Today’s guest on Art of the Cut is documentary editor, Eileen Meyer.
In 2016, at South by Southwest she won the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship. Her editing credits go back to 2011. Her filmography includes the documentary Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal; the feature film, Only Child, and episodes of the TV series, The Devil Next Door.
Today we discuss her work on the documentary Crip Camp, which premiered this year at Sundance on opening night.
I interviewed her in Los Angeles, via Skype, and as we talked, I could see a wall of colored Post-it notes behind her.
HULLFISH: I see a wall with colored PostIt notes behind you. Are you working on something new?
MEYER: I am. Yes. This is for my new project which is a feature documentary about Anthony Bourdain.
HULLFISH: Oh wow.
MEYER: I’m working with Morgan Neville of Tremolo on that film. We’re about a third of the way into that one.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about Crip Camp for those who haven’t seen it.
MEYER: Crip Camp is about a sort-of hippie radical summer camp for kids with disabilities. We start the film in the early 70s and we meet the kids from the camp and then we follow them for the next two decades beyond the camp through the disability rights movement all the way through the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). And then to present day at the very end of the film.
HULLFISH: I saw the film at Sundance and the audience just ate it up. First of all, it’s riotously funny and has a ton of personality, but then the amazing thing is that the camp basically birthed the entire Americans with Disabilities Act, which is incredible. Both of those things are amazing — each on its own, enough of a reason to do a documentary.
Tell me a little bit about the schedule. How long were you on the film?
MEYER: So the film went through a few different lives through the editing process. A lot of films take a really long time to edit. It takes a really long time to find the right tone, to find the right story, and to find all the pieces of the archival that really came together to make the film work.
I came on to the film for the last seven months of the edit, but they had a rough assembly when I came onto the film, which they had been working on for about a year before I came onto it.
Initially they were working with editor Andy Gersh. They went to the Sundance edit lab with the film. They went down a lot of different paths trying to find the right tone for the film. I think at a certain point after like a year of working on the edit, they were really feeling like they needed to bring in some fresh eyes and fresh perspectives.
I came onto the film at the same time as Mary Lampson who was our co-editor. She and I worked together collaboratively throughout the rest of the edit. When we came onto the film they had gotten a bunch of notes and thoughts from veteran editors who were consultants, so they had a lot of ideas swirling around. Mary and I worked together with Jim and Nicole, the directors, to focus all those ideas.
The film has so many amazing elements and you can just see that from watching any of the raw material. The black and white footage from the camp is just incredible on its own and you can just sit and watch it for hours and not get bored.
At the same time, they did all these wonderful interviews and they have all these great characters and there’s incredible archival footage from the 504 sit-in later on. You could see that you had all of these pieces and it was like every documentary filmmaker’s dream to have all of these amazing elements. But something about the way it was all fitting together, it wasn’t quite doing it justice.
When we came onto the project it was a question of how we take this film to the next level and make it great so that the film itself really lives up to the material.
HULLFISH: Do you think that the issue was more tonal? Because it is tricky. There’s so much humor and joy and personality but there’s also anger and sorrow at the injustice, or there’s the straight political story. Talk to me about choosing that tone and finding that tone.
MEYER: It’s about tone and it’s also about point-of-view, and it’s about how you’re telling the story. A lot of the stuff that they were starting to do initially with the film was that it was Jim LeBrecht’s story. He was the co-director and he was also one of the main characters in the film and he was the person that introduces you to this world.
You enter the story through his eyes. Initially he had this voice-of-God narration over the whole thing. And he was not an on-camera interview at first. He was doing it as a straight personal film. Occasionally you would hear the different stories from different characters, but it was always coming back to him and his personal story.
I think one of the biggest changes right before I came onto the project was that they finally ended up — as an experiment — doing a sit-down interview with Jim and making him the same type of character as everyone else in the film. So that a big shift in tone and point of view. And then throughout the rest of the editing process we spent a lot of time trying to figure out whose story is this? And at what point — and how — do we shift perspectives? And how do we make it a collective story?
