Vishnu Perumal loves editing. In fact, he loves it so much that he is constantly challenging himself. Yes, he challenges himself to do better and better work on each project but it goes much further than this. He is constantly seeking out new ways of using editing in a production. He is vigilant is this approach. Sometimes a unique idea comes from pondering and sometimes simply by coincidence. You have to keep your eyes open in order to spot your opportunity and Perumal has his eyes wide open. The old adage “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” aptly applies to Perumal as he is constantly in search of differing ways to force himself to think outside the norm and how both he and the community view the role of an editor. Because of this, he often uses his work on smaller film productions to create an approach that he can access for larger ones. For this professional who has numerous award-winning productions vetting his abilities, complacency is a dirty word.
Something as mundane as listening to a friend describe a time when she accidentally hit the no tip button on her phone after getting a Lyft ride home sparked an idea for Vishnu. The discussion evolved into a debate on the virtues of tipping. Recognizing a universally relatable experience, Perumal decided to approach some of his fellow filmmakers and use it as a challenge to create a one-minute short. Vishnu would take a short story and condense it to a two act structure like that of a joke: setup and punchline. This was presented to a number of festivals that had a category for one minute films (like the Miami Short Film Festival). The film, titled Tipping Point, was a hit and proved that sometimes smaller is better.
The action of Tipping Point starts at a restaurant with a man and a woman in mid-conversation about the virtues of tipping. The man explains that he rarely tips, to which the woman begins to lecture him on the importance of tipping. The man begins to throw out scenarios on which no tipping may be fair, and mentions an outlandish one involving a horrible Lyft ride. Unbeknownst to him, she had experienced that exact same scenario and in the end reveals to have accidentally pressed the no tip button after sneezing. Comedy, conflict, and a surprise reveal at the end…all within one minute! The impact of the performances cannot be communicated (a trait it shares with full length feature films) by a simple description; yet, what stands out here is the idea that Perumal is on a staunch search for ways to hone his craft.
Vishnu confirms that even in a film this, being succinct is a virtue. He states, “Brevity is a useful tool in editing short films, especially comedic ones. As in “Sexcapades” [the award-winning series on which Vishnu served as editor], brevity was used in this film to cut out all unimportant aspects, lines, moments, etc. When a film is stripped clean of all the fat and the spine of the narrative is laid bare, it becomes easier to add on moments and embellishments. Unlike “Sexcapades,” this film did not have the luxury of adding awkward moments. It was solely focused on getting the joke out as cleanly and efficiently as possible.” In a revealing statement about his constant quest for improvement, Perumal mentions, “If the story and concept of a film is simple and straightforward enough, you will be able to cut that down to however short you want it to be. Thinking back now, I may have been able to trim this one-minute cut to an even shorter 30 second cut. This film was a really positive experience in my editing techniques and ability to focus on brevity. It has helped me identify how to trim the fat when editing pieces that seem too long winded or excessive.”
In a much darker subject matter, Vishnu utilized his talent on The Devil I Know. Inspired by a Jim Jones video (the infamous cult leader how led his followers of the People’s Temple to a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana) the film saw Perumal using his editing skills to present the life of Jones in an anachronous order. In an approach similar to “found footage” the whole aspect and style of editing was instrumental in underlining the plot of this film. The result was a visually challenging story with an engaging narrative, leaving audiences mesmerized.
The film begins with the preacher amongst his congregation in the beginning of his sermon. As the sermon ramps up we witness cuts to a later point in his life where he meets up with a woman from the street. The two leave to an undisclosed location and make love. It is revealed (when the action returns to the original setting) that the woman is actually one of his congregation members. When the woman attempts to leave, the preacher won’t let her. As she fights back, the preacher becomes violent and strangles her to death. As the preacher stands over her body, the words from his sermon play in the background.
Vishnu comments, “The intention was to juxtapose the preacher’s private life with his public life, creating an initial sense of confusion for the audience. I wanted the audience to look through this initial sense of confusion and come to realize and identify what it is they are watching. By presenting the events out of chronological order, I also wanted to emulate the message that things aren’t always what they seem as well as the main character’s duplicity. Having the film told out of order also enabled a significant reveal of the female character as one of the congregation members.”
For those who wish to excel and succeed, constant self-assessment is a requirement. The professionals who are very good are challenged by the industry; those who are great challenge themselves and the industry. It is apparent which side of this Vishnu Perumal resides on.