S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: It usually always feels like us against them, it’s never us against each other, you know? And I think the thing that we’re always fighting for is preservation of the initial concept, because if anyone’s ever done a project in Hollywood, you know, you start out with a drama, you end up with a romantic comedy.
S3: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host, Rumaan Alam,
S4: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler.
S3: OK, Isaac, as ever, we heard a stranger’s voice in our cold open, which was edited this week by Morgan Flannery, which is relevant because of who your guest was.
S4: Yes, indeed. And our guest this week is the great Joi McMillon, and she is a film editor, best known for her long standing collaboration with the director, Barry Jenkins. And she most recently was part of the editing team on his television show Underground. And she has the much hyped film Zola coming out soon.
S3: Isaac, one thing that I love about working on this show with you is that you week by week reveal the depths of your nerviness. You’re the rare sort who can actually have an informed conversation about film editing, which is not something you do for a living. It’s not even really that closely related to what you do.
S4: Well, that’s very sweet of you to say, Rumaan, so thank you. I feel like this is like one of the advantages of being a dilatant or a magpie or whatever word for generalist we want to use. I mean, but I do think it is related to what I do in one respect, which is that if you’re writing about an art form and I’m writing more and more about film these days because of the method book and stuff like that, it’s helpful to know as much about how it’s made as you can and how creative decisions happen and where they are in the process and stuff like that. And so that’s when I started getting interested in editing. I mean, the world of film is almost endlessly complicated. There’s dozens of different departments. But I feel like if you want to write about and understand film understanding, like what the cinematographer does and what the editor does is really important.
S3: Yeah, I don’t disagree. And I actually think that doesn’t make you a dilatant. It makes you a very responsible interviewer. Oh, shucks. So I want you to tell me about Joi, who she is, how her name came across your radar, all that good stuff.
S4: Well, first off, our regular producer, Cameron and I were just talking about, you know, people kinds of jobs we haven’t had on the show that we’re interested in. And we were both really interested in film editors. And I just think they have a really important job, like they do a lot to determine what the viewer actually sees. But most people don’t pay attention to what they do. And usually that’s a good thing because you actually want it to be invisible, which she talks about during our interview. And of course, I think Barry Jenkins is of his generation one of the most important filmmakers who’s who’s rising up right now. And he’s really created this signature style and in particular, the signature rhythm that I think is really interesting, sort of like how Scorsese, he has this sort of signature rhythms and both of those directors have an editor they work with over and over and over again. And so I was just intrigued to learn more about what that collaboration is like.
S3: Well, like I said, I love your naughtiness. I look forward to hearing this conversation. And our Slate plus subscribers are getting a little something extra this week, I think.
S4: Yes, indeed. On Slate. Plus, you can listen to Joi McMillon talk about cutting her teeth in the hectic, overwhelming world of editing reality television.
S3: I love that kind of halo mix. Sounds very juicy. Let’s listen in on Isaac’s conversation with Joi McMillon.
S4: Joi McMillon, thank you so much for joining us today on working. So let’s just start on the most basic level. You are an editor for film and television. What is it that an editor actually does?
S2: It’s such a good question. It’s one of those things. It’s really hard to put into words because we’re involved in so many different aspects of the project. And I think that’s kind of one of the things that makes it really hard to point your finger and say that’s exactly what an editor does. It was funny. I was just talking to a group of UCLA kids a few days ago and I was telling them how there’s a moment and Beale Street, where the characters, Daniel Anthony, are just having this long conversation. And one of the tricky things to do was to hide my edits, to make the conversation feel as fluid as possible. And someone tweeted about it and they’re like, there’s a section in the film where it’s just one long camera take no cuts. And I was like, well, actually, there were there were a few cuts in that. But as an audience member, you’re so engrossed in what’s happening that, you know, my job is for you not to see the cuts. And I think that’s why we’re almost like a curator for the audience’s experience. We work with the sound department to create the sound. So the effects are exactly where they’re supposed to be. And, you know, you’re you’re scared or you’re fearful or you’re overjoyed. And so we also work with the music department, the composer. So, you know, we make a hit, you know, a music hit, a line with a cut. And so at the moment, you’re tearing up and you’re like, why? Why is there so much you know, I don’t know if that’s a really good description of one another does. It’s a lot.
