Mark Burnett and Nick Emerson on Editing Aubrey Plaza Comedy An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
Writer/director Jim Hosking premiered his short Renegades at Sundance in 2010 and returned to the festival in 2016 with his debut feature The Greasy Strangler. His second feature, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, premieres in the NEXT program at Sundance 2018. Luff Lin unites Hosking with a cast of comedy luminaries: Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement and Craig Robinson, among others. The film was edited by Mark Burnett, who also edited Greasy Strangler, and Nick Emerson (Lady Macbeth, Starred Up). Filmmaker spoke with the film’s editing team about the film’s tricky tone, which teeters between absurdist and romantic comedy, ahead of Luff Linn‘s premiere at Sundance.
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?
Burnett: I met Jim in Sydney in 2008, where he was shooting a commercial there and I was the editor on the job. I was a huge fan of his previous work and we both found the same things funny so the relationship as his editor evolved naturally. Jim was always writing and directing short films and I would always try and be part of his longer-form world, then in 2015 he shot The Greasy Strangler, and it was only natural for us to continue the relationship in feature film world, so when he told me about Beverly Luff Linn I jumped at the chance to sit in a dark room, eat burritos, laugh and try and make another Jim Hosking movie.
Emerson: I joined the film late on with a lot of really great work having been done already. I came in to do the final few weeks of editing. I’d admired Jim’s previous work and saw a rough cut of the film and was very excited to come on board to help finish it. I met Jim and we talked about it and he hired me thankfully.
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?
Burnett: We screened the first assemble after eight weeks of cutting and it’s run time was two hours and 26 minutes. It was the first time Jim and I had watched the film on a larger screen, with an audience and knowing so much more work and craft needed to take place. After watching the film, we could see the problems but we could also very much see the gold within. What we needed to work on was to try and hold onto Jim’s uniqueness and oddness, but also allow a sweetness to the film, a romance, so we really tried to marry what makes Jim so unique to another voice the film had.
Emerson: As I came to the film late, the process was different than normal. Usually you would be there from the beginning piecing together every scene but instead I was looking at a complete cut. This has it’s advantages – you are not prejudiced by anything that was in the cut before, and you can feel acutely if there is something missing or if something feels wrong about a character’s behavior. You are very fresh to it. The film was a little long and that was my first approach, to nibble at it a little to see what we could lose in terms of time but also to see if that would help underline or bring out the main relationship between the Lulu and Colin characters.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Burnett: We had to look at the balance overall. Jim and I do like to go down a path of “how far can we push humor” – The Greasy Strangler world was essentially this. With Luff Linn, we did have to try and pull that back which is was hard to do as it’s a natural direction for us to take. The length of the film helped make certain decisions, as part of the feedback was it was sitting too long, so we would target scenes that may have felt out of place because of overextending the humor and see how we could pull this back, therefore reducing the overall time. This sometimes helped but then when watching it back you missed certain extended beats and oddness, so it was a tricky balance to find.
Emerson: It’s a process of trimming, viewing, discussing and trying things out and thinking about it. It happens quite naturally, the cut evolves. One thing I’ve learned is to trust the process and let it take you along, explore the options, make the wrong turns and trust your instinct. The good decisions usually stand out and speak for themselves. I find that I use every technique available when cutting a film but ultimately the film tells you what it needs and will reject anything you try that doesn’t fit with it’s style or tone.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Burnett: I started cutting at the age of 15, when I purchased the first version of Premiere. I knew I loved playing with images, but always felt I wanted to be a director not an editor. I then went to film school, learned the craft of filmmaking on all sides but noticed I would always gravitate to the editing suite. I was then lucky enough to get a job straight out of film school as a runner and an in-house editor at a production company. From there I knew I needed to join an edit house and to be surrounded by the top editors in Sydney. I joined a company called the Post Office Films and worked my way up from assisting to a editing over a short time so was quite fortunate.
For me I feel editing is instinctive, what feels right to the footage you’re working with, be it comedy or documentary, there’s a feeling you get from the rushes that naturally guides you. I’ve worked alongside great editors that subconsciously influence me in a style that you pull from when you want to take an edit elsewhere or try something completely different but the initial build of an edit is very much an instinct. Also working with different directors enables you to adapt to different styles. For example, cutting with Jim for the last eight or so years has definitely influenced me in a different way of approaching comedy. Jim is great at pulling that out of me.
Emerson: I started out editing TV news then moving onto documentary. Documentary taught me the most about storytelling as you have to construct a narrative from scratch. I then worked on some short films where the directors jumped up to feature films and I was fortunate enough that they asked me to cut their movie. After that I slowly built up feature film credits working with many directors, continuing to learn and develop my skills. Sounds obvious but the main influences for me over the years have been films really. The best bit of advice I got when I was coming up was to “watch as many films as possible,” and that’s what I do. Good films, bad films, blockbusters and films from all over the world. It’s a language and the best way to understand it is to watch films. So many great editors have influenced me though, to name a few Joe Walker, Thelma Schoonmaker, Joe Bini, Juliette Welfing.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Burnett: I started using Avid in 1999 as that was the industry standard at the time, and have only really used Avid since. I have edited on Final Cut and Premiere but there’s a confidence and speed that I have with Avid that really can’t match with the other software. Avid makes more sense to me. I’d probably say the same thing about Premiere if I edit on that for the next 19 years. It really comes down to what software you feel more fluid on. I know when I cut on Avid I don’t have to think about the functionality, my concentration is 100 percent focused on the edit itself instead of what button I’m pressing.
Emerson: Avid Media Composer. I have used this most over the last 10 years so it feels so comfortable. I don’t have to think about operating it anymore.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Burnett: I think the most difficult scene was the pool scene in which Beverly enters for an epic swim while Lulu and Colin watch in awe. It’s not a long scene at all and there’s minimal dialogue that takes place but Jim and I could see what it needed to be and the humor within but for some reason it was a challenge to get to. Jim has an amazing eye for comedy, and you think you’ve nailed a scene but he’ll be watching knowing something isn’t right and most the time, it’s a small tweak or a small idea that will shift it into a place that Jim knows is working, but finding that speck to shift the scene takes patience and time.
Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit? (Feel free to ignore this question if it’s not applicable.)
Burnett: Jim and I have a similar OCD temperament, so we do spend a bit of time comping in different performances in shots to make sure everything feels exact and precise. Jim’s comedy is quite specific, and there’s a confidence it has, but for it to work at it’s best, a lot of time is spent to create a purposefulness in the frame, so yeah, we do quite a bit of cutouts.
Emerson: There was one scene towards the end of the film that was a little tricky, only because we’d changed a lot in the film that preceded it and that had a knock on effect. So it was a case of adjusting a few lines of dialogue and removing a line or two to make it work best.
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?
Burnett: I think the film has a tenderness and a romance that I wasn’t expecting, and this at first created a challenge in the edit, as I wanted to gravitate to the silliness and the weirdness, but the romantic voice was a hard one to ignore, so it was trying to adapt the oddness within the romance and have a world where these two things feel right.
Emerson: The thing that struck me most about this film is how strong the central relationship between Lulu and Colin is. Really memorable performances from Aubrey and Jemaine. That’s what I am most proud of about the work on the film. We were able to tell a very human story about two misfits coming together in an odd, unpredictable and funny world.