Yorgos Lamprinos is an editor of Greek origin living and working in Paris. Yorgos edited the Oscar Best Picture nominee, The Father, and was nominated for Best Editing for the film. He has already won The British Independent Film Award for Best Editing for The Father. It was also nominated for Best Film and Best Editing for this year’s BAFTAs.
In his 14 years in the editor’s chair, he has won several French Cesar and Greek Iris Awards for Best editing – those are those countries’ major film awards. And he cut an Oscar-nominated short, as well.
I reached him for this interview at his home in Paris, the day after the Oscar nominations were announced…
HULLFISH: Congratulations. An Oscar nomination!
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, it’s surreal, but it will sink in with time. I’m really happy for the film. I’m really happy for Florian and obviously, everyone involved. I’m extremely happy for Sir Anthony Hopkins to be nominated. Extremely happy for Olivia Coleman, who is an actress that really blew my mind during the editing process and I’m really proud of being a part of the film. So, it was a good day
HULLFISH: That is great. I’m so happy for you. Let’s talk a little bit about the movie. It’s based, for those who don’t know, on a play, correct?
LAMPRINOS: Correct. Florian Zeller’s play is actually a kind of a trilogy: The Father, The Son, and The Mother. For his first feature film, he wanted to adapt his play, The Father, and it’s a play that has traveled a lot around the world. Obviously, it was quite a good base to adapt.
HULLFISH: Had you seen the play before you cut the movie?
LAMPRINOS: No, I wasn’t very familiar with Florian’s work before cutting the movie because I’m not much of a theater person, because to me theater is too direct. I prefer having the buffer of the silver screen. I’ve seen a couple of magnificent plays, and when the theater is at a high level obviously the experience is incredible, but I’m much more of a cinema kind of guy.
After we decided to work together, I didn’t want to have anything to do about reading the play or reading his books. It was at the very end of the editing process that he was generous enough to invite me to watch a representation of The Son that was taking part in London at the time. That was the first time I saw a play of his in theater and it was a really strong experience.
When we decided to work together, I didn’t want to be influenced at all. I didn’t want to read books of his or anything else. I wanted to be completely clear-minded before going into the movie.
HULLFISH: That’s a very interesting take. I’ve talked to other editors who’ve cut films that are adapted from plays and everybody has their opinion of whether they should watch it or not. So how would it have affected you, do you think, if you had seen the play?
LAMPRINOS: It can go both ways – Either it’s something really beautiful and that I would be hesitant to mess with, in a sense. Or it could go the other complete way where I would not be really happy with it and then it would be a negative influence on me. As an editor, I feel that I need to be as « pure » as possible in regard to the material.
As an editor, I don’t ever want to go on a set during filming. I don’t want to have anything to do with the actors. I avoid being around actors (laughs), because I don’t want to pick up on gestures or habits that they might have in everyday life. Because when I watch dailies and I see those types of things, all of a sudden, I’m wondering, “Is it the character? Is she/he out of it here?” So, I might have enormous respect for the craft of an actor, but as an editor, I avoid being around when I can.
Having said that, on this film, I had the chance to meet sir Anthony Hopkins in Los Angeles, where we were after Sundance with Florian. And that is something that I would never refuse … because it’s freaking Anthony Hopkins! You cannot say no to that! But in general, I’ll try to see just characters, not people while I work. It’s important to me.
HULLFISH: Many people that I’ve interviewed have said the same thing. I’m not as protective, but I can understand the reasoning behind it.
LAMPRINOS: No, it’s a completely personal thing. To each his own.
HULLFISH: Almost everybody says, “I don’t want to be on set. I don’t want to meet the actors.” I became friends with one of the actors on a movie and we cut him completely out of one of the movies. It would’ve been much easier if I didn’t know the guy, but when you know him, you’re trying to come up with reasons to leave him in the movie.
LAMPRINOS: Also, if you’re on a set – sometimes in documentary I’d rather be a bit more involved in the shooting because it’s much more of an open process – but it’s the same thing. If you battle 10 hours to get a shot or you know exactly what one went through to get that shot, then you have a connection to it that is very strong. So, to me, that’s the director’s connection. It’s not mine. I cannot be influenced by those types of things as an editor. The only thing that counts to me is what I’m seeing on the screen. All the rest is noise.
HULLFISH: Sometimes the directors bring that baggage themselves.
LAMPRINOS: Of course. It’s impossible not to.
HULLFISH: The day goes horribly, but what ends up on the screen is fantastic. And then they hate everything of the day because they remember the emotion of it. But you know that it’s great.
LAMPRINOS: It’s our job to have that distance. And also, in the same sense, I love to work with the director. I love having him/her next to me while I work, but I don’t want him/her to be there all the time because if we have the same connection with the dailies, then there’s no step back. And step back is one of the most important things in editing.
HULLFISH: To be objective?
LAMPRINOS: Exactly, to be objective and to not be as tired of watching the material over and over again, as an editor does.