S4: Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. So how did you discover that editing was what you wanted to do?
S2: Good question. My initial career of choice was a journalist. Like I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to work for a really cool magazine in New York and be a writer, you know, and get like tough stories, but also fashion pieces, you know, like that was what I thought early on in high school. And then I was a part of this program called Junior Achievement. And basically what junior achievement is, is each high school in our district or county, I guess, selected to juniors to represent them. And so I guess your teachers voted on it and it was me and my friend Steve Kleinman who were selected. And so the one thing that I was like, oh, this is junior achievement. One of my teachers were like, you get to miss a Friday, the first Friday of every month. And I was like, oh, sign me up. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. Like, it’s a great reward for your best students telling them they don’t have to go to school.
S2: It totally works for me. So every Friday, you know, over with my friend Steve and we would meet up with all these juniors from all these other high schools. And we had some really, really cool opportunities that we are afforded. And one of the cool things was career day. And so basically you submitted to career options that you were interested in and mine were journalism. Of course, I was hoping I’d get to go to the Orlando Sentinel because I’m from Orlando and the other one was film because my brother Derek had just moved out to L.A. to be an actor. It’s like a film. Sounds cool, you know, I’ll give it a whirl. It’s my second option now. But of course, I didn’t get my first. And so I ended up getting the second option, which was film. And we spent the day at Universal Studios. And so they took us around the back lot. We saw all these different cool stuff. And then one of the things is I’ll never forget they took us to like a post building and they were taking us up and down the halls, introducing us to editors. And one of these editors was working on Avid and he was cutting a show for Animal Planet. And, you know, he was really kind to his day. I can’t remember his name, but he was really kind. And he shows all these different things he could do on the avid. And it blew my mind because it was like in a lot of ways writing, but with images. And so I was like, this is really cool. So after Career Day, I went and looked up film schools. And of course, you know, when you’re like a moody teenager, like everything is so dire. So I remember going to my parents and being like, I have to go to Chicago. This is there’s a school of the arts here. EMRs were artists. And my mom was like, no, you’re going to Florida school. And so that’s how I ended up going to applying to film school at Florida State University. And it was really it was a it’s such a good program. They make you do everything. They make you do directing, producing, screenwriting. We did all the jobs we were and when we were like the lower classmen, so we were beebees. We regret script supervisors, which I really talk to. But ultimately throughout the whole process, it still was editing. But I was just in love with and we got a. Really cool opportunity. Our freshman year to actually cut on flatbeds with 16 millimeter film, and it was such a cool experience. I don’t know if those still exist.
S4: Do you feel like having been able to cut on flatbeds with 60 millimeter, do you think? I mean, because I imagine you’re mostly working with digital now, but you feel like that background influences the way you think about cutting?
S2: Definitely, because one of the things that a lot of editors coming up now don’t understand is that, you know, in film school, we just had one print to work off of of our dailies. And so you cut one frame too many and that’s your cut. Now, you know, Barry said this about me and I was like, oh, it really stuck with me. He said, you’re really thoughtful editor. And I think that definitely stems from the fact that, you know, in film school, we had to cut those sections. You had to be really, really sure that was the cut you wanted to make because there was no apple, you know, there was no edit undo that was going to undo that cut, you know. So, yeah.
S4: So where does your process when you’re working on a film, where does your process begin? Because you’re hired at the very beginning usually. Right. So like, what is the first thing you’re doing on a project after you’ve gotten the script?
S2: One of the things I always like to discuss with the director before they go shoot is transitions, because I feel like oftentimes transitions are something that are kind of like cobbled together because everyone was like, oh, we didn’t really think about how we were going to get from point A to point B.. So I loved to read a script or if there’s a scene that in the description, it seems like, you know, they’re like, we’re coming through the window or something is going to be shot a particular way. I like to touch base with camera to make sure, like, you know, the way it’s going to be shot is going to lend itself to still giving the same feeling or the same intent and purpose that was listed in the script. But most of the times when I work with Barry and James, they are. So it’s interesting. Their process is so unique. A lot of times Barry allows himself to be informed by the set. And so there’s not really a shot list like he likes to go and let the see the set and the scenes speak to him, and then he’ll discuss with James how they want to shoot it. And so so
S4: it’s not like like like I know the Coen brothers storyboard everything religiously and, you know, so you probably have like on some level you have a cartoon of what the movie is going to look like in advance, you know, but but Barry Jenkins doesn’t even use a shot list. I didn’t even I didn’t know that.
