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“There Is No Clear Main Character to Follow”: Editor Julia Drack on Human Factors

Human Factors

Ronny Trocker’s Human Factors follows a family whisked away to their seaside vacation home in an attempt to escape work. During their stay, burglars break into the house, which drives a wedge between parents Nina and Jan. Editor Julia Drack tells us how they achieved the film’s unique eschew of time, moving perspective to perspective between each family member.

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?

Drack: Human Factors is the second feature film by director Ronny Trocker. I was also hired for his first feature film The Eremites. Back then, the production company suggested me because I had edited a successful feature film for them and they thought that Ronny and I could be a good match, and that’s what happened. It was one of my most beautiful and fruitful collaborations with a director and as a highlight we also got to premiere in Venice at the Orizzonti Competition. On a joint festival trip we agreed to make Ronny’s second feature film together, and I read script versions and gave feedback from the beginning. And now it’s screening here at the Sundance Film Festival.

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?

Drack: The particular challenge in assembling this film was that there is no clear main character to follow throughout the film. It’s about a well-off, average European family, with two children and a pet. There is a triggering moment in the film—a mysterious burglary—based on which the hidden conflicts in the family come out. This incident is shown from the different perspectives of the family members, i.e. there is always a jump to another perspective in the course of the film and then we follow this perspective for some time. There are moments like the burglary, which is shown from all perspectives, and other scenes that belong only to the character in question. Gradually it settles in how differently experiences can be perceived and how much the truth can vary from character to character. The film is not only told from different perspectives, but it also jumps in time. It was important to me to support this special narrative form in the best possible way—to find out where the most appropriate moments for a change are, both in terms of characters and time, as well as not to confuse unnecessarily, but to encourage the unraveling and discovery in the viewer. It’s very much about how the film is told.

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

Drack: My first rough cut is usually pretty much according to the script. When I have all the scenes in a row and go through them, I usually already notice pretty precisely where the problems are. I make minor revisions immediately, but I prefer to discuss more radical suggestions with the director beforehand. Together we discuss any ideas we have for rearrangements, cuts, or various other changes. When our ideas are exhausted and we feel that the film is mature enough to be seen by different eyes, we carefully invite people to first very small screenings—primarily colleagues. For Human Factors we did our first screening with a relatively early version to find out which scenes were perceived as particularly strong and which jumps in the narrative could not be followed. I find good screening feedback very valuable for optimizing a film. But I’m not a fan of huge screenings where the personal conversation gets lost afterwards. I prefer quality instead of quantity. And most importantly, the timing of a screening has to be sensible. If I have pages and pages of ideas, there’s no point in scheduling a screening, because I can’t even check myself whether these ideas will work or not.

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

Drack: I studied editing at the Film Academy in Vienna and was then recommended by a colleague to the Austrian editor Monika Willi as an assistant editor. She is the editor of Michael Haneke, among others, and so our first project together was The White Ribbon, which was also nominated for the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film. During our many years of working together, I assisted her on many major feature films and documentaries and was able to get used to the large formats. 

My first own feature film as an editor, Still Life, was also my graduation film at the university. Haneke, as well as European Arthouse Cinema, has certainly had a big influence on me, but I am also interested in genre films and am often asked to do them as well.

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

Drack: I edited the movie with Avid Media Composer. I have been working with this program for many years, mainly because it is very easy to exchange data between different editing suites. It also meets all the requirements for proper editing and preparation for transfer to post-production. I have my own editing suite, which is set up for Avid. Most Austrian film companies have switched to Avid after Final Cut Pro 7 was discontinued—which makes it very easy to switch for screenings at the companies and for data exchange.

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

The scenes were shot in a well thought out and relatively simple way. 

It wasn’t so much the individual scenes that were difficult to cut, but to create an overall balance in the film. Especially making decisions which scenes to put at the beginning and what to leave 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?

Drack: It’s a magical moment when you see the film with finished color correction and sound mixing in the theater for the first time. Then things really do come up sometimes that can surprise you despite months of dealing with the material. Unfortunately, due to COVID, a screening in a movie theater could not yet take place—only then is the entire process actually completed. For this reason, unfortunately, I can’t answer the question yet.

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