In our new series of articles, we will shine the spotlight on masters of sleight of hand, men and women in the industry whose work is largely visual, but nevertheless work heavily with sound and music on a daily basis: The cutters of our favourite trailers, teasers and also feature films. Today we begin with highlighting the magnificent work of award-winning UK freelance editor Mellissa Lo.
Showcasing a superstar’s chequered life in 90 seconds: Asif Kapadia’s “Amy”
Let’s start things right off with the mesmerizing 2015 Teaser for the Oscar-winning documentary Amy; which distills impressions about the many facets of the tragically short life of six-time Grammy award-winning singer Amy Winehouse in just a minute and half:
Working full-time at London trailer house Intermission Film at the time, Mellissa collaborated closely with Intermission’s Producer Mark Lautman, as well as Motion Graphics Artist Dave Bergin on the teaser. Inspired by the international teaser for The Social Network, the entire project was a very complicated one. Every piece of footage that you see had to be individually cut and brought in line: “I had to make a timeline that was entirely footage of what I wanted people to see in the background, as well as cutting the main cut,” says Mellissa. Every little detail had to be laid out precisely so that Motion Graphics Artist Dave Bergin, could then get to work accordingly: “Our client Altitude Film was quite specific about what they wanted to see, also I was very adamant in how big certain image clips should be. Dave was fantastic in deciphering all of my timecodes. Everything was intercut and thus it was a long process.”
In the context of such a complicated project like Amy, Mellissa also stressed how important it is to have clear structure as an editor:
A lot of people think that editing is all creative – but it’s not. I always find that the more organised you are especially at the start of your edit – breaking down all your footage, labeling everything, making sure that your project is coherent – will then help you in the long run.
The hard work definitely paid off. The teaser for Amy earned Intermission and Mellissa a Screen Award for “Trailer of the Year”, as well as three nominations at the Golden Trailer Awards, plus an additional one for the campaign’s 30 Second TV Spot.
Condensing a complex story in short form: Omer Fast’s “Remainder”
Another more recent project of Mellissa’s, also at Intermission, was rather intricate right from the pages of its script (and indeed the pages of its source material): The Omer Fast helmed adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s critically acclaimed thriller Remainder. It tells the story of a man who uses the financial compensation he receives from an accident, which resulted in him losing most of his memories, to re-enact parts of his vaguely recollected life prior to the incident. But if that was the whole story, The Hollywood Reporter wouldn’t have called it “a more cryptic trip into the Twilight Zone” after the film premiered at last year’s London Film Festival.
Mellissa found the teaser “exceptionally fun to cut because of the sound. The music was so different as well. It was a really tricky story to tell and so it had lots of options in which way to tell it. Therefore I read the book while I was cutting the trailer so that I could get my head around it a little bit more. It was all about trying to tell a complex story in the most coherent way that also keeps some of that mind bending experience; so that the audience knows what they are walking into. I really did enjoy that.”
You can watch the official UK trailer for Remainder below (in cinemas right now):
As in the trailer for Remainder, Mellissa mentions that she generally works “really heavily with sound. The type of edits I really enjoy include music editing and additional sound effects; as well as inserting little hidden sounds. So that when you watch it, you will hear it but, like subtle little hints, you do not automatically register what it is.”
A similarily confusing story she had to tell in Intermission’s Golden Trailer Award nominated Trailer for Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman: “It’s a very strange, surreal story which doesn’t make a lot of sense. You are constantly trying to understand what’s going on.” When watching it you will know instantly how difficult that must have been.
Mellissa has played the piano and violin for many years and you can sense her passion for music not only in the numerous music projects she has worked on in the past, but also in the TV Spot for John Mclean’s western, Slow West: “It was very rhythmic with a lot of repetition with sound effects and playing with the music. It was really fun to cut because the soundbed was really interesting and interpretive to do.” Related to the action packed TV Spot, Mellissa says about the other Golden Trailer Award nominated trailers she was fortunate to cut at Intermission for Monsters Dark Continent and Kill Command, that while she enjoys condensing complex stories in her trailers, she has always enjoyed cutting action in particular. A special challenge on these two projects was having these both low budget indie productions look like your next favourite Hollywood blockbuster: “What I liked about both projects was making them seem much larger than they were. Both were small budget, indie action but the brief from the client was, “We want to make it look like a big summer blockbuster action!” – and so we went all out with it. That was so fun to cut!”