HULLFISH: You worked with this director, who is a very well-known writer, and I know that writers of plays are often very attached to their dialogue. We’ve got this scene that we can watch that I’m going to put in the article – it won’t be in the podcast – of when he first meets this caretaker. He offers a drink and it’s a pretty emotional scene, but I noticed that the dialogue is almost verbatim. I read the script and it’s very, very close. Talk to me about working with a writer who is the director. (The clip below is part of a roundtable discussion. The clip is the first 6:31 of the longer video.)
LAMPRINOS: Ever since the first meeting I had with Florian – because he wanted to meet me after seeing some of my work – and knowing that he wrote the play and t’s something that went on for years, and then that he adapted the screenplay with Christopher Hampton and that he was so involved in the writing. To me, it was out of the question that I would go in our first meeting and say to him, something like, “Why are your characters there? I’m not really sure about that situation…” That was not at all my way of approaching this project. Not at all.
I trusted him completely with the writing. And then obviously during the editing process, because it came more so from the way they shot it, that it wasn’t really improvised. It was quite, “on the word” of the play. There are a lot of scenes that are completely as they were written in terms of dialogue. Then also there were many times when I took liberties.
There’s actually a scene in the movie that was shot completely WITH dialogue that doesn’t exist at all in the final cut because we thought that it was a moment that silence would have much more impact than the dialogue that was in the scene. So even though he’s somebody that spent so much time writing this project. He also had the understanding and gave me the freedom to suggest things. And to take out a little bit of dialogue when we thought it wasn’t necessary in terms of pace.
So, it wasn’t like if I would take out the word he would go like, “Oh, this word is not…” No, it wasn’t like that. I took the dialogue that is in the film because we thought it was the dialogue that was necessary So, it wasn’t at all a firm grip on his part to say that I want every word to be said exactly. It wasn’t like that at all.
HULLFISH: Can you tell us which scene it is that you’re talking about where silence worked better than the dialogue?
LAMPRINOS: There is a scene between Olivia Colman’s character and Paul, her husband – “The Man” as he is called in the script – played by Rufus Sewell. It’s after we have the emotional overstep when Mark Gatiss slaps Anthony Hopkins in the movie. There’s a scene where they’re in the bedroom together just before Anthony has his nightmare.
That was a scene where Olivia Coleman’s character gives reason to her companion that it’s the right choice to put Anthony in a nursing home. The way the pace worked at that part of the movie, we thought that it would be better just to have a look at both of them and an exchange in the silence that they will be stronger because when we, at that point as an audience, we understand what that dynamic is about. And then it would also, besides the pace, it would also make the nightmare stronger because we will have a little pause before going into that part of the film. So, it was a decision that was made, if I remember correctly, relatively soon after we did the first edit.
HULLFISH: That’s really an interesting choice and I’ve heard that happen a lot. Denzel Washington said, “Hey, can I just do this with a look instead of the line?” And the director will go, “Yeah, sure. If you can sell it with a look, do it.” It’s often very powerful, but it’s also kind of dangerous, cause that’s a big plot point. “Hey, we’re going to put him in a home.” And instead of saying it out loud, it’s done with just a look and you’re hoping the audience gets it.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, because the scene before, where Anthony breaks down and Anne has him in his arms and he’s crying like a baby in his pajamas, at that point we were sure that the audience knows that’s the point of no return. So, in his development also reiterates already the point where there was no way back.
HULLFISH: And the information would just be repetitive?
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, exactly.
HULLFISH: Very interesting. While we’re talking about script and things that are left unsaid, some of the jumps in the script seem quite abrupt because it’s supposed to be confusing. The audience is supposed to wonder, “Where am I? What just happened?” The audience is as confused as Sir Anthony Hopkins’ character is confused. Did you worry about that when you read the script? (Here is a link to the script)
LAMPRINOS: To me, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to be part of this project. When I read the script it felt like it was a nightmare, so my whole approach from the very, very beginning – and it wasn’t something I really talked with Florian about – but in my head, it was to treat it like a nightmare because the whole point of the film is exactly what you said: to put the audience inside Anthony’s head, and that, as an editor, is bliss because that’s provoking emotion. Putting the audience inside of a story is why we do this, so, to be able to have a project where your most important goal is to put the audience in that space, is super interesting to me.
Also, Florian told me something the first time we met that also really convinced me that I absolutely wanted to be part of it. He said that “it’s a puzzle that never gets solved. There are films where the story is narrated in a fractured way – backward or forward or whatever -and then you can put it together, but having a film where you’re never able to put it together? … I think that’s a brilliant idea because it serves the exact purpose of the film.
So, I wasn’t really scared of it in an editing sense, but it was super compelling. That was all the work that we did in the editing, because pace has a lot to do with that too, to be able to confuse, but never go to the point that you lose the audience because that’s the whole tiny thread that you cannot pass.
HULLFISH: To confuse, but not to lose. Love it. You mentioned meeting Florian, the director, for the first time and you mentioned that he saw some of your previous projects that he liked. Can you describe how you got this job? What did he see of your work that he felt like you were right for this project?
