I had worked with Bob previously on a couple of Microsoft campaigns when he was with Wieden + Kennedy, both of which had been similar to the United spots in that there was an inordinate amount of footage and no set script. For United, I think Errol shot around 60,000 feet of film - all rolling interviews where the director had free reign to pursue lines of questioning that interested him. Basically an editor's dream, if it weren't for the time constraints. Fallon had already purchased air time during the Major League Baseball playoffs and had been forced to scrap their planned commercial, so after shooting the new stuff this left us with a little over a week to get three spots cut and approved - and that included loading and finishing. We wound up having to load all night and cut during the day, with two rooms running around the clock. New dailies were still coming in while we were presenting cuts to the client.
For this particular spot, after pulling out individual sound bites and arranging them into select rolls based on theme (togetherness, the tragedy, how United functions as a company, personal stories, etc.), I began piecing them together until I had a kind of poetic rhythm that I thought worked. It should be noted that I was working under one constraint - that we couldn't use any clips that directly referred to the tragedy or United's involvement in it - a decision I agreed with. People were already constantly reminded of that on the news each day.
One thing that I tried early on was to take my dialogue pieces and overlap them into a kind of chorus effect, with similar words and ideas coming from a cross-section of employees. I thought it was cool, but everyone else just got confused. But I did keep that technique for the end of the spot when the employees introduce themselves and tell us what they do, and I think it works well to convey the sense that a large group of diverse people have come together. The spot ends with a single voice saying, "We are United."
After the dialogue elements had been built, I laid several different renditions of Rhapsody in Blue, United's theme music, over the cut and wound up using a version performed by Gershwin himself and recorded on player piano rolls. I really liked the simplicity of it (as opposed to a fully orchestrated version). I also cut the track so that the emotion of the music built in the same way that the voices did, and in the course of doing so used sections of the piece that United hadn't used before. We had to hire a concert pianist (an amazing musician named Daniel Chouinard) to re-record the music as I had arranged it (and even then, I recut the re-recorded pieces in the mix).
The final step to completing the edit was to cut the B-roll pieces over the top, and Errol had shot some really interesting compositions, which made it easy to convey the emotion that we were looking for. In particular, he had captured some great eyes and hands that were extremely expressive. There was also a point when the camera was changing positions where it stopped halfway up a pilot's body, with his uniform hat tucked into the crook of his arm. I used this for the final scene in the spot and I really think it works to end it on a simple, elegant note.
In all, I think what I liked most about this spot was that we weren't attempting to sell anything other than human emotion, and I was really given full license to try and accomplish that. When I watch the spot, I still get a twinge of emotion, and ultimately that's the only way to really gauge if something's working.