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‘Rocketman’: Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing ‘I’m Still Standing’

Framing The Scene: The Importance of the Perfect Ending

Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video for the movie. However, the shooting schedule didn’t allow for the planned ending.

It was back to the drawing board for ideas until they perfected the scene.

Editing “I’m Still Standing”

There’s a little complicated story to that sequence. The end of the film was always written more or less as it’s played in the film. But, we had this idea where Elton was reunited with his younger self as a child in rehab. They embrace and hug.

In the scene, he hugs his younger self, he feels better and puts his hat on and sings the song.

We were going to go to Cannes and reshoot the “I’m Still Standing” video completely from scratch. We were going to do the elaborate dancing and go on the beach. By the time, they were filming — around this time last year– the light and weather had changed. They had decided to not shoot that sequence there.

We wanted to save money. We weren’t going to get it at this time of year. We were going to wait for the weather to get better and decide if we really needed it.

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We played with different ideas for the ending. We ended up storyboarding and decided “What if he doesn’t go to Cannes and just bursts out into an auditorium?” There was a great idea that he would dance on top of people’s hands and carry on singing the song. That was the idea that stuck. We ended up shooting that sequence with a crowd and it was very elaborate. I put it all together and it was actually very difficult to do.

When we screened it, people didn’t like it very much. It’s less of an editing problem but more of a filmmaking problem. We couldn’t decide what the best ending would be. The idea eventually came from a producer who loved the idea of Cannes, but rather than going there, getting the original video and putting Taron into it. So, that’s what we did. We researched it, and we asked the director of the video for this. We got the original dailies that they shot in the ’80s and rather than just have the same video, I did a re-edit. I cut it down. We realized we didn’t need the full three minutes of it. I took the best bits and cut the music a bit. We had all the shots, and we shot Taron very precisely doing exactly the same actions as Elton did in 1983 and we did it shot for shot.

In terms of editing, it was complex because you had to get it right. People who remember the video, think, “Oh wow this is great.” We put him into the same background. People who don’t remember the video just think it’s fun.

Editing the film or the numbers?

I think about it a whole rather than each particular sequence as a song — even in a film like this which is like a slightly twisted musical with fantastical elements. Every sequence within it we treated differently stylistically and editing wise.

The most difficult thing about it was that the film had beautifully realized musical sequences and in between, we were telling a colorful kitchen sink story about Elton growing up and becoming a young man. The difficulty with editing that was identifying those elements. In an early version, we settled into those areas where he was a child for too long. We ended up losing what the film was. It was a musical with a heightened reality. The real work was to focus on between the musical numbers, but also the numbers themselves. They had to be adjusted and cut down, so they didn’t outstay their welcome. This happened from “The Bitch Is Back.” It was much longer in the original version and we needed to cut it down because it was more of an introduction to the film rather than a music number by itself. That was the main work. That involved cutting down the sequences between musical scenes but working on the transitions so you never felt the film stopped when the music stopped.

I worked with the composer and Dexter to add a score in between those pieces so we had the idea that it was a musical fantasy rather than reality. Every single song in the film, Elton as a little boy is imagining he’s conducting an orchestra in his bedroom. Originally, that was shot much longer to a real classical piece. He’s conducting Tchaikovsky. We got a real orchestra in and he played it in sync with the music. I edited it to that music, but as we were going through the editing, we had a suggestion that maybe classical wasn’t the right way to go. If it’s his fantasy, do we just change it to a classical version of Rocketman? This is a great idea, but I have to go and use the same material and I had to reedit it to that music. It’s a great example of how we adjusted the elements within the film to keep the idea of this fantasy together within the film.

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