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Filmmaker Interview with Maria Freire

Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson

Filmmaker Interview with Maria Freire
Filmmaker Interview with Maria Freire

You have an extensive background in Editing. What was it about editing you love?

Editing is such an important part of filmmaking and most people don’t really understand the process. At a certain point, I was once one of those people, but then I started to learn more about editing and I realised its creative beauty and the sense of responsibility you get from having to piece the film together.

I actually love the phrase “visible art, invisible artist”, because, above all, you edit a film for your love of the craft and not for recognition.

There is no better reward than the feeling of bringing a film to life. What I also find fascinating is that there is no right or wrong way to edit a scene. You should always allow yourself the freedom to play with the footage and encounter new ideas as you go. In the end, editing is the story’s biggest ally.

You recently worked on an award-winning short called A Strange Calm. Why did you want to work on that film?

I was first approached by the director, Austin Rourke, who I had worked with before. I connect with his stylized approach to filmmaking and his attention to detail when it comes to editing and sound design.

When I read the first draft, I knew it was a project I wanted to be a part of. It’s an interesting twist to the coming-of-age story. It felt like a twisted view on the idea of growing up too soon.

At the same time, we wanted the film to have the elements of the classic thriller, like building tension through pacing, jump scares and having an ominous score. Our goal was for the audience to have a fun experience while slowing uncovering the emotional layers by the end of the film.

Still from the film A Strange Calm featuring a young girl and boy on a cliff top.
Still from the film A Strange Calm

What were the challenges for you on A Strange Calm?

During the edit, the ending was the hardest part, those two last scenes. It was a huge moment in our character’s arc, and I was having a hard time believing we had nailed it. I had an initial cut of the scenes that was later discarded due to reshoots. We as a team didn’t think those scenes worked as the climax of our film. So, there were some trial and errors before I got something I was happy with. It took patience and a lot of restructuring to edit the ending, but it made a huge difference, especially with the final score added.

Another challenge, just like any other short film, was the tight schedule, especially after reshoots.

We decided to change the entire beginning and ending of our film, and we had less than a month until our scheduled picture lock day. It felt like an insane idea, knowing we had little time to accomplish a final edit, but it was something I knew had to happen to get our film to where we wanted. It was a risk we had to take. The director and I worked long hours to picture lock on time and I couldn’t be more proud of the result.

Still from the film A Strange Calm featuring a boy sitting on a dusty path and a car approaching behind him.
Still from the film A Strange Calm

What advice would you give to someone wanting to be an editor?

I think, in the filmmaking business, networking is very important. Meet other filmmakers who are interested in telling stories you connect with. It’s also important to establish relationships with professionals who are willing to help you achieve your goal. I found out that other editors are more open to recommending me to jobs than anyone else. However, other filmmakers can be helpful too if you let them know what you are looking for in a collaboration. Besides that, maintain a good work ethic and be respectful towards your crew.

A lot of times, directors will come to you for advice or simply to vent about problems. Help guide them through the creative process, and you’ll find yourself earning their trust.

That way, it’ll be easier to get your ideas out there. If you are working with a group you connect with, then you’ll have more space to express yourself creatively.

Why do you make movies?

That’s an existential question for a lot of filmmakers. I believe that making movies is about being able to give life to stories that will have some sort of impact on people’s lives. We watch movies so we can laugh, cry, be angry, be scared, in other words, so we can be emotionally invested in that alternate reality. As I believe that movies are all about creating a world people can escape to, I also believe we, as filmmakers, have the responsibility of giving voices to stories that need to be heard.

It’s powerful to have your work create a safe haven for people. The range of impact that a movie can have is what drew me to this craft. If it’s to provide an escape or social awareness, I ultimately hope that the movies I edit will make a positive impact.

What's next for you?

I’m currently working on the documentary Brainwashed, directed by Nina Menkes (Magdalena Viraga, Queen of Diamonds). I have looked up to Menkes as a powerful advocate for female stories, so to be able to work with her has been an honour.

Brainwashed is based on her talk, Sex and Power, the Visual Language of Cinema, and uses films from A-list directors throughout film history, to show how the visual grammar of cinema contributes to conditions that create discriminatory hiring practice, pay inequality and a pervasive environment of sexual harassment in the film industry as well as outside of it. It has been an eye-opening experience and I hope it creates a conversation towards this much-needed topic.

Besides this documentary, I have been working on the newest season of Total Bellas and Born for Business, both reality TV shows. There’s so much to learn from working with a lot of hours worth of footage and multiple cameras. It’s a very demanding job, but you meet collaborators who are focused during this pandemic to bring content to people who have to stay at home. The experience of working on reality TV is demanding and I commend the hardworking people who are behind the scenes making it happen.

What's the best film you have seen from an Editing perspective and why?

I am not sure this is the best editing I’ve ever since, but I haven’t able to take The Lighthouse out of my head for the past couple of months. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect of it, but I had seen Louise Ford’s work before on The Witch and Thoroughbreds. Louise Ford is such a versatile editor. I was inspired by how she worked on such different genres and all of the movies she edited were highly praised across the board. Usually, as an editor, it’s easy to find yourself trapped in a genre ‘box’ and be limited artistically, but Ford is able to avoid that trap.

I think the first thing that impressed me was the attention to detail. So much of the story relies on the two actors and she brought the best out of their performances. It was clear that Ford was letting the characters lead the pacing of certain scenes, forcing the audience to sit with the emotional beats for as long as necessary. Those beats feel almost claustrophobic, as you are ‘trapped’ in that dream-like environment with the characters. At times you almost wonder if you are going crazy. The editorial choices are supported by a surreal sound design and Shakespearian dialogue that intensifies as we are teleported towards the ending.

You can see how much fun Ford had in the edit. Things don’t need to make sense anymore, and all you are left with is this uneasy feeling of being lost with the characters. It’s such an immersive experience that shows the audience the power of editing.

What would you say if you were a dolphin?

“SeaWorld sucks!”


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