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The Comedy of Errors

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at 30: Editor Peter Boyle On Clashes, Costner and Walking Away from the Project

16 July 21 interview: Ashley Carter
illustrations: Smugcomputer Illustration

A $50 million budget, Hollywood’s biggest star, England’s most famous legend, an Oscar nomination, a BAFTA win, a song that became one of the best-selling singles of all time, that performance from Alan Rickman and a box office take of almost $400 million. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves left a huge impact on the legacy of Nottingham’s folk hero and, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its release, we caught up with some of the people responsible for bringing it to life, including editor Peter Boyle...

Oscar and BAFTA nominated editor Peter Boyle has collaborated with director Kevin Reynolds on numerous projects, including Waterworld, The Postman and Tristan + Isolde. But their second film working together, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, saw the pair clash with the Hollywood machine...

As an editor, the biggest difference between then and now was the fact that it was all shot and edited on film. It was the old style of editing: white gloves, white chinagraph pencils and a moviola. Me and my assistant, Jonathan Lucas, travelled around the various filming locations in caravans, editing on location as we went - except when they were filming in Shepperton Studios. The idea then, as it is now, was that as soon as a scene is shot, the directors and the producers want to see if the material cuts together and works. As editor, you’re meant to say, ‘Oh it’s all wonderful, but we haven’t got a close-up shot of this moment.’ The negative would be sent to the courier after the day’s shooting, processed overnight and then the printed material would be sent back to the cutting room at Shepperton. The team there would sync up the sound with the picture, and courier the reels of rushes to wherever we were, which was on Hadrian’s Wall at times. As soon as we got the material, I’d cut it as soon as possible and the director, Kevin Reynolds, would come and watch it. By the end of any given day, I would have cut what was shot the day before. It was a very efficient system, but involved a lot of people!

Kevin Reynolds and I got on terribly well, and remain great friends. We’d make changes in the edit and do what we felt we wanted to do, and what worked for the film, before it was shown to the studio. But that’s when things get complicated. You see, in Hollywood, everyone wants to feel like they’ve ‘saved’ the film. No matter how successful, or how well it works, someone will always say, ‘Well I came up with the idea that saved that film’. And that’s when we hit problems. After shooting we went to Hollywood to edit the film and, I don’t know fully what happened, but there was a falling out between Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Costner and the studio. We actually got the edit finished ready for previews, where it had started to get the most phenomenally high scores. Of course, the moment something becomes successful, everybody in Hollywood wants to get their hands on it so they can say that they were part of it. It suddenly became very political.

Eventually, the whole editing crew was fired. Or rather, we walked off and, when we went back to get our things, found that the locks had all been changed

Then there was the famous incident where we were locked out of our own cutting rooms. The studio tried to fire Kevin Reynolds – and this is after we’d got the highest ever score for a preview screening – so it was total madness. By then, the cutting room was a big element, as we had about ten people working on the edit. Because we all loved Kevin, and were totally loyal to him, we told the studio that, if they fired him, we were all walking. In those days that was quite a dilemma for the studio because there was only one version of the film – all of the scenes that had been changed or removed existed only in my head. Today, there would be endless digital versions of each edit, but then, without the editor, it was all lost. Eventually, the whole editing crew was fired. Or rather, we walked off and, when we went back to get our things, found that the locks had all been changed. 

Up until that point it had been a terribly happy experience, but Hollywood doesn’t do irony or self-mocking at all. They didn’t recognise the sense of humour that Kevin Reynolds had – particularly with Alan Rickman, as they worked terribly well together. Kevin Costner was the biggest star in Hollywood at the time – and is a very lovely guy – but the studio wanted to protect this huge investment they had in him.

Right from the start there was an anxiety that Rickman, this relatively unknown British actor, was acting him off the screen. I think it started during the end-of-shooting party. It’s a tradition that, once filming has wrapped, the cast and crew would come together for a party to watch the outtakes.

It was only on the day of the event that they asked me to edit some bloopers together, and all I could think of was the scenes in which Alan Rickman was sword fighting. He got it wrong a few times, but always in such a funny way – he was a truly wonderful character actor. So I cut all of these mistakes to Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, and rushed it up to BAFTA where the party was happening.

When I got there I bumped into Alan, who said to me, “If you can, try and save my role.” I couldn’t think what he meant, until I went into the party and found out that Costner and his team were watching the outtakes of Alan for the fifteenth time. That’s when people realised that Kevin Costner wasn’t going to be the star of the film, because Rickman was taking some of the glory. From that moment on, there was always this sense of anxiety bubbling away. 

Other people fiddled with the cut of the film that we left and, I must say, I was pretty horrified by some of the editing. It was very crude. So it didn’t feel like our film when I saw it. Much of it was, but they messed up a lot of moments. I haven’t watched the film for years, so I have no idea how I’d feel about it now. As an editor, you know every frame of the film – it’s burnt into your brain. So even if they only change two frames, it jumps right out at you. That’s what happened when I saw it.

That’s when people realised that Kevin Costner wasn’t going to be the star of the film, because Rickman was taking some of the glory. From that moment on, there was always this sense of anxiety bubbling away

Kevin Reynolds is a wonderful director, and he and Costner go back a long way, but have always feuded. He actually gave Costner his first break in a small film that was spotted by Steven Spielberg. I believe that, to this day, Costner and Reynolds still own the rights to a pirate project that hasn’t come to fruition. It would be a wonderful film if they made it! I don’t know, they may well be talking again now. 

I still look back on the film with great affection, because it was a very happy project to work on. The moment it went wrong in Hollywood was right at the end of the process, so it was just an unfortunate conclusion. Overall it was a very happy experience, and was my first big budget film. We all know the legend of Hollywood; getting to experience it first-hand was very amusing and fascinating. To go there with a big film, on a big salary, was like being given the keys to Disneyland – it was just a lot of fantasy and a lot of fun. 

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