Though I recently discovered a flair for fantasy football, my knowledge of the actual sport leaves much to be desired. But after watching Draft Day, I have an appreciation for what goes on behind the gridiron, especially on a day where any one of the thirty-two NFL teams can change the careers of young athletes forever.
Director Ivan Reitman pulls back the curtain on the NFL draft, as experienced by Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), general manager (GM) of the Cleveland Browns. Editors Sheldon Kahn, ACE and Dana E. Glauberman, ACE collaborated with one another to chart a masterful story that whirlwinds us into the high emotional stakes and tension of the draft’s first day.
As the narrative unfolds, we find out team owner Harvey Molina (Frank Langella) has witnessed Cleveland’s misfortunes for far too long. He makes it clear to Sonny that if he can’t turn the team around, his tenure is in jeopardy.
With the pressure mounting, Sonny’s draft day starts with Seattle Seahawks GM Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) offering the first overall pick to the Browns. The trade gives him free rein to choose undisputed top selection, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), or other possible picks like outside linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and legacy running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), whose father played for the Browns.
Sonny’s left facing tough choices not just on the draft board, but in his personal life as well. A romance with his football savvy colleague, Ali (Jennifer Garner), takes a baby-bump turn, and he copes with the grief and guilt of his father’s passing, made worse by an unexpected visit from his feisty mother, Barb (Ellen Burstyn).
Thanks to unprecedented cooperation from the NFL, Draft Day is filled with real life aspects of the football world. This includes actual teams, logos, and a star-studded roster of current players, Hall of Famers, analysts, and sports media figures. Principal photography even touted Radio City Music Hall in New York City during the real 2013 NFL Draft.
Using Avid Media Composer, Kahn and Glauberman instinctively shaped their artistic storytelling with the guidance of their director and the assistance of their team. The two sat down with us to share their craft.
How did you first become involved with Draft Day?
Sheldon Kahn: I have been working with director Ivan Reitman’s films since his days on Ghostbusters. I’ve edited all but one of his pictures from 1984 to Draft Day.
Dana Glauberman: I have a long history with both Shelly and Ivan. I was Shelly’s assistant on five movies from the mid-1990’s to early 2000, most of which Ivan directed and/or produced. And in 2011, I edited No Strings Attached, which Ivan directed. So when Ivan called me a few weeks prior to wrapping production on Draft Day to ask if I was available to join Sheldon in editing the film, I was honored and of course said yes. It was so great for me to be able to collaborate with two people who I learned so much from.
Did you reference any other sports movies like Any Given Sunday before your edit?
Kahn: This movie, to me, is not like any other sports films out there, and that stemmed from what Ivan captured on set. He even shot footage during an actual NFL draft to support the narrative. Draft Day takes place in one day and is about the behind the scenes dealings by the team’s GM, played by Kevin Costner.
Since the film is credited with two editors, can you talk about who handled what and how?
Glauberman: I didn’t join the team until a few weeks prior to production ending, and much of the film had already been cut by Sheldon. Once I started, Sheldon continued to cut many of the scenes involving the actual draft, and I focused on scenes that involved more intimate dialogue. Once we were done with production and started working with Ivan, it was divided simply: Shelly worked on the odd number reels and I worked on the even number reels.
After you received your first dailies, did you start cutting right away, or did you wait for more of the story to come in? How do you like working?
Kahn: I like to start editing as soon as the first dailies come in, so I can send a cut to Ivan and let him know how it is going. This way I can get input from him as to how he sees the focus on what I have put together.
Since Ghostbusters, this has been how we work, and it has been very successful for both of us. Most of the time we see eye-to-eye, or at times, he’ll give me an idea or I may give him an idea, or all of a sudden we both come up with a third idea together, and that third idea is usually what ends up on the screen.
Glauberman: It’s difficult for me to articulate how we pace, or add tension, to scenes. Much of it for me is instinctual. But a lot of it also has to do with the collaboration between the actors and the director on set. Ivan does an amazing job getting the performances that he needs in order to tell the story. And Kevin delivers. So much of the tension created and emotions that are felt already exist in the takes. So we really just have to pick the best takes and go from there.
