Tag Archives: Golden Globes

Tatiana Riegel on editing the dark comedy I, Tonya

By Randi Altman

I, Tonya is sad and funny and almost unbelievable in the sense that this — or a version of this — actually did happen. It’s also a fantastic movie.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan “Why?!” incident took place. I think we all knew at the time that what was playing out was more like a soap opera and less like figure skating. Thanks to the Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, everyone gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what led up to that assault, and it’s not pretty. What the public didn’t know back in 1993 was the abuse that Tonya Harding was enduring via her mother, her husband Jeff Gillooly and even the figure skating community, who viewed her as too working class to represent them.

Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

I, Tonya’s editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE, is a long-time collaborator of Gillespie’s, having worked with him now on five features (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours, Fright Night and Million Dollar Arm) and the pilot for the TV series United States of Tara for Showtime. She says the shorthand they’ve developed over 10 years “is thrilling and makes life very, very easy.”

We spoke to newly minted Oscar-nominee Riegel about working with Gillespie and her workflow on the film, which was nominated for a number of Golden Globes and has earned Riegel her own ACE Eddie and Independent Spirit award nods as well.

When were you brought on I, Tonya?
Craig told me about it the fall of 2016, and I officially began when they started shooting in January 2017.

Were you on set, near set? How did that work?
I was far from set. I was in Los Angeles, and they were shooting in Atlanta. It was very nice for me to be able to stay home. That is one of those advantages that I can have with Craig because we do have such a shorthand. And while I have traveled with him on location many times, this time, from a budget standpoint, it was prohibitive. Plus, we were going to be in New York for the six months of post, and I didn’t want to go away for nine months. This was our compromise.

You worked out of Harbor Picture Company in New York, where the post was being done?
Yes. It was lovely. They’re so nice. I really — I have to say — I miss it and I hope I get to go back to New York and work there again. I felt like I was at home, even though I wasn’t.

Can you talk about how you and Craig work together? Does he shoot a lot of coverage?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is he is very prepared and very disciplined. The schedule on this was quite short. It was 31 days, and I think there were 260 or 265 scenes. So it was compact, but he was so wonderfully prepared. For certain scenes, he didn’t shoot as much coverage, but for other scenes, much more. But always with lots of options, which makes editors very happy.

What did he shoot on?
Craig shot most of it on film, which was lovely. It gave it a great look. He shot 2- and 3-perf, 35mm film, but then he did do some stuff digitally. The interviews were shot digitally, just because of the amount of coverage. It was three hours, per person, for the interviews. And then, obviously, some of the extreme slow-motion stuff was shot with a Phantom camera.

Did Harbor do the dailies?
They did not. We did the DI at Company 3. That’s where we finished, and the dailies were processed at Crawford in Georgia.

Who is your assistant, and how do you work together? Are they covering the technical stuff? Are they another eye?
They’re both. This was probably our sixth or seventh film together. Dan Boccoli is fantastic. For this film he was on with me during dailies, because when we went to New York I had to hire a local. His name was Steve Jacks, who was also superb.

Dan and all of my assistants are a wonderful combination of creative and technical. They are preparing everything, communicating with all of the different departments, making sure I have everything I need, and they keep me out of those loops that I don’t want to get involved in.

I show them scenes and get their feedback, which is wonderful for me — this allows me to show somebody before I show the director or anybody else. Just to make sure everything’s being comprehended properly, and I’m getting the reaction that I want. It’s also a teaching process for them; they get to understand the whole process, and learn for their own future.

Was Craig looking at scenes you were editing?
With all directors, I like to stay up to camera as much as possible. I want to start that conversation sooner rather than later to make sure we’re all on the same page tonally, performance-wise and story-wise. Then there are the practical things like, is all the coverage there? I try to put the scenes together quickly, the best that I can, and send them off on a daily basis, sometimes a couple times a week, sometimes once a week. It depends on what’s being shot.

Another advantage is that when shooting is finished and they come in for the first time to watch the assembly, they’re not surprised by anything. It’s not anywhere close to being done, but they are clear about what they have and how we’re doing tonally and performance-wise.

How were you physically getting scenes to Craig?
A variety of ways, but usually it was a system like Pix or DAX because of piracy issues. It’s very secure, and he was able to watch it online.

Were there any instances where you thought coverage was missing?
Yes, there was one situation. Shawn, the bodyguard, doesn’t really show up in the movie until the second half — there are only some interviews early on. I actually asked for a couple more instances to be added so we would have an introduction to him. This way it wasn’t a new character popping up and the audience thinking, “Oh, I think I saw him once.” I called Craig and he agreed, and the writer Steven Rogers agreed.

Can you talk about editing the skating scenes? I know that VFX was used for some of that and there was a double, but how did that work?
There are four or five larger skating sequences, and Craig and the DP talked very early on about each having their own personality. For example, the first one, the ZZ Top one, is earlier in Tonya’s career, and she’s got an attitude and gruffness and a strength that wants to be portrayed in that sequence. Especially after coming off of the Vivaldi Four Seasons, and emphasizing how Tonya Harding was not the typical ice skater. She didn’t fit the mold, and she really did skate to ZZ Top.

