As of right now, Warner Bros. still has the highly anticipated Dune movie scheduled to hit theaters this December, and director Denis Villeneuve is feeling the pressure. The acclaimed filmmaker behind movies like Sicario and Arrival took his first stab at a franchise with the sorely underrated (and Oscar-winning) sequel Blade Runner 2049, after which WB enlisted him to tackle an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune. Villeneuve acquiesced but only if he could split the adaptation into two films (the sequel isn’t yet officially greenlit), and the first part of that adaptation sets the stage with a stunning ensemble that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac.
During a recent Montreal-based interview promoting the Shanghai International Film Festival (via IndieWire), Villeneuve revealed that because he had the luxury of time on his side, he broke Dune up into two shoots and was just getting ready to head back to the second round of filming when the pandemic hit:
“We were about to finish some shooting… the movie was like almost finished. Dune has been made in an unusual way which is that we made the main shooting, and then I edited that part of the movie and I was planning to go back to shoot some elements later because I wanted to readjust the movie – I needed time, and it’s a luxury that I had [before the pandemic]… When the virus hit North America as we were about to go back to do those elements.”
Villeneuve and his cast and crew are heading back to complete that additional photography this month, but that puts an extra crunch to get all that footage assembled and finished in time for December’s release:
“The impact was that it crushed my schedule right now. It will be a sprint to finish the movie on time right now. We were allowed to go back to shoot – we’re going back to shoot those elements in a few weeks, [the ones] we were supposed to shoot earlier. It meant that I also had to finish some elements of the movie like VFX and the editing being in Montreal as my crew stayed in Los Angeles.”
The director also got candid about how working remotely has negatively impacted his working relationship with his editor:
“I will say as a director there are things that can be done remotely to deal with technology, all the supervision of VFX with some equipment is kind of easy to do from afar… for me the big lesson of this is I thought that it would be possible to edit at a distance having my editor [Joe Walker] sharing with computers, being far from one another, but I realize how much editing is like playing music with someone and you need to be in the same room. I mean there’s something about the interaction, human interaction, spontaneity, the energy in the room. I really miss not being in the same room with my editor.”
Villeneuve elaborated, jokingly equating his editor with his psychiatrist and explaining why editing is the most important part of the filmmaking process:
“I’m saying, as an artist, to edit my movie not being in the same room as my editor is very, very painful. Also maybe one of the reasons is the editor is also a psychiatrist – I mean he’s the one who’s dealing with my anxiety and my panic attacks and my fears and receiving my joys. I think that in the future, if ever something like that happened again, definitely I will make sure that my editor is close to me. Editing is a very important part of the filmmaking process for me, maybe the most important. It’s the time where you rewrite the movie in some ways.”
So now, after those reshoots, Villeneuve and Walker will have to reconvene once more remotely to assemble that footage and fit it into what they’ve crafted so far.
Here’s hoping we’re able to see that finished product safely and securely on the big screen later this year. Dune is slated for release on December 18th.
For more on Dune, check out what cinematographer Greig Fraser had to say about making the film.