Tag Archives: Film editing

Sought After Editor Aijia Li: A Master of the Cut

Aijia working on a new upcoming feature film.jpg

No matter how powerful the actors’ performances, how brilliant the director, or how adept the cinematographer, the film that audiences ultimately see is only as good as its editor. When tens to hundreds of hours of footage reach the editor’s desk, the success of the film is in their hands. Like a conductor who turns the unbridled chaos of an orchestra into the most beautiful of symphonies, a great editor can create a timeless masterpiece from a million disparate pieces, and that is exactly what editor Aijia Li accomplishes with every project she takes on.

Hailing from Changchun in northeast China, Aijia developed a passion for film and photography when she was just a teen. She spent her youth hungrily absorbing every movie she could get her hands on. By the time she reached college she’d accumulated a huge collection of movies, and was falling more in love with filmmaking with each passing day.

“I’ve had a passion for telling stories since I was a kid, and then I started writing stories and novels. But film has always been my spiritual food,” Aijia recalled. “In junior high, I spent all my allowance on DVDS, and now my parents still have a few boxes of my collection in the house.”

It was during college that Aijia seriously began experimenting with creating and editing her own films. She discovered just how crucial the editor’s job was to the overall process and realized that she had a natural aptitude for the delicate and often-arduous job. But editing films was not just something she was good at — it was something she loved. As an editor, Aijia was able to work hand-in-hand with the director to shape and define the story as they envisioned it. It’s not much of a stretch to liken her role to that of a midwife, guiding the film through the last critical stages before it enters the world.

“Film can [only] be film because of editing. A good editor can save the director’s life. I think in the digital age, the editor as the director’s closest partner may become more and more important,” Aijia explained. “The relationship between the director and the editor is like a marriage. After they finish shooting the film, the director spends more time with the editor than their own family. A good director understands that the film is the editor’s work. Before editing, what the director has is only the raw material.”

Editor Aijia Li
Film poster for “The Moon Also Rises”

Nowhere is the power of that partnership between director and editor more evident than in the quality of Aijia’s work. Time and again she faithfully executes the director’s vision, blurring the line between art and science with equal measures of calculated efficiency and creative instinct. The 2018 drama “The Moon Also Rises” is a perfect example of Aijia’s unparalleled editorial prowess. Simultaneously moving and thought-provoking, “The Moon Also Rises” is an existential exploration of the impacts that people have on the lives of those around them, and the lasting traces they leave when they’re gone.

“This film is different from any other film I’ve edited,” Aijia said. “In the process of cross-editing, the difference between the images and the proportion of the frame gives the audience a strong sense of the drama’s conflict… The director of this film is a pure artist.”

Faced with the daunting challenge of creating a final product that lived up to director Yao Yu’s lofty expectations, Aijia’s work on “The Moon Also Rises” was a trial by fire. The resulting film is a testament to both her technical expertise and keen creative instincts. Impressed by the film’s concept and execution, judges at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival included “The Moon Also Rises” in the festival’s 2018 lineup of screenings.

Aijia had already cultivated a stellar reputation as an editor prior to “The Moon Also Rises.” Among her earlier works was the inspiring 2016 film “Short Term” about the unlikely paternal bond a homeless man develops with a young boy he finds living on the streets. Written, directed and edited by Aijia Li, “Short Term” explores the perennially-relevant subjects of poverty and racism and the impacts they have on the most vulnerable members of society.

“As the editor, the only way to make this kind of emotional story great is to edit by heart. I understand the characters, I feel them…,” Aijia explained of her process. “Another thing is, less is more. I don’t cut too much when there’s a heavy, emotional moment. I hold it. Because good editing is not just about skill and it’s not an editor’s showreel. It’s a story.”

Aijia Li
Film Poster for “Short Term”

That philosophy guided Aijia’s work throughout the editing process, and when critics and audiences watched “Short Term” it was obvious she had a gift possessed by few others in the field. The film immediately caught the attention of festival judges across the country. In addition to winning top prize at the 2016 Women’s Independent Film Festival, “Short Term” was also a semi-finalist at both the Los Angeles CineFest and the Hollywood Screening Film Festival. It was also an official selection at the International Family Film Festival, the Lady Filmmakers Festival and the Glendale International Film Festival — where it was also nominated for two additional awards.

