His thoughts on the film, working with director Chadd Harbold and his process.
By Cory Choy
The narrative lineup at March’s SXSW was strong. So strong, in fact, that in addition to the 10 movies in competition for the Jury Award, there was also a Narrative Spotlight category. One of the films in that category was director Chadd Harbold’s Long Nights Short Mornings, featuring the main character James, who is sowing his wild oats but also finding out what it’s like to be an adult.
This film movie sports an unusual structure. It’s almost a series of shorts, that all have a character in common, but if the order they were told in changed, both the overall story and our perception of the main character would also change quite drastically. I found this method of telling a story fascinating, so I sought out the film’s editor, Bryan Gaynor, for an interview.
How did you meet the director Chadd Harbold?
Chadd and I met in freshman year at NYU. He was friends with a few of my friends, but he was always angry about something and very opinionated. He was also kinda loud! I was like, “Who the f— is this dude?’ My friends swore he was cool, and over time I found myself agreeing with them. We quickly became best friends. We have very similar tastes — and views on the world — and that’s probably why we clashed at first, because we were so alike.
What was your first collaboration with Chadd?
The first time he had me edit, we were trying to produce stuff outside of college because we felt like there wasn’t enough production happening at NYU. So we made a short. I wrote it, he shot it. Then he wrote a short that I edited. Then we made Asshole.
I wrote a script in college called Asshole, but it wasn’t well received. I wrote it for a class and everybody hated it. I threw it in the trash, but Chadd picked it out and said if I wasn’t going to do anything with it, he would.
We found (executive producer) Gavin McInnes and we made that movie for like a buck. It was just a little short, but it got into Sundance. I didn’t even know we had submitted it to Sundance. I didn’t understand how film festivals worked back then. I think I was 19. So yeah, we got in, and the rest is history. I’ve pretty much edited everything he’s made since we met in college.
How many features did you collaborate on before Long Nights Short Mornings?
We did How to Be a Man, which we co-wrote with Gavin McInnes. Chadd directed and I cut. That one moved very quickly. We shot that in like 12 or 13 days. I had a cut done two days after it wrapped because we were on a really tight deadline to get it over to Sundance. It was shot in September or October, so it had to be a lightning fast edit. We had been working together so much, him directing and me editing — short films, commercials and music videos — it came together very quickly. We have different skill sets, but we tend to agree stylistically, so it’s really a very seamless collaboration.
Next was Long Nights Short Mornings?
Yes, that was his next feature. We had a tight deadline, and the budget was very not big, so we only had a certain amount of time. I was there (on set) to pick up drives and start cutting what had been shot, but I would stick around and see what was going on and talk to Chadd about what I had done so far. I started editing on the second day of shooting. I got the drive, popped it in and started editing.
No transcoding, just straight from the drive?
Yeah, they gave me these little shuttle drives and then I would put them on a hard drive. It was Thunderbolt, a G-RAID from G-Tech. They were shooting on an Arri Alexa in ProRes 4:4:4. (David Feeney-Mosier was the DP.)
Wait, you took that raw footage, straight into your computer — running off a thunderbolt drive — and edited the movie?
Yeah. Which was, I now know, a fucking terrible idea.
Because it just slows down the system. With shorts or commercials, I got it done, but when I started editing this feature it slowed me down. I thought it was because my computer was getting old, but even after I got a new one I had a lot of technical issues with Adobe Premiere and cutting raw footage on a Mac. So now I refuse to not transcode. It was kind of a nightmare really…
Have you always edited on Premiere? Do you care which NLE you’re editing on?
I taught myself Final Cut very early on. When I was a kid, I was shooting little videos — editing them on VHS decks, back and forth from a 8mm. It was really annoying. I then figured out that if I bought a Sony digital camera I could edit my footage in software. I tried Sony’s editing software but needed something different. I did some research and found a program called Pinnacle, and that worked for a while — it was almost like Final Cut, but probably more like what iMovie was. I really enjoyed the editing, and after more research I found Final Cut Pro and convinced the art teacher at my school to start a film club, which meant buying an Apple computer with Final Cut Pro. I loved it.
Why Adobe Premiere for this project?
I had been cutting on Premiere prior to this project. I switched over because, as you know, Final Cut 7 is becoming antiquated.
Was the move from Final Cut 7 to Premiere difficult?
I was against it for a while. I hadn’t taken Premiere seriously. I think I played with it once or twice when I was in high school and it didn’t seem like it had the same type of power that Final Cut did. That all changed with the Creative Cloud version of Premiere Pro.
After college I was doing a lot of freelance work, and I was told I needed to know Premiere. I watched a tutorial on Lynda.com and realized it was basically Final Cut with a few nice additions — it essentially worked the same way. It even had a keyboard shortcut setting that matched Final Cut.
I see the movie almost like a series of short films. When editing, were you thinking of it as a whole or were you thinking of it as separate pieces?
I read the script early on, and it always played like that. That’s something Chadd always had in mind. There was a focus on the women. I liked how he didn’t give you much about the main character, and if you saw every chapter on its own you would think that the protagonist was the girl. I really liked that, and I think it adds a bit of mysteriousness to him. So it’s both.
I basically cut things as I got them, in the order that they shot them, which I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t have to. I would have done things in script order. They would shoot out an actor, so for the most part it was vignette by vignette. I cut each scene and pieced it together from there. I trimmed the fat, swapped some scenes, lost some scenes and added some moments.
Music was a big thing. Luckily, the guy who did the score had a catalog of music that he gave me, so I was trying to work that into the edit.
Can you talk about the importance of music to you, the relationship that you have with music when editing narrative?
Music is really important, and it’s something that — I don’t know how other editors do this — I have to handpick as I’m cutting for a scene to really work for me. I hate to throw together a scene and just have it be dry when it’s not supposed to be. If it’s supposed to have music, I want it to have music and I want to try it with music, and make sure that the thing works.
Did Chadd dictate which scenes were going to have music, or did you decide where the music was?
There were certain scenes where the music’s diegetic, so obviously that’s written in. I have to give credit to Dan Berk (one of the film’s producers) for DJ-ing on set and picking really good stuff that worked in the scenes. That was really hard to replace, but luckily I had rights to most of it. I think my very early cut was dry, because I remember asking for music, and I didn’t get any until I sat down with Chadd.
One of the first things we did was sit down and score the whole thing together. Red (Redding Hunter), the composer, gave us an incredible song library of his music to work with. He is the glue to the whole film. He would record and replace score, bit by bit. We were like, “We are throwing in this song of yours because it kind of has the right tone, but it doesn’t work exactly,” so he would have to score something completely new for us. There was a lot of that. I think music really informs the edit, so I like to get it in there, as early as possible.
What was your biggest role on this film as a collaborator? What would not have happened without you?
That’s tough. Well, somebody once said that in each stage of filmmaking you make a different film. You write a script, and that’s one. Then when you’re shooting and you’re also re-writing. And then when you edit, and yet again, you re-write.
When you see the film put together it’s not what the script was or what the shoot was. It’s something else. As an editor, you want to make that thing work the best it can. I think Chadd’s really good about that — about throwing out the script during each stage of the process and focusing on the movie in front of him. Maybe that’s what I bring to the table: a fresh perspective. I try to see footage for what it is, which isn’t always necessarily what’s written in the script. I ask, “Do we need to sell the audience these things? Do they need to see this? Is it more interesting if we just cut in on this and the audience will understand?”
Cory Choy is a post professional and co-owner of Silver Sound Studios in New York City.