabrielle being whacked in the head by fish
from A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39).

[86] It was one of those happy events where basically my first cut pretty much coincided with Michael Hurst's [director of A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)] intention. He never even came to the cutting room. Part of that was due to the fact that he was down in New Zealand and not able to fly to L.A. so we collaborated by telephone. He also sent a little mini-cassette that I played in my cassette recorder, and that is how he sent me his notes. I did one pass through his notes, sent it back to him, and the next thing I know I was off finishing the producer's cut. So, all in all, it was a pretty satisfying experience.


[87] Of course, CALLISTO (#22), is always going to be up there. It was probably the most difficult episode of all of them because of the complexity and the amount of footage that was shot.

[88] I understand that the ladder fight sequence was extraordinarily complex.

[89] Yes, it was. We can talk about the computer for a second... [Mr. Field brings up some file icons on his MAC] Generally speaking...

[90] What kind of system do you use again?

[91] AVID, which is basically software, on a Macintosh platform. AVID is a company back in Tewksbury Massachusetts, which is probably not too far from you. Each scene gets its own bin [he points out a number of thumbnails which show one frame from each take]. However many clips were shot for the scene will go into its scene bin. These little frame clips can be made big and easy to see or pretty small and hard to make out. This will give you an idea of how big the ladder fight in CALLISTO (#22) was. Each one of these bins [he illustrates] will hold whatever you put into it. I had seven full bins for the ladder fight sequence, and all of the clips were this size [the smallest size the clip can be] and each bin was completely filled. Imagine seven of those. These takes here [he points] are part of an action sequence and there are one, two, three...there could be eighteen clips in this bin and then maybe 40 to 50 clips for the whole action sequence, which is still pretty complex. Now imagine several times that. I really thought T. J. Scott was trying to put me into an early grave with that one.


[92] When they shoot these scenes, do they only have one camera going at any given time?

[93] Generally speaking, there is only one camera going at any given time. Sometimes in dialogue scenes or fight scenes they will shoot two cameras, an A camera and a B camera. One camera will be getting the close-up footage and the other will be getting wider shots. So, the editor has a choice of two angles from the same action. Shooting with two cameras this way is also a good way to maximize efficiency while on the set.

[94] If you look at this take here [he demonstrates showing a scene where Gabrielle is fighting with her staff] this is the A camera which is closer to the action and then the B camera [he demonstrates showing more of the action that captures both Gabrielle and the person attacking her] shows a wider view. As you can see they are both shooting at the same time. This is a situation where the first unit shot both angles of the fight. The reverse angle on Gabrielle and the guy that attacks her, was also shot by main unit, except that is Gabrielle's stunt double.

[95] First and second unit are shooting on the same set but not at the same time. If you look at the lighting on this take, it is fairly bright so it looks to me like mid-morning. This 2nd unit stunt action seems to be a little later in the day because of the shadow.


You want a piece of me?  Huh?  Don't mess with *this*
Amazon, buster!

Fight scenes without the sounds have little life.
(Gabrielle whapping Draco
in A COMEDY OF EROS (#46).

[96] What we just heard during the fight scene, is this the actual sound you get on the tape when it was filmed?

[97] Yes, that is the sound that was recorded on location during production. In the case of fight scenes, punches and sword clangs are all added later.

[98] Is this all done by a foley artist, or an entirely different person? Or by you?

[99] No, by the sound effects people. It could be a foley artist or it could be a sound effects editor using pre-existing sounds. When somebody punches someone they are not actually hitting something. Television punches do not sound like real punches. A real punch is kind of a thuddy sound, whereas a television sound effects punch is a little more like this [he demonstrates, using a pre-recorded effect that sounds like a whoosh and a smack, rather than a "hit meat with fist" thud].

[100] All the sound work is done by other people and that includes foley, music editing, and so forth. I put temporary sound effects in the shows just to help sell the action and make it a little more exciting. But the sound effects I use do not go into the final show.

[101] Are the sounds you put in tagged in some way so that it is just a neat replace when it comes time to do that?

[102] No, the sound crew basically works from scratch. All of the dialogue in the show is replaced by going back to the original DAT's (digital audio tapes) which is what is recorded on the set - or re-recorded during an ADR (automated dialogue replacement). For example, let's say Lucy and Renee are out on location in a forested area and during the take a plane flies overhead. For whatever reason, this is either the best take or maybe the only take. Well, they did not have planes back in Xena's Greece, despite some of the obvious liberties we take with historical accuracy, so the dialogue is re-recorded in a studio by the actors in synch to the picture and this new dialogue goes into the show. All of the other sound work is also done from scratch which includes editing and putting in all the sounds effects not recorded during production, which includes sword clangs or a mystical appearance from a god or vocal commentaries from Argo, which I always get a kick out of. Some sound effects are either from pre-existing sounds, like say a punch, or created by the sound people. Apparently, the sound of the chakram flying and hitting objects is created by the combination of a lot of different sounds and the sounds are re-made every time a new show is done because the sound people give the chakram different sound characteristics depending on what it is doing. Do not ask me what they do. They guard some of these things like Heinz guards his ketchup recipe or Coke guards their formula. The music that Joe LoDuca has scored for the episode is edited and placed into the show. Then, all of this sound is mixed down to create what we hear when the show airs.