Craig and the DP Nicolas Karakatsanis watched the original skating sequences for the choreography and tried to get as close as possible. They had to do some pretty serious planning for these seamless transitions between Margot and the double. Margot had trained for about five months, so she did a fair amount of spectacular stuff where you have to be an Olympian type moves. She did do some of the dancing and getting on and off the ice, and the beginning and ends of routines.

Then it was a question of following this choreography map they had set up, but also spicing it up and giving each of the scenes their own personality and energy. The ZZ Top scene is very energetic and a bit show-off-y. The one at the end of the film, at Lillehammer, is all done in one shot, or it plays as one shot. We go in and out of Margot and the double, and that’s purposely done to build the tension, the anxiety and the stress she’s going through at that moment with her shoelace having broken.

The soundtrack is fun. Can you talk about that?
There was nothing about music in the script. This is all something that Craig brought to it. He had gotten a lot of music from the music supervisor, prior to shooting, and we began listening to stuff. But after I had the whole thing together, we sat down, about a week into it, and started throwing music against it and figuring out what worked for energy, for pacing, for fun and for emotion. We just kept trying things, moving them around. Sometimes we cut in or out of songs very quickly, for momentum, and that became a lot of what we did in the post process. Experimenting.

There was a scene where Gillooly is on the floor of his house, and then the camera sort of backs away and takes you down a street. Was that one shot?
It plays as one, but it was actually shot as four different parts. He starts on the bed, which I just love. He’s distraught and hunched over, but looking right at the camera. Then the camera pulls away from him and goes into the hallway, and then we find him again in the kitchen, where he’s obviously trying to talk to her but get mad, so he throws the phone. Then it pulls out of the kitchen and into the living room, and he’s sitting alone on the floor. Then it pulls out of the living room onto the front yard and down the whole block. It was all these different shots that were stitched together quite beautifully.

While there was obvious violence and abuse, there was also humor, so it was a fine line you needed to walk. How did you tackle that as an editor?
Craig spoke with Margot and everybody about it very early on, because it was really important to not sugarcoat that stuff. This is what made her who she is and made her react how she did. This is the reality of her life. There’s a documentary about her when she’s 15 years old, and she’s very matter-of-factly talking about her mother hitting her. She says it in a very detached, unemotional way that really struck a chord in Craig. That’s when he came up with this idea of breaking the fourth wall and having the characters talk directly to the camera. It allowed the characters to separate emotionally from that moment in a way that felt very lifelike to us. Although it’s not a lifelike moment, talking to the camera, it gives it detachment. It also shows survival. It’s the 45-year-old Tonya talking back about that moment having survived.

You cut this film on Avid Media composer. What about it do you like, and did you use ScriptSync?
I find it to be just a fantastic tool for sharing media. I know how to use it very well, so I don’t have to think, which is terrific. I did use ScriptSync for the very first time on this film. I just haven’t felt the need for it before, but this time it was helpful because of the way the interviews were shot, which were, for the most part, very long takes. The interviews are spaced throughout the script, so the actors would read all the way through them, doing some retakes within a take, but then continue on. So, just from an organizational standpoint, ScriptSync was a lifesaver. It was just brilliant. I don’t know how I would have done it without it, to be perfectly honest. It would have been excruciatingly time consuming.

Is there any scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging?
The film as a whole was very challenging in terms of balancing the very serious with the very funny. There are moments that portray that, like the knife scene where she’s having dinner with her mother. The conversation grows into this terrible fight, and they are screaming at each other. Then the mother’s throwing stuff, and then she throws the knife, and it’s this amazingly shocking moment.

There is that fantastic pause. You don’t know how Tonya’s going to react or how LaVona is going to react. Then Tonya takes the knife out, but you still don’t know what she’s going to do. She walks over, slams it into the table, and we see LaVona’s reaction as Tonya walks off. I just loved that. It’s about holding that moment as long as possible, almost until it breaks, and then breaking it with this fantastic joke — where LaVona, in her interview says, all families have problems. When we screened it you could hear a pin could drop, and then it just breaks into this great relief of laughter. It’s just a really fun thing to put together.

What’s next for you?
I am going to Berlin to work on The Girl in the Spider’s Web for director Fede Alvarez. It’s part of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. This is something that’s very different, which I find very appealing. I like doing different types of films. I think editors often get pigeonholed very quickly — “They’re a comedy person, they’re a drama person, they’re an action person.” I like to shake it up a bit whenever possible, because I like working on different kinds of films just as I like going to see different kinds of films, and.

Dee Rees talks about directing Netflix’s Mudbound

By Iain Blair

Change is good, and while there are only a handful of young, successful, black female directors shooting features these days, the tide is starting to turn. Case in point: Dee Rees, who is helping lead the charge with her powerful new feature Mudbound, which was nominated for two Golden Globes.

Set in the rural American South during World War II, it’s an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Writer Iain Blair and director Dee Rees.

On one side is the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture.

On the other side are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations and who also struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

The film was co-written by Rees, who made her feature film debut with Pariah, which won a ton of awards. She went on to direct the Emmy-Award-winning HBO film Bessie.

