Melissa Kent by The Critical Movie Critics

Interview: Melissa Kent


Melissa Kent is not a newcomer to the industry. Behind the scenes she has edited for movies such as the fantasy drama “The Age of Adaline,” the holiday comedy “Four Christmases,” and romance drama “The Vow,” among many more. Between her latest editing projects she has jumped behind the camera, directing the 15 minute short, “Bernie and Rebecca” which has been making its way through the festival circuit and receiving high praise (by us as well). Our Aaron Leggo caught up with Melissa in Los Angeles to talk about the movie, her career and what the future holds.

AL::

Nice to meet you!

MK::

Nice to meet you too!

AL::

So first of all, I guess the main reason we’re talking is because of “Bernie and Rebecca,” so congratulations on that, first of all. I really enjoyed it, I thought it was great. It was really, really fun. It begins quite comical, almost sort of silly, and then it becomes this really quite profound tale of your life and the whole relationship. Even huge epic movies tend to struggle to get entire stories of people’s whole lives crammed into their running time, so to be able to do that in about ten minutes or so is really quite interesting, all through conversation as well, essentially. I thought that was really quite unique. So can you tell me something about how that came together? Was that an idea you’ve had for a long time?

MK::

Well, I found the script by contacting the Canadian short screenplay competition and asking to read their finalists. The story just really stuck with me and I realized because of the humor and the poignancy, it was the kind of story that deserved my resources and my time and would make a great directorial debut. So one of the main things that attracted me to it was the wide variety of tone that it moves from humor to drama to heartbreak to laughter to tears in 14 minutes.

AL::

Were you looking for a project to make your debut, in terms of directing? Is that something that was on your radar for a long time?

MK::

It was. I’ve been taking steps toward that and I know that there are so many better writers than myself so I took it upon myself to find a script that would make a great short film.

AL::

In terms of the casting process, was that something that took a while, that was new to you?

MK::

It was something new to me because I usually work in post-production when those decisions have already been made. So i hired some fantastic casting directors, Meg Morman and Sunday Boling, and they set up auditions as well as suggesting actors who might be better known on television, for example. And that’s how we found Kyle Davis and Brianna Barnes. Brianna auditioned and Kyle was one of the people they suggested I take a look at and I just thought he would make the perfect Bernie. And their chemistry worked out really well together.

AL::

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously a big part of something like that is having the chemistry click. Getting back to editing, your next project that you’re credited with is “American Pastoral,” Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut.

MK::

Yes.

AL::

So, was that something you approached differently now that you’re getting into directing? Could you sympathize with McGregor, as someone doing a first-time directing job?

MK::

Well, I have worked with many first-time directors and of course I can’t say too much because I signed NDAs about the process. I made my short film before I did “American Pastoral,” but I highly recommend everybody check out Ewan’s directorial debut and the trailer was just released a few days ago. It really captures the tone of the movie and we’re very excited about it coming out in October.

AL::

When it comes to trailers, do you often watch trailers for movies that you have edited and think that the trailer does a good job of representing what the movie is or is there often mixed emotions about that?

MK::

Interesting question. For the most part, my job is telling the story in about an hour and forty-five minutes. There are companies whose expertise is selling a movie in two minutes and that’s a very different job. But generally, I would have to say I’ve always been very happy with the trailers for the movies I’ve worked on.

AL::

In terms of editing, do you have a certain process? Do you get to be privy to the production at all? Do you get to watch dailies or do you pretty much come in right at post-production and go through all the footage at that point and take over at that point?

MK::

I generally start about one week before shooting begins and get my room set up and hire my assistant and get to know all the department heads. So what happens with a feature film is whatever they shoot on day one, I get the dailies on day two. And I watch those scenes and I edit those scenes. That’s called “keeping up to camera.” Sometimes the production is out of town and I’m in L.A. and sometimes we’re all in the same city, but in any case, once shooting is complete, which generally takes eight or ten weeks — it depends on the scope of the movie — once it’s completed, I generally have a first edit one week later. And that’s with the temp music and sound effects. So I can sit with the director and show him the movie — or her! — but it will have all of the scenes and it will have them all in the order that they were scripted. And then we have ten weeks together, the director and I, to refine it to his favorite version that he then wants to present to an audience.

