How to Edit to Thrill The Audience with Film Editor, Ryan Liebert
Owen Shapiro 00:04
Welcome to Kino Society with Owen Shapiro. In today’s episode, we have Ryan Liebert a film editor that brings a dynamic and efficient approach to the Edit with specific focus on emotion, pacing and audience engagement. Welcome to Kino Society Ryan.
Ryan Liebert 00:28
Thanks for having me.
Owen Shapiro 00:29
Would you mind telling us a bit about your background? And what attracted you to editing above all other industry jobs?
Ryan Liebert 00:35
Yeah, sure. So about 12 years ago, when I was finishing up college, I kind of was looking for what to do. And I used to be really into skateboarding and snowboarding and making skateboarding and snowboarding films. And I started editing those for fun. And while I was in college, I took intro to digital film class that taught us Final Cut Pro. And you know, I just really took to it and liked it a lot. And you know, got a lot of satisfaction out of that first video that I was able to create from nothing and present and get good feedback on. So I kind of quickly made it decision when I was a junior in college, that that’s what I was going to do. So in between my junior and senior year of college, I went to Los Angeles, I’m from Vermont, so I’m from a really small state. And so I went to California, where there’s a lot more opportunities and a lot more people to learn from eager to start a career editing movies. Now, it was not an overnight thing by any means. You know, I had to really earn everything I’ve got and build it through relationships with other filmmakers who also kind of migrated to LA from the east coast. So you know, back in 2011, some friends and I basically self funded our first feature film to where we were all doing, you know, he was director, we had a writer, and you know, we were all basically funding our own films so that we could do the jobs that we wanted to do. And through that process, really learned how hard it is to tell an engaging story for 90 minutes. But be that like, I really liked it. And it was just this insane challenge that, you know, had a lot of ups and downs. And you know, it just it just fed us that we wanted more and to make more movies. So about two years later, we made another movie with about double the budget, better camera, better actors bigger script. And again, that was another huge learning curve where we did a lot, right, we did a lot wrong. So then after that, you know, a couple years of that, you know, meanwhile, I’m working a day job just trying to make rent in California editing a movie at night, you know, those are huge stepping stones. As far as me being able to understand it. Like I know how to manage a project of that size. I know how to tell a story over that long building relationships with directors and all of that. And through that, I started networking with a lot of people, cinematographers producers, and all this. And as we grew, and in the industry, we would help each other out with jobs. And that kind of led me all the way through three or four more films throughout like 2014 15 and 16. And then and also a lot of short films to a lot of people will make short films because that they have limited budget, and they have an idea, but they can’t get funding for a full feature. So you know, I’ve done about 15 or 20 short films over the years to all in the effort to build relationships with directors and you know, those have paid off through smaller jobs, not necessarily film work, but you know, eventually had led to second and third films. And then most recently, I kind of used all those connections and all those resources to get myself on Willie’s Wonderland, which was my biggest film today, you know, out of five and a half million dollar budget Nick Cage in it, he was shooting in Atlanta. So I had I finally felt like I pushed into that next tier of low budget still low budget filmmaking, but it was it was a step that was necessary and but it took it took eight to 10 years for that to really be an option for me. So a lot of hard work a lot of drive passion, late nights and and willing to work for free or for cheap, just because I knew that I was putting it towards the next project. And you know, even today, I’m still not where I want to be obviously, but I’m making head ground with every film that I do. So you know, with the release of Willies, it actually opened up another project for me. So just starting next week, I’m starting another film still on the low budget side, but it’s still it’s it’s more work in the film industry. It’s more time telling stories and movies. And then you know, eventually, you know, the directors that I’ve invested time and with are going to transcend to the next level. And then I hope they take me along with me because I know as an editor, I can’t really I can’t really break through until I have a director that breaks through you know, I always like to reference one of my favorite movies is whiplash. And you know Tom Krause, you know, he was he was in a very similar position. He was a little different than me, but you know, he prepared himself with a director that he saw had a lot of potential and cut a short film form that short film, got them funding to do the feature. And then a year after the feature, he’s winning an Oscar and now he’s, you know, doing James Bond. So there There’s clearly like you need unique can’t do it alone. You need to be partnered with people who are really talented and are ready to break through to the next level. And so that’s kind of been my focus and my goal for the last decade,
Owen Shapiro 05:10
So I’m not sure how much higher you can go after you’ve made the greatest movie of all time.