I talked recently with Rees about making the film and the push for more diversity in the industry.

What was your vision for this film?
A good old-fashioned sprawling Hollywood epic that they don’t make anymore, with tons of characters and drama and emotion.

This is a period piece, but there are a lot of the issues you deal with — racism, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues. These are all particularly timely now.
Yes, and I think it’s become more timely because our consciousness has changed. I think it would have been timely five or 10 years ago, but audiences might not have recognized it as such, and attitudes have changed and are still changing about all these issues — and others. Look at all the sex scandal stuff coming to light in Hollywood and other places.

Is it true you absolutely wanted to shoot this in the South, but then found it wasn’t so easy in terms of finding the right locations?
Yes, I’m from the South — Nashville, Tennessee — and I hate seeing Southerners and the South not depicted correctly and accurately, and the locations were vital as they function like another character in the story. So we scouted all over the South — Mississippi, where it’s actually set, and Georgia and Louisiana — and we ended up shooting on a working sugar plantation near New Orleans. The landscape and farmland was perfect. It really gave you the sense of unrelenting nature, and the way the furrows went in the field was a big artistic choice… deciding how the lines were going to go.

It’s interesting that Louisiana has preserved a lot of their slave history. You can see the original sharecroppers’ cabins, and I think it’s right to preserve stuff like that so you can see it actually happened. In Mississippi, a lot of that’s gone. So we used real sharecroppers’ cabins, and convinced the owners to let us move these historical buildings deeper into the fields, as we wanted to have these 360-degree shots where you feel that the characters are all dwarfed by the landscape. All that has an accumulative effect in creating this world. We didn’t use any soundstages at all because I wanted it to look and feel authentic. You just can’t fake all the mud and dust and that landscape.

I imagine the shoot wasn’t easy?
It was pretty intense. We were supposed to have 28 days there, but we got rained out two days and had to make that up. Then we shot for two days in Budapest for the wartime scenes, including a big tank battle. We did that in the morning and then the liberation scenes the next day, and then later, during the edit, we shot the B52 plane scenes at a war museum on Long Island, and that was a big dance between special effects and VFX. So we ended up with 29 days for a big story that you’d normally need 60 days to do justice considering the sheer scope and scale involved.

You had a women DP (Rachel Morrison), who shot Fruitvale Station, and a woman editor (Mako Kamitsuna), who cut Pariah for you and who’s now cutting Johnny Depp’s LAbyrinth as well as a woman composer (Tamar-Kali). Was that deliberate?
Absolutely, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just tokenism. Too often hiring women can get conflated with tokenism, and they are women who are incredibly at what they do.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it reminds me of writing, which is solitary, contemplative and internal. Production is a frenzied rush, external and exhausting, and then you get to post which is where you recoup in a way, and was just me and Mako making the film. We did most of the editing in an artist’s loft in upstate New York, which was really cheap to rent. I like being away from all the noise and bustle of New York and just isolating for a bit and really focusing. Then Tama, our composer, came in, and then our sound team, and we had the space and time to really build it all up and elevate the raw material.

What were the main editing challenges?
The biggest one was figuring out when to move from one family story to the other. I was worried about staying with the McAllan’s too long, and then suddenly the Jacksons come out of nowhere, maybe too soon, and then having to explain some of the back story out of sequence. So do you break the chronology or trust that when you hand off to the Jacksons it’ll work for the audience? We kept starting with the burial, and then going into all the tensions between the families, with all the questions, like why do they hate each other so much?

In one version we went off with the Jacksons, but it didn’t quite work, and ultimately we started with Henry. He took us to the farm, which takes us to the war, and the war takes us to Ronsel and Jamie, and then it all flowed. But we had to make sure each family had its own trajectory, and one exercise we did was to edit just one family story as if it was its own film. Then we did the other family to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and where the natural intersections fell in their stories. That was so helpful.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in Mudbound?
It’s so important to me, and I always want the score to work seamlessly with the sound design so it feels like it comes out of the sound design. Like with the editing, I feel the music shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch, so once we had picture locked Tamar came in and then reacted to it with her score, and I didn’t have to say much to her.

She was inspired and wrote this beautiful orchestral score, which was perfect because I didn’t want to have the obvious 1940s thing with banjo, blues and harmonica. I wanted strings, and my sound team did a fantastic job. We did a Atmos mix at Harbor in New York, thanks to a Dolby grant, and it was so cool and exciting to do that.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there must have been a fair amount of visual effects?
Mr. X Gotham did them all, and we had quite a lot for the plane scenes, including the B52 formation and the tank battle scenes. They also added some explosions, and there was cleanup work, but all the farm stuff — the mud and water — was all real and in-camera. We used a lot of special effects — squibs and gore packs — for the war scenes.

What about the DI?
We did it at Harbor Post in New York, and the colorist was Joe Gawler (who worked on Blackmagic Resolve). He did a really great job.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did and I’m really happy with it.