S2: I think on this show they actually had to just so we were prepared because it was 10 episodes. But a lot of but on Moonlight industry, I think they are just very fluid, which is a lot different from like currently we’re working on The Lion King prequel and so much of it is prep and how it’s supposed to look before it goes into animation. So I think that’s a little bit of a learning curve for us. But we’re kind of enjoying the experience. To see something evolve from storyboard to actual animation is pretty cool.
S4: So how early on are you cutting stuff together? Because it’s not after everything’s in the can, right? I mean, it’s it’s it’s way early.
S2: Way earlier. Yeah. Yeah. We started on. This is like Underground was the longest project I’ve been on to date. I’m sure at Lion King prequel might trump that for probably Trump
S4: once you got animation in there for her
S2: it’s like Yasou. We officially started shooting August of 2019 and started that same day and we didn’t wrap post until February of twenty twenty one. Wow. Yeah. So it was a process.
S4: So you’re editing the dailies. I mean you’re, you’re right there on that very first day, taking those dailies, editing them together. When you work with Barry Jenkins he and the room with you for that part of the process, are you sort of making a first draft on your own and then presenting it to him and tinkering from there? Like what, on a nuts and bolts level are you all doing at that point?
S2: Yeah. So we initially it was me and the other editor was Alex, a friend, and we did our first pass without Barry because he was still shooting. And throughout the process when we had a cut to a place where we thought it was like, OK, he could see the lay of the land and give us feedback on it, we would send it down to him because he was shooting in Atlanta. And throughout the process, there were two breaks that they took where Barry was able to come back to L.A. But it’s a little. Tricky when you have a director that is, you know, very popular because it was like to get time with him because I really like Barry is back in L.A., you know. Right. But he did take the time to sit with us and to give us, like, the nuts, the nuts and bolts of like where he wanted to take the episode. It was a little tricky because I am used to like, you know, our last two productions Moonlight in If Street could talk. I think Moonlight was 21 days. Bill Street, I think was 28. So I’m oftentimes used to like doing that first pass and then Barry by the time that production wraps berries and the like in the room with me and then we’re working on it. But this was 116 days and so I just had to keep going, you know, episode one and actually the last episode where the first two that shot first. And so I was actually working on both episodes at the same time. And then when I got one completed and had all the dailies I sent done the Barry, he gave me notes on it. I would work on that. And then we just kept going until we actually had them back in the cutting room.
S4: So you’re doing a lot of the kind of first pass on on your own, at least especially during Underground Railroad, because of how the the show is structured. So right there in that moment, you’re making a lot of decisions, right. You’re about how long a cut is held, which camera angle to use if they’ve shot something from multiple angles and stuff like that. How do you think through kind of that decision making process is just very intuitive. Is it your taste? I mean, how how how are you navigating that?
S2: Yeah, it’s one of those things that I oftentimes allow the footage shown for me, like how long I’ll be on a shot or exactly what shot to select. I can tell. I think it’s because we’ve worked so long together. I can tell Barry and James’s process and I can see the shot that they really like. Oftentimes it’ll be maybe a oner or it’ll be maybe the second to last shot in a series where we’re landing in the same spot. But they’ve done a different, you know, I would say a different pan across tilt down ending on the actor. And so it’s one of those things where I’ll kind of guess what, I think Barry once and then, you know, once he comes to the cutting room, he’ll be like, oh, I think one of the things as an editor, one of the best compliments a director can say is that’s exactly what I would have picked, because in a lot of ways, you are as an editor, trying to present their vision in a way that reflects their intent. And one of the things that’s so hard about what we do is, you know, there’s the initial script that’s on the page. Then there’s was shot in production and then there’s the actual footage that we get. And so one of the things I always say that directors have to come to terms with is the version on the script. And the actual version that we’re working on in the cutting room are different. And a lot of experienced directors know that because they’ve been through the process before. And so it’s more about coming to terms and creating, I guess, the best film possible. And so for us as an editor, you know, we’ll present a scene and sometimes a director like. Huh? It’s not how I would have started it, but I like it that way. Or they’ll be like, oh, you know, I actually saw it this way. So can we try it? And of course, as an editor, you always try what the director wants, but I always love when Barry says, put it back Joi. You’re right. This is one of my favorite things to hear. But it’s not about being right, you know, and I think that’s why it’s not hard for Barry to say it was right or it’s not hard for me to say when he’s right, because ultimately we’re in service of the film. And so we want to just make the best film or TV series possible. And so that’s what we’re in service to. And ultimately that’s our goal. And so, you know, it’s a collaboration between the two of us. And whenever we come together on an idea, you know, I think that’s when we’re the most successful.
