This interview is with Shawn Paper, ACE, who has been nominated for a 2012 ACE Eddie and a Primetime Emmy for editing the “Mother” episode of VEEP. His filmography also includes the TV shows, What We Do in the Shadows, The Santa Clarita Diet, Parks and Recreation, Mozart in the Jungle, Girls, and The Vampire Diaries, among many others.
We discuss his editing of the feature film The Broken Hearts Gallery.
This interview is available as a podcast.
(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)
HULLFISH: Did you have to do any of the cutting during COVID?
PAPER: I wrapped the cutting room on December 15th, so well before things got out of hand. However, they finished the mix and the visual effects in January and February and we had one final screening the first week of March where things were brewing at that point.
We knew that this was probably going to be the last screening that we had for a while. Thankfully the screening went really well and it was enough to finish the film and deliver it. So, by the skin of our teeth, it came in right on time.
HULLFISH: Do you break rules with a comedy? Do you think about it when you’re editing or do you just say, “It’s just editing.”.
PAPER: It’s story-specific. You have to follow the rules of the story and as Walter Murch’s Rule of Six shows, you always have to cut for the emotion first. It has to be real. The cut has to serve the emotional integrity of the scene. Otherwise, you lose the audience.
I think that’s just as important — if not more important — in a comedy situation because comedy is unforgiving. It’s not going to be funny if you don’t get the joke, so timing is certainly a rule that you have to both intuitively know and hone as you work more and more in the genre.
The rules of editing have come a long way since Birth of a Nation and the early D.W. Griffiths and even Hitchcock’s world. We’re in a world where we can do anything and the audiences are along for the ride.
Audiences have become much more sophisticated in how they consume comedy, so I think that there are shorthands as a filmmaker you can take, knowing that your audience is going to be there with you.
But having said that, if you stray from the path, you can tell if a joke is not working.
HULLFISH: When you’re editing and you think “the audience knows that this is a rom-com.” Does that play a part in wanting to deliver something that is of the audience’s expectations? Or that you fight to change the audience’s expectations? Or does it not matter?
PAPER: The last thing anybody wants to be is derivative while yet maintaining being able to wear the moniker of rom-com, right? There are tropes and story points that happen in a rom-com where there’s a female lead who through her evolution gets the guy, gets what she wants, and there’s a happy ending.
So I think getting to the ending? You know that’s where you’re headed towards, but the path that we take in The Broken Hearts Gallery, in particular, this isn’t just a story about “girl gets guy.” This is a feminist story of a woman actualizing her life’s goal and helping other people in the process. And along the way she’s got relationships that are just as important as the love relationship in the other women in her life — played beautifully by her roommates: Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo from Hamilton — and they’re both fantastic.
And Bernadette Peters is the mentor-figure here, and some other women in this story — in fact, all the idiosyncratic characters who support this. We’ve got Ego from Saturday Night Live. Some really amazing guest performances that help us see this — not just through a truly rom-com lens — but a buddy pic, too.
Of course, you have that also with Dacre Montgomery and Arturo Castro who are just really funny together.
HULLFISH: There’s an opening Uber ride and narration of the story at the beginning. Are we watching something that is as-scripted? Or did that get tightened or restructured? There’s a lot of back-and-forth between this Uber ride and other things that are happening. Did those change position as you worked the film in context?
PAPER: This was the most interesting and fun part of this particular editing puzzle: the narrative compression that we needed in act one to get to the catalyst — to move forward.
HULLFISH: That always happens, right?
PAPER: Invariably on almost every project that I work on there’s more shot than is necessary or there’s more description or setup that you realize you just don’t need. Or it’s getting in the way of the project, so we knew — after minute 18 — that this movie was working. We understood the rules. We understood the characters who inhabit this world. However, during the first 18 minutes, there were several more scenes of her in the gallery world and we knew that it was important to show her world in the gallery — her connection with Bernadette Peters and. the first love interest.