Mudbound is making a lot of Oscar and other awards noise right now — deservedly so. What does that mean to you?
It’s very exciting for all the crafts people involved. I feel we made a great film, but without a huge budget, so the more attention the better.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in Hollywood. Are things improving?
Very slowly, but a lot of the problem is the pipeline. We need more creatives able to get in the door. The Academy is just a receptacle at the end of the pipeline. We can change its make up, but the bigger thing is changing what’s getting made.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Editor Sidney Wolinsky and Guillermo del Toro team on The Shape of Water

By Randi Altman

People love movies for their ability to transport us to another world, or another version of our world, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water does. And speaking of love, the film has been getting some now that awards season is upon us. The Shape of Water was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won two: Best Director — Motion Picture for del Toro and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. It also got plenty of Academy Awards love as it was nominated for 13 awards, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.

This film takes place during the Cold War, at a government run lab in Baltimore and focuses on a cleaning lady who follows her heart and does the right thing.

We recently checked in with the film’s editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE. An industry veteran, he has cut such acclaimed TV shows as The Sopranos, House of Cards and Ray Donovan, among many others.

Wolinsky was recently recognized by his peers, earning an ACE Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors for his work on Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water. Let’s find out more about the film, this editor’s second collaboration with del Toro and his process.

You have worked with Guillermo del Toro before?
Yes. About three years ago, I cut the pilot for a series called The Strain, which Guillermo created. He also directed the pilot.

How did you get involved in the film, and when did he bring you on?
The film’s producer reached out to my agent before it was greenlighted. I’m based in LA, but the film was shooting and cutting up in Toronto, so my wife and I found a place to stay and went up there about a week before they started shooting. I started cutting the second day of production when I got my first day of dailies.

Well you were near set, but were you ever onset?
Not really. The sets and the cutting room were at Cinespace Studios in Toronto, but Guillermo knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need an editor there to talk to. Occasionally, I might have walked over to the set because I had a question to ask Guillermo or something to tell him, but primarily I was in the cutting room.

What kind of direction were you given in terms of the edit?
From day one, I had Guillermo in the room with me working on the material, and that continued throughout the production. He would come in before call, and on his lunch hour, and we’d work together. When they were shooting at local locations, my assistant and I would go out to the set on his lunch hour to show him cut footage on a MacBook and get notes. Guillermo and I worked together continuously throughout the production.

How did that relationship work?
Once I started getting film, I’d show him my cut of the scene and I’d modify it based on his notes. When we had two scenes that were contiguous we’d work on transitions. As the show grew we would watch whatever could be watched continuously and make changes. I’d get an idea and we’d try it, or he’d say, “Try this other thing.” It was very collaborative. I really felt like he was my partner throughout the whole cutting process. It wasn’t like in most shows where you finish your cut, you show it to the director and then you start working with him.

Does Guillermo shoot a lot of footage?
He does not. He’s very specific about what he wants, and he moves the camera all the time. That works against the possibility of shooting a lot of footage because you have to plan your setups based on where the camera starts and where the camera ends, and plan in conjunction with where you’re going to pick up the coverage next. So, often it’s interlocking coverage. He rarely shot multiple cameras.

The film’s two main characters don’t speak in the traditional way. Was that a challenge for your process?
It did not affect my editing per se, because regardless of having no speech, Sally Hawkins’ character Elisa has sign language. You had to let the person say their line, so to speak, even if Elisa was doing it with her hands and not her lips. The creature had gestures and expressions too, so you play a scene for what the scene is about. It’s the same way if people are talking or yelling at each other. You’re still playing that scene, and that’s the challenge of editing generally — just making the scenes work.

I never felt that I was slowing things down because of the sign language. For example, if you think of that scene where Sally tries to persuade Giles (Richard Jenkins’ character) to help her free the creature, it’s a giant dialog scene in which Giles speaks for both of them by repeating what Elisa says in sign language back to her. Elisa only talks in sign language, but you never miss a word.

That was an intense scene.
It was. The editing challenge was to coordinate his saying the line with her signing it, and make sure they were more or less in sync.

Is there a scene that is your favorite or most challenging?
The scene I just described with Sally and Richard is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those two actors are so good. That scene is so moving, and they both give such a good performance. They really nailed it.

The most challenging sequence is the heist, because it involves all of the characters. They start off in different locations and come toward each other leading up to the clash at the end. That’s really the most challenging part of the movie, in terms of pacing and making sure everything’s working and the people following it … it’s not too slow, and stuff like that.

You used Media Composer for the editing. What is it about that system that you like?
I’ve cut on Avid for years, so I know it really, really well. It has so many ways of doing the same thing that can be used for different situations. It’s an amazing tool.

The heist.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
It depends on the show and who it is. On this one I had a first assistant, Cam McLaughlin, and a second assistant, Mary Juric. I had worked with both of them on The Strain pilot, and was glad to work with them again. Mary was on the show through a couple of weeks beyond the end of shooting. Her primary job was setting up the dailies in ScriptSync, which is a fabulous tool within Media Composer. She also did a lot of the complicated temp effects. She also created most of the Russian and ASL subtitles.