It’s not just Jim story. It’s not just the movement’s story. It’s not just Judy’s story. It’s everyone’s story adding to the collective experience. And so it took us a long time to really make that work. And to get Jim’s story and voice to match Judy’s story and voice, and for it to not feel like two separate films — in camp and after camp.
HULLFISH: So was that a lot of scene work or was it more how you tied the scenes together? What made it feel cohesive?
MEYER: It was a lot of really subtle things. It was scene work.
Two of the toughest sections of the film for me were: the transition out of camp and into the rest of the world — the beginning of Act Two. You just spent 40 minutes in this incredible experience at the summer camp and this totally immersive verite material and as soon as you leave camp you don’t have that material for the next two decades.
So we had to piece together — from so many different little fragments of archival footage to try to create the feeling of being immersed in the time and place. And that took a while because it had to be cut at a different pace because of the nature of the material.
We didn’t have the long shots. It felt like a totally different style of editing, so then we had to open up the whole second half of the film and find any moment where we could let it breathe.
Similarly, cutting down certain aspects of the camp footage so it didn’t feel too slow to create that balance.
HULLFISH: Numbers don’t matter, right? The fact that the first act is 40 minutes is immaterial, but that seems like a long first act for a movie that’s as long as this is. But you’ve got this incredible material, right?
For those that haven’t seen the film, a video collective that had a reel to reel black and white video camera went to this camp and shot — and actually let the campers shoot their own material. So there is a ton of wacky and emotional and wonderful material, but that’s just for the first 40 minutes. But you could have done two hours I’m sure with that material.
So you come out of that and now you’re into this other transition and I never felt like it was a different feeling like the pace changed. So now you’re coming out of this very poignant material and the tone changes pretty radically.
Now you’re dealing with a very different thing. Talk to me about that transition from Act One to Act Two. Did the tone change?
MEYER: There were a lot of conversations we had and notes that we got from our test screenings: people wanted a context for how oppressive that time period was before you would even enter camp at the beginning of the film. To understand the freedom of the camp even more by understanding what the kids were escaping from.
But what we found was that it was actually more powerful to do the opposite and to let you experience the camp and the joy and the fun of the camp first and then when all the kids go back home and the counselors go home and then you’re introduced to what they’re going back to then that stark contrast of the joy and freedom of the camp to what their real lives are like and what culture is like is just totally shocking at that point.
We found that doing it after camp was more effective. You weren’t being told about it, you were actually feeling it along with the campers. You don’t want to leave camp. You have now joined the group of friends at the camp as the audience and they’re your friends, and then they go back to these horrible oppressive home lives where they can’t get around. They’re stuck in their two-story apartment building and they can’t cross the street and they’re isolated.
But I think if you were just told that at the beginning of the film you don’t experience it emotionally.
HULLFISH: But now there’s somebody that you care about that is not being treated properly. I love that.
One of the big tonal leaps in the film is the section about Willowbrook. Tell me about the purpose of that section and the determination of how long you’d stay in that uncomfortable place.
MEYER: That was just an incredibly shocking special when it came out — revealing what was actually happening in these institutions where kids with mental and physical disabilities were being sent and grossly mistreated and starved and tortured and all these terrible things.
For a large part of the edit, that section of the film was too long, but I think we found an equilibrium at a certain point. But the thing that we needed to get across was that the same kids that you were seeing at Camp Jened — having these very full, active, and joyous lives — were the same kids that were being sent to these institutions that you’re now seeing in this footage.
The misconceptions that you bring to it — of not thinking of those kids as people — it’s really powerful and uncomfortable. A lot of the editing in the film is meant to make the audience feel uncomfortable at certain points and examine our own biases and misconceptions. So there’s a lot of moments in the film that are supposed to elicit those reactions. And I think that’s one of them.
When Judy says, “When I first went there I couldn’t believe it, and I realized that any one of us could have ended up here.”
