“Editing is not a technical process. It’s an artistic process. It’s about storytelling. What editors do is the final rewrite of the script.”
-Jack Tucker (editor of “Shogun” and “Winds of War)
From selecting the best shots from hours of footage to creating seamless transitions and deciding the pacing for the story, a film’s editor truly does determine the way a story plays out on screen; and nobody know this better than film editor Fei Zheng.
Zheng explains, “A bad structure will ruin whole story– it will make the story boring, unclear and you will quickly lose the audience’s attention. The structure is really important to the story because it is the basic element that helps the audience to understand a story.”
Originally from Hangzhou, China, Zheng began her career directing and editing the popular Chinese television series “Ye You Shen” and “Xiao Yaer,” which aired weekly on the national station Hangzhou Television. After carving out a strong reputation for herself as an exponentially talented and sought after editor in China, Zheng moved to the U.S. where she took her skills to the next level and completed an MFA in Motion Pictures and Television Editing from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.
Zheng’s experience spans the gamut– from working on television series, where she had a little more than three days to deliver the episodes from the first day of shooting, to commercials such as the recently released Alpine Dairy “K-Drama” and “Marble Game” advertisements, and music videos for Madelaine Minx’ songs ‘Rabbi of Rap,’ ‘Sushi’ and ‘Feminem,’ as well as editing a multitude of narratives, Fei Zheng has clearly done it all. But not all animals are created equal, and some projects are more complicated than others– and that’s where Zheng’s skill stands out.
“In a large crew, the shooting process is very complicated and there are always some oversights. In this case, the editors use some ‘tricks’ to make the scene play out on the screen more smoothly. Sometimes, I prefer to watch the film that I did without sound, and pay attention to it’s feeling for story the first. Then I can figure out the problems concerning sound, and select the right music to match the scene,” explains Zheng.
“I have become more and more familiar with the environment of filmmaking, and the significance of both image and sound since I first began editing. Editing is the second creation of the film, and for me, the interesting part is helping to create a better story, which is based on the script.”
Anyone who’s Zheng’s work in the realm of narrative films would be hardpressed to call her anything but a true artist. Her work on the thriller film “She,” which was released last year and chosen as an Official Selection of the QFest New Jersey LGBT Film & Digital Media Festival where it was nominated for an award, is a perfect example of how Zheng is able to come in and rewrite the story with her edits.
“She” director Yuxin Zhang explains, “For ‘She,’ Fei Zheng was both the lead editor and the color corrector on the film. She made quite a lot of changes with edits. She reorganized the footage in a way that made the plot more compact and the overall story more attractive. She definitely drew out and established the anticipatory suspense elements within the film with her edits, and those are important for any thriller film.”
Starring Nika Burnett from the two-time Golden Globe Award winning series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the four-time Primetime Emmy nominated series “Castle,” Lissa Keigwin from the series “Wives with Knives” and the film “Love Pyar Whatever,” and Sabrina Ranellucci from the film “The Selected,” Zhang’s film “She” portraits a twisted love story between two young women with one of them harboring a dark secret that may prove to be fatal in the end.
In it’s final cut, the film pulls viewers in from the opening scene and keeps them guessing what is going to happen next; and when it finally comes to a close, audiences are given an ending that few would have expected. But as it is with most productions, the final cut went through several transformations on Zheng’s editing screen before turning into the powerful piece that screened at festivals across the country.
“The problem I met with ‘She’ was that the structure and emotion were not strong in the rough cut, so I changed the order of the scenes, which made the story more meaningful and easy to understand. After I speeded up the pacing, the emotional intensity also became much stronger than before,” explains Zheng.
She adds, “I love editing thriller and suspense films. The challenge is to create suspense and attract the audience’s attention. I am interested in creating puzzles with the story and showing hints but not exposing all the elements… leaving enough space to give audiences a breath to think.”
Aside from the actors’ performances, what keeps viewers engaged throughout the film is the way Zheng chose to sequence the shots for each scene, inserting close-ups and slowing down the footage to help us connect to the emotions of the individual characters where necessary, and speeding up the footage when things become intense. Zheng’s work as the editor of the thriller film “She” was paramount to creating the markedly high-paced energy of the story that keeps us on the edge of our seats.
For someone who began their career editing television shows, Fei Zheng has quickly become a strong narrative film editor whose work is creating quite a buzz in the U.S.; and we can’t wait to see what she lends her editing wand to next!