Moving from trailer cuts into film edits: The story behind award-winning Sci-Fi short “Free Falling”
While thoroughly enjoying her trailer projects, Mellissa plans to to get more into long form editing. She has already won awards as both a producer and editor of her own short films. Having grown up with her father’s love for Blade Runner, Mellissa has a passion for Sci-Fi in general; and so every year she participates in a 48-hour competition with fellow filmmakers as one of the many opportunities she takes to tell her own stories.
She told me about one of her favourite shorts from the recent past: “I was particularly proud of Free Falling, a really simple shoot in my apartment and just lit well so that it looks like it was inside a booth.” Produced in only 48 hours, Free Falling ended up being amongst the Top 20 within all entries of Sci-Fi-London’s 48 Hour Film Challenge and won at The Wharf Academy Film Festival followed by being selected for the Nightpiece Film Festival (part of Edinburgh Fringe). After the successful festival run in the UK, it went overseas and was part of the selection at Portland Science Fiction Film Festivals.
You can watch the lovely short film Free Falling below:
Speaking about Free Falling led us to discussing Mellissa’s general beliefs with regards to filmmaking:
Free Falling is quite simple, but it had a good core story, which links with my beliefs that it does not necessarily matter how many visual effects you put into a film or how well it is shot etc. It could be shot on an iPhone but if your story is good then that is what is really gonna shine through. A good story is the core of any film and as an editor you are a storyteller first and foremost.
The invisible storyteller: Principles of a good editor
Delving deeper into editing techniques, Mellissa highlighted that “an editor can influence an audience by showing or not showing you something deliberately, so that you second-guess yourself. That is what makes a movie exciting. It is about tricking people, as bad as that sounds, but it is all about filling in some of the gaps. If you watch Psycho for example frame by frame, then that knife never touches her – it is never even close in the shower scene. It is all about the sound, the music and adding elements in that your brain fills in the rest. Editing is about how people’s eyes can deceive them.”
Rather similar to what many say about a good film score, Mellissa sees the strength of good editing in being invisible to the average viewer:
Mellissa also noted, that as an editor it can be very useful to keep the viewer’s eye in mind, especially when you are cutting a very fast trailer: “It’s about the geography of something on screen. If something is on the top left and you are cutting quite quickly, the next shot you want someone to see has to be roughly in the same area because that is where the eye is already.”
Concluding words: Tips for aspiring editors
Only a few years back, did Mellissa realise how passionate she was about editing, while doing her Bachelors in Creative Computing. She then really “fell into editing” when she decided to do her Masters in filmmaking (with a specialisation in editing) at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also very grateful to have afterwards learned under award-winning Editor and Creative Director, Joe French at Intermission.
Mellissa gravitates to a very hands-on approach to editing. Related to that, I would like to conclude this fractional presentation of Mellissa Lo’s projects and her perspectives on editing in general with a few tips from her to aspiring editors:
I’m a strong believer that filmmaking is all about borrowing and adapting. It is learning from the materials that are already out there. There are some fantastic films that have brilliant editing techniques, like Whiplash, Mad Max, Rear Window or Psycho. I also recommend watching Tony Zhou’s Youtube series Every Frame a Painting. Learn from others to mould into your own style. Additionally, apart from the technical aspect of the job, you need to learn about the creative as well. That is something that can’t be taught in a book or in a classroom, it is something you learn and develop when you go out and do it yourself. When I was first starting out and did not have an array of projects in my portfolio, I would just either go out and shoot stuff myself, or I would take existing footage and recut it myself. Only this way you can find your own style. Be determined and passionate as well, I really do believe that hard work and the willingness to always learn doesn’t go unnoticed.
Make sure to also check out other personal favourite project on Mellissa Lo’s official website littlemilli.com as well as on her Vimeo channel. If you consider Mellissa for an upcoming trailer, feature film or TV series project of yours, feel free to shoot her an email anytime.