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“The Role of an Editor Is Similar in Many Ways to a Good Translator”: Editor Simon Price on Bad Behavior

Actress Jennifer Connelly stands in the center of the frame, her hair tied back, wearing a black sweater. She is in a yellow-walled room with a window behind her. It is a dull environment, she looks perplexed.Bad Behavior, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

In Bad Behavior, the feature debut from writer-director Alice Englert, Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) travels to a high-profile silent retreat with her guru (Ben Wishaw). During her search for spiritual enlightenment, however, Lucy can’t seem to let go of her self-centeredness. As the title suggest, Lucy can’t seem to stop engaging in bad behavior—and the worst of it is still to come.

Editor Simon Price tells Filmmaker about his experience working on the project, including how he came up in the industry.

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?

Price: Alice and I had never met before Bad Behavior. I had worked with producer Desray Armstrong on a few short films—Ellen is Leaving, which won Best Short at SXSW ten years ago, and Bats (both directed by Michelle Saville), so that was a good start. Des had a fair idea of how I edit but also what I’m good at editing. She set Alice and I up with a quick Zoom chat together which went well and the rest is history… Actually I think I got the job mainly because I said to Alice straight away that I thought that her script was “laugh out loud” funny. It is a sophisticated film but it is also very human and very funny.

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?

Price: Right from the initial meeting, Alice and I started a conversation about how to balance the film between the two main characters which continued throughout the edit. The film is a two-hander but it doesn’t really present like that at first. It’s about a mother and a daughter discovering each other but for much of the film they are literally thousands of miles apart. Getting balance between the two separate story lines, seeing how they mirrored each other and working out how and when to intercut between them was probably the biggest challenge of the edit.

Part of getting this balance right was slowly eliminating other smaller character story lines and scenes. This happens so often in the edit suite and it’s always a bit of a tragedy especially when the script and performances are all so good but if they feel at all superfluous to the central through line—in this case the central relationship of the film—then eventually smaller subplots will fall away no matter how much we might have loved them initially.

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

Price: Early on in the edit, I did a lot of work with Alice on articulating the themes of her story essentially to work out how exactly to finish the film. The film carries the same lovely open and suggestive ending that was always in the script but there were a few options shot on the final beat of the film that we had to work through together in the edit. Narrowing down the central theme to a very singular idea or even a single word can very often help determine those final beat choices. Generally speaking if you have a clear idea of your central theme, you have a clear idea of what the end of the film will look like.

Once we had a clear picture of the end we could then build the most intriguing dance possible between our two key characters to take us there. In each pass of the film we were pretty ruthless about dropping scenes that didn’t serve this mother-daughter dance. If we missed them, we could always put them back but we didn’t waste time on refining scenes that didn’t feel like they were serving the story. I was very impressed throughout the edit with how quickly and willing Alice was to let scenes go. It helped make each pass in the edit fast, dynamic… and very fun.

We also had a lot of test screenings throughout the edit to make sure we were on the right track. I’m a big believer in sharing the rough cuts with selective audiences along the way. Test screenings are also generally useful as long as they are well moderated and don’t take too much momentum away from the editing schedule.

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

Price: I started out as a part-time actor on kids TV in New Zealand but I wasn’t very good. Then I went to film school in Australia with thoughts of becoming a director but I hated being on set—all that waiting ‘round in all weathers to get the perfect shot just bored me. V.C.A., the film school I attended in Melbourne, had recently purchased four new AVID editing systems and I spent all my time in these new suites learning everything I could. I just loved offline. It was warm and dry, I could drink as much tea and coffee as I liked and inside those timelines there was so much creative potential right at my fingertips. I play a bunch of different instruments—none of them very well—but my first attraction to editing was very musical. I loved the kinetic rhythm of it all. I also loved the way that simply by changing one shot you could affect the feeling and meaning of a whole scene.

Film school was where I also first began working with Indigenous filmmakers and story-tellers and that’s been a constant influence since. About half of the features and documentaries I have edited to date are foreign-language, mostly Indigenous stories from many different places around the world. I deeply enjoy the process of helping to translate and articulate Indigenous stories on screen despite the obvious challenges. It is invaluable and deeply rewarding work. The role of an editor is similar in many ways to a good translator I think. There’s a similar conversation about ‘invisibility’ in both these jobs.

My first big break was as an assistant editor on Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It introduced me to not only big budget film-making and a global industry but also to the city of Wellington where I edited many of my first feature films and still currently live.

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

Price: AVID. It’s what I learned on. I can edit on other systems but for me, AVID is the most intuitive and quickest to use. I also prefer its root level media management especially for long form projects.

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

Price: Without wanting to create any spoilers, there is a high-action scene about half way through Bad Behaviour which is pivotal and took some time to create. For the most part this is a dialogue driven film so when this high-action scene suddenly arrives it really needed to explode off the screen and shock the audience. But this is a low budget film so there weren’t a million different cameras or takes to choose from. It was also a scene with a lot of people running around a small room so the camera crew weren’t able to easily cover off the full action from too many different angles. But there is a minor character in the scene called Mark (played by Tom Sainsbury) who is a film student whose job in the film was to document everything on a miniDV camera. Transcoding and incorporating Mark’s DV footage of the scene gave us the extra layer of variation we needed to help unlock this scene and give it the sense of wild disorientated chaos 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?

Price: There were a significant number of more surreal scenes in the shooting script—mainly dream sequences, hauntings, interior monologues, etc—that read well and seemed to fit in the initial assemblies. However, as the edit progressed this more fantastical material became less and less necessary. We ended up dropping quite a number of these scenes in the last few weeks of the edit. There’s still a few hallucinatory moments—and they are fun when they occur—but the film kept wanting more and more real time to explore the true space of the mother-daughter story so scenes that felt too constructed, internal or imagined just kept peeling away. This complicated shape shifting relationship was also so beautifully expressed through great dialogue and strong honest performances by both Jennifer and Alice that in the end, we just had to make all the room for it that we possibly could.

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