My first assistant, Cam, primarily put together the dailies … although Mary helped with that as well. He also did the temp effects and chose and cut most of the temp music. My assistant editor is always an ally, somebody I show cuts to, ask for feedback from and bounce my ideas off. Cam’s a wonderful colleague in the cutting room. He’s very smart and talented. I believe he is cutting a feature right now.

Let’s change gears. You’ve cut a lot of television, a lot of really good television. Do you wear a different hat when you’re cutting one over the other?
The nice thing about features is the shooting schedules are longer. And what you’re doing is a unique piece; it’s one of a kind. You show it to audiences, you get feedback and you work on it. Usually, you work closely with the director until the project is completed.

In some ways this is very much like a television pilot — it’s never been done before and a lot is riding on its success. Depending on the project, the director of the pilot will follow it through to the end. This was true for The Strain, where I believe Guillermo had final cut. In series, you usually work with the director through the end of his cut, and then you begin working with the show runner and the studio, and finally the network to complete the project.

I always hope to be working with someone who has a clear vision of what the project should be and the stature to make the final decision. On features it is usually the director, in television if is the showrunner. However, as an editor I always must retain my own vision of the best way to edit scenes, solve story problems and be prepared to work with anyone who is shepherding the show to its completion.

The edit suite.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer features because of the time that’s taken and the close relationship you have with the director. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in television, and the most important thing to me is to be able to use my skills to help realize the projects I’m working on.

What’s next for you?
I just got back from a trip to Italy to visit my son and his family, who live there, so really just taking some time off. I’m hoping that this film will help me another film. In this industry, it’s easy to get buttonholed as a television editor, so hoping another film opportunity comes my way soon.

Based on the attention this film has been getting, and your recent ACE Eddie nom, I think you’ll have that opportunity. One last thing before I let you go. Do you have any advice for an editor just starting out?
Most editors who are starting out have already been assistants and are trying to make the transition to editing. You have to be careful to make sure people perceive you as an editor and not as an assistant, and that could be tough because it could mean turning assistant jobs down. Obviously, if you need the money you may not be able to, but the most important thing is to grab any cutting opportunity that comes along. Don’t be picky. If you want to become an editor you have to be cutting. Also you never know where something will lead, and you want the people you meet along the way to see you as an editor — and hopefully, the editor of their next production.

Main Image: (L-R) Golden Globe-winner Guillermo del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinksy.

A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but for Lady Bird, another editor was actually on during dailies, for various reasons. I came on after dailies, which is unusual, but it worked out. Plus, they were shooting in California and editorial was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. But what I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during the shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

The A-List: Oscar-nominated director of The Salesman Asghar Farhadi

By Iain Blair

Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi burst onto the international film scene with his 2011 film A Separation, which won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also earned Farhadi an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and won the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival.

After being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People following the release of A Separation, Farhadi moved to Paris to film The Past, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film.

After the success of these films, two of Farhadi’s earlier works, About Elly (Winner: Best Director, 2009 Berlin International Film Festival) and Fireworks Wednesday (2006), found US distribution and critical acclaim.

Farhadi’s latest film, The Salesman, is another low-key, intimate and suspenseful drama that starts off innocently enough, but which slowly peels away layer upon layer of a relationship to reveal the shifting internal struggle beneath. After their old flat becomes damaged, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young couple living in Tehran, are forced to move into a new apartment. However, once relocated, a sudden eruption of violence linked to the previous tenant of their new home dramatically changes the couple’s life, creating a simmering tension between husband and wife.

A master of slow-burning, visceral dramas that expose domestic discord through his multi-layered screenplays, Farhadi uses the story to study the psychology of vengeance and a relationship put under strain while continuing to explore the condition of women in Iran and the male psyche. The film was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture Foreign Language and is up for an Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film.

I recently talked to Farhadi about making the film, and his workflow.

What were you aiming for with this film?
I was going for a lot of different things. One was the idea of taking Arthur Miller’s play and then trying to erase the boundaries between theater and life so that the audience begins to wonder, “Is this part of life or is it part of a play?” The other thing that mattered to me was the relationship between the audience and these characters. To what extent could the audience put themselves in the characters’ shoes? In my previous films, audiences could relate, but this was different and a new experience for me.

There are certain actions taken by the characters that people may not approve of, but hopefully can understand. It’s a paradoxical situation for the viewer —while they may disapprove strongly, when you ask them what they would do in the same situation, their reactions can be far more extreme than those taken by Emad after his wife is attacked. I very much wished to place a viewer in this position, where they were tested.

Why did you choose Death of a Salesman as a backdrop to your drama?
When I reread the play, I came across so many similarities between it and the couple in my film. My couple is like the Iranian version of Willy Loman and his wife Linda, and I’d always had the idea of doing a film that takes place in the world of theater. I grew up doing a lot of theater, and I always loved the play. When I began writing my script, I developed this idea of characters putting on a play. The idea that it was a mirror of the actual lives of the characters. They’re actually playing Willy Loman and Linda, and the film and play are very close to each other thematically. For me, in the play the most important aspect is the humiliation, which is also the main theme of my film. It’s humiliation that causes Willy Loman to destroy himself, and Emad feels completely humiliated by what happens to his wife. There’s also the theme of boundaries, of personal space and safety in that space.