HULLFISH: So you’ve set up these people that you care about. You show how bad things could be. And that kind of launches this political movement.
MEYER: You’ve seen both extremes. You see that here is what life is like for people with disabilities, and here’s how it could be. Then how do we get there as a society?
HULLFISH: I love that structure and idea. That wasn’t present?
MEYER: I think the skeleton of that structure was there. Making those moments work emotionally was a big part of our last six months of the edit.
One of the things that was difficult about the tone in the assembly was that some scenes were just really silly and goofy and some scenes were just really heavy and dark. One thing we realized is that the strength of this film is the complicated emotions and that every scene had to have all of those things. It couldn’t just be one or the other.
You needed to be laughing at the same time that you’re crying and being outraged. You had to be experiencing all of those things all the time. That was a big mountain and we had to climb — to trust our audience to be able to have those complicated feelings along with the characters and not handhold and trust that the audience would pick up on the subtlety of things.
So we had to strip out a lot of the voiceover and exposition and let the footage be the film.
HULLFISH: What is that transition between the camp and Willowbrook? Because that’s a big jump.
MEYER: It is. There are a few scenes in between where you see some other campers go home to their different lives and their different home experiences.
You see Lionel, one of the camp counselors, go back to Alabama and his experience of the race relations at the time and he relates that to the discrimination against people with disabilities and how he was able to understand that, being at the camp and then having to go back to the Deep South in the early 70s. It starts to shift into a more political space as soon as you experience that with Lionel.
Then Judy picks up the ball and we start to talk about political activism after camp. She was really doing so much amazing work from the very beginning. She sued New York State to be able to be a teacher even before camp. Then after camp she started this organization called Disability in Action and they started doing all these crazy protests in New York.
So you start to see the beginnings of the political movement and then when Disabled in Action starts to work on deinstitutionalization — which is the Willowbrooks of the country — they start to try to dismantle that system, they visit Willowbrook for the first time and Judy is hit with this horrible experience.
I think then that fuels the next level of the movement that they then all go on to create in Berkeley.
HULLFISH: Since another editor started on this, the organizational structure inside of the NLE — are we in Premiere?
MEYER: Yes. Cutting in Premiere.
HULLFISH: How were things organized? Was it all by date? Was it by subject matter?
MEYER: I feel like some editors are organizers and some editors are not. I think some people like to come in and they just start cutting scenes and they’re not doing pre-organization. They didn’t really have an assistant editor at the beginning, so there wasn’t someone organizing the footage initially. So it’s just going straight to the editor. He was more of an editor who was just cutting scenes.
So when I came onto the project there was an assembly and there were a bunch of rough scenes but there weren’t organized bins or scenes or anything like that.
I am more of an organizing person. So I worked really closely with Lauren Schwartzman who was our assistant editor and associate producer. She is an incredibly talented person. She was on the project from pretty early on and she knew where everything was. So it was all in her mind.
Right before I would start to work on a section of the film, I would say, In a couple of days and I start working on this part of the film. Can you build me a string out of everything that could possibly be related to that thing? All the interviews, the archival, the previous scenes that have been cut. So that was sort of like my bin of things to look at for a particular section.
We would build those theme bins and then break that down into a scene string-out and then my selects from that bigger pool. But I could always go back to that bigger pool as a starting point if I was missing something. So I like to have that all-inclusive bin or string out to go back to in case I’m missing something.
HULLFISH: So you wouldn’t ask for a separate interview string-out and a separate b-roll string-out. How big were some of those timelines?
MEYER: There were some that were a couple hours long. In terms of the camp footage — the black and white footage — there were five and a half hours of that footage altogether. So in a way, it’s a lot and in a way it’s not a lot.
That is where we get 40 minutes of the finished film, so that tells you how amazing that footage was (about a 15:1 shooting ratio). So for that footage I really sat down and watched all of it and made my own selects based on what I was seeing and not what was already edited. So I was just responding to my initial watch of that material and finding the moments that jumped out at me.
