We spent a lot of time going through references for the film as well as scouting iconic locations, but what it came down to was devoting ourselves to creating a beautiful, romanticized, modern-yet-nostalgic vision for the city. We picked impressionistic times of day to shoot our exterior set-pieces, and sought out areas that reflected the tone and energy of each scene. The locations were not just backdrops for the actors, but characters in themselves. We wanted the city to speak for itself in many ways, and we were rarely disappointed by what it had to say. – Adam Newport-Berra, cinematographer
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The Last Black Man in San Francisco is many things at once: a bittersweet ode to its titular city, an earnest exploration of belonging, a personal retelling of displacement, and a culmination of the friendship between its creators, Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot. It stars the former as a fictionalized version of himself, who makes frequent trips with his friend and confidant Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) to his childhood home, a turreted Queen Anne built by his grandfather. Fails’ family lost the house early in his life, but now he has a chance to reclaim it after its current residents are forced to sell. The Last Black Man in San Francisco feels hybridic, mixing memories with fantasy, piercing insight with playfulness, into a living document of San Francisco’s present moment and an elegy for its past.
Fails’ lifelong friend Joe Talbot, co-writer and director, won the Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival for this, his debut feature. The Last Black Man in San Francisco succeeds in all areas, a confluence of creative minds. Critics agree, with praise going to production designer Jona Tochet (“the most distinctive character may be the house itself and Jona Tochet’s beautiful production design”), cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra (“shot so gorgeously by cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra that nearly every frame could be paused, printed, and hung on a wall”), and editor David Marks (“The editing by David Marks is sublime, balancing whiplash cutting and mindful juxtaposition with a deftness that can’t be denied”).
To understand this work further, I discussed it with Tochet, Newport-Berra, and Marks, to learn more about the film’s setting, design, tone, and more.
How did you first meet Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot? You were also the production designer on their short American Paradise, correct?
In early 2016, Joe was gearing up to make the precursor short film American Paradise, and a mutual friend and director I have worked with, Rob Richert, who later became the co-writer of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, had sent him my way. From the very start, Joe was determined to make the feature and had shared the first draft with me. Joe and Jimmie have been best friends since they were kids and had been working Jimmie’s real-life story into a script for nearly ten years. Jimmie was family and I soon met him while preparing for the short, in which he too had a major role.
What was the preproduction process like for you?
After the success of American Paradise, we realized that The Last Black Man in San Francisco was soon to become a reality, so we started location scouting and hard prepping. I knew that it would take a while to find exactly what we were looking for – and have a good price tag – so considering budget constraints and how costly it is to shoot in San Francisco, I set up a storage unit in order to drop signature pieces I would stumble upon as I went about my days leading up to the project. There was a tedious balance affecting all big decisions we made. There was so much to do, so many sets, and so many moving parts that each purchase or rental needed to be well thought out. There was no room for wasted expenses. We were in constant communication – Joe would update me with any new ideas and notes he had no matter what inspired it, big or small, whether it be a certain playbill for Mont’s bedroom or a subtle nuance of San Francisco’s local flare he was reminded of while sitting on Muni. All of it was very important to him, being a local himself, and he didn’t want to miss anything. We spoke the same language as we both appreciate details and the art of layering.
How does one capture the spirit of a particular place at a particular moment, like contemporary San Francisco?
Almost all our inspiration stemmed from taking in San Francisco and all it has to offer presently – from the people to the architecture to the views to its history, art, and culture. From walking the streets and just observing. It also helped that I have lived there for many years and bore witness to its changes, setbacks and growth. It is “growing” through an identity crisis or sort of mid-life crisis as we speak, and we tried to display this with honesty, even though at times, it seems funny to a stranger of the bay. It’s still home to eccentrics, artists, and individuals breaking the mold; however, a newer group of techies, start-ups, an actual skyscraper, and a generation of wealthy millennials have made their way in and seem to be taking over.
In an interview, Fails said the film “is a period piece already,” in part because of the changing landscape of San Francisco. Did you run into these issues while scouting locations? Would a location seem perfect only to be altered soon after?
Yes, in fact, that happened often. We would scout a location – for example, a Victorian home or a vacant lot for the construction site in the movie – to find that the following week it was deemed for sale, condemned, labeled with construction permits, or sold. With many of the homes, we noticed how ill-maintained some were or how whitewashed and flipped into modernity they were from their original state. Often we stumbled on a building that once hosted multiple family units to being torn down by a wrecking ball days later.
