While we wait for STIFF 2016 to start , we decided to contact some of the winners from previous festival editions and make short interviews with them. First STIFF alumni we contacted is Orlando Javier Torres who won an Award for Best Editing at STIFF 2014 for his work on the film Revolt. Orlando is a Puerto Rican director, screenwriter and editor currently based in New York City.
Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?
When you’re writing a film, you’re completely in your head. You have a very specific vision and can literally see the whole thing in your mind. This is great because it allows you to be precise about what you want but it can be dangerous if we fall in love with this vision, which is not a film, but an idea. Films are executed by many people together, and many factors affect the final product. There’s performances, camerawork, accidents, locations… all of this things are never 100% in your hands, but you try to the best of your capabilities to shape them to your liking. I feel the key is to see your shooting days as another part of the exploration process and not as the place where you come to dump all the stuff that’s been in your head for months, or even years. You gotta be able to play, to bend your original idea, and to accept when something isn’t working. That way you can talk with your trusted collaborators on the spot and figure out a solution. Sometimes your blocking isn’t working, and your actor can feel it; it doesn’t come naturally. If when that happens, you tell them to do it the way you envisioned it (because you have a great camera move, or there’s an intellectual idea behind it), I think you’re doing it wrong. Unless you’re a genius, and there aren’t that many of those. If on the other hand, you listen and come up with something new (with your actors, your DP, etc), then you’ll see the rewards of being part of the team. There are other things that you’ll only notice in editing (and hopefully with time we’ll learn to notice on set), like a weak secondary performance, or a not quite there camera movement marred by technical flaws (especially with the low budget many of us have to work with) . When this happens to me, it’s good take a step back, let it breathe, but upon returning, I have to be ruthless with my own work. Story and performances are the most important things, everything else is disposable. Maybe you have a great line, or a good joke on a comedy, or an amazing shot that showcases your style. These are all great, but if they’re not in the service of the story, they’re useless (save it all for your reel). I’ve recently experienced this with my thesis film, The Least Worst Man. I ended up removing a scene that I really loved and thought came out great, because it just wasn’t necessary, and the film is better because of it. I think a way of dealing with this is, if you have the money or time, is to not cut your own work, particularly if you also wrote it. Wearing too many hats can blur your vision.
What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do to enhance the collaborative process?
A fruitful collaboration is all about chemistry: with your actors, your DP, even your PA’s. Ideally, everyone’s there to make the same film. The first thing I think is to make everyone feel safe. Don’t create an environment where ideas are not welcome. I’m normally a talkative, friendly person, so that’s how I act in set. I know there are filmmakers that are authoritative and scary, and I’m sure that also works for some, but in my case, I just want to make everyone feel welcome. One thing I find super useful is to find the spine of the film and communicate it to your closest collaborators (actor, DP, art design, composer, etc). I learned this reading Elia Kazan’s book Notes On Directing. Basically you figure out the core idea of this whole thing and try to discuss it and communicate it to your collaborators. Maybe you don’t say it in full detail, so they can also bring their own ideas and concepts to the table. But whenever you get stuck, you can go back to that nucleus that hopefully holds it all together for you. Another great thing I’ve learned is to set limitations that feel organic to your story. For example, this film won’t have any handheld, or we won’t shoot wider than 35mm. Stuff like that I feel really frees you to create as opposed to holding you back. Because the work acquires meaning when your choices are precise.
What are you working on at the moment?
I graduated this year and just finished post-production on my thesis film. So I’ll start sending it out to festivals very soon and hopefully get to screen in many cool places, meet cool people, share the work with like-minded people. Other than that, I’m working as a freelance editor in NY and revising a feature script set in Puerto Rico to start development on it with the aim of making it my first feature.