LAMPRINOS: I did a film the year before that won the equivalent of an Oscar here in France The film was very different. The film is called Jusqu’à La Garde, it’s called Custody in English, by a director called Xavier Legrand. And it’s a film that is really raw and very vérité as they say and it was treated like a thriller in a sense because it talks especially about domestic violence, but in a way that it’s through different points-of-views. And the way it was shot was very pure and very simple. So, a lot of the impact the film had to do with the pacing of it. And I think that’s why Florian took interest in me, managing to do a lot with a little. Not editing tricks or cinematography tricks, but with really simple material the film had a really big, powerful impact on the audience. So, I think that he was looking for something like that. And obviously, when you meet somebody it also has to do with the chemistry instinctively that you have with the other person and we got along great from the start.
I was in Athens and the director of production called to say that Florian wanted to meet me. He told me that the film was an adaptation of a theatrical play and I was saying “Okay, great,” because it’s always nice when you get offered a new project. And then they said Anthony Hopkins stars in it, which is when I said, “Okay this one I want to do.” But as I said, from the first time we met, we got along really great with Florian which was the most important aspect and it’s an honor for me, after the collaboration, to be able to call him a friend.
HULLFISH: Nice. I just talked to Fred Thoraval, who edited Promising Young Woman, and he’s from France. He was talking about how he likes to edit both American movies and French movies because they feel different or they ARE different from him. You’ve edited several French movies as well…
HULLFISH: Can you tell me how are they different? Are they edited differently? Do you approach them differently?
LAMPRINOS: Oh, that’s a vast subject! (laughs).
HULLFISH: We’ve got 30 minutes.
LAMPRINOS: The film I did after Florian’s film was a film in Greece. Because I’m of Greek origin – I’ve been living in Paris for more than 20 years now – I’ve wanted to go back for a long time to edit a project and be able to stay there for a while, which I haven’t done since I left. So, editing a film there was different. Editing a film here in France is different. I did a series that was edited in London. That was different. It’s obvious that every culture has its own sense of humor. The sense of rhythm is different. The sense of what’s important to them storytelling-wise is different.
So, I am not surprised at all that Fred considers them two different things, because they are. The expectations – the way they see cinema here – is different from the US. It’s a silly example, but they really are very keen on the point-of-view. Everything must be in a kind of a point-of-view that makes sense to the story. Even camera placement, for example. Sometimes in films in the US, it’s not that important because sometimes the camera is a character on its own in American films.
Then the pacing is different. What we talked about before, for example, the way you use “show-don’t-tell” with a look here is very prominent. That’s something that is much more prominent, I feel, in France than sometimes in the US. Not to discredit or anything. To each his own. To me for example I’m much influenced by American and British cinema than French because that was more the films I had access to as a kid in Greece.
As an editor, I feel it’s easier than 10 years before, the chance to be able to work in different places. It’s immensely nourishing to the mind. You learn much more about others and about yourself. And sometimes for example, even to me, I’ve been here for 20 years, the fact that I’m Greek and that I come from a Mediterranean culture, there are sometimes when I work in French films that I ask myself the question, “do I relate completely to the audience?” And that’s something that can really mess you up sometimes as an editor, it’s a very strong question. So, it’s always interesting to be able to put yourself in danger in a way and to be able to adapt in a situation, because I feel as a person that’s how you learn the most in the end.
HULLFISH: I interviewed Robert Grigsby Wilson, who cut The 40-Year-Old-Version. Robert is a white guy and the lead character-writer-director is African-American, it’s a totally African-American story, and he said the same thing. There are times when he was cutting it and he thought, “I don’t know if I’m right about this culture. I’m a white male.”
LAMPRINOS: But that’s the interesting thing. That’s where you gain from your collaborators. And that’s how you can manage to put yourself in their shoes and be able tell a story because we learn from each other. You need to be able to understand people.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah. Empathy and connexion. Even with the language of editing. That’s why I still love to edit short films or even a documentary or a music video or even commercials, because it’s a completely different way to look at your material. You learn a lot and you can apply the way you would watch dailies on a music video to the way you watch dailies on a feature film. And it’s all experience that makes you more complete in the way you see things.
HULLFISH: The script has several scene descriptions that can’t really be seen or known by the audience. I’m going to read from the script here, “She pauses for a moment in front of her father’s dark suits. She touches them as an attempt to penetrate his mystery. Then she catches sight of his well-polished shoes. This suddenly reminds her of the man he used to be.” Now there’s no way that you can truly have the audience understand all those words.
LAMPRINOS: I would disagree with that.
HULLFISH: That’s what I want to discuss. When you read that in a script, what does it do for you to try to convey that to an audience?
LAMPRINOS: That particular example comes after Anne takes Anthony for the first time to a doctor’s office where he says that she wants to go to Paris. She denies it. So already, as an audience, you’re completely messed up because in a scene just before that, she DOES tell him she wants to go to Paris. But the whole point of the scene actually is to show his fragility. So, the way he’s presented… Anthony Hopkins blows your mind the way he does it, when he sits in a chair a little bit like a small child or when they’re in the taxi together and she tries to put her hand on his and he refuses.
It was also done through the use of music. It’s the music that comes around in the film at different times. So already using that music at that particular moment puts you in a specific state of mind as an audience.
