Yesterday I attended the 7th Annual Prime Cuts panel, put on by American Cinema Editors and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The panel is made up of currently Emmy-nominated editors discussing their craft with moderator Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield). Among the panelists this year was Lisa P. Trulli, who is nominated for editing the hit reality series “Project Runway.” Her answer to this first question was the highlight of the entire panel for me.
SR: Let’s move on to our next nominee, Lisa, who is nominated for Project Runway. Reading your pre-interview stuff, you said something that I really appreciated, because a lot of times when I talk to editors who work in the reality and competition space, they tend to have aspirations to do movies or scripted; you talk about how much you love the genre. Talk about why you love editing the genre.
LISA: Well, yeah, sometimes reality gets a little bad rap, but as an editor, it’s the most amazing place to work. You have complete control. And I literally have had shows where they put me in a room and say, “Six weeks later, you need to come up with a show.” And it’s really fun. It’s a great way to craft stories and develop characters, and it’s a very broad approach. Like, I’m listening to these beautiful, nuanced things that the feature world has—I don’t have that. I don’t have a beautiful, crafted, composed shot. These guys are running, gunning, moving and we’re lucky if we get anything on film. We’re racing all the time, so we cannot depend on a beautiful visual to tell our story. We have to use every trick in the book and I really love doing that.
SR: How did you get involved? Did you start in reality, scripted or commercial?
LISA: Well, I got involved in editing pre-reality. We used to call it ‘documentary’ back then. Actually, my first job, I call it “The University of Hughes.” When I got out of film school, I worked for Hughes Aircraft Company in their corporate filmmaking department and we could spend all the money in the world making things like, “The Missiles of Hughes.” And they were horrible films, but we had a lot of fun learning the craft and spending a lot of money—sorry, government! From that I moved into basically documentary. I did a hundred of those Discovery Channel hours on rollercoasters and UFOs and ghosts and they’re sort of a hybrid of the documentary genre. And then reality was born and I was very well suited to move right into that world.
SR: In this genre, not your show, but you’ll hear people that are on reality shows complain that “the way they edited me was completely different then how I was. They made me out to be this monster when really I wasn’t.” What is your obligation to someone who is a contestant on Project Runway, versus your obligation to the audience?
LISA: That’s an interesting question. Well, first of all, just like any piece of entertainment, the biggest thing you have to worry about is the character. You have to want to watch these people, root for them, hate them, be in awe of them. So, first and foremost, you’re trying to take a non-pro, not an actor, and find a way to craft their personality into something that is entertaining and interesting. And I think that all of us have many facets, we’re not all terrible and we’re not all wonderful. And we’re not trying to do that necessarily, but we are trying to make them identifiable quickly. One of the challenges of Runway is that you’re introducing in the first show sixteen characters. And I’m trying to find a way to give you something to latch onto. So, the first time they talk, I want them to say something that’s character revealing. Not just, “I went to this school.” It’s important to know who they are as a designer, but I need to know who they are as a character. So I do not do anything dishonest, I’m not cutting different parts of interview together to have them say something different. But, I think if I’m honest, I’m taking away the nuances sometimes. So, you said it, it’s on film, but I may not use the next part where after the person yelled then they go, “Oh gosh, I really feel terrible, I’m really, really sorry and I’ll never do that again.” Honestly, you have to come away from those scenes of a big fight, there has to be some resolution, but yeah, I’m cherry-picking personality traits to make it entertaining. But honestly I think that’s the bad rap of reality is when it gets a little ridiculously in on that take, because no one is just nasty. And that’s one of the wonderful parts about Runway is it’s real, there’s nothing scripted about it, there’s nothing but documenting and then taking that hours and hours and hours of footage and whittling it down to the real gem of what you’re trying to communicate.
SR: Do you find yourself rooting for specific people as you cut them?
LISA: Yeah, it’s funny, I do. I tend to root for somebody or find a character that somehow I connect with. This happens a little more on Real World versus a competition show, because the truth of the matter is, yes, they may be characters [on Runway], but they’re being judged on their creative pieces of work. So, they may be not my favorite person, but they’re so incredibly gifted as a designer, but you kind of want them to win. Actually, we’ve also had years where people who aren’t the nicest people have won, and it doesn’t feel good in your tummy. You’re like, “Ugh, she’s great, but I kinda didn’t want her to win.” But in Real World, you watch these people, you’re watching everything they do. They shower, they eat breakfast, I know what they read in bathroom, I know everything about them. And then when they do something that is inappropriate you go, “Really? You shouldn’t have done that. I can’t show that.” But you have to, you know? I’m sure all of us have had this experience, but you’re doing it with movie stars: I feel very connected with these people; they don’t know who I am.
SR: Yeah, you feel like you know these people, I imagine in your job it’s ten times that.
LISA: As a matter of fact, the characters on Real World get kind of embarrassed because the clip goes like, “Oh, they’ve seen me at my best and my worst.” And I always feel like, “Oh God, I forgot that part,” but yes, I take it all very personally. I spend all day with these people.
SR: Tell us about the clip we’re going to see and why you chose it.
LISA: I picked kind of three small clips, I’m introducing characters, it’s the very beginning of season 10, our tenth anniversary show. One reason I picked it is because I wanted to illustrate how we use the interview to help you see the character right away. But more from an editorial point I picked them because there’s a certain rhythm you have to use, at least on Runway, because let’s face it, most of the footage the first half of the show is in a small, fluorescent-lit room, and people are all doing the same thing. They’re sewing, cutting, they’re kind of quiet. Making a dress is not inherently dramatic. So, even though I don’t really illustrate a lot of that in these clips, I wanted to show you a certain kind of rhythm, a way to keep the pace moving when maybe the visual isn’t as super dramatic. There’s soundtrack that helps keep the energy going.
[We watched some great clips that beautifully illustrated her point.]
SR: How many cameras are running and how much footage do you typically have?
LISA: I love this question. We have typically two to three cameras and that boils down to about 35 hours of footage a day if it’s a working day, the runway day is a little shorter. But just to look at two to three cameras takes a week. A week of my two-week schedule is spent just looking at footage, and it is an enormous amount. The tricky part is it’s not stuff you can fast forward through because it’s subtle and things that are happening are tiny and you really need to hear and watch it so you can find those little nuggets.
SR: Well great stuff and very fun to watch.