Jim Haygood On Editing VW's 'The Force'

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Editor Jim Haygood has cut many big things: "Fight Club," "Tron Legacy," "Panic Room." Yet some might say his most significant feat this year came in the form of one Little Darth. Mr. Haygood, repped out of Union Editorial, was the editor behind the celebrated Super Bowl spot, VW "The Force," created out of Deutsch L.A. (see p. 18) and directed by Park Pictures' Lance Acord. Here, he shares his process on piecing together one of the year's best commercials. Also make sure to check out creativity-online.com to see his video further explaining his process.

This spot had such potential on paper -- an engaging and universal idea, the Darth Vader costume, Lance Acord directing, and come on, that music! It really was ours to screw up, and with a treasured franchise like Star Wars that possibility looms large.

The first assembly I posted for Lance was about 90 seconds, incorporating all the setups to get a sense of what shots he was liking, some idea of pace, etc. We quickly got that down to a 60, which was very close to the final version, except in some important ways.

As I began working with the folks from Deutsch, we dialed in a more subtle tone to the acting, going for simple, specific movements. When Darth approaches the exercise bike and tries to use The Force, the first take I'd chosen was a bit more childlike, a series of awkward gestures -- this was more Max Page's (the young actor's) natural style. In the end, we found a piece that felt more authoritative, less childlike.

There's a tendency in vignette-style spots to put too much in. Using fewer scenes lets each breathe more and gives more nuance and reality to the performance. This spot is about frustration, so it was very important to really feel that without it feeling manufactured. We had some sacred cows that delivered that feeling, like in the bedroom with the doll, where you see his effort, wilting when he's unsuccessful. Also when he's in the kitchen and mom slides the sandwich to him, another defeat. Those moments where you see a couple steps -- attempt, failure, frustration -- really tell the story. In the limited time of a spot I'll often use invisible speed ramps within a shot to make the action happen in a shorter time.

As we got the sequence dialed in, I was able to push things around to start hitting the music in ways we really loved. The first half of the 60 was not touched much after that, since the sync to the music was something we didn't want to give up. The second half was tougher, getting the car shots chosen, trying to maintain the pregnant beat before the engine turns on, switching to the take where Little Darth brushes off his dad as he runs by, all that. The battle in most spots is trying to keep those story moments, while also delivering enough of the product to keep the client happy, and it's always a tradeoff. As we worked to integrate the car to the client's satisfaction we'd need to lose shots, or take out pauses, to get the time. The beat while Darth is waiting to see if he was having any effect on the car was one we really had to work to maintain -- a pause like that has a big bull's-eye on it when you are looking for a way to save time. And then you have to cut a 30...

We cut a zillion versions of the 30, trying a multitude of combinations of shots, probably more versions than any spot I've ever done. Everyone was in love with the 60, so we struggled to get the 30 (which would be on the Super Bowl in a week) to capture the same magic. Fortunately the marketing folks at VW had the idea to get the 60 out on the internet several days before Super Bowl Sunday, it took off beyond anyone's expectations, and the 60 is the version most people remember. I think we all feel that the 30 didn't quite capture the full feeling of the 60, and in the end it was just a function of time.

Spots like this one don't come along often, and I'm just grateful I got to be in the room when this one was born. Thanks, Deutsch!

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