Having her ironing his clothes and then going to the wardrobe and she sees his ties… A tie for a kid, at least in my mind, because I remember how for my grandfather, it was something was that’s really important because it represents him in a way. When I saw the way it was shot, and then she sits in the bed and the camera pans to the photo of the family… so to me, it’s a brilliant way to do exactly that: to tell the audience this woman right now is reminiscing in her head. She sees her father the way she saw him when she was little.
To me, one of the most important things about editing is to be subtle and efficient at the same time. To be as subtle as I can without doing too many, “Look at me, I’m here!!!” things. But at the same time being efficient because it’s super important for the film itself.
HULLFISH: You described that perfectly. Let me give you another example. Here’s a scene description. It says, “The man has an air of menace.” Does that help you pick a take or to understand the intent of the scene?
LAMPRINOS: When I edit, I don’t look at the script at all. I don’t do that.
HULLFISH: Some people don’t. This is again, one of those discussions that I’ve had with 300 people: “Do you read the script just before you do the scene, or do you not?”
LAMPRINOS: Before I answer I wanted to say that the work you do is, and I’m really happy that you talk with so many editors because it’s super important.
HULLFISH: Thank you.
LAMPRINOS: I study the script a lot before the shooting starts. I would probably take a few notes or do a little card with intentions of characters. I always go to my sound library and pick out sounds as I’m reading the script because sound is very important to me also.
But at the moment I start editing, I completely put it aside because I don’t want to think about it again, and that’s when the collaboration with the director comes in because sometimes, I feel that it’s interesting as an editor, even if you’re wrong with a choice, it’s interesting to put the other person in that space because it can make him think of something else. And I don’t want to go and read something exactly like that, that the character is menacing. I’d rather take it from the material that is given to me rather than force it, because it’s written that way. If that makes sense.
And obviously, when you work with somebody that also wrote the script if they feel like it’s not exactly as strong at that point or it needs a little bit of tweaking, they can also ask you to change it. And it only takes a few minutes to do, which is the good thing with editing. You can be wrong. You can try. You can fail. You can do whatever and it’ll just take a little bit of time to adjust or put together in another way.
HULLFISH: That idea of failing is really interesting to me. How do you deal with that from an ego-sense – that it’s OK to fail?
LAMPRINOS: One of the reasons I edit is because it helps me put my ego in check. I don’t believe that ego is something that helps us a lot. So, it also obviously has to do with my personality as a human being. It’s not only because I do this job that I have become this way. Obviously, it has to do with something much more profound than me, but I really enjoy this because it’s something so complex. Editing is so complex. There are so many factors, so many things you need to deal with. You never get bored and you can never master it. So, it’s something that you keep learning and learning and getting better and getting better.
So, it’s important that I can be the most sure of myself I can be because it’s the freedom. I have to try everything I can try. So, I need to be very certain of myself. And at the same time, I need to completely eliminate my ego. And that kind of bipolarity, if I can say it like that, is something that really interests me. You also need to get in the head of the person you work with. So, you need to separate a bit of yourself from yourself and be another person. Because your job essentially is to transform the idea of your collaborators into a movie. So, you need to respect that the film has ONE personality – which is that of the director. To me as an editor, I need to respect that. And I need to honor that even if he’s not at all there while I edit, which happens sometimes, in order to do my job correctly, I need to respect his/her personality while at the same time I can protect the film from him/her when needed.
HULLFISH: Some might call it a style?
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, but while you talk with that person, you understand the way they see the world. So, it’s more about the profound – the poetry that each one has in his head. That’s really important.
Also, we need to understand that a director comes into the edit – after shooting a film that he probably spent five years to put together – and he’s in a really fragile state. So, the last thing I want to do as an editor is to say, “This is what you’re doing? I don’t think that this is the right choice.” It’s not about that. It’s a very unique and profound relationship you have with the director because you spend a lot of time in a tiny room with them. So, it’s really important to be able to understand them as a person.
HULLFISH: It’s very interesting that you said that he’s in a fragile state when he comes to that edit room.
LAMPRINOS: Every director. I’ve worked with Costa-Gavras, he’s an immense director with 40 years of experience. Everybody gets the same way. And to me, even until a certain point, every time I would start to edit the movie, I would always be, “Oh, what are we doing here? How do we start? Where do we go? What’s going on?” So, I will always have the feeling that it was the first time each time I would start a project. And I’m really sad that I lost a bit of that feeling. But again, experience is so important in editing because it gives you the force to do what you do. So, I’m okay.
HULLFISH: Well, they’re realizing, as you said, they’ve probably been thinking about it, working on it, planning for it five years or more and they’ve finally gotten to the point where this is the culmination. They don’t have a chance to really go back. “What I have in this edit room is what I have.” Five years of effort is sitting in front of them in pieces.
LAMPRINOS: I always say to a director when he comes into the editing room the first few days, “What could have been doesn’t exist anymore. This is what we have. This is our material, and we do the best thing that will come out of this material.
HULLFISH: Yeah. The other thing that you mentioned was, with personality, that it’s not just about style, but it’s truly their worldview, their thoughts, and the poetry of their brain. So much of the relationship an editor has – and you said that you’ve become friends – is the other things that you talk about. It’s not talking about the movie. It’s talking about whatever… art and religion and family.