So we knew we had to set these things up, but we had to find a way to narratively compress this story. There were three more scenes where the first love interest actually steals her IP. She has an idea. He steals the pitch and presents it to Bernadette Peters and there’s this whole rivalry that goes on.
There was a classic scene in a bathroom where she thinks he’s thinking about a girl. He thinks she’s thinking about stealing her idea and they’re at cross purposes. Wonderful scene but it didn’t belong in this story.
So we knew that once we’re in the Uber ride, this thing was working. We played around with that a lot and ended up doing a couple of reshoots to ground her relationship with her friends more because the more we saw of them together the more fun we had in this world because the three of them had such great chemistry.
So we shot a few other scenes to show how she curates her life and seeing that connection with curating art as a vocation. There’s this wonderful scene in on neon store where Dacre Montgomery — the character Nick — tells Lucy why he’s doing this and how he wants to give to the world this wonderful respite along the way of their journey and then start the telling of the story from that point on.
So we said, “Why don’t we try to do this in medias res? Why don’t we do it as if it’s a recounting the idea and the day?” So 18 minutes got collapsed into six minutes and some great scenes were left on the cutting room floor but we got to the story faster and that was the plan.
So we reshot her side of the story. Her side of the cab. Her recollecting. That was one of the pickup shots and was able to put the glue of the scenes together without the need to inhabit another twelve minutes of storytime.
HULLFISH: What’s the value of losing those 12 minutes in a movie that — if that movie had been 12 minutes longer, by numbers — it wouldn’t have made any difference, right?
PAPER: We as audience members know when a half-hour TV show is two minutes too long. I think we know if it feels like we’ve plodded through something.
I’ve worked on enough half-hour TV shows where you could feel the weight of the fat and the desire to trim.
The first 10 minutes are really tricky in this because we did want to preserve the world and still keep the idea that the first love interest is taking advantage of her and she’s allowing him to do that. The feminist independence that she always has — but has subjugated — is actually allowed to breathe and take off.
Once we got past the first 18 minutes we knew the rules of the world. It was difficult to figure out which bits of those first couple of scenes were necessary and yet propel us forward. This movie at two and a half hours would have overstayed its welcome. So I think that there is a point where you’re itching in your seat as an audience member. As an editor, I have to feel that and I have to know when I’ve overstayed my welcome.
HULLFISH: But you’ve got choices about what could get cut and what stays. Figuring out what you have to cut out is not inevitable. It was all in the script and what you chose to lose — it sounds like — was plot and you think, “Oh, that’s an important point that he steals this IP from her.” But if it’s not emotionally getting us anywhere and if it’s not in her point-of-view, maybe, that would make a difference?
I was just trying to figure out the thought process of what you chose to cut.
PAPER: From the beginning, you realize that he’s not the person for her, and the first time that we see him in a scene he’s says to her, “Hey, you’re my favorite secret weapon.” And she gives him a bit of advice — a really smart piece of advice — but he freely takes this.
We don’t need to see another scene where he takes from her. So I think judiciously we found the most economical way to set the parameters of their relationship so that it will emotionally have a payoff without having to go through three more scenes where this is happening — as delightful as they were — that wasn’t what this movie is about.
HULLFISH: Anyone who has seen enough rom-coms knows what the tropes are. So you know that the guy at the beginning of the movie can not be the guy, so why spend more time on him? The audience probably knows that, so why belabor the point?
PAPER: We still did our best efforts to keep them in, because there were still many other things about these other scenes that we loved. But in the interest of keeping this movie going, you do have to kill some babies.
HULLFISH: You have cut a lot of comedy before this. I interviewed two of the “What We Do in the Shadows” editors — which you’ve worked on — in a recent Art of the Cut. You’ve cut VEEP. Is there a difference in that kind of comedy-cutting as what you’re doing here In this feature?
PAPER: A show like VEEP or Parks and Recreation — and to some extent What We do in the Shadows — it’s a different type of comedy.
