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“We Allow Each Person to Identify with Any or All of the Main Characters”: Editor Adam Dicterow on In the Summers

One man in a green shirt and his two daughters are laughingIn the Summers

Director Alessandra Lacorazza’s In the Summers follows two sisters who, over several formative summers, visit their caring but tempestuous father in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The cast includes Lio Mehiel, who won an acting prize at last year’s Sundance for Mutt, as well as Sasha Calle and René Pérez Joglar (also known as Residente, co-founder of the rap outfit Calle 13).

Adam Dicterow, whose previous credits include the aforementioned Mutt, as well as Dear Evan Hansen, and HBO’s Succession, served as editor. Below, he talks about why the film moves through different styles and recalls the editing room deliberations about the film’s ending.

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?

Dicterow: My name was put in the hat by a good friend/fellow editor Nicholas Ramirez, who then connected me with Daniel Tantalean, one of the film’s producers. I read the script a few times and it got better and better with each read. I especially related to the family dynamics—I have three half-sisters, and while growing up, I mostly saw them for short periods of time during the summer or over holidays—and to the theme of complex nostalgia.

I met the director, Alessandra, via Zoom, and we immediately hit it off. We discussed films we both liked, including Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold) and La Ciénega (Lucrecia Martel), which she had cited as a tonal reference. Alessandra had liked Mutt (the last film I edited) as well, which helped (and in the end, Lio Mehiel and I ended up working on another film together, which is such a pleasure!)

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?

Dicterow: Making the edit room a safe space is always my first priority on every project. Another goal was to honor Alessandra’s vision and her script, which was very much inspired by her childhood. I wanted to make sure she felt supported in facilitating the film’s growth and evolution. In our initial discussions, we discussed that there would be a lot of experimentation with structure within the summers, especially in determining which character would be the protagonist for each chapter of the story. Alessandra was an incredible partner in this journey. I truly admired her willingness to completely rework or cut scenes, even if they were drawn directly from, or inspired by, true events.

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

Dicterow: We used scene cards, which ended up being incredibly helpful. Initially, the script had five summers, but we combined two summers during the editing process. Within each summer, we made significant changes to the scene order, both to build tension and to guide character development. The style of editing varied throughout the film, including but not limited to docu-style, intercut, and longer static shots. The film uses these different styles to demonstrate the shift from youthful innocence to a deeper, more reflective and (at times) uncomfortable understanding.

We had one feedback screening, and solicited notes from various editors, filmmakers and non-filmmakers (shout out to the non-profit professionals who provided valuable advice, including my wife!). They were all super helpful and guided the edit towards picture lock. Working alongside producer Alex Dinelaris was also essential in finding the rhythm, moving scenes around and threading tension/expectation throughout the film.

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

Dicterow: I had the privilege of being interviewed last year, and I still stand by my previous response. After going to Tisch undergrad, I actually first found work as a dubroom assistant at the now-infamous Weinstein Company. I then became a postproduction assistant and worked my way up to a union apprentice editor. I spent a ton of time around assistant editors, editors, directors and the postproduction community at large. Through a combination of furious notetaking, absorbing wisdom from those cutting rooms, and editing shorts on the side, I landed a position working for Nick Houy (on HBO’s The Night Of), who then connected me with Anne McCabe, and the rest was history! In addition to the two aforementioned incredible editors, I’m inspired by the work of (in no particular order): Dede Allen, Paul Hirsch, Dylan Tichenor, Verna Fields, Sam Pollard, Yang Jin-mo, the Coen brothers, Jacob Schulsinger, Alan Heim and more!

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

Dicterow: Avid Media Composer—it’s still my comfort zone and I enjoy working with it on most features. We also used DaVinci Resolve for dailies (which were processed by our incredible assistant editor, Angie Rodriguez) and some Adobe After Effects.

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

Dicterow: The way the end of the film was scripted was very different from the cut that audiences at Sundance are seeing. Beware of spoilers below!

The scripted ending was initially written as an intercut sequence, switching between Vicente (the dad) and his two older daughters (Violeta and Eva). It had a definitive ending. It was cut and recut, over and over (and over). After consulting with many filmmakers and audience members, we decided that the ending should have less intercut and dialogue. It’s also now more ambiguous and open-ended, which allows room for hope, individual interpretation and agency.

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

Dicterow: VFX temps were done mostly in Avid, with some done in After Effects by our AE Angie. They were super important for our sense of timing. For example, during the stargazing scene, our characters were pointing out constellations in the sky, and we needed to adjust accordingly for eyeline and placement. We also used a bunch of split screens and speed effects that were important in changing the pacing of certain moments.

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?

Dicterow: Now that the process is over, I’m proud of the film’s ability to resonate so differently to different viewers. By shifting the perspective between the three protagonists throughout the film and omitting certain details of the backstory, we allow each person to identify with any or all of the main characters. The Dutch Vanitas-inspired still lifes that Alessandra used to separate each of the four chapters encapsulate this concept. These meditative wide shots full of details that we see throughout the story allow our eyes to wander, and challenge viewers to find their own object of focus and meaning.

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