S4: That’s one of the things that I love so much about collaborative creative work is the thing you’re creating is the real boss. It’s like it’s like that’s when it’s going well. It is actually telling you what it needs. It does. And your job is to, like, obey that actually not, you know, the ego or whatever.
S2: Exactly. Whenever I lose sight of that, whenever I’m like in my mind, I’m thinking, you know, we’re supposed to be a certain amount of time and. So I’m like trimming and and, you know, editing a scene with time and mind, you know, Barry will come in and he’ll watch it and he’ll be like, take the time, you know? And the moment he says, take your time, I’m like, OK, we allowed other things to interfere with the art. And so once he says, take your time, I’m like, OK, let me cut the scene that is the scene and not worry about how long it’s going to end up being.
S4: And when you get notes from directors, is it usually like, I want this to feel more like this or, you know, the like the thing we need to focus on is this part of the story or is it like I seem to remember, we have a different take of this. And I like. Like what? How specific are those notes that you’re generally getting?
S2: It varies. I would say with Barry there are some like like overarching, you know, general thoughts about the entire episode. And then there will be times where he gets very specific about, you know, he’ll be like I if if my memory serves me right, there’s a take where this happens. That’s the one I want you to start with and then we’ll go from there. I would say for the most part, there’s some like very specific notes and there’s some general notes. But I think when we’re first sharing cuts, it’s more broad strokes because rough cuts are rough. You just it’s like it’s like you’re studying for a test and you just want to get all the information out there. And so it’s just it feels a little cramped. And, you know, like because, of course, as an editor, you show your director everything. But when I do my initial passes, I take notes because I can clearly see, like, oh, this scene should come later or we can actually probably lose the scene. But, you know, in that initial first pass, you show them everything so.
S4: Right. People are always talking about, oh, I read there’s a 200 minute cut of this movie, whatever you’re like. No, no, no. That’s that’s just the rough cut. That’s where, like, every possibility is in there. That’s not a real thing. That doesn’t exist. That’s not an actual movie now.
S2: And also the scenes are like they’re in their entirety to you. You haven’t, like, really work them out to where they’re like paste where they should be. And so, yeah, like first passes can run really, really long.
S4: A showrunner friend told me that, you know, in her opinion, the editing room is where TV and film actually gets made. Right. It’s like because all the decisions, everything can get radically reconsidered in an editing room in ways that people actually kind of don’t always see. Like, one of the things I know you can do is you can, you know, pull the audio from one take and put it into the to the visual of another without people realizing it so that they think it’s all one moment. Have you had projects that radically changed in the editing room structurally or, you know, in terms of feel or whatever?
S2: I don’t know if it’s like a radical change, but in Moonlight. In Act three, the way it’s written is you see Black’s mom, Paula, you see her earlier, like you start the you know, the scenes start, Denise immediately at the rehab facility talking to his mom. And I remember talking to Barry and saying, like, you know, I love the way Moonlight how we just kind of drop the audience into, like, where Sharon was. No back story or anything. You just kind of like in his experience. And so I really liked the idea of him getting that call from Kevin, triggering him wanting to make amends. You know, I remember pitching the Barry like, what if we took this move this later? That call from Kevin happens earlier and then we’re off to Miami. And he had like, you know, because the thing I love about Barry is he always is observing and he’s always processing. So whenever I pitch something to him, like, do you love or you hate it? Like trying to read have like, you know, he just takes it all in and then we’ll go away from it. And then maybe a week later he’ll come back and be like, let’s do it. Like, OK, yeah. But I think that’s the strength of his filmmaking is appreciating and really leaning into the collaboration of it all and always, you know, not quick to say no, but taking what others have put in front of him and processing it. And then the thing that he always does is he’ll process it and he’ll always add like another layer to it that like is like that’s it. That’s the idea, you know, and that’s why I really, really enjoy working with him is that it doesn’t feel like work. We always have such a good time. And then the work that we do, I’m always so proud of.
