“The Movie We Made Is Really Very Close to the Movie I Imagined”: Editor Darrin Navarro on Summering
Summering is James Ponsoldt’s ode to childhood in which four girls who discover something in the woods and make a questionable decision to keep it a secret and solve the mystery on their own. The coming-of-age story also has elements of both horror and magical realism, and keeping close to the perspective of its characters while staying tethered to the reality was crucial for the film. Editor Darrin Navarro discusses striking that balance and how altering the structure of the film gave the audience a way into the narrative.
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?
Navarro: I have a decade-long relationship with the director and co-writer of Summering, James Ponsoldt. We’d worked together on two films and a series before this, and we’ve always had a good, collaborative relationship. We also see each other socially and watch and discuss movies all the time. We’re both film geeks and love to engage with one another about what makes a scene or a character work or not work. We agree more than we disagree and even when we disagree we try to spin that into something that makes the movie better.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Navarro: Summering is a story about four preteen girls who find something alarming in the woods and make a somewhat ethically dubious decision not to tell any adults about it until they have a chance to investigate it themselves. The movie also has trace elements of horror and magical realism, so the two prevailing challenges were to find the right balance between the imaginative lives and the real lives of the girls and to keep the audience on the girls’ side despite their somewhat self-serving decision. Of course, everyone makes questionable choices at that age, so the main objective was to make sure the audience would keep that context in mind and that they would understand what motivated the girls in this situation.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Navarro: We did lots of small feedback screenings (virtual, of course) during the editing process and got lots of good input. One terrific suggestion we got from an editor colleague of mine led us to experiment with a flashback structure, wherein the girls’ decision not to tell their parents or the police about what they found is revealed over time, which allowed us to get to know the girls better and to see them grapple with their own feelings in private, before we find out what they finally decided.
As for the balance of imagination and realism, it really came down to resisting any depiction of “magic” that didn’t feel grounded in the girls’ actual experience and perspective. We didn’t let the magic ever feel like an objective reality; it had to be an interpretive presentation of their own actions and how they see the world around them.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Navarro: I was an assistant editor for about seventeen years, between the late ’80s and the early ’00s, working mostly on studio films. Starting around 2005, I got my first few editing gigs in indie features and began to build relationships with directors that I wanted to work with. I’m an avid watcher of movies—I watch everything, from every era, every genre, every country, and I try to learn from all of it. The two movies that represent the pinnacle of editing to me would be A Hard Day’s Night and Dog Day Afternoon, edited by the great John Jympson and the great Dede Allen, respectively). I can only hope that they’ve influenced me.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Navarro: Avid is always my first choice, and that’s what I used for Summering. For me, it isn’t an issue of what system is “best,” because that’s an entirely subjective question. It’s just that, over the years, I’ve refined and re-refined my custom settings in Avid to the point where the interface is a natural extension of my brain. Willie Nelson keeps playing his old beat-up guitar, Trigger, after fifty-plus years not because it’s the best guitar in the world but because it’s now intrinsically a part of him.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Navarro: The scene where the girls discuss what to do about their discovery was thirteen pages long in the script, which is a very long scene, even for veteran actors; our four young actors are terrific, but it’s also true that their skills are still developing, and such a long scene was a real challenge. James also tells me that he and his co-writer kept adding to that scene in response to notes they got during the writing process, and in the end it may simply have been over-written. James gave me carte blanche to cut the scene down any way I could, even before he had seen it, which I did, but it was still ungainly. Ultimately, over the course of multiple recuts, I figured out a more elliptical approach to it in combination with the flashback structure I mentioned earlier.
Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit?
Navarro: There are moments in the film that are meant to reflect the girls’ imaginations, and those obviously required some simple visual effects—mostly rig removal— but most of the VFX in the movie are of the invisible sort. James doesn’t like to shoot a lot of close-ups or coverage, nor to over-cut; he prefers mediums and group shots and to let takes play long. To make this work and keep the tempo I was after, I employed a lot of invisible split-screens, subtle speed ramps, FluidMorphs and the like, which allowed me to fix line flubs, adjust pauses and to manipulate eyelines without having to make actual cuts that an audience would be aware of.
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?
Navarro: This is a really good question and I wish I had a better answer for it! The truth is that this is one of those rare cases where the movie we made is really very close to the movie I imagined when I first read the script. James knew from the get-go what he was trying to accomplish creatively and really got at it in the shooting. The only meaningful difference is that, in the script, there were more flights of fancy, moments that would have required more visual effects. We didn’t have the budget to do all of them, so James had to judiciously choose which to leave in and which to take out. The result is a magical realist film that emphasizes realism, and I strongly believe that that was ultimately to the benefit of the movie overall.