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‘Rats’ Editor/Composer Brought Smart Cuts, Creepy Music to Morgan Spurlock’s Doc

To create “Rats,” his ode to the ubiquitous rodent, director Morgan Spurlock combined horror and documentary filmmaking.

One of his first moves was to contact Emmy-winning editor and composer Pierre Takal, with whom he had previously worked on “Morgan Spurlock Inside Man,” to help nail down the feel of the educational thriller.

Takal was thrilled to reunite with Spurlock, and when he began reviewing the footage, he suggested a compositional tone that the director immediately embraced — one that would make audiences squirm.

“We decided on a synth-heavy style,” Takal says. “It contrasts with what’s expected from a documentary, and heightens the discomfort level.”

Takal spent three months editing, a task that included studying early rat footage, in search of a storyline. While segments that were shot in New York and England made the cut, he found that beautiful cinematography highlighting Paris’ sewage system didn’t propel the narrative. Likewise, narration provided by a New York City rat catcher was scrapped, but the man himself was so compelling that he was used as a recurring character in the story.

“Rats” ultimately begins with the overpopulation of rodents in New York City, and travels around the world where the rodents are not only considered disease-spreading agents, but are alternately bought as a culinary delicacy, hunted and stuffed, and worshiped in India’s Temple of Rats.

As Takal wove the individual story threads into a cohesive whole, Spurlock periodically visited the edit room to review progress and offer direction. Inspired by the editing in MTV spots during the early ’90s, Takal created rapid-fire montages to heighten tension. The device was used to depict the infestation of an upscale New York City apartment, and to show rats roaming through underground drainage pipes.

Takal also developed the score. Utilizing two keyboards, he created a soundscape that pulses in the lower register, and then layered other, diverse musical styles on top of that. Pleased with the score’s outcome, Spurlock had it published separately — a first in Takal’s composing career.

In addition to “Rats,” Takal served as editor on the award-winning “The Eagle Huntress,” which chronicles the regimen of a 13-year-old girl who participates in the male-dominated job of hunting with an eagle. To Takal, the process of editing the two films was not that different.

“Everything has a story,” he says. “‘Rats’ was daunting at first — it was very loose, and I wanted it cohesive. In the sum of all my reactions, the story came out.”

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