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“The Complexity of Parenting Adults”: Editor Tricia Holmes on A Little Prayer

A family unpacks a mini van and carries their belongings into a new home.A Little Prayer, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Bill (David Strathairn) must confront his son David’s (Will Pullen) faltering faithfulness to his wife Tammy (Jane Levy) in A Little Prayer, the latest from writer-director Angus MacLachlan. However, before Bill can help David, he must reflect on his own bad habits when it comes to his relationship with wife and David’s mother Venida (Celia Weston).

Editor Tricia Holmes talks about navigating the film’s cut and accentuating each character’s complex relationship to each other.

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?

Holmes: I believe my name got to our director, Angus MacLachlan, through a series of friends and acquaintances in common. I’ve previously worked with our executive producer, Ramin Bahrani, and also our producer Max A. Butler. Angus and I got along really well during our first meetings, and subsequently spent time discussing his inspirations for the film before they started shooting, so I felt I had a good sense of what he was looking for and felt confident in the process as dailies started to roll in.

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?

Holmes: One of my main goals was to preserve and enhance the emotional context of the complexity of parenting adults in the film. I’m not a parent myself, but Angus was able to point out some of the more nuanced details I hadn’t initially picked up on, and I definitely wanted to make sure to take extra care in those moments and pay them their due. For example, Venida (Celia Weston) hugging Patti (Anna Camp) goodbye as she’s leaving. She really distinctly lets go of her child because she knows she can’t control her or make decisions for her. And that’s a really beautiful moment that I hope we enhanced and it plays directly into Bill’s (David Strathairn) character as well, and his inability to let go. Furthermore, we aimed to preserve the chemistry between Bill and Tammy (Jane Levy) and deepen their bond through the course of the film.

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

Holmes: Angus and I mostly edited the film remotely, but we did have a week of working together in person, along with my assistant editor, Shane Gaber. One thing we did when we felt we had a good first pass of a rough cut was listen to the entire film with the monitor off. Just listening to, and not watching, the film was a good way to change our perspective and feel what was or wasn’t working. We actually achieved so much just in terms of gut checks between all three of us in that first week that when we started to show the film remotely to friends and family, we were able to get really helpful feedback about certain smaller things, but remained pretty clear on the overall intentions of the film.

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

Holmes: I started out a Post Production Intern at Focus Features, and then went on to work as a Post PA on one of their films. I got along great with that team and they ended up bringing me along on their next films and eventually worked my way up to apprentice and then assistant editor. I was already learning so much as an assistant but I wanted even more hands-on editing experience so I spent pretty much all of my nights and weekends editing short films on the side. I’ve been so lucky to have assisted some really generous and brilliant editors in the past who are certainly my biggest influences—Brian A. Kates, Kate Sanford, Chris Rand and Ian Blume, to name a few.

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

Holmes: I edited the film in Avid. It’s usually my preference because the logic of the program makes sense to me and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.

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

Holmes: One of the toughest scenes to edit was one of the more emotionally charged scenes, where Bill confronts David (Will Pullen) in the parking lot outside their office. We had so many great takes from Will Pullen so I think our initial instinct was to fully play the scene from his perspective, and really feel his breakdown. But after a while we realized we had to remind ourselves that the film is really Bill’s story, so we reworked the scene with that in mind, in order to maintain David’s pain but witness it from Bill’s perspective. In the context of the film (a father realizing the ways in which he can’t help or reach his adult children) it felt even more emotional and painful.

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?

Holmes: As the film editing process went on, I came to a much deeper understanding of Bill and Venida’s characters. It was one thing for me to read a script and believe I understood the nuances of these parents and their lives, and another thing entirely to watch it play out on screen. Additionally, I feel really proud that Bill and Tammy’s bond feels just as meaningful in the final product as it did in the script. I hope people love the film and that it touches them in a meaningful way. 

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