In every film we watch there are multiple working parts that go beyond the actors and director. It’s my wish to highlight the numerous key individuals that bring your favorite films to life.
This interview is with Film Editor Brad Turner, and I am incredibly honored and lucky that he has taken the time speak with me. Brad is based in New York, and has edited commercials for Nike, Microsoft, Sony, and BMW, and numerous shorts, documentaries, and film. Recently completed work for Goat and Patti Cake$.
How would you define film editing and its impact on the final piece?
In some ways, editing is the most fundamental part of the filmmaking process, insofar as it’s the only craft used in filmmaking that’s specific to the medium. Everything else–screenwriting, shooting, acting, direction, production design–each of these are employed in other kinds of artistic expression. Kurosawa used to say that the only reason he shot stuff was so that he’d have something to edit. Perhaps that qualifies him as some sort of purist.
Of course, I don’t think editing is inherently more important than any other part of filmmaking. But I am into the idea that it does kind of represent the language of cinema. In academia, there’s a lot of study having to do with film semiotics, or how films convey meaning. If you correlate cinema to literature, for instance, where a shot might be analogous to a sentence, a sentence to a paragraph, an so on, editing is the way a movie communicates. So undertaking it can be considered an act of creation, rather than just a process of arranging things. That idea is absolutely thrilling to me.
For those who aren’t in film, where does editing come during the filmmaking process?
The physical act of editing comes at the end–when all the footage has been shot–but it’s being considered from the very beginning. The simplest way to describe editing is as the act of assembling all the various pieces that make up a film (footage from the shoot, music, motion graphics) into a cohesive experience.
I have subjected my girlfriend, Lindsay, to a truly disgusting amount of shop-talk over the course of a decade. Lindsay does not work in the industry, but she is an artist, and she’s fascinated by process. And she’s developed what I think is a pretty sophisticated way to explain to family and friends what it is that I do. For her, my job is to choreograph what an audience feels as they experience a film. And I manipulate sound, image, and performance in order to do that. Though I think that oversells my role a bit–I’m not deciding what an audience is going to experience–that’s a large-scale collaboration led by a film’s director–I do play a substantial role in figuring out how to use what we got on the shoot to make the audience feel what we want them to in the theater.
What’s the relationship between director and editor like? And what was it like working with Geremy Jasper?
I have extremely close relationships with most of the directors for whom I’ve edited. That tends to happen when you spend a few months holed up voluntarily in a dark room with someone, and try to solve a ridiculous puzzle together (which is another good analogy for what I do, I suppose). There’s so much trust in good director-editor relationships, and that was certainly the case with Geremy. Patti was his first feature, and that makes for a pretty nerve-wracking process. It was important for me to help him feel confident that he was getting what he needed, so I was building rough cuts for scenes just after they were captured, and discussing with him what was working and what wasn’t. Then we sat down and hashed it all out over the course of several months. Geremy is an incredible intellect, and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. I adore him.
How long did it take to edit Patti Cake$, and since the film is highly dependent on music, did the music video genre serve as an influence?
Ultimately, Patti was more gratifying to edit than anything else I’ve undertaken, but it was an incredibly complicated (and sometimes exhausting) process for a number of reasons. The film took about five months to cut when all was said and done, and it evolved substantially over that time. Geremy composed almost all of the film’s music with Jason Binnick, so there was a lot of back and forth as we re-cut scenes to match new arrangements, and arranged new music to match editorial changes. Geremy and I both come from music video backgrounds, so I’m certain that influenced some of our decision-making, but it wasn’t a conscious influence.
Is there an example of a scene that was particularly challenging?
One scene that was particularly complicated to put together was the “Hunger Gamez” montage in the middle of the film. The song weaves in and out as we follow Patti and the crew through various scenarios, from a recording session (of the song itself) to a photoshoot, to packaging and selling a CD mix-tape and a fateful encounter with a local DJ. Each vignette within that montage was intended to be an individual scene, but we wanted the middle of the film to really convey the sense that Patti and her band were undertaking something exciting–it needed tangible energy. So we came up with the idea of folding all of those scenes into one, and anchoring it all with the “Hunger Gamez” performance. That required re-writing the track over and over as we combined, shortened, and re-ordered scenes. Everything had to be truncated significantly, so that each vignette could communicate what it had to narratively without making the song feel interminable. It was an epic balancing act, and, in the end, it’s probably my favorite section of the film.
There’s one particular scene where Patti is entering into the pharmacy, and Jheri is giving an MC-intro. The sequence lasts for a minute and a half and is partly filled with tracking shots, then transitions to cuts between close-ups. On a micro level, how did you arrive at the rhythm for the time between each cut?
That scene was all Patti and Jhere. I did my best to preserve the fantastic rhythm and chemistry Danielle Macdonald and Siddharth Dhanjay established on set during the shoot. I didn’t impose much on their performances, because they didn’t really need embellishment.
You’ve edited shorts, documentaries, and full-lengths, what differences do you find in editing them?
Feature docs are insanely challenging editorial undertakings. You’re essentially writing the movie with material that was captured in only one way. You don’t have the benefit of multiple takes, and if you missed something during the shoot, it’s just gone. That said, every project presents unique challenges, and I do my best to devise a unique working methodology for each one. There are, of course, some principles I apply universally, but the rule systems I devise for an edit are generally project-specific.
How do you typically find projects, particularly films like Patti Cake$ and Goat?
Both Goat and Patti Cake$ came to me very organically. I went to college with Andrew Neel (who directed Goat), and we’re partners in a production company called SeeThink in Brooklyn. As for Patti, I’ve known Geremy’s wife, Georgie, for fifteen years or so, and she suggested he talk to me when he started looking for editors. Ironically, his producers Noah Stahl and Michael Gottwald had reached out to my agent Louiza Vick already, so it felt like this grand, inevitable confluence. I’ve been really lucky in my career to work with friends. One thing that I tell young filmmakers is that they should look for people with whom they want to collaborate before anything else. Everything’s more fun and the work is ultimately better when you’re working with people you legitimately respect and appreciate.
Finally, do you ever watch the final product in the theater, and if you do, what feelings do you have when you see it?
I’m a big fan of testing films with small audiences (it’s a great way to identify problem spots), so by the time a movie’s complete, I’ve already seen it a few times with a group of people. As for premieres and releases, I usually watch my films in theaters a couple times. The first time is frequently a nauseatingly anxious experience. I remember I could barely keep it together when Geremy was introducing Patti at Sundance–sweaty palms, racing heart, the whole nine. Then later in the year, during its theatrical run, my girlfriend got a group of friends together to see the film at the Alamo Drafthouse. Just a regular screening. I had a blast. Letting go of a film when you’re done with it feels a bit like I imagine post-partem does. It’s tough to describe exactly how it feels to watch something you’ve made in a room full of strangers who are vibing on it. A mixture of pride and relief, maybe. It’s a good feeling, that’s for sure.
Once again, a massive thank you to Brad. I would definitely recommend readers to keep an eye open for Brad’s upcoming work, as he’s just finished co-editing, with Ron Patane, the HBO movie entitled Paterno (set to premiere in April). Also, check out his website: http://www.laserjuice.tv/
Next week I’ll be interviewing Kendall Anderson, who has served as a Set Decorator on films, such as You Were Never Really Here, Chuck, and Tallulah.