The Making of a Classic – Editing Heat
Michael Mann’s Heat is one of my favourite films. Nearly 25 years after its release it’s still inspiring filmmakers today with its masterful portrayal of an intimate yet gritty cat-and-mouse, cops and robbers procedural thriller.
In this quick post I wanted to point you in the direction of a few of the best ‘making of’ resources I could find online, all of which was instigated by stumbling upon a bonus episode of ‘One Heat Minute‘ a sequential podcast which has been working it’s way through all 166 minutes of Heat, one minute at a time for the past little while.
The podcast reached its climax in storybook fashion this week, with a special guest interview with the director himself, Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Collateral), joining the host Blake Howard to discuss the final minute, which you can listen to here.
But the inspiration for this post was a bonus episode of the show with one of the film’s four editors, Pasquale Buba, who cut along side William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig and Tom Rolf.
Here’s a quote from the podcast episode with Pasquale on wrestling with a new technology to make the film work:
This was in the stone age days of digital non-linear editing. This was the first film Michael did on an NLE. We were all learning how to deal with the new structure of non linear editing, because in addition to the fact that you could call up anything instantly, there were very physical limitations.
We were using Lightworks and it was an IBM based system. It needed SCSI drives and SCSI drives at that time, held megabytes, it wasn’t Gigabytes. So the amount of storage on each drive was limited. Plus you could only have seven of them tied to the editing machine at one time.
So you had these things called towers. And so you’d have to unplug the tower and bring a new one. So everything was very, very fragmented. You didn’t have all the material in front of you at all times.
Michael would go from room to room with the editors. He would run the film in his mind, and know what point he was at, and kind of describe it to us, because we couldn’t even watch the whole film in one go.
Still watching the whole flow of it was only in Michael’s mind, until we started screening, and once we started screening that’s when we started knowing the shape of things.
Before I go any further I must point you to the best ‘making of Heat’ post I’ve seen online, which is this one from Cinephilia and Beyond.
Although it doesn’t have this post’s focus on the editing and post-production process, it’s packed with amazing finds like the full shooting script, original on-set photos, many of the best interviews with Mann over the years and numerous other great resources to continue exploring. A must read!
William Goldenberg was initially terrified to be working on such a historic film, but soon lost himself in the footage. In this excellent montage of some of the best Heat related insights from a 2015 Manhattan Edit Workshop event with William Goldenberg, you can hear what it was like to work on film as a younger editor finding his way.
“It’s taken me a whole career for me to gain confidence. I think my insecurities, wanting to make everything perfect, are what makes me good at editing.
It seems with every film I’m as terrified as I was when I started 22 years ago.
Every film creates its own set of problems unique to that film. Often, there are sequences in films where you don’t know how to put it together. When I look at all the footage for a scene sometimes, I think, ‘Where do I even start?’
You get that anxiety feeling that never really goes away.”
In this section of the full-length making of documentary (which you can also watch on the blu-ray) embedded above, you can hear from the 1st AD Michael Waxman and sound mixer Chris Jenkins on editing in the unmistakeable live production sound of the climatic bank heist, as well as the ’round-the-clock’ editing sprint spurred by the film’s truncated post-schedule.
After I shot the film there was a desire to release it early because it was an accelerated approach the editing was was really important and I worked with my most important artistic collaborators in a Dov Hoenig my editor, and that’s a very important relationship.
This is pre digital editing so we had an army of people and it was it was a 24/7 operation people coming in and various different shifts and it was it was wild it was a very intense community and kind of really shared experience with all those people who are working at the same time, you really did get the sense that we were in the trenches together.
The whole thing is obviously a great watch!
In this audio interview with the editor of some of my favourite films, Tom Rolf, Aaron Aradillas delivers a in-depth discussion on many of the iconic highlights of his illustrious career, which spans films such as Taxi Driver, Heaven’s Gate, WarGames, The Right Stuff, 9 1/2 Weeks, Stakeout, The Great Outdoors, Jacob’s Ladder, Sneakers, The Pelican Brief, Heat, The Horse Whisperer.
They don’t actually make it as far through his CV to discuss Heat, but it’s worth a listen anyway!
In this clip you can hear Michael Mann’s commentary from the infamous final bank heist scene.
— Vashi Nedomansky, ACE (@vashikoo) December 6, 2020
Heat The Director’s Definitive Edition (2017)
Back in early 2017 Michael Mann released a remastered 2 disc blu-ray edition of the film, called Heat – The Director’s Definitive Edition. There aren’t any editorial changes to the film, but rather it’s a re-release with a new look as part of it’s 4K digital remastering.