Ryan Liebert 05:16
Oh, oh, are you talking about Willie’s or are you talking about Whiplash?
Owen Shapiro 05:19
Yeah, Willie’s Wonderland.
Ryan Liebert 05:20
Well, I appreciate that. That movie was really, really fun. And that was one of the biggest efforts that I tried to put into it. And was was It’s fun. It’s not taking itself too seriously. And because of that, and because of Nick Cage, obviously, it just had it was it felt like it couldn’t fail. And you know, so many things happened. You know, we shot that movie. In February of last year, we wrapped on you know, I flew back from Atlanta to LA on March 1. And you know, I started working at my office for about two weeks and then a year ago, yesterday are your go today actually was when we all started working from home and had had the whole quarantine lockdown happened while we were in Atlanta making that movie, there’s no way we would have recovered and finished that film, it would have just kind of died right there. Because it was so tightly made, we had such a small window of time. But thankfully, like, you know, we got it done. I got back to LA. And you know, for the first three months of quarantine, I was happiest to be I had a movie to work on. And you know, I didn’t get a chance to work with my directors and producers in the room together, which is always preferred. But we were able to remote finish this feature film and I made the most of my time in Atlanta while they were shooting I have a little bit different workflow than a lot of other editors. I don’t have an assistant editor, I don’t have an intern, I do it all myself. So every day, I would get the previous day’s footage, I was staying at a house where I had set up like an eBay for myself and I would prep that day’s dailies I would and then I’d start building my assembly. So by the time we wrap picture, I had already had 35 to 40 minutes of the movie assembled. And I was screening for producer screening for directors, we were all very happy with what we were getting so much so that we were able to attract some additional funding during production because people were seeing seeing the story come together. And then so by the time I got back to LA, I had about two to three weeks to finish my editors assembly, which is me just working alone building the movie based on the footage I have and the script that I’ve been given. And then I brought in our director Kevin Lewis, and we I showed him the film, you know, he was really happy with the general tone of it. And he and I worked together for about three to four weeks to get his cut. And then we spent another three to four weeks dialing in the producers cut before we handed it off for a fax and sound and music and all of that but the movie really made itself in the way that the premise was so perfect in a way that like you know, you just had to really make the most of the of the footage that you had. And I really put a lot of effort into pacing and fun. You know, I wanted people dancing along with Nick while he’s cleaning. I wanted them you know cheering for him when he’s stomping you know the the creatures to death. And you know, and feeling like the hero emerged at the end. And so I’ve been so happy to see that the the feedback has been positive that people kind of get it it’s one of those movies that in quarantine everybody kind of needs right now just to feel good and laugh and have and watch something that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought just just some fun watching.
Owen Shapiro 08:07
Yeah, I actually cut it a while back in a discord stream, with a few friends and all them loved it. Everyone absolutely loved it. It’s one of those movies that if if one person took it too seriously, it might have fallen apart. So
Ryan Liebert 08:20
Totally. And I think there was a serious awareness when we were making it and you know, everybody’s all filmmakers that were on board were dead serious, you know, you know, and we were very serious about the quality of it. But you know, when you’re when you’re when it was it was a real, I had a real moment I went I went visited set one day, and I’m just looking at all of these adults playing with expensive toys and making just for the sake of making entertainment and like it’s hard to not like get giddy and not take that too seriously. You know, I’ve worked on movies that have had very serious tones, and they’re much harder to be great because, you know, they’re held to that standard of seriousness. And if you’re not, you know, an Oscar worthy film, you end up it’s easy to poke holes in it as to why it’s not a great movie. But with a movie like Willie’s, you know, you just needed to be fast, fun and high energy and people will love it. And obviously Nick just he just delivered, it was so fun to be able to cut his performance because you know, I’ve always loved actors that give a very minimal performance. You know, one of my favorite movies is drive as a lot of people that love films love that movie because of how minimal Gosling’s character is, and like doesn’t say much, but you get all the emotion and the power of the film just through his looks and is timing and Nick really brought that to this movie. And you can you can convey all these different things without saying anything and so that’s that do do more with less kind of thing. And then when it came time to like for the fight scenes, then they got very frenetic and crazy and packed with sound and grunts and all this but there was a lot of room for silence and space too, which I thought really helped it also help with the tension in times too. So yeah, it was a fun experience.
