Posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Amazon Prime’s Somebody I Used to Know, directed by Dave Franco, which features a star-studded ensemble of Alison Brie (Community, Glow), Jay Ellis (Insecure, Top Gun: Maverick), Kiersey Clemons (Dope), Haley Joel Osment and Amy Sedaris, is the unconventional love story that follows three people who help each other discover who they are, where they came from and where they’re going.
The romantic comedy was edited remotely across LA by a small but mighty team consisting of editor Ernie Gilbert, assistant editor Riley Adamson and VFX Artist Neil Lokken. The team chose Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects to collaborate remotely, share and review footage and cuts, and temp graphics as quickly and efficiently as if they were in the same room. We spoke exclusively to Ernie about his work on the project.
PH: Hello! Can you provide a bit of your professional background? Can you share some of the projects you've worked on?
Ernie Gilbert: I got my start in music. I played in a band, and we needed a music video. So I directed and edited that, which led me to shoot and edit live concerts, documentaries, and other music videos. This led to television and commercials and, ultimately, features. Over the years, some of my favorite projects were 'This is America' for Childish Gambino, 'War Pony' for Riley Keough and Gina Gammell, FX's 'Atlanta,' and commercials for American Eagle with Creative Director Michael Goldberg. I saw every new direction as a way to explore and play. I've been lucky to jump between long and short form. The variety keeps me engaged and excited. I like bringing different approaches to my work and leaning on those different skill sets.
PH: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Ernie Gilbert: I spend a lot of time listening to music, watching movies, and walking around taking photos. I'm a big fan of ambient music. A simple drive to someplace new with the right album playing in my car opens my mind and resets me. I usually throw on something from the band 'This Will Destroy You' when I need to get inspired.
PH: How did you become involved with Somebody I Used to Know?
Ernie Gilbert: Dave and I met in 2020 on a commercial he directed for Garret Leight. I appreciated his intention and passion for his work. He brings great energy to everything, and it's hard not to get swept up. When he told me about 'Somebody I Used To Know' a year later, I knew I had to do it. Dave described the film as a grounded and authentic version of a rom-com. I knew he would put together a fantastic team, the script was a blast on the page, and the cast was incredible. It was gonna be a lot of fun.
PH: Can you describe your creative approach to editing?
Ernie Gilbert: I view it as organized sloppiness. Before putting anything in the timeline, I watch all the footage and make notes. Dropping markers for anything that jumps out at me. From here, I throw all those selects into a timeline and see how the pieces fit together. Some directors shoot with razor-sharp intention, and the puzzle is pretty apparent. Others shoot to explore in the edit. Either way, I start with a solid knowledge base of the footage and the director's goals. Then I just want to get in the mix. Knowing that I will learn and make sense of it as I go. I imagine it's a lot like writing. You can't think your way to perfection, so you have to just get something on the page or, in my case, the timeline and then start refining. Sometimes I'll throw away an entire cut because I realize I was heading the wrong way, but I would only know the right path if I tried the wrong one first.
PH: Can you share the team's collaborative approach? How long was the entire editing process?
Ernie Gilbert: We started the edit at the same time production started filming. Not every project I've worked on does this, but it's so helpful to the process. I could do rough cuts and share them with Dave while they were still filming. It also allowed me to stay on top of what they were getting and flag any concerns I could catch from the edit bay. To understand how collaborative everyone was, Dave would send me voice memos at wrap with shots he liked, ideas for flow, and everything else that was top of mind. My assistant editor and I would consider these in addition to our script supervisor's notes as I assembled the cuts.
Once they wrapped production, Dave and I bunkered down in a basement office in Silverlake. We spent nearly seven months cutting to get to the picture lock. Riley, our AE, and Neil, our VFX Artist, were remote, but we were constantly feeding them tasks to help. Even though we weren't in the same space, it never felt like we were too far removed from each other's processes. Riley and Neil kept everything running smoothly and contributed creatively throughout. You might even hear Riley's voice if you watch into the credits.
PH: What was your experience using Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects to collaborate remotely?
Ernie Gilbert: Premiere Pro works great in a remote environment. Our team could share projects quickly while maintaining the security requirements of Amazon. When temping out VFX, my work went to Riley to improve upon. Then, when a shot was locked, it could go to Neil with all that work included, and Neil could relink to the camera negative and do the final work from our in-progress shots. No need to start from scratch.
PH: Did you have a sequence that was most impactful to you? Why?
Ernie Gilbert: Working with the performances Dave got from this cast was a true pleasure. Towards the end of the film, without giving anything away, our characters have several intense and moving scenes where they must come to terms with each other's actions and life directions. I found my eyes getting misty during one of the fights and then again during a reconciliation two characters experience. And that was just from the dailies. When presented with compelling footage and performance, your job as the editor is to honor those elements as much as possible and look for the truth in those sequences. This film touches on so many universal feelings creative people have. I found myself reacting as myself to the footage and then trying to honor the film's intention in addition to my own feelings. It was a rollercoaster at times, but really rewarding in the end.
PH: What challenges did you encounter, and how did you approach those?
Ernie Gilbert: A couple of scenes in this film were monstrous to edit just by their design. One that comes to mind is the band performing around the halfway mark. We're juggling three main characters on their own path that are crashing into each other, all while handling two musical performance numbers with dozens of background and side characters to keep alive. Plus, we had to see Haley Joel Osment do the worm. In this sequence, I leaned on my music video experience and workflow to keep alt options in sync at our fingertips as we tried different approaches to the scene.
PH: As an editor, how did you get to keep the heart and core of each character through your editing choices?
Ernie Gilbert: It's a constant back and forth of trying things, seeing how they play, and then refining. I'm sure some editors can watch takes and then decide, based on a gut feeling, what will work best, but for me, it's a constant dance of exploration. I think this comes from my short-form background, where a project is often shot with 30x the amount of footage you need for the finished piece.
PH: What have you learned (professionally and personally) about yourself as an editor over the years?
Ernie Gilbert: Whoa. We just met! Haha. My biggest takeaway is that there's no shortcut to editing. Sure, you can have a great workflow and pipeline that speeds up the technology side of it. You can have a new computer that exports your cuts quicker to post for the client. But at the end of the day, editing is a labor of time. It takes time to digest the footage. To try out versions. To fail and repeat and refine and improve. You have to be ok with doing a lot of bad edits. You must be comfortable sharing that in-progress cut because the client needs something to review, and maybe you still need to try enough things.
I didn't think of myself as a perfectionist for a long time. I would describe myself just as being very critical. It was a way to hold onto some idea of exceptionalism as if every great piece of art we look at was somehow spawned effortlessly into the world by an artisan on their first try. A friend recently called me out on this. They told me I was acting like a perfectionist but calling it something else. Of course, that was perfectionism talking. By its very nature, you cannot do a perfect edit on the first pass. Editing, by definition, is changing something from a mass of unrefined words or images and putting them in an order that makes sense to share. You have to try and fail and try again.
PH: Can you share any upcoming projects?
Ernie Gilbert: Unfortunately, the two projects I've worked on for the last four months are both heavily NDA'd. I can say one is a television comedy, and the other is in the music world for someone you've probably heard of. With both, I'm very excited to see them out in the world and to be able to talk about them. They each presented unique challenges and really stretched me as an editor.
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