This edition comes with the following special features, many of which were on previous blu-ray releases:
- 3-part making-of documentary The Making of Heat: Crime Stories, True Crime (60 minutes)
- Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation (10 mins)
- Return to the Scene of the Crime featurette on the locations and cinematography (12 mins)
- 11 Additional Deleted Scenes (10 mins)
- Feature Audio Commentary with Director Michael Mann
- Filmmaker Panels – 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (30 mins)
- Filmmaker Panels – 2016 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, moderated by Christopher Nolan (60 mins)
The 2016 effort is clearly superior, running at an hour in length and boasting almost the entire cast and key members of the crew including Mann, his cinematographer, editor, producers and sound mixer, as well as actors Pacino, De Niro, Kilmer, Diane Venora and Mykelti Williamson. – AV Forum Review
In this 6-part playlist from the The Academy you can hear from the cast and crew on various aspects and iconic moments in the making of the film. Also while we’re talking about the crew it’s worth noting that the film was beautiful photographed by the legendary Dante Spinotti.
Back to the 2017 blu-ray and here is Michael Mann on what’s changed since 1995, quote from this article on Entertainment Weekly:
When it came to remastering the film for the Blu-ray, were there specific sequences you focused on?
Yeah, the whole film! When you go into Blu-Ray, and you go to 4K, you’re in a different color space. Meaning that what was magenta doesn’t translate exactly. There’s no logarithm you could use to make “magenta” still stay magenta, with that exact color. So you have to imagine everything, from contrast, to how black blacks are, to what the color palette is. The ambition here was: If I was shooting the film two or three years ago, what would it look like? That was really it. So we went into every shot.
Your style in your more recent films has evolved from when you made Heat. Did that affect how you looked at this film?
Let me put this rather precisely. When you see an emotion on a human’s face, how much of the face do you see? What constitutes fear? What constitutes apprehension? What constitutes suspicion?
Yes, I evolved, but also, audience perception evolves, and media evolves, year to year. If I shot this film two or three years ago, this particular film would be less chromatic. And the sense of tension would become more pronounced with greater contrast and kind of a more blue-black palette, than the film as I wanted it to be when I shot it in ’94-’95.
Are there any moments in particular that bring up what you’re talking about, that as you’re working with the 4K, any sequence in the film that you think is seen anew on this definitive edition?
The one that comes to mind is when Hanna is chasing Neil McCauley at the end of the film past the airport. All that is a lot darker. Primary reds are stripped out. The reflections in the metal – everything is substantially darker, if I showed you the before and after. They’re big steps, they’re not subtleties.
Heat Remastered Blu-ray Grade Comparison
Thanks to David H. Cortes pointing me to DVDBeaver.com, you can now check out this side by side comparisons of the original blu-ray release and the 2017 remaster/Directors Definitive Edition.
It seems like the white balance has been shifted a little a way from the original blue to a more tobacco yellow, and DeNiro now has a standard movie tan. Having ‘grown up’ with the original look, I’m not sure which one I prefer!
Cops and Criminals in Cars Getting Coffee
In this video created by editor Vashi Nedomansky, you can enjoy a script to screen comparison of Michael Mann’s annotated script from the famous coffee shop scene, in which two of cinema’s biggest names are in the same together for the first time ever.
AP: The coffee shop scene famously for the first time united Pacino and De Niro on screen. Yet you avoided a wide shot of them both fully in the frame and stuck to over-the-shoulder shots. Why?
Mann: I hadn’t intended on excluding a wide shot until the editing.
Every time we (Mann and editor Dov Hoenig) put that shot in, it let the air out of the balloon. It deflated the intensity. … When you stopped being empathetically projected over Al’s shoulder of Bob or vice versa, but then became an observer looking at the two of them, it stopped being quite as intensely immersive.
AP: Instead, they aren’t fully seen together until the final shot of the film, that incredible crescendo scored by Moby.
Mann: By the way, he was integral in the editing. He was fascinated with the film. We had a strange (round-the-clock) editing situation. … Often, I’d get in in the morning and Moby would be there sleeping under one of the Avids or something because he was hanging around quite a bit.
In this excerpt from the 2016 Academy evening, you can hear both De Niro and Pacino discussing the famous coffee shop scene with director Christopher Nolan.
Inspired by Heat
Heat is beloved by pretty much every filmmaker and thus it’s inspired a whole bunch of thoughtful analysis over the past nearly 25 years.
But this excellent essay from Nerdwriter is one of the best I’ve seen. In it he examines both the style and substance, form and function of Michael Mann’s approach to filmmaking, from his lens choices through to music and sound design, and through it delivers an insightful exploration of modern film noir.