Inside the editing of 'Avengers: Endgame,' which included drastic changes to Black Widow's big moment and the time-travel scenes

  • Warning: Major spoilers below if you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame.”
  • “Avengers: Endgame” editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt look back on the over-one-year process of editing “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame” back-to-back.
  • Both movies combined had 900 hours of footage shot.
  • Huge changes were made on “Endgame” in post production, including Black Widow’s major scene in the movie and how the Battle of New York in “The Avengers” was introduced in the time-travel portion of the movie.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Warning: Major spoilers below if you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame.”

Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt talk with pride about their work on “Endgame” and “Infinity War.” It would be hard not to. For the last two years, the editors have done little else but work on crafting not one, but two Marvel movies, both of which rank high on the list of biggest box-office earners of all time.

But in talking to Ford and Schmidt, there are times when you can hear in their voices just how difficult it was. Their tone changes from upbeat to serious, and their descriptions fill with words like “slog,” “pressure,” and “intense.”

Starting in January 2017, the two were part of the core creative team that crafted the conclusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga with the the making of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” It was a process in which the duo edited both movies back-to-back, and were often cutting at the same time directors Anthony and Joe Russo were still shooting the movie.

“We were cutting every day, we were refining, we were figuring out what we were going to reshoot, figuring out what we had to finish,” Ford told Business Insider. “It was a constant state of preproduction, production, and post production all at the same time for almost a year straight.”

Editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt edited “Infinity War” and Endgame” back-to-back.Marvel“And then when we finished that year of insanity,” Ford continued, “we went right into an absolutely hellish, almost impossible post production period that lasted from January to April when we delivered ‘Infinity War,’ and that was one of the most intense periods of filmmaking I ever experienced, and I have worked on some crazy movies.”

Before working on “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” Ford’s credits included MCU titles like “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “The Avengers,” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Throughout most of it, Schmidt has been by his side, first as an assistant editor starting with the first “Avengers” movie and then sharing editing credit with Ford beginning on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

And having an editing duo is almost essential for how MCU titles are churned out. While Ford was wrapping post on “Infinity War,” Schmidt continued assembling the “Endgame” footage while the Russos were shooting so they would not have to wait on seeing edited sequences.

Read more: Director of dark indies, lover of American accents, and fan of psychology essays: Karen Gillan is much more than Nebula from the Marvel Cinematic Universe

“We showed them a version of ‘Endgame’ [within] about a week, week-and-a-half of principal photography being done,” Schmidt said.

In total, Ford said over 900 hours of material was shot between the two movies.

“It was a massive amount of footage with three, sometimes four units working every day pumping out material,” Ford said. “And I’m not even including the motion-capture footage. But if you do a bit at a time you can get through it.”

Within the epic journey to edit the movies came some decisions that changed how scenes and sequences were originally put together at the script stage. That’s especially true of “Endgame,” which along with the typical MCU blueprint of big battles and dramatic moments also had the added element of featuring footage from previous MCU movies for its time-travel plot — leading to major tweaks.

Below, Ford and Schmidt explain how “Endgame” evolved in the edit suite:

Black Widow’s dramatic scene was drastically changed to make it more intimate.

The scene of Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) searching for the Soul Stone on Vormir led to one of the most dramatic moments in “Endgame.” Both Avengers try to stop the other from jumping off the cliff so the other can obtain the stone. Finally, it’s Black Widow who gives her soul for the Soul Stone.

But originally, the scene was very different.

“On script and what we first shot was an excellent scene,” Schmidt said. “Thanos and his soldiers show up on Vormir and a small battle ensues between them and Natasha and Clint. Natasha decides to run off the cliff. Clint tries to stop her while also fending off the attack.”

Schmidt said the original scene showing how Black Widow dies was shown to test audiences and the reaction was positive, but after some time with the footage a new idea for the scene began to take form.

“It was reshot to make it more intimate between Clint and Natasha, which fully worked in the end version of the movie,” Schmidt said. “We just came up with a better idea, something that serviced Natasha a little bit more.”