Mary Lampson, who also worked a lot on that part of the film, did the same thing and she made her own selects. We were able to find a lot of subtlety in that footage by going back through it at a later stage in the edit and pulling out micro-moments that added to the bigger story.
HULLFISH: That’s an interesting point to me because your understanding of the material that you’re watching — the source material — changes as you do the edit.
MEYER: It does.
HULLFISH: So the person that cut that originally — the selects they make are very different than the selects you make knowing the context.
MEYER: I’ve been on both sides of the edit: where I start an edit and someone else takes it over and vice versa. In both respects there are different advantages and disadvantages. But coming into it later, you’re coming to a very privileged perspective where already a lot of things have been tried; a lot of mistakes have been made; you can see everything fresh and you’re able to see things that someone who’s been working on it for a year wouldn’t necessarily see anymore. Or even the directors. Everyone just gets too close to the material.
I think it’s important on any project — every project that I’ve worked on — to, at some point towards the end, get a lot of fresh eyes. And whether that’s consulting editors or friends or test screenings. Having a lot of fresh-eyed perspective is so important, no matter how you do it.
The other thing on this film is the collaborative aspect of our editing process. We were all working remotely. I was in New York for part of the time, in Los Angeles for part of the time. Mary Lampson and Shane Hofeldt — who is her apprentice editor — were in Maine. Nicole and Jim were in the Bay Area.
We were all working remotely on different parts of the film and talking every once in a while and sending scenes around. But then once a month or so we would all meet in Berkeley and spend a week or two together and most of the time in that week we would spend more time just talking than we would cutting.
I don’t think the film could have gotten there if we didn’t have those very, very long and emotional and deep conversations about what we were doing.
HULLFISH: How were you collaborating technically? Did everybody have the source material locally? Then you were sharing projects up to Dropbox or something?
MEYER: Yes exactly. We had three sets of mirrored drives — one in Berkeley, one with me, and one with Mary. And we would share projects to Dropbox.
I had the master project, then we would send around smaller mini-projects that would only have a certain scene or a certain string out or whatever anyone was working on. We would send those around in smaller projects and then incorporate that into the master.
HULLFISH: So there’s this collaboration going on among the whole group including producers. What kind of collaboration is happening between you and the other editor?
MEYER: It was all very collaborative. We were always working on a different part of the film. At a certain point I took over the second half of the film: the end of camp through the end. And Mary focused on summer camp. Initially we were sharing a bunch of different parts of the film but after a while we sort of split it that way when we got to the more fine cut.
We would just send things back and forth really to get notes. Mary would send me something and say, “This is just like an idea. What do you think?” That would give me another idea and I would do that. I’d send it back to her. We did a little bit of that sharing of material and scenes and that’s really the way that I like to work.
I love working collaboratively with other editors because I feel like every time new eyes are on it, new ideas get thought of, and it just gets better and better and better. I’m not the type of editor to say, “This is MY edit. This is MY idea.” I always want someone else to add something to it. And I think everyone on this project felt that way.
It was a really magical kind of feeling the whole time we were working on it. We all knew that it was such a special film and such a special group of people that we were working with and it felt emotional — so much love going on between the crew. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
HULLFISH: I went to the Q and A opening night with the team and it was definitely a love fest. You could tell that the people that were on stage truly loved each other — loved working on the project.
Talk a little bit just about Premiere. Have you edited in other NLEs? Are you editing this Bourdain project in Premiere?
MEYER: Unfortunately, I am editing the Bourdain project in Avid. I am not a big fan of Avid. I learned to edit using Final Cut 7 and so when that died, the transition to Premiere was a very nice transition for me. I was able to translate all of the instinctual things that I had learned over many years directly into Premiere and I avoided every project in Avid that I possibly could for as long as I possibly could.
I turned down many projects solely because they were editing in Avid and I just didn’t want to go there. But then finally a Netflix project that I worked on a couple years ago called The Devil Next Door was editing in Avid and I really loved the project so I decided, “Time’s up! I guess I gotta learn it.” And I still hate it. No offense, Avid people, but it is so counterintuitive to me. It takes 20 steps to do any one thing. It feels so clunky.
