For the sequel to the 1986 Top Gun, director Joseph Kosinski gave editor Eddie Hamilton the challenge of compressing more than 800 hours of footage into a movie just over two hours. Top Gun: Maverick follows Maverick (Tom Cruise) as he returns to the Top Gun flight school to prepare a new class of pilots for a dangerous mission. His job becomes more difficult when his late partner’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller), joins the class. Once the exteriors of the jets were shot, Hamilton needed to search through the footage to piece together the final product, which involved a lot of cutting to create tight sequences packed with action.
DEADLINE: When you began working on the final cut of Top Gun: Maverick, how many hours of footage was there?
EDDIE HAMILTON: 800 to 814 hours. It was quite honestly very overwhelming at times. There was one day in March, 2019 when they had 27 cameras running because there were four jets up in the air with various cameras on them, and two units filming on the ground, which added up to 27 cameras. And I remember getting so much footage the next morning and just thinking this was going to be very difficult. Also, the days were very long when we were filming the aerial sequences, it was just really intense. And the thing is, when you’ve got a lot of footage like that and a movie like Top Gun, it has to be awesome from beginning to end, because the whole audience wants it to be awesome.
So, I have all the footage broken down and labeled so I can find stuff super fast. But the main thing is to try and stay calm and not get overwhelmed. But, honestly, there were months where I didn’t sleep very well and I was just dreaming of closeups of Hangman and Phoenix and Rooster and Maverick. Literally every night I’d go to sleep and all I would see is their faces in my dreams. That’s just how engrossed you get in the raw material and in the project that you are doing. Plus, the immense pressure of delivering this sequel after 30 years and wanting it to be brilliant.
DEADLINE: What was it like cutting together footage for those the scenes with the cameras in the jets?
HAMILTON: You know, they filmed the interiors months before they filmed the exteriors. So it was actually really difficult because I was having to imagine what the exteriors were gonna be. Quite often what we would do is we would have these model jets on wooden sticks, and we would literally move the jets around and film them with our phones, and then put that footage as the exterior shot of a jet, just to show what it was gonna be doing. It was very hard to watch for ages, and it required a lot of imagination. Then months later they would go and they would film the exterior shots, and slowly we would kind of fill in the jigsaw puzzle and refine it.
Every aerial sequence started way longer originally. The first dog fight scene, where Maverick’s shooting the pilots down and they’re doing the pushups, started out at about 15 minutes long. In the finished movie it’s like four minutes, 50 seconds, so you can imagine it just got compressed and compressed and compressed and compressed, so only the very, very best shots were left at the end. We always wanted it to be this kind of punchy, exciting, dynamic, fun, entertaining sequence. I was editing that sequence for about a year, I would say, on and off almost every day. And it was the last thing we finished in the last week of the final mix.
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