Your last film, The Past, was shot in France. How important was it to shoot this in Tehran?
Very important. In fact, I was all set to go to Spain to make a film, and it was all planned and ready to go, with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem starring, and Pedro Almodóvar as a producer. But it was going to take a while to get everyone together, and I suddenly felt I just wanted to stay in Tehran. It was a purely emotional decision, and I didn’t know how to tell everyone in Spain, but I told my producer, “My heart tells me I should stay in Iran and do this film instead.” I prefer to make most of my films in Iran.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, but I also find it a very difficult experience. I always feel very restless in post, as I go to every minute of every bit of post production and watch everything. It’s all about deciding what to cut and get rid of — and that kills me. You spend so much time and effort collecting all the raw material and then you get into post and it really becomes about dispensing with a lot of stuff you love, and these decisions are so final. I find it very hard.

Where did you do the post?
Since About Elly, I’ve always done all the post at Moon Studios in Tehran. I do all the editing there as well as all the sound design and audio work. It’s a very relaxed place to work. We did the DI at Studio Kamrani in Tehran with colorist Hootan Haghshenas. Again, I’m there for every minute of it.

Tell us about working with editor Hayedeh Safiyari, who also cut A Separation and About Elly for you.
Before we start shooting each time, I give her the script and we talk a great deal about it. We don’t discuss the edit — just the characters and the story. She visits the set sometimes, but not as an editor, it’s more about just looking around and getting the atmosphere. Then after the shoot, we sit in the edit room together, but I don’t say anything. She does her work. We don’t cut the film and then start changing stuff and fine tuning it. We cut each scene like a fine cut and get them right by adjusting length and pacing and so on, and at this stage we talk a lot. It’s a very successful working relationship, and we cut this in about four months.

Writer Iain Blair and Asghar Farhadi.

Can you talk about the importance of sound in the film?
It’s really important to me, not just in post, but during the shoot. For example, when we first see a character, the viewer doesn’t get any additional information visually. But you can feed an audience more and more information using sound. That’s why, when we rehearse a scene, I don’t even look at the monitor. I just listen. That tells me so much more. In post, I always strive to make the sound as realistic as we can. We try not to introduce too much sound, and it’s rare for me to use much music in my films since that stirs up so much emotion. Usually, it’s just used over the end credits.

How important are the Oscars and other awards to you?
They’re very important for smaller indie movies like mine, but any success is always a two-edged sword. It makes your film known to a far bigger audience, all over the world, but the danger is that it also puts you in a competitive situation, both with yourself and others, and that’s not healthy for a filmmaker. (Editor’s Note: Farhadi has gone on record that he will not be attending this year’s Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles in reaction to President Trump’s travel ban, as Iran is one of the seven countries that is affected.)


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

The A-List: Elle director Paul Verhoeven

By Iain Blair

Director Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid to go where most other directors fear to tread, especially in the thorny areas of sex, violence and gender politics. Happy to shock and outrage audiences, and adept at moving effortlessly between genres — and blurring the lines between high and low culture, dreams and reality — Verhoeven has also always possessed a sly sense of humor that percolates just below the surface, even as those audiences are horrified, and mesmerized, by what they see.

After first making a name for himself with 1973’s Oscar-nominated Turkish Delight, Verhoeven became a major Hollywood and international player with such blockbusters as RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. His resume also includes Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Dutch-born Verhoeven returned to European filmmaking in 2006 with Black Book — a fast-paced World War II resistance thriller — and then disappeared. But he’s now back with the acclaimed revenge thriller Elle, which stars Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, middle-aged mother and ruthless CEO of a leading video game company who, in the very opening scene, is violently raped by a masked intruder in her Paris home. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a perverse and thrilling game. Huppert picked up a Golden Globe this year for her performance in the film.

I talked to Verhoeven about making the film and his workflow.

It’s been 10 long years since your last film. What happened?
I just couldn’t find anything that excited me. I tried, but several projects I liked fell apart. In general, the scripts I read weren’t on the level of Black Book, plus I wanted to try something different, so I wrote several books and kept looking.

This film seems at first to be a rape-revenge thriller, but it isn’t just that, is it?
No, certainly not. It was originally going to be set and shot in America and would have been more of a straightforward rape-revenge thriller, but I wanted to make something far more politically incorrect and controversial. Something that examines the strengths of the heroine who lives by her own rules and ultimately gets what she wants. She refuses to be a victim, and in the novel it’s based on she doesn’t go into revenge mode, which would have been a cliché and boring. It goes in another direction, which I found intriguing and liberating, and that’s why I made it. It was unknown territory for me, as it leans so much on the social relationships and the characters themselves. I’d never done that in my whole career.

Is it true you tried to get an American actress, but no one wanted to take it on?
Yes, we tried about six A-list actresses, and they all refused to do it.

