Welcome to the last of our four-part interview series with RAOR editor Franco Pante. In this segment, director Katrin Bowen joined the conversation and relayed with Franco some of the drama and difficulties during shooting and editing.
We also got a behind-the-scenes view of the relationship between Katrin and Franco, and how the editor and director roles intertwine to bring you the final cut.
S: Do you normally get as much access to the director as you do with Katrin?
FP: Yeah, definitely. At the end of the shoot. With most directors they’re usually quite tired at the end of the shoot. It’s a physical and emotional marathon that they go through, so they’ll usually take a little time off. And that also gives me time to finish the assembly of the film so that when they come in they can see an assembly – they can see the film from start to finish and kind of have a sense of the flow of it, and then we can start working.
S: Is there more than one cut? You hear about the director’s cut.
FP: Oh, sure.
S: And how does that work?
FP: And as you go along, you might have various cuts with the director. Depending on how they like to work, they might screen something for some people who want to see it, then they’ll make a bunch of changes.
So usually what happens is then you will have a director’s cut that they’re reasonably happy with and they will want to show the world. So, depending on who holds the money and what their contracts are, if they get final cut or not.
S: So another interest, like the producer or someone else, might have another cut?
FP: Well, what happens is, if the director doesn’t have final cut, then in the end, whoever has final cut decides which version of the film goes out there. I’ve been lucky in most situations that the director has been involved. Like with Katrin, for Amazon Falls, it was so low-budget. It was her film and she decided in the end what it, she had final cut.
Also with any director, they’ll take notes in and if there’s money involved, depending on the contracts you have in place, [who has final cut] becomes more and more of an issue.
S: Do you find yourself having to be diplomatic in those cases? You’re kind of caught in the middle, then.
FP: Like I said, you have to support your director because the director’s life is hard. Their artistic life is hard. So, you can have discussions and disagreements and come to resolutions in the edit room between yourselves, but when it’s out there, you back up your director.
Hopefully if there’s differences of opinion between producers and any studios or networks or anybody having a say, that they can be resolved amicably, right? And hopefully it becomes a better film. That’s what you hope –that everybody’s on board with making the best film.
S: Do you freelance?
FP: Yeah. With most editors, we’re all freelance, so it’s all word of mouth. Hopefully people hear good things about you.
Oftentimes directors don’t judge by the work an editor’s done in the past because you never know what they had to work with, but also some editors get slotted into genres – ‘Oh, you’re a comedy editor, you’re a drama editor, you’re a TV editor…’ They’re different but you could cross all those genres, I think, and you can work in all sorts of different ways. So, for me, it comes down to an interesting project and I’ll take the material where it needs to go.
[At this point, Katrin came back from break.]
S: Do you ever pick projects, like stay away from stuff…
Katrin: Stay away from Katrin Bowen! Walk out of here!
FP: I’ve not learned to stay away from Katrin yet (laughing)!
KB: Even though I throw millions at him!
FP: That’s right! But, you know, you try to pick material you can bring something to, if you can, if you have that choice. But whatever you’re faced with, it’s about making the best film you can with it and hopefully bring your sensibility and whatever intelligence you might have.
KB: Did you tell them about the process trailer editing?
KB: I watched the footage and I literally almost threw up five times, and he pulled it together.
S: So what happened?
FP: They were shooting with a process trailer where you put actors in a car and the car gets towed along on this trailer. That’s where the camera is. It’s difficult no matter how you do it, even if you’ve got a big budget.
S: So were there multiple cameras on the trailer?
FP: There can be multiple cameras. In this case it was just one at a time. They would set up in different positions, whether it would be on the side of the car or in front of the car. And you need to have permits for this, because you can imagine this thing going down the street.
There were police escorts, so it’s expensive and it’s a low-budget shoot, so obviously you’re time is limited because it’s expensive. And you’re shooting at night so you have to light it. And it’s also raining.
KB: It’s torrential.
FP: And windy. And Katrin is not in the car, so the actors are having to rely on walkie-talkie direction.
KB: Which means they all have to hear the direction that they’re getting, so I have to be diplomatic. Normally I whisper in their ear.
FP: You can’t just whisper in the actor’s ear and say, “Hey, please do this.” It has to be said to everybody and the actor’s like “Why are you yelling at us?” “Because it’s torrential rain!” And you’re trying to hang on. And if something goes wrong, well it takes a long time to pull [the trailer] around…
KB: So we had a flag come into the shot, like the light flag, came in.
FP: Yeah, so there’s all sorts of technical glitches that can happen.
