Why ‘Dune’ Editor Traveled to Budapest But Wouldn’t Go on the Set

TheWrap magazine: “It’s really hard to cut things out after you’ve seen how much work goes into it,” editor Joe Walker says

This story about the editing of “Dune” first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

For film editor Joe Walker, one of the oddest parts about making “Dune” came unexpectedly. The film was his fourth with Denis Villeneuve, after “Sicario,” “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” and he’d spent the first three of those sitting to the left of the director as they edited together. But “Dune” was partly edited during the pandemic, and the two men collaborated from separate locations via video links screens.

“He sat to the right of me for six years, on and off — and to be honest, the right-hand side of his face is like the dark side of the moon to me,” Walker said, laughing. “The strangest thing is that I had to get used to the front of his face.”

“Dune” had elements that both distinguished it from their previous projects and tied it to them. “It felt in many ways like a continuation of the work we did on ‘Arrival,’” Walker said. “In ‘Arrival’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ characters have visions of some kind. It’s quite subtle in ‘Blade Runner’ because it’s about implanted memories, but in ‘Arrival’ it’s a very profound part of the narrative.

“And in ‘Dune’ it just goes crazy — it becomes a thread that helps you understand the inner life of a character (Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides). And it’s interesting that most of that stuff came later. It was written in the script, but it was undeveloped, and we knew that we’d have to find it in post. Denis always said to me, ‘We’re going to have to find what to do with his visions later.’”

That looseness, he added, has long been a part of the fabric when he and Villeneuve collaborate. The storyboards tend to be detailed and beautiful, but the process of editing is “super intuitive” rather than meticulously planned. And while much of the work happens once the shoot is finished, Walker also traveled to Budapest while the film was shooting so that he could prepare rough cuts and show them to Villeneuve during production.

Mind you, he traveled to Hungary to be close to the shoot but then stayed away from the set itself.

“I’m a little superstitious about actually going on the set,” he said. “I try to see what they’ve shot rather than what I imagined they’ve shot. And when you walk on a set and see what they’re doing, it’s really hard to cut things out after you’ve seen how much work goes into getting a shot. So I try to keep away from anybody I might upset.”

For “Dune,” the key was the pulse running through the film. “One of the things we were trying to get on this film was a tremendous sense of rhythm,” Walker said. “My background is in music, which always sort of made me feel like an imposter as an editor. But this film made me not feel like that, because I feel like we really got something between departments. Hans (Zimmer) is striving for something that works along with my edit, and my edit works along with the sound effects and all of it works along with the rhythm of the actors.” 

Read more from TheWrap’s “Dune” package here:

Making ‘Dune’ – Here’s How Denis Villeneuve and His Team Pulled Off Sci-Fi Epic (Video)

Why ‘Dune’ Production Designers Built a ‘Visual Bible’ Before Day One of Shooting

‘Dune’ Costume Designers Were Inspired by Everything From Balenciaga to Tarot Cards to Insects

‘Dune’ Cinematographer Still Finds Sand in His Luggage 2 Years After the Shoot

The Sound of ‘Dune’: The Giant Worm Was Hard, but the Magical Voice Was Harder

Why ‘Dune’s’ Biggest Visual Effects Challenge Wasn’t the Worms But the Sand

‘Dune’ Composer Hans Zimmer Reveals the Note That ‘Tore the Enamel Off My Teeth’

Read more from the Below-the-Line Issue here.

Wrap Below-the-Line issue - Dune