OWC 12.4

Category Archives: SXSW

Casimir Nozkowski: The challenges of editing a foreign-language doc

This English-speaking editor took on the Japanese-language in The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere.

By Kristine Pregot

I had the opportunity to reconnect with director, writer, producer and editor Casimir Nozkowski twice this year — first at Sundance and again at SXSW. Nozkowski edited the short documentary The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, which played at both festivals this year, and recently aired as part of ESPN Films’ 30 For 30 series.

The short is a unique story about a Japanese racehorse named Haru Urara, who became a nationally celebrated hero and symbol of perseverance while enduring one of the biggest losing streaks in racehorse history.

Casimir Nozkowski

Nozkowski and I used to spend a lot of time together in the hallways of 11 Penn Plaza in NYC where he was a writer/producer for AMC and IFC promos, while I managed the post production of FUSE Networks. So it was great catching up with him and interviewing him about his work on this piece.

The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere is such a sweet little documentary. How did you get involved with the project?
Mickey Duzyj, the doc’s director and animator, asked me to edit it. Mickey pitched me the story of Haru Urara — a Japanese racehorse that lost all its races — and told me he wanted to make a documentary about her story and use animation to take it to the next level. I said, “Hell, yeah, let’s do that.”

As a former Yankee fan, I had grown weary of celebrating only the winningest winners, and I loved the idea of examining a “loser’s” experience — how the horse was still noble and still tried hard and this helped people identify with her.

Have you worked with the director before on other projects?
I cut his first film, The Perfect 18, which was nominated for an Emmy and also a Webby for editing. It was about a professional putt-putt player named Rick Baird who shot a perfect 18 —a.k.a. 18 hole-in-ones — in a tournament. Rick and his fellow golfers walked us through each hole. It was also mostly animated, which is a great weapon for an editor. Anytime you’re lacking a transition or some b-roll, you can put in a request for some animation and voilà, smooth sailing. Mickey’s animation is fantastic.

Getting back to Shining Star, how do you edit a film that was completely spoken in Japanese? How did that work with your edit workflow?
I’d actually never cut a film in a language other than English, and that made this film one of the hardest editing jobs I’ve ever had. But it was also a challenge I was excited to take on… and I had a lot of great support.

First of all, Mickey and Mona Panchal (the film’s producer) found this transcription software called InqScribe that was essential to our process. It allowed our primary translators Yurina Ko and Jin Yoshikawa to screen the interviews, plug in timecode to each line and then create a file in InqScribe that I could bring into Adobe Premiere (our editing software) and use to generate synced up subtitles! I actually couldn’t believe how well it worked. They did a great job on the translation, but I couldn’t believe the subtitles landed so seamlessly in the right spots, more or less, in our interview sequences. You’d have to go in and reformat them and do a little polishing but basically it was all right there.

Having said that, subtitles were still going to take up a huge amount of time, and that was something I had to get used to. I had to spend a bunch of days getting everything ready to evaluate it, so next time I’ll know to consider a bit more time on the prep end when working in a foreign language. On the plus side, once they’re in, you can quickly scan sequences because you don’t have to listen to audio each time; you can see the subtitles and plug them into pods or assemblies pretty quickly once you get a good rhythm going.

What did you learn from editing the project?
I learned a lot about Kochi, a small city in Japan. And I learned a lot about horse racing. And I learned a lot about Haru Urara — an incredible horse, now retired from racing and hopefully not too upset about never winning. I just learned a ton about editing a foreign language documentary. As I describe above, it was challenging. But I’m very proud of the end results. And our subjects were great — very generous with their answers and reflections.

Also, this was my first time really editing in Premiere. I had done a few small projects with Premiere, but this was the first beast I edited on it, so there was a lot of learning in that process. But it was great. I never had to render anything, I combined a lot of media formats in one timeline and really felt great about it. Still, I had to learn a few moves because before this I was primarily a Final Cut editor, but now that I’ve come out the other side post-Shining Star, I’m pretty high on Premiere.

The illustration and design were such a beautiful way to help tell the story. Can you explain how this was conceptualized?
Mickey Duzyj could speak a bit more to this, but the plan all along was to rely heavily on his art as a way to cover a subject where there might not be as much archival or the kind of archival we wanted.

There was footage shot of Haru — the horse — especially in her biggest race where she’s ridden by the great jockey Yutaka Take. We did use that footage to ground the story a bit, but that footage is also shot in a kind of medium, flat way that covers the whole race. We wanted to be able to look at the fans in the stands, the horses racing from different angles — we wanted to look into Haru’s eyes and speculate on how she felt. That’s the beauty of animation, especially Mickey’s incredibly elegant, emotive drawings — it lets you step further into a scene and evoke the feeling and stakes of these races. It lets you take what you know about Haru and tease out her character and personality.

Plus, for races where there was no footage (which was the great majority) we could use Mickey’s art to show scenes where we knew what happened, but didn’t know exactly what they looked like. Like when the prime minister comments on Haru. Or her legend causing a boom in merchandise sales. Or one of the times when Haru came in third place! She didn’t always lose spectacularly. She actually came close to winning a few times, and I’m glad we got to show that in the film.

What was your biggest challenge in the post process for you? The language issue?
I’m so used to working in English and being able to work a little editing magic on interviews where you’re not changing what someone’s saying but you’re able to kind of speed them up or help them say something more efficiently. With our subjects speaking Japanese, and the sentence structures being a bit different, I was often just guessing on which words I did or didn’t need to make a succinct point. I was often wrong. Doh! But luckily our translators were really with us throughout the process and kept us in the clear.

Nice Shoes was very happy to collaborate with you on your new short doc, IDAC. Can you tell our readers about this short?
I wrote and directed a short documentary that’s a very strange little story. Officially, it’s about a mysterious relative and her parallel life to mine and how and why I never met this relative — even though we were in close proximity to each other for over a decade. But really, it’s an examination of figuring something out and how sometimes figuring something out can happen in a flash of understanding or slowly dawn on you over years. That is to say, it’s a documentary about a very un-cinematic thing — a feeling — which I tried to make in a very cinematic, visual way. I like movies like that.

This is not a comparison, but it’s why I love movies like The Social Network, an incredibly cinematic, thrilling movie that’s actually about a website launching. Again, not a comparison to my movie, which is five minutes long and about a cool cousin of mine. I’m just saying I like subjects that aren’t immediately cinematic when you think of them. Nice Shoes did the color on IDAC, which looks phenomenal. I hadn’t been sure I’d do a color grade for it but then it got into Hot Docs and I’m so glad I worked with you and Phil Choe — he’s a genius colorist (who works on FilmLight Baselight). Phil really made it pop off the screen in my opinion.

What is next for you, personally?
I have a documentary crew called the Internets Celebrities and we just launched a website for our docu-series The Food Warriors, where we take the A train in New York City and get off at every stop and ask people where the best place to eat is. The website is thefoodwarriors.com. I directed the episodes and co-created the series with the hosts, Dallas Penn and Rafi Kam (who programmed the website) and a bunch of wonderful people (Bryan Galatis, Jesse Brown, Humu Yansane, Aaron S. Brown, to name just a few).

I’m also working on developing a fictional feature film and some new shorts, which will ultimately wind up at casimirnozkowski.com And last but not least, I’m on the board of Rooftop Films and we’re about to celebrate our 20th anniversary this summer in New York City. It’s going to rock. Come see some movies!

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


Catching up with ‘Long Nights Short Mornings’ editor Bryan Gaynor

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.

Bryan and Chad

L-R: Bryan Gaynor and Chadd Harbold

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.

Um, 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.

Why?
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.

OWC 12.4