Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video A conversation with editor Sofi Marshall, part of Filmmaking Forum: Scene Analysis.
- Sofi, thank you so much for showing us that scene. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with this film? - Yeah, so the film is Wild Canaries, and it's a sort of murder-mystery that happens in hipster Brooklyn, and I think I met the filmmakers at Sundance, and they had seen a couple of my previous films, and we had a bunch of mutual friends. They, you know, decided to bring me on. I read the script and I loved it, and I had seen some of their other work, and I thought they were really talented as well, and yeah, so that's kind of how I got on the project.
- And then, specifically, in this scene, you know, it's very interesting because there's a lot being conveyed visually, and there's not too much in the way of dialogue. So, if you could just take us through, kind of what your initial goals were with this scene, and all of the ways you were able to achieve this sort of tension, that would be great. - Yeah, I mean, this scene, I think was like, the scene of the movie that I personally left 'til very last, just because there were so many shots, you know, it's a really long scene, and it's really important.
So, I sort of got everything I could before I dove into the scene, because I knew it was going to be pretty serious, but yeah, so I think the director was also quite worried about it, because that shoot day was insane for them. So many different setups, and the director is actually the actor in the film, and the producer is his wife, who is in the film as well, the two of them in that scene. So, you know, imagine trying to direct that scene while acting in it. You know, it's crazy.
So, he was freaking out to get everything, like do we have enough shots. So, for me, like editing it, I remember that was a film where I was doing most of the assistant work as well, so you know, I synced everything, and I think the way that scenes and takes are labeled is through the alphabet, and I think in that scene we went through the alphabet twice, because there were just so many angles and shots, and everything. So, anyway, diving into it. I think what the director said to me was, I want you to try a cut of this scene using every single shot, and so I said, okay that's insane, but okay, challenge accepted.
So, I did that, and I think what was cool about that advice whether he knew that's why he was doing it or not, was that it really did get me out of being afraid of that many options, 'cause I was like well, I have to use every single one. So, I have to look at everything. I have to figure out where I can put it, and you know, I think that we did end up keeping every single shot in there, but you know, obviously we weren't going to stick to that if it didn't work, but it was a great starting point, just to tackle such a huge scene, and then yeah, I think the scene has sort of different segments to it where, you know, it's suspense, it's funny, it's maybe a little bit scary at times, so like, there's a lot going on, sort of in the movie as a whole, that this scene kind of represents the whole thing.
You know, we're trying to pull of this murder-mystery thing, we're also trying to be funny, and we want it to be realistic as much as possible. So, I think, like the big challenges in that scene was sort of keeping the audiences belief alive. Like, we really wanted it to be believable that these two were hiding in an apartment where this other guy's in there, and you know, it borders on just sort of being funny, but like all those sort of camera moves where he's walking here, and then lower in the frame, some one's sort of sneaking out.
Getting all of those, just sort of rhythmically, feel right, and sort of come at the right moment was one of the biggest challenges of that scene, and sort of keeping the rhythm right. Like, I think the rhythm of the scene is the biggest thing that we worked on, and I think when we were originally cutting it, we were using tap music that I'm pretty sure was the theme to The Pink Panther, which is what we were doing there, which was actually pretty helpful, because we just needed to be in that mindset, to sort of get that thing going, and then ultimately, the composer created his incredible score that's in there, because like you said, there's not a lot of dialogue.
Like, it's all the action carrying the scene, and you want to feel like you're there, so you want to see it. You have three different characters perspectives that are all really important. You wanna see where the two are hiding. You wanna see what the other guy, who is possibly seeing them, is looking at. You also wanna understand what he's doing, because this is a big scene where they're trying to gather evidence, and you're learning a lot more about the murder-mystery in this scene than you've learned so far. So, all of that stuff has to be clear as well. So, it's just like, all this kind of stuff coming together that was really challenging, but I think the moment we realized that we got it, it was such, we were so happy.
Like, every time I watch that scene I'm just really happy. It feels like such an accomplishment to have sort of have done that, and that's really cool. - Besides creating the story, forming the tension, allowing the action to occur, were there like continuity challenges that you had to always be aware of? Just like, technically, in constructing something with, I guess now we know, every single shot, but also making sure that every single shot actually fits together.
Can you go a little bit more into some of what you remember the challenges to be? - Yeah, I mean, there were definitely continuity issues. You know, with all those shots also, it turned out that there were some key moments that we wished we had, so something that we ended up doing a lot for there was, which is one of my favorite tricks as an editor actually, is using a lot of the pre and post roll, which is what's in the take before the director calls action, or after the director calls cut. So, a lot of times what was happening in the shot while people were setting up, was weirdly something that we could really use.
So, we could punch in a little bit, and move things over, and use a lot of that stuff to help us get even more variety, and fix pretty much all of the problems, I think that we felt, with that scene. So, that was really cool. - Wow, that is awesome. Anything that you learned from that, that you've used again in a project sense, as far as the approach that you took? The advice the director gave you, and the ways that helped you in freeing your mind as far as the options are concerned.
Like, what did you learn from that scene? - Yeah, I mean definitely. I think, like I said, I saved it 'til last because I was afraid of it. It was just so big, and it's kind of silly to say. Obviously, I'd cut five or six features at that point, so to be afraid of a long scene is a little bit silly, but just because of all of those different elements that I knew needed to be incorporated into it, and I just knew how integral it was to the rest of the film. But yeah, just sort of diving in, and being given the opportunity to sort of play, and meet this challenge of using all the shots, just sort of took the fear out of it, and just let me kind of dive in and go for it, and I think that that's sort of a theme with editing as well.
Like, the first feature I did was obviously terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing, and then once I figured out how to do that, the next one was less scary. I mean, we worked on that scene, probably for like two weeks, a long time to really get it right, and to know that it was okay that it took that long, it was helpful for the film. Like, the stuff we did in that scene informed other parts of the film. So, yeah to just do it, and finish it, and accomplish it definitely makes other, and I've had other ones since then that have been even bigger than that.
So, just like getting that one out of the way definitely made everything else easier and less scary. - And, anything else you want to say about cutting this scene or Wild Canaries in general, at all, Sofi? - Yeah, I mean, I think this movie is one of my favorite ones that I've cut, because it was just so different. It has so many different tones that are so expertly woven throughout, and a lot of that, it was so very tightly written, but of course when you shoot things, things change and whatever, so sort of getting that back in the edit was really cool and exciting, and you know, I think the score which like, you know, this mystery, like reggae kind of thing, like that says it all about the movie.
Like, it's a weird kind of movie that's got a lot going on. You know, drama, comedy, and this murder-mystery thing, but it's like younger people in Brooklyn. So, it was just fun. Like, I think that initially I was a little bit nervous about that at the beginning, but I'm so glad that I did it, and that I got to do that, because it really opened my eyes to the way that all those different tonalities can come together in a film, and be really unique and cool.
- Awesome. Well, thank you so much. That was wonderful.