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“Feedback Helped Shape a More Comprehensive Narrative”: Editor Stephania Dulowski on Tendaberry

A young Black woman wearing yellow pants and a crop top hangs off of a street post.Tendaberry, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

When her boyfriend travels to Ukraine in order to care for his sick father, 23-year-old Daokta (Kota Johan) finds herself roaming around New York City, finding both community and adversity in Tendaberry, the feature debut from writer-director Haley Elizabeth Anderson. 

Tendaberry is also editor Stephania Dulowski’s first feature-length project. Below, she describes how she approached cutting Anderson’s film, which premieres during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT program. 

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? 

Dulowski: Becoming editor on Tendaberry stemmed from a previous collaboration on one of writer-director Haley Elizabeth Anderson’s short films where our shared creative sensibilities clicked right from the start. Aside from valuing my creative input, the factors that played a role in my selection included punctuality and a demonstrated ability to interpret Haley’s creative vision. 

Notably, Tendaberry marks the first feature for both Haley and me. 

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? 

Dulowski: Tendaberry was shot across four seasons over two years, featuring mostly non-actors, and with an evolving script. Haley and I reviewed and assembled footage after each shoot, which gave us a clear idea of what we had before she would re-enter production. This advantage helped impact Haley’s scriptwriting process and allowed for pickup shoots when needed. 

The first assembly was very long, so our goal was to cut down the length of scenes, or cut scenes all together, and figure out how to assemble the most clear and efficient version of the narrative. The film had the benefit of being slightly overshot, which then became a battle of what to cut when we loved so much of it. 

Even with script tweaks from the early edits to picture-lock, our main focus never wavered: keeping Dakota’s essence intact and telling her evolving story. A key objective was to establish an authentic and lasting connection between Dakota and Yuri, resonating beyond the initial chapter of the film where Yuri is introduced. 

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

Dulowski: We hosted feedback screenings, invited guests into the edit room, and shared review links with accompanying questionnaires. Although not every note was applied, it was productive to hear viewers’ overall comprehension of the story, including any memorable details. All of this feedback helped shape a more comprehensive narrative, and scenes that didn’t resonate naturally found their way out of the edit. 

We had so much footage to work with that we were always trying to cut the film’s runtime down without sacrificing the story. On my own time, I would sneak changes to cut time down, and sometimes Haley would be excited to notice that she caught me, while other times she wouldn’t catch me! She enjoyed this exercise as we all need a fresh perspective to stay on track. We also discovered that not every scene needed a start-to-finish treatment. Scenes could be grasped more efficiently with jumping into the middle of one, or getting out early. 

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

Dulowski: While I didn’t study filmmaking, my background in fine art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago equipped me with valuable critical thinking and discussion-based skills. After graduating, I came up in the business as an assistant editor-turned-editor at a commercial post house. During this time, I had the privilege of working alongside experienced feature film editors, enriching my understanding of the craft. 

I love the balance between editing short commercials and long narratives. Both forms offer unique learning experiences—how to tell a story in 30 seconds and on the flip side, how to tell a consistent story over two hours. Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye served as a foundational guide as I started out in my editing career. 

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

Dulowski: I opted for Adobe Premiere to edit Tendaberry, primarily due to its efficiency and versatility. Tendaberry features a diverse range of formats, including DV, VHS, film, photographs, digital footage and so on. Premiere’s capability to handle mixed formats expedited the ingestion of our extensive library of footage. Additionally, with the built in effect-controls, I could quickly resize our many different formats. 

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

Dulowski: In a way, every scene proves a bit challenging in the sense that you think you have a few scenes figured out, then when you revisit down the road, you see new changes to make and were shocked that you didn’t notice them before. 

But the most difficult scene to cut was the night club, which is also the longest scene of the film. It wasn’t initially clear how to edit this scene as it’s a pivotal moment for the main character, Dakota. Originally, we concealed too much in the edit that viewers didn’t comprehend and missed some character connections. After feedback screenings, we realized that we needed to spell out a few key points to direct the viewers more. For a scene with such careful tension building, it took a few iterations before the scene worked seamlessly. 

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? 

Dulowski: Throughout the editing process, I realized that the essence of a scene unfolds more quickly than the necessity to play out every detail. This newfound understanding has enriched my perspective on storytelling dynamics, offering a deeper insight into how the core elements of a scene can play out in the edit. Tendaberry is a very special film and I’m so grateful that it was the first feature I edited.

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