Georgia Dodson has traveled a long way, literally and figuratively, to where she is today — a full-time editor at Cut+Run in New York City. This Bland, Virginia-native left home at 17 and hasn’t looked back. Now she spends her days in an edit suite helping tell stories, and one of those most recent stories is the short documentary film Call of Duty from director Matt Lenski.
The two have worked together before. Back in 2012 Dodson edited Lenski’s Meaning of Robots, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, won Best Short Doc at the Nashville Film Festival and screened at SXSW and MoMA’s New Directors/New Films. This year she reunited with the director once more, this time on his new short film Call of Duty, which also made the festival rounds. In Call of Duty, Manhattan jury duty clerk Walter Schretzman wants you to remember that you are the only thing standing between civilization and anarchy.
What was the original concept presented by director Matt Lenski?
Matt had filmed and interviewed three jury clerks working in Manhattan. They were each engaging, but Walter brought something a little more existential to the table. While the others tried to sell us on the merits of doing jury duty, Walter was self-aware. He spoke about what it was like to be in the same room, every day, with people who are constantly trying to get out of that room… and he likes it. So I think the idea of Walter’s identity in relationship to the perceived monotony of his job was what Matt was going for with Call of Duty.
How did that evolve in the edit?
It took a long time. The ending and beginning came together quickly, but once we got into how to convey these feelings of waiting, boredom and peppering in Walter’s zingers at the right places… it was really tough. For the most part, we had all the best pieces picked out early on but had to figure out the right arc. Somehow, things fell into place magically. For me, the piece that finally pulled things together was Walter talking about being at the same job for 20 years, doing the same thing every day, while he’s counting hundreds of juror slips. He says, “It is what it is.”
You’ve collaborated with Matt before — give us a little background on your work together.
I met Matt when I was an assistant, and by chance helped him with a director’s cut when my editor was out of town. We became friends and have worked on projects together since. The first big one was Meaning of Robots, which evolved from a chance encounter Matt had with Mike Sullivan, a hoarder who makes Metropolis-inspired robot pornography. Our little portrait of him ended up in Sundance, which was a pleasant surprise for us. That project definitely has parallels to Call of Duty, in both subject and style.
What were some interesting moments with Walter that ended up on the cutting room floor (or the digital trash bin)?
He talked about his love of avant-garde jazz that’s difficult to listen to but will “wake you up.” I tried for the longest time to work that moment into our edit, paired with an appropriate jazz track over sleeping jurors… but it didn’t work in context of the whole piece. Too bad. We could make a feature length film of Walter saying amazing things.
What piece of this exploration surprised you the most?
It’s really funny, but I also think it’s darker than I expected it to turn out. Early on, I cut together the part where the prospective jurors watch the jury duty film. (I saw the whole thing when I did jury duty. It’s ridiculous.) I quickly connected the man drowning with the ticking clock, Walter checking his watch and then the infinity loop of the screensaver behind him. It makes me laugh, but it also kind of helped set a dark tone for the whole thing. Also, sound. Sound is always important, but weirdly, it’s especially important in a film about nothing happening, where, theoretically, little sound is being made.
What are you hoping people take from the film?
I like Walter’s sentiment, toward the end of the film, that “people are more than what they do.” Walter is definitely more than what he does.
Have you been to any of the festival screenings?
I was able to go to Rooftop Films, and I met Walter there, finally. He retired a couple of weeks later, so the timing of the film is pretty perfect. It was amazing to hear people laughing so much throughout the entire piece, because after working on something for so long, it’s hard to see it.
What is it about editing longform/short films, as opposed to commercials, that resonates with you?
I come from a writing background. I was an English major in college. I love documentary editing, because I become the writer. My favorite thing is getting an interview and cutting it up to create some emotion or humor.
What are some other recent projects you’ve edited?
This is my latest short film. I’ve been doing a lot of commercials. I just finished a documentary style commercial for Hershey, directed by Jonty Toosey, that will be out soon.