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“Intently Listening to ‘Mmmbop’ on Repeat”: Editor Reynolds Barney on Jamojaya

A young man stands as people gather around him, an elderly man can be seen in the background directly behind him.Jamojaya, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Writer-director Justin Chon returns to Sundance with Jamojaya, a film about a father-son relationship that’s made fraught by recent losses and financial difficulties. James (Brian Imanuel) is an up-and-coming Indonesian rapper who’s visiting Hawai‘i to cut his debut album, which is set to premiere on a major record label in the US. His travel companion is his dad and former manager (Yayu A.W. Unru), who can see that James is drowning in debt due to this major label acquisition. While he’s still mourning the loss of his other son, James’s father becomes his de facto assistant, micro-managing his every move—and stifling his creative voice in the process.

Reynolds Barney, Jamojaya‘s editor, talks about his longtime collaboration with Chon, the duo’s distaste for large test screenings and the process of trimming the film’s fat.

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor interviews here.

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?

Barney: This is the fourth feature I’ve worked on with Justin Chon, [following] Gook and Ms. Purple, which both premiered at Sundance, and most recently Blue Bayou. I first met Justin in Hawaii (where I’m originally from) when he was directing his first feature, Man Up. So we’ve come full circle with setting Jamojaya in Hawaii again.

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?

Barney: The first assembly of the film took me a bit longer than usual, because half of it is in Bahasa Indonesian, a language neither Justin nor I know. Every scene where James and Joyo—our son and father characters—speak to each other, they speak in their native language. We experimented with auto-generating subtitles and having a separate set of dailies with it burned in. However, it ended up being the easiest if I just manually made the subtitles and cross referenced the script. I did frequently check with one of our producers from Indonesia, Ryan Santoso, to make sure everything was correct.

With Jamojaya, Justin really wanted to be surprised with the edit and he encouraged doing cuts of scenes and using footage in ways that he didn’t initially intend or think about. We also describe this film as a two-hander between a father and son. Both could be looked at as the protagonist and both are on different internal and external journeys. This was really difficult to balance. We initially envisioned the film to be near two hours, but we found cutting down a lot of the fat and extraneous scenes made the story more clear.

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

Barney: We do a lot of test screenings, but mostly with a very small audience so we can talk one on one afterward. If we hear similar things being brought up over and over we know it’s an issue we have to look at. Both Justin and I are not really fans of having huge test audiences and making people fill out questionnaires. With large audiences people get swayed by group-think and may feel the need to comment on something just for the sake of adding something.

This film took almost a full year to edit with major changes happening constantly. At one point we thought we were locked and were ready to call it. Once we had a bit of a break and more perspective we ended up opening it back up and re-editing a bunch of things.

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

Barney: I was born and raised in Hawaii but moved to LA to attend the American Film Institute. I really enjoyed my time at AFI and right when I was graduating Justin went into production on Gook. I got a bit lucky that I had the right skillset and hunger to work at the time that he needed it. I ended up co-editing Gook with another editor named Rooth Tang. Due to this, I was kind of dropped into the deep end of editing and I didn’t go through the assistant editing route that many editors do.

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

Barney: I flip-flop between Avid and Premiere, but Jamojaya was cut in Avid. The actual editing tools and organization of Avid are way more suited for a feature film.

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

Barney: From a creative perspective the climax of the film was the hardest to crack. It changed drastically numerous times. Music, tone, and perspective are things we kept finding we had to alter or completely re-think. This was solved mostly by trial and error and testing the cut with audiences.

From a technical standpoint there’s a party bus/strip club sequence in the film that was incredibly time consuming to edit because it was shot mostly improv-style. In the sequence the people James is partying with start singing along to “MMMBop” by Hanson. As you can imagine, any little change to the edit would throw off the timing of everything and we were also limited to certain chunks of the song that had better footage captured. At one point in the assembly I was hunched over with my eyes closed, intently listening to “MMMBop” on repeat, which was a funny sight for Justin to walk in on.

Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit? 

Barney: I was in contact a lot with our VFX Supervisor/Producer, David Matheny, because there are quite a lot of VFX in the film. It was tough because we had to watch so many cuts with temporary subtitles explaining what should be happening on screen. There’s a scene in the film where VFX plays an important artistic role and it was a long collaboration between Justin and David to achieve what feeling we were looking for.

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?

Barney: Jamojaya has a very universal story both about parent and child and also about losing a loved one. I see both aspects of myself in Joyo (the father) and James (the son).

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