Robert Komatsu talks about curveballs, career-building, and paying it forward.
"Maybe it's the control freak in me," said Robert Komatsu when I asked him about what drove him towards a career in post-production. "There are a lot of talented craftspeople and artists involved in the process and they all bring ingredients, but the fun of editing is that you get to put those things together."
Komatsu had a love for editing from the word "go". His first jobs out of film school were in post and he never looked back. Piece by piece, referral by referral, he built a long sustained career marked by some of the most impressive features and blockbusters of the era. Now, on top of all that, he's got an Emmy nom.
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But what makes Komatsu's story interesting is that he's had a hand in many different parts of the post-production process, and it illuminates just how big post-production is on its own.
Take, for example, his time as a visual effects supervisor on The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. He described this role and co-ordinating all the elements together, as parts shifted, were completed, and pieced together bit by bit. It's almost like conducting a symphony, even within a single frame of footage.
Komatsu slowly advanced the ranks of post-production, in part because editors he worked with gave him opportunities to cut scenes himself to add to his reel, a mentorship he continues with his assistants. The give and take helped Komatsu go from smaller budget features to working with Ron Howard and his editorial team, to today.
Editing Mrs. America
A relationship with series creator Dahvi Waller dating back to their work on Halt and Catch Fire helped Komatsu get the job on Mrs. America. Having built trust and shorthand with Dahvi was an asset, but he also takes an honest and careful approach to meeting for any job. He brings his honest opinions about the scripts he reads to his interviews and meetings, of course in a diplomatic and constructive manner, but staying focused on helping provide insight, and helping make something better than it is, looms large when he meets for a job. Why?
Because he believes people are looking for a collaborator, not a yes man. Someone with ideas, who brings more to the table, who also understands what works and why.
Archival footage played a large role in creating the world of Mrs. America, based on real people and actual events that had plenty of footage to draw from, Komatsu and the post team not only found ways to weave that into not only the episodes themselves but also how they cut the performances, how the story unfolded, and if it was all true to the real-life people being depicted.
The use of split-screen was something of a curveball thrown Komatsu's way early on. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck called him in one day and said, basically, that they wanted to do split-screen for a critical sequence depicting Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) rallying other women to her cause. The sequence was not scripted that way.
Komatsu immediately scrambled to put together what this would be like, he wanted to evoke the period the story takes place in, the finished version Ryan and Anna approved felt something like 1970s classic The Thomas Crown Affair. What started as a curveball became a signature look of the show, that Komatsu would evolve into later episodes as well.
But that's not the only type of split-screen Komatsu likes to employ. He hates those moments in, say, an OTS shot where you can see the back of one actor's head moving but they aren't speaking. To fix this he'll split the shot, and take a piece of a take where the actor not speaking was still, them composite it together seamlessly. It can come in handy in many instances, but Komatsu mentions it as a frequent tool to help smooth every little part of the frame he can, eliminating those moments that pull audiences out of the story.
Hungry to learn more from great editors? We spoke to Walter Murch about his work on Coup 53.