In Parks and Rec and VEEP, the body count is six to eight jokes per minute. How do we keep that going? And level those jokes three deep in the background of a shot so that on the fourth viewing of that episode of VEEP you’ll see a joke in the background that you’d never noticed before.
So I think there’s a different style of comedy editing, however, rom-com has a lot of great one-liners and great dialogue that our really talented writer-director Natalie Krinsky came up with along with her rehearsal process and ad libs that she encouraged the actors to do.
Having cut Parks and Recreation and What We do in the Shadows, where there is a lot of improv, I intuitively follow the funny rather than using the scripted line. Having had that, I’m able to look at this footage with that prior experience and kind of meander through the story beats with the most delicious improvs that I find.
Some of the greatest lines of the film came out of improv. The character Marcos — who plays Nick’s best friend and carpenter and ultimate handyman in the making of the hotel — they have a scene where he says, “Look. You’re a straight white guy living in America. If your only problem is that you don’t want to be in love, cry my a river.” This was spot-on and timely and I really worked to preserve those moments.
Arturo was so funny in his first scene. My cutting room was just a streetcar ride away from where they were doing the bulk of their shooting, so I would take an iPhone video of the scene that I had cut prior and go to the set and show Natalie what I had been working on it. That’s how we developed our camaraderie and our intuitive connection.
In the first scene of Marcos, where he comes in and meets Lucy for the first time, and the improv there and how he interacted with them was so good that Natalie wrote him into five more scenes.
HULLFISH: I liked that scene a lot. That instantly made me love all three characters more.
PAPER: Yes. We saw how he became the go-to guy for a joke and a connection. I think he made that connection between Nick and Lucy that much sweeter because he’s able to make fun of Nick and we understand him from a more sympathetic point of view because we’ve got this great guy making jokes at his expense.
And most of those were completely ad-libbed. I’m glad that you saw that scene and felt the same thing too, because that was important and made us realize that this happy accident is something that we could incorporate more and it added to their dynamics.
HULLFISH: I also liked that it kind of broke a trope. Just when you’re starting to see the two leads have some kind of connection, this other person comes in and switches up the relationships with an unexpected dynamic. I loved it.
There’s a little section of studio documentary to-camera where people are talking about their exes and the things they’re dropping off at the hotel. I was interested to find out about 1) how they were shot and there’s like a flicker and film grunge and I think there’s even a projector noise underneath one of them and I was interested in the choice — in this day and age, in this modern comedy — to have it look like Super 8 film or 16-millimeter film.
PAPER: We always had this idea that there would be a confessional going through it and our casting directors chose such amazingly distinctive people who walk in and out of Lucy’s life.
We were always going to have another element — another layer to this film which was the real-life confessionals of people with broken hearts.
At the beginning of When Harry Met Sally there are old couples in love and then talking to the screen, so it’s not something that is new, but it still is effective in making the reality of this world that much more rooted. Every day that we had these actors, we had a set where Lucy films their broken hearts story.
We didn’t know until about the end whose story was going to be where and how that emotionally would track through the movie. Many cutting rooms have a big wall of index cards that show all the scenes in order and it wasn’t until we got close to the end that we figured out when we introduce a character’s confessional. At what point in the film will that make sense and will get the audience buy-in and have it not be completely out of context, and what is the most fun version of a story?
On set, Natalie had a suggestion box, but she called it The Confessional Box and she encouraged everybody to put in their heartbreak story. Put in a momento that they kept from a past relationship.
After every week the best one got a bottle of wine. My story did not get I didn’t get a bottle of wine.
HULLFISH: Oh, I coulda won that bottle of wine, come on!
PAPER: The whole family of this film were involved in this and had an emotional interest. So some of our stories became the stories that these people told in confessionals.
How it became a film look with grain as opposed to video? It was just an aesthetic choice.
HULLFISH: The look did something to the emotion of the confessionals or the quality of emotion?
PAPER: I think it made us feel like this could be in a museum rolling on a tape reel.