Early, Sonny receives a phone call from Seattle Seahawks GM Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit), where he offers Sonny the first overall draft pick. How did you create the moving split screens to show the tension between the two managers?
Kahn: We have many split screens in the movie, as so much of the draft day dealing does take place on the phone between teams and players. We cut each side separately, and then melded them together using simple split screen effects from Avid, making adjustments to the edit so the audience’s eye doesn’t gets confused.
Glauberman: Exactly. We try to select the best performances while still staying true to and telling the story. So in the case of all of the split screens, we did just that. Once we edited the conversations, we would then turn that scene over to Gareth Smith and Jenny Lee from Smith Lee Design, and they took the split screens a step further with their creation.
Kahn: When I saw what Gareth and Jenny had created for us I was elated, as we have many phone calls in the movie and the effects they created made the scenes so much more interesting.
Another split screen sequence takes place between Sonny and draft pick Vontae Mack while they’re both driving in separate cars. How did you edit this scene to establish Vontae’s personality and his friendship with Sonny?
Kahn: Sometimes when you see dailies, you smile, as you know that the given material just works perfectly. This was the case here. You could easily get the personality of Vontae and his relationship with Sonny no matter how you edit it. By the way, it was Chadwick Boseman’s first day of shooting, and from that day on, I knew we had gold in Chadwick.
When Sonny meets with Browns’ owner, Harvey Molina, at a deserted water park, Molina makes it clear that Sonny’s job is on the line if he doesn’t turn the team around. How did you edit this conversation to show the pressure Sonny is experiencing?
Kahn: If you look at Sonny’s face, in the scene between him and Molina, you can see the pressure boiling up in him. Frank Langella, who plays Molina, has been one of my favorite actors for a long time. Just looking into his eyes you can see the pressure he’s putting on Sonny – such a great actor.
The moving split screen technique is especially interesting as Sonny has a phone conversation while walking to the Browns’ “war room”. We see the screen split into three fluid panels, and Sonny “walks” across the panels as he approaches his destination. What went into the decision to use creative split screen techniques like this?
Kahn: The split screen of Sonny walking into the war room for the first time was first cut separately. Then Ivan wanted to find a way to meld them as one. This is where Gareth and Jenny came up with this idea and it stuck. It really makes the two scenes so much more interesting.
Sonny’s relationship with his mother is a bit estranged. When she stops by the office to spread the ashes of Sonny’s father, how did you look to build the distance between the two?
Kahn: That scene was cut by Dana, and when I saw it, it hit all the right emotions in me and I knew, as an audience, you would feel their emotional distance. Hurray to such a fine edit by Dana and all the work she did. You may not know that she was my assistant for a few years, and on her own she has become a brilliant editor who has worked with Ivan’s son, Jason, on all of his films. We are like a family.
Glauberman: That’s so sweet. We ARE like one big family. I am so thankful for what I have learned from working with Shelly and Ivan. In fact, I think we have all learned a lot from working with each other so closely, and we take pride in being a part of such a unique group.
Ultimately my goal in editing is to allow the audience to feel for these characters. As I stated earlier, a lot of what I do is instinctual. I take what the actors give me from their performances and elaborate through my edit to achieve an emotional connection between the characters themselves, as well as with the audience.
When Sonny’s first draft pick is announced, we see a huge outpouring of emotion: joyful reactions from Vontae Mack and Brian Drew (Tom Welling), anger from the fans, shock from supposed top pick Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), and more. How did you look to build that emotional sequence?
Kahn: The outpouring of emotion from all sides when Sonny’s first pick is announced was at first cut much longer. The three of us kept whittling it down, and finally created the emotional sequence we wanted. By seeing the entire movie together many times, the style of editing came to us.
What is it about collaborating with Ivan Reitman that you don’t get from other directors?
Kahn: Ivan and I, even on our first film, created a kind of shorthand that is hard to express. He would start a sentence and I knew where he was going before he finished it. Many times I would add my ideas and we knew we were in sync with each other. I have this with other directors, but not as well as with Ivan. I also have felt that he and I were never happy with a scene till we tried everything we could think of, which sometimes would lead us back to an earlier decision which turned out to be best.