You’re just having to constantly think about: “This goes here and that goes there.” When I’m editing I don’t want to think about all that stuff. I just want to do it. In Premiere it takes one stroke to do everything and it just goes so much quicker for me. I love Premiere. I’m a big fan.
Also not having to transcode. Having all the different archival material in all the different formats that we had — frame rates and everything. We didn’t have to transcode. I just threw it on the timeline. Everything worked. No problems. That saves so much time.
The only thing that Avid has over Premiere is ScriptSync. But I have talked to the Adobe people and they are working on that, so hopefully very soon that is going to be a feature and then hopefully Avid can go away.
HULLFISH: I am working on a doc right now in Avid and the saving grace for me with that is PhraseFind. I can literally type the words that I’m looking for in the audio and the clip is there with the in point already set perfectly. I can’t imagine having to search all this material for this one word. Even searching through a transcript then finding the timecode would be a pain in the butt.
I cut a feature and FCP7 and another in Premiere, so I know that there are just different things you need to learn to use them each thee way they’re designed to be used, but I completely understand your frustration.
MEYER: The other aspect right now is a lot of my projects have been remote but obviously right now EVERYTHING has to be remote. So having to transfer an Avid project that was on an in-house server to remote systems with multiple editors has been a nightmare.
Avid is so finicky about where all the material lives and how it reads it and everything that it creates a lot of problems when you’re working remotely.
HULLFISH: Do you have any examples of the subtle editing changes that made a difference in the tone of the film?
MEYER: The very first scene with Nancy Rosenblum — who has cerebral palsy and she is pretty difficult to understand. There is a scene where all of the campers are kind of learning to talk to her and with her and Jim — in that scene, as a 15-year-old kid at the summer camp having had himself very little experience with other disabled kids — starts to talk about her when she was in the room as opposed to TO her.
It’s this very subtle moment, but without him having to explain it in voiceover — like, “This is what I learned from this moment…” you just get to experience the moment as it is. And then it informs a scene a couple of scenes later where they’re all sitting around the table talking about their message to their parents where the People’s Video Theater (the owners of the black and white reel to reel video gear) hands Nancy Rosenblum a microphone, and even though barely anyone at the table can really understand what she’s saying, they let her say everything she has to say.
I think that’s the moment that the director’s always knew was the essence of what happened at the camp, on a life-changing and emotional level and that if we did everything we could to build up to that moment — and that’s sort of like the climax of the first act — that it would allow the audience to experience that in a revelatory way, whereas initially some of the people we would show that scene to were very uncomfortable. They asked us to cut it down or put subtitles — do something to make us feel more comfortable and we said, “No. That’s not the point. The point is that even if you are uncomfortable you have to learn how to listen and to be present and to see everyone as a human being.”.
HULLFISH: But that was set up — like you said — so beautifully by that earlier moment. I remember feeling this in the theater. I just learned this lesson two minutes ago, so I’d better just sit here and try to figure out what this girl’s saying.
You taught me well. I learned my lesson as an audience member and was ready for that next scene. That’s very subtle! That is a setup that you don’t usually think about in a documentary.
MEYER: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of those things running throughout the film. Just really subtle things that took us a while to figure out how to do it right. And it took a lot of test screening and trial and error and patience and time.
And thankfully with Netflix and Higher Ground (the Obama’s production company) and all of our executive producers and our fundraiser producer, Sarah Boulder, who’s Jim’s wife — we were able to get enough money to take the time that we needed to make the film great.
Also to put a lot of time and money and energy into the impact of the film that’s still going on. So there’s all of these discussions and events and everything surrounding the launch of the film that I think is just an incredible feat from everyone who put time and money into the film.
HULLFISH: How much did Higher Ground speak into the film? What were the Obamas’ role beyond promotional name recognition?