Were the shipyard/cleanup sequences of the film shot in the Bayview-Hunters Point area? Could you tell me about scouting for those scenes?
The startling opening sequence of the movie where the preacher rants in front of a condemned shipyard full of a cleanup crew wearing hazmat suits was shot authentically in the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and across the street from Grandpa Allen and Mont’s house (the exterior). What you see is the real deal. San Francisco is in the middle of a housing crisis where power, politics, environmental racism, and fraud have all to do with American nuclear history in the San Francisco bay. Back in 1946, ships from the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests in the South Pacific were dragged to the Hunters Point shipyard for decontamination, which is still on hold for development because of the still pending cleanup scandal. At the time, it became a center for radioactivity research and is now full of dilapidated, abandoned boathouses, buildings, and toxicities primarily in the dirt and dust. Scouting for the Bayview-Hunters Point scenes was like walking through a third world separated by hurricane fencing and to think that a functioning world lives just outside its gates. One week after shooting there, two Tetra Tech EC supervisors pleaded guilty in federal court for falsifying reports of clean soil and were sentenced to prison. What’s happening is real, timely, and needs attention.
I’d like to know more about Jimmie’s family home. How did you happen upon it, how was the owner, are all those interior rooms in that same house?
Long before we started pre-production, Joe Talbot, Luis Alfonso De la Parra (an associate producer), and myself were on a last-minute location scout and were drawn to this particular home, mainly due to the witch’s hat that Joe was always drawn to as he and his family drove past it when he was a child. It was a beacon that soared five stories above South Van Ness. We decided to try our luck, rang, and were happily greeted by Jim Tyler, the owner of this “high” Queen Anne built in 1889. He welcomed us in, gave us a tour, and the three of us were enchanted. Jim is a wise older gentleman who is a big player in the Victorian community in San Francisco as well as a reed organ restorer. He is a steadfast fan of Victorian culture and a purist about its design and architecture. He had a true love for his home that really resonated with the story line of Jimmie and old San Francisco. He coined his home “the mansion” for good reason, and for the sake of the movie, we called it “The House.” The floor plan seemed endless and had all the right nuances we needed for the script . . . the hidden balcony, the decorative details in the facade to paint, the built-ins, the parlors, the main staircase with elaborate banisters and spindles for Jimmie to run up and later restore, the woodwork, a big space for Mont’s play which was the raw open unfinished attic, and of course the infamous tower and witch’s cap. All these and more like custom patterned fish-scale shingles on the cap were each hand-cut and placed by Jim Tyler himself. All the interior rooms you see in the film were shot in the one “House” location. The stately organ in the front hallway, as well as the “schvitz” were happily written into the script.
How do you go about capturing the warmth Jimmie feels for that home? The house feels as alluring to the audience as it does to Jimmie.
Jimmie’s family had fallen apart, so “The House” represented a time when they were all together as one, so it symbolized his roots. He took care of it, and in turn, it took care of him. He felt truly himself there. “The House” needed to breathe life (back into Jimmie) and become a character of its own, a guide, offering up old chapters from Jimmie’s life. It needed to have a pulse and a voice. This house already had so much character and magic built in. We were looking for a Victorian separated from the rest upon first glance. Queen Anne homes have a storybook quality to them and we wanted Jimmie to become the king of his castle. We wanted to introduce royal colors of dark red and gold to the exterior palette and continue with a warm romantic Victorian color of dusty rose inside, which complimented Jimmie and Mont’s skin tones so well. You were able to hear the wind pass through the house’s open airways . . . you heard its creaks and moans as wind rushed through it on and off screen. At night, when the wind would die, you could hear the house settle in for the night, and we wanted that to translate to the big screen. We made sure to take advantage of the warm light that spilled through the stained glass before magic hour as much as we could. The house spoke to us and knew it would speak to Jimmie.
The pieces that Jimmie and Montgomery bring home all seem so particular and curated. I’m thinking of the wine bottle cigarette case and the peach and lime chairs with their claw feet.
Joe and Jimmie provided notes on some specific items they wanted in Jimmie’s grandpa’s belongings. The champagne cigarette holder and a chest or old dresser to carry his robes were among the many requests. We wanted the robes to resemble ones from an old king. Mont and Jimmy appreciated history and relics of the past and were collectors – you see this with Mont from the start and realize Jimmie;s knack for it as the movie unfolds. We wanted each frame to be composed like a fine-tuned painting with everything in the mise en scene to be thoughtfully curated. The more specific it seemed, the more homely it felt . . . like a flash of an old memory or inside joke.
