Tag Archives: Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson on editing Bryan Buckley’s The Pirates of Somalia

While Cut+Run editor Jay Nelson’s list of credits includes many high-profile commercial spots — such as the Emmy-nominated and AICP-winning The Chase for Grey Poupon, as well as those for Xbox, Skechers, Hyundai and Heinz — he is no stranger to feature film editing. In fact, he most recently collaborated once again with director Bryan Buckley on The Pirates of Somalia. Buckley, who has an Oscar nomination under his belt for the 2012 short Asad, has directed over 50 Super Bowl spots since 2002, many of which were edited by Nelson.

The Pirates of Somalia, starring Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Melanie Griffiths and Al Pacino, follows a young journalist who travels to Somalia to write a book on the country’s pirates. Nelson used an Avid Media Composer to cut the film. Let’s find out more.

Jay Nelson

What were the biggest creative challenges in editing the film?
I’ve had a lot of experience editing with subtitles and foreign languages. Personally, I find it to be unpleasant because you can’t just freeform flow the edit and the dialogue; you have to be cognizant of the translations and the tone. On this film, Bryan wanted to approach these scenes in an original way and not make the viewer have to work through subtitles. The challenge was to integrate Barkhad’s on-camera translation into the dialogue without being clunky, to keep the dialogue flowing from Somali to English.

It’s essentially a dialogue between two people, but with a third person adding their own character into it. Two of the scenes took close to half the time I edited the film in order to get them just right. The scenes went from an initial 12 minutes apiece to about three or four minutes, and I think they work incredibly well. I learned a lot, and I think the approach contributes to the uniqueness of the movie.

Any technical hurdles, expected or otherwise?
Honestly, the hurdles in this film were pretty standard stuff, which is refreshing. The language and the clarity of dialogue throughout is something I spent a considerable amount of time dialing into shape. We didn’t have to “fix” anything. Bryan and his crew just laid it all out beautifully.

As someone who is known for largely comedic narratives, what did you learn on this feature about dramatic content?
I don’t draw too much distinction between editing comedy and editing drama. I just take it one minute at a time when making a feature. But Bryan is a very funny person, and naturally it’s easy for him to infuse humor into things, and it’s natural for me to want to accentuate that because he and I both like to laugh as much as we like making other people laugh. The challenge with this and all things I get to create with him is making sure the humor is deftly placed and balanced with the drama. We spent a lot of time determining the right balance. It is a film with a message, and it’s often gripping to watch. So we paid attention to our beats and reminded ourselves never to cloud the purpose.

How long have you been working with Bryan, and what are some of your favorite collaborations?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Bryan for five years now. The first project was an incredible spot for Grey Poupon called The Chase. I think I grasped his vision and we agreed on everything. In fact, rarely do we not see eye to eye. He makes my job easy. I can’t honestly pick a favorite collaboration. We’ve done all manner of media together (including the 2015 feature The Bronze). When I do get to work with him, it’s always purely about the love of doing what I do with someone who is a master at what they do. It’s about the friendship and the laughs for me. I’m lucky to get that on anything I do with him.

How has your process together evolved?
He’s a great communicator and is always available when it’s about the job. I wake up to his emails and get cracking. All great collaborations are about synergy and removing the guesswork. I can relate it to sports or music — the more you practice with someone, the easier it is to know what they’re thinking and what they intend. That’s the evolution, and it’s always been free of the BS and insincerity. I genuinely love the way he sees things. He’s taught me a lot about improving at my profession, and I’ve learned a lot about life from him as well.

Any advice for short-form editors looking to expand into features?
Take it one minute at a time, and don’t be overwhelmed. Any other advice than that might come across as jaded. Features stand the test of time when they’re good, and they actually mark periods of your life as all great works of art should when you suffer for them. There’s a lot of reward in that legacy. But not every editor is cut out for features. It’s a different discipline, the politics are different, and so is the discipline of objectivity. Choose your projects wisely. There’s nothing worse than being two weeks in on a feature and realizing that maybe it’s not your cup of tea, or you don’t connect with the execution. We sacrifice a lot when we vanish to make a film, so make sure it’s worth it and it’s really what you want to be doing.