MEYER: They worked really closely with our two executive producers — Howard Gertler and Priya Swaminathan. She’s the head of Higher Ground and communicates directly with the Obamas.
Howard and Priya would give us their own notes on many of our edits and then every once in a while we would get notes from the Obamas through Priya and they were always very hands-off. Very minimal, and always questions. Like “What if this?” or “What if that?” It was never anything mandated.
It was so great that they trusted the filmmaking process and let us come to our own ideas about things. Many of their notes were very helpful. It was an amazing collaboration. It’s exactly what you want from a studio.
HULLFISH: I want to explore the idea that you’ve talked about: of patience.
You have this extended period of time. You’re working on something that — at whatever point — isn’t quite working or you know you’re not quite happy with it, but you just know you’re gonna get there.
Talk to me about having patience as an editor and trusting the process. Understanding that you have a year or years to get something right.
MEYER: I always knew that because of just the incredible nature of the material itself — and the fact that this was such an important aspect of history that no one knows about — those two things. I never had a doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t get there. But it’s just not knowing how long it’s going to take.
My perspective is always, “OK. We have a schedule. But “F” the schedule!” And Mary was like that as well. Obviously from a producing standpoint they’re always trying to keep us on track. There’s a dance that you do. “OK. Now they’re going to push us a little bit. They’ll make us cut everything down to the right run time in a week.”
That’s an experiment and then did we cut out too much? Or little things like that kind of push us forward. But in general, we’re at a certain point and we know that in one more month… Two more months… This film is going to go from here to HERE. It’s in their best interest to have the best film that they can possibly have at the end of the edit.
For Netflix or for Higher Ground to realize that and give us the time to make it great was in everyone’s best interest.
A lot of it is talking and thinking and it’s not just about “How much can you edit in a day?” It’s about how much you’re really thinking about what it is you’re making and really understanding that. Then being able to have the time — in a non-stressful way — to sit down and be creative.
Just having that extra creative time was so valuable. That said I had a lot of late nights on this film. It was not a “leave at six” kind of thing. I was happy to do it because I would get in these creative flows and I was allowed to have the time to work till 11:00 or midnight or whatever and that felt good to me.
HULLFISH: I’m the same way — where sometimes you can’t really figure out how you’re gonna get into an edit but then once you do you can’t stop. The time does not matter. The clock does not matter once you’re into it.
It’s interesting that you mentioned the amount of talking that goes on because I just talked to “The Biggest Little Farm” editor, Amy Overbeck, and she said, “We would spend a day just looking at the cards on the wall. I would not put my fingers on the keyboard.”
Talk to me about the value of doing that and what it means when you finally do sit down at the keyboard that you’ve had that time.
MEYER: As an example — we spent a lot of time talking in person, but also when we were working remotely we would have Skype calls after we would get to a certain point in the edit or we would send out a cut. Everyone would watch the cut and then we would discuss the cut and go through it piece by piece. Little by little.
One of our Skype calls towards the end of the edit — really close to picture-lock — I think it was seven and a half hours. Everyone was so exhausted by the end of that, but we were just taking every single little moment. That’s when you are micro-editing. That was an intense part of the process.
Having those very long conversations is so important just to put my head in the right place. So it’s not even about getting the very specific notes. I have those written down. But it’s about really getting to the bottom of why someone is reacting a certain way to a certain thing and it’s not necessarily exactly what they’re saying. It’s about WHY they’re saying it.
It’s sort of like therapy. If you do your own personal therapy, you don’t necessarily have revelations all the time but somehow you realize you feel better after you’ve been talking for an hour. So something happened in your brain that you don’t even know what happened but something happened. Then when I sit down to edit, I’m editing from that headspace of feeling clearer and feeling like I’m able to access that subconscious so much easier.
HULLFISH: So one of the things you mentioned was knowing that a note didn’t mean what it means or that it wasn’t quite addressing the problem. You still know that it’s addressing a pain point but it’s just not addressing it correctly.
HULLFISH: Can you think of anything like that that happened?