The exteriors of the characters’ homes all have a distinct look. Grandpa Allen’s home near vacant lots, the stucco house of Jimmie’s aunt, the painted facade of James Sr.’s SRO housing. Could you tell me about finding them?
We wanted each location to have a lot of character and resemble their inhabitants just like dogs resemble their owners in 101 Dalmatians. The painted STAY sign on the side of James Sr.’s SRO caught our eye while scouting SROs. It had such a poignant subliminal message that it became an added location that seemed superfluous, but we wouldn’t budge on it. We wanted to have Rob Morgan (James Sr.) eating sunflower seeds right in the dead center of a giant red STAY sign that was only revealed as the camera pushed in. It isn’t the actual outside of James Sr.’s apartment, however. We shot that at a real SRO in the tenderloin. Grandpa Allen’s house was the original house Jimmie wanted to regain from the The Last Black Man in San Francisco concept trailer from years ago. We wanted Grandpa Allen’s house to be homely and friendly yet unkempt and right off the beaten path in Hunters Point. Aunt Wanda settled in a suburb outside the city, so her home was the only location genuinely not in San Francisco, but located in Crockett, a small town off the bay. Her house would be separated from the styles of the rest with a little bit of a lawn and a “garage” in which she stored Grandpa’s belongings, adorned with leafy greens and yellow buds across the street.
I love when spaces seemed lived-in, like Bobby’s car or Montgomery’s converted living space. When Grandpa Allen walks along the phone cord and separates the hanging clothes to enter Montgomery’s space, it was just so visually exciting. How do you make a space seem alive?
We wanted Mont’s bedroom to look like a cross between a backstage dressing room of an old ’30s/’40s playhouse and a one-room bachelor apartment of an old film noir character. I worked closely with my art team and decorator, Elena Nommensen, over some time to create a world that was eccentric, ornate, and full of personality . . . Mont’s personality, which had many, many layers. It was full of vintage costumes, old makeup from past plays, books, drawings, vintage playbills from black theatre, old actor and actresses’ headshots, movie stills, art supplies, bolts of fabric, an antique sewing machine, and a vanity table that Mont built himself. However, Jimmie’s world was very simple. He didn’t want to impose and be in the way at all, so he kept to a corner right next to Mont’s bed and routinely opened his cot each night and tucked it each morning. It was as if each character – Jimmie, Mont, Grandpa Allen, and Uncle Bobby – wore their hearts on their sleeves. It was as though we got a sneak peek into their souls. Each layer of their lives was worked in and mushed into the next. I think that it was one of our crew mates, Michelle Fritzi, who said that “walking into Mont’s room was like walking into his mind.”
What’s something I might not have noticed about the design of the film that I should keep in mind upon another rewatch? Or is there a particular element of the film you’re most proud of?
I love using rich, very saturated colors as well as creating a complex palette. There was an extensive color palette invented due to the abundance of characters and locations for The Last Black Man in San Francisco. To Jimmie, San Francisco IS “home,” but “The House” IS “family.” He eventually became the king of his own castle; therefore, we wanted royal colors for “The House.” We chose deep red and gold for the exterior accent paints and old dusty rose for all the interior walls. For Jimmie – various hues of red and yellow – his infamous red flannel over sandy-colored jeans matched the house, and his scrubs were a dusty rose. As they settled in and started to make improvements, we wanted to show the soft side of the boys and how they appreciated natural beauty by picking local flowers to adorn the interior of “The House.” These flowers were made up of these same colors, including dusty pink roses. Red and yellow hues continue to pop up throughout the film . . . Mont’s boat is yellow, his journal and rain jacket are red connecting him to Jimmie, Bobby’s car is yellow, as well as the yellow flowers Jimmie and Mont carry when they walk through the dense San Francisco fog. For Jimmie’s dad – old royalty . . . royal blue, plum and dark green. For Mont – wool, tweed, cream, mustard, gold, olive, brown, as well as wood tones. We wanted to have Mont’s grandpa’s home feel like an old fisherman’s boathouse with vintage nautical colors – aqua, blue, navy, cream, dark tan, and wood tones. Aunt Wanda – her leafy palms and floral prints were to complement her old hippie, free-spirited nature. Also, we carried over some of our precursor short film American Paradise’s color palette, with green continuing to symbolize greed, such as when the green neon Mission Theatre sign poured into the realtor’s office highlighting Clayton’s face, Clayton’s “For Sale” sign affixed to “The House’s” gate, as well as the open house flyers. The victims of greed were also shrouded in green, like the moving truck.