Among some of Aijia Li’s other masterful works as an editor is the recent film “Float,” which earned multiple prestigious awards from the 2017 European Independent Film Awards, Hollywood Film Competition, London Independent Film Awards and the LA Shorts Awards, and Pantha Rahman’s dramatic film “Deceased,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Bucharest International Film Festival, Indian Peacock International Film Festival and more.

glendale film festival
Editor Aijia Li at the Glendale Film Festival for the film “Short Term”

“I have encountered many editors during my time in the film industry, but Aijia was my only choice to work on this film. Aijia has the best feel for editing out of any professional I have ever worked with,” admits “Deceased” director Pantha Rahman.

“I was incredibly impressed by the high level of emotion she added to my film… Ms. Li’s unlimited knowledge and understanding of editing was evident in every single cut she made… Her vast knowledge and wealth of experience were essential in building the film’s narrative structure… Without Ms. Li as the editor of ‘Deceased,’ the engaging visuals and sentimentally resonant narrative would have never come together, making me forever grateful for her work on the film.”

Editor Aijia Li
Film Poster for “Deceased”

A great editor understands a film’s story and characters as well as they understand the technical aspects of the job. In many ways a film is a lot like an unassembled puzzle when the editor’s job begins. Only, this puzzle includes hundreds of extra pieces and there is no picture to reference. The only way to know where the pieces go and what they’ll form is to fully understand what the director’s vision is and how to bring it to life. In the simplest terms, that’s what Aijia Li does — from thousands of scrambled, disparate pieces, she builds stories with the power to move audiences to laughter or tears.

 

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Finessing the Footage: Film Editor Oliver Harwood

Oliver Harwood
Film Editor Oliver Harwood

Like a well trained surgeon, award-winning film editor Oliver Harwood’s ability to carefully cut together media is as inspired as it is precise. A storyteller at his core, Harwood’s impressive body of work spans widely across a decade, boasting perfect examples of both skill and art in dozens of films, including the multi-award winning “Waste” and the international sensation “A Meditation,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of more than 25 film festivals across the globe.

Originally from Northamptonshire, UK, Harwood is far from just a “set of hands” in the editing room. In the industry, Harwood’s strong ability to work symbiotically with the director is a coveted talent, setting him apart from other editors who let their own personal style get in the way of the director’s vision.

“As an editor, I feel that my personal taste is a secondary concern to the director’s intention,” he remarks. “I like to think that my personal style is to have no personal style. In other words, it’s about bringing out the personal style of the director. If an editor’s primary concern is to impose an intrinsic style on every project they do, they should quit editing and be a director,” he says with a smile.

Film Poster for "Waste"
Film Poster for “Waste”

And acclaimed director Justine Raczkiewicz of “Waste” may agree. Her film, edited magnificently by Harwood, took home many awards through a large circuit, including Best Female Director at the Hollyshorts Film Festival and a Finalist at the USA Film Festival, as well as multiple Official Selections for festivals including the Brooklyn Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Fantasia Film Festival and more.

“Waste” tells the story of Roger, a shy and reclusive man working at a medical waste disposal facility. In the film, Roger becomes infatuated with his roommate Olive, a woman who models herself after a 1950’s housewife and seems to be more interested in pursuing the latest culinary fads rather than finding a mate.

Roger finds her quirkiness endearing, but learns one night over dinner that they have slightly variant food preferences (read: Olive eats human beings.) Roger politely dines with Olive, apprehensively crunching a sauteed human tongue which she has procured from a website selling ‘the discarded tongues of Buddhist monks who cut them out to be closer to God.’

Awoken now to a grizzly new world, Roger must balance his feelings for her with this dark new insight into who she is. After nodding off at work, Roger experiences a series of disturbing and strange dreams which ultimately lead him to confess his love for Olive.

Roger arrives, flowers in hand, to find Olive in a ball on the floor. She has severed her own toes and, barely hanging onto consciousness, she tells Roger that she’s tried to saute them. The picture changes to a black screen, and credits roll over audio of Olive instructing Roger on how to perfectly cook the toes, and Roger seems to be obeying.

