Having edited Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junun, Anima, and his HAIM and Radiohead music videos, as well as working on the editing team for Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread, it was a more than natural fit when Andy Jurgensen was tasked with editing his first narrative feature for the director. With a defined yet still wholly surprising structure, Licorice Pizza is a feat in momentum-building and Jurgensen’s exemplary editing results in each beat––whether hilarious, emotional, stressful, or slyly distributing––hitting just right.
With the film now opening wider, we were pleased to chat with the editor about how he came aboard the project, finding great use out of deleted footage, the tension of the Bradley Cooper setpiece, the soundtrack, the hardest sequence to edit, the reactions to the film, and much more.
The Film Stage: I know you edited PTA’s HAIM & Radiohead music videos, Anima, Junun, and were on the editing team for PTA’s recent features. How did the discussion begin for Licorice Pizza? Did you feel prepared after working with PTA on so many projects?
Andy Jurgensen: There really wasn’t a discussion. It just kind of happened, to be honest. [Laughs] Look, I’m kind of in the circle since Inherent Vice so I’ve just kind of been around. We were doing these screen tests back in 2019 and camera tests, so I was doing those. I cut together one of the scenes for that. So it just kind of happened. [Anderson] was like, “Oh, do you want to cut it?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” [Laughs] Also, Dylan [Tichenor], who cut Phantom Thread, he was on Eternals so maybe the timing was right as well. But we’ve been working on a bunch of things together, so I felt comfortable.
The structure of this film is very interesting from an editing perspective, with all the supporting characters getting their moment to shine and the narrative being kind of a baton passing to the next sequence. Can you talk about the challenges of editing a film with such a specific structure?
Well, a lot happens in the movie. The discussion we had in the beginning was to always keep the momentum going. Always have this sort of youthful energy throughout and use that to propel us forward—forward in time, from one episode to the next. So it was always in our mind. It can be maybe a little disorienting at times, but once you get the language of what’s happening, you kind of go along with it. But it was always keeping the core story being the two of them and their relationship and the back-and-forth. The sort of “plot” is just used as a device to get them closer together or, in some instances, further apart. So we always were aware of keeping a pace but not losing the core of the story, which is their relationship.
As a viewer, one of the magic elements of PTA’s movies is not really being able to predict what will happen scene by scene. How much of your work is cutting down exposition and fine-tuning to hit that magical sweet spot of keeping the surprise? Or is it all there in the script?
To be honest, it’s kind of there in the script. I just remember reading it and I had no idea the whole truck thing was going to happen three-quarters of the way through or the whole Joel Wachs [storyline]. I think that’s what so fun about the movie. You don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s not predictable. Bradley Cooper is only in six or seven minutes of the movie and he goes away. It’s more old-fashioned, I guess? Maybe? You could say. [Laughs]
Speaking of the truck sequence, there’s such a great sense of the tension building and the pacing of that night. You really feel like you are living in that moment with those characters. From an editing perspective, how much did you play around with how long to keep that sequence?
It’s funny, that sequence, I just think back to when we were first kind of building that. All the exterior shots of the truck––the truck going up and down the hill––everything that you see from the outside, I think we used every single shot that was shot. Because we had these different locations and they go up and down the hill two times and then the last time backward, so that was interesting. We only had a certain number of shots of the truck going up or down the hill, so we kind of had to build it all around that. It’s also all the shots of Alana in the car, that’s not visual effects. There’s obviously a truck pulling the truck, but there’s a camera attached and they are going kind of fast and it’s shaky and you are seeing her stressed out not just acting, but actually the actress. So it was just finding those moments.
It was interesting, because I remember building the rough version of it with all the exterior shots and then Paul went away. I was like, “I need to do sound for this sequence.” So with the production, there are all sorts of [sounds] you are hearing. I stripped all of that away and we put in this kind of creaky truck sound. Then he came back and we watched it. We were like, “This is going to be a good sequence.” Once all of that stripped away and you are listening to the truck only. There’s no score either. That’s a part of the movie where there’s no music. We have so much music throughout, but that sequence is dry. It’s just about the sound. I think that makes it effective.
Yeah, it’s a Wages of Fear or Sorcerer vibe.
Speaking more about that scene, there’s the shot that is a favorite from the trailer––with Cooper’s character smashing the windows––which ends up being used only in the end credits. PTA had mentioned it felt detached from the POV of the main characters, so it wasn’t used in the sequence. As he likes to do, there are other shots seen in the trailer and in the marketing not in the film––like the shot of Gary and Alana walking down the hall in the recent sneak preview teaser. I’m curious as someone who has seen all the footage, how much was left on the cutting room floor and how involved are you in suggesting these pieces for marketing elements?
