Director Sandro Miller called on Utopic partner and editorCraig Lewandowski to collaborate on Psychogenic Fugue, a 20-minute film starring John Malkovich in which the actor plays seven characters in scenes recreated from some of filmmaker David Lynch’s films and TV shows. These characters include The Log Lady, Special Agent Dale Cooper, and even Lynch himself as narrator of the film.
It is part of a charity project called Playing Lynch that will benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which seeks to introduce at-risk populations affected by trauma to transcendental meditation.
Chicago-based Utopic handled all the post, including editing, graphics, VFX and sound design. The film is part of a multimedia fundraiser hosted by Squarespace and executed by Austin-based agency, Preacher. The seven vignettes were released one at a time on Playinglynch,com.
To find out more about Utopic’s work on the film, we reached out to Lewandowski with some questions.
How early were you brought in on the film?
We were brought in before the project was even finalized. There were a couple other ideas that were kicked around before this one rose to the top.
We cut together a timing board using all the pieces we would later be recreating. We also pulled some hallway scenes from an old Playstation commercial that he directed, and we then scratched in all the “Lynch” lines for timing.
You were on set. Can you talk about why and what the benefits were for the director and you as an editor?
My job on the set was to have our reference movie at the ready and make sure we were matching timing, framing, lighting, etc. Sandro would often check the reference to make sure we were on track.
For scenes like the particles in Eraserhead, I had the DP shoot it at various frame rates and at the highest possible resolution, so we could shoot it vertical and use the particles falling. I also worked with the Steadicam operator to get a variety of shots in the hallway since I knew we’d need to create some jarring cutaways.
How big of a challenge was it dealing with all those different iconic characters, especially in a 20-minute film?
Sandro was adamant that we not try to “improve” on anything that David Lynch originally shot. Having had a lot of experience with homages, Sandro knew that we couldn’t take liberties. So the sets and action were designed to be as close as possible to the original characters.
In shots where it was only one character originally (The Lady in the Radiator, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Elephant Man) it was easier, but in scenes where there were originally more characters and now it was just Malkovich, we had to be a little more creative (Frank Booth, Mystery Man). Ultimately, with the recreations, my job was to line up as closely as possible with what was originally done, and then with the audio do my best to stay true to the original.
Can you talk about your process and how you went about matching the original scenes? Did you feel much pressure?
Sandro and I have worked together before, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure from him, but I think I probably put a fair amount on myself because I knew how important this project was for so many people. And, as is the case with anything I edit, I don’t take it lightly that all of that effort that went into preproduction and production now sits on my shoulders.
Again, with the recreations it was actually fairly straightforward. It was the corridor shots where Malkovich plays Lynch and recites lines taken from various interviews that offered the biggest opportunity, and challenge. Because there was no visual reference for this, I could have some more fun with it. Most of the recreations are fairly slow and ominous, so I really wanted these corridor shots to offset the vignettes, kind of jar you out of the trance you were just put in, make you uneasy and perhaps squirm a bit, before being thrust into the next recreation.
What about the VFX? Can you talk about how they fit in and how you worked with them?
Many of the VFX were either in-camera or achieved through editorial, but there were spots — like where he’s in the corridor and snaps from the front to the back — that I needed something more than I could accomplish on my own, so I used our team at Utopic. However, when cutting the trailer, I relied heavily on our motion graphics team for support.
Psychogenic Fugue is such an odd title, so the writer/creative director, Stephen Sayadin, came up with the idea of using the dictionary definition. We took it a step further, beginning the piece with the phonetic spelling and then seamlessly transitioning the whole thing. They then tried different options for titling the characters. I knew I wanted to use the hallway shot, close-ups of the characters and ending on Lynch/Malkovich in the chair. They gave me several great options.
What was the film shot on, and what editing system did you use?
The film was shot on Red at 6K. I worked in Adobe Premiere, using the native Red files. All of our edit machines at Utopic are custom-built, high-performance PCs assembled by the editors themselves.
What about tools for the visual effects?
Our compositor/creative finisher used an Autodesk Flame, and our motion graphics team used Adobe After Effects.
Can you talk about the sound design?
I absolutely love working on sound design and music, so this was a dream come true for me. With both the film and the trailer, our composer Eric Alexandrakis provided me with long, odd, disturbing tracks, complete with stems. So I spent a lot of time just taking his music and sound effects and manipulating them. I then had our sound designer at Brian Lietner jump in and go crazy.
Is there a scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging, or both?
I really like the snap into the flame/cigarette at the very beginning. I spent a long time just playing with that shot, compositing a bunch of shots together, manipulating them, adjusting timing, coming back in the next morning and changing it all up again. I guess that and Eraserhead. We had so many passes of particles and layered so many throughout the piece. That shot was originally done with him speaking to camera, but we had this pass of him just looking around, and realized it was way more powerful to have the lines delivered as though they were internal monologue. It also allowed us to play with the timings in a way that we wouldn’t be able to with a one-take shot.
As far as what I’m most proud of, it’s the trailer. We worked really hard to get the recreations and full film done. Then I was able to take some time away from it all and come back fresh. I knew that there was a ton of great footage to work with and we had to do something that wasn’t just a cutdown. It was important to me that the trailer feel every bit as demented as the film itself, if not more. I think we accomplished that.
Check out the trailer here: