Robert Dalva and Jurassic Park III

For Class #6

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at]

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at]

By Warren Curry
Sep 26 2001 03:37:00:000PM

Editor Robert Dalva, working for the third time with director Joe Johnston, is no stranger to cutting visually ambitious, effects-laden films, having edited "Jumanji" in 1995. For Universal Pictures' "Jurassic Park III," Dalva utilized one of the newest innovations to hit the editing world, Aaton's InDaw film syncing system. Emerging from the same group of USC Cinema students which included George Lucas, Dalva was very much part of the young American film movement that dominated the '70s and helped shaped many people's understanding and appreciation of the art form.

Dalva, whose editing credits also include "The Black Stallion," "Raising Cain" and "October Sky," spoke to EditorsNet in detail about the elaborate process of making "Jurassic Park III." Currently in his fifth decade in the movie industry, he also shared his thoughts on the film world -- past, present and where it may be headed in the future.

As usual, items of interest to our present or recent discussions are highlighted in yellow.

What differences do you see in the film industry now compared to when your career began in the late '60s?

When we were all at USC, none of us thought we'd get to work on features. It was very much a closed society back then. In the '60s, even though they were making more movies than they make now, it was very difficult to get in. But by dribs and drabs, we all eventually did, which was really a surprise. The movie business opened up. Francis Coppola was instrumental in proving to the studios that younger people could make movies well, and more importantly, they also knew what people wanted to see.

Technically, there have been huge changes over the years. In terms of editing, I learned on an upright Moviola, which now fewer and fewer editors and assistants know how to operate. I think I was the first person to use a flatbed in Los Angeles on "Lion's Love." It belonged to Francis, but he hadn't used it on a film yet. Agnes Varda, the French filmmaker who directed "Lion's Love," thought Moviolas were terrible, because she had only worked on flatbeds.

What about some of the more recent advances in editing?

Obviously, the Avid; non-linear editing, as it's called. But even more significant are the changes that have happened with sound. On "Jumanji," half of the audio for the mix was on mag. On "October Sky," all the tracks for the mix were on a workstation. The only mag in the mix were the masters because the mixers chose to record to 35 mag. On "Jurassic Park III," there was no mag at all from dailies through the mix, except the DAT for the sync sound. From day one everything was digital.

"Jurassic Park III" is the third film you cut for Joe Johnston. What are a few of the key things that make your collaboration work?

We have similar senses of humor. We laugh at each other's jokes! I think it's as much personality as anything else. As a director, I think the person that you're closest to finally is your editor, because that is who you're with, you, the film and the editor, in the end. You have all this footage and you have to sit there with the editor and make the movie. As a director, you have to be comfortable working with your editor and you need to have a good relationship. Joe and I get along, and we like some of the same things. I think he realizes that most of the time I put things together the way he thinks it should go together.

Did you come aboard "Jurassic Park III" at the same time that Joe did?

Joe started months before I did. He was involved from the inception of the project. He called me and said it was happening and asked if I was interested. I said I was, and then there was a long wait while the film was scripted and designed. We were supposed to start a month earlier than we did, but there was a major re-write. I started a week before shooting began, which is usual for the editor.

Where was your editing suite?

During production, we cut on an Avid in a truck trailer outfitted with Avids, a KEM and projection. The trailer followed the film around. The only place we didn't go was Hawaii, and one scene out in the desert. We occasionally projected dailies in the trailer when we were on location because we were so far away from the studio that it didn't make sense to project it at the studio. Once production wrapped, we were in an editing suite at Universal.

One thing that surprised me about the film was its brevity. Was it always intended to be a 90-minute movie?

It was not a long script to begin with. Some scenes became shorter than they were written and some scenes became much longer, because the action was more complicated. Joe and I laugh about it, because there are no scenes that were left out that you could put on a DVD. There are a few scenes that we took a fourth of the dialogue out of, but we felt it was the right thing to do. A lot of critics mentioned how short the movie is, but they couldn't explain why they mentioned it. It's a weird criticism because I think a lot of movies are way too long. When I was kid, most movies were 90 minutes. A two-hour movie was considered long; three hours, rare. And they often had an intermission!

The film did move at a very rapid clip, but it wasn't overwhelming. How do you approach pacing a film with so much action?

The ludicrous answer is that you cut it so it's right, but it's not that ludicrous. It is about how it moves. I had a lot of plates and a lot of choices that Joe gave me. It was just a matter of knitting it together. It is an action movie, so you should see everything, but you shouldn't see it for too long. I think the Spino/T-Rex fight contains one of the longest CG action shots ever done. It's over 1,100 frames long -- which is huge. It's a matter of controlling the pace in a way that essentially keeps the movie moving.

In "JPIII" you used the new InDaw system.

In the production camera, there's a bar code generator that's driven by the production recorder's time code, in this case a DAT. There are no wires; it's all automatic. The time code needs to be refreshed three or four times a day to ensure that it's frame-accurate. The bar code recorder places an image of the time code, frame by frame, on the edge of the film (the edge that does not have the Kodak code numbers on it). There has to be a little bit of cooperation from the camera department. If they change the film stock, they have to change the exposure of the bar code generator. The sound department refreshes it, so they don't have to worry about that. The DAT sound is then transferred into a computer, InDaw, which in our case was hooked up to a KEM. On the KEM was a bar code reader that would pick up the image of the bar code and sync it to the time code generated by the DAT. Basically, as soon as you pressed the 24 frames start button on the KEM, you were in sync in two or three frames. We then essentially transferred that off the KEM onto sound stock. That became our dailies. And we would reuse the mag, saving on stock costs.