KB: Plus trying to get any kind of continuity on it. Like Lara (continuity supervisor) basically had a meltdown. And Franco pulled a miracle out because it’s impossible to get any kind of – there’s buses, taxis, you know, lights…
FP: There’s that, but it’s also within the car itself, the action that’s happening. Kudos to the actors in any situation. Not only are you trying to bring out the emotion of the scene, you’re trying to remember your lines, act with the other actor, and hit your marks so the focus puller can do their job.
Also, whatever actions you do in the scene, you’re trying to do it on specific lines in the same way and the same time that you did every take because now we’ve gone from a master shot, which has everything in it, to maybe a two-shot with the actors, and then a close-up, and then maybe a closer shot on you, and you’re doing the same action on the same line every time and this could be over a period of ten or 12 hours.
KB: It is. It was. It was 14 hours.
FP: And you could be tired –
KB: and cold!
FP: And trying to do things exactly the same way. So I’m amazed at actors and what they can do and the way they pull it off. So, in a situation like [the process trailer], everything is amplified because you don’t have that ability to step back and talk to the director or take a moment. You’re in this car and you’re stuck there and you’re touring around the Downtown Eastside, trying to do this emotional scene. And then, of course, the technical problems of cameras bouncing along.
KB: And they’re freezing –
FP: And flags coming into the shot –
KB: and it’s windy –
FP: Yeah, so, it’s challenging.
S: And you were able to take all that footage and actually piece it into something coherent?
FP: Yeah, that’s a situation where you end up having a lot of footage, usually, because they’ll just keep rolling and keep trying it again and trying it again.
KB: [To Franco] And usually what helps with you is slates so we break it up. In this case, I couldn’t. I just had to keep going sometimes. So he’s got no frame of reference. He just has to kind of try to find it.
FP: Yeah, I just watch it all. And again, in a situation where you had more money and your assistants could break it down a little more, that might help a bit too, but we’re low-budget, so we don’t have that. So, that’s fine. In this case, they had a scene that was broken up into two pieces and every once in a while you’d have them say, “Okay, let’s go back to the beginning of the scene again and do that!”
And then, again, kudos to the actors because by the end of the scene they have to get to a certain point. And now, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, we’re going to go back to the beginning before this thing happened. Okay, now do up your tie and make this thing happen,’ and then, emotionally, rewind everything. And then they shoot that little bit and then ‘Okay, let’s pick it up again half way through.’
KB: And a lot of that was because we were stopping at stop lights and I was trying as much as possible to match stuff because I knew that we couldn’t be stopped on a line and if I really liked that take, then if I wanted another version of that, close, it would have to be stopped again.
And we can’t stop the process trailer anytime. It has to stop only at red lights, so if I see a red light coming up, I’ll go “Okay, guys, go back five lines to this one,” and they’ll have to do it, so it was very challenging for everyone.
FP: All these things, the director has to hold in her head, as well as focusing on the performance and making sure that she’s getting the beats she wants out of this scene from each of these actors.
KB: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.
FP: It’s a huge task and you’re basically just surviving. You’re out in the middle of the elements and all this stuff is going on around you and what you have to focus on is here – these performances – yet all these other technical things you also have to keep in the back of your head.
So I’m watching it for all of these technical things as well as trying to find those moments. But at least I’m not out on a freezing trailer in the pouring rain. I’m in a nice, warm place.
S: So, Katrin, does the fact that you have worked together help in this case? Because you’re predicting what Franco is going to need, on the day of the shoot.
KB: Well that would be with any editor, but I do have a level of comfort with Franco, where I can phone him up, like I phoned him during that shoot, and I’m like “I’m hooched and I don’t know if I can get this coverage,” and he’s like “At least get this,” so we have this relationship, whereas if I hadn’t worked with him before, I might be reluctant to have that blunt of a conversation.
And, because you are surviving, I have no time to go, “Hey, Franco, how’s your family? How’s everything?” So, I think having that level of trust where he knows I care about him, I don’t need to –
FP: No, it’s all about the work, right? This is what we’re here to do.
KB: This is the first time I’ve actually had an editor on before post-production. Because last time, Franco came on later.
FP: Yeah, after the whole thing was shot.
S: Is that more common?
FP: No, more common during the shoot.
KB: It’s great. Also, it adds a certain layer, to be honest, of stress for me, but it’s better. But it adds more stress to the day because I’m like ‘Oh my God, I’ve gotta get this on top of all this other stuff,’ and it is like survival, like you’re literally in a war, trying to get through. But then I come here and I’m like ‘Thank God [we got the footage],’ because if we had to go back and rent the place, and get the actors…
FP: Yeah, it’s just impossible on a low budget. You know, you might be able to get an actor out for a shot out on the street or something, but to go back into a specific location and if they dressed that location, to get all the furniture, the props, or whatever they had in there and get everything right? It’s a nightmare. So you want to get everything you can the first time out there.
