The Pestle


Ep 92: “Edge of Tomorrow”

November 12, 2019

We relive Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” and discuss:

  • shooting a time travel story;
  • writing and story;
  • cinematography, how color grading, lenses, and lighting impacted the story;
  • and other such stuff and things and stuff.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. – Sun Tzu

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So it looks like they shot on location and threw up a massive green screen wall. Probably much easier than building the set in a studio, plus you get the sun to help light the scene (though getting all those nice backlit shots probably has its own cost), though setting up all that green screen is not super fun or fast.

Short Spotlight:

This Week’s Recommendations:


  1. Marc Israel says:

    This is why we need you guys. Never heard of this movie, so ordered it and watched it before listening your your episode, so it’s fresh. New keeper in the collection!

    Yes, it’s a lot of fun and well done. I would ask, would this have existed without “Groundhog Day”? In GD, there was a heavy handed message about being a better person but what was the real point of Tom Cruise going through his experience besides the worldly results? I read of this bring a relative of noir, man dropped into a mysterious circumstances and must understand and adapt that world to get out of it.

    I like that, and liked the cheesy ending. GD ending was way cheesier, if you remember.

    Looking forward to Eternal Sunshine (a top ten favorite)

    1. wes says:

      haha, yesss! Love that this was a new one for you! And totally agree, I really like the cheesy ending and it didn’t feel cheap at all considering that it perfectly plays into the story logic. No problems on my end at all!

      I couldn’t quite nail down the purpose of the experience either. I really like the noir connection and suspect there’s some Buddhist link in there having to do reincarnation and the purpose of suffering. I haven’t studied Buddhism enough to really button up that idea, but think it’s probably central to the subtext & theme of the film.

      1. Marc Israel says:

        The ending actually reminded me of the ending in the David Finches movie “The Game”, when Michael Douglass gets Unknowingly led by the nose is a life altering experience and when all was over gets the opportunity to get in the taxi with the femme fatale, he gives that look of curious contemplation and then they cue Jefferson Airplanes “White Rabbit” snd you know he’s voluntarily going down that rabbit hole! Freaking awesome!

  2. Joe Howes says:

    Just started this episode, but since I work in the VFX industry at Weta Digital I figured I’d chime in a bit!!


    – On a tiny indie production, everybody is learning as they go, so there’s probably no VFX Supervisor onset and the DP and director are doing the best they can with their means. Personally I *LOVE* this setup 🙂

    – On a smaller production where the production itself is doing VFX, there will be a VFX Supervisor and hopefully a small onset VFX crew reporting to the supe. Together they ensure the acquired data that will be turned over for post production is solid. Key screens are brightly and evenly lit, tracking markers are well placed, etc etc.

    – On larger productions where there are multiple VFX studios, the best setup is for a small VFX crew from each studio on set for the shots they are responsible for. The studio VFX crews report to a studio VFX supe, and those VFX supes report to the show VFX supe. Productions don’t always have the budget to bring a VFX studio crew onset, in which case the show and the studio communicate as best they can to minimise problems, but generally things will go much smoother, quicker, and cheaper if you can afford the cost of bringing on a studio VFX crew.

    – On VFX-centric productions, you very well may have several VFX departments represented. For example, on Planet of the Apes 2 and 3, Weta sent a supe and on-set crew, as well as a mocap crew to set up the weatherproof mobile mocap studio and maintain it during production. If you check Jon Landau’s Instagram, you’ll see *HUNDREDS* of Weta Digital crew on set for the Avatar sequels!


    Show VFX Supervisor

    The film production itself will have its own VFX supervisor. On smaller productions where the film production is also the VFX studio, the show supe participates in pre-production planning, and on-set makes sure that everything being captured will make life as easy as possible on the VFX team. They’ll be working with an onset team, all of whom report to the supe, and they make sure that markers are correctly placed and in frame as much as possible, key screens are properly lit, gimp suits and tracking sleeves are all correct, etc, etc, etc.

    On larger productions where you have multiple VFX studios taking on different VFX loads, the show VFX supe will have their own vision, and act as the show liaison to the VFX studio supes. They will all work together to make sure that the vision of the director and DP are being honored and that what’s happening on set is going to produce the right capture data (plates, camera motion, etc).

    Pre-production, planning, and budgeting are all discussed and negotiated between the show’s producers, director, DP, and supe, and the studio’s producers and supe.

    Studio VFX Supervisor

    Every show that a VFX studio takes on gets assigned a lead supe. The best outcomes are always when a small team from the studio is invited onset to either observe or assist, but that is not always the case depending on budget. Sometimes the best you can do is tell the production what you need them to capture, and then you do what you can with what they turn over, but if we can put a Weta team on the ground, the data turned over is always better to work with.

    VFX studio supes on set will only be around for shots that concern them, and will work with the show VFX crew to lend expertise and make sure everything is being captured correctly. You might have a crew from Lola making sure an actor’s face markers are in place and set up correctly and that they are being tracked, and a crew from Weta working with the DP to make sure environment trackers are placed such that they are in frame for as much of the shot as possible to get a solid virtual camera solve. All the concerns of the VFX crews are typically reported to the show VFX supe so that the director and DP aren’t too overwhelmed with information.