LAMPRINOS: No. Yes, of course. They talk mostly about the movie, fortunately, because they’re so obsessed with it. You have a collaboration with a human being. Okay, you’re doing a movie, you’re doing a film, you use a certain language which is the cinematic language, but in the end, it’s all about the human relationship you have. That’s what sticks with you the most. And that’s truly something I cherish with the people I work with. Because you spend a lot of time with them, you obviously talk about childhood, so you have an idea where they come from, how they behave with others. You see how they behave with you, with the producers, with the other members of the post-production team. So, you have the time to get a really good grip on who the person in front of this is. And when I hear that somebody is difficult, I don’t ever put so much attention to stuff like that because usually somebody that is in this work that is characterized as difficult is somebody that is very demanding. And to me, it’s good to be demanding. In what we do, we need to be demanding.
HULLFISH: I’ve given that advice to many students. As long as the director knows that the story and the project are all you care about, then when you give criticism or when you push back against something, the director knows this isn’t a slight on them. It’s you trying to make the project better.
LAMPRINOS: That’s a very good way to say it because sometimes you need to say to the person, “It’s not personal. We’re creating something. I feel like this is going to work better and it’s not against you. It’s not against your taste or anything else.” Also, when you have a good idea, it’s the same thing. Nobody will say no to a good idea. If the idea is good, they’ll take it.
HULLFISH: I was really intrigued by something you said about sound because I don’t think of this movie as a big sound design movie. But you said it was very important to you. When you read the script, you’re pulling sounds?
LAMPRINOS: Exactly. Everything I see that is described in the script. For example, Anthony is in his kitchen and he’s making a cup of tea. I will go and find a specific sound for the teamaker that I feel might get you irritated if I need you to be irritated or soothe you if I need to be soothing. So, it’s very important to me because, in a sense, it’s sounds that gives life to the picture. You need the sound to make something living because a picture on its own is a bit dead in my head.
HULLFISH: This movie was shot on a set, too. So, it’s dead.
LAMPRINOS: Yes. Oh, it’s completely dead. Sound plays a big part in pacing. Many directors are not as aware of that as they should be, unfortunately. You can play with the audience even with a sound in certain scenes. Concerning this movie, there are sounds that get repeated sometimes because it’s part of the story. It’s also the way you set the space. How much do you still listen to the city environment that surrounds him or not? It has to do with Foley also. Very important. Even something silly like footsteps, you can get a completely different impression or something according to what type of footsteps that you record for the character. So, to me, sound is a whole world that I really love, and I always take part of the recording and mixing process because I hate surprises first of all. And also, because I’m meticulous about it, so it’s important to me.
HULLFISH: I was thinking of the sounds of the apartment and maybe street sounds and whether there are street sounds and whether there are sounds internal to the apartment. Creaking of doors or windows or air handling.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, even as we edit I can take out my phone and record a door or something that I need for a specific situation. But also, for example, it has to do with a flat. You need to have cracking noises but not too much because you cannot make it feel like it’s abandoned or like eeriness…
HULLFISH: Like a horror movie.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, the eeriness came more from the situation rather than too much accentuated with sound. But the music was really important. We did a lot of music editing during the editing process, which becomes a nightmare now, especially in France. It’s always tricky the way music is done because of budget situation that don’t let you have the composer early on. Which to me is very important. So, you find yourself putting temp music in, and that’s a nightmare.
So, it’s important to have, even right after reading the script, a piece of music from the composer that will make the movie. Because he puts his personality into it from the start. And it’s important to have that personality from the start instead of me or the director choosing something temp that we get too used to it. And then we have a hard time abandoning it. It’s not a good way of doing things.
HULLFISH: “Temp love.” One of the things that I do when I’m reading a script is to start pulling temp music. Do you do that?
LAMPRINOS: I don’t do that anymore because I got bitten so many times that I refuse to do it. I did a film before that Gabrielle Yared did the score who is a composer that works for a very long time. He couldn’t do temp music because of a schedule conflict during the editing period. But everything temp that we used came from his own music. So, we were already set in the mood of what he was going to do. It can be very difficult for a composer if you screen the film for him with the work of another composer. It’s completely understandable. I think that if someone can avoid temp, it’s better to avoid it.
HULLFISH: That scene that we just watched at the beginning? Was that tricky? The father’s dementia means that his moods swing sharply. How did you deal with those tonal changes?
LAMPRINOS: I believe it was rather early in the editing process that I started working on that scene. It was total bliss for me, that scene, because you have everything and that’s tricky, and at the same time, so exciting and challenging. You go from Anthony being lighthearted and a bit comedic and doing his tap dancing and trying to impress a young lady, to him completely destroying his daughter. And then destroying the young lady.
I would have fun in my head trying to play also with the idea as an audience that we have of Anthony Hopkins because of Silence of the Lambs and the ghosts of his past characters. So, to me, there are a couple of takes that I try to play a bit with that idea in the most subtle way because I know that it can have a direct effect on the audience. And then you also have the super emotional side of Olivia Coleman. You just look in her eyes and you’re completely with her because she’s brilliant.
