“It Would Have Ruined the Film if We Had Made it More Pleasant”: Editor Olivia Neergaard-Holm on Holiday
Danish filmmaker Olivia Neergaard-Holm was one of three directors on last year’s Criterion-anointed documentary David Lynch: The Art Life. Neergaard-Holm has edited a dozen shorts and features since 2010, including the single-take German thriller Victoria and the Danish horror drama Shelley. She most recently edited Holiday, the debut feature from director Isabella Eklöf, which appears in competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Neergaard-Holm spoke with Filmmaker about Holiday‘s tricky gender politics and why it was important for the film to maintain a “cold, cynical and misogynistic vibe.”
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Neergaard-Holm: Isabella Eklöf who directed Holiday and I knew each other from film school. Although we weren’t in the same year and hadn’t worked together before, I think we always felt we would be a good mach of temperament and creativity. Also I had edited a film for the producer David Sorensen before. So I guess all in all it was a classic mix of network and my previous work.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Neergaard-Holm: Starting on this film I knew I would have to use a completely different approach than usually, as Isabella is not a very conventional director. Her approach is more anthropological, focusing on stuff like group dynamics, rather than the psychology of a character. Also she is not keen on close ups, which you obviously often rely on as an editor to convey emotions. So I just knew I had to toss my usual way of thinking and be open to how she saw the world. It was quite challenging at first, but I quickly felt comfortable in the logic of the film and along the way I was also able to push her in some new directions and even squeeze in a close up because it just felt so good at exactly that spot. The comic timing was the main thing that I was aware of during the editing process. We could be working over and over on scenes and not just getting them right if we didn’t find a way to make it a bit off or awkward or uncomfortable. On a thematic level it was really important for me to keep the cold, cynical and misogynistic vibe in the film as it is what this film is basically about. Of course my inner woman often fought against letting the main female character be subjected to various male abuse, but it would have ruined the film if we had made it more pleasant.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Neergaard-Holm: I basically started working on feature films the day I finished film school. One project just seemed always to lead to another based on people I had worked with or friends who recommended me. I started film school quite late, as I had tried out university first, studying film and media. But the academic approach didn’t suit me well, and I attended film school in 2009 ,which is predominantly practical. I was 28 when I started, so in a way I felt like my life experience and network always helped me to get where I got. I can’t really say I’ve had any specific influences, but my mentor Adam Nielsen, one of Denmark’s best editors, has always inspired me to take artistic ownership and shape the material uncompromisingly into an emotionally gripping story.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Neergaard-Holm: Avid. Because its just the best for trimming and timeline control.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Neergaard-Holm: Okay, thats a tough one. Editing processes in general are quite difficult, and every time the challenges are new. I feel that editing scenes are never really an issue. You can easily put something together like a monkey. It’s how it fits into the overall arc, story, rhythm and style of the film. I can’t really single out one scene as it’s mostly linked to the process more than the scene itself. Or I just forget how hard it was once I’m on another project.
Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit?
Neergaard-Holm: We do have a handful of VFX in this film, most of it I was able to do a temp of in Avid by use of plates. It was easy in this film because there is no movement in the camera. And then the VFX supervisor Peter Hjort would come in and make it look really good.
Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?
Neergaard-Holm: I think initially when I worked on the film I was quite challenged by “the weakness” of the female main character. I found it very hard to see myself in her aspiration for wealth and status through a dominating and abusive man – as I saw them as choices. Why not leave, get a job, do your own thing? I sometimes thought “Is this really 2016 and we’re still telling the story of a woman who can’t exist without a man? But Isabella kept saying to me “Those are not choices. She’s desperate.” So I started realizing my privilege as an educated, independent woman and a lesbian, and how important this subject actually is. And when the #MeToo movement broke out I was like, “OK! Now I fucking get it.”