“It Was a Lot of Experimentation Along the Way”: Editor Jennifer Vecchiarello on My Old Ass
While tripping on mushrooms during the summer before her first semester of college, Elliott (Maisy Stella) encounters a future version of herself (Aubrey Plaza) in My Old Ass, the sophomore feature from writer, director and EP Megan Park. What ensues is a process of self-discovery that eschews scientific conventions of time and space.
Jennifer Vecchiarello delves into her experience cutting Park’s film, where her duties included “teasing out the relationships” between characters and utilizing temp ADR and voiceover during the edit.
See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor?
Vecchiarello: The editing of this film was very much a collaboration! I joined the team a bit later in the process, so editors Jennifer Lee and Gabi Arno had already done a lot of work with Megan building the cut and carving out the incredible performances given by the cast. But I think the primary goal for myself and for Megan was always making sure that we tracked Elliott’s journey throughout the film, and experienced everything she was feeling along with her—particularly the evolution of her key relationships throughout the film.
Filmmaker: What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Vecchiarello: Maisy Stella gave such a powerful and vibrant performance, so we always wanted to preserve that and do it justice. Elliott’s character has this incredible energy, that Megan captured beautifully, of being on the precipice of her life. It’s more than just youth—it’s her enthusiasm for the world, peppered with confidence and spunk and curiosity, but somehow with a hint of nostalgia and wisdom mixed in. Then we poured a lot of energy into teasing out the relationships—making sure
her intimacy with Old Ass was developing in a natural and authentic way, as well as with Chad and her family.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals?
Vecchiarello: We did a lot of reshaping and restructuring on this film! One scene that was intended to start the story shifted to the end, and we were always experimenting with the content and frequency of Elliotts interactions with Old Ass. Because a significant amount of their communication actually happens on the phone, we really had a lot of freedom to play with their scenes.
Filmmaker: What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Vecchiarello: Of course, we relied heavily on temp ADR and voiceover in the conversations between Elliott and Old Ass as we experimented with building their arc. Along the way, we had several feedback screenings that were incredibly helpful as checkpoints, so we could learn when things were really landing for people, as well as make sure certain plot points were adequately set up—but not given away prematurely.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Vecchiarello: I had a more traditional path where I began working as a post-production assistant, then moved into assistant editing, then to editing. I was an assistant editor for years, working consistently for Alan Edward Bell who was an incrediblementor to me. I am grateful for all that time and experience—he taught me so much about the process. Also, in feature post-production, there is just an enormous amount of knowledge that you can only really learn through the work, whether you’re a PA creating the continuity boards and caffeinating the team, or an assistant editor turning over to sound and music. Film is the most collaborative of arts, and the cutting room is where so much of every department’s work really comes together; you learn to appreciate all of this and understand just how much is being brought to the project by so many different people.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Vecchiarello: I use Avid Media Composer, because in my experience it has always been reliable when it counted—particularly on shared projects with multiple editors, assistants, VFX editors, etc.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Vecchiarello: It’s hard to identify one scene as more challenging than others, though there were certainly sections that we kept modulating—particularly the montages in the film where Elliott and Old Ass are getting to know each other. I think part of what made them both challenging and a lot of fun was how flexible they were, and how much we could repurpose otherwise omitted scenes to tell the story we learned we wanted to tell. So honestly, it was a lot of experimentation along the way.
Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit?
Vecchiarello: This movie wasn’t VFX heavy, but I do use a fair amount of compositing to carve out the precise performances and timing we’re after. There are a few shots where I did a mouth replacement to remove a line of dialog that we didn’t want, and there are certainly many split screens throughout the film! But these are all techniques I use that are driven by storytelling- the idea is that you’d never know they were there.
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?
Vecchiarello: Through the editorial process, I grew to appreciate the film as Elliots love story—not just with Chad, but with herself. I think we spent a lot of time working on Elliott and Chad’s relationship, which was important to do because of course the story hinges on it. It was also fun, because those two performed so well together—their chemistry always shone through the screen. But I’ve really come to appreciate just how powerful it is to watch Old Ass warm up to Elliott, to nurture her, to try to protect her in this maternal way and then, ultimately, to learn from her. That’s an incredible love story.