'Patriots Day' Editor: Cutting Room "Was the Last Line of the Truth"

Colby Parker Jr. emphasizes the effort to create an authentic account of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Courtesy of Karen Ballard

Creating an authentic and absorbing account of the April 15, 2013, terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon was top priority for Patriots Day director Peter Berg and editors Colby Parker Jr. and Gabriel Fleming.

It required extreme care, as it was not just an account of an event but a still recent one. For this, Berg did extensive research. "He went to Boston and met the families. Pete immersed himself with the real people and got facts from them," Parker Jr. relates. "There were a lot of logistics to get everyone on board. He spent the time to make sure they were comfortable with what we were going to show," he says.

"We wanted to tell the truth and let people decide on their own what they should feel," Parker Jr. says of the goal in the cutting room. "I felt like a lot of the time I was the last line of the truth. I wanted to make sure it was objective."

That meant, for instance, that he fought to keep a sequence during which the police shoot at the boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hid before his capture and conviction. Says Parker Jr., "There were a few calls to take that out. But I said, 'No, it happened.' I wanted to show the actual events."

In the film, the events from the day of the bombing and the days following unfold rapidly and with urgency as officials identify and search for the suspects.

Parker Jr. — whose credits range from Berg's Deepwater Horizon (which he also edited with Fleming) and Lone Survivor to Marvel's Ant-Man — admits the first part of Patriots Day, which features the marathon and concludes with the bombing, was "extremely difficult" to edit. "There were a million iterations. You had to compress time and also keep all the characters alive in the story. There were a lot of characters (including the police, those injured in the attack, and Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev).

"For me, I have been to a few marathons, and it's almost spiritual in the way the crowd pushes the runner on," he adds, saying that he wanted to capture that feeling as well.

The editor explains that in the scenes following the bombing, they had to continue to advance the action while keeping the story tight (the final cut clocks in at two hours and 10 minutes). In the editing room, that meant cutting some scenes.

"There was a lot more to the relationship between Katherine Russell (Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife) and Dzhokhar," Parker Jr. says and cites this as an example of something they removed to keep the story tight and on track. "There were a few scenes where there was conflict between them, but in the bigger picture of the film, it just wasn't necessary."

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