Editor Jonathan Alberts discusses the long, painstaking editing process on Lean on Pete, from screening dailies on location, to creating a sound temp track, finding the best takes, choosing minimal cuts, and finding the right rhythm. This is the fourth feature in our Special Issue on Lean on Pete, which is now available for purchase as an ebook here.
The editing in Andrew Haigh’s films is often invisible. People “think the editing is just attaching two shots together,” reflected Canadian editor Jonathan Alberts, Haigh’s long-time collaborator. But as Haigh and Alberts explained, the less you cut, the harder the editing process is, because each cut is so felt.
Haigh first worked as an editor, and even edited his first two films, Greek Pete and Weekend, himself. He has a very specific idea about how he wants to edit his films, with as few cuts as possible. Ever since they did the HBO series Looking together, Alberts has been working with Haigh on his films. Together, they’ve made two of the best edited films — 45 Years and Lean on Pete — in the last decade.
On each film, their work together starts with discussing the script, continues during production where Alberts joins Haigh on location so they can discuss the dailies each week, and finishes with months in the editing room. For Lean on Pete, they edited together for about six months, and that’s after Alberts had done the initial assembly.
I talked to Alberts about what made editing Lean on Pete such a challenge, how they go through multiple permutations of every scene and how they’re stitched together, and the role of an editor to maintain perspective on what the overall film looks like.
7R: You’ve worked with Andrew several times before, on Looking, 45 Years, and now Lean on Pete. How did that collaboration start?
Jonathan Alberts (JA): I had seen Weekend a couple of times in the theatre. I see a lot of films, but it’s pretty rare for me to see a film a bunch of times. I remember thinking, “I’d love to work with that director” — thinking there was no chance in hell I’d ever meet him.
I met Andrew to cut the pilot of Looking. We got along easily right away. That led to 45 Years. While we were cutting 45 Years, I read the book Lean on Pete because he said, “I think I want this to be my next movie.” I liked the book a lot, and we had a lot of time to talk about it while we were in the editing room.
7R: What was the overall process for editing Lean on Pete?
JA: Andrew likes the editor to be on location. It gives him a sense of how things are progressing, from a different perspective. For Lean on Pete, I was in Portland for two months, from August to September of 2016.
While we’re working, Andrew and I are talking a lot about the dailies. On Lean on Pete, we were screening dailies once a week, in the theatre, in Portland. Andrew would yell things out, or talk, as they would go by. Sometimes, it’s just observations or things he was thinking about. Sometimes, they’re not necessarily instructions, just feelings. I’ll usually take notes during that, and we’ll talk about them.
I’ll usually send him an email every day after I’ve seen the dailies, to just say what my thoughts are: what I’m seeing, what I’m feeling about something, if there’s something about a performance… Andrew wants things to feel lived in and naturalistic. So I’m always keeping my eye out for things that are either not feeling like that or things that are.
Lean on Pete was pretty much a five-day week shoot. On Saturdays, he’ll come into the cutting room, and we’ll look at things together for an hour or two. We did that on 45 Years, too. I can get instant feedback from him [on the uncut footage].
Once production wrapped, we moved it to London. I finished my assembly in about 10 days, and then we were in the cutting room together to do his director’s cut.
7R: I know Andrew tries to shoot in order. How does that affect the dailies coming in and your process?
JA: Typically, when shooting out of order, you may get some big scene that’s in the middle of the film on day four. It’s a strange process because when you finally put all the scenes together, you realize there’s some real wonkiness — some things that don’t work.
When you’re cutting scenes in order, you’re seeing the narrative unfold. You’re starting to feel where things are at, emotionally, so you can build one scene on top of another.
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