×

Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His ‘Pavarotti’ Documentary Sing

Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in history. The movie, which opened on June 7, features seminal performances by the late tenor as well as intimate interviews, including never-before-seen footage and appearances by such fans as Princess Diana, Bono, Nelson Mandela, Spike Lee, Kofi Annan, Stevie Wonder and Sting.

To craft the film, Howard reteamed with “The Beatles” project editor Paul Crowder and co-producer Nigel Sinclair, who were involved from the start, says the director. “As with the Beatles film, it really helps to have an editor who’s very musical,” Howard says, “and Paul, who’s also a director, brings all that: his musicality, sense of rhythm and pace.”

Crowder, a musician in his own right, also helmed the docs “The Last Play at Shea,” chronicling the Billy Joel concert that served as the final bow for the former home of the New York Mets, and “Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who,” a look at the rise of the legendary British rock band.  

Pavarotti’s life has this natural three-act arc,” explains Crowder, “the opera star, the ‘Three Tenors’ star [with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras] and his philanthropic work. And we wanted to tie in the natural intense emotion of opera to his real life, and present the film in an operatic way.” But the editing challenge, Crowder adds, was that opera isn’t like rock ’n’ roll. “It’s changing all the time, and you can’t treat it like rock, which tends to just repeat verses and choruses. Musically, it’s far more complex, and it’s far more taboo to cut an aria, say, than to shorten a pop song. You can’t step on the lyric either.”

Crowder and team solved this problem by finding pieces of music throughout the film that matched the theme at any given moment. He adds, “We discovered that by also using some instrumental opera music, it allowed us to feature the lyrics when necessary.”

When adding lyrics to one instrumental musical section that was subsequently screened for Howard, the crew came upon the happy realization that providing subtitles added a great deal of power to the performance. “Up till that point, I hadn’t paid that much attention to the lyrics,” Crowder allows, “but after this, it became a key part of the film.”

Howard explains that with documentaries, there’s the added challenge of working without a script. “You kind of start with these buckets, where you collect ideas, and the editor isn’t necessarily trying to weave it all together yet,” he says. “He’s looking at themes, ideas, sequences, and at footage and quotes that might serve those aspects.”

Crowder, who cut on Avid at his home studio, worked closely with assistant editor Sierra Neal to deliver the director’s vision. “She helped me pick the music for the whole film and was also co-music supervisor with me,” he says. “We always kept moving forward and only got fiddly with stuff later on.” 

In taking a long look at the project, Sinclair says that Crowder “edits like a painter. He’s very fluid and layers in lots of detail, which perfectly suits the music and the film.” 

More Artisans

  • American Factory

    'American Factory' Editor Had to Cut Down 2,000 Hours of Footage

    Editor Lindsay Utz admits filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert never fully counted the hours of footage shot for the Oscar-nominated documentary “American Factory,” but she puts it close to 2000 hours. Utz pored over the footage that Bognar and Reichert had spent over three years filming and whittled the story down to just under [...]

  • Cinematographer Roger Deakins poses for a

    Roger Deakins Wins ASC Award for '1917'

    Roger Deakins has won the top feature award from the American Society of Cinematographers. The win for “1917” marked his fifth win from the society. The evening kicked off with the ASC Opening reel highlighting cinematography, followed by the first award of the night for Documentary. “Joker” director Todd Phillips presented the inaugural Documentary Award [...]

  • Tesla Movie Sundance

    Five Artisans Talk About Their Work on Buzzy Sundance Titles

    At this year’s Sundance, 118 features will make their debut. Here are five hotly anticipated films that will be in the mix and some of the artisans behind them.  Bad Hair (Midnight) Costume designer Ceci reconnects with Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) on a satirical horror set in 1989 Los Angeles, where ambitious Anna (Elle [...]

  • Joker Movie

    Make-Up Artist Nicki Ledermann on the Stages of 'Joker' Face

    When “Joker” make-up artist Nicki Ledermann came on board, she had some ideas in mind for the film and presented mock-ups to director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix — and both Phillips and Phoenix had already played around with ideas and showed Ledermann photos. “I had to take the design and it was up [...]

  • Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California,

    Alison Small Set to Lead Training for Netflix in U.K. (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alison Small, CEO of The Production Guild of Great Britain, is in discussions to join Netflix as head of its training initiatives out of the U.K., Variety has learned. The Production Guild, whose members include line producers, production managers and location managers, among others, advertised for a new CEO last week. Its chair is Alex [...]

  • The Gentlemen Costume Design

    How Costume, Production Pros Used Class Style to Define Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’

    For Guy Ritchie’s newest crime-meets-action film “The Gentlemen,” about an American drug kingpin living in Britain and trying to sell his business, the director turned to his “Aladdin” team of costume designer Michael Wilkinson and production designer Gemma Jackson. But the backgrounds and looks they created had less to do with Arabian Nights than with [...]

  • Frozen 2 Rocketman Avengers Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Frozen 2,' 'Rocketman' Take Top Honors at Lumiere Awards

    “Frozen 2” led the Advanced Imaging Society’s Lumiere Awards on Wednesday. The hit Disney sequel was honored with three Lumieres for immersive animated feature film, original song and use of HDR. Director Jennifer Lee was on hand to accept the prizes during a ceremony at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. The Advanced Imaging Society [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content