Go backBack to selection

“This Particular Film Felt Like Whittling Down a Single Object Until It Was Smooth”: Editor Graham Mason on Good One

A young woman with wavy brown hair looks out from behind a tree stump and branches.Good One, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The feature debut of writer-director India Donaldson, Good One follows 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias) during a weekend camping trip in the Catskills with her father and his oldest friend. As the two men continuously clash throughout their extended hike, Sam becomes uneasily aware of the frailty of male egos, even amid a landscape that ostensibly shields the group from broader societal pressures.

Serving as the film’s editor (as well as a producer), Graham Mason tells Filmmaker about the challenges and rewards of cutting a film that revolves around a pointedly un-chatty central character, as well as his affirmed hunch that Donaldson’s film “would be a pleasure to edit.”

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire 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?

Mason: I am also one of the producers of Good One, I got involved with the project early on in that role. When we eventually went into production, because we had to keep our crew so tiny, I ended up also being the 1st Assistant Director as well. I was often at the monitor with the director India Donaldson, discussing how scenes could be cut together, and I got to see first-hand what incredible performances and beautiful footage we were getting. I had a nagging feeling that it would be a pleasure to edit the film, and that turned out to be the case.

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?

Mason: India does a very cool thing in this movie, and it became the primary goal of the edit. Sam, the 17-year-old main character of the film, is at the center of basically every dialogue scene in the movie, even though she is often not talking much. We process all the action of the movie through Sam’s face, and through her subtle reactions to the other characters. This was a pretty tricky thing to keep interesting, because we’re not conditioned as viewers (or as people?) to pay attention to quiet characters. But our lead actor, Lily Collias, really brought it. Basically every moment of her coverage was authentic and truthful, and we always had what we needed.

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

Mason: It was edited in a pretty straightforward fashion. I worked my way through all the scenes from the beginning to the end, in order. And as I pushed forward, India watched through all the raw footage very meticulously, and would suggest alternate performance moments to swap in. We held one feedback screening that was very helpful, and led us to rework the first act of the movie. I’ve worked on projects that feel like you have to break everything apart in the edit and put it back together, almost like making a mosaic. This particular film felt like whittling down a single object until it was smooth. I hope that makes sense.

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

Mason: I learned how to edit in film school, and my first paid work as an editor was cutting promos for TV channels like VH1 and Comedy Central, and then working for ad agencies cutting “sizzle reels” and things like that. While I was doing that for money, I was also editing my own films and working with friends on weird comedy videos. My personal work often has a kind of “low-key” feeling to it, which I think was a response to my day job work, where the note was inevitably, “Can you make this 15-second video feel faster and more energetic?” I sought stillness and calm.

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

Mason: I used Adobe Premiere, which has been my system of choice for several years. I’ve been using Photoshop since I was in high school, so I think I’m just comfortable in the Creative Cloud. I am curious to try cutting something in Resolve, the cool new kid on the block.

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

Mason: The opening of this film was difficult to nail—I think beginnings in general are hard! You have to settle the audience into the experience and get them to recalibrate their patience and attention around your sensibility. We realized that the best way to get the audience invested in our slow-burn story set on a hike was to get the characters on the hike as quickly as possible. So we compressed a few scenes in the beginning into one sequence that felt kind of musical and created this feeling of, “Here we go, we’re on our way!”

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

Mason: There are several very subtle VFX shots throughout the movie, and we were lucky to work with Fixafilm in Poland on this, who we met through the American Film Festival’s US in Progress program.

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?

Mason: I think I will continue to discover new meaning in the film as I get a little distance and can see it with fresh eyes, but at this specific moment when I don’t have a lot of perspective, I’m really struck by the performances by our three lead actors. This week I was able to watch the final film projected on a big screen for the first time, and I had the experience of seeing new layers of subtlety and nuance in the faces of the actors that I couldn’t see when I was cutting the movie on an iMac. Finally watching the movie on the big screen felt like a “zoom in” to a more granular level of very awesome acting that had been embedded in the footage. That was a cool feeling.

© 2024 Filmmaker Magazine. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of The Gotham