First cuts can be challenging. How long was yours, when it was tested, and where did you see it needing work?
Kahn: There are always moments in a movie that we discuss about keeping in or that need to be removed, and instead of being an audience of one, we will preview it, and let the real audience have the final decision. I may fight for a line of dialogue that I feel is funny, and if it does not get a laugh, Ivan will poke me and say, “it goes tomorrow.”
As an editor you get to see a lot of the “mistakes” a director makes. Were there any scenes or moments where you had to cheat coverage to convey the story?
Kahn: Every movie has its “mistakes” that as an editor you try to make invisible to the audience. But most of them are because they deal with dialogue. You remove a line or two to make the scene faster when it’s not needed.
In Draft Day, the first time we meet Frank Molina at the park, if you listen closely, you’ll hear dialogue on Sonny and Frank’s backs while walking. When we cut to a front shot of them, you notice they are on the wrong side of each other.
This is because we cut out dialogue, and they have walked further on. But you don’t realize this because the cut is one-hundred and eighty degrees from their back to their front, making us believe that this is their correct position. Telling you this is the only way you’d probably see the ” mistake”. OH, NOOOO.
Who else helped play a role in the editing?
Glauberman: We were very fortunate to have an amazing crew. Rob Malina and Justin Yates both started on the project with Sheldon prior to me joining the crew. Omar Hassan-Reep, who started as my production assistant on Juno and is now my first assistant, came onto Draft Day with us. We also had apprentice editor Erika Edgerly, as well as VFX Editor Maria Gonzales and Brent Brooks, an amazing music editor who has worked on several movies that Ivan has directed and/or produced.
One of the most important things to me, when looking to hire someone new, is personality. We have to be compatible with each other, because we will be spending so much time together. They also have to have a keen interest in editing and show a solid work ethic. The rest will all just fall into place.
Kahn: Dana and I had a great team working with us from start to finish. Omar knew everything about football and its language, and when we made a mistake, he made it right and we changed it. I only like to have people working with me, as does Dana, who do not just complement us, but are critical on the editing (no “yes people”) and tell us what works for them and what does not.
What do you like best about being an editor, and what brings you back for more?
Kahn: Being a feature film editor is a great responsibility as you have the whole of the production in your hands including the respect and vision of the director, actors, director of photography, etc. Every movie is like a great big cross word puzzle and takes a lot of time to get it right. It is these aspects that I love most that keeps me coming back as an editor.
Glauberman: I love being behind the scenes. I love being able to take what was once just on paper, and seeing it all the way through to the finish line. Everyone works so hard at what they do, and being able to collaborate with the director and help bring his vision to the screen is very satisfying.
What movies would you bring if you were stranded on an island?
Kahn: I would bring City Lights with Charlie Chaplin. It is one of the best movies without a line of spoken dialogue (a silent movie). If I talk about the last scene in that movie, tears will come to my eyes, as it is so powerful. I guess you would call it a romantic comedy, but unlike many silent movies, it still holds up today. One of the greatest movies ever made, in my opinion. I love comedies, and if I could have another, it would be any early Laurel and Hardy or Buster Keaton movie. I have always had a love of movies and a love to laugh.
What are you currently working on?
Glauberman: I am currently editing Men, Women & Children, my 6th feature film with Jason Reitman.
Smith Lee Design – the team behind the split screen
Situated in the 323 area code of Los Angeles, the imaginative brilliance from Gareth Smith and Jenny Lee have impacted projects through storytelling for major studios, networks like HBO, and even Google.
The collaborative tandem conjures creativity through the designing of animated title sequences and have worked with Jason Reitman (Ivan’s son) since 2006, titling Thank You For Smoking. Besides their stylistic merriment with moving font, they’ve produced live-action shorts, special montage sequences for features, and short animated films. On Draft Day, the two were tasked with creating the visually compelling split screen working.
How did you get tapped for this project?
Gareth Smith: Producer Ali Bell contacted us to see if we would be interested in working with Ivan on Draft Day. Ivan wanted us to explore new ways to show split screens.