    Cool anecdote time: Studio supes also record notes about things that just aren’t going to be captured right on set and will require more time in post. This allows the studio VFX producers to be aware of upcoming cost overruns. An example of this was when our Matt Aitken was in Georgia for the shot in Avengers: Endgame after the line “Avengers … assemble!” When all the heroes charge together at Thanos’ army. The stunt man playing Black Panther in that shot was so hype and is in such fantastic shape that on every take he just exploded and outran all the other performers by a huge gap (I think that stunt man was the incredible and sweet Gui DaSilva-Greene, who you can see on the Corridor Crew “Stuntmen React” videos). When they reviewed the plates some days later, the director realised that he wanted all the heroes to advance as a single unit, to underscore that the Civil War is over and the Avengers are now a unified force against Thanos. Unfortunately that impressive sprinting clashed with the visual cohesion that the Russos were after, so Matt had to note that we’d need to move Black Panther for the final shot.

    Weta’s approach to a fix like that is to honour the vision of all the performers on set, so when Black Panther was painted out of the plate, the digital double was carefully match-moved to the performance from the plate, so that the Russo’s cohesive vision was honoured, but so was the amazing physical performance of the stunt person.

    Without a supe on set for that, Weta may not have known about that task well ahead of time, and the later in production tasks come up, the more expensive they are.

    1. wes says:

      Duuuuuude! Fricking badass post and super appreciative!! And I agree, I love the small setup style as well, haha, no bias here. 😛
      But I think I like it because of the faster shooting style allowing a more organic connection and development of the day’s shooting. I like rolling takes instead of long arduous setups, let’s act and create, rather than endlessly light and tinker.

      Really cool side story! Loooove that they wanted to honor the performance and the director’s intent and sounds like they bent over backwards to keep both intact. I’m sure there were a few mutterings — I’d be irked if it felt like an actor was upstaging haha — but damn cool to make it seamlessly work, but that’s what y’all mofos do! Creme de la creme.

      Thanks again man, I’ll be re-perusing this periodically as a refresher. 🙂

      1. Joe Howes says:

        So happy to contribute, mah friend!!!

  3. Hannah says:

    Wow oh wow. I truly cannot recall another moment in time when I was this inescapably confronted with how dorky I am. The Pestle is “my jam” and I’m not sorry.
    What a strange and small world.
    This podcast absolutely stays at the top of my list for my morning commute to work, and my trip home in the evenings. Any day that starts with The Pestle is 10x better than a day started without it. You guys are a blessing.
    You keep me in touch with my creative side that I’ve started to feel less connected to now that I’m done with my undergraduate media/art/communication courses, and you help kickstart my analytical and technical frame-of-mind that I desperately need to channel every day as a film-commission liaison.
    You guys are deeply appreciated, and I hope you keep up the amazing work for all of the current and future Hannahs and Joes (and Scott too, I suppose).


    1. Joe Howes says:

      This is my favourite Pestle post EVER!!

    2. wes says:

      Hannah! I’ve been thinking about this comment for weeks! Thank you for taking the time to drop a note and I 100 agree with Joe, favorite post ever! One of my favorite things about movies is how fundamental they are to the human experience in that they are just stories on how we all relate and connect to each other, which is the favorite pastime of humanity: discussing ourselves. Even a sci-fi film about aliens isn’t about aliens, it’s about growth, nobility, love, hope and so much more, the aliens are just the avenue to explore our humanity. All that to say that it’s always surprising and affecting to see a comment like yours and the power of how your story influences my own despite how “super tangential” it all is.

      And I don’t know what a “film-commission liaison” is, but I’m pretty sure you just said you’re a studio head at Disney. Congratulations on all your success, you smell terrific! What is a film-commission liaison, Hanneez?

  4. Joe Howes says:

    Half way through this episode and I have no idea why this one is sparking so many thoughts, but here they are, some of them pretty random and tangentially related!


    Verdun in France was the site of one of the most horrific battles in the history of war. The ONLY reason I have a visceral reaction to the name is because Dan Carlin does such an incredible job of describing the on-the-ground experience of soldiers at Verdun in episode IV of the Blueprint for Armageddon series in his Hardcore History podcast.

    The choice of Verdun for Edge of Tomorrow is brilliant for this reason!


    Regarding Wes’ discussion about seeing actors or crew bringing something to his writing that he didn’t expect and appreciating that: I worked on a film once where we got to interview the screenwriter, Stephen Jeffries who is also a noted playwright. He spoke about the absolute delight it brings him to write a play or screenplay and end up with something so totally different than what he envisioned. He was hilariously dismissive of anyone NOT finding delight in that aspect of it, and with a grin said something like “If you don’t enjoy what other artists might bring to your table, go be a goddamn novelist or something.”


    As a gigantic Tolkien nerd, one of my favourite uses of catch lights in film history was the choice of DP Andrew Lesnie to create an apparatus to provide an incredible tree-of-light effect in Cate Blanchett’s eyes for the first scene with Galadriel.

    At the time the fellowship meets her, Galadriel is the last elf in Middle-earth who remembers the light of the two trees of Valinor Laurelin and Telperion, created by Yavanna before the First Age, which provided all light in the world before the sun and the moon. Lesnie’s deep care for the world outside the edges, going to that length to hint at Galadriel’s incredible wisdom instead of just placing a light like he could’ve, is one of those magical things which another artist might bring to the written word that Tolkien could never have imagined that makes the collaborative effort of film so magical.

    THIS is why I am head over heels in love with film, and thank you Wes and Todd for frothing up all this passion in us for this form of expression.

  5. Scott Graham says:

    I had a pause this episode and rewatch it cause I couldn’t remember it. But I remember loving it and yup, still loved it. Also when Todd was talking about desired sequels, we both said out loud “ District 9!” Hahaha crazy. But so true! Come on!

    1. wes says:

      haha, right! I’d take a District 9 sequel any day. Although, Neil Blomkamp has struggled in his last couple of films as Chappie and Elysium could’ve used a lot of help. Still, sign me up for more D9, please and thank you.

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