So what did Isabelle Huppert bring to the role?
She’s fearless and brings absolute authenticity. We actually met at the start of the project and she was very keen to do the movie. But we thought it’d be set in America, and later my producer said to me, “Why are we fighting to do it in the US? It’s based on a French novel and Isabelle really wants to do it — let’s get her and shoot in Paris.” And he was right. I realize now that I couldn’t have made this movie in America, and that without her in the role the movie would have been a very hard sell. Although you might not sympathize completely with her, you believe her. She made the third act work and be acceptable artistically.

You shot digitally, right?
Yes, on Red Dragons, which I loved. I always had two running, very close together, with a slightly different angle so in the edit you could cut to either since it’s the same movement from the actors. I even used another DP for the “B” camera, so they worked like two “A” cameras.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing in Amsterdam, Holland. Job ter Burg, who cut Black Book for me, worked with me for several months, and then we did the rest of post — the sound mixing, color correction and so on — in Paris, with some stuff in Brussels. We recorded the score in London, so post was very spread out.

Do you like post?
I love it. You’re glad the shoot’s over, with all the stress over budget and schedule, and you can finally relax and make your film. You’re completely free to discuss structure and change anything you want, although we didn’t change much in terms of the scenes and order. The first cut came in at two and a half hours. We eventually cut about 25 minutes because certain scenes didn’t fit with the drama as they were too slow and interrupted the narrative flow and pace. So we did a bit of compression, but we didn’t re-order it.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Right. They were done by Mikros Image in Paris, and there were a lot of small things.  We used VFX to change backgrounds and so on, and VFX were really useful in all the scenes with the cat, because a cat is very difficult to direct (laughs). They do what they want. So some of the shots, like the cat with the bird, are composites with bluescreen. So it was all about improving what we’d shot on the day, and little touches, nothing like the big VFX sequences in RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both so important in film, and you’re trying to find the best atmosphere for each scene. Sometime when you shoot in the street, the traffic’s so loud you have to fix all the dialogue in post. Then finding the right music was crucial, and I had very long talks with Anne Dudley, the English composer who scored Black Book for me, about what we wanted to express, what would work and why. I’m a big fan of Stravinsky, and the unusual way he composed his symphonies, which subverted the norm. I wanted to use both modern electronic music and sounds along with symphonic music.

I prefer to listen to music, like classical, that you don’t necessarily go out and copy, but you understand what it adds to the images. So Anne and I’d listen to Janacek and Stravinsky and others, and slowly it becomes obvious what the score should be. Then she began writing her own music. So during post I would go to London a lot to work on all that with her. For me, once you have the right score, it elevates the movie into a whole new level that the visuals alone can never match.

This is France’s official Oscar entry, and we’re starting awards season. How important are awards to you?
Important, but not as important as the movie. It’s great to get recognition, but I never made a movie thinking about Oscars or awards, and I made this because it’s audacious and different from any other movie.

What’s next? Do we have to wait another 10 years?
(Laughs) No, no! Please, I feel very guilty about that. I should have made at least one, but time passed and suddenly it’s a decade later. Now I’m very aware of my age. I’ll probably be dead if I wait that long again, so I have several projects lined up, some French projects, an American film, and some Dutch ones, and I promise you I’ll say “yes” to one of them soon.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Kabir Akhtar: Editing The CW series ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

By Randi Altman

When Kabir Akhtar, ACE, who cut season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, got the itch to start editing, he didn’t even know that what he was doing was actually editing… he was just having some fun. In high school, Akhtar would use his computer, multiple tape decks and stereos to record and mix different songs, creating mash-ups, remixes and even musical voicemail messages. An editor was born!

After moving out to LA and paying his dues working on unscripted and music video shows, Akhtar went on to earn one Emmy nomination for editing the Billy Crystal opening sequence from the 2012 Academy Awards broadcast and another (along with frequent collaborator AJ Dickerson) for his work on Netflix’s Arrested Development in 2013.

With an editing resume that now also includes New Girl, The Daily Show and Behind the Music, Akhtar took on directing (the pilot episode of the MTV series 8th & Ocean, Unsolved Mysteries, the Billy Crystal/Melissa McCarthy opening for the 2012 Oscars, and the TV Diaries pilot for Fox) and garnered an associate producer title on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This Penn graduate, who went on to film school at the University of Miami, knew all along that he wanted to work in scripted television. “I moved out here to get involved in narrative filmmaking and storytelling, and I felt very strongly that until I got a job doing that, I wasn’t going to stay at another job very long.”

Akhtar also knew he didn’t want to do the same job for years at a time. He was young and wanted to have different experiences that allowed him to meet different people. “I think I intentionally avoided having a steady gig for a very long time because as I moved from one job to another, I continued to build a network of contacts and people that I liked working with. I got more experience and more credits, which I think served me well in those early years. Others like the financial security that comes with having a steady job. I know my path is not for everybody.”

Akhtar still works freelance, too. In fact, while on hiatus from The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he cut the pilot for Speechless for ABC, which just got picked up.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Akhtar and find out more about what led him to this quirky TV series, which is a one-hour musical comedy.

When did you get involved on the show, and what’s your workflow like?
I edited the pilot, which was a half-hour show, in the fall of 2014. We thought we made a great show, but Showtime passed. The good news was it was shopped around to other networks and got a pick-up at The CW. They turned it into a one-hour show, which was such a unique thing because nobody was making a one-hour musical comedy.