The most uniquely challenging yet inspiring part was that I was in the final stage of my pregnancy during pre-production. On the morning of our final tech scout at Aunt Wanda’s house, I started to feel contractions! I continued to work from the hospital, and all of us, including my mother, partner, and four-day-old son, were there for a sunrise shot on shoot day 1! I gave birth to two babies that week (or so Joe and the producers like to joke). If it wasn’t for the help of my partner, mother, and the support of my crew, I couldn’t have done it. I’m not only proud of that feat, but also that the movie is getting the love it deserves considering all it took to get it there. . . . We didn’t let our budget get in the way, we wanted to paint a beautiful picture while honoring San Francisco as well as Jimmie’s story, and I think we achieved that. It was a labor of love by the crew and the city, and my gratitude goes out to everyone who helped us through the process.
I read that you had ten days of prep time, right? What does one do with such little time?
I dove right in – I hardly slept for those two weeks. Fortunately, Joe and I had multiple creative conversations before my prep began, so in many ways we were conceptually aligned from the outset. The moment I arrived in San Francisco, Joe and I started scouting locations, shotlisting, and looking at visual references. Joe had amassed a really amazing team of local friends and producers who had been on the ground for months, so they were able to help me get on my feet and understand their vision for the city. I found an amazing crew, and we did as much planning as possible, knowing that given our limited schedule, we would have to make many of our decisions instinctually on set.
Was this a daunting project for you, capturing an idea of San Francisco – one that means a great deal to Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails?
It was indeed daunting, but it was also an honor to be trusted with such a special role. This film has many important themes to address, and I was excited to help give it a vibrant voice without it becoming a polemic. Joe, Jimmie, and much of the team had been working on this film for years, and I knew how much it meant to them, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do them justice. This is a common challenge as a cinematographer and a task I take very seriously. It was incredibly important for me to honor the director’s vision while still bringing my own voice to the screen. Fortunately, Joe and the rest of the team brought such inspiring energy, vision, and a sense of trust that my job became excitingly liberating.
How do you go about capturing a city’s mood on film? The film feels so rich in history and place.
We spent a lot of time going through references for the film as well as scouting iconic locations, but what it came down to was devoting ourselves to creating a beautiful, romanticized, modern-yet-nostalgic vision for the city. We picked impressionistic times of day to shoot our exterior set-pieces, and sought out areas that reflected the tone and energy of each scene. The locations were not just backdrops for the actors, but characters in themselves. We wanted the city to speak for itself in many ways, and we were rarely disappointed by what it had to say. I spent as much time as I could wandering the city and photographing it with a still camera. I would use my rangefinder with a single prime lens, so that I forced myself to see the city through a unique, distinct, and consistent perspective. This informed a very photographic camera language for the film and I think is part of what gives the film its iconic look.
Is there anything that you made sure to avoid or to capture, in regard to San Francisco on screen?
I was very trusting of Joe and Jimmie to inform our decisions. They knew what would convey their love/hate relationship with the city, and I always did my best to interpret their vision and just go with it. This film is about the duality of San Francisco, so there wasn’t much we shied away from.
The film features beautiful, ornate technique, but such intricacies never seems to be without reason; it all feels extremely purposeful.
We tried to create a visual language that was informed by Jimmie’s experience and journey. At times we wanted to feel an elevated grandeur, while at others we simply wanted to sit with our characters and feel an emotion and place in quietude. Throughout the film, the camera moves between dynamic, sweeping tracking shots and very composed static shots, which were designed to show the dichotomy of Jimmie’s aspirational, hopeful vision for the life he wants to live and the challenges and obstacles that try to stop him. While the film is very much about place, family, and community, it is also a very introspective story about identity, and we wanted to make sure the film remained nuanced to its dichotomies.
Could you tell me about the framing of Jimmie and Montgomery’s friendship? They’re so rarely separated in the film.
I loved working with a pair in this way; we don’t see such sensitive, intimate friendships between men enough on film. Jimmie and Jonathan (Montgomery) were an incredible pair, and their different energies intertwined in the most magical way. We tried to frame the two of them as a pair as much as possible, allowing them to play off one another naturally and avoid diluting performances with coverage. This film becomes an ode to friendship through thick and thin, through adversity and the deepest personal struggles. While the two of them have their own demons and battles, it was important to show how they hold one another up. Through their friendship, they create for themselves a whole new sense of self. By framing them in two shots, we were able to make a friendship iconic.
