Patrick Nelson Barnes, an award-winning film editor, has most recently edited the feature No Man of God, starring Elijah Wood and Emmy® award-winner Luke Kirby, directed by Amber Sealey, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021.
Patrick is a sought-after editor in both feature films and television—known for bringing an exceptional breadth of knowledge, craft and creativity to filmmaking across genres, and for being a true collaborator and steady hand in the cutting room.
Previously he edited The Wolf of Snow Hollow, the sophomore feature from Sundance and SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner Jim Cummings (Thunder Road), which was released in theaters by Orion Pictures. A few of his other accolades include working with Academy Award®-winner Jamie Foxx on his directorial debut, All-Star Weekend, and editing the Sundance film How Does it Start.
Patrick chatted exclusively to ProductionHUB about his work on No Man of God or his career as an award-winning film editor.
PH: Hi Patrick, how are you? How has your work changed/been affected the last year or so?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: Hi! I’m great, thank you. Well I just edited a feature film without ever meeting with the director and producers in person! That’s a pretty big change. On No Man of God, my latest film, it was incredible to watch the whole crew step up and go the extra mile to make things run smoothly—producer Kim Sherman and my assistant editor Patrick Lawrence would drop off hard drives at my house after wrap each day, and then whenever it was needed throughout post; director Amber Sealey and producer Daniel Noah and I had countless phone calls and Zoom meetings late into the evenings to make up for the in-person sessions we couldn’t have. It’s amazing what you can still accomplish over Zoom and working remotely, but there is something special that only seems to happen when working in a room together. I think we managed to make something great despite the limitations.
PH: How long have you been in the industry? Why editing? What drew you to it?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: The first proper feature I cut was a documentary that started in 2003 so, I have been in the industry for about 17 years, but I had been making experimental films and editing short documentary pieces even before that. I started making little films at home—starring my step-brothers!—when I was a teenager and I would edit them in-camera or by connecting a VCR to my video camera and using it as a second deck. We had a real video production department at my high school and I quickly realized that I could sit in the editing room alone for countless hours working on something. To me, it was akin to being a musician and making music. I still see it that way sometimes. I believe that editing is the process that makes cinema a true art form—when you experience a movie or television show, you are not experiencing a script, performances, music, sound design, or moving imagery, you are experiencing the way those elements have been constructed, manipulated and composed.
PH: Can you talk about your latest film, No Man of God, which is premiering at Tribeca? How did you become involved?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: No Man of God is the real-life story of FBI agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) and his experience interviewing infamous serial killer Ted Bundy (Emmy® award winner Luke Kirby, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) over a 5-year period before Bundy’s execution in 1989. In 1984 the FBI began a program to “profile” violent serial offenders in an attempt to try and understand their psychology in the hopes that it would give them insights to effectively combat future crimes. Bill Hagmaier was one of the original five full-time profilers, and he served as a consultant on this film.
I have worked with director Amber Sealey on several projects now and we have a great creative relationship. We met about 12 years ago through our mutual friend, editor Gabriel Fleming, ACE and had tried to work together for several years until finally the stars aligned and I was able to edit her third feature No Light and No Land Anywhere, which was Executive Produced by her friend Miranda July (artist, and writer/director of Me and You and Everyone We Know, Kajillionaire), and went on to win a special jury award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Most recently we collaborated on her short film How Does it Start which premiered at Sundance. She called me up and said, “How would you like to make a movie with Elijah Wood about Ted Bundy?”