Owen Shapiro 09:52
Yeah, Nick Cage was absolutely perfect for that movie. I can’t really imagine any other actor doing that.
Ryan Liebert 09:58
As far as I know. They only went to one actor when they were when they were sending it out. And they wanted Nick and Nick agreed to it over a weekend reading of the script. And once he agreed they never looked at anybody else. So it’d be hard to imagine you could put other people in that role, but where it would be potentially iconic is Nick. And you know, so he’s made a lot of movies that I’ve loved over the years. So that was my first experience working with them. So to have have the non speaking Nick Cage role be my kind of contribution to his legacy. I’m pretty stoked on that.
Owen Shapiro 10:29
I think Nick Cage accepts almost all of the movies he’s given, though,
Ryan Liebert 10:34
You know, I’ve heard that said too. I think he’s evolved. I think there was definitely a period 1520 years ago, where he was just accepting anything, but I think he started to search out because he’s a strange guy. Right. So I think he’s looking for strange, unique roles. And you know, I saw some stuff in the dailies where Nick would you know, he would speak when when he wasn’t in character for the moment but he he made a comment that he was like, this was just like being eight year old Nick with a video camera in his backyard making home movies like it brought him back to that like childlike thing. So I really I don’t think he’s just picking movies for the money or because he’s Nick Cage. And he just needs to be working all the time. I think he’s picking movies like Willie’s, or Mandy, because they’re, they’re unique. And they give him a unique opportunity to to push his kind of envelope of what he does. And you know, people expect Nick to be Nick. And you know, I think while he can still do it, he’s got to keep pushing it. So you know, I think Willie’s was just another notch in that though, of being Nick being unique. I think he does work a lot. But he also has some good tastes. So I think he’s, I think it’s gotten a lot better in the last five years as far as the movies he’s done.
Owen Shapiro 11:41
Yeah, Mandy was really good as well. That one was a lot of fun.
Ryan Liebert 11:44
Yeah, we use that a lot as a reference for certain things. When we were when we were putting together the package to get Willie’s made we use a lot of footage from so actually kind of how I got on the film was one of my best friends is Dave nubert, the cinematographer and he had paired with Kevin Lewis, the director through a mutual connection of theirs and Kevin was in need of an editor to put together kind of a sizzle of what Willie’s Wonderland should be at that time. It was called Wally’s Wonderland, but what Willie’s Wonderland should be so he came over to my office with about 30 DVDs, which I couldn’t even use because you can’t even really use DVDs right now of Nic Cage movies, and a bunch of other horror films that he thought were inspirational. He wanted to cut together like a 92nd kind of fake trailer for what Willie’s Wonderland would be. So I sourced a lot of footage from Mandy a lot of footage from other Nick Cage movies and other horror films. And I made this fake trailer of Willie’s Wonderland that they took to AFM last November and then basically immediately sold the foreign distribution rights to it. And that’s what really kind of got the ball rolling. So through that little project, I bonded with the director, and then he wanted to work with me on the film. So two months later, he brought me on do the full edit. But you know, we really, we really had a good sense of what we were trying to do well before we made it, and then Kevin really storyboarded the heck out of the movie. And because we only had 20 days to shoot it, Nick would only work 10 hour days, and he was only maybe working four days a week. So like we really had to, they really had to maximize every shooting day on set. Especially considering all the action scenes and fight scenes we had and puppets you know, they were not foolproof, those things caused a lot of technical issues that we had to work around. But we were able to pull off a lot of the movie practically, which I was a huge fan of, you know, there was definitely some effects enhancing of some of the creatures and how they move and how they sound. But all in all, it was done pretty practically. And you know, when I look back at my original editors assembly from last May, it’s really close to what the final product ended up being. So I’m super proud of that.
