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Just us for this masterclass with film editor Michael Taylor: THE ART OF LISTENING.

Got time for a bit of homework? THE FAREWELL and AMERICAN WOMAN can be watched on Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

A note from Michael:

As a film editor, images always hit my brain before dialog does. I’ll notice small movements in an actor’s face well before I hear inflections in their dialog. Dialog can be easily swapped out for another take or even re-recorded at another date, but the glint in an actor’s eye, or the timing of a smile may only happen once. It’s my job to notice it. A year ago I realized I had a name for my approach - I call it listening to the footage. It's about paying attention. This is true, whether the performers are Awkwafina in Lulu Wang's THE FAREWELL, or John Gallagher, Jr. and Lola Kirke in Semi Chellas's AMERICAN WOMAN. 

In the latter film, I was trying to bring a spark to a scene of four individuals stuck in a farmhouse during a downpour, and there it was – a woman in the corner (Kirke) doing a slinky dance just as a new song comes on the radio.  She was dancing in the previous version, but not like this. And across the room, her boyfriend (Gallagher, Jr.) shirtless, gaping at her, eyes full of life, mouth open in a huge grin. It was a very carnal – and real – moment between both characters, and I realized I could use it to drive the scene. Suddenly this moment in the film had energy and momentum, and a purpose, as we could emphasize now how the other characters (Sarah Gadon as a Patty Hearst-like character, and Hong Chau as a 70s radical) felt as the dancing woman glides into the arms of her lover. I realized I was listening to cues from the actors themselves. Not listening in a literal sense, I had the sound turned off – but I was trusting the actors to guide my cutting choices and pattern. Rather than trying to create a scene externally, shaping the footage to fit a pre-determined concept of the scene, I was cutting from the inside out, listening to the footage, letting it tell me why the scene belonged in the film. 

Editing Lulu Wang's THE FAREWELL, our challenge was to keep Awkwafina grounded, dealing with the sudden news of her grandmother's terminal illness, yet at the same time a lively spirit, someone we would enjoy spending time with. She couldn't be sad and gloomy all the time. So whenever Awkwafina showed that special spark, I knew that was the take to use. In one scene she exercises with her grandmother Nai Nai, played by Shuzhen Zhou. It's a oner, so it was really just a matter of finding the best take. In one take the actors and Anna Franquesa Solano's camera were perfectly in sync. Everything was just about right. This was Lulu's first choice for the scene. But in a slightly messier take, Awkwafina bends over and asks “slap my butt?” which makes Nai Nai laugh. We knew we needed to find humor with Awkwafina wherever we could, so ultimately Lulu chose that take. We were practicing "the art of listening."

All about Michael:

Michael Taylor is a member of the editing branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Cinema Editors (ACE), and the Editors' Guild, based in New York City.

He was nominated for an ACE Eddie Award for Best Editing of a Feature, Comedy or Musical, for Lulu Wang's THE FAREWELL, starring Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou, Tsi Ma, and Diana Lin. The film won Best Film at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, after premiering in competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released theatrically by A24.

He also edited Guy Nattiv's SKIN, which stars Jamie Bell, Vera Farmiga, Bill Camp and Danielle McDonald. The film premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the FIBRESCI prize and was acquired by A24, which released the film theatrically. Taylor's third collaboration with director Rick Alverson, THE MOUNTAIN, premiered in competition at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, followed by festival screenings at Sundance, SXSW and BAM CinemaFest. The film stars Jeff Goldblum, Tye Sheridan, Hannah Gross and Denis Lavant, and was released theatrically by Kino-Lorber.

His most recent project, Edson Oda’s NINE DAYS, starring Winston Duke, Benedict Wong, Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård and Tony Hale, premiered in competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize, and will be released by Sony Pictures Classics this winter.

Michael Taylor’s documentary work includes Mitch McCabe’s YOUTH KNOWS NO PAIN, HBO Documentary Pictures and Holly Morris and Anne Bogart’s THE BABUSHKAS OF CHERNOBYL, for which he won the James Lyon Award for Best Editing of a Documentary Feature at the Woodstock Film Festival, 2015. Taylor’s other documentary credits include Margaret Brown’s Peabody Award-winning THE ORDER OF MYTHS (Sundance 2008), Cinema Guild, and Brown’s BE HERE TO LOVE ME: A FILM ABOUT TOWNES VAN ZANDT (Toronto 2004), Palm Pictures; Vanessa Hope’s ALL EYES & EARS (Tribeca 2016); and Josef Astor’s LOST BOHEMIA (DOC NYC 2010), IFC Films.

Taylor has served on film juries at the Gotham Awards, the Cinema Eye Awards, the Indie Memphis Film Festival, and the Woodstock Film Festival, and has been a judge of news and documentary programs at the Emmy Awards, and a judge of New York University's Purple List screenplay competition.