PH: What were some of the challenges with this film? What approach did you take to editing?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: There were some initial challenges during production, because it took place during the height of the pandemic and there were also wildfires in Southern California not far from set. There were choices that had to be made with regard to shooting crowds at the prison. We solved that creatively by incorporating archival footage and I think it works very well, probably better than the original idea. A lot of the film takes place in the room where Hagmaier and Bundy meet and there are year-long time jumps between meetings, so another challenge was how do we make sure the audience is tracking where Bill is at emotionally and get a sense of what is happening in the wider world and culture at that time. Amber knew from the beginning that she wanted to have some sort of creative transitionary element and that developed into the lyrical montages that incorporate ‘80s archival footage and home movies from the period. These montages delve into Bill’s subconscious, and touch upon the larger themes of the film—toxic masculinity, representation of women in ‘70s/’80s popular culture, as well as the kind of bloodlust that is evident in the crowds that came to Florida State Prison for the execution. It all adds to the texture of the story in a way that I think makes this film very unique, and more poetic than your typical crime movie.
PH: Can you share what the collaboration process looked like with the team?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: One of us could work together in the same room for editorial, because of COVID. I worked from my home edit studio. Amber likes to give me lots of options to work with and encourages me to experiment right off the bat, which is great. On this film, once there was a first cut we spent more time together on the phone discussing the director’s cut, and once we had that, then we started working with producer Daniel Noah from Spectrevision as well and the three of us became a team over Zoom and phone, exchanging ideas and often having discussions late into the evening. On a smaller film like this, with a modest budget, everyone sort of has to go the extra mile to make sure you wind up with the film you want. We also got feedback from producers Elijah Wood, Lisa Whalen, and Kim Sherman.
PH: How do you infuse your own creativity into your work?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: It happens naturally! Being a film editor is an incredibly creative job. When you get to a certain point in your career, you are hired for your taste and the way that you approach storytelling and collaboration, so every minute I’m working I am making creative decisions that put my fingerprints on the work in countless ways. I try to get a sense of how each particular director I work with likes to work and then I kind of adjust to their rhythm, to maximize what I can compliment their talents with. On The Wolf of Snow Hollow, writer/director Jim Cummings (SXSW Grand Jury Award-winner Thunder Road) is an editor himself, and a real cinephile, so he was clear about what he wanted story-wise and stylistically but wanted extra input on using montages to advance the story. Jimmy Tatro, who co-wrote (with Christian A. Pierce) and directed The Real Bros of Simi Valley is a comedic genius, but really valued when I created extra funny moments through certain timing and musical choices and cutaways that he might not have planned originally. And with Jamie Foxx—the ultimate multi-hyphenate—on All-Star Weekend, it was his first time directing and he really wanted me to try things that I thought would work, then he would call me later after he’d watched through a cut or leave me voice texts telling me what he liked.
PH: You also collaborated with Jamie Foxx on his directorial debut All-Star Weekend. What was that project like?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: I’m not allowed to discuss the project itself but it was so much fun working with Jamie Foxx. He’s such a creative person and just a great guy. I can reveal though, that it was the first time I have experienced a director spontaneously start singing one of his own songs while in the editing room! Seriously though, I was laughing throughout most of our time working together.
PH: How have some of your other projects shaped you as an editor today?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: One of the things that’s been great about my career so far is the variety of genres I’ve been able to work in. Moving back and forth between drama and comedy has sharpened my ability in both. I really do love both and I think a great editor should be able to speak the language of as many genres as possible.
PH: Your outstanding work in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, was nominated for a Fright Meter Award. What’s that feel like? As you’ve grown in your career, how do you consistently evolve?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: Of course it’s always great to be recognized for your work! I evolve by challenging and pushing myself on every project from beginning to end. I constantly ask myself if every scene is achieving what it needs to, and how can it achieve more than it needs to. The best films and TV shows are than the sum of their parts and that’s what I’m always striving to achieve.
PH: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an editor?
Patrick Nelson Barnes: To always listen to feedback from everyone. It’s really important to protect the director’s or showrunner’s vision and bring in your own ideas, but the end experience involves an audience that will bring their personal history with them and interpret the story in a way that you never anticipated—I relearn this on every project! On the other hand, don’t let a project turn into filmmaking by committee, sometimes you need to stick to your creative guns in order to make something that is groundbreaking.