KB: Also, another thing that really helped me is, we had a really horrible day where I didn’t get any coverage of this scene that I’d storyboarded for three years that I loved, that was my favourite scene, and I was really attached to it and it ended up being this total gong show of a day.
And I could barely sleep that night and I contacted Franco and I said “Could you do an assembly of this as quick as possible, because I need to know if we need to go back in and reshoot this whole thing.” And I was sick to my stomach, as was Brendan, the DP, because –
FP: Because you guys only had what? An hour –
KB: We had an hour to shoot this crazy –
FP: And this is a scene with extras…it was a really big scene.
KB: – we had like 20 extras and I couldn’t talk to them to direct them –
FP: Because it costs money. Every time Katrin talks to an extra, it costs money.
KB: They get paid as an actor.
S: Do you think sitting with Franco during the editing process makes you a better director?
KB: Absolutely. I’m learning more about edits. I try to edit as much in my head as I can, then do shot lists, and during production, I’m sort of in my mind going, ‘Does this cut with this, does this cut with this?’ [To Franco] And I think the more I sit with you as the years go by, I’ll learn.
KB: But there is a talent he has that there’s no way I could ever get. Because, when I’m watching the dailies, I have no idea how things are going to come together, even though in my head – it’s just a different disconnect. Because it’s just a different brain, really, and [to Franco] you’ve got a different brain for it.
FP: [To Katrin] Yeah, well, for me, as I said, I just watch the material and try to figure out where your vision was when you shot it, because obviously you had an idea of how this would all go together.
And in some cases, if you had the ability to do more coverage, then you bought yourself choices. But it’s like, okay, what’s she going for in this scene emotionally, and how the scene should play out, and that’s what I keep in mind as I watch it. Then it’s just a question of where the material leads us.
And that’s why I say when you come in here, we have to forget everything that happened out there. We have to forget that you worked your guts out getting a scene, and, “Oh my God, it cost us so much money.” If it’s a scene in the end that doesn’t make the film better, it’s going to go. Or some of that material, like that shot you were really in love with, that cost you all this money – if it doesn’t work –
KB: Who cares, let it go.
FP: – if it doesn’t work, it’s out.
KB: Yeah, so it’s interesting because there’s things that I thought were going to be a nightmare that actually were okay, and things I thought were phenomenal, [to Franco] like a shot I planned, the overhead one, for instance, where I was like ‘Oh, this is gonna be so cool!’ but then Franco’s like ‘Yeah, but where does this come from?’ Like, why are we all of a sudden above everybody? You know, it has to make sense.
So, I can get attached to images, but if they’re not benefiting the story, then who cares?
FP: Yeah, we’re representing the audience here, [to Katrin] and also the vision that you want to put forward to the audience.
KB: [To Franco] And there are some things where you’ll be like, ‘I’m not getting this,’ and I thought it was obvious, because I’ve sat with the script for years. It seems to me to make obvious sense. And you explain that the audience would never know why a certain scene is there.
This script is totally out of sequence – we flash back to the first scene halfway through the script – there’s kind of a weird Memento thing that happens with it and it’s really confusing to work on. And even me, who’s sat with it for years, we were editing a thing and I’m thinking, ‘Shouldn’t he be on the phone? Can we intercut?’ and Franco says, “No, we haven’t seen him yet.”
FP: And the way they shot it, you’ll have a scene that plays out in a certain way, but only parts of it will play out at a point in the film, so at this point in the film, this part plays out, but we don’t have this other information, so we can’t show this yet, and we see the middle of the scene, but we don’t see the beginning that explains what that middle is, maybe.
As your shooting it, you’re shooting the whole thing and the variations you want, but then when it comes together here, we’re taking apart what was shot, because they have to shoot the whole thing together when they’re at a certain location, right? So it’s easy to get confused as to the chronology.
KB: It becomes a different film in the edit, for sure.
FP: It’s another opportunity to write. It’s an old saying – You write a film three times: once on paper, once when you shoot it, and then once again here [in the edit room].
KB: And it’s important for me to lose the time before. So when I’m directing, I lose the writing; when I’m editing, I lose the directing. It’s really hard, though, because you’re attached. It’s like each one is its own separate relationship and you have to drop it.
* * *
Thanks for joining us on this four-part exploration into RAOR editor Franco Pante’s world. Join us next week for the first part of our interview with RAOR’s director of photography, Brendan Uegama.
Franco is a freelance editor in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com