There’s such a warmth to their home, you understand Jimmie’s attraction to the house instantly. How does one begin to convey this warmth and love to the audience?
First off, you paint the walls a warm color! We made sure to fill the house with glowing, inviting shafts and pools of light to give it a homey, magical feel. We used atmosphere to catch the light and also give the house a sense of nostalgia and history. I switched to wider lenses while in the house to make it feel larger than life and fully enveloping, and we made sure to frame Jimmie centrally so that he feels like he truly belongs in the space.
How do you light a real house, with its cramped and unmovable spaces?
This was an enormous challenge, given that the house is surrounded by other tall houses and has very few windows that are easy to light through. Since we were using wider lenses, it also made it more difficult to hide lights. We recognized that each room in the house had its own “magic hour,” so we tried to use natural light at the right time of day to get that magical light through the windows. Beyond that, my gaffer Tej Virdi and key grip Jason Noel did an incredible job of delicately rigging LEDs and other small lights throughout the house to add texture and nuance.
I’d like to know more about the skateboarding sections of the film? They’re each distinct in the way they are filmed – the beginning sequence, the downhill run on California Street, the wipeout scene . . .
The skateboarding scenes were a crucial part of the film, used to establish the city’s beauty and interconnectedness but also to identify Jimmie as a lonesome yet proud frontiersman of San Francisco. We wanted to make sure these scenes felt sweeping, dynamic, and big, so we always imposed a strong language to each skating scene. We often mounted the camera to a stabilized head on a chase car to capture the speed and elegance one feels skating through a city. We also used very long zoom lenses to give the film a classic feel and help place the characters within the larger context of the city. High-speed photography was used at the beginning of the film to suspend time and elevate the stature of everyday people on the street, giving them an iconic and grand stage upon which the story was set.
I have to ask about the kids throwing rocks – how was that particular moment filmed, when the child picks up the object and arcs it at another kid?
We went through many iterations of this shot when designing our approach, but what Jason Noel and I landed on was mounting our camera (with a fish-eye lens) on the end of a 40”-long piece of truss that was attached to a counterweighted pendulum. The setup was actually fairly simple on paper, but building it, balancing it, and operating it safely required a small army of grips! I was really proud of how that shot turned out and so grateful to my team for making it happen.
How did you get involved with The Last Black Man in San Francisco? What was the collaboration process like?
I first heard about it through my agency and thought it sounded like an incredible idea for a movie, something I’d never really seen before. Then I saw Plan B and A24 were involved and I always seek out anything they make, so right away I was excited about it. I did some research and watched the fund-raising trailer and Joe’s short film, and by that point my expectations were kind of through the roof – before I’d even read the script. But then I read it and loved it so much, I was just happy that I might have a chance to be part of it.
I met with Christina from Plan B and had lots of discussions with Joe – I felt like we shared the same ideas of what the movie could be and how to make it as effective and engaging as possible. And we also talked about other movies we liked, what we’d seen recently and that kind of thing. For me it all clicked right away, and then I just had to hope they’d hire me.
Once we got started, it was a collaborative process from the beginning. Joe edited or co-edited everything he’s made previously, so he was very involved and put a lot of trust in me to be his editor. It was a really fluid and creative experience. We worked toward building scenes around the pieces that felt the most alive or real, not necessarily just getting them to work as written but bringing them to life and heightening them as much as possible. We really got to explore and experiment with the material.
You’ve worked on a number of bigger-budgeted films. How does editing a smaller picture with a twenty-something-day production schedule compare?
It comes down to having less time for each part of the process than you would on a bigger-budget film. Less time in the edit, in the color grading, in the sound mix. It can be a challenge, especially for a project like this which is an indie but at the same time is also really ambitious and expansive and heavily designed in a lot of ways. It really required time for experimenting with each of those parts of the process to make it work as a whole. Our producers understood this and worked hard to make adjustments that allowed us extra time in places where we needed it. Joe and I spent many long nights in the cutting room, and every department put in tons of work purely out of their love for the movie. One example I love is that Kent and Dmitri from the sound team went to the actual house where the movie was shot and recorded themselves running through all the rooms with a surround sound mic! There are countless examples like that which make a very real difference in the end.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco has a distinct pace – there’s a lot of breathing room but the film is never adrift, it is constantly building upon itself. How does one find that rhythm?
