Tech Support: William Goldenberg on building tension in 'Argo' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'
"But [director] Kathryn [Bigelow] shoots with four cameras, five cameras much of the time and this is a complicated story," Goldenberg says, "so we wanted to be very clear-minded about what that was. There was an incredible amount of local flavor and just beautiful stuff you could almost make a whole documentary about. So you have to resist the temptation in a way. You want to layer all that in but you don’t want to lose the story. We were constantly being single-minded about the story we were telling and sticking with the single-mindedness of Maya."
The first task Goldenberg took on was cutting the raid on the compound, which itself was whittled down from 40 hours of footage. He says it was a "test of sanity" because he sat in a dark room for three weeks straight watching dailies for four or five hours a day and then cutting a few hours before moving on to the next part of the sequence. The darkness had to do with the way it was filmed, with infrared lights and night vision devices on the camera. The footage had not even been color-timed yet, either.
"It was so dark I couldn’t even see the keyboard," Goldenberg says. "I had to get a special light for my Avid – like a little penlight to light up my keyboard because I couldn’t find the keys…It was so dark that I didn't even know there was an image there."
After making a first pass on the sequence, it went off to DP Greig Fraser to be color-timed and Goldenberg remembers the first time he could fully see how beautiful the images were at that moment. "I had never seen anything like that before," Goldenberg says. "Because movies at night usually look lit. And I think its Kathryn and Greig’s and Mark [Boal]’s decision to do it that way. It’s so brilliant. It’s so original and it really does put you right in there and make you feel like you’re in that compound with them."
That commitment to absolute accuracy, as opposed to the (equally valid) choices of compositing and dramatization in "Argo," presented other challenges as well. The raid had a very specific sequence of events and keeping that timeline in order was of the utmost importance for Bigelow and Boal's mission of turning journalism into cinema.
"There were storyboards and diagrams about, you know, who was where, what helicopter landed first and the sequence of events," Goldenberg says. "But telling that story and keeping the action feeling simultaneous [was a challenge]…The guys all had the same uniforms. They all had the same night vision goggles, so everybody looked sort of similar and the location can look very similar. So we had to be very careful about setting up geography and not losing that so that the audience wouldn’t be like, 'Where are we now?'…That was a very, very fine line to walk."
Goldenberg also dealt heavily with another riveting sequence involving the tracking of a cell phone through city streets. It's a scene he calls "unwieldy," "sprawling" and "a mess," but through no one's fault. It's just a sloppy bit of business inherent to the story and finding the throughline was no walk in the park.
"I always thought the way to work with two editors is there’s no ego and no, 'This is mine' and 'This is yours,'" Golenberg says when prompted about working with Tichenor on the film. "Like, 'Let’s just make this really good and if you’ve got an idea you work on it for a minute and if I’ve got an idea,' you know? So it’s completely collegial and free-flowing. I've done that with Paul Rubell a couple of times with Michael Mann, Steve Rivkin on 'Ali.' As long as you trust the other guy and you think he trusts you then you get another pair of eyes on things before the director gets to see it and it just makes the movie better."
Looking back on the year, one that could easily yield a pair of Academy Award nominations and even leave him competing with himself for the Oscar, Goldenberg is naturally thankful and gratified. He says he feels lucky to have had these two films this year, to have had a chance to work with Kathryn Bigelow and to see Ben Affleck's refinement as a storyteller take another big leap (he worked with him on "Gone Baby Gone" but wasn't available for "The Town"). Awards recognition would just be gravy at this point.
"The best part of all of it is there are literally hundreds of emails I’ve got from people I went to high school with who’ve seen 'Argo' and relatives I’ve talked to and things like that," he says. "It’s so much fun to have people enjoy the movie that much and I hope they’ll feel the same way when 'Zero Dark Thirty' comes out. Obviously, who wouldn’t want that stuff [awards] to happen? But it just would be another bonus on top of an already blessed year."
"Zero Dark Thirty" opens in limited release on December 14. "Argo," meanwhile, hits DVD and Blu-ray on February 19.