Harwood does a brilliant job telling an unsettling love story using carefully selected lingering shots and impeccably timed cuts. At times, thanks to the editing technique, the viewer’s own levels of discomfort seem to perfectly match what the characters are feeling in that moment.

Harwood articulates his method best, explaining that “typically, a scene would start with a wide shot to establish the space, and then gradually work into the close ups, where the best performances are usually found… But with this one, we decided to start some [scenes] with a closeup shot, and then work our way to the wider shots. This helped reinforce the weird and uncomfortable tone of the story by creating ambiguity to some of the physical spaces used in the film.”

In film, when genres are combined, it takes an experienced, intelligent, and talented editor to tell the story correctly, without playing up one genre more than the other, and Harwood delivers this impeccably.

“When a film chooses to explore darker subject matters with a comical slant to it, the story must remain engaging enough to stand on its own and not be overridden by the themes,” he explains. “Otherwise, the overall feeling of the piece can be left feeling a bit pretentious without a strong emotional narrative to back it up. I tried to remove all thoughts of deeper meaning and intellectual subtext when editing and focused on the emotional through lines that guide the audience.”

Film Poster for "A Meditation"
Film Poster for “A Meditation”

Able to get into the minds of all types of genres, Harwood also displays exceptional work in the film “A Meditation,” which took home six awards from festivals including the MedFF and the Red Corner Film Festival, and screened as an Official Selection of the BLOW-UP International Arthouse Film Festival, Eindhovens Film Festival, Lisbon Film Festival, Oaxaca Film Festival, Kansas City Film Festival, and the San Francisco Black Film Festival to name a few.

This film, on the surface, does not appear to have much going on in terms of the story itself. “It revolves around a man who seems to be ambling through a particularly aimless point in his life,” Harwood describes. “He has no quest, no great adversity, just a vague sense of anxiety that comes with anyone who fears the existential dread of an empty weekend. He meditates, feeds his cat and browses the news, everything done without any particular enthusiasm or resentment.  He seems to be just passing the time.”

The subject is awoken from a midday nap to his doorbell ringing; a young woman wants to buy a DVR he listed on Craigslist earlier that day. She wants to ensure that the machine works, so she follows him into the house to test it out. While in the bedroom, she notices marijuana on the dresser and asks, rather bluntly, if he’d like to smoke. They do, laughing together, and then the woman suggests they take off their clothes and get into bed. The initial awkwardness wears off quickly, and the pair embrace each other warmly until they are interrupted by the woman’s ringing cellphone. Her boyfriend has called, and she has to go.

She leaves, her warmth and presence from moments before replaced with a curt, aloof awkwardness, and the male subject goes about his daily routine of nothingness.

Harwood leans into the simplistic tone of the film by making similar editing choices at the top of the movie. “Because this is rather a simple story, I felt as if the editing of the piece should reflect that. Before the girl arrives, nothing of much significance seems to be happening, though there is a heavy emphasis on establishing a mood and tone,” explains Harwood. “To be able to do this effectively and as economically as possible is something that I believe is vital to a story of this kind.”

However, when the film moves in a more sexually explicit direction and the characters start to open up to each other, the shots became much closer and more personal.

Harwood says, “It was this break in style that influenced me to shift from a rather ‘matter of fact’ and simple editing practice to more abstract and emotionally driven choices.”

The shift is seamless; the viewer cannot quite put their finger on what has happened, but rather they can suddenly feel a change in energy, and this is the mark of a very, very good editor.

“Outside of the technical skill to handle the physical editing of the film, Oliver brought his unique and specific talents and approach to storytelling which is why I selected him to be the editor,” says Joe Petricca, the director of “A Meditation.” “He has great taste in and knowledge of film.”

The director and cinematographer may get all the coverage in the world, but when it comes down to it, how those shots are carefully stitched together bares some serious weight in regard to the final outcome and impact of the project. Oliver Harwood is undoubtedly a gem amongst ediors in the industry, and his refined and invaluable skill set is truly an asset both to the industry and to audiences worldwide.