S4: I’m curious about, you know, maybe that’s this is because of where I am in my own process on or on a writing project. But, you know, editing, it’s so iterative. And I’m sure you reach those points sometimes for like if I have to look at this insert of a hand opening this door one more time, I am going to burn this place down. So when you get to those moments where you sort of can’t see the project anymore because you’ve been looking at it so often, how do you refresh yourself? How do you keep moving forward at that moment?
S2: The thing that I like to do and I’m curious if, like once it gets out there, people are going to think I’m odd, but I love to go to the section of the film that’s working or that’s like my most favorite section of the film. And so I remember and Moonlight, I love to watch. I loved watching the opening of Act three, like whenever I was like, you know, because the diner scene is long and it took time to really, really massage those cuts. And the both actors, you know, Travanti and Andre Holland were amazing. And they gave such good performances that I knew that editing that section deserved, you know, the best of the best. And so I really took my time with that section. But whenever I would feel like I wasn’t really making any headway or, oh, my gosh, I’ve been on the scene for so long, I would just go to the top of the act. And I love how three open. So that would just give me a little resurgence of like this opening. Eventually, the diner is going to come up to the level of this opening and it’s going to be great. And then I just find the little moments of joy that exist in each project. And I’ll watch those and then I’ll have a renewed energy.
S4: You know, it’s interesting. I was I was wondering about that with Underground Railroad because just watching the first episode of that that show, it it is incredibly graphic and forthright about the horrors of slavery. And in my head, anyway, the idea of watching that footage again and again to try to figure out, you know, aesthetically when is the right way to like, how do we hold this so that it’s unbearable and then right at that edge cut away to give the audience really like it just seems like would be a very difficult thing to have to do day after day to look at some of the scenes. And even just that first episode. There’s nine more to go after that. How did you get through that? How do you do that? I mean, you know, what is your process for kind of recovering from the emotionality of your work?
S2: Yeah, it’s interesting because, you know, as we are working on the Underground Railroad where our offices were located, there is actually a Black Lives Matter protests happening outside. And it was one of those things where I’m like, oh, I’m like, it’s so crazy that I’m working on this show. And as I’m working on the show, I can hear the protest. And it was one of those things where I know a lot of elements of the show are going to be hard to watch, but the one thing I appreciate about Barry when he chooses to tell a certain story is he wants to keep it authentic. But the thing that he’s reinventing is the perspective that it’s told from. And that’s one of the things that is so powerful about the Underground Railroad, is even though there’s trauma, there’s pain and there’s often, you know, some horrific images. There’s also hope, Joi light and dignity that that are bestowed to people that we’re featuring in the story. And I think because of that perspective and also the way that Barry and also Coalson have chosen to present the story of Kaura, I think it makes it more digestible. And for me, there were definitely episodes. You know, the last episode, episode one or one, Tennessee is tough, you know, but I think it’s the resilience that the character Cora shows. I’m like, she can keep going. I can keep going. You know, it’s like we made a little pact in the editing room. Like, you keep on going, Kaura. I keep going to you know, and it’s interesting, too, because as an editor, I was in the cutting room. Everyone else had to work remotely when the pandemic first hit. And so I was the only one in the office. And so every day I would walk into a huge office and it was just me and my edit bay. And so a lot of times, you know, it’d just be me and Empoli or me and Karami Mabel. And it did feel like I got to really spend time with these characters. And so to me, I know that only exists on the screen for a lot of people, but to me it feels like I spent the pandemic with these wonderful characters of the Underground Railroad.
S4: You were an assistant at once upon a time. So what are your assistants doing to support you and your creative work?
