I recently had the honor of having an email interview with Ryan M. James, lead editor of games such as The Last Of Us, the Uncharted games, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, and the still-remembered and still-loved Star Wars Battlefront games! He’s also the director of the web series A Clone Apart. Here is the interview below!
1. What was your first experience with Star Wars?
I was born after The Empire Strikes Back came out, and only 2 when Return of the Jedi was in theaters, so I saw all 3 on VHS at home while growing up. I was a fan, with a bunch of the Kenner toys courtesy of my mom.
2. What’s your favorite Star Wars movie and why?
Empire, for all the same reasons people who saw the original trilogy first loved it. Its tone, though still for families, was better than the others, including how it tried to really expand on threads after the first, neatly-structured A New Hope film.
3. You’ve worked with Pandemic Studios and Naughty Dog and helped them with the Star Wars Battlefront games, Mercenaries 2: World In Flames, Uncharted, and The Last Of Us. What was your favorite game to help work on, and why?
The Last of Us, mostly because I had the most creative involvement. Battlefront II has a special place in my heart of course, since that’s when we shot all the A Clone Apart footage.
4. I would love to touch on The Last Of Us for a moment. The Last Of Us was very well received by game critics and got a 10/10 from a lot of groups like IGN. What was your reaction like, and how do you feel about that, considering that your job editing the game is one of the important parts of making it a hit?
It took a lot of work from a ton of people to get everything as polished as it is, and we’re all glad it’s been as well received as it has. Being compared to Citizen Kane is a huge compliment, and we hope we’ve helped push things in terms of showing the character depth, tonal subtlety and moral complexities that games can explore.
5. How much creative control did you have over the game’s editing? Were you able to make a lot of decisions on your own, or were you given a very specific direction? How does that work?
I worked very closely with the Creative Director, Lead Cinematics Animator and Dialogue Supervisor to maintain consistency in the dialogue and camera/editing style throughout the game. The largest level of control I had was over dialogue in the cinematics, but everything was done with the Creative Director’s approval.
6. Considering that as the lead editor you were responsible for getting the music score edited into the game, what’s your favorite music track in the game?
I actually wasn’t responsible for the music, that was provided by our Composer Gustavo Santaolalla and Music Supervisors Scott Hanau and Jonathan Mayer. I played around with cutting a couple pieces into cinematics throughout the project but they provided me with everything and made better edits than I could for all the final stuff you hear.
My top 5 favorite pieces:
1) the one you hear during Joel’s Lie in the second to last cinematic
2) the simple, acoustic version of the main theme while Joel and Ellie have a moment in the apartment before Tess joins them
3) of course the Giraffes piece
4) the music when they say goodbye to Tommy
5) the ending piece
7. Editing anything be it games or videos can get exhausting, because it means repeatedly studying the same sequences over and over again. How did that feel for you considering that The Last Of Us is a very emotional game? Does the beginning still make you tear up?
I’m actually the only person who doesn’t tear up during the beginning. It’s due to the fact that when we capture the actors on the stage, there’s a bunch of velcro noise that can happen when two people touch–like, say, someone holding another in their arms. So that whole sequence to me was a “cleanup job” to preserve great performances, and so each time I hear it I still feel like I’m working on it. So strange, ’cause every other scene I’m separated from and can just watch & enjoy!
8. Now about A Clone Apart. How did the idea for the show come to you?
There’s plenty of info on that in our website’s FAQ, but the shortened version goes like this:
As we were saying earlier, we always loved Star Wars while growing up, but the prequels really threw us, the way they threw a lot of people. We were in a unique position:
When we were working on the Star Wars: Battlefront II filming the cutscenes in-game, my brother Jeff and I thought it’d be fun to get some extra footage and to something similar to Red vs Blue, but in the Star Wars universe. Many crunch-time lunches were spent talking about it, until we realized we’d never seen time travel in the Star Wars universe, and if we took a lone, awkward clone and transported him to the “present” of the Original Trilogy, he could point out everything in the Prequel Trilogies that just didn’t add up, among other gags.
9. I’m very curious about what your inspirations for Teflin McBomb and Percy might’ve been. Was there anything that inspired you to make these characters or did the ideas just come to you?
Percy (Or as we call him most of the time, “Scout”) was really inspired partly by the friend who voices him. Whitney Baron, who has since been co-writing all post-Episode-03 episodes with us, naturally has a very long-winded, verbose way of speaking, so we decided to have him voice the character and amp things up. Whitney never sounds quite like that, but the gist was inspired by him.
Teflin McBomb comes from two places: one, a Scottish accent is one of the only ones I feel I can do passably well–though for the series I purposefully make it over-the-top. Second, I knew a guy in college who played an RPG character named Tic Tac that always liked to blow things up, no matter what circumstance, and when we realized–to keep the characters distinct–that we had to use a Rocket Trooper class for the character, we looked at the bazooka he always carries and said, “Why not make him like Tic Tac?”
10. Can you say anything about what ACA fans can expect to see in Season Two?
Well, first I should say that if there are any fans left after this second hiatus, we’re grateful for their patience. Making The Last of Us took 3.5 years and after the first year-ish, during which I released the rest of ACA Season 1, I realized I was just too exhausted form moonlight-editing the series after a full days work editing TLOU. So the series has been waiting for me to be done. Now TLOU is done, though the single-player DLC we’re making is still taking my time, but never fear, it will be over soon!
That being said, the biggest thing we have in store for fans is… all I can say is it’s my favorite thing we’ve ever wanted to do on the show. It beats Rook killing the Jawa, Alpha’s “believe” speech, and even the Scooby-Doo-like sequence in the Death Star Prison Block, all of which are my other favorite bits we’ve ever done. If you want a hint, look at the shot in the trailer that involves fireworks. Now, if we can only get the *recording* needed for that section to actually happen, that will be the real trick, as it requires efforts we’ve never had to go to before. Once that recording has happened, and I know we’re solid, then–and only then–will I be able to confidently announce that the series last season can come to the light of day.
11. And finally, where can people find out what you’re up to, and are there any projects you’re working on that we’ll get to see in the future?
I’ve been remiss about posting on www.illusive-entertainment.com, so find me on my Facebook Page (the.Ryan.M.James) or follow me on Twitter (@RMJames).
Thank you for your time, Ryan! It was a great honor to ask you these questions!
It was an honor to answer them, I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to them!
You can visit Ryan M. James’ website featuring full episodes of A Clone Apart at illusive-entertainment.com