HULLFISH: I’d really love to explore this more about how you decided where these were gonna go in the movie because they did seem like you could kind of put them anywhere. There are a lot of scenes that could have gone between and the order is not a foregone conclusion.
I’m sure you had to have some of them in the editors cut and where did they move from the editors cut?
PAPER: In the first pass or so I did follow the paradigm of When Harry Met Sally and I front-loaded these stories, but because we weren’t getting to our story because of so much setup, we felt like it would get lost if it was all front-loaded so we waited till we introduced a couple of the prior relationships.
There’s a point where Lucy goes and asks her last boyfriend why they broke up. He tells her that it was kind of because of her collecting. This is a bit of a realization to her. At this point, I think we as the audience understand what her neuroses is — which is also her talent which morphs into this gallery.
I think the first time we see one of these interstitials is after we’ve met the ex-boyfriend, so it makes sense that once we really understood it, that this might be a place where we could start injecting it. And then after that, they came at act breaks or part of another montage that we would put together.
I think we always realized that there were two things that were being built in the movie that we didn’t necessarily have footage for — which was the accumulation of people dropping off things to the gallery and making the gallery successful and the word of mouth — the telephone game that makes us realize that this gallery’s coming to fruition, then also, the step-by-step building of the hotel.
These were elements that we realized pretty early on needed to be part of a montage — part of a greater thing, so we found ways to collapse other parts of the story. For instance, there’s a walk-and-talk scene where Lucy offers Nick the suggestion that she could be his interior designer and it’s a long walk-and-talk but it’s much more interesting if it’s part of the process of them building the gallery and building the hotel at the same time.
So we realized that we did want to compress these elements. We didn’t need to see the entire hotel being created out of this old YMCA that Nick buys. We just needed the feeling of doing that.
As you asked before, “What are some of the normal rules that you can break?” I think in this world, the mechanics of seeing the success start to unfold is something that in the rom-com world you can easily see as part of a music montage.
HULLFISH: I want to explain to the audience — who hasn’t seen this film yet — that the basic premise of it is: it’s a woman that collects something from each one of her ex-lovers, boyfriends, whatever — she’s kind of like a love hoarder. She has all this stuff and then that becomes the genesis for this gallery that she sets up inside Nick’s hotel when she realizes that other people also have stuff that they save from old relationships.
Something I realized pretty late in the movie is that I think there was only one person that ever drops off anything, correct? That you only see the one person with the leg cast?
PAPER: That’s right. So that’s the impetus for the first montage of building and also getting donations for the gallery at the same time.
We only had really two pieces of film to tell that bit of the story, so we augmented it. We took the money being dropped into the coffee can and we called it the “Mount Kilimanjaro of Lucy’s acquisitions.”
We actually shot it in reverse. So there was a giant mound of things and we would pull away in reverse order to show that the gallery’s taking off.
This was a complex montage. I knew that this was going to be a music montage, but it also had several dialogue scenes in it, some of these confessional interstitials and two or three days of Nick and Lucy setting up the hotel at the same time.
For the life of me, I couldn’t find a piece of temp music that satisfied all the criteria that I needed to encapsulate this 8 scene montage without it feeling completely Frankensteined together.
So what we did was — we knew that this was pretty much the shape of what we wanted — and this was about the time that we were searching for composers and we asked the composer candidates if they wouldn’t mind auditioning with this really hard scene to come up with a way to connect these five minutes of film together.
Genevieve Vincent was a composer who just nailed it. She gave us a forward momentum of the piece — a lightness to it. It had a voice of what we thought would be the voice of Lucy acoustically, and she got the job and I finally got a piece of music that would fit underneath this madness.
HULLFISH: Good trick!
PAPER: That was her first piece that she gave to us. It was really fantastic. There’s a social media sequence where people learn about the gallery that happens earlier before Wilhemina shows up with the leg cast and that one has a pop song underneath.