Why led you to decide to use the InDaw system?

Joe wanted me to cut from the video tap, so that I'd be cutting a scene while he was actually shooting it. We did this occasionally, but not all the time. The InDaw made syncing the real picture and the real sound to the tap sound very simple because they shared the same timecode. But the real benefit was when Joe shot action scenes at 22 frames. We were able to take the DAT sound in the Avid, speed it up to 22 frames, pitch it back up to 24 frames, load it into the InDaw, and then the InDaw would put it in sync. We had the whole shot at 22 frames in perfect sync. After the second or third day of doing this, everyone forgot. Joe would say, "Did we shoot this at 22?" and we would say yes -- because you wouldn't know since it was in sync. That was the main benefit. In terms of the editing room itself, because we were shooting at the studio, we almost always had lunchtime dailies. They were pretty good about the length of their days, so we'd get the dailies back by 8:00 or 8:30 and we'd have to show them at 1:00. We were never even close to being late, because syncing is virtually instantaneous.

How much time do you estimate that you saved?

In terms of the 22-frame issue, it saved hundreds of hours. Normally, you wouldn't bother to use the production sound because it would drift. Two frames in one second is a huge amount; in one second you're out of sync. By two seconds, you're four frames out of sync and anybody can see that. It saved a lot of time in terms of ADR, Foley and sound effects editing. It also saved a lot in telecine time. We would send an output tape from the InDaw that matched the picture perfectly, so the telecine house didn't have to spend any time syncing. They also had the InDaw system, too. A lot of post houses have it because many commercials use it. The InDaw is a great thing if you're doing a multi-camera music show. You don't need to slate; you just turn the camera on. The time code is being placed on the edge of the film and it's basically instantaneous syncing. As for the editing room, my assistants never worked late, hardly any overtime. Devon Miller, my first assistant, really knows how to make this system work. I think she's the only one in Hollywood who knows it. Now that I've used the system, I don't know how I could do a movie without it. It's going to catch on. There's some strange patent stuff going on right now, but once people discover this, it's going to be an industry standard. Of course, you have to have the cooperation of the camera department. Shelly Johnson, our director of photography, had worked with the system in commercials. It's a great system. Aaton is the company responsible for it and I can't tout it highly enough.

Is there a certain style of film you enjoy cutting more than others?

I enjoy the diversity. I spent part of my life in commercials, where you get to work on a bunch of different kinds of things, even though ultimately what you're doing is trying to sell something. I don't think of myself as a specialist. Good cutting is good cutting and it all works in the same way. Keeping the movie moving, paced well, making sure what should be in the movie is kept in the movie and moving the story along is what matters.

Are there any more major technological revolutions you see coming in the film world?

We're all going to face digital picture pretty soon. I think that "Star Wars: Episode 2," aside from being a great film, is going to be pretty awesome in terms of the look and feel of it. George Lucas is going to affect everything again. There are benefits to digital. It is almost as rich as really good film can be, but I don't think it will ever be as rich as really fantastic photography can be. The digital age is around the corner and we're looking in the next few years at much more digital projection.

Is digital projection something you embrace?

Yes, what I've seen of it. I never saw the movie in a theater, but I understand "JPIII" is in at least two or three digital theaters in Los Angeles, and between 10 and 15 nationwide. The digital version of it is pretty impressive. I saw parts of it projected at the post house that was doing the timing. I think people will accept it.

Is there any film or filmmaker in particular that inspired you to pursue a career in movies?

When I was in high school, my brother, Leon, took me to see a Francois Truffaut film called "The 400 Blows," and it had a pretty strong influence on me. I certainly can't pass up Orson Welles, who made two of the most interesting movies ever, "Citizen Kane" and "Touch of Evil." I should also mention Stanley Kubrick and Francis Coppola, and the person who had such an influence on those who grew up in the late '70s and early '80s, George Lucas. George made a generation of film lovers. I have a 33-year-old son, and his generation loves film. I have other children who like movies and go to them, but they don't have the same passion that my oldest son and his generation have. That was the "Star Wars" phenomenon. George taught a whole generation of people how to see. And he is probably one of the top five editors in the world, if not the best. A director has to know editing, because that is finally where the movie is made. As my good friend Paul Hirsch, who is an editor, says, "Editing is the final re-write."

Any advice for young editors?

Make it move! The most interesting thing to me is that many people who are coming into it are coming in through video and through Avid, and have not handled much film. I don't think I could or would want to cut a movie purely on film, because the Avid is so wonderful, but having a working knowledge of film and physically working with it is a good thing to do sometime in your life as an editor. Also, don't cut to music. Cut the scene and then put music to it. My best advice is to just go and cut something.

© 2001 EditorsNet

Excerpted from a longer interview at EditorsNet. The full interview is at:,7226,30040,00.html

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