Gabriel Rhodes, the editor of the Oscar-nominated documentary Time, talked with us about his work on the film. Gabriel, a veteran doc editor who cut Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (Special Jury Prize Sundance 2018), Newtown, and The Witness, worked closely with director Garrett Bradley to showcase the harmful impact of the prison-industrial complex through the compelling story of Fox Rich, who has fought for her husband’s release from prison for the past two decades. Gabriel blended over 20 years of video diaries, present-day interviews and verité footage, using Adobe Premiere Pro to pull it all together.
PH: Hi Gabriel, how are you doing? How has your day-to-day changed from a year ago?
Gabriel Rhodes: Ha! Not much different on my end. Still consumed with editing on a day-to-day basis. When the pandemic began and everyone was complaining about being on a screen all day, all I could think is how editors basically live in a pandemic all the time – we’re inside all day, don’t really interact with other people and stare at screens! I’m not complaining, because I love the editing process, but things really haven’t changed much for most editors I know.
PH: How did you get into the industry? What drew you to editing?
Gabriel Rhodes: I moved to San Francisco after college and I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I had no idea if I would specialize in a craft. I sort of lucked into a job managing a small post-production house in Berkeley and I had access to the Avids. I’d always been somewhat computer savvy, so at first I was drawn to the technology. But I started to meet editors who would bring projects through and I really clicked with a lot of them on a personal level. I saw that editing was really where the film – especially documentaries – found their form. So, I started selling myself as an editor for projects that wanted to rent Avid time but couldn’t really afford editors. And I basically learned as I went.
PH: Can you talk about Time and how you became involved with the project?
Gabriel Rhodes: At Sundance in 2018, Garrett had seen a film I co-edited with Marina Katz called Matangi/Maya/MIA. That film was about the pop star MIA and it had a wealth of archival material that was shot by MIA over 15 years. So Garrett saw an immediate correlation to the film she was making.
PH: What was it like working with Garrett? Can you talk about that experience?
Gabriel Rhodes: Garrett is incredibly creative and open in her process. She’s very trusting and really enables her collaborators to do their best work. She’s also incredibly supportive on a personal level. She intuitively knew when I was struggling creatively and always patiently probed me to understand how she could help me break away from those mental blocks. I love working with her and I’m very fortunate that we’re collaborating on another project right now.
PH: This film blends content from video diaries, present-day interviews, etc. What were the challenges blending all of that content together?
Gabriel Rhodes: Anytime you’re dealing with varying sources, establishing the language of the film is much harder. Each of those sources claims their own territory and it can be difficult to integrate them. You have to learn the footage and find the resonant moments between the two forms and then you also have to respect their autonomy – once you enter one kind of footage, there’s almost a rhythm that you have to establish for how long you can stay with that source.
PH: On the reverse side, what were the benefits? How do you think it strengthened the story?
Gabriel Rhodes: The benefits are the incredible intimacy that Fox Rich provided us in her footage. It’s so rare to have unpolished access into a family’s life and we really wanted to honor Fox’s trust in us by utilizing her footage in the best way possible.
PH: How was the experience using Adobe Premiere Pro to pull it all together?
Gabriel Rhodes: Premiere offers such flexibility when working with sources of multiple frame rates, aspect ratios, etc. So the software was very helpful in dealing with those multiple formats.
PH: Do you have a “most rewarding” part of the project? If so, what was it and why?
Gabriel Rhodes: The most rewarding part was celebrating with the Richardson family at Sundance. After watching footage of people for the better part of a year, you start to feel like you really know and understand them. But they don’t know anything about you. Fox, Rob and their kids were so warm and appreciative to me at the festival and it was an absolute pleasure to get to know them in person.
PH: How did this film challenge and grow you professionally?
Gabriel Rhodes: I learn from every film I work on and hopefully carry those lessons forward to the next. From this film I would say I learned to really be patient with footage and look beyond my initial reaction to discover what’s under the surface.
PH: Can you talk about any upcoming projects or just what excites you about the future of the industry?
Gabriel Rhodes: I spent most of the last year working on a feature documentary called The First Wave, directed by Matthew Heineman, which will be released later this year by Neon and National Geographic. The film was shot in a hospital in New York City during the first three months of the pandemic. It’s terrifying, powerful and inspiring and I can’t wait for people to see it. Cinema as a medium has always been brilliant at reflecting back our own experience and providing us with perspective. I feel like that’s a reflection that we need now more than ever in this world.
PH: Do you think the role of the editor will continue to evolve? How?
Gabriel Rhodes: I was having a conversation with a friend last year about some of the new A.I. technology that’s coming out, and was wondering whether editors could one day be replaced by tech. I think for certain tasks, editors will actually become obsolete – I’m thinking sports highlights and those kind of things. But when it comes to storytelling, artificial intelligence will never be able to replace our ability to shape our own stories and narratives. The language of editing has only just started to develop. We’re finding new ways to communicate our experience both visually and audibly and editing will always be a part of that process.
View the trailer: