“To be a filmmaker born in the ’90s or later, and to not know how to edit—to me, it’s like you’re just not accepting what filmmaking is,” says editor and writer-director Dustin Waldman. “That’s part and parcel of the thing. On my movies, I work with another editor—I don’t think you should do it alone. But I do think you should have some understanding of what, elementally, that is.” And yet, “editing is a lonely, brutal process, so I have mixed feelings about it.” That ambivalence bubbles under Never Fuggedaboutit, which premiered at this year’s SXSW and is now streaming on NoBudge. Set in the post-9/11 era, Never grounds itself in a dismal building housing a low-rent editing facility, where Michael (Nicholas Nazmi, himself an editor making his acting debut, and also a producer and co-editor on this film) toils on the dullest jobs, like making sure end credits are correct. When a colleague is tasked with editing out a fragmentary shot of the Twin Towers from the main credits of The Sopranos prior to the new season’s premiere, he rebels in a fit of patriotism and Michael lands the job—but at what price to his integrity?
Executed with the visual language of a paranoid thriller, Never’s dark comic tone is given bite and novelty by its extremely specific premise, which sprang from Waldman’s belated first viewing of The Sopranos. He was, he says, generally “very resistant to watching any prestige TV. Then, during COVID, I finally watched The Sopranos all the way through. And it’s, like, the great American novel.” That said, “When we saw season four, I noticed that the [Twin Towers] shot was gone. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it felt like to push that [delete] button at that time. From all my experience as an editor and being in some operations that are depressing and soul-sucking, I could see the situation immediately and couldn’t help but imagine myself in it.”
Waldman grew up in south Florida, where as a child he made movies with his friends. “I was the only one that knew how to use the computer,” he reflects, “so, I became the editor of our filmmaking group, and that was when I started to realize what filmmaking was.” He went to Florida State University for film and started working as an assistant editor after graduation. Since then, his credits include the 30 for 30 short Deerfoot of the Diamond, Jess Kohl’s documentary short A Mouthful of Petrol (a best short winner at Camerimage) and working as one of several editors on Jessica Beshir’s Faya Dayi, which “opened an actual spiritual feeling in me. Working on that movie has left a huge mark on my approach.”
As a director, Waldman’s previous work included The Terrible One, which he describes as a “failed narrative short. The experience made me sick of straightforward narrative and made me want to explore other ways of making film.” He wrote Never Fuggedaboutit in 2020 and shot it in 2021. The film’s period-accurate edit bay equipment was sourced by Waldman: “I bought six CRT monitors off some guys in Long Island for a hundred bucks. For a month or two in advance, I was just on eBay every night buying stuff.” Though he was 11 during the year the film takes place, Waldman was able to accurately reconstruct the era’s tech, in part “from being an edit nerd,” in part from talking to editors who worked at the time and, most particularly, by drawing upon a documentary, still uploaded to Star Wars’s official YouTube channel, on the making of The Phantom Menace. Waldman enthusiastically compares Jon Shenk’s The Beginning: Making Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace to Burden of Dreams: “It’s an amazing piece of film history. George Lucas, he’s a goofball, but he is living 10 years in the future. There’s an amazing scene where he’s working with the editor, and the editor’s getting so pissed that he’s having him composite shots together—it’s something that’s so common now, and the editor just can’t.” Waldman’s forthcoming work includes a short he edited for journalist David Gauvey Herbert and a feature script he’s developing “about this very self-important artist couple. They try to steal back a sculpture the girl made from her ex-boyfriend and get caught up in a bizarre cultic ritual around his mom’s death.”—Vadim Rizov/Image: Drew Angle