AL::

So you do that initial version, essentially that first draft, completely on your own, without consulting the director, and then take it from there?

MK::

I call it the first assembly and I receive notes from set with regard to the director’s favorite moments. Many directors like to watch scenes, let’s say once a week, they might watch what they’ve shot and that’s an important part of the process while they’re still shooting in case they feel like they need anything more. Sometimes they may want an additional option for a transition or an insert shot, so it’s very educational for all concerned to look at the edit in its rough initial form.

AL::

And when you work with the director, would they often pull out different takes, different angles, stuff like that? Would that essentially be the director’s input, “I like where you’re going with this, but let’s tweak this and that” in terms of whatever other footage they have?

MK::

Yes. Choosing performance is a very important part of creating the director’s cut and the final movie, obviously. So as the movie changes, alternate performances may prove more beneficial for any particular moment, as might silence instead of a spoken line because the actor may have said it with his face instead of the words. So the thing about “Bernie and Rebecca,” because I edited it myself, is on the one hand, I didn’t have that applicator in the room to explore ideas with. It was all me and a tiny bit lonely as far as having to make those decisions, so once I had a first cut, I would invite colleagues who were maybe working down the hall and friends to watch it. Just like in a movie, you show it to audiences or you may show it to trusted coworkers and friends to get their feedback and that way you can do notes and find out if you have any issues that you need to be punched up or clarified.

AL::

Do you have any other particular influences, inspirations in terms of editors, now into directing as well?

MK::

Oh, um, I think having been an editor is a great foundation to become a director. I know many directors did start as editors. It really helps you be efficient in your choice of shots and it helps you know if you’ve gotten the coverage that you need or not. Sometimes on set you may have a hundred people telling a director “You’ve got it!” and the director may have to stand firm “No, I don’t have it. We have to go again. We can’t go to lunch.”

[Both laugh.]

So I think there are many great places to learn from which people become directors, but I think editing is as good as any.

AL::

Yeah, I’m curious about that. It’s interesting because you hear so much about even the cliche of actors saying “What I really want to do is direct” and screenwriters turn to directing a lot and you have the occasional cinematographer that’s quite established and they try their hand at directing, but it seems like you don’t hear too much about editors and you’re saying there are lots of examples, but in terms of really big names, maybe there’s not much. But it makes sense that it would be a great position to start from.

MK::

Well, David Lean is the most famous example of an editor who became a director. Raja Gosnell, who did the “Home Alone” movies, I believe he directed the third one. I just saw on Facebook the other day my friend who’s an editor is directing, so it happens, but right, I don’t have a list of names for you.

[Both laugh.]

AL::

No, that’s fine! You’ve worked with some pretty big, famous, iconic directors in terms of Walter Hill and Francis Ford Coppola. Obviously Sofia Coppola as well. But in terms of those ones who were quite established and famous, did you approach working with them differently? Was there a nervousness? I mean, that’s got to be something unique, to work with somebody that’s been in the industry for so long and something of a legend.

MK::

I was extremely fortunate to work on many projects with Francis Coppola very early in my career and yes, on day one, it was very intimidating and perhaps hard to pay attention because I so couldn’t believe I was there getting notes from the esteemed Francis Ford Coppola, so I did learn a lot . . . I’ve learned a lot from every director I’ve ever worked with. Everyone has their unique method and also just philosophy of life and when you’re making movies, you end up talking a lot about subtext and drama and emotion and it kind of interweaves with your life. So yeah, they influenced me and in making my short, if a scene or a moment reminded me of a past scene that I had edited, I would think back about what was the solution there and then try to tweak that method to serve me in this instance and just try to learn from the experience in that way.

AL::

Do you find that you look back on past projects that you’ve done and watch them and sort of have different ways that you do things now or other things where you’re like “I wish I had picked that take or did a different angle or held that longer” or something like that?

