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“Each Film I Make Will Require New and Different Ways of Thinking”: Editor Luke Lorentzen on A Still Small Voice

A woman with her brown hair tied back looks up and to the right.A Still Small Voice, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

An aspiring chaplain must complete her yearlong residency at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital during a particularly dark period for public health in A Still Small Voice, the latest from doc filmmaker Luke Lorentzen. Between 2020 and 2021, Mati conducts visits as part of the hospital’s spiritual care department, navigating the grief, trauma and uncertainly that weighs heavily on these patients—and herself.

Lorentzen, who acted as director, cinematographer and editor, discusses his experience cutting the film, which he describes as his “favorite part of the filmmaking process.”

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?

Lorentzen: From early on, I wanted to try to be the lead editor on this project—it’s my favorite part of the filmmaking process. But maybe more importantly, I had very personal and delicate relationships with the people I had filmed, and it felt essential that a certain level of care and understanding extend consistently from production through post-production.

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?

Lorentzen: It took many months of watching material to learn the right pacing for this film. First drafts of many scenes were often much too short or quick, and I felt a certain magic return to the material only when things were left unusually long. With time, I managed to structure the film in a way that created space for the material to play out fully and naturally. And it was with this looser approach that the cut started to feel most captivating and alive.

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

Lorentzen: The greatest asset I had in cutting this film were my collaborators. Kellen Quinn (lead producer) was very involved in the edit, which began with him watching an unusually large amount of raw material. Throughout the year of cutting, Ashleigh McArthur (additional editor) and I would pass scenes and sequences back and forth on a weekly basis and learn together the different types of cutting that did and didn’t feel right for this story. And then every few months, I would go to Maine and work with the incredible Mary Lampson. We would watch material, talk, try new things, and slowly discover the heart of the cut.

I chose to stay up in Maine for the final six weeks of the edit so that Mary and I could work together more regularly, and it was in those final sessions that the cut finally clicked. Our team began editing in August of 2021 with about 500 hours of material. By March of 2022, we had a four hour assembly, and then finally a 93 minute film by the end of November 2022. 

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

Lorentzen: My work as an editor began with the skateboarding films that I was shooting and cutting together in middle school and high school. In college, I started to make my first short documentaries, which were similarly shot as a one-person crew and edited by me. A professor of mine, Jamie Meltzer, was a big mentor in my early documentary days and was the first person to show me nonfiction films that were truly cinematic (in their cinematography but also editing styles). Since college, Kellen and Mary have pushed my editing work in exciting and rigorous ways while collaborating with me on Midnight Family and A Still Small Voice. I feel I’m beginning to more fully develop a personal approach to editing that I can rely on while also knowing that each film I make will require new and different ways of thinking.

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

Lorentzen: I cut this film with Adobe Premiere. It’s the software I’ve come to know best and it’s a sturdy and capable tool.

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

Lorentzen: As I briefly mentioned above, it took months of learning from the material to understand the strongest pacing for this film. This was most difficult to grasp with Mati’s second patient visit where she speaks with an older woman who was diagnosed with lung cancer. Early cuts of that scene were short and cutty—two or three minutes long—but the meaning and deeper feelings of the conversation had vanished. As I returned to the raw material (something I would do constantly while editing this project), I more clearly saw how the energy and tone of the scene grew and expanded with time. I eventually arrived at a seven minute cut that I was sure would still need to be trimmed down substantially. But that seven minute version persisted through all the later stages of the edit and remains, for me, one of the most meaningful moments in the final film.

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?

Lorentzen: More than anything, I’m looking forward to all the different layers of this story that new viewers will discover and teach me. The few people who have seen the film so far have shared reactions that continue to make this process endlessly surprising and exciting to me.

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