Yeah, we know that all the stuff that gets cut out will find its way somehow in a teaser or a trailer or something. Nothing is really ever trashed. Usually what we’ll do is when we send the movie to a trailer company, we’ll send the movie but then I think I made 60 minutes of extra footage––stuff we liked, trailer moments, whatever––that go along with that so it can be used in marketing material. So that’s kind of the process.
But yeah, last week we were cutting the thing for the sneak previews. [PTA] was like, “Oh, what about that scene?” That was a scene that happened after Mary Grady, the agent scene, before they get into the car, where they had a fight, which we ended up reshooting and shooting it in the car instead with them driving. So that was early on. It was interesting because we had shot that scene with them talking to each other, fighting down the hall, then he did a version that was just the silent version, which he will do often in some scenes. You get a different vibe or you get different reaction shots that you can use. So that ended up being the silent version of the scene that ended up getting change. It was the perfect little thing to use for the teasers.
How early in the process did you decide how you wanted to end the film? That shot with them walking as the sun is setting is gorgeous and it sums up the film perfectly in a single shot. When did that come into play, along with the rest of the end credits?
Well, the end-credits sequence was an idea we had when we cut that shot out of Bradley smashing the windows. Paul said, “That would be a good idea for an end-credit sequence.” And so we could still use it. We wanted to bring joy to the end with the song so I just started building stuff and we got to the end of that and he just had the idea of using that silhouette shot which was a version of the date scene. You know the walk and talk after the date at the beginning of the movie?
There was a version that was in a different location, so that shot was from that earlier incarnation of that scene. It always looked so good when we watched it in dailies. It was so pretty. So he just had the idea that we could use that on the end credits and we knew it was long enough. It just worked out with the colors and the green [font]. It just worked out perfect.
You touched on this a little bit, but what’s your relationship with PTA while you’re editing? Is he always there or are you experimenting with cuts and presenting them to him?
Yeah, he’s there a lot. He’s definitely there a lot. But he has a life. He has four kids. When we were cutting the movie it was still COVID times. It was mostly in the winter. I kind of was locked down with him to be honest. [Laughs] I wasn’t living with him, but we had our bubble. But yeah, there are times when he would go away and I would work on stuff, but he’s around a lot. He’s definitely involved a lot. It’s not like when the shooting is over, I show him a full four-hour version of the movie. That’s just not how he works. We have our process where we watch dailies and we make notes and do all that stuff during production so we know we have the movie. We’re very well-informed about takes we like. I’ll do my own process of getting to know the footage super well and cutting selects and doing things but then pretty quickly we assemble the movie. We had a pretty decent cut by New Year’s Day, then just fine-tuning from there.
I listen to the soundtrack now on repeat after seeing the film. I’m curious, was the intention to always heavily use ‘70s music or was more score experimented with?
Nope. The idea was always to be needle drops. In fact a lot of those were in the script. You know, he knows music. He has tons of songs on his laptop. He’s always playing things. He’ll play things during dailies just to get a vibe of how it’s feeling. He’ll just give me a big bin of songs when we start working on the movie and then we’ll just pick from stuff, try different things out. It’s not like we’re just saying to a music supervisor, “Send me everything, all sorts of stuff.” It’s very sort of targeted already. Yes, things change, things move around, but the Doors song [“Peace Frog”], “Let Me Roll It,” all of those things were in the first cut. We didn’t have to swap a lot of stuff out. He’s just so attuned with the music, always has been. And then we knew we wanted to something for the beginning and the end, as a bookend, so that’s when we went to Jonny.
You’ve collaborated with HAIM before, but seeing Alana’s performance is quite revelatory. What was it like seeing that come to life as the dailies came in? The same would go for Cooper Hoffman, I imagine.
We knew they had it because we had done these tests, but there’s just a level of trust that Paul has with all of his actors, but I think especially with the two of them. He’s known Cooper his entire life practically. Alana, she’s just fearless. She has that personality. So she was just willing to go for it. They are both great and it’s not to say Paul didn’t have to mold the performances, but he just knew how to get it out of them, so to speak. I think they are both great. It’s kind of amazing how good they are for their first movie. Also, there’s also that whole element of having a camera crew around you and lights and all sort of stuff, there’s that whole thing too. You have to be a good actor and be natural, but you also have to do it with all these people around you. I couldn’t do it. [Laughs] That’s why I’m behind the scenes.
