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I Am Legend: Quiet Streets Filled with Heart-Pounding Drama

I am Legend

I Am Legend - an action/adventure/sci-fi drama - covers a wide range of cinematic territory. Thankfully, editor Wayne Wahrman has seen it all and cut it all before. From heavyweight dramatic features such as All the King’s Men to the sci-fi thriller Constantine or the light-hearted action-adventure Charlie’s Angels, Wahrman’s career is defined by its versatility.

“Editors - or even directors and writers - can get typed as doing just one kind of film, but I like to think that a good editor can cut anything,” says Wahrman. “If you are good at what you do, you can handle any genre. Comedy, drama, action # I try to let the rhythm and subtleties of the footage dictate the editing.”

I Am Legend gives Wahrman a chance to do just that. The film, inspired by the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, the sole survivor of a deadly virus that decimates the human race. The first half of the film is a desolate one: Neville is a man alone in New York City, struggling with the necessities of day-to-day survival in a vacant metropolis with his only companion, a trusty German Shepard.

The quiet intensity of these early sequences presented some creative challenges. “How do you make this kind of material intriguing?,” says Wahrman about the main character’s overwhelming loneliness and lack of human interaction. “We showed his daily routine, what he does, where he goes. There is no one on the streets of New York City in places where you would normally encounter thousands of people. The film has this great, eerie feel as a result of that. What was compelling was seeing this character experience this [isolation].”

Wahrman is quick to cite the talents of writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind; I, Robot) and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) in keeping the audience engaged in every frame. He also credits the sound team, particularly supervising sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound designer Jeremy Peirson, for creating a soundscape that gives the film its frightening, yet familiar feel. Sony Pictures Imageworks contributed to the film’s look as well, handling the CG work, which ranged from refining the look of a post-plague New York City to creating alarmingly realistic-looking creatures that play into the film’s plot.

“Editors - or even directors and writers - can get typed as doing just one kind of film, but I like to think that a good editor can edit anything.”
- Editor, Wayne Wahrman, I Am Legend

The Third Time’s the Charm

This haunting story is a well-mined one: previous film adaptations include The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price. “I avoided watching either of those two earlier films,” says Wahrman. “I didn’t want to even know what other people did. I just wanted to work from our material and see what we could come up with.”

With more than one million feet (nearly 200 hours) of film and approximately 800 visual effects shots, Wahrman and his three editing assistants # first assistant Randy Bricker and visual effects editors May Kuckro and Bronwyn Shields # had plenty of source material to work with. Editing began during filming in New York, where Wahrman kept pace with production, finishing the first cut by the time the shoot ended. He and Bricker then returned to Los Angeles to complete post production.

I am Legend

Wahrman owns five specially equipped Media Composer systems that he rents out to productions (four were used on I Am Legend). He believes that investing in his own systems offers revenue-generating benefits and also helps ensure the overall quality of a film. He explains, “I am very meticulous with sound, and I have high-quality speakers and a better mixer than what you’d find with most rental setups. Years ago I did a temp mix on a rental Avid [system], and then I went into the theater and it sounded so different…it was really disappointing. From then on, I bought my own equipment and used the best audio setups I could find. I tend to do my own temp dubs on the Avid [system] for previews, which allows me to edit right up until a couple of hours before a screening. But that only works if the system is truly representative of what you’ll see and hear in a theater.”

Wahrman, who has been using Avid systems for nearly a decade, particularly relies on the script-based editing feature. “It saves me a lot of time,” he explains. “Once you have all of the film connected to lines of the script, you can review takes, find the film you want, and see alternate lines instantaneously. It’s a great organizational tool. I would never want to lose script-based editing, and most directors I’ve worked with would agree.” He looks forward to upgrading to a Media Composer Adrenaline system on an upcoming project and using the new ScriptSync feature, a next-generation script-based editing tool that uses phonetic speech indexing technology to automatically sync text with media.

“I would never want to lose script-based editing.”
-Editor, Wayne Wahrman, I Am Legend

The Natural

Wahrman has clearly found his creative niche, working in the film industry that he was drawn to as a boy; he remembers Dog Day Afternoon and Chinatown as particularly inspiring films from his youth. He pursued an undergraduate degree in film at UCLA, where he discovered his penchant for editing. “Everyone else would spend six months editing their films and I would edit mine in two or three days, not because I was such a great editor, but because I always shot my films to go together a certain way, which made them easy to cut,” he says.

I am Legend

Other students soon began recommending Wahrman. He even landed his first film editing assistant job in his senior year and has been working steadily in the film industry ever since.

He remains an avid moviegoer who has never lost touch with what motivated him from the beginning # the undeniable magic of great films. “I don’t look at the editing when I am watching a movie. If it’s working I don’t pay attention to it # it’s seamless,” he says. “And that’s the way it should be.”

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