An Interview with editor Carole Kravetz Aykanian
Carole is an editor known for her work on acclaimed films and series such as The Morning Show, Ghost World and The Affair. She has regularly collaborated with director Carl Franklin, editing several of his feature films including, One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress, and High Crimes. I spoke with Carole about moving to Los Angeles, meeting Carl Franklin, One False Move, and her work on Ghost World.
Did you always want to pursue a career as an editor?
No, not at all! I’m a former dancer and choreographer. That’s what I was hoping to pursue when I moved from France to Los Angeles. At some point my interest in cinema took over. I was living in Hollywood at the time and I thought that this was probably the best place in the world to study filmmaking. I made a short film and was later accepted at the American Film Institute as a director.
How did the interest in editing come about?
Once I started studying filmmaking, I took an editing class and everything clicked. The idea of shaping a story appealed to me as well as its a collaborative process. As odd as it may seem, my background in dance and choreography opened the doors to the art of editing. Editing is very intuitive and musical. You must find the cadence of the story. You must craft the actor’s performance and in a way, you choreograph a scene when you choose the angles to tell the story. My father always had a camera and filmed tons of family films on Super 8. When I was young, I would cut and rearrange the shots. I loved doing that. But I never thought it could be a job!
Who were your influences at the beginning?
Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise and Leos Carax’s Boy Meets Girl were very influential. They came out at the time I started film school and I watched these films with different eyes. At the time they captured my imagination because the directors were my contemporaries and they offered a new and youthful way of thinking of cinema.
Many of my influences were not only films I saw but it could be a book I read, or a play or a dance performance I saw. Pina Bausch, the German choreographer has had a prominent influence on my work for her sense of timing and her use of music.
You’ve collaborated on several features with Carl Franklin. How did that collaboration come about?
Carl and I met at AFI. We were both in the same directing class and we became friends. After school I started working as an editor. When he was hired to direct One False Move, he asked me to be his editor. It was very exciting because the script had so much depth. As we worked together we found out that we were really good collaborators. I think he liked my European point of view on things and I admired his work with actors, his sense of storytelling and his honesty. He trusted me and that is key to a collaboration.
One False Move was your first feature together...
Yes, it is an extraordinary film. I recently watched it again and it struck me how relevant it still is today. Cynda Williams breaks my heart with her performance and Bill Paxton as Dale is unforgettable. Carl called it a crime story, but it went so beyond that. It does start with a crime but it ends with a human story. The film was actually going to go straight to video but the film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel saw it, loved it and rescued it by championing it on their show. If I remember right that’s what pushed the distribution company to give it a theatrical release. I’m glad people are still discovering it today.
Do you have lots of creative control on films with directors you regularly collaborate with?
Filmmaking is about collaboration. I don’t have “control”, nor do I want it. My job is to help the director to create his or her vision. I bring as many ideas as I can to the table and I use my own intuition and experience to shape the film into its final form. I have been very lucky to work with directors who trust me completely and have given me the freedom to experiment.
You also edited Ghost World . Could you tell me more about this?
Editing a comedy is always such a treat. I didn’t know much about Daniel Clowes’s work, the artist who created the comics. The script he wrote with the director Terry Zwigoff was funny, odd and moving. Each time I do a film I enter a world that I must discover and that for me is a source of great adventure. In this instance I discovered the world of comic fans and music collectors. Ghost World has become a classic comedy. The humor is dry and desperate. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson both gave fantastic performances. Scarlett was actually too young for the part; she was not even 18 and played a senior in high school!
What’s the workflow like when working on a feature?
During production I receive the dailies that the director shot the day before. I start cutting the scenes but movies are shot out of order. So, I cut the scenes without really knowing where I’m going and I use my intuition to guide me. If I see anything that doesn’t make sense, or is missing or if I have question, I pick up the phone to discuss with the director. By the time he or she finishes shooting I have a first pass of the film.
After that the director and I start working together for a few months. We go scene by scene trying different cuts, shortening or lengthening or deleting or changing the order of the scenes and crafting the actors’ performances. We experiment a lot. I will bring in some temporary music and sound effects to help us find the right flow. Then we start screening for the producers and continue shaping the film until everyone agree that we have found the best version the film. After that we bring in the composer, the sound editor and the mixer who will help us finish the film
Do you have a favorite software to use?
Yes, I work on the Avid system.
How has the editing process developed since you first started out?
The editing tools have changed so much! I feel lucky to have started cutting 35mm. It was an invaluable experience. You had to really think about what you were doing because you couldn’t just press undo if you didn’t like it. It was more like playing chess: you had to plan your moves way in advance. Now that we’re cutting digitally, we can try millions of different versions and keep them all until we’re satisfied. When you were cutting 35mm it was manual and you had to splice and cut. I remember Carl always said he loved watching me edit. He said it put him in a trance! It was really time consuming, but in that time my mind would continue to think and plan.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career as an editor?
I always tell film students who want to get into this career that one of most important things is to open themselves to all the arts and not just cinema. To read, to visit museums, to attend dance performances, plays, concerts. There is fluidity between the Arts and it’s very important to remember that. I also tell them to be aware of what is happening in the world and to remember history. They will be working with different directors who have their own vision of the world and they will have to be well rounded to be able to communicate.
I also tell them not to be too hard on themselves. Editing is a process. Sometimes they’ll hit a wall and they won’t be able to solve a problem. They should just go home and the morning after, it will become a lot clearer. There is a pacing to creativity and you can’t really force it.