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“I Approached Each Edit as I Would an Onion”: Editor Julian Ulrichs on Kneecap

Three Irish men dressed in blue ascend a staircase. The man in the back is wearing a red, white and blue ski mask.Still from 2024 Sundance premiere Kneecap

Kneecap, the Belfast-based, Irish-language rap trio that became a symbol of a civil rights struggle to save the Irish tongue. The three members play themselves in Kneecap, a Sundance 2024 Next selection and Rich Peppiatt’s take on the band’s story.

Serving as editor is Julian Ulrichs, who also cut the music-heavy Sing Street. Below, he talks about what drew him to the film and how he balanced the film’s humor with its heart.

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?

Ulrichs: I first heard about Kneecap through my Agent, Silvia Llaguno. I was sent the script and, days later, I interviewed with director Rich Peppiatt. We got along very well on the call and shortly after that I was offered the job. I have edited a couple of music driven films (Sing Street and I Used to be Famous) so that experience was great to draw upon. What drew me most to the project was the heart that was in Rich’s script. The characters were beautifully drawn out and there was a lovely balance of humor and drama. The comedy was evident throughout the script, and I laughed on many occasions while reading it. Furthermore, I began listening to Knnecap’s music and loved it. It had a unique energy about it. As the film is set in Northern Ireland, I also felt it had something new to say about living in that environment and it was bold in how it did that. The characters were prepared to go places that I hadn’t seen other films dealing with Northern Ireland do. There was a real freshness to it.

Filmmaker: What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape? How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Ulrichs: I wasn’t available for the shoot, so we had the excellent Sorcha Nic Giolla Mhuire complete the assembly. I stayed in contact with the cutting room on a daily basis throughout the shoot. I watched assemblies to make sure that we didn’t miss anything. What became evident from the assembly was that the film had a real vibrant energy about it. Not only did the footage look great, but it was primarily carried by three excellent performances from the Kneecap members, and I was continually impressed by the vulnerability, honesty and humor in their performances. This is what I wanted to protect at all costs during the fine cut. The film wanted to be high energy throughout, but it also needed to allow for space and time to let the vulnerability in their performances shine through. Pace was central to this. I approached each edit as I would an onion, peeling back the layers to allow it to reveal its core. This means allowing the time for multiple passes and not making any radical cuts for time until later in the process.

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

Ulrichs: I started out as an assistant editor on an Irish language drama and from there worked my way up to assembly editor and finally editor. That took 5-6 years. I was primarily influenced by the editors that I worked with, in particular, Dermot Diskin (The Secret Scripture, Love/Hate), who was always very generous with his time and who taught me a lot of the techniques and processes that I still use today. I also love the work of Pietro Scalia and William Goldenberg and found a lot of inspiration through watching films of the French New Wave like Breathless and The 400 Blows.

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

Ulrichs: I cut the film using Avid Media Composer. It is the system that is industry standard in Ireland and the one I am most familiar with.

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

Ulrichs: The most difficult scene or sequence to cut was the montage which begins with Liam Óg and Naoise trying to obtain drugs by visiting doctor practices and culminates with Liam Óg leaving Georgia post coital. We had lots of different takes for this, and the tone of the section changes three times. It was all about finding the right rhythm and temp score for the section. This took multiple passes to achieve. We wanted it to be a fun sequence without feeling gimmicky. I feel we landed on a really well shaped sequence.

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?

Ulrichs: I come from the south of the island of Ireland and was born to German parents, so this film was an interesting project for me to engage with. I was very much an outsider in many ways. That said, the film is a lot more fun and funnier than I first envisaged, and lots of it will play to a universal audience without knowledge of the north’s particular history. Rich’s direction in the edit added another layer to everything, and at times the actors brought so much more to their respective characters than what was on the page. JJ’s comic timing was a joy to edit, and the band’s rendition of “Sick in the Head” is a real highlight for me. At the end of the process, you really get to understand that what was, in all probability, a challenging environment to grow up in, can really feed a very unique creative voice. And with Kneecap, Rich and the band have demonstrated this to great effect.

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