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American films

How The Post and All the Money in the World beat Oscars deadline with days to spare

Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers film and Ridley Scott’s drama about John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping were racing the clock to make December cinematic debuts, but both directors excel at multi-tasking and work ‘like lightning’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:50pm

Oscar-winning film editor Claire Simpson had a heavy heart as she finished working on All the Money in the World. One of the film’s stars, Kevin Spacey, had just been accused of sexual misconduct with minors, and in short order Netflix had very publicly withdrawn support of its House of Cards hit maker. It looked as though the film might get shelved – the same fate of accused harasser Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy.

At that point, Simpson had about two days of finishing touches left, then director Ridley Scott was scheduled to give his approval. Instead, he called to say he wasn’t coming. He had to dash off to New York, he explained, though he couldn’t tell her why just yet.

“I knew he had a plan afoot, and this would be big,” Simpson said. “Because Ridley doesn’t do small.”

Tom Hanks probably would not go to a White House screening of The Post, his new film about Pentagon Papers saga

He certainly doesn’t: his secret mission involved recruiting Christopher Plummer to replace Spacey in the role of billionaire J. Paul Getty, which would mean reshooting every scene that had featured the disgraced actor. The catch? Scott still planned to release the film in the United States on December 22. That gave the director, his cast and crew about six weeks to make extensive changes.

In fact, All the Money will debut on December 25 – still close enough for awards consideration – and it’s not the only movie that is rushing to cinemas at the end of a mad dash. Steven Spielberg’s The Post also came together on an astoundingly abbreviated schedule, debuting on Friday, about nine months after the director decided he had to make the historical drama about the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

Movies are often slow-moving behemoths, and setbacks aren’t uncommon. The plodding timeline of a film like Tulip Fever – which was in the works for about 13 years before premiering this past summer – is much more typical than a turnaround of less than a year.

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But sometimes, with the right ingredients and a little good luck, films come together in a flash, and a lot of that has to do with the director at the helm. Both Scott and Spielberg work best at a fast clip. Now aged 80, Scott recently bragged to Entertainment Weekly that he still moves “like lightning”, and during a recent panel discussion, Spielberg explained that he loses track of the story if he gets bogged down in too many takes.

“I’ve never seen something come together so quickly,” producer Amy Pascal said of The Post. That is saying something from a woman who ran studios for 20 years. “I’m not sure that everybody could have pulled it off, but Steven certainly did.”

According to the director’s long-time collaborator, producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, the pace of The Post wasn’t all that different from that of Munich.

The big difference was that he wasn’t simultaneously in post-production on one movie and pre-production on another while shooting that 2006 best picture nominee. The Post was made while Spielberg’s team was still finishing Ready Player One, which is set to come out in March, and prepping for The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.

In fact, the stalled pre-production on The Kidnapping worked in The Post’s favour. Spielberg has a crew of regular collaborators, and they were all waiting in Italy to begin working. The only hang-up was finding the right child actor for one of the lead roles.

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After reviewing thousands of audition tapes, Spielberg still hadn’t found the right kid. So instead, he decided to put that movie on the back burner and make The Post in time for a 2017 release. Macosko Krieger had to simply move much of the crew from Italy to New York to start on a different movie.

Another bit of good news: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, whom Spielberg envisioned playing the leads – Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee – were available and eager to join.

By early March, sets were being built while Spotlight writer Josh Singer simultaneously worked on rewrites of Liz Hannah’s script. Meanwhile, casting director Ellen Lewis assembled some all-stars, somehow managing to work around the busy shooting schedules of Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford and Bob Odenkirk, among others.

Filming started at the end of May and wrapped by late June, at which point Spielberg had just three weeks to get the edited version to composer John Williams.

Once [Spielberg] was in charge, it was all smooth. I’ve never really experienced anything like it
The Post producer Amy Pascal

This is where multi-tasking is essential, and it’s something Spielberg and Scott both excel at. During the shoot, Spielberg took advantage of a couple of spare hours here and there during set-up to cut scenes he’d already filmed.

The same type of simultaneous shoot-and-edit happened with All the Money in the World when it began refilming on November 20.

Simpson, the editor, would receive new takes shot each morning by the afternoon and edit them with her team. By the evening, Scott was looking at a cut scene, which would – after a few tweaks – go immediately to the sound department to add effects and score. Shooting wrapped on November 29, and by the next day, the movie was finished.

Simpson has worked with other directors who don’t dilly-dally. She had a similar schedule with Oliver Stone on Salvador. But she acknowledged those kinds of films are outliers.

“Some directors shoot from the hip, and you have to find the scene in there and you’ve got to find the story,” she said. But Scott plans everything. “He is a trained artist, and so he loves to make storyboards, and he creates the architecture of the scene in his head, which is very good for all the departments because they’ve got a guide.”

Sometimes it takes more kismet than planning, though. On The Post, Spielberg wanted to include footage of a working linotype machine – a nostalgic callback to how newspapers used to be made. But how many working linotypes are left?

As it turns out, not many, though Macosko Krieger and producer Tom Karnowski were doing their best to find one. Then, one afternoon, Karnowski called her and asked, “Are you sitting down?” It turns out there was a working printing press just three blocks from Steiner Studios, where they were filming.

Overall, there were very few setbacks along the way.

According to Pascal, the only potential hiccup would have been if Spielberg changed his mind about making the movie. “Once he was in charge, it was all smooth,” she said. “I’ve never really experienced anything like it.”

Macosko Krieger adds: “It’s that focus – when everybody has a common purpose, it all works out.”

The feeling was the same on All the Money in the World. Who could complain about the extra work and breakneck pace when the alternative of having the movie nixed or rejected out of hand was so much worse?

Already the effort seems to have paid off for the films, with both now in the running for Oscar nods. The Post has already received six Golden Globe nominations, including best drama, and All the Money in the World got three, including ones for Scott and Plummer.

Who knows – maybe the movie is even better because of the changes. Simpson acknowledges that Spacey gave a performance “of great panache”, but he was still a heavily made-up 58-year-old playing a man in his 80s. With Plummer, who’s 88, there’s more authenticity.

“He brings with it all of that kind of obdurate stubbornness of elderly people but also the fragility of age, so there’s a different kind of truth to the performance, and it was very exhilarating to watch,” she said. “It was exciting to do something new as opposed to just repeating something that already existed.”