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An immersive 3D Great Gatsby with appeal to younger audiences was what Baz Luhrmann set out to make, and editor Matt Villa relished every minute of helping him cut the film to get there, as he tells Andrew L. Urban.

After our phone interview, film editor Matt Villa is flying from Melbourne to the Sydney premiere of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, and will then drive to Brisbane to start his next editing gig - on the Spierig brothers' time travel thriller, Predestination, the start of that task coinciding with the Gatsby's Australian release on May 30, 2013. The two films couldn't be more different in every respect.

"constantly collaborating"

They say that there are three versions of every movie: the first is the screenplay, the second is the one shot in production and the third one is the final version, crafted in the editing. "That's true," laughs Matt, "especially with Baz, whose ideas are constantly evolving.

He encourages everyone to come into the cutting room to contribute; the visual effects team, the music team and the design team, and every offering is worked immediately into the cut, regardless of level of completion because you never know what new ideas it may inspire... Especially on this film, it was always flowing."

The last image was locked off on the evening of Easter Saturday, March 30, 2013; the music and soundtrack had to be finished in time for its New York and Cannes premieres in early May. Tight.

"Baz is a real innovator," says Matt, "It's all in his head - I mean all of it, music, design, colour, sound, everything. It's a very complete vision, down to the smallest detail. It's holistic and hands on."

"an embarrassment of riches"

"The biggest challenge," says Matt "and this is a great thing, was that because the cast was at the top of their game, we were completely spoilt for choice during the cut, an embarrassment of riches. Leo (DiCaprio) and Joel (Edgerton) were especially nuanced in their performances ..."

Adding to the complexity of post production was the daily flow of offerings from some of the world's best known musicians who would send samples of work "just to see if they could be used". Baz and his music supervisor (Anton Monsted) would encourage us to try them all ..."

Editors (from left): Jonathan Redmond, Jason Ballantine and Matt Villa

Matt, who has worked with Baz on Australia and Moulin Rouge (as well as with Queensland-based Spierig brothers on their second horror film, Daybreakers), was one of three editors on the film. During the edit, he and Baz spent six months in Los Angeles refining the film for a series of studio and audience test screenings.

Jason Ballantine (now editing cutting Mad Max: Fury Road) had worked on the film with Matt in Sydney, as had Jonathan Redmond, who had also worked with Baz in the past. He says the first rough assembly ran to three and a half hours. "That's when the collaborative process kicked in ... we all worked on crafting it to match Baz's vision."

But while the collaboration was extensive, there was one person who had a unique input: Catherine Martin. "I adore CM to bits," says Matt, "she's Baz's rudder ... he relies on her not just in design matters but for all her opinions. She didn't work in the cutting room, but she does have a great eye, a very clear view of things."

"to use 3D to immerse the audience"

The idea of making the film in 3D came from Baz; "with his theatre background he wanted to use 3D to immerse the audience, as if to have them there on stage; this was especially the case with scenes like the big confrontation scene between Jay (DiCaprio) and Tom Buchanan (Edgerton) in the hotel room ... he wanted the audinec right there in the room. Also at the huge parties ... he wanted the audience to feel a part of all the music, the noise, the dancing ...."

The studio went along with it as an experiment; "would a drama work in 3D?"

Of course this is not the first (nor last) screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's highly acclaimed and popular novel dissecting the lives of 1920s Long Islanders with more money than morals. For Matt, adaptations of literary works are never definitive. "This isn't THE adaptation of the book - this is Baz's adaptation. What he set out to do was to bring it to the big screen in a way a younger audience would take to it. I think he's achieved that and I'm very lucky to have been a part of it"

Published May 30, 2013

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Matt Villa


Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Shortly after World War I, in 1922, Midwesterner Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to New York to learn bond trading. It’s an era of loosening morals, sizzling jazz, crazy bootleggers and rising share prices. In early summer, Nick rents a house in Long Island, across the bay from his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), adjacent to the mansion owned by the mysterious, party-giving millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Drawn into the lavish world of his neighbour, Nick gets to see beneath the gloss into a world of indulgence, obsession and tragedy.

In Australian cinemas from May 30, 2013

Baz Luhrmann

Catherine Martin and Baz Luhrmann

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