Editing a project that’s been selected by Sundance is a pretty special accomplishment. It’s no surprise that Lam T. Nguyen, an editor with over 17 years of experience, is behind Emergency—a film that is part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Satellite Screen program.
In a recent interview, we spoke to Lam about what it takes to have a film chosen at Sundance, his editing approach, as well as his favorite editing sequence.
PH: How long have you been in the industry and where do you draw your inspiration from?
Lam T. Nguyen: I have been in this industry for nearly 20 years now. One of the first films that intrigued me into filmmaking was Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.” The way that film was put together and challenges on how it was told was innovative and inspiring. I’ve become a big fan of Nolan since then.
I also draw my inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock. I love the way he pushes boundaries in his filmmaking techniques and how he explores characters psyche in various perspectives.
PH: What made you sign onto this project?
Lam T. Nguyen: This will be my second collaboration with Carey Williams and he approached me with this script to see if I be interested. I immediately fell in love with the story especially the character dynamics it had. I wanted to take on this challenge of comedy and drama and how to weave this together for the film. We’ve built a great chemistry together with R#J and I believe that helped with this project. I’m grateful that Carey considered me for this and it truly has become something special.
PH: How do you know if a film is going to get into Sundance?
Lam T. Nguyen: I actually try not to think about it that much because I know how hard it is to be invited into Sundance. Our film last year R#J was my first invitation and that was awesome. But didn’t think I be back again.
I felt Emergency had a chance not only because the short was in Sundance and won there but because of this story and the message it lends. I think everyone on all levels was very passionate in making this movie and that gives it a sense of hope that, “Hey I think I can see this in Sundance.” But you never know.
So, I’m grateful and honored to be invited back to Sundance especially to premiere opening night in the US Dramatics Competition. It’s a dream come true.
PH: Can you describe what it was like collaborating with the other pros (like the director) about feedback?
Lam T. Nguyen: I have the same approach with all the directors I work with. I often ask what they like and what they really don’t like before we start on a project. It gives me access to be in their mindset and I use that as a guide while I put the story together. I literally try every note they suggest even the impossible ones because it’s the hard ones that will open new ideas in making a better film.
PH: Do you have a favorite editing sequence? If so, what was it?
Lam T. Nguyen: My favorite sequence would be the police chase hospital scene. To be able to feel the speed on how rapid things can go wrong and then to break away from the chaos for a moment to experience Kunle’s emotions while he tries save the girl and back to chaos again was pretty neat. This helped for the payoff at the end of the scene when we freeze in time while feeling Kunle’s fear and innocence being stripped away was very powerful. The scene gets me every time.
PH: What were some of the editing challenges you encountered? How did you handle those?
Lam T. Nguyen: The challenges was to balance comedy and drama. I had to keep that in mind to make sure we didn’t stray too far away from what can be too silly and feeling too dramatic. It’s a very surgical experience in handling the comedy part. To be able to adjust a shot just 5 or 6 frames before you cut can make a comedic moment land better.
For the heavy emotional stuff, I lean on the characters to influence the cut. Often times I would close my eyes and listen to the sound of the scene – feel the moment and mark on the sequence for where I felt like we needed to cut away. It’s one of things to hang on a shot just long enough to make it work and it’s guided by not what I see but how I feel.
PH: Let’s talk about your experience using Premiere Pro. What was that like? How did it help you accomplish your work?
Lam T. Nguyen: For this project in particular we had a system setup using Adobe through Amazon cloud. I was given access to log in remotely to a super PC and do all my edits here in LA. The assistant editors live in NY and they have their access to their own remote machine. Our machines would connect to one large cloud storage drive.
We used the Adobe Production feature where we can access the same project so that all of us are up to date on the cut. It was awesome for my assistants to pull anything that’s needed while I do my edits and sharing updates was seamless.
This process benefited me to have more time to focus on the edit and it was very efficient and convenient for us access the project anytime and anywhere.
PH: What advice would you have for directors on working with editors?
Directors and Editors really build a strong relationship in crafting the story. We get really attached to the work together and that’s what makes it special.
So I think what helps is to be open minded and ask questions. I’ve been fortunate to work with very collaborative directors in welcoming new ideas and notes. They often ask does that work? Can it be better? Etc… It’s great to see how directors can take an unexpected perspective and still mold the idea to be in their vision and voice.
Learn more about Emergency.