Choosing the right place to enter in the Battle of New York was changed numerous times.

During the “time heist” portion of “Endgame” the Avengers go back to important moments in the past to retrieve the Infinity Stones. In one instance, they go back to New York to get the Tesseract right when the Battle of New York is taking place from the first “Avengers” movie.

But a decision had to be made about what point they return in the battle that audiences would instantly recognize. It was not figured out until post.

“The script had us showing up right when Tonyflies through the Leviathan and blows it up from the inside,” Ford said. “But when we screened it for audiences in test screenings we realized it took a few minutes for them to acclimate themselves. It wasn’t landing the way we wanted. So we tried other versions.”

Ford said he cut one sequence where the entry point is the scene where Hulk grabs Loki andsmashes him back and forth on the ground like a rag doll. But another moment from the movie won out.

“The version that won was where we come in on the Avengers first assembling, the round-a-round shot,” Ford said. “It was the cleanest and most epic transition back into ‘Avengers 1.'”

The footage from Asgard of Loki and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) was from unused “Thor: The Dark World” footage.

Ford and Schmidt had to dive deep into the archives for two great shots from the section of the movie when Thor and Rocket go back to Asgard to retrieve the Aether.

“The shot of Loki throwing his cup in the cell and Thor and Rocket sneak past him in the background, that’s a piece of digital negative taken from the dailies of ‘The Dark World’ that we repurposed,” Ford said. “The same for the scene of Natalie Portman.”

Ford said the goal with all the jumps back in time in “Endgame” was to use as much footage from those original movies as possible. So in the case of Portman, she didn’t have to step on set once to be in “Endgame.”

Why the need for Thanos to speak at the end of the movie led to the memorable ‘I am Iron Man’ line from Tony Stark.

Ford became a part of MCU history afterthe Russos revealed in an interview that he was the one who came up with Tony Stark’s memorable “I am Iron Man” line to Thanos after he snatches the Infinity Stones from him. And according to Ford, the idea came after looking at many versions of the sequence.

“We shot it in a couple of different ways in the initial shoot with different lines of dialogue,” Ford said. “Robert [Downey Jr.] also does an improvisation. We did some where he’s just silent and one of those was our favorite for a long time. But we decided Thanos needed a moment at the end of the movie where he says something.”

Ford said that in the original concept of the scene Thanos didn’t say anything, it is just revealed when he snaps his fingers that he doesn’t have the stones and that Stark took them.

“We thought there’s this structure of the movie where Thanos says he’s inevitable — he says it in the beginning of the movie and he sees himself say it in the middle of the movie,” Ford said. “So we thought this could create this incredible symmetry if we carried that moment forward.”

So once the “I’m inevitable” Thanos line was put in, the “I am Iron Man” line (which Downey Jr. came back to film in reshoots) was born to counter it.

Ford has got a kick out of the attention thanks to the Russos shoutout, but he’s realistic about it.

“I’ve pitched some crazy bad stuff and they shot it down right away,” he said with a laugh. “But if you don’t say it you never know.”

Kevin Feige wanted the movie to close with the hammer sound from the first “Iron Man” movie.

If you stuck around until the very end of the credits of “Endgame” you found something very unfamiliar for an MCU movie: not a single scene appeared. Instead, there was the sound of a hammer hitting metal while the Marvel Studios logo appeared on the screen. The sound is from the first “Iron Man” movie in 2008, as Tony Stark creates his first Iron Man suit. It pays homage to the movie that launched the MCU.

According to Ford, the hammer sound was an idea Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige suggested during post production of “Endgame.”

“We knew early on that we weren’t going to have any post credit scenes in this movie,” Ford said. “Towards the end of our mix, Kevin came in and said, ‘I got an idea, and I want to try it, what if we have a little audio flashback at the end with Tony?’ So we dug through the elements of ‘Iron Man 1’ and found the exact piece of sound from the print master. We laid it in against the logo and adjusted the rhythm slightly. We showed Kevin and he gave it his blessing. We thought this was a great sendoff.”

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