(By Kelly James)
An editor can be a director’s best friend. Those who fill either of these roles on a production give a nod of acknowledgement to this statement. Editor Shiman Hu is an in-demand professional in the film industry and a highly valued collaborator on many a film set due to her understanding of this symbiotic relationship. As with any mutually beneficial partnership, an altruistic approach serves the entire group best. Producer Li Yuan (who worked with Hu on the film “Plus Slash Minus +/-“) extends that idea professing, “Shiman is the kind of editor that every producer and director wants to work with. She understands the storyboard and the director’s vision thoroughly. She completes a film not just by telling the audience what’s literally in the screenplay but by emphasizing the director’s theme with her excellent ability to combine different camera movements visually with editing rhythm. It sets up a tone which is exactly as the director desired.” This praise is vetted by the recognition which “Plus Slash Minus +/-“ has received such as being an official selection at a variety of film festivals like the Los Angeles Film Awards, Gold Movie Awards Goddess Nike, Top Shorts, and the South Film and Arts Academy Festival. The story of a very real life drama (inspired by true events) and the skill with which it is presented have made it a favorite of pubic and peers.
As the title infers to astute viewers, “Plush Slash Minus +/-“ is about dealing with the unexpected. It’s the story of Cathy, a promising high school teen on the surface but one who has felt the challenges of her single parent home. Now faced with an unplanned pregnancy, she insists on giving birth to her child regardless of everyone’s objection. Endless fights escalate in her life causing more drama that has driven both mother and daughter to the edge. Cathy’s immature boyfriend, her mother’s temporary lover, everyone is passively involved in this drama but are resistant to witnessing the birth of a child and continuation of a perceived cycle of struggle.
Hu worked with the other filmmakers under the concept that the film be presented in a stark manner, almost more as a documentary than a piece of fiction. Refraining from beautiful, wide sweeping cinematography shots/framing and the use of vibrant color, the story appears visually natural and realistic to drive home the idea that in real life things are not always attractive and pleasant to deal with. An underage girl with an unexpected pregnancy who looks to be repeating the difficulties her own mother faced; it’s not the typical escapism or overly grand super heroism that seem to be most easily digested by many viewers. Cathy proposes to the father of her child that they leave town together. When he refuses, she returns home only to find cigarettes, alcohol, and an instable financial situation to greet her. Chaos is the pervasive theme throughout the film as this young woman faces a very real and all too common occurrence in life.
Many times, the effect that the director desires on screen is most accurately realized in the editing process. Shiman embraces the opportunity that her role affords her in films such as “Plus Slash Minus +/-.” In a pivotal scene that redirects Cathy’s attitude and feelings towards her own mother, Hu was able to intensify the action filmed for the scene. When the mother’s boyfriend knocks Cathy down, the matriarch leaps to her defense and brawls with him to protect her child. Shiman used effects during this scene with Cathy’s POV shots to exhibit that she had been stunned by the force of the boyfriend’s assault, conveying the intensity and true harm caused.
Music is often the guide which lights the path for the audience, making the emotional journey more accessible; Shiman is an enthusiastic fan of its use. When Cathy discovers she is pregnant by using a home pregnancy test in the bathroom, chaotic music accompanies her. After the fight scene while mother and daughter cry together, a sole piano melody magnifies the moment. At nearly every emotional turn, the editor has inserted the appropriate musical accoutrement to assist the viewer in fully experiencing the moment with the characters of this film.
While she doesn’t refuse work in big budget feature films, Hu relates that she finds film like this one to be among the most important for her to be a part of creating. She notes, “This is one of the most challenging types of film to create. I’ve never edited a film with such a realistic theme before. It’s closer to the theme of a documentary and discusses a hot topic which many people are concerned about. I needed to arrange the image language to tell a complete story. The film was made up of many shots and every shot had many takes, especially the fighting scenes. I tried a lot of different ways to show this scene until finally determining the most perfect way to present it. It’s sometimes a difficult process but this is where the expression and creativity comes in to play. This difficulty comes not from the special effects but in regards to the existing footage’s ability to tell the whole story and cutting through the shots to emphasize the sense of rhythm; it’s a very important part of the work and a part which I love.”
Editing truly allows one to bring a very big change to a movie. Without a great editor, even the most beautiful footage can be useless. The final presentation of a script is about eighty percent related to the editor. An editor is like a magician; they can transform even unsatisfactory footage into something quite meaningful. They can make bad shots disappear and unplanned ones seemingly congeal out of thin air. Magic hands like those of Shiman Hu are to be respected, valued, and congratulated.