The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s slow-burning Western, creates a tense, uneasy atmosphere through deliberate pacing that’s in perfect harmony with the performances, cinematography, design, writing and directing. The resulting feature film has been recognized with literally hundreds of awards and nominations, with the biggest yet to come. It’s a breath of fresh air in today’s cinematic landscape.
Editor Peter Sciberras recounts the production of this award-winning film.
Peter Sciberras’ crucial contribution to Campion’s vision is all the more impressive given that a significant portion of it was done remotely. After some initial meetings, Covid hit during the shoot, making it difficult to work in the same room, especially given New Zealand’s strict protocols.
"FOR EDITORS, THE SHOOT PERIOD IS REALLY ABOUT LEARNING WHAT THE FILM IS AND WHAT IT WANTS..."
“It was tricky,” says Sciberras. “For editors, the shoot period is really about learning what the film is and what it wants. By the end of the assemble, you begin to get a handle on it. You have much more information, through the images and from conversations with the director. You realize that some of your earlier, cold reactions might have been wrong. Maybe one or two scenes are virtually unchanged from the assemble to the final cut. But generally, things get tighter. You refine performances. You hone the tone of the entire piece, and a lot of that has to do with music and performance. It’s an accumulation of tiny choices, a fluid process in which one thing leads to another.
“I like to be as organic and free in the edit room as possible, to keep things moving at a good pace and to not talk too much about it,” he says. “Jane is amazing when it comes to being open to trying ideas. Every idea that sounds interesting is worth trying. Ideas come up around something that needs to change, and eventually you land in a place where everyone’s happy.”
In early conversations, Campion and Sciberras talked about tension and momentum. “A lot of the pacing comes from this being a very character-driven film,” says Sciberras. “We knew we wanted enough time with the characters to really get in deep with them, especially with Phil [Benedict Cumberbatch], but also with Rose [Kirsten Dunst]. Also, we were focused on making it an elegant film. Everything needed to be motivated by the story and the characters. It’s not just ‘cut to this because it’s a cool shot.’ It’s about studying these people and being there with them. And we had great fun with that. I do a lot of commercials, so the chance to do a slower film suits me perfectly.”
Communication between the edit room and the set was facilitated by Sciberras’ longstanding friendship and work experience with director of photography Ari Wegner. “Ari’s a great storyteller as well, and we’ve worked together a bunch over the years,” says Sciberras. “It was a team of people with very similar sensibilities, and in that way it had a kind of indie vibe, where everyone is friends. It was really lovely.”
"THIS IS THE THIRD PROJECT IN A ROW WHERE I’VE USED PIX... I'M USING IT MORE AND MORE..."
Post-shoot, the editing room acts as a communications hub for many other departments, including music, sound, and visual effects. Sciberras also sat in on some of the grading. “Jane definitely used my eyes throughout the process just to make sure we weren’t losing things that we liked,” he says.
Throughout the production, collaboration and the sharing of assets among all the various departments was facilitated by PIX, a suite of secure communication and content management solutions from X2X. Sciberras says that PIX, as well as Codex high performance workflow tools, helped the team of filmmakers keep their contributions tuned to Campion’s overarching vision. The fact that each department comes at the project from a different perspective was not a hindrance.
“This is the third project in a row where I’ve used PIX,” says Sciberras. “I’m using it more and more, actually. Every now and then, I’ll think about something from a previous edit, and it’s great to know it’s there. I can track back into the subfolders, and say, ‘Ah, OK, cool.’ I’ll be at home, and think of a certain question, or a way to beef up an idea, and I’m able to easily pull up the scene, without getting a complete edit out. If you want to send something to sound, but you’re not ready to share everything, you can just pull a little bit out. Knowing that everything is on one site is reassuring and convenient, and you can quickly give access and know that only the right people are watching it. It’s a huge part of the editorial hub, and a great communication tool for all the departments.”
PIX allowed Sciberras to present and compare ways of doing things to Campion, who is not especially computer-savvy. It was also a seamless way of keeping the far-flung producers in the loop – Tanya Seghatchian was often in London, while Emile Sherman was in Sydney and Roger Frappier was in Canada.
“Whenever we had screenings, PIX was essentially the screening room,” says Sciberras. “Since everyone could watch at roughly the same time and give notes afterward, it kept things efficient. We used it a ton.”
"WHENEVER WE HAD SCREENINGS, PIX WAS ESSENTIALLY THE SCREENING ROOM..."
Working with high-quality images Captured on Codex helped Sciberras and Campion make precise choices. During the edit, they often looked at the high-quality images on a bigger screen at the post house he co-owns, ARC Edit, which has facilities in Melbourne and Sydney. “We got a really nice frame for Jane,” he says. “It looked great, and we knew we weren’t missing anything. It feels like you’re cutting a movie, not an inferior version of a movie.”
Sciberras treasured the opportunity to work with Campion. “I’ve worked on some high-profile films, but Jane is a legend of the cinema world, and getting to know her was incredible,” he says. “She’s very good at knowing when to take her hands off a scene and just let it sit a while – and not overwork things. The first few weeks, it was a new approach for me – get somewhere, leave it awhile. But I see now that it’s a great way of working.”