According to the Shazam! film's editor Michel Aller, the key word behind the creation of the DC superhero movie was “fun.”
And as the editor of the film, one of Aller’s biggest challenges was making sure the movies wasn’t three hours long. “People don’t want to sit in the theaters that long,” she said.
Shazam!, which topped the box office this past weekend with a higher-than-expected $158.6 million global take, tells the story of young Billy Batson, who acquires the ability to transform into the adult superhero Shazam (played by Zachary Levi)
The movie’s lighter tone has won over critics and movie-goers, and Aller said the film’s reshoots were designed to give early audiences more of the scenes they enjoyed most.
Aller, who started as an editor on movie trailers, learned her trade by assisting other editors on feature films like Alice in Wonderland and Big Fish. When she started working as the lead editor, Aller cut her teeth on horror movies like Annabelle Creation and The Ghost Dimension before jumping into the superhero realm with Shazam!
Newsarama talked to Aller to find out more about the film’s reshoots, how the CGI villains influenced the editing of Shazam!, and how Levi’s acting as the lead character made Aller’s job easier.
Newsarama: Michel, how would you describe the overall approach to this film and how it influenced the pacing and the editing?
Michel Aller: Well, from the onset, it had to be fun. It’s this kid who becomes a superhero. So the biggest thing is to make it fun. The pacing kind of evolved as you cut it. You start cutting scenes, seeing how it’s going. Obviously, you want to get to Shazam quickly, so you have to work that in. But it just evolves.
But the most important thing is that people want to go along on the ride with these characters and have a fun time. It’s what every kid would want to experience, the opportunity to become a superhero. So you just had to be in that mindset of, what would most people want to try, want to do?
Nrama: Yeah, we’ve heard a lot of positives about Zachary Levi’s portrayal of a young Billy Batson inside an adult superhero body. Did that influence the approach?
Aller: For sure. Zach is just an amazing actor, and he’s got such a fun personality. I think it just came natural to him, to have fun with the character. So that was easy to cut, his performance. He’s a really nice guy and he just had fun with it. The actors make my job easy.
Nrama: Let’s talk about your job. What’s your background, and why did you get into the editing side of filmmaking?
Aller: I started at a trailer house at an advertising agency, cutting movie trailers. And that’s where I realized editing gave you the opportunity to really create any story you want, especially in the trailers.
And then when I got into features, I was fortunate enough to transition early in my career into features and work under some amazing editors. The idea that you can really create a story after it’s been shot, after it’s been written, and shape it appealed to me.
It felt very creative, and I enjoyed the opportunity to scare people, make people laugh - it’s an incredible opportunity to do so much creatively, and that’s what drew me to it.
It’s a collaboration as well, which I enjoy. I really enjoy teamwork, and that’s part of editing, is working with the director and creating something.
Nrama: What would you say was the biggest challenge about editing Shazam!?
Aller: That’s a good question. I don’t think about obstacles or challenges. I just start cutting the dailies and putting it together and telling a story. The biggest challenge, honestly, was that we had so much fun stuff. We can’t have a three-hour movie. You’ve got to cut the movie down. People don’t want to sit in the theaters that long.
We had a long movie to begin with, and the biggest challenge was shaping the film and balancing the fun tone with the darker tone in the darker scenes involving the villain.
Nrama: Superhero movies have a lot of computer-generated content. How did that come into play in the editing process?
Aller: That gives you a lot of opportunities. In Shazam!, the bad guy has seven evil sidekicks, and that gives you a lot of opportunities to change scenes, to create ideas. I enjoy the aspect of CGI, but it also gives you limitless possibilities on what a scene can be, especially with the characters. You know?
I suppose going back to your question about the biggest challenge, that can be the biggest challenge, when you have unlimited possibilities with CGI characters. What can you imagine? And come up with that. Balacing the fun with darker elements of the picture. The question was always, "How far can we go?" and "Where do we pull back?"
Nrama: Where there reshoots for this movie and did you have to re-edit the movie after you came up with the first version of it?
Aller: Yeah. We did reshoots for about, what was it? I think it was 20 days.
We shot the whole film, presented it to a small audience, and we got feedback. Then we went back and did some re-shooting, which always benefits the movie. It’s the norm nowadays, that films have reshoots.
From feedback, we can adjust pacing or find out what audiences want more of.
[On Shazam!], there wasn’t a ton of recutting of what we had already done. It was just the new scenes, figuring out where they can go to best tell the story.
Again, the fun of editing is that you can move stuff around sometimes and create a different story or different pacing.
Nrama: Fans of this movie are hoping for sequels and maybe a tie-in with the expected Black Adam movie. Do you have a desire to work with these people again?
Aller: Oh, I would love to work on a sequel. I would love to work with the director again, the whole team. Yes!
I’m not announcing anything! But if anybody wants to know, yes, I want to be a part of that.
It was one of the most fun experiences, and I think that comes through in the film itself.