‘Deepwater Horizon’ Editors Bring Order to Disaster Movie’s Chaos

Valentina I. Valentini
Variety

Director-editor collaborations are frequent in the annals of cinematic teamwork. What would a Martin Scorsese film be without Thelma Schoonmacher? Or a Steven Spielberg picture without Michael Kahn?

Director Peter Berg and editor Colby Parker Jr. create movies in that same collaborative manner. The just-released “Deepwater Horizon” is their seventh consecutive film together.

Berg has nothing but praise for his go-to guy. “Colby is an original-thinking, fresh, rule-breaking visionary, and is a critical part to any film I direct,” says the helmer.

Parker describes their collaboration as “controlled chaos. It’s using unpredictability to capture unvarnished, raw moments,” he says.

“Deepwater Horizon,” starring Mark Wahlberg as the unwitting hero of the 2010 BP oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, is a linear story about the failures of the higher-ups at the petroleum company during what should have been a routine safety check. Parker and co-editor Gabriel Fleming had the daunting task of cutting storylines for up to five individuals who all experience the same thing at the same time. “I threw out my neck looking over at the continuity board so often,” says Parker.

Adds Fleming: “Pete really wanted a continuous sense of urgency. It was all about the chaos the characters were going through, capturing the confusion and isolation of being alone on a towering inferno out at sea. There isn’t a wasted frame.”

One of the difficulties in making a film about a highly technical topic is making sure the audience understands it. The technical details of oil drilling are complicated, and it was a challenge for the editors to be judicious with exposition while keeping the details that are important to the story authentic and easy to follow.

During filming, Berg likes to have editorial close to set, so Parker and Fleming joined cast and crew in Chalmette, La., east of New Orleans, where the oil-rig set had been built in an old Six Flags parking lot.

Since the shoots were mostly at night, the editors shifted to a late-night schedule and often would stand behind camera on the huge, flaming set until the sun came up. “Then we’d all head to the 24-hour New Orleans bars at dawn with the crew,” laughs Parker.

With all the spontaneity that can occur with a production of this scale, a lot of “writing” is often done in editing. Indeed, Parker says his working relationship with Fleming is like those of writing partners. “Instead of dividing the film between us, we’ll both work on everything at some point, passing scenes back and forth to get fresh eyes.”

The collaboration between Berg and Parker will continue with the helmer’s “Patriots Day,” scheduled for release next year. But maybe this is one partnership built for three: Fleming is joining them on the project as well.

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