The way it builds was very much in the script, which was really well structured. But a big part of the editorial process for us was finding that distinct rhythm and getting the balance right. When I first read the script, I imagined it playing a little more zippy and comedically paced. My first instinct was probably to go more in that direction, but Joe wisely pulled back from that in certain areas, and over time we naturally hit upon the editing style of the movie. It has a rhythm at times that hopefully allows you to get kind of hypnotized and emphasize the mood in an intangible way. I love movies where you feel like you’re getting to spend time with characters you love, and I think having a more deliberate pace at times allows that kind of engagement. It’s not about rushing from one quip to the next but kind of living in these moments and situations with these people and feeling a connection with them. When I watch some of my favorite movies, it feels like a conversation I’m having with a friend more than just an observational experience, and that was definitely something we hoped to achieve. Of course, you don’t want to go too far in either direction, so it’s very much a process of showing the movie to people and calibrating over time.
Could you tell me about navigating the film’s tone?
The tone of the movie fell into place pretty naturally considering how complex it is. We dialed in certain comedic moments or removed others that felt too big, but in terms of the broad strokes, we didn’t need to make huge adjustments for it to work. Having such a well-structured script was part of the reason, but the performances were also crucial. When you get to Rob Morgan’s first scene, there’s suddenly a weight and a reality to it all, and it’s just there in his and Jimmie’s performances. To me that scene very subtly pivots the movie into a new direction tonally. So from that point on we could still have the kind of offbeat comedic moments that were introduced up front, but we could also have the heavier dramatic beats without them feeling out of place. Then, of course, in the next scene we immediately go to the naked guy at the bus stop; those two scenes back to back are the perfect example of how the tone can shift but hopefully still cohere into a larger meaning overall. Slamming together different pieces that seemingly shouldn’t fit like that is very much the personality of the movie.
In these moments that expand and wash over the audience, the score is incorporated so well. Does the score influence your process?
Yes, the score is always a big part of the editorial process, but on this movie it was especially integral. We did a lot of simultaneous tinkering so the picture and the music would hit in very specific ways. It can be tricky especially on a smaller movie to have that back and forth and do rounds of revisions, but it was all with the aim of eliciting exactly the feeling you describe. Joe has a background in music and always had ambitious ideas of what the score could be. He and Emile would have extremely detail-oriented conversations, so I felt my place was more in the macro – is this cue achieving the right emotion for the character or the scene? Is it helping the transition from one tone to another the way we need it to? Things like that. I especially loved collaborating with Joe and Emile together; it was incredible to watch the movie evolve as we started laying in more and more original score.
What pieces of the story were you sure to preserve or highlight?
So much of the movie is about exploring the world of the characters and this underseen side of San Francisco. It isn’t strictly plot-driven, so there was a balance to find between keeping the story moving but also not losing the details that make it special. Sometimes we’d take a scene out and then realize we’d lost too much of that world we were trying to convey. Even though you could make a case for a scene not advancing the plot, without it the movie would feel diminished in a way. So that was a huge aspect we had to protect. There were also some throughlines that were always there but we worked to bring out more clearly. For example, we did a bit of restructuring in the first act to clarify Mont’s arc as a playwright and to plant the seeds that ultimately lead to him putting on the play.
There are some lovely pieces of associative editing that tie Jimmie to the family home. Could you tell me a little about finding those moments?
A lot of that was very specifically designed and planned out ahead of time – particularly the opening sequence cutting between close-ups of Jimmie skating and corresponding close-ups of the house. When we watched the original cut of the opening sequence, one thing we missed was this feeling of Jimmie being almost summoned to the house, feeling his intensity growing as he gets closer. Joe wanted to grab some more shots to help make this literal connection between the two. I got to help brainstorm and pitch some ideas to visualize that concept, which was a lot of fun. It’s a pretty abstract idea and is so specific. Like are you actually going to be able to frame a shot around a bead of sweat on Jimmie’s forehead as he skates down the street? So to put that all together and see it work was really satisfying.
Is there a particular moment in the film that you are most proud of?
This isn’t a single moment but in a larger sense I have to say it makes me really happy when I hear people describe the movie as “poetic” or “mesmerizing.” We had a lot of conversations about how much to address the plausibility of the plot and whether the audience would get pulled out of the movie by not explaining certain things. Ultimately we shied away from that and leaned into the idea of people getting swept up in the feeling and the romance of it. It was kind of a gamble so I love that people seem to be enjoying it on that level.
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Thanks to A24 for supplying the images here.