Going back to Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread, what did you learn most from those experiences that you carried through other work with him, and especially Licorice Pizza?
He’s a confident filmmaker. He knows what he wants. If he doesn’t get it, he knows how to get it. I think the whole digital aspect might be part of the problem with this. You can have three or four cameras shooting a scene at once from all sorts of different angles. Almost when you get to the cutting room you have so many options. You don’t know how you’re going to get in or out of a scene. The scene is covered in a million different directions. I see that sometimes. With Paul, he is willing to go for it and say, “This is going to be one shot. It’s going to be a oner. I’m not going to do coverage. I don’t want that. This is what I want. We’re going for it and moving on.” So it’s this confidence and comfort level and obviously he’s a great storyteller. He has this instinct of how he wants things to be done. It’s not haphazard, really. At least that’s my perspective. He’s willing to be free-flow at times, but there’s just a confidence that I wish more filmmakers had.
I love the sequence with Tom Waits and Sean Penn in the restaurant, especially the way you introduce Waits’ character with the smoke. From an editing perspective, there’s such an energy and chaos to that sequence. The shot of Waits with the crowd walking along the hill really takes you aback—it really opens up the scope of the movie. Can you talk about building that whole sequence?
I’m glad you picked up on the chaos because that is what we ended up going for. That scene was longer and there was a lot more with Tom. There was a whole monologue where he was talking about the old days. It was great but it slowed the movie down. Ultimately we decided to just make it this disorienting, drunken combination of various things happening: Gary coming in, Alana being confused about what’s happening with Sean’s character. Keeping the space was something we were really aware of because you want to get the right angles when Gary is looking over at Alana and the geography of the room is quite important. We kind of jump around to all sorts of different angles. It was just kind of supposed to create this disorienting sequence.
That was, I would say, the hardest sequence for us to just distill down. We also had stuff where when Tom leaves when he says I’m going to go set up. We had stuff of him out there setting up, starting the fire, all sorts of stuff which we ended up cutting out. We were supposed to be cutting back and forth, which we got rid of. So it was just trying to distill it down to just Sean and Alana and their weird thing that happens and then Tom coming in and then Gary coming in and seeing this and then Gary and Alana looking back and forth at each other and then their connection. So it was a lot of different perspectives to wrangle.
It’s juggled so well. You mentioned you were in a COVID bubble editing, so I imagine you weren’t able to show it to as many friends and get reactions. What has been your experience watching it now with an audience? Has there been anything that’s surprised you and PTA most about the crowd reaction?
Honestly, it’s been great because we maybe only screened for 15 people at the most, ever, at once. So you just don’t know if the gap if you build for laughter is enough or, if it’s not enough, you’re not going to be able to hear the line. It played even better than I thought, to be honest. Obviously I knew it was a comedy, but it was very satisfying, our first screening we had. It was 600 people or more, maybe, and things worked. Normally, for a movie like this, you would test it, just to see how things play. We just didn’t have that. Not just because of the whole COVID thing, but we can’t really test movies with Paul because information will get leaked out. Unfortunately you just can’t do that.
Yes, as someone who tries to report on everything, I feel your pain. I’m sorry.
So you’re responsible.
It’s only because I’m a massive fan, that’s all. It’s out of love. [Laughs]
It’s all good. [Laughs]
Wrapping up: I wanted to know when you first got into editing. Were there any major touchstone films that inspired you? Or, present-day, things that have impressed you the most?
Well, I remember being a kid, seeing The Silence of the Lambs the first time, the sequence when she goes to ring the doorbell. She thinks it’s the neighbor and then we’re cutting back and forth with the FBI agent. They think they are at the right house and she’s at the other house and then Buffalo Bill ends up being the one answering her door. I just remember watching that for the first time and it kind of blowing my mind. It just stuck with me regarding how powerful editing can be. But yeah, I just saw C’mon C’mon, which I loved. It is such a good movie. Just the way it is seamlessly edited. It has this documentary style and it’s so natural and loose. It’s so well done. Titane, too; I saw Titane a few months ago. That’s crazy too. A different kind of editing and just that kind of visceral feeling that movie gives you. Those are two of my favorites this year thus far.
I was going to say Licorice Pizza and Titane have something in common: they were the two films this year where I literally had no idea what to expect from scene to scene.
That’s good. Yeah, our goal was to not give too much away in the trailer. To kind of give a spirit of what the movie is. So hopefully it wasn’t too spoilery.
Licorice Pizza is now in limited release and expands wider this Friday, December 24.