MK::

Right. I generally don’t have notes on my old movies. It’s fun when they come on HBO to see if you can immediately fall back into the rhythm and just know every line as it comes. I recently rewatched a scene someone had posted of what I called “Music Telethon” or something from “Virgin Suicides” where the boys and the girls are playing songs for each other over the phone, like a live mix tape, and I thought that’s a really good scene!

[Both laugh.]

But yeah, you hopefully knock out all your notes before you have to deliver.

AL::

Now, in terms of genre, obviously you’ve done a lot of work in drama and often “Bernie and Rebecca” has its comedic aspects as well, are there other genres that you would want to dabble in? Would you ever want to cut an action movie or anything like that? Is that something that’s of interest to you?

MK::

Absolutely. I would love to cut an action movie. I have cut a sci-fi action movie called “Supernova.”

AL::

Oh, that’s right! That’s the Walter Hill one, right?

MK::

Yeah, a James Spader film. Many years ago. As an editor, I really try to pay attention to work in a variety of genres whenever possible, even if it wasn’t always the most lucrative job. But if it would let me expand my horizons, I would want to do it. So, for example, I’ve done true crime. Last year, I had a film out called “Captive” with David Oyelowo and Kate Mara. That was based on the Brian Nichols murders in Atlanta in 2005. I did a Catherine Keener film called “An American Crime,” which was based on the first known instance of terrible child abuse from the 60s. That was where Catherine Keener tortured Ellen Page. So I did that. I’ve done a 3D dance movie called “Make Your Move,” which is really enjoyable, really fun, if you get a chance to watch that. That was made in Toronto. I’ve done big body comedy in “Four Christmases.” Being a creative person, you want to have a variety of genres that you can work in. It just kind of keeps it more fun.

AL::

Do you feel that you have to approach different genres differently? I mean, obviously you must, but is it something where you can carry over certain things in terms of comic timing or things like that?

MK::

Well, you can only see one shot at a time, unless you’re doing split screens or effects, but generally, it’s always one step at a time. And whether it’s action and that moment is extremely fast and is only a third of a second or whether it’s a husband and wife having a deep conversation and you hold on them for a minute and a half and you don’t cut. So the footage really dictates to me the rhythm that it deserves. That said, there are certain things that tend to work like “rule of threes” or cutting to reaction. But regardless of the genre, the script, the number of characters, and the speed of the scene will determine the rhythm of the scene. My job is to distill what the actors and the camera did into its most entertaining form.

AL::

So do you have any more directing projects coming up? Now that you’ve done a short, are you going to do more shorts? Are you hoping to get into feature directing at some point?

MK::

I don’t expect to make another short. I did it as a way to show my skills and what I could do and “Bernie and Rebecca,” as I said before, to show such a variety of tone and mood. And to take two people through a lifetime of circumstances in fourteen minutes. So now that that’s done, the short itself has been going on this amazing journey. I just got home from Edinburgh International Film Festival, where we screened it for an audience of several hundred, and yesterday it was honored by a group called 2016 Best Shorts Competition, where they watch thousands of international short films and they named us top ten. So it’s already taken me places that are unexpected and wonderful. As to precisely where that’s going to lead, whether that’s directing a feature or some TV episodes, I don’t know at this time. Being a filmmaker, you rarely know your next job until you have it and sometimes you don’t have a lot of notice.

AL::

Are there people that you would like to work with? Do you generally think that way? As you said, you don’t really get much notice about what you’re going to do next, so I guess you can’t think too far ahead.

MK::

There are many, many talented, interesting filmmakers with whom I would like to work and I certainly hope Ewan McGregor makes another movie.

AL::

Yeah? It was a good experience?

MK::

Fantastic.

AL::

Well, I’ll look forward to seeing that when it comes out.

MK::

I hope you will!

AL::

Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you so much for your time.

MK::

Thanks for watching “Bernie and Rebecca.” I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

AL::

Well, take care. And I’ll talk to you later!

MK::

Alright, great. Bye!


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