S2: Well, first of all, I have to say, shout out to my assistant, Daniel, in Israel. They’re amazing. They’ve actually been with me. Daniel’s been with me since the film I did with Jake Scott, American woman. And Israel’s been with us since. If she could talk, he started out as our P.A. and now he’s our second assistant, Lion King. But, yeah, they’ll organize dailies. They’ll script dailies. Daniel actually did an amazing job on the Underground Railroad. Not only was he assisting us, but he also was the editor for one of the episodes. And then he also cut all of the trailers that Barry was putting out on Twitter. Daniel did all of those, which were fantastic. One of the great things about Daniel is, you know, I did five of the 10 episodes. And so sometimes if I was getting to a point where I’m like, hey, can you just take a first pass on this for me? He would jump on, take a first pass of a scene, and then I’ll come on and finish it. He was my right hand man. Whenever we bring anyone new on board, I definitely say, like, you know, the way we work, it’s like a little family to me. The work environment should never, ever be a toxic place because what we do at the end of the day, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of hours. And so I want the people who are working with me to want to come into work and to want to hang out and do a good job. And so if it’s a toxic environment where people are sitting in their cars, like being like, you got to go in, you know, I don’t want I’ve been there, so I never, ever, ever want that for anybody else.
S4: I mean, you mention it’s a lot of hours, a typical week of editing underground. How many hours a week were you spending working on on the show
S2: or early days? Probably. I would say like. 50 to 60, just because I was coming in on the weekends. Because it’s a lot of as Barry would say, it’s you would watch one of the early cuts and be like it’s a lot of show Joi you have a lot of shows. And it’s true. I mean,
S4: how long were those original rough cuts? They must have been. I mean I mean, like them the pilots a little over an hour. Right. I mean, how how long was its original running time when you were done with the rough cut? Do you remember?
S2: I feel like most of my episodes when they were first, like, assembled were about 90. 91, 92 minutes. It was very rare that I had an episode that was under 90.
S4: Yeah, I mean, that’s amazing because you’re cutting these things by a third, but you still got to keep all the story. Yes. I mean, I can’t only be done by tightening transitions, right? I mean, that’s not the only way. I mean I mean, how do you think about that when you’ve got to reduce the run time by a third and then yet keep all the key story beats and make sure that they’re effectively communicated?
S2: Yeah, oftentimes what we did is we would look at the the series as a whole and remember this is chorused story. And so I think the like every time that you you start to get away from where his career was experiencing, you kind of say, like, is that important? You know, there’s some amazing supporting characters throughout the story, like and Caesar and the Valentine farm is just Mingo John Valentine. I feel like the story itself is so rich with all of these characters who each possess their own backstory. So it’s like, you know, we kind of had to prioritize Cora first, but then, you know, still stay true to what the novel presented is, you know, showing the layers of humanity that existed throughout her journey. And so, yeah, each episode, you just have to take a step back and be like, OK, we have course through time and she’s preserved. And then how can we bring forth these other characters in a way that doesn’t detract from the story we’re telling about Cora, but actually enriches the experience.
S4: I want to go backwards in time a little bit to Beale Street, because you did mention the scene between Fani, played by Stephen James and Daniel, played by Brian Terry Henry earlier on. And it is actually my single favorite scene of twenty eighteen. And you edited it. So, so, so like beyond just telling you that, I just think it’s a truly masterful moment in the movie. I wanted to ask you about how you all approached that scene because it’s very different rhythmically from the rest of the film. It starts in one place and some were radically different. I mean, it almost feels to me like like Daniel grabs hold of the movie there and then won’t let it go until he’s done talking. I mean, how did you all approach editing that and what were some of the challenges of putting that scene together?
S2: Yeah, it’s it’s one of those scenes where, you know, as I’m getting the footage and I’m like, oh, it’s a lot of footage. But I did appreciate the approach that Barry and James took with that scene, because, you know, if you look at the first section, it’s very traditional coverage. You know, we have close ups, we have medium close ups and we have whites and everything is on six and and so but, you know, it sticks as a tripod. Yeah.
S4: The camera’s not moving.
