Editor Joe Bini discusses how he helped craft a visually striking, subjective film by experimenting in the edit. This is an excerpt from the ebook You Were Never Really Here: A Special Issue. Get your copy of the book here.
At 90 minutes, You Were Never Really Here is pared down to the bare essentials: not a frame is out of place; every shot has a purpose. Editor Joe Bini intricately weaves together a dense tapestry of visual information, immersing us in the unravelling mind of hitman Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), creating both distress and suspense.
I talked to Bini about the different ways he experimented with the footage, cutting dialogue scenes versus image-based scenes, and being aware of ‘emotional time’.
Joe Bini on immersing us in Joe’s subjective headspace through the editing
Seventh Row: How did you approach immersing us in Joe’s subjective headspace?
Joe Bini: I always try to do things that make me look at the rushes in a different way. And when I say ‘rushes’, it’s not just picture: we consider sound design to be rushes. We consider music to be rushes. We like to get them as early as possible. [Sound designer] Paul Davies has worked with [director Lynne Ramsay] her whole career, so he’s providing sound from the very beginning.
Say I have scene 15, whatever that is. I have some sound for it. Here’s the images that are supposed to be in the scene, and the scene is supposed to be where X and X happens. That’s the starting point. Then, I like to immediately say, “What else is possible?”
Once I have all the footage, I have my assistant go through the entire film. I say to her, “I want you to pick out still images”. None of them should have Joaquin in it. It should 100% be about what’s going on in his head. What does he see? What does he think? And they don’t have to be images that necessarily end up in the film — just anything that feels psychological.
We gathered quite a few images. I would play them on an iPhoto slideshow in different, random orders, with different music, or no music, or with sound, just to see if anything connected.
Seventh Row: How did you think about where to place Joe’s flashbacks?
Joe Bini: The first [flashback sequence] we edited was the scene on the train. Once we got that right — once we got what needs to happen in that scene — then you can say, “Alright, what needs to be planted before that?” We went backwards. It’s suspense: to me, the film is a suspense film, like We Need to Talk About Kevin. The audience keeps watching because they want to know what’s going to happen. What did this guy do?
The rest of the article is available in the ebook You Were Never Really Here: A Special Issue which can be purchased here.