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“I Like the Widening Circles One Can Consult During an Edit”: Editor David Charap on The Reason I Jump

A still from The Reason I Jump by Jerry Rothwell (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Based off of the book written by 13-year-old Naoki Higashida, Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump aims to translate the experiences of non-verbal autistic people in a way that is honest and multifaceted. Choosing not to simply concede to the opinions of parents and specialists, the documentary aims to break the assumption that divergent ways of experiencing the world are not abnormal, and communication can transcend language and actions. Editor David Charap speaks to the unique experience of having a nonverbal group of individuals explain the intricacies of their everyday lives to an audience through imagery and imagination. 

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?

Charap: The watering hole of feature film editors in the U.K. dries up pretty quickly in the summer months. Sooner or later you are bound to run into each other!

Jerry and producers Al, Stevie and Jeremy already had impressive cuts of the Amrit and Joss sequences. When they showed them to me, I was blown away, I knew this is the sort of film I like to watch where the viewer has to join the dots up rather than having everything explained to them. What they needed was a sounding board to explore the remaining characters and to tackle the challenge of giving the film a coherent structure. 

I think my previous work helped. A couple of years ago, I had cut The Possibilities Are Endless, which attempted to immerse the viewer in the neurologically damaged mind of musician Edwyn Collins. The idea of guiding the viewer into a different way of perceiving the world is obviously very close to what Jerry wanted for this film. I think the fact that I edit drama as well as documentaries meant that I could grasp the emotional shape that underpins The Reason I Jump, whereas a conventional documentary editor might have been worried about the lack of obvious narrative.

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?

Charap: The key idea in the edit was not allowing parents or experts tell us what autistic people were experiencing when we could find a way to meet them on their own terms. I wanted to ensure that we could keep all the characters distinct in the film whilst encouraging the viewer to bring insights they may have learned in one section to understanding later parts.

Naoki’s book was always going to be a key part of the film. It helped universalize the particular circumstances of young autistics, and gave voice to an amazingly engaging view of their minds. However, it posed editing challenges as it always threatened either to take over—and make the individuals just illustrative case studies—or to disappear, making the boy’s journey tenuous and unengaging. All kinds of text fragments, different voices and treatments were explored in the edit. 

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur? 

Charap: I like the widening circles one can consult during an edit. The most intimate circle is obviously with the director on a day to day basis, then we had every couple of weeks feedback from the closest producers, then monthly consultations with other colleagues. Jerry has a screening facility where he lives and it is always great to subject the cut to unfamiliar eyes. What was also fun was using Jerry’s connection to the Met Film School. MA students explored several of the scenes and we could compare their edits with our own!

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Charap: I have always been attracted to a profession that combined personal, intellectual and technical skills. I like the fact that editing seldom has any down time and usually meant working in relative comfort! After film school in UK I went to Prague where I was able to escape being pigeon holed as either being a drama or documentary editor. Working for a long time in a foreign language made me mistrustful of the English obsession with words and more drawn to filmmakers prepared to let images tell their stories.

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Charap: Premiere Pro, which increasingly seems to be the system of choice for feature docs. The director had already started on this system before I came on board and I was keen to get familiar with it. The Transcriptive plug in allowed cheap generation of time-coded transcripts that could be translated and reimported for our Krio rushes, for example. Encoder allowed for frequent exports to show producers without interrupting the edit. 

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Charap: The first time I saw Ben and Emma using Letter Boards my mouth literally dropped open. It changed all my preconceptions about what was going on in their autistic minds. It is vital as an editor to preserve those first sensations as a viewer and not be tempted to cut things faster as you get used to them. We had to come up with a way of taking the viewer into this form of communication. Quite early in the edit we experimented with using stencil letters to replicate how the autistics were spelling, making the viewer have to wait to get the meaning of what was being spelled out.

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?

Charap: There was obviously so much more material with each of our characters it is strange now seeing them distilled to such little sequences but I feel their humanity and dignity come through, largely because of how they are simply allowed to be rather than manipulated into performing. 

Looking at the film in general, I realise that getting behind a mind that sees details rather than the whole, and that has a non-linear sense of time is also an opportunity to explore how cinema works. 


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