HULLFISH: There’s a series of jump cuts as Lucy’s writing on the wall. At this point, the gallery hasn’t happened yet. Lucy sees this gallery space and starts to write on the wall a little bit about this artifact that she has placed there and there’s a series of jump cuts and I’m sure that they shot the whole thing — whatever she wrote — she didn’t write very long. She wrote a couple of sentences. You easily could have left them so that she writes the whole thing out without any jump cuts.
What is the value of putting the jump cuts in?
PAPER: The scene that you’re talking about, she’s been walking around with the tie of her ex. She wouldn’t let go of the tie. It’s been three weeks and she hasn’t changed her clothes and she’s still wearing the tie of her ex and she’s at the hotel against this plaster wall where she and Nick are getting to know each other and he asks, “Why don’t you leave the tie here?”
At first, she was completely resistant and there happens to be a nail on the wall. He gently places it up on the wall and presents it as a tableau as if it belongs there.
She asks for a magic marker. She says, “I have an idea.” He says, “OK you’re going to write on my wall? Great!” She writes the story of the four months that she was in this relationship.
There are two answers to your question. One is: that the writing was captured from a side angle that it didn’t reveal the content of what she was writing so much….
HULLFISH: Because you wanted to reveal the message at the end?
PAPER: Exactly. So we wanted to see this building — that something important is going to happen. The jump cuts say, Pay attention to this moment in a way that sitting on a shot and building the music is another way to make that happen, but I wanted to show the importance of this moment and reveal it afterward as the creation has been made and we see this satisfying beautiful behind-their-backs wide-shot that’s perfectly lit that shows: “This is a piece of art.” This is a special moment.
So I waited for that next shot to come. And that’s why those jump cuts happen.
Jump cuts, I think, are the hardest cuts to make in a movie or TV show that hasn’t established itself yet because they are so self-conscious. They’re just bold. So if I do make a jump cut, I like to make jump cuts early so that we know that that’s going to be allowed in the film vocabulary of the piece.
HULLFISH: Yeah. 100 percent. You can’t reveal your first jump cut 45 minutes into a movie.
PAPER: Right. Right. Cardinal sin right there. So there are a few other places we used jump cuts. When she’s asked to introduce her rival and her old lover in a gallery opening I do three jump cuts of her taking three shots of tequila before that happens to get her liquid courage going.
So these are to draw attention to the moments. Jump cuts are always conscious. You can’t unconsciously make a jump cut. So there’s nothing worse than an unmotivated jump cut, right? I think we both agree on that.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about the music cues. There’s a section where the genesis of the Broken Hearts Gallery happens and it’s clearly a moment the audience is supposed to realize is a turning point. And again, I think it’s one of those tropes of a rom-com that the audience gets this ah-ha moment.
PAPER: Right. Right.
HULLFISH: I think it’s the scene where she puts the tie up there and you start to realize oh my gosh this is gonna become a gallery or maybe it’s where he says oh look somebody put a map there and then you go oh this is gonna become a gallery.
PAPER: In the first instance when she puts the tie up there and we realize that this is an important moment is a composed piece by Genevieve Vincent and I call it our “2001 Space Odyssey moment” because there’s a chord progression that sounds like Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
HULLFISH: That’s exactly the moment I’m talking about! Because I knew from the music, that, “Ah, this is the moment that’s important.”.
PAPER: That’s it. So this is our “2001: a Space Odyssey: the tool is being welded into a spaceship.” The grand transition is happening, but she did it subtly.
I don’t know if she did that consciously or not, but the first time I heard it I thought, “Oh my God! This is 2001: A Space Odyssey.” This is the moment!
If you hear it, it’s completely different instrumentation and it’s in the voice of the film but it’s our version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
HULLFISH: There was something about that music that struck me. I don’t think most audience members would pick up on that, but we’re editors.
The social music montage that you’re talking about: it’s a flurry of Twitter and text messages and that kind of stuff — Instagram. How much of that did you build and how much of it did you know, “This just has to get subbed out to a graphics person?”.
