A key sequence in David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” took more than a year to work on in the editing room. Not only did the director-editor have to define the movie’s character arcs, but he had to build tension and set up the epic quest that propels the story.
Lowery, who also directed and edited “A Ghost Story,” takes on ghosts again in his latest film, which bows in theaters July 30. But this time he adds giants, thieves and even talking foxes as he puts a fantastical, visionary spin on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Dev Patel stars as the young Sir Gawain, the king’s nephew who sets out on a quest to confront the title character. Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander co-star. Based on the epic 14th-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” it’s a coming-of-age tale that Lowery transforms into a striking odyssey.
The action begins with a Christmas Day gathering. The king is giving a sermon to his knights before the Green Knight enters with a challenge and quest. The brash Gawain bravely takes it on — beheading the knight.
“Initially, we had three days to shoot, and it turned into five,” says Lowery. “If you look at the script, it’s not that long — five pages — but there are little scenes within that.”
His first stab at editing the sequence in June 2019 resulted in a 20-minute version. But he walked away and took another attempt. “We didn’t have that much coverage — whether it was a reaction shot or a wide shot,” he says. He couldn’t do any reshoots because of the pandemic, so his solution was to use shots from other parts of the scene and piece them in. “It’s really a testament to how many ways you can put together the same few pieces of footage,” he says.
His other challenge was to establish the sequence’s rhythm, balancing King Arthur (Sean Harris) walking around the table with Morgan le Fay (Sarita Choudhury) casting her spell — before sending the Green Knight to the grand hall. “It was about finding the right cadence of his voice intercut with the imagery of the spell,” explains Lowery.
With the film’s release postponed a year due to COVID, he spent months refining the scene, building momentum and punctuating key points. Finally, in October, he had the roughly five-minute version he wanted: “It was all about building up to the door bursting open and the knight walks in.”