[103] And this brings me back to a point I made earlier and that is the idea that these shows are done like feature films. Every effort is made at the sound level to make the show sound as rich and textured as possible and I cannot think of too many TV shows that go as far as we do soundwise. They do a marvelous job in this respect. That work is done by a company called Digital Sound and Picture and they are essentially supervised by Bernie Joyce.

[104] It is not even done here at Universal?

[105] No, it is an outside contractor. They do the sound work, editing, and mixing. [Mr. Field shows a fight scene with and without sound effects to illustrate the difference.] You can see how it loses its life without the sound. The funny thing is that even psychologically, if you have somebody swing at someone and they miss, you can see that it is a miss, but if you put the sound effect of the punch in, the brain makes the connection visually that they actually connected. It is a weird, psycho-acoustic phenomenon.

[106] I have noticed too that there are many scenes in XENA where, for example, Gabrielle will quickly turn her head and you hear this kind of whoosh sound.

[107] (with a perfectly straight face) That actually happens. She actually makes that sound.

[108] (taken in for a split second) (laughs)

[109] (breaking into a smile) It is a very strange phenomenon. It goes against the laws of physics, but nevertheless, we have even known Renee to have eyebrow whooshes.


Renee O'Connor, whooshes and all.

[110] Not to mention the bowling ball sounds in FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (#40).

[111] I am not familiar with the bowling ball sounds. But that is okay.

[112] You did not edit FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (#40)?

[113] No, I did not. That is one of the few episodes I have not seen. Let me show you a little more of this fight scene.

[114] [Mr. Field runs a scene both raw and cut, demonstrating that cutting back and forth between action can add energy to the scene, as opposed to just seeing the entire bit from only one angle. Xena, Joxer, and Gabrielle are in quite a melee. "Step aside," Joxer declares, attempting to protect Gabrielle. "I'm gonna put some moves on this guy! Hoo, hah, hoo, hah!" Joxer has a ways to go before he gives Jackie Chan a run for his money.]

[115] Let me show you a funny blooper from that scene.

[116] [Gabrielle and a stunt person are fighting. At one point the stunt person forgets what he is supposed to do next. Renee makes an adorable grin, laughs, and points to her stomach as if to say "You're supposed to hit me here."]


[117] Another thing we were going to talk about was the Internet and your reaction to the fact that you are one of the first people from the show who has gotten on-line and stayed on-line for quite awhile.

[118] It was an evolutionary process. I have had a computer since back in 1982 when I got my first Apple II plus. I was fascinated by this cheesy little box where I could go buy an adventure game and go through some haunted house which was nothing more than white line drawings on a black screen [Note: I believe Mr. Field is referring to the classic "Beneath Apple Manor" game, an historic icon]. The idea that somebody could figure out how to make a mystery -- I found that to be a lot more entertaining than the standard Nintendo television video games people were playing with at the time. And, of course, once I became familiar with the other things a computer could do -- word processing and financial programs -- things that could make my life easier, that was something of interest to me. So, I have been into computers for a long time.

[119] What initially came about on XENA was the discovery of the MCA XENA NetForum and the MCA XENA Website . The idea of being able to go there and see fan reaction to the shows as soon as they were seeing them was of inordinate interest to me. I spent 20 years in movie advertising where I had no interaction with anybody who may or may not have viewed the material other than to read market research reports. Suddenly here was a way I, as someone who was working on the show, could see other people's reaction to the work almost instantaneously. So to me there was a great appeal to that in the sense it was immediate feedback.

[120] Most of it was positive and of course that did not hurt any for somebody starting out on their first show. What ended up coming out of that was reading about these XENA chats, real-time chats, on America On-line. It initially started to be every other Sunday and that fell away pretty quickly and became every Sunday. So here was interaction on an even more immediate level because it was not reading something fans of the show had written, it was actually responding to people who enjoy the show in a conversational way. I enjoyed it every bit as much as they did.

[121] They enjoyed the fact that someone working on the show was interested enough to come to talk with them and answer questions, and maybe tease them with little spoilers, just as much as I was interested in getting their feedback and finding out what they liked and disliked as well as teasing and having fun with them.

[122] It started off and pretty much still is a lot of fun. But for me the primary appeal was having immediate reactions to the show which hopefully I could utilize and make the shows better.

[123] Without getting into specifics, do you have a sense that other people who work on the show that read this kind of commentary, whether that has any influence in what direction the show takes or how things are done in any way?

[124] I cannot answer that question from the standpoint of immediate knowledge because I am not party to writer's meetings or script conferences or the meetings between the producers and the writers to determine the direction the show is going to go in. But I would say that it is fairly evident, at least from my estimation, that things that are being discussed and things that people are reading or are getting passed to them from the Internet community are finding their way into the show, one way or another, even if it is just in subtle, small ways.

All *right*!

Minya: Every Fan
in A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)

[125] There are a lot of fans who picked up on the fact that in A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) for example, the characters of Minya and Hower seem to be kind of loosely based on generic, albeit slightly fringish, XENA fans. I believe that is probably true. The show kind of pokes fun at itself and at its audience all at the same time and having fun with it all.

[126] There was a lot of discussion on the internet at one time about how all of Gabrielle's paramours ended up dying. She makes specific reference to that fact in BLIND FAITH (#42) by saying "All the guys I end up with wind up dead" in that show. I cannot say for certain that the internet discussion is why that line got written, but it seems like a pretty safe speculation. So, I would say yes, it appears that some of this stuff is filtering back.

Continued next month

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