And then, Imogen Poots – that plays the caretaker – also brings a brightness and kind of that youthful spirit, which is super important in the balance of the scene. So, trying to find that small thread of not having Anthony being too mean because you’re going to hate him and not too sentimental because he’s going to appear weak – having that balance for an editor is bliss. Complete bliss.
HULLFISH: How do you approach dailies? How do you look at dailies? Do you do selects? How do you approach a new scene?
LAMPRINOS: I don’t look at the continuity person’s notes very much. Though I appreciate their work immensely, I don’t look at what takes are selected during the filming because to me the impressions you get while you shoot and the impressions you get on the screen are two completely different things. Obviously, if I’m lost somewhere or if I don’t really understand an intention, I have all the columns with all of the information that was written during the shooting in the avid. So, if I need, I can go back and watch to understand what take the director liked to understand why and what direction I should take.
But for this film, for example, I started editing while they were shooting, which is something that I’ll try more and more to have my assistant do because that’s how you learn to edit. And unfortunately, especially here in France, I don’t know how it is in the US, but here the work of an assistant editor is not appreciated at all anymore. They just come to do the syncing and putting the project together and then at the end to do the exports, so they don’t learn anything. So, I make a conscious effort to have my assistants edit because it’s super important. That’s how you get good editors. So, I would have her do the first assembly. I was obviously there often to take a look at things and change things if I felt that they should be different.
Now it depends on who I work with. Sometimes before the director comes into the editing room, there are times that I wouldn’t even look at all the dailies because I want to have the surprise. Because when I work with a director, we obviously go through their whole material and I edit as I look at things. I’m not the type of editor that really watches four days of shooting and then will start to edit a scene. As I watch things, I need to put things together. It depends on the project and the director, but I try to put a first assembly together as fast as I can because it’s not the film. It’s not an edit. And people confuse that a lot. The first assembly, it’s not the edit. The first assembly to me is something that will allow me to watch the material from beginning to end.
And I always need, as an editor, to have the bigger picture in mind. And that’s also personal. To each his own. I don’t like to work on a scene till it’s perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist, but it is pretty much done. And then go to the next thing. I need to go as fast as I can to be able to have the whole big picture in my head and then we’ll go back. And this also allows me during the whole editing process to go back a lot to the material because I’m not tired of it. So, at any given moment, I keep going back if I feel like I’m stuck in a scene or if I feel like something doesn’t work really well, I can come back, re-look at the whole material, and have a new idea and restructure things in a new way. So, I’m trying to preserve myself as much as I can from the material. So, I can go to it as much as possible during the whole process and not only in the beginning.
HULLFISH: To maintain your objectivity.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah. And also, it helps to get new ideas because you see something that you didn’t see before and it triggers new thinking, and then it helps you to move along.
HULLFISH: I think most editors would say that definitely, the editor assembly is just an assembly. But there are a lot of editors that would try much harder to get something that was truly like a movie with really perfect effects, perfect edits.
LAMPRINOS: Oh no, when I do an assembly, it looks like a movie. I already put the music and sound and I try to have a pace that we want to feel ourselves when we watch it. No, I’m not talking about an assembly of three hours. I don’t believe that at all. But this is just a first assembly, so it’s not the movie.
And also, I think that a director needs to be part of the process. So, a first assembly, it’s something that is done without them being there, and so they will have a more difficult time connecting to it. And that’s completely understandable. That’s why I’m saying that I don’t want to spend too much energy on that because I need to have my energy for when I will work with a director.
HULLFISH: Is that a discussion that you have with the director? “I want to maintain my energy for the rest of this.” Is that a discussion you have about the editor’s assembly? “Don’t panic. Don’t kick me off the picture when you see the editor’s assembly.”
LAMPRINOS: No, I don’t feel like that. And that’s why I’m saying that experience is the most important gift. Even if I do something that’s not in the intention of the director, I know that I can change it within minutes. It’s not about me having the fear that he won’t like it. I want to be free of that because it’s not very interesting. But for example with a first-time directors that do their debut, yes I have the conversation and I’m very clear that what we’re going to watch when you get back from the shooting is just to be able to see the whole thing and to realize what works and what doesn’t work. It happened to me, for example, on a movie that I put the first edit together and realized right away that the beginning didn’t work. So, when the director arrived on the first day we completely changed the start of the film. It saved us a lot of energy and time.
HULLFISH: Got it. How were the performances? Obviously brilliant from these actors that you had to work with. But did they give you a range of temperatures? You mentioned, you didn’t want Anthony to be too mean, but he had to be mean enough.
LAMPRINOS: Yes. Especially from Anthony’s character, because he can be very high or very low. He can be very sentimental also. Anthony Hopkins did a brilliant job of giving us a place where we can have choices and use what works best for the point we are in the story. And that was really important. Florian also did great work of keeping « fresh » by not rehearsing too much but obviously, Mr. Hopkins was prepared when he arrived on set and wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable which was what the role demanded.
HULLFISH: Did your choice of those temperatures change a lot when you saw it in context?
