Xiaodan Yang knows being a film editor isn’t always the most glamorous job in the industry. When she goes to a film premiere, she will see the cast and crew and feel like she knows them so well after seeing their faces on her screen for the past few months. However, it is often the premiere where they first meet her. Editing isn’t a front-and-centre job, and often involves many isolated hours going through the same five seconds of footage trying to decide how best to use it. That being said, she absolutely loves what she does.
“I enjoy every moment during editing. I’m glad to be a participant and witness of the whole journey. Editing is my tool to communicate with audiences. It is how I put my emotions into the story. When people connect with the film, that’s my favorite moment, and I know I’ve done my job,” she said.
Born and raised in China, Yang has now taken the world by storm. Her work on films such as Witness and Sixteen received international recognition, and audiences can expect the same from her upcoming films Kayla and Summer Orange, which makes its world premiere at the renowned Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner in May. All those she collaborates with not only appreciate what she is capable of, they admire it.
“Xiaodan is a very talented editor. We know each other because of film Snatching Sword (a.k.a Wang Shan). Snatching Sword is an action film, and over half of the scenes are action scenes. As we all know, editing action scenes is like a big trial for an editor. When Xiaodan delivered her first cut, I saw her talents instantaneously. She is sensitive to the pace of the film and knows how to use sound design to tell a story. I think that’s really important for a film editor. What’s more, she has a very collaborative attitude and the ability of responding promptly, which make her an excellent team player. My other crew members and I all enjoy working with her,” said Rachel Zhou, Director and Writer.
One of Yang’s most impressive works was her film It’s Not Just About a Film. After spending the beginning of 2017 editing the project, it premiered on May 13th, and then made its way to several film festivals. Yang herself was awarded with Best Editing at the Top Shorts Film Festival and the Award of Merit in Editing at the Accolade Global Film Festival. Needless to say, the film could never have seen the success that it did without her.
“It still feels so exciting, knowing my work was recognized on a global scale. Winning those two awards, it means so much to me. To be honest, this is not that kind of regular ‘Hollywood film’. The way we decided to tell the story breaks the routine. I’m so glad there are people that can understand our intention and like it,” she said.
It’s Not Just About a Film tells the story of Max, an actor. To get the lead of a film, Max seduces and has an affair with Cameron, the lead actress and wife of the film’s investor Fabrizio. However, as the shooting goes on, Max realizes that Fabrizio is a violent person with a gangster background. Max wants to end the affair but finds himself unable to break away from it. It is a pretty stylish story, ironic and funny, but also extremely suspenseful.
“Working on It’s Not Just About a Film was a very creative process. The director and I had reached a consensus that we had to break the rules. It’s a wild story that needs wild ways to edit. That’s actually not an easy thing to do, but I was ready to try. It was like a brand-new experience for me. When I was working in the editing suite with Chen, the Director, he always encouraged me to try whatever felt good. I could forget about any editing rules in my mind, and it made for an amazing experience. I still feel so lucky that I got to be part of it. All the cast and crew were amazing,” said Yang.
Knowing he wanted Yang on board right away, the director sent her the script. At the time, it was not even completed. The first time she read the script, the story impressed the editor a lot. It was completely different from the films she had edited previously, and Yang is always looking for something new and unique challenges to get her creative juices flowing.
The film follows three different timelines all happening at the same time and includes several dream sequences. These three timelines revolve around the leading character in the story, reality, his dream and the film within the film. This makes for entertaining watching, but immensely challenging editing. With so much going on, Yang knew she had to put the scenes together in not just a creative way, but also one that was logical for audiences not to get lost and confused in the different storylines. She spent a good deal of time on the first cut. Almost every scene in the film had a different location, or even different time and space. Therefore, Yang decided to use different aspect ratios to present different timelines. However, after a few cuts, she still had the concern as to whether or not the audience could understand everything. She then tried to simplify the story by losing minor details, which made the film more relaxed and funny. Yang’s understanding of storytelling proved vital.
“Since the structure of this story was so complicated, editing played an even more important role. I kept reminding myself about one thing, “What am I trying to convey to the audience here?”. Once I was sure about the answer, every decision I made should serve this purpose. Otherwise, it’s easy to get off track under this situation. That’s why my work is particularly essential for this project. I had the responsibility to control the direction of the film, and at the same time to make it interesting,” Yang described.
In addition to editor, Yang took on the role of post-production coordinator for the film. As an editor, she cares about the sound and color correction a lot, and she always sticks to the end until everything is done, making her the perfect fit for the position. She also likes to give her input to the sound designer and colorist, knowing what would work best while editing.
Undoubtedly, Yang’s contributions to It’s Not Just About a Film made the film what it is today. Her commitment to the project was evident with every decision she made. However, the awards and accolades are not important to this editor, who remains humble. For Yang, she just focuses on the story she is telling.
“As the director said, “It’s a story about dream and subjective perception of the world.” And there is always a saying that “dream is the reflection of reality”. I don’t know if there’s scientific evidence to prove it, but it makes sense to me. Based on this concept, we developed this wild, dramatic, even absurd story. For me, it’s fantastic. It stimulated my full potential as an editor,” she concluded.
Be sure to check out Yang’s outstanding work in It’s Not Just About a Film.
By Sean Desouza