Brooklyn is on the receiving end of a lot of love from both audiences and critics. Earlier this week Saoirse Ronan won Best Actress with the New York Critics. I managed to chat to Jake Roberts about working with director John Crowley and editing the film.
Jake Roberts: I didn’t think I was an obvious choice when I met John [Crowley] as I had just done this film called Start Up which was pretty violent, but because I’d been working with Lone Scherfig on The Riot Club, and she had directed An Education for the producers of Brooklyn. John, by the way, had used the same editor up to this, she wasn’t available and he had to go after fresh blood, and my name came up.
I sat down with him, it’s great that getting a job has very little to what you’ve done before, but at the same time it’s nerve-wracking that it’s about hitting it off with the directors and almost like going on a date.
I guess John had an intuition that worked out very well for me.
AD: Talk about that relationship
JR: We met in November but we didn’t shoot until April. They were shooting in County Wexford in Ireland and I was in Dublin, but he was on the phone with me regularly, but we didn’t really have much interaction until the Montreal location shoots.
At our initial meeting, he told me, he wasn’t interested in landscapes or scale. He really wanted it to be just about her. John is confident enough in his casting process to let you do your thing. He’ll only step in when he feels he needs to. He doesn’t need to impose a huge amount of upfront direction on you. He’ll see where you go with it, and he’ll give you a gentle nudge this way.
In terms of the assemblies, most of the shots were done with a clear vision, and you can feel how it needed to be put together, it really just presented itself.
AD: Once you found out you were going to work on Brooklyn, did you read the book?
JR: John and I discussed this in our first meeting, and he decided that I wouldn’t read it. Everyone else had read it. I could rely on them to be true to it. For me, the reality was that 95% of the audience wouldn’t have read the book, so I had to be true to the film also and that was my singular agenda.
AD: There are many shots in the film, the lingering ones are so powerful and emotional. At any point did you feel the urge to just go CUT!
JR: You definitely did want to hold the shot, but you also don’t want to out-stay your welcome. It’s just an intuitive instinct as to where that falls and you hope your gut’s right. The first example is the dance scene, and everything up to that point is quite fast, then you get that shot where we hold on her face.
I hadn’t been exposed to Saoirse and there was this magical, very subtle thing, and I said to myself that it had to go in in its entirety, I don’t care how long it is.
We had to fight hard to keep it because people were saying they wanted to speed the film up at this point, why are we lingering on her face.
AD: What sort of discussions were going on in that fight?
JR: There was honestly a suggestion to start the film on the boat. I don’t think they thought that through. Everyone was anxious to get her to America. But, it is a film about transformation, if you don’t have the before, you lose the after. So, yeah we had those talks.
AD: As much as I love the long shots, I also liked the time skip.
JR: It was very much written like that, and directed like that. The passing of time is quite deceptive because you can feel like the scene you’re watching happens the next day after the previous scene you’ve seen but actually it’s three weeks. Almost every scene in the film has a two to three week gap between it. So it skips along and it’s not marked so you don’t really notice it.
I think it’s something most people don’t notice. What makes her transformation so successful is that it happens in a subtle way.
AD: How did you work with the sound editor?
JR: Until you lock the film, there is no sound. Sound is something I really get involved very quickly. You still want to augment the soundtrack as soon as possible, and it’s something I try to do early on. I work with John throughout the edit, and it’s easy to pass on to the sound team, in this case Glenn Freeman.
Something that wasn’t there, was I hadn’t realized how French Montreal is. All our extras in the film were French speaking, there were no American accents in the movie, and this didn’t happen until the post.
We ended up casting post ADR people who were genuinely American, not people who said they spoke with an American accent on their CV or just English with a bad American accent. We needed the authenticity. So we populated with the arrival hall and the street she walks down and every place we could in the early part of the film with authentic American voices just to hear that sonically.
AD: Well, ADR is really important to a film and it really makes a huge difference. You’ve made me want to watch it again, just to pay attention to those scenes.
JR: The first voice in the trailer was some chap living in London who happened to be brought up in Brooklyn. I hope he’s aware he has a starring role, and he plays about 27 characters in the film.
AD: How long did it take you do work on this film?
JR: John and I sat down ten days after shooting and we watched my first assembly, he had to have some input at that point. At the end I had a tear in my eye and I was slightly embarrassed. I looked over at John and he had tears streaming down his face.
I knew instantly that we weren’t going to have opposing visions on it. Right away we felt we were in the right shape.
It was relatively smooth. There were some battles like over the shots, but John fought hard for the things we believed in. Other than that it was a really smooth ride.
AD: With the world changing as far as how people watch films, a lot of people watch films on mobile devices, do you keep that in mind when you cut a film?
JR: As depressing as it is that anyone under 18 is going to watch a film on an iPhone, you have to imagine you’re cutting for an audience in the theater. The future might well be, that you’ll have to use more close-ups because things don’t read in a master shot. That pressure hasn’t been brought into the film-editing suite yet.
Rhythmically you slow things down a little bit for the big screen, not massively, but you adjust the pace in a few frames. When you cut, it’s good to see the film blown up as you’re working on it. I hope we keep making films for the cinema.