LAMPRINOS: Yes, I’ll give you an example. There is a discussion between Anne and Anthony at the very beginning of the film when she says that she’s fed up and that she’s going to go to live in Paris. And he says, are you living me? And it’s a very emotional scene. And there’s a take where Anthony’s at the point of cracking in tears. And when we were first cutting that scene, to me it was too early to have him being that sentimental in the film. I thought it was better not to go there right away. So, we got the whole first cut. And as we were working, that was the way that the scene was edited. And then little by little, we realized that we need that emotion. And so that’s why it’s important to go back to your material, because we realized that it wasn’t detrimental to that part of the film at all, on the contrary, it was the emotion that served best the scene.
HULLFISH: I’ve heard editors warn that when they’re writing notes on takes that they don’t say things like ” bad” or “no,” because you don’t know until later whether that’s bad or not. For that scene, all you knew was that it’s very emotional.
LAMPRINOS: Exactly. That’s why I avoid reading what they write during…
HULLFISH: The script notes from set.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah. But when I talk to the person that does the continuity of the script, I always tell them the most important thing is what the director said. I don’t want to know much of anything else. I just want to know if he had a reaction in his face or stuff like that. That’s more important to me than “good,” “bad,” “very good,” “excellent.” That doesn’t mean much.
HULLFISH: I would love to know more about the transitions. If you haven’t seen the movie, basically the film is jumping forward and backward in time. The audience doesn’t understand “Did this happen before? Did it happen after?” Was there something you did at those transitions or did you just let the footage take care of itself?
LAMPRINOS: It’s two things. It’s a bit of editing and it’s a lot of production design because Anthony’s apartment is a character in the movie. So, it was editing in the sense that for example, the first time we see the corridors of the apartment that come quite early in the film, that’s not scripted that is not part of the play, that’s typically kind of scenes that you create in the editing room. So, the way we deal with that was through edits. And also there was a brilliant work by Peter Francis, the production designer, and Florian that had to do with the set itself, because the set changes almost in every scene. I mean, even when you think that you’re in the same room there are things that are changed inside the shot. So, it’s a combination of stuff that we created in the edit and the way it was shot, and the way the production design was treated to be able to navigate through time and in space.
HULLFISH: You’re saying it happened in the edit? Can you explain what pre-laps or sound or…
LAMPRINOS: They shot some – I guess B-roll but it’s not really B-roll – of the apartment so we could create some interludes and transitions with just shots of the apartment to familiarize the audience with the geography so you can confuse them later. And it also had to do with the way sound overlaps when a certain atmosphere of the street changes, or even the way the music is used in those transitions.
HULLFISH: In the script, it mentions a couple of times that it looks like you’re in Anthony’s apartment, but it’s decorated differently or something like that. So, is it also a question of deciding to start on a wide shot or on a bit of detail?
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, it has a lot to do with the choices and the shot selection because there are moments that you want the audience to know they’re in a different place and there are moments you don’t want them. So obviously the way you put the shots together, you can create either one of those.
For example, there is a scene that Anthony and Anne take the elevator to go to the appointment with the doctor. If you’re careful, it’s the same door as Anthony’s apartment, but it has a different handle on the door. So, you’re always in the same space, but you’re never in the same space. So obviously when they get out of the elevator and they go to the door and it’s Anne that sounds the bell. You know that not everybody will get that the door handle is different, but you know that it’s there. And even when they get inside the office. That’s the reason why the film was shot in studio. It’s exactly the same apartment actually. So, the corridor is the same. Instead of having the opening that goes to the living room, you have a stand with a secretary that takes appointments but when you look at the space, it feels familiar because it’s actually the same space.
HULLFISH: Oh, that’s really interesting. It’s pretty rare for scripts to tell you what shot to use, but I even noticed, “Starts on establishing shot.” Obviously, you didn’t have to do that, but there were direct descriptions of shots in the script.
LAMPRINOS: That speaks to Florian’s way of working and preparing, which is quite precise. I also had this experience with the French director, Xavier Legrand. To me, it’s not a total coincidence that they both come from theater. Xavier does that too. And I think every film is different, but it’s a really good way of doing things is that when he’s writing the script and when he’s doing his shot selection, he always does it with a set in mind. So, the space is very meticulously thought through and very precise.
To me, it helps you immensely when you go shoot. It’s not a coincidence either that part of that French film was done in studio too, because they wanted the apartment to be in an exact way that they couldn’t find an apartment that had that configuration, so they ended up doing it in studio.
HULLFISH: Did you edit close to the set? Or were you across town?
LAMPRINOS: No, I was in a different country. Again, I don’t like to be very much on set.
We didn’t talk about that, that’s another interest of doing a first assembly: that if anything goes wrong you can pick up a phone and, if the planning permits, tell the people, “Excuse me, guys. Maybe we need to talk about this scene.”
HULLFISH: Were you delivering scenes to him each evening or each weekend?
LAMPRINOS: No, I would never do that. I don’t want the director to watch anything at all during the shoot. I don’t permit him to come to the edit room during the shoot because I feel like it’s too much for him or her to handle. You don’t need that pressure.
It’s good to watch dailies the way we traditionally used to where you would go to a screening room on 35mm with the whole crew and everybody would see exactly what they’re doing.
I think it’s interesting, but it’s a different thing to watch dailies than to watch an edit. I don’t think that the director needs the pressure of watching or being in the edit while he shoots. It’s already too much to shoot. I think it can be taxing.