Owen Shapiro 13:35
So another thing is that there’s I believe in upcoming Five Nights at Freddy’s movie coming out sometime in the future.
Ryan Liebert 13:42
Yeah, blah, blah. I think blumhouse is behind it.
Owen Shapiro 13:45
Oh, really? That’s gonna be I believe so I believe I am it’s hard to imagine a premise as silly as that getting Ender probably going to take very serious approach to it as well.
Ryan Liebert 13:54
So I believe so you know, there was a lot of when when when the hype was building for Willies, everybody was saying it was a knockoff of five nights. You know, we were well aware of that when we made it that five nights existed and that you know, that’s the premise. And the idea was similar but what we have and I like to think our movies more about the janitor and less about Willie’s Wonderland. And if there were ever an expansion of a sequel or a prequel it would revolve around the janitors. So it’s not necessarily about animatronics about this mystery character, the janitor, so you know, and I think five nights at freddy’s doesn’t really have that. So you know, I get the comparison. It’s It’s, uh, you know, it is it is real. But it’s also you know, in this industry, it’s kind of who gets there first. And I know they had a lot of development problems with that movie because they’re trying to make it like $100 million pG 13 movie and when you do something that big, there’s a lot of ways that it can get sidetracked and I think because Willie’s was so focused on being what it was and we had Nick it all came together really fast and you know, and then with the way it all went together and posts like it delayed, you know, the CO pandemic delayed the production of Five Nights at Freddy’s even more. So it’s like, you know, I did at one point have concerns like where are we going to get sued and lose the movie because it was too close. But you know, obviously once we went go ahead with it I’m sure they had legal counsel saying no, you should be fine. But you know, as far as I know, there was no issue but yeah, it is similar premise but way different movie.
Owen Shapiro 15:17
Tried reading a little bit about the games, I haven’t played any of them. And the supposedly there’s some ridiculous lore in them. Like there’s this entire universe of things, or it’s really, really, really complex and convoluted story.
Ryan Liebert 15:33
I think, I think one of the places where we were a little bit guilty of being too similar was in some of the backstory stuff. But you know, and I believe, you know, five nights at freddy’s is much more of a jump scare pop out, you know, hide in a dark kind of movie where this movie really is had a real opt in, and a really different tone to it in the sense that we were creating these scary moments. But at the moment when the creature is supposed to attack and you’re supposed to be most scared is when the janitor was the most calm. And he would just flip the switch and dismantle the situation in a way that was comedic and not scary. You know? So you built you had this like buildup of tension, then a payoff of like, oh, wow, okay, you know, it was a different outcome than especially in the very first fight when he’s fighting Ozzie because nobody knows. And that was the first fight scene we shot and the first fight scene that I and from the moment he, you know, gets Nick on the face and then breaks the broom over his knee, you know, it’s game over for these creatures, they have no chance, but yet they keep trying. And you know, and then, you know, so it’s, again, the biggest thing that we had in our favor was the janitor. And you know, I want to know more about the janitor. I’ve talked with Kevin about some ideas that I have. I mean, not that I’m a writer, but like, Where? Where could Where else could the janitor go? Where? What about his origin story, you know, he’s got this kind of superhero quality to him where you know nothing about him. And that was deliberate. You know, we wanted him to be very much a mystery and wanting, you know, leaving people wanting to know more about him, you know, because originally, he was supposed to say one line at the end of the film, and it was scripted. And it was it was there. You know, but it was Nick’s idea to not say anything, he stuck to it. He said, If the janitor, the janitor only speaks when he’s when he needs to, and he doesn’t need to. And you know, when Nick says something like that, Everybody listen,
Owen Shapiro 17:12
Yeah, that could have been a very powerful emotional moment for the audience. I can imagine
Ryan Liebert 17:17
it could have been, but the line would have had to been just one of those perfect lines. And I think that they tried writing a few lines for him to say, but you know, I feel like I feel like silence is powerful, and anything might have come off as cheesy and to and again, like maybe it would have been too serious. I know, to just kind of wrinkle the audience in the wrong moment of the film, instead of just leaving it, you know, silent and up to the audience’s interpretation. I’m always a big fan of letting the audience interpret it for themselves on it’s so funny when people come back with fan theories about what this meant, what that meant. And, you know, oftentimes those things meant nothing but people add meaning to them, because they see things in it that others didn’t see. And that’s what’s so great about movies,
