The Farewell is a new film starring quick-rising star Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians) and directed by Lulu Wang (Posthumous) about a woman returning to China to say her last goodbyes to her grandmother except grandma is the only one who doesn’t know she’s soon heading off to the next level of life.
Cutting The Farewell together is editor Matt Friedman who previously worked on films like John Tucker Must Die, Step Up Revolution, and The Boy Downstairs. The Farewell is undoubtedly an emotional family drama, and rapper and comedian Awkwafina is receiving a lot of praise for her performance. It was Matt’s job to watch Awkwafina and co-stars give heart-wrenching performances over and over and pick just the right one. We really don’t give editors enough love in this world because that sounds a bit like entertaining torture.
PopAxiom shared a moment of respite with Matt as he takes a break from being an editor or teaching about editing at the American Film Institute to talk about editing.
Draw Or Edit
From early on, Matt says, ““I knew I wanted to do something in film. Through the act of going through film school, I learned early on that I didn’t like the process of directing.”
Matt took a pro-active and strategic approach to getting work in the film industry. “I found a list of movies that were shooting in Georgia, and I looked for the movies where I didn’t recognize who any of the stars were. I figured these are the movies that probably need help.”
Matt’s logic met his creativity. “I faxed a Top 10 list to production offices with funny reasons for why they should hire me. I got a call back for an unpaid internship. My choices were either art department or editing.”
Was the art department an option? “I can’t draw for sh*t.”
Matt continues, “I took the editing internship under a woman named Emma Hickox, who is the daughter of Anne Coates, the editor of Lawrence of Arabia, among many other things.” For our geek nation out there, Anne Coates was also the editor for the 80s He-Man film.
About Emma, Matt says, “She took me under her wing. She taught me so much. Probably more than I learned in film school. I worked for her for three or four movies, and 25 years later here I still am.”
What’s a critical skill for being a successful editor according to Matt? “good attention to detail.”
Hello To The Farewell
Matt’s relationship with Lulu, the director of The Farewell, goes back to Posthumous, which Matt also edited. About their work together in The Farewell: “There are definitely some risky elements in what she did … We discussed them a lot. Unconventional things that went against the general wisdom. There were times where I would play devil’s advocate, and we’d reign those things in. There were times she’d say ‘Trust me on this one.’”
“We probably discussed virtually every frame in that movie.”
Matt’s motivation when editing is clear. “One of my overriding goals, and something that I say in virtually every class I teach at AFI, every frame matters. It must be there in support of the story.”
Matt elaborates, “In the case of The Farewell, there are long moments of silence where nothing is happening. But all of those frames are supporting the story.”
“I worked extraordinarily hard to take those silent moments that didn’t mean anything out.”
What did that entail? “Ignoring continuity in clever ways to take out a section of a shot that’s not necessary. Off-times. If a character says a line and walks to another point to say another line, we’d find ways to take empty in-betweens out.”
“The film is really incredible.”
Being An Editor
Matt’s come in to help movies reach a better place. What’s a flaw he often sees in these films? “Too many moments that make a movie feel long and slow.”
Matt uses his work on Lulu’s previous film Posthumous to explain a bit more what he means. “It was roughly a little over two hours long. I came in and took out about twenty minutes and replaced it with two full scenes that had been cut for time. But those moments left in for the sake of continuity don’t need to be there.”
What’s it like choosing between two takes of the same scene when an actor is delivering an excellent performance in both? “The director and editor will discuss moments like that. It’s actually not that difficult. What becomes difficult is when there are two takes of an actor doing a scene in different ways, and they both work.”
“During What Happens In Vegas, there were times where Zack Galifianakis and Rob Corddry are riffing, and it’s all hilarious. It’s excruciating to have to pick between scenes.”
It’s one thing to edit actors walking and talking. It’s a whole different beast when there’s dancing. Matt worked on the film Step Up Revolution with extensive choreography to edit. “It’s harder on a technical level. You have so many cameras running on everything. Creatively, the music informs so much, and I love cutting dance. I sit there watching dailies, and sometimes everything fires off at once, the choreography, the performance, the music, the camera work, it’s all perfect and in sync. It’s so easy to build a sequence around those anchors.”
How does he do the work? “I basically line up every cut of a dance performance from every angle, one on top of the other in the timeline. I watch everyone from start to finish.”
What’s he looking for? “… the stuff I know is not going to be in the cut. I list all those moments and take them out. So I end up with a timeline of what I know are all the possibilities.”
From there, Matt will, “… start to connect the dots.”
My biggest creative inspiration is Jill Bilcock, both in terms of the way in which she edits and the way she shapes her career. She bounces back and forth between little character-driven films and giant studio spectacles.”
“I’m very lucky in my career to have worked as an assistant for a lot of great editors. Peter Teschner who cut the Brady Bunch among many things like Eddie Murphy’s first Dr. Do-Little.”
What’s next for Matt Friedman is currently happening as this entire interview took place while working on a new project. What is it? Well, Matt can’t exactly say. “It’s an Andy Sandberg movie. I don’t know how much I can say. But it’s a romantic comedy about a couple stuck in a time-loop. About how their relationship grows in a spot where everything stays the same.”
Thanks to Matt Friedman and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.
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