MEYER: One of those examples be with Jim’s character in the film. At a certain point, people weren’t connecting with him as much as we would like — to allow him to be the guide through the whole film. Judy’s character was sort of overshadowing him a bit.
At first our reaction to that was, “We need to go deeper into personal aspects of Jim’s story.” So we tried that and that had the opposite effect. And what we realized was that the point-of-view of the collective story — the entire film — it’s a group story and that every aspect of someone’s story and life had to connect to the greater story.
We just realized that every time we were hitting a character beat — and this goes for Jim or any of the characters — that it had to keep moving the greater narrative further. And if we were hitting a similar beat with two different characters that also didn’t work. So we had to leave a few things on the cutting room floor that we loved and that we felt were wonderful scenes.
For example, Denise’s backstory was sort of a double beat with Judy’s backstory because they’re kind of similar. And so there were certain things where we had to let one person’s experience speak for the greater experience.
That was just a lot of calibration. Trial and error. Test screenings and just trying lots and lots of different things. But I think that moment when we realized “it doesn’t need to be more personal it needs to be more….”
MEYER: Universal. There you go. Thank you. That was revelatory.
HULLFISH: I love that story. Anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up?
MEYER: One thing I wanted to say about the music: we had all this wonderful period music in the film. Mostly Jim and Nicole brought this amazing soundtrack to the film. But in terms of the score, one thing that was complicated and difficult in terms of working with a composer was the extremely layered and complicated emotion of the film itself.
It’s not just one feeling it’s a lot of feelings. That was one of our biggest challenges with the score. A lot of the temp music I was using were cues that had very complicated emotional landscapes in the same way that the film did. And so that was something we had to work with really closely on the score to make sure that we weren’t falling into any emotional tropes of disability films — like “inspiration porn” or “sad difficult struggle” — there are these certain emotional tropes that a lot of disability films fall into, and we really wanted to make it clear that this was not that type of film.
HULLFISH: Because of the complexity of those emotional moments, what were you going to for temp score?
MEYER: That’s a good question. I have an extensive music library that I’ve built over time. Basically every project that I work on I take all the music and just keep throwing it into the pot. And so I didn’t have one thing that I was going to. It was just fishing around for something that felt right.
I used a lot of different things from a lot of different films. It wasn’t until we did the score itself where it started to feel really cohesive because I was using a lot of different things. What I had to do is get that complicated emotional landscape. That required pulling from a lot of different places.
HULLFISH: A lot of narrative or were you sticking with documentary or what?
MEYER: I would say mostly film scores. Maybe half and half documentary and narrative.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk about the run-up to Sundance. Tell me about getting it ready to be SUBMITTED and then getting it ready to be SCREENED. Those have got to be two very different things and how much time is in between those two?
MEYER: So in our case, we were really lucky. They informed us pretty early on that we had gotten in. We had a lot of time to work on it because I think we submitted early, and found out early.
So then we were working on it knowing that it was going there — knowing it had to be great. It was just another level really needing to make it great and really needing the time to make it happen. But thankfully we had time.
The project expands to fill the time you have.
HULLFISH: So true.
MEYER: The whole process at the very end — which I was part of a little bit but mostly fell on our post producer and associate producers and directors — was getting all the archival clearances and the music clearances and all of that.
I was able to go to some of the color correction and the sound mix and the scoring sessions, but I wasn’t there for all of it.
HULLFISH: And when was that happening?
MEYER: That was all happening in November and December, but there was a lot of work to be done. And then another layer of work to make everything accessible: To make the audio track and the closed caption version and they have an audio description version. (An alt audio track that a blind person can listen to to “see” the film.) And that’s a whole other layer of creative, because it’s another experience of the film, and you don’t want people describing it wrong. That was a whole other project unto itself. You have to really be using the right language to describe what you’re seeing, so I think they went through a number of rounds of notes on that aspect of the film as well.
But what we didn’t learn until later on in the process was that we were going to be the opening night film, and so that was this whole other layer of excitement and nerves.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.