Owen Shapiro 17:58
so about some of your other movies, whether those like
Ryan Liebert 18:02
so the the first two films I did, were with the same director Rob Hamilton, one was called key and the other was called the suffering very much slow paced, horror thrillers dealt with big themes. They were the ones I talked about earlier, where we learned a lot about the process of moviemaking and biting off more than we can chew. And so you know, we learned a lot from there. And then a couple years later, I did a movie called Boomtown, which was totally different than everything else. This was a movie that had no real script, it had like a 30 page treatment where we had a character who was basically going to go to Williston, North Dakota to work in the oil fields. And you know, we had developed some contacts and I say we because this was a small, we had seven people on the screw, there was director, producer, cinematographer, camera assistants, and like a production coordinator and one other camera operator, and we all went up together and made this movie together. So you know, it was very much a team effort, even though like I was the editor of this thing, we all did so much up there. We were different hats. Because it was this was a true indie film. And we went up and made this kind of docu style film where we use real people that lived in Williston, North Dakota, we used real oral oil workers. And then we brought in some actors to, you know, help with the storytelling. But what made that movie so unique was because we didn’t have a script, a lot of the movie was made in the edit, and particularly Time passes. You know, our character was supposed to be up on working in this oil rig for six months when we were only there for three weeks shooting. But so we had to create all these little scenes and ways to showcase time passage. And, you know, that movie was a struggle, in many ways, but it came out very authentic and very real. You know, after we got back from North Dakota, we went on holiday break. And then you know, I had done an assembly of the film, but we realized like our first act was a little thin, it needed some more. So we did some strategic reshooting in LA to help tell the opening of the film a little more impactful to set our character up and then that really helped bring that home and film together. And then I did another movie called murder in the woods. Director Louis EGA Luis EGA had Danny Trejo in it, it was kind of your cabin in the woods style thriller with an all Latino cast. And you know, it was it was all contained in one house. This you know, much more of a traditional horror film, but to have Danny Trey how to be that hero that was really awesome. And then I did this movie called. And then there was Eve again, very different tonally than anything else I’ve done, it dealt with a trans character and a her way coming to terms with the transition in a very psychological kind of twisted way. It’s a really multi layered movie that is pretty powerful. And I know it came out at a time when there wasn’t really an actual trans actor playing a trans character. And I think that was one of the things that was super unique about it. One of my favorite parts about the movie is it had a lot of music was a huge part of it, a lot of live music, I’m a drummer, I play music, and I just love whenever I can incorporate practical music into a movie, I think it really is really fun and dynamic. And you can really, you know, when the score is also being played on the screen by the actors, you just get this really immersive. That’s why again, why whiplash is so good. Because you know that you’re seeing the music of the film being made in front of you by the actors, you know, you can’t fake that. So, you know, that was really great. And then yeah, then it was a couple years until I got another film because, you know, it’s just really hard to get any films going. So then when release came up, that was that and, you know, now I’m starting this new movie called The Last deal, which will be about a California pot grower, upstate before pot became legal, you know, then all of a sudden, the regulations of pot became legal. And he started to go out of business. So yes, the broker this one last deal to basically retire from the game, and of course, it all goes haywire. You know, that movie is going to be very much in a tone of heat. And, you know, so that one’s going to have a lot more action while it’s got a lot of stuff guys in it. So, all in all, the movies have ranged from horror to kind of a documentary film to action to you know, so it’s just the variety has been great. That’s one of my favorite parts of it all, you know, we haven’t been like pigeon holed into one style.