HULLFISH: That’s very interesting. On several films I’ve done, the director – and even some of the HODs – would come to the cutting room at the end of the day to watch cuts.
One of the things you mentioned though, is when you were getting dailies, that if there was a problem, you would be able to call it in. So that’s totally on you. A lot of times people would say, “Oh, I send the edit to the director so they can go, ‘oh, I missed this. I should’ve gotten this close-up. I need this angle.'” But you’re making those decisions for the director.
LAMPRINOS: It depends on the people. Obviously, if somebody asked me to come to the edit during the shooting, if they insist, I will say yes in the end. But yes, usually if I see something that I think goes wrong and I know that they have the time to correct it… and I would never, ever talk to the director. I will talk to somebody like the continuity person or a producer if I already have an established relationship with them before going to the director.
HULLFISH: You mentioned that in French films often it’s very much about the point-of-view. Did you feel like this film was similar to that?
LAMPRINOS: No, because the point of view is so much in Anthony’s head in this movie that the question resolves itself in a sense. We had the advantage of Florian having written the play so he knew what worked on an audience. That was a big advantage. Also, I have to say that we had a really great collaboration with the producers because they were really happy from the early stages, so they didn’t really interfere a lot, which is a very precious thing to have. Because I could imagine a scenario where with other producers, they would get too scared that the audience will lose itself in the movie and that they will bring up questions that didn’t need to be there at all. So having Florian being the way he is, was a great advantage in that sense because I think that you can really destroy this movie if you go into the wrong path of questions.
HULLFISH: I can totally see how this movie would have a ton of studio notes: “This doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t work. I don’t understand this.”
LAMPRINOS: Yes. But that’s the good thing about Europe, in a sense, is that the director gets the auteur status and budgets are much lower than in the US. So, on the other hand when a studio puts X amounts of dollars on a project it’s understandable that they should have a word in the final product.
HULLFISH: You mentioned the vanilla coverage of many American films. And I think that’s probably from the typical idea of coverage. Okay, I’m going to get a wide shot. I’m going to get an over-the-shoulder. I’m going to get another over-the-shoulder. I’m going to get the raking two-shot. It’s kind of the way coverage happens. How do you feel French films are shot that is so different?
LAMPRINOS: It’s not easy to translate that because every film is completely different. I just finished a film last week with a woman director that her way of directing is that she films. So, there is a DP on set, but she also films everything.
HULLFISH: She’s the operator?
LAMPRINOS: Yes. Everything is done with two cameras, and then because she’s somebody that’s quite instinctive, you get material that would resemble more a documentary in a sense. And then, obviously, you have people that shoot in exactly the way you described, that very academic way that they get their wides, and then they do their coverage. But I think, again, it has to do also even in that respect to the auteur idea that they have in French film, where a director needs to establish himself even with the way that he/she shoots. So, he/she would try to be a bit more, not riskier, but to put his stamp in the way he shoots things, which can be good and can also be not that great when you don’t make the best decisions. But it’s very diverse from film to film.
HULLFISH: On this movie, did you feel that you needed to vary the shot size or whatever? Because the cast is a small cast. Obviously, you’ve got brilliant actors, which is awesome, but you’ve got a very small cast and you’ve got very few locations. So, there’s not a lot of outside interest.
LAMPRINOS: I don’t know if I’m answering exactly the question, but for example, when I started watching dailies, I was always drawn by the wide shots because I was thinking a lot about the apartment and I was thinking that it was super important to set it up correctly from the beginning. But when you have actors like in this film and you go to a closeup and you see what’s going on, you don’t care at all anymore about the wide shot. There was a time when I had a problem making the decision and understanding where I would find the balance in those terms, yes.
HULLFISH: What an enlightening conversation. Thank you so much.
LAMPRINOS: No, thank you. We don’t get to do that very often as editors and it’s important because it makes me also think. I really appreciate, again, the time and effort you put into this. I really, really appreciate it because – I don’t know in the US if it’s the same way – but here you don’t get a lot of chances to even talk with editors because we’re kind of socially awkward people. But I really, really appreciate it.
HULLFISH: That’s very funny that you say that we’re socially awkward because obviously, the other thing about an editor is that you’ve got to be very socially conscious. Someone’s got to like you. You’ve got to be able to get along socially and politically, and you’ve got to be empathetic to the people you’re editing.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But at the same time, I don’t know how you are, and obviously, I’m talking for myself, but I’m not the type of person that feels very at peace in a room with 50 people. But the good thing about the editing room is that it puts you in that kind of bubble and you cannot not be able to have a relationship with the person you work with.
HULLFISH: I think a lot of editors would describe themselves as introverts, but that doesn’t mean you’re not social. It just means you don’t want to be with a hundred people, you want to be with one.
LAMPRINOS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s more like that.
HULLFISH: Yeah, I agree.
LAMPRINOS: It’s also the nature of the work itself that puts you in that space.
HULLFISH: Absolutely. Yorgos, congratulations on editing a fantastic movie.
LAMPRINOS: Thank you. Thank you very much. It was really great talking to you.
Thanks to Jake Gum for transcribing this interview using Descript.
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.