PAPER: We knew from the first week of our director’s cut that we need to show the trajection of the gallery, the gallery being built and the hotel being built at the same time. These are two big things that are happening that needed to be augmented. We didn’t have much footage for them.
I remember I asked the producers if they had any footage of the various stages of the hotel being built. I said, “I think we need more footage here to make this thing work.” I called my buddy, Myron Kerstein, who had done Crazy Rich Asians. He had built that great telephone-game transition where we find out that all the mothers know about the relationship. It’s just this wonderfully composed and crafted graphics montage along with real footage.
HULLFISH: I interviewed him about that movie.
PAPER: I asked him how long it took them to do that. He said, it took us a month and a half and I said, “I think that’s more than our whole post-production schedule here.” He said, “It was a month and a half altogether, but the director and I talked about it while we were in the director’s cut and he would go out and shoot more pieces and I would assemble it and hand it off to visual effects and it was built piecemeal.”.
We didn’t have the luxury of that. We always knew that something needed to be there, so we gave it to Picture Mill — an amazing VFX company. Evan Jackson was our VFX producer. We wanted these transitions to feel as if they were being built with our characters in mind.
I think they did a great job and made it feel like it’s rooted in the story; that it has a necessary place.
HULLFISH: You talked about getting jump cuts established early on. The other thing that I felt like you needed to get established early on — and wanted you to talk about kind of where they got placed — was a series of phone calls. Lucy’s calling somebody. I was thinking maybe it was an answering machine of her dead father and that it was the last time she could hear his voice.
I couldn’t figure out where the plot was going with them. She has these phone calls to somebody that you don’t know who she’s talking to and they’re sprinkled out before you finally discover what the answer is.
PAPER: It’s an important tease that we need to set up to get to a particular point in the story — and I don’t want to give it away.
There was a point in our editing process where we had more of them and they became too apparent. Because this was a mystery, we were battling with how much do we give away and how much do we shine a light on this before it is necessary, and I think that we added a few lines off-camera to make it seem like it was more connected to the story.
They were always written into the script, but we realized that we needed less of them and they needed to reflect on where she was emotionally. You could see that she was leaving a message and it was related to the great night she had before doing karaoke with her friends.
HULLFISH: They were important moments.
PAPER: Yeah, and checking in, so the mystery wasn’t for mystery’s sake. I think there are three of them in the final released film.
HULLFISH: I was gonna ask you if you just used the rule of threes to decide!
PAPER: Even if you don’t try to do the rule of three, it ends up being that way.
HULLFISH: That’s why it’s a rule threes.
PAPER: Yes. We were intentional about that and wanted to make sure that it was happening enough so that you’ll understand, but not so much as to make it feel like a red herring. It’s an itch that we didn’t want to scratch too much.
HULLFISH: You mentioned the karaoke night and I wanted to have you talk about that a little bit. I had to do a very similar scene recently. Yours was just very well constructed. I liked it.
How difficult was that to make it feel like it’s a party that’s just happening. It’s almost a very documentary style.
PAPER: This was one of my favorite scenes to cut in this picture because it’s the point where you realize all of these people really like each other and you see the connection between the love interests and all their friends are coming together, so it’s an important scene.
I think if you’ve cut many episodes of television you will have invariably cut four, five, or six karaoke scenes. I can’t tell you how many karaoke scenes that I’ve cut since Ugly Betty.
HULLFISH: Come on! We need a compilation! I want you to create a compilation of Shawn paper karaoke and we’ll turn it with the interview.
PAPER: If I had a nickel for every karaoke scene I’ve had to cut…
There are two great karaoke scenes that I think I’ve done. One isn’t quite karaoke, but it is a sing-along. It was the Girls episode where they’re dancing and singing Iconopop, which kind of blew up that song.
And THIS moment, which I really enjoyed cutting A) because we had Philippa Soo sing a song — who is from Hamilton. So we have somebody who can actually sing, who’s doing the karaoke piece and the connection between her and Nick really grows and you see them having a really good time together and everyone’s involved so it’s a great little anthemic moment where everybody’s rooting for them.
