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Shazam gets one over Marvel with female filmmaking milestone

Meet Michel Aller, the first solo female editor of a superhero film across both DC and Marvel.

Warner Bros. Pictures

DC films may have their skeptics, but in 2017, a great redeemer washed ashore in the form of Wonder Woman. Featuring a female director and female lead, the film saw good reviews and box office success. According to a study, it also boosted the self-esteem of girls who watched it.

The latest DC film, Shazam, starring Zachary Levi, adds another name to DC's list of female filmmakers. Its editor, Michel Aller, previously known for working in the world of horror, is now happily the first solo female editor of a major superhero film, DC or otherwise.

This milestone comes as DC and Marvel up their ranks of women working in behind-the-scenes positions. Patty Jenkins was the first female director of an American studio superhero film with Wonder Woman. Since then, it was announced Cathy Yan would take on Birds of Prey for DC, Cate Shortland would be directing Marvel's Black Widow and Chloé Zhao Marvel's Eternals (these films are looking at a 2020 release). The recent Captain Marvel was co-directed by Anna Boden, marking Marvel's first female director.

So what's it like to have the title of first solo female editor across both DC and Marvel? "It's wonderful," Aller said via email. "It's not something I started out wanting to achieve or even thought about really, but I'm extremely proud of it. I'm lucky to have worked with such a great crew."

Aller first realized she wanted to be an editor while working at a movie trailer editing house. "I enjoy the fact that you can rearrange scenes, or shots and create emotions or change intentions of scenes all in the way you cut it," Aller said. For other budding editors out there, a piece of advice Aller picked up from a fellow editor: "No version of a scene [is] right or wrong, it's just an interpretation of it," Aller said.

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Shazam and buddy Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) know how great editing is.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Shazam follows Billy, played by Asher Angel, as he searches for his birth mother -- and fends off attacks from the evil Sivana, played by Mark Strong. With its cast of teenagers and hijinks that involve rewarding oneself with free sweets and soft drink after preventing a convenience store robbery, Shazam isn't exactly horror film territory. Luckily, when it comes to editing, the genre isn't a game changer.

"The only difference is the content," said Aller, her recent work including The Nun, Annabelle: Creation and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. "Cutting horror or any other genre is about timing and pacing. Trying to tell the story as efficiently and as nuanced as the material dictates. When cutting horror you try to create tension and get the scare, for comedy you cut for timing of the jokes."

But working in the editing room is certainly no joke. Aller, cutting the film on the Avid Symphony using Media Composer 8.6.5, holed up in an office in Toronto during principle photography. She would start her day usually around 8 a.m. and leave anywhere from 10 p.m. to midnight. Depending on whether director David F. Sandberg (who worked with Aller on Lights Out), had time in his schedule, he would join her at the office and they would turn over the material together. That material involved the dailies, the raw unedited footage coming in for processing at the office each day.

Aller would take a 30-minute lunch break to help with the long days and "not just sit at Avid, work and eat." When she returned home to LA, she continued to work 12-hour plus days in post-production after all the shooting had taken place.

Not only did Aller have to manage a high volume of work, the material was intricate. Aller had to keep the sound crew, the music department and the composer up to date as the complicated VFX shots came in, shots which would affect the picture length. "The trickiest part of the job was juggling all the elements of post," Aller said.

After all her hard work, Aller is satisfied with the final product. Shazam has been greenlit for a sequel and our reviewer called the film "a giddy, exuberant blast of superhero freshness."

"It's always fun and a bit surreal after all the time put into it, but in the end after watching the final product I am super proud," Aller said.

What's next?

"Vacation."