'Shazam!' Editor Michel Aller On Striking The Balance Between Horror And Comedy

Just like director David F. Sandberg, editor Michel Aller came into Shazam! from the horror genre. But as odd a transition as that may seem, going from editing films like The Nun and Annabelle: Creation to editing this year's most joyful superhero movie was pretty seamless for Aller.

"The approach doesn't differ that much, it's mainly the content," Aller told /Film in a phone interview. "I'm working on a comedy so you're trying to make the laughs land just like how scares land."

Aller first worked with Sandberg on his breakout hit Lights Out and developed a rapport with the director that continued through their collaboration on Annabelle: Creation. So when Sandberg got the job to direct Shazam!, Aller was the first person he called to edit the film. "He's very loyal and he wanted to work together again," Aller said. And Aller jumped at the chance to work with Sandberg again too, not realizing that taking the job would make her the first female film editor with a solo editing credit for any DC or Marvel movie.

"It didn't click for me that, that was a goal that I hit and had paved until the end of the project," Aller said. "We're obviously at this point in the industry where women are finally stepping forward and getting these opportunities and maybe that's part of it."

But Aller's rapport with Sandberg was essential to the success of Shazam! A heartwarming family comedy first and a delightful romp of a superhero movie second, Shazam! had a host of differing tones that could have clashed in the hands of any other director and editor team. And with Sandberg frequently using the opportunity to flex his horror chops, with one particular scene in which Mark Strong's villainous Dr. Sivana attacks a conference room of people taking a turn for the gruesome, Aller had to strike a balance between all of those tones.

"It was definitely a balance that we had to work with we wanted it to be a fun superhero film but then David always comes up with these cool scare ideas and nods to past horror," Aller said. "So it was just a matter of cutting and shaping the film as we went along, and pulling back when you had to pull back — you didn't want to go too far."

However, Aller didn't find that thin line between comedy and horror difficult to walk. The two genres are close cousins, with both the essential elements of horror and comedy — scares and laughs — relying heavily on timing. Which is why Aller found that she most enjoyed cutting scenes of the actors simply riffing, as in the first sequence in which Freddie and Shazam first meet and test out his powers.

"That through the mugging scene at the park through the liquor store scene, it just came together," Aller said, citing this sequence as her favorite one to edit. "It seemed easy, [though] it was a lot of material and it wasn't necessarily easy, but I just enjoyed doing it. It's still one of those things, everything from the cutting, to the look of it, to the acting, I thoroughly enjoy watching it."

As for the most challenging scene for her to edit? It was that (spoiler!) final battle in the third act of the film, in which the Shazam family makes its first appearance. Many superhero films struggle with their third act, but Shazam! manages to make that huge battle sequence zip by while introducing — or rather, reintroducing — a new group of characters while Shazam battles Dr. Sivana in a fight that is both bombastic and boisterous. "[Reintroducing] the characters in a way that you have to give them enough screentime to make it satisfying, yet you have this end battle between Shazam and the villain going on," Aller described, "that took a lot of finessing probably through the whole post-process."

With a Shazam! sequel already greenlit after the film proved to be a critical success and a box office champ, Aller will likely have to go even bigger if she gets called to work on the follow-up. But after getting to fly high with Shazam! she doesn't want to be "pigeon-holed" as that horror editor anymore. "I've been lucky," she said.