And I think this is a point where you actually root for them as a couple to really want to be together. So it was fun to cut because the stakes of it were so well laid out and it was so well-acted.
HULLFISH: It was so much fun. And it’s also one of those rom-com kind of tropes where you know that the girlfriends have to approve of the boyfriend.
PAPER: Right. I think we just wanted to have fun with it. There was a point where it started out with Amanda — the best friend — giving a birthday toast, but that didn’t have quite enough energy so we repurposed the footage so that the girls sing two songs together, so there was more energy at the top.
I think that was a really good note that Natalie gave me at the beginning. She said, “Let’s start off with a bang — with a firecracker!” And we did and this is the time where you see all our characters together and having a good time together. So it was an important scene and it really fun to cut.
HULLFISH: To take a slight break from there. I would love to know what the Girls episode is. Do you remember the title or the season? “Bad friend?” “Boys?”.
PAPER: It was the “Bad Friend” episode 203. I thought it was 204, but I think they reversed the order. 204 used to be 203 and vice versa.
HULLFISH: I don’t know what to call this scene, other than the Yarmulke montage.” Tell me about the music choice for that montage.
PAPER: We were always looking for a particular palette in our music and Melanie Mitchell, our music supervisor, was just fantastic in giving us things like — I asked her for any song and that’s by a female artist that is about memories, and she gave us the opening track that happens under the name titles, “I Remember” from Betty Who, which is just perfect for our film. It checked all the boxes for us.
My daughter is my go-to for what’s relevant. She’s 16 years old. For everything that’s relevant in teenage pop and alternative music, she’s my go-to.
So she turned me on to the Mitski track — (First Love) this wonderful anthemic thing where she has her catharsis and she realizes she doesn’t need her trappings anymore at the end of the movie. This song was on my daughter’s playlist and she’s said, “You have to use this song.”
If you listen to the lyrics it’s pretty heavy, and in fact, one of our male producers said, “I think this isn’t right for this moment. I think this might be a little dark and antithetical to where we are.” And I said, “Trust me. It passes my daughter’s test of young teenage triumphant music.”.
HULLFISH: I thought it was a great selection. Congratulations to her. Does she get an assistant music supervisor credit?
PAPER: I should give her one because she also turned me on to Billie Eilish (everything I wanted) where everything starts to change at the end of the second act.
So, that song that you’re referring to during the yarmulke montage, it’s about her defiance and it’s called “Rebel” by Headband. It speaks Lucy’s language and her inner voice of the moment, but honestly, that was a choice that I think Natalie came up with.
HULLFISH: There are things kept from old relationships and one of them is a stolen champagne bottle and that ends up coming back in a scene. Were there any more scenes with that guy?
PAPER: I wish. That was a reshoot scene and this was a beautiful call from Natalie. Our two re-shoot days were the two scenes in the coffee shop from the beginning and the scene at the end.
She said we should see Dwayne. There’s a point in the movie where Lucy is sitting amongst the acquisitions and she reads this really poignant story to Nick and Marcos about this undrunk bottle of wine that these lovers had. And it’s a poignant moment that neither man is comfortable enough to admit that they’re shedding a tear for.
In the reshoots Natalie said, “Let’s see Dwayne. Let’s have the champagne bottle guy show up.” She wrote that into the reshoot scene and I think that was a great addition.
If we had two more days to reshoot we probably would have added him to more scenes because it was just a perfect pay off and a really distinctive supporting character who shines.
You picking that out certainly shows how important it was and how worthwhile it was for her to add that scene to it.
HULLFISH: You don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re looking at a script. You’ve got the script. You’ve got actors you’ve cast, but you don’t know how they’re really going to hit an audience, and sometimes these secondary actors are in their scenes and you realize, “there’s magic there. Let’s give that guy some more scenes.”
