“I Think a Lot about the Crossover Between Painting and Editing”: Editor Hannah Buck on Chef Flynn
Flynn McGarry began hosting his own supper club when he was 11 years old. Now 19, the teen chef has fascinated readers of the New York Times Magazine, Time and food blogs the world over. McGarry is the subject of Chef Flynn, the second feature doc from director Cameron Yates (The Canal Street Madam). Yates hired Hannah Buck to edit Chef Flynn alongside consulting editors Amy Foote and Shannon Kennedy. Below, Buck discusses how she sought to move the film away from talking heads and voiceover narration and toward “a more vérité approach.”
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?
Buck: A mutual friend and great editor, Shannon Kennedy, referred Cameron to me. Cameron and I met a couple of times and really connected. We watched each other’s previous films and had a shared admiration. I watched an hour-long assembly of Chef Flynn and was drawn in by Flynn’s story and also that of Meg, his mother. Cameron and I also had a shared love of cats, which helped.
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?
Buck: When I came onto the project there was quite a bit of leg work done by Amy Foote, and we had an hour long cut. From there, we talked a lot about taking the film in a less traditional direction; stripping back talking heads and building up the archival footage with a more vérité approach. We had a wealth of archival footage that Meg had given us. We wanted to use that material to create more of an arc of Flynn’s younger years and really immerse the audience in it as much as possible. In terms of preserving and enhancing, while Flynn had already gained a lot of media attention, we wanted to keep the film personal, to maintain and enhance the intimacy of the mother-son relationship, and the quirks and flaws of both characters.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Buck: I started by diving into the footage, looking for things that I responded to that added depth to character, themes and subtext. Early on, I began cutting a character arc for Flynn outside of the cut, using only the archival and vérité footage. This was an exercise to see how far we could get without needing to rely on interview bytes. We built up the cut with anything that seemed to have potential, then narrowed it down from there. Cameron was always very encouraging of experimentation and together, he and Laura Coxson (Producer) and I screened many cuts together. We spent a lot of time on the structure and how time would function in the film, particularly how the past and present day could play off of each other. We also had quite a few feedback screenings. These were particularly helpful in relation to our main characters and their emotional arc. The dance between Flynn and his mom is a delicate one which could tip off-keel quite easily, so we test-screened a lot to gauge how that was working. Lastly, in terms of process, I’m a big fan of index cards. It helps me to be able to visualize and move the structure around on something other than a computer. I do this for every project.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Buck: The industry has been kind to me through the people I have worked with. I’ve worked with not only highly talented people, but people I respect and have a mutual affinity for. These relationships helped carve my path early on, as most of the offers for work would come through recommendations from previous gigs. Early on, I did a lot of work with filmmakers Terence Nance and Chanelle Pearson, and that was really how I got my break. I cut my first doc with Terence, and through that I learned a great deal about the process. I also assisted some great editors which gave me an appreciation for the way knowledge has been passed on between editors and assistants over the years – a relationship that I see as truly invaluable. This structure of learning has also been implemented by labs such as the Sundance edit lab and IFP labs, which have furthered the list of mentors that have been available to me. I come from a painting background and I think a lot about the crossover between painting and editing. I would say that painting is a big influence for me, or maybe it just informs my process. I notice the correlation between the two forms differently depending on the film. Sometimes the film itself can feel like a painting, other times the similarity is more in the process of composition, collaging and weaving together the fabric of the film.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Buck: We cut on FCP7. The project had already been organized when I came on so we stuck with that.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Buck: As is the case for a lot of films, the opening was probably the most challenging to nail down. It was the last scene we cut. We had tried several times to make the film begin with Flynn as a young kid and play chronologically through his life, without establishing a present day. We really wanted to avoid too much jumping back and forth in time, but there were obvious benefits to having some present day material at the top, namely establishing our characters and narrative more succinctly. We ended up finding a balance so that we could still dip back to long stretches of archival that were immersive rather than purely illustrative. Once we clarified what the opening needed to do, we really had to battle with the voiceover element of the film. We did not want to use talking heads, but still needed to make our characters embodied: I tend to disembody my subjects too often! We owe a lot of credit to our wonderful consulting editor, Shannon Kennedy, for her help through this phase.
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?
Buck: I think mostly I discovered the depth of our subjects. I think with any film I’m working on, the point I am in in my own life definitely contributes to the way I experience and respond to the material, and vice versa. Over the course of cutting Chef Flynn, it made me think a lot about parenting, and the challenges of being a creative parent with your own hopes and dreams, the sacrifices many parents make for their kids. I think the finished film raises interesting questions about how to negotiate that.