We had worked with Ali and Ivan before in 2009 on the opening sequence for Post Grad, which takes place on the protagonist’s desktop computer. And, of course, we’ve worked a great deal with Jason, so Ivan was aware of our work.
What was the process like early on?
Smith: We based our split screen designs on edited reference provided by the editors. We were given the freedom to try different takes and shots to incorporate the split screen design. Ivan always worked very closely with both his editors and us to ensure that no matter what, the design supported the characters and the narrative.
The first scene Ivan gave us to experiment with was actually the scene with Sonny at the Cleveland Browns’ practice facility and Vontae Mack [Chadwick Boseman] at his nephews’ tumbling gym.
We began the scene with Sonny [Kevin Costner] being more in charge. He starts the scene by calling Vontae to chastise him about something. Then, gradually, we scaled Vontae up and let him slowly dominate the split screen as he hints to Sonny about a potentially vital piece of information that could affect his draft pick decision.
Was the response good?
Jenny Lee: Yes. We were thrilled when we found out that Ivan and his team really liked the look of the split screen design. They brought us on board to work closely with the editors Sheldon Kahn and Dana E. Glauberman on all the split screen scenes. We were also able to develop other visual elements such as the vertical line wipes that are used for transitions between scenes. And of course, it was fun to create the main on end title sequence featuring real NFL players.
Can you elaborate on the scene where Sonny receives the first pick?
Lee: Initially, Gareth played around with adjusting scale and compositions in the traditional way but then came up with the idea of having the actor cross over the split screen line, similar to what is often done statically in print design. (Gareth was a print designer in his college days at UCLA for the college newspaper, “The Daily Bruin”.) That one idea opened up the possibilities to other ideas such as moving the split screen line to emphasize or de-emphasize a character’s presence in the scene. We were also able to use the split screen line for scene transitions.
How did you develop the “war room” sequence?
Smith: That was Ivan’s idea. We loved that he wanted to push this style so far! On one level, it’s a daring visual that foreshadows the conflicting relationship between Sonny and Coach Penn. There’s almost a constant tension between them and it makes sense that Sonny would visually disrupt Penn via the split screen.
Lee: Gareth suggested to Ivan the possibility of using the crossover technique again for another scene later on with Sonny and the GM for the Kansas City Chiefs. In their phone call, the two of them are kind of “dancing” around each other, trying to size up what the other is planning without giving too much away. It worked dynamically to have the Chiefs’ GM crossover Sonny’s scene. It also helped that he was filmed walking down the hallway on the right side of the screen and then he walks over to the left. Our challenge was finding the right take to match Sonny’s shot in a natural and fluid way.
What kind of tech did you use?
Smith: We used After Effects for a majority of the rotoscoping in the split screen sequences. We also collaborated with a visual effects company, Look Effects, who took on a few of the tougher rotoscoping shots (like an actor passing completely across the frame).
Software-wise, we used the rotobrush tool in Adobe After Effects extensively. The newest addition to this tool, the refine roto brush tool, allowed us to roto hair beautifully in a few shots. We also used Mocha AE a great deal for many of the slower moving roto shots. Just to be clear, these are tools that just come with After Effects, and anyone can use them.
This is, frankly, something that has been very possible to accomplish for years. But rotoscoping this much footage is tedious, and requires a great deal of patience. And luckily, I have a great deal of patience. For you tech geeks out there, it was almost 7,000 frames of roto.
What type of storytelling do you get the most enjoyment?
Smith & Lee: It’s important to enjoy what you do especially if you’re working in a creative capacity. We do what we do because first and foremost, we love movies. We usually take on only one or two projects at a time and are totally committed from concept and execution to final delivery.
Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of directors in film, television and documentary. Regardless of genre or format, we’re most fulfilled when we get to collaborate creatively with a team of smart, kind, and talented people. Draft Day has definitely been one of the highlights of our career so far. It was such an honor to work with Ivan, Sheldon, and Dana and to see firsthand how the story gets nurtured and shaped in post. We loved being part of that whole experience.
You can find more about Smith & Lee on the web, smithleedesign.com.
Draft Day opens in theaters April 11th