PAPER: Yeah. That’s exactly what happened here. And in such a fortuitous series of events that happened — adding Arturo Castro to more scenes and us finding the rhythm of the opening montage or Uber drive, because there’s so much you explore to find out what story you want to tell at what point and whose story actually comes out from the page through acting into the final piece.
I don’t think anyone can plan or predict exactly what it will turn out like. So I think it’ll always be a medium where we can have that collaboration of amazing magical moments that happened in one take that just all of a sudden make the whole scene justified or become special.
Walter Murch has his….
HULLFISH: Rule of six.
PAPER: And he’s evolved on his thinking about that now. He’s thinking about nodal editing — a different style of editing which I think is just another fancy way of saying, “Cut when it’s the right moment to cut.”.
HULLFISH: It’s the idea of the branches and you have to cut as a branch goes off.
PAPER: Yes. As opposed to cutting at the end of an action — he said that you have to cut before the end of an action but not during and then that evolved into “you cut where it’s the right point to cut.” There are so many factors that go into that.
It’s like the jump cuts that happened in writing on the wall. They happened because the film didn’t support staying on the shot for that long a period of time. So the film dictated that that should be a jump cut. As we have hard-and-fast rules, at the end of the day it’s what the film gives you and how well that integrates. And when it stops integrating, that’s the point where you’ve got to cut. You got to make a change.
HULLFISH: There’s an intercut sequence leading up to the climax of the film. Our heroine is in place with her gallery doing her thing and someone is coming to her and you cut back and forth between the two locations and actions.
Talk to me about trying to cut that, because you’ve got to pace it properly so that there’s enough space that even though you know it’s coming because you see this person coming down the street there’s still also enough space where it’s a surprise when he shows up.
Can you just talk about trying to cut that scene and timing out when to go from A story to B story?
PAPER: We know the ending is coming but I don’t want you – as the audience – to feel that it’s an ending. This was a tricky editing choice to keep this train rolling knowing that we’re getting to the end without ending it too early. So it became an exercise in pacing.
I only had a few shots of the action that leads… I’m worried about giving it away….
HULLFISH: Let’s call them the interior and the exterior.
PAPER: Right. So the penultimate scene was a balancing act between the forces that brought us to the end of the film and to do that is a tricky exercise because you don’t want to give it away. You want to keep it moving. A lot of it was built with the music. Certainly, the music helped at this point to kind of elevate each moment. They were amping up towards the next moment so that the climax of these two scenes happens in a satisfying way.
So I think it was Genevieve who certainly helped drive it emotionally to where it needed to go.
The important parts of the speech were reflected by people — reaction shots — that I wanted for those moments. So it was an exercise in making sure that all the characters were invested in this moment.
HULLFISH: I remember what happened but I don’t remember the specifics of when you cut outside from the speech. Were those specific moments that you cut outside happening motivated by things in her speech?
PAPER: There were specific moments in the speech where I wanted the speech to kind of continue and interconnect with — not just the characters that are attending the speech but also start to unfold the other scene.
So, sonically we had the speech continue and it was a fun exercise to kind of see how we were going to bring all of the elements and all of the characters to that one final place at that moment.
HULLFISH: Yeah, that’s what I was getting to. How you build to that very specific climax of two things joining at a specific time.
PAPER: It was tricky but I also have to say that it just sort of had to fall in place that way. So it’s not like it cut itself, because some scenes do. Some scenes are cut because I just followed what was going on because that scene cut itself.
Once I had the pieces together, it did cut itself because I just had to cut to the reaction of the best friends at a certain point.
HULLFISH: You had to be on Lucy at a certain point. She had to deliver certain lines on-camera. These people have to react at a certain point. Then, this is a point where we can afford to be outside, right?
PAPER: Right. So it all kind of came together that way.
HULLFISH: Really really interesting. Shawn, thank you so much for talking to me. This was a great discussion. Thank you so much for your time.
PAPER: I really enjoyed talking with you and I really enjoy your podcast, so it was an honor to be a part of it. Thank you so much.
To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish or on imdb.
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.
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