S2: Yeah, exactly. The camera’s locked out and so in and putting the first section together, you know, I have this very traditional coverage. And then one of the things I loved when when Barry was describing the scene, it was like he’s like, you know, you meet someone on the street that you haven’t seen in a really long time. And so your first conversation is, you know, like like how are you doing? Me? Like, I’m good. You know, he say all the good things that are going on with you and, you know, you connect. And then as you’re going through the conversation, you know, someone says like, hi, how are you doing, man? And it’s kind of like you’re slowly but surely letting your guard down. And one of the things that’s so masterful about Brian Terry’s performance is that you see this very jovial personality slowly let his guard down and allow you to see what’s really underneath. And so one of the things that was cool about the the way they shot it is that, you know, very traditional coverage in the first section and then the back half, they you know, they put the camera. I don’t actually know the the technical term for it, but it’s just kind of like a glider, I think is what it’s called. And Barry talks about the chemistry between two actors. When you allow the camera to flow in between them instead of being like, we’re just going to be unfunny for this section or we’re just going to be on Dangl for this section. But both actors knowing that the camera is floating between them, it just brings this like kind of like this electric, you know, kind of magnetic chemistry between the two actors where they both are so immersed in their characters that for. A moment, it doesn’t feel like a film set, you know, it feels like two friends catching up. And so in the first section, when I put it together, you know, it’s very traditional coverage. You know, a lot of jokes back and forth. And then on the second section, it was very careful edits that it didn’t disrupt the audience’s experience because, you know, the moment that you notice my cut is the moment that you’re now reminded that you’re in a film. And I think the power of that scene is that you as an audience member, you feel like you’re sitting down at the table having a beer, smoking a cigarette with these two people and discovering how they’re really doing.
S4: Amazing. When you are involved in a long process of making something collaboratively, conflict is going to arise. It is like how do you like to navigate conflict, you know, in a productive way? So it’s not that you’re totally self-effacing, but it’s also, you know, not all about ego. How do you navigate conflict to get to kind of the best end result?
S2: It’s interesting because I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but Barry and I also met in film school and so Barry our producers, Adella Daylor Romanski, Mark Syriac, James Laxton and myself, we all went to film school together. So we’ve known each other for a while. I won’t date myself, but we’ve known each other for a while. And so it really does feel like we are a family. And so, you know, there is personal and then there is professional. But one of the things that we’ve always loved is the ability to make films together. It’s usually always feels like us against them. It’s never us against each other, you know? And I think the thing that we’re always fighting for is preservation of the initial concept, because if anyone’s ever done a project in Hollywood, you know, you start out with a drama and you end up with a romantic comedy that’s a bit extreme. But it is. You have a lot of higher ups who try. I don’t I don’t want to say that they try to influence the film, but they they kind of want to make it palatable is the best way to say it. And I will say a lot of the work that Barry chooses to tell, it’s very in-your-face and it’s also very precise and his artistic expression. And so oftentimes it cannot sometimes be a little scary for people to take it on and being like, OK, we’re going to present this to the world. I hope they like it, you know? And so I think one of the things that has been great about the different studios we’ve been fortunate to work with is, above all, they preserve Barry’s vision, you know, and sometimes we’ll have to take a few runs at them, you know, and sometimes we’ll have to present things a little bit differently. But one of the things that we never, ever really had to do is compromise our vision. You know, and I think one of the things that ultimately ends up is that the studios realize that if they trust in Barry’s vision, the end product is always, always, always so stellar.
S4: Well, Joi McMillon, thank you so much for joining us today to talk to
S2: us for having me. This is fun.
S4: Hazlet plus subscribers, thank you so much for everything you do to support what we do here on working, we have a little bit extra with Joi McMillon talking about her experience editing reality television early on in her career. We hope you enjoy it. Thanks again, you. If my research is correct, you started your career in reality television. I have to imagine that’s a very different creative process from editing a film, because you have this wealth of material that you’re kind of carving a narrative out of as opposed to these like different versions of a narrative or something. What to you is that difference?
S2: Like, I feel like one of the main differences between reality and me or making a feature film is tying reality is so fast paced. You’re getting so much footage, you know, because they’re shooting multiple cameras. You have to group it. You have to prep it for your editors. And then they’re taking that footage and then carving out a story for the audience. And it feels like you don’t even get a lunch break. You know, it’s like eating on the go, constantly moving. And so I think one of the things I loved about reality is that it taught me how to multitask. I’m always whenever I’m editing, I’m always thinking about the next step. I’m always thinking about the next process. You know, my assistants may not love that about me, but I’m always like, I know this is coming down the pipeline. We should prepare for that. And that’s one of the things the beauty of reality television is it prepared me for the intensity that is that comes down the road, because even though maybe the workload doesn’t feel as vast as it does in reality television, in feature films, you I feel like you constantly have to be prepared for the unknown. You know, someone may come in and be like, we need to get a cut here. Someone wants to watch us now. And it’s like, oh, my God, I’ve got to do something now, you know? So, yeah, it’s one of the things that, like, I never I think because I grew up in reality television and I feel like, you know, the day before something airs, I’m trying to drop titles. And I think because I grew up with that intensity that I never really fully overwhelmed by the job. Now I because I’m like, it’s going to get done. There’s no need to freak out. There’s no need to stress out. Ultimately, the job is going to get done.
