Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson with LA Based Editor Yufei Skylar Zhang
You have an extensive background in Editing. What was it about editing you love?
What I love about being an editor is our unique opportunity to have an intimate relationship with the footage. During the long and lonely hours in the editing room, we develop our relationship with everything that was captured, purposely and masterfully planned or accidental. And very often these accidents are the gems that would make it into the final film and become what makes the piece special. And we, as the editors, are there to spot them and treasure them. At least for me personally, whenever I work on a film, I need to absorb what’s in the footage first to come up with the best possible combination to piece together. So for weeks or months, we live in this world inside the film, where we know precisely what each brow movement means for a character and from what angle a character’s smile looks the nicest. And then we go to work, and the best part is that it would then almost happen naturally. Once we understand the footage from inside out, we just know how to cut the film, it comes by itself.
Editing a film is like solving pieces of puzzles. A puzzle of emotions. I always see filmmaking as a process of emotion-making. It’s all about the creation and recreation of emotions. It’s fundamentally an art form about the understanding of feelings and human emotions, and the interpretation of them. And that’s what sets filmmaking apart from other forms of art. It’s the integration of them all. It’s so close to real life, that what we thrive to do is recreating a life for the audience where they temporarily forget about their real life, and hopefully, when they go back to their lives, they take a piece of what they felt from the film with them. I am grateful and excited to be in a profession where such magic is created.
When working on a film, what are the challenges as an Editor?
Very often the biggest challenge is dealing with the people around you. People always imagine editors to be the loner who sits in the dark by themselves. That is only one part of the job and a big portion of the job involves communicating with various departments. We need to listen to the concerns of the director who has been insecure about the footage while calming down the angry producer who just realized we blew the budget on VFX. Post-production is the final frontier where all the unsolved problems in all the previous stages of production got thrown into. They are now nobody else’s but our problems, and they NEED to be solved as quickly and neatly as possible.
You recently worked on a film called Día de las Carpas. Why did you want to be a part of this project?
I had the pleasure of collaborating with the talented writer of the film, Marina Kato Hoag, on another film she wrote called Focus. We had a great time together and I admire Marina’s ability to come up with unique, original characters. So when she pitched this new film, I knew I would be in for a treat. Día de las Carpas follows the story of a group of boys’ journey helping an undocumented girl get to the beach to reunite with her family, unaware that their new friend has a magical secret that will change their lives forever. It is such an enticing story logline. After hearing Marina’s pitch, I knew I needed to be part of the creation of this modern-day fairytale. It is a film that’s reflecting on the current topics of our world through the lives of innocent children who are living through it. It’s also a coming-of-age film where the boys need to learn to stand up for themselves and what’s right. This is the kind of film that we need for our time. (Spoiler alert!) When the undocumented girl Esme turns into a mermaid to escape from the agents, it is such an emotionally climactic moment that provides such relief and amazement. But it also makes the audience reflect on those situations in real life.
Who would you love to work with?
These are going to be pretty realistic dreams. No Kubrick or Truffaut or anything like that.
Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker whose approach to filmmaking speaks to me. I have always been attracted to his work ever since The Squid and the Whale. His films are all so comical in a true-to-life fashion and they are deeply truthful. I think Baumbach is who I consider a filmmaker with a great understanding of human emotion and his way of expressing it is through his often awkward, yet always thoughtful characters in his movies. My favorite film of his is The Meyerowitz Stories, a somewhat very underrated film, which makes me mad. When I saw the film for the first time, I was actually daydreaming what a wonderful time I would have sitting in a room with him cutting a film like this.
And in general, I would really love to work with filmmakers from more diverse backgrounds. I have worked with filmmakers from Italy, Germany, Korea, China, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Mexico… and it is the diverse background and culture these filmmakers bring into their films that give the films a unique voice. And collaborating with people coming from different cultures than your own is such an inspiring and humbling process.
What's next for you?
I am currently finishing up editing a feature film called Baby, Don’t Cry, a coming-of-age drama with a first-generation female Asian-American protagonist. I give my praise to the writer and producer of the film, Zita, for creating such a unique character and devoting the film and herself to bringing attention to this often under-represented group on screen.
Another project I am excited to be a part of is the feature film Altrove, directed by my long-term collaborator Gabriele Di Sazio. The script is in the final stage of development and the film will go into production at the end of 2021, filming partially in Sicily, Italy, and California.
Our writer Marina won the AGBO Development Grant for the feature version of Día de las Carpas and is now developing the film under the mentorship of the Russo Brothers. I have seen a draft of the script and the pitch deck and I have to say, they look quite amazing. So the feature of Día de las Carpas will be a focus of mine for the next couple of years as well.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an Editor?
The stress level of being an editor is very high, and the hours are long. Unlike many other areas of this industry, it’s really a job where you don’t expect to get glamorous, or even noticed. Because somehow it is true that when the audience doesn’t notice the editing, it means we’ve done our job right. People don’t normally go “the editing was amazing in this movie” after watching a film they like. And I bet you can’t think of anyone if I asked ‘who is your favorite editor?’ So if you are ok with being constantly overworked and underappreciated because you truly love the art of filmmaking, then welcome to the club :)
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
“Wee we wwwe weeee wee (Back up your projects)!!” And then go back to swimming.