From having projects at film festivals to editing ads for the Super Bowl, you’ve had an exciting career trajectory. What’s next?
When I started my pursuit of an editing career I vowed to approach it like I was training to be a surgeon. I wanted to understand all the jobs of the people I’d work with — producers, VFX artists, assistants, reps, directors. In some form or another I’ve embodied all of those roles along the way. Part of that vow was to embrace the notion that one is forever a student of the craft.

As I continue that pursuit this coming year I’ll be taking improv and acting classes because I’ve just never done it. I don’t have designs of being on-screen, but I know it will only round out my understanding of editing performance. Beyond that, my fundamental goal as an editor is to expand my knowledge of the language of film — I’m constantly searching to discover that treatment to add a technique to the dictionary of editing — to approach something in a whole new way. There’s an expanding universe of techniques out there, and I’ll keep doing this as long as I feel challenged and retain that desire to search. Inspiration from collaborating with the likes of Bryan Buckley will also keep the sails full. Long may it last.

Quick Chat: Cut + Run’s Jay Nelson on editing ‘The Bronze’

Who doesn’t like the story of someone overcoming a physical injury in sport and succeeding? (Think Curt Schilling’s bloody ankle during the 2004 World Series.) It’s how legends are made, but what happens after the applause has stopped and the reporters stop requesting interviews? Well this is the premise of the new comedy, The Bronze, by Bryan Buckley.

The film focuses a light on gymnast Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch), whose performance on a ruptured Achilles during the Olympics clinched a bronze medal for the US team — but things went downhill from there. In the years since capturing the medal, she’s still living in her father’s basement, still wearing her Team USA gym suit and sporting some crazy bangs, a ponytail and a scrunchie. She spends most days at the mall enjoying her minor celebrity while being unpleasant and rude. All of that changes when she is asked to coach her hometown’s newest gymnastics prodigy.

Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson

Director Buckley called on Cut + Run’s Jay Nelson to edit The Bronze, from Sony Pictures Classics. We reached out to LA-based Nelson, who used Avid Media Composer on the film, to find out more about the workflow and how he collaborated with the director.

How did you get involved in the film?
I had been working with Bryan for a couple of years, and he had been developing the idea with Melissa and Winston Rauch for about six months and he asked me if I’d want to be involved. He gave me the script, but I didn’t really need to read it — if Bryan asks if you want to do a film with him, you do it. Then I read the script and I thought it was hilarious and bold.

What are some things you enjoy about working with Buckley?
He is always available for you, no matter how busy he is. Also, he covers exactly what I need to make an edit great, which makes my job a heck of a lot easier. We have a really amazing shorthand with each other. We have the same taste in comedy. But my favorite part about working with Bryan is that I am constantly learning from him, and not just about filmmaking… about life. And we laugh a hell of a lot

Can you talk about any challenges during the editing process?
The approval process was very long. We had to answer to a lot of masters. I showed an edit a week after they finished shooting, then we spent six months revising that cut. The hardest part about the revisions was shaving the last four minutes out of the film. It was a very painful process getting it to 90 minutes.

How was it to premiere at Sundance?
Exhilarating. I’ve submitted four films to Sundance over the years and none of them ever made the cut for one reason or another. It’s always a roll of the dice; there are so many factors that contribute to a films success with their review process. To finally be there after all these years and experience seeing a first run of the film with a massive crowd was truly incredible. And to see lines of people just to be on the waiting list to get in was total vindication for all the work we put into it.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned?
The lessons I learned on this film weren’t so much about the process of making a film, but rather the process of bringing a film to market. Just making a great movie doesn’t mean a film is going to have success. It was almost 16 months from the time we premiered at Sundance to the final release of The Bronze, and a lot of stuff happened during that time. Relativity went out of business, then Sony Classics rescued the film, and then there were several delays pertaining to the release date.

I say it on every film I do — there are no guarantees. If you’re going to do a film, you gotta be willing to do it for the love of making a picture. Success is not imminent. In the end, I’m really proud of The Bronze, and proud we were able to share it with a wide audience. I think it’s going to have a great long life down the road. I think that sex scene alone will be kept in a hall of fame of some sort (laughs). That is the great thing about making movies: you have the opportunity to create something that can stay around after your gone.

If you could compete in the Olympics, your sport would be?
I always dreamed of winning a gold in hockey. It certainly wouldn’t be gymnastics. After sitting in an editing chair for as long as I have been, maybe I’d be better off pursuing curling or something like that.

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Check out The Bronze’s trailer.