S4: Amazing. Well, thank you so much again for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure.
S2: Oh, thanks for having me. It’s a good time.
S3: I think I always learn something when I listen to our show seriously, but you know what? I really learned something this week. I really allowed myself to stop and think about the work of a film editor, which I have to be honest. I’m not sure that’s something I’ve ever considered before.
S4: Well, I’m warning you, once you start considering it, it actually becomes kind of hard to stop because films are really shaped in the editing process, which take you use why how you connect the ideas, the transitions from moment to moment. It’s all right there. And of course, affects everything else. Like I’m not going to name names here, but a friend of mine wrote for a show with this really legendary actor in it, and she said, oh, well, everyone knows he does too much stuff, like during the take itself and then you just have to edit through it to get to the performance. But if you do that, the performance is extraordinary. Right. So in that case, how we think about that actor in his work, it’s actually completely a result of editing decisions.
S3: There’s so much to talk about here. One thing that I found really striking was when you mentioned the potential for fatigue enjoys work. Right. She’s sitting there watching several takes of the same shot and trying to decide between them. It made me think of how I often rewrite a sentence over and over again, even in a piece that’s only eight hundred words. There should be a term for that. Right. The specific conditions of creative work that are actually just kind of boring and brutal and repetitive.
S4: Yeah, totally. And, you know, maybe in honor of this, I have my copy at it’s coming later this week, so I’ll be thinking a lot about that with little teeny punctuation marks. We should come up with a term like, I don’t know. So it’s like creative drudgery. So maybe we should call it drudgery. I don’t know that that doesn’t sound good. Do you have any good ideas?
S3: Sounds like something an English person would eat for breakfast. Indeed, but I really enjoyed Joi particular advice for how to push through that morass. Right. To find some joy or satisfaction in the work in a piece that you’ve done well write that she would look back and say, yeah, this was good. That’ll power me through.
S4: I know it’s such good advice. I was like, oh, I’m going to start doing that, you know, because we do reach that point where you’re just like hitting your head against a brick wall over and over and over again. But to do something that both replenishes your ego a little bit and reconnects you to the work, when you think about it, it’s going to kind of also reconnect you to those first principles about the work that are clear when it’s when it’s really cooking. And I have to imagine it’ll help you figure out the way through. It’s really smart. I’m going to start doing it to
S3: another take away from this particular conversation for me was the importance of mentorship. Joi fell in love with editing as a pursuit when she was still so very young, you know, she was in high school. I find that absolutely astonishing. So these chance encounters that established artists have with much younger people actually can really determine what happens in their chosen field. I think that’s a really important thing to remember that A, you can, when you are still very young, know what it is that you want to do with your life and be you can once you’ve amassed a little power within your field, sort of pay it forward in ways that prove really significant.
S4: Yes, absolutely. I feel like that’s really important and something that I’m not, that I have amassed a lot of power by field or anything, but something that I think about as my career is is progressing now about like how I can do that more in the future. I will also say mentorship can take a lot of forms. Right. Like I’ve had very formal mentors, like I went to graduate school, I studied with this person. They had this influence on my work. In my practice. I can point to it. But then there’s also stuff like, you know, much less formal than that. Like when I was in my twenties, I happened to befriend a famous novelist. And that friendship is part of the reason why I transferred my focus from being a theatre director to being a writer. You know, it’s like mentorship can take a lot of different forms, and it’s about both the less established and the more established, not always younger and older, less established, more established person, just sort of being open to those moments happening and taking advantage of them when they arise, I think.
S3: Yeah, you never know. Chant That’s the that’s the whole thing about Chance Encounter. You never know exactly.
S4: But yeah. You have to be open to him.
S3: Well, I’m going to start paying attention more closely now. Good. That’s our show for this week. We hope you’ve enjoyed it.
S4: Thanks to Joi McMillon for being our guest and to our producer for this week, Morgan Flannery. Morgan, it’s great to have you back. Make sure to tune in next week for a conversation between June Thomas and journalist Leon Kraus. Up until then, get back to work.