You have cut traditional half-hour comedies in the past, how was this different?
When the show became a one-hour, it gave us the opportunity to do more dramatic storytelling in addition to the comedy. In half-hours, you’re moving really fast to try to tell a story and land jokes, but with a one-hour you have time to dig into supporting characters’ stories and have more built-out emotional scenes. We can take the time to land emotions instead of just being in a race to get X number of jokes out every minute.

How does that affect the way that you edit? Do you let a reaction go a little bit longer? Do you let a joke sit longer?
The thing that helps the most is that our writers don’t overwrite the show. My first cut will usually only be a few minutes over, and at the end we’re rarely stuck with a show that’s more than a minute over, which is great. It’s the worst when you get a show down to the end, to a deadline, and you’re still 30 seconds over and you have to take out a joke that everybody likes.

Doing Arrested Development for Netflix, we didn’t have those parameters. With a network show, you have to deliver a show exactly to time, but for Netflix (like some cable networks), we didn’t have to hit a specific runtime per episode, so we never had to lose a joke or a story point “for time.”

Kabir Akhtar and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom the day after she won her Golden Globe.

How much footage do you have for one episode?
For each one-hour episode, we shoot seven days. That includes two or three musical numbers, which are essentially music videos. Like all scripted shows, we have one day of editing for every day of footage that comes in, plus another two or three days to get a first cut together (but with us it’s typically been two).

Because we’re a one-hour show, the directors come in after my first cut, and they get four days. We work with our producers, and then we go to the studio, then to the network, then we lock the show.

What about cutting the musical numbers?
I switched to a standing desk a few years ago, and that makes it a lot easier to cut music, because I will inevitably end up dancing along as I’m cutting. I’m convinced that it helps. I started my career cutting so much music, so I’ve always loved doing it. To have the opportunity to be cutting musical numbers, comedy scenes and some dramatic scenes for one show is so much fun.

Would you like to share your philosophy of editing?
Attitude-wise, it’s about protecting the show, I really believe that’s job one.

What about technically?
I have a workflow that I believe is different than most editors. I think many editors do a first cut of each scene as it comes in. Then, at the end of dailies, they glue the show together. I am not good at that at all.

What’s your process?
When I get a scene, my assistant editor Kyla Plewes and I will work with the Script Windows in Avid Media Composer — it allows you to very quickly pick through takes and performances, and it’s opened up the amount of options you have in the limited time that you have. I’ll go through a scene left to right and start to frame it out to get it shaped right. As I’m going through, I feel like I’m too close to it. My eyes are right up against every detail in the frame, like continuity issues and the smallest nuances of performance.

I’ll start with a clean take for line one and then have a different take for the second line, and then I’ll realize it didn’t work so I’ll try that first take again and try another take for that second line — I’m intentionally making mistakes over and over to stay open to finding something great by riffing, and I just keep making copies in a sequence. I don’t delete any of the stuff I’m doing, I keep making a giant mess, like putting all the Legos together, except I have a copy of each Lego. Eventually, I find pieces that click together a way that feels right and work my way across the whole scene that way.

When I get to the end, I’ve figured out the connective tissue and I have many copies of all of the individual pieces, but I’ve no idea how they go together. I have piles of connected Legos, alt versions of selected takes, but not a finished sequence. Again, because I feel I’m too close to it, having just done it, I put it away and start the next scene. Then I come back to it at the end of dailies, about a week later, and it all makes perfect sense… the pieces that want to be in the show flow and stand out immediately. By then I’ve seen all the footage for the whole show and I can gauge accurately how best to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Can you talk about assistant editors and how they fit into the mix?
When you have a good AE, it’s really important to give them opportunities to get better at cutting or at working with people. I don’t know how you’re going to learn otherwise. I think everyone is looking for someone above us to give us an opportunity. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes working on a show when you’ve got a great assistant. I think I had years of working on shows with no AEs at all.

Our lead assistant editor on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kyla, works on the side editing online content, which I think is the way to go these days in terms of growing your editing skills.

If you want to keep learning your craft you have to find things to edit, right?
Yeah, I went the path of editing, editing, editing, editing. The only two jobs I’ve ever had are editing and directing. Going the AE route, you might get an episode to edit on a show that you’ve been working on. But that can also be tough, because the people you’re working for still see you as an assistant editor. It can be difficult to change people’s perceptions of you if you’re staying at one job for a long time. Also, if that’s your first editing credit, it can be a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room to fail without consequences.

I feel pretty fortunate that my first jobs were lower profile projects. I certainly made large mistakes, like delivering a show out of phase once. But I was working for such a small company, luckily I didn’t get fired.

You have to make mistakes to learn as you go, I imagine?
You work your way up to these bigger things. It’s bad to deliver a show out of phase, but it’s way worse to do that if your first one of those is on a big multi-million-dollar episode. Everybody fails; you have to fail to grow. I’m still doing both — but hopefully more growing than failing.

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Main Image: Kabir Akhtar and Rachel Bloom after hearing about her Golden Globe nomination for her performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.