‘Rogue One’ Crafts Crew Helped Make ‘Star Wars’ Spinoff More Intimate

Box office juggernaut “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” continues to fill theaters — but will its gravitational pull also apply to awards-season trophies?

The film offers up some fascinating crafts stories that could make it a contender in many below-the-line categories — especially cinematography, sound, and editing — all of which director Gareth Edwards was intimately involved with.

“He was very hands on, picking up the camera a lot during filming,” says production sound mixer Stuart Wilson. “Gareth wanted a documentary feel to the film, and to shoot in a style where the cameras could start and stop unannounced,” to add intimacy to an intergalactic tale.

To this end, Wilson and cinematographer Greig Fraser devised a setup that eliminated conventional slates to begin action, using a time-code-based system to sync everything. Red tally lights were removed from the cameras because “we didn’t want the actors to notice when they were rolling … so we could catch moments of spontaneity or exhaustion. You’re seeing real emotions on their faces,” notes the mixer.

For Wilson, this meant using lavaliers and overhead booms, and planting mics on the set to record the performances of the ensemble cast and the 30-plus creatures designed by creature effects specialist Neal Scanlan. “They were rigged for their dialogue but also for [supervising sound editor] Matthew Wood and his team so they could go into the tracks and bring the audience closer to the characters by bringing up their breathing or action sounds.”

Shooting took place primarily at Pinewood Studios near London, but also at locations elsewhere in England, and Iceland, Jordan, and the Maldives, which stood in for Planet Scariff, where the final battle takes place.

“That fight sequence at times was huge, and involved hundreds of crew; at other times it was small and intimate,” recalls Wilson. The final moments, where the characters played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna sit alone on a shore, required no more than a crew of seven.

“It was shot on an island, and only one boat agreed to take us after dark,” Wilson explains. “It took three nights for an hour or so at sunset to shoot, and I was on my own doing sound.”

While Wilson recorded the spine of the audio, Wood and sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Christopher Scarabosio and the post sound team mapped all the dialogue, effects, and music together.

“It was important for us to build a track that stood on its own, but still have it feel like ‘Star Wars’ sound,” says Wood.

To refine the epic’s visual rhythm, editor John Gilroy was brought in to rethink what editors Jabez Olssen and Colin Goudie had put in place.

“They wanted a fresh pair of eyes to set up the characters differently,” Gilroy says. “The movie has such a huge scale, but for me it was really about the intimacy in the film. I didn’t want it to get lost in the backdrop of this space epic.”

Gilroy understood that the picture revolved around Jones’ rebel leader, what happened to her as a child, and the people she interacts with.

“We’re always trying to keep in mind the characters’ motivations and what you need to do to breathe three-dimensionality into them,” he says. “You have to let them be honest with the other players or you’ll lose your audience.”

The editing also aimed to vary pace and action. In a final scene, Darth Vader clashes with the Rebel army in order to retrieve the stolen plans of the Death Star.

“It was an itch everyone wanted to scratch, to see Darth Vader kick ass,” Gilroy says. “But it also does something very clever by taking you out of this emotional sadness from the previous scene and leads you into this surprise at the end.”

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