Owen Shapiro 22:08
Yeah, so it’s nice to work on a variety of different things. Because Yeah, and that’s
Ryan Liebert 22:14
Truthfully, that’s one of my favorite things about this industry is, you know, there’s this unknown like, I, it’s, it’s a tough part of it, too, don’t get me wrong, but not knowing what the next project is going to be is really exciting. Because you get surprised all of a sudden, you know, I didn’t know Willie’s Wonderland was gonna come up till a month before it came up. And then you know, it had a hole it affected my entire year. And now this movie is gonna have the same thing. So it’s like, you just really don’t know what you’re going to get into, you know, it’s not your traditional nine to five, or you go to work and repeat the same day, every day is different. Even when I’m on a project for three months, every day is different, because the footage is always different. And then you know, the revisions are always different, and the problems are different. So that’s got to be one of my favorite parts of it is the fact that it’s just never the same.
Owen Shapiro 22:53
So what advice would you give to an aspiring film editor?
Ryan Liebert 22:56
It’s a good question, you know, because I’m still trying to figure it out. To be honest with you, I want a very anti traditional route in the sense of like, I didn’t go into the studio system and apprentice, I kind of went the freelance route, I built up my client and my and my, my clients and my partners, through time and organically. So for me, what really worked is and is this is not just being a good editor. It’s being someone people want to edit with, you know, being a passionate filmmaker and teaming up with other passionate filmmakers. That, to me has been the most successful partnerships, you know, because LA is full of people who are trying to make it and there’s a few people who have made it and when you’re trying to make it into whatever position you want to be, whether it’s producer, writer, director, actor, editor, you have to surround yourself with other people who are in the same position because as I said earlier, you can’t do it alone. So you know, I’ve I’ve tried to maintain myself as an editor exclusively, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to take side jobs and you know, I cut I’ll be honest, I don’t just cut film, I cut everything. I do corporate videos, I do stuff for the medical world. I do commercials. I do music videos, you know, I do explainer videos, you short films for little to no money I just I love I want to just keep editing and then when the films come along, that’s when I will shut down some other work to just do the films. So for me it was about hustling, doing any project that you can get your hands on because you never know who that network is going to lead to. And so that’s I guess the second thing I would say is your network is everything you know, I can do the the family tree of network and trace it back 1520 people to like the first person I worked with as to why I got Willie’s Wonderland. You know this this dp that I got me Willie’s Wonderland, I work I’ve been working with since 2011. And those years of building and trucks are why we are able to get projects like that together. And so I would say your network is everything you know, the people that you team up with on your first project you might still be working with. So don’t burn bridges. be someone that people want to work with a second time and really just you know, Put the passion first because you know you’re we’re lucky if we’re able to get any work in this industry. It’s a really special industry to work in. I made a point that I in my career to put the put the love of filmmaking first. And you know, that has really helped. Because when you came up with someone else who has the similar ideas, it’s obvious and you bond. So that would be one of my biggest things is just maintain and build your network and be someone people want to work with.
Owen Shapiro 25:27
Finally, where can my listeners find and connect with you
Ryan Liebert 25:30
Through my website Ryanliebert .com would be kind of the direct place to contact me through and then also on IMDb, my contact is there. I’m self represented. So please feel free to reach out to me directly. I’m super prompt if you’re interested in working with me, and I’ve got plenty of references and whatnot, you know, so yeah, I would say through my website, Ryanliebert.com.
Owen Shapiro 25:52
Thank you very much, Ryan. That’s all for today. Don’t forget you can subscribe to Kino Society on iTunes and Spotify.