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“HIGHER GROUND” | director, Vera Farmiga

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Sunday, Jan. 23, 12:00 pm — Eccles Theatre]

There was a steady drumbeat of “gotchas” on the Higher Ground adventure. From my Clearblue Easy stick test reading “positive” at the same time as financing magically appeared, and then hurdling through preproduction before my baby bump emerged, to our first day when the catering guy stole our craft-service food. He just didn’t company move when we did. Or rather he did, but in the opposite direction. Higher Ground was infested with shockers.

However, I’d have to say the biggest startle in all the process for me personally… was editing. Not to put aside my cherished screenwriter, darling cinematographer, or treasured actors, but on this particular film feat, the most sizeable surprise was that editing perhaps IS the art of filmmaking.

Disconcerted, I’ve often been approached at a premiere by someone who seems to know me inside out, who knows my name when I don’t know theirs, who eyeballs me with such depth and omniscience, so I feel as though I’m standing naked in their presence. This person usually engages me in conversation with a slightly sheepish gaze as though we’ve spent thousands of hours together laughing, crying, screaming at each other like past lovers when all is forgiven and forgotten and there’s a bond of wisdom and growth. Except that I don’t know who in Cripe’s sake this person is and I’m not necessarily feeling it the way they are. And then I ask, “Do we know each other?” And they reply, “I’m your editor.”

It was my first time at the rodeo, editing the film. I never realized how emotional the process would be. I expected a mechanical cut-and-paste job. Actors are indubitably banned from the editing suite, rightly so. God forbid one of my actors entered the room in a hot-blooded moment of decision; they’d have garnered a pie in their face. The agony, the rage, the victory and delight! Butchering beautiful moments and full scenes, diminishing exquisite secondary characters in order to push plot along… anguish! Repairing useless performances with a snip of the scissors… triumph! Editing the lead actress when she is yourself… a maddening coin toss! I have Temporomandibular joint disorder (aka TMJ) from nervously chewing 400 pieces of Choward’s lavender-scented gum to mitigate nerves. I might’ve even sucked my toddler’s pacifier on occasion.

After working so intimately with my beloved editor Collen Sharp, I’ve a newfound respect for the craft. She or he is the artist without whom a film could hardly come into being, the one in the production who has it in her power to mold, improve, and even recreate the story. She brings the film to life by bringing life to the film.

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