5 Questions With Sally Menke Editing Fellow Erica Freed Marker

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Erica Freed Marker (left) with Directing Fellow Brent Green at the 2015 Directors Lab. ©Sundance Institute | Jonathan Hickerson

Erica Freed Marker is the recipient of the 2015 Sally Menke Memorial Editing Fellowship. The Fellowship honors the memory of the beloved Sundance Institute mentor and prolific editor Sally Menke (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, All the Pretty Horses, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, etc.) by supporting an emerging narrative editor’s understanding of craft, expanding their artistic community, and providing momentum to their editing career through participation in the June Directors Lab and year-round mentorship from several accomplished editors. This year, Marker will work closely with Dylan Tichenor (co-editor, Zero Dark Thirty, The Town, There Will be Blood) and two other editing mentors.

Having just wrapped the June Directors Lab and finally catching her breath after rich collaborations with Directing Fellows Brent Green (Over the Eaves) and Olivia (Livi) Newman (First Match), Marker reflects on the excitement, surprise and discovery of this past month’s filmmaking activity on the mountain.

What were your expectations going into the Directors Lab?

I knew a number of editors who had participated previously in the Lab, so I knew it was going to be a wonderful experience.  What I couldn't have prepared for was the sheer volume of talent, culled from so many places, brought together so expertly.  The structure of the schedule, the relentless flow of information, and the uncanny absence of ego made the Lab feel like an exquisite cocktail of summer camp, film school, and a best-case high school reunion where everyone you meet feels immediately like an old friend.

Did you do any prep before the Lab with your filmmakers?

Prior the Lab, I was able to attend a public reading of Livi Newman's script First Match in NYC, which was an incredible introduction to the world I was about to enter. The script, which I had already read on my own, came fully to life at the reading, giving me a new-found sense of the urgency and emotional arcs of the film. It also gave me and Livi a chance to meet prior to showing up on the mountain, which was both productive and fun. We discussed the challenges of the scenes we would later edit together at the Lab, and I watched a few reference films that Livi mentioned she admired for their lyrical, subjective camera work and style of storytelling.

I wouldn't hear Over the Eaves, Brent Green's script, read aloud until we got to the mountain, so in the meantime, I immersed myself in his short films, interviews and other work available online. Brent told me he wanted the movie, which would ultimately be animated, to feel like old Disney, so I also pulled some scores to bring with me. In his last email before we arrived, he suggested that we should "have a good time and make something cool." I was in.

What was the process like working with two directors, on two projects–especially such different ones–at the same time?

Working with two such different directors on vastly different projects was a blast. On First Match, Livi and I strove to convey a very realistic and emotionally nuanced depiction of the protagonist, Mo, as she struggles to reconnect with her father after he's released from prison. We were constantly asking ourselves how she would feel at that point in the script; would she be angrier? More vulnerable? And then we meticulously calibrated her performance both throughout the scene, as well as from scene to scene.

(L-R) Erica Freed Marker and Olivia Newman at the 2015
Directors Lab. ©Sundance Insitute | Fred Hayes

On Over the Eaves, Brent and I focused a lot of our time on the story itself - what was necessary, funny, visually inspiring or unexpected - and then we pushed those elements as hard as we could.  Brent built most of the more whimsical set elements himself, and many of them took on a character of their own. If something made us laugh, it made the cut.

Because they were so different, and I bounced back and forth between the two daily, the two projects ended up informing each other in really wonderful ways. Brent's shooting style was a distinguished mash-up of classical cinema and homemade craftsman, and he experimented with something different on each shoot: textures, mirrors, scale, etc. Then back in the edit, we'd experiment again - with effects and filters, pacing, lifting lines, music ... the more unexpected the idea, the more he wanted to try it.

When it came time to cut the more subjective elements of Livi's scenes, I knew that I was freer with my choices because I'd just been exercising that part of my brain the day before.  Likewise, after Livi and I spent the day poring over the elements that comprised Mo's riveting performance - the devastating angle of her head, the timing of her sidelong glances, the slightly harsher line read - I knew I was more attuned to the emotional variations in Over the Eaves’ protagonist Henry's performance and built a more compelling character because I had been doing that kind of work the day prior.

Can you share a favorite memory from the Lab?

The last scene we edited from First Match was a sex scene in which Mo and one of her teammates start goofing around in his bedroom, pulling wrestling moves on each other until the physical contact escalates to Mo's first consensual intimate encounter.  In addition to depicting how Mo processes this new experience, there was a lot of choreography, which in the first pass we covered in full.  Upon watching it back, Livi and I agreed that some motions felt overly articulated, and that the mechanics of getting undressed should be accelerated to get us more quickly to Mo's subjectivity.  Lynn Shelton, an Advisor the week we cut that scene, was a huge champion of that idea--she stayed in the edit with us after the rest of the Advisor team departed, offering to help us achieve the cut that we described.  Livi and I were thrilled, and we spent the last hour of the edit speed-cutting it down, Lynn and Livi alternating shouting out directions.  Given how delicately Livi had directed the actors (we could all hear her putting them at ease in the footage), we couldn't help but laugh that we were editing the footage in such a rowdy manner--but we finished by the deadline and the cut was vastly improved.

What's next for you? 

I'm cutting a new half-hour comedy series called The Detour, executive produced by Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, about a family's misadventures on a road trip. Then I'll return to Season 2 of the Netflix original series Marco Polo, produced by The Weinstein Company. I edited the finale last year and am thrilled to return to the series.

About the Fellow 

Erica Freed Marker most recently was an editor on the Netflix original series Marco Polo, and completed Rory Rooney's feature directorial debut Unreachable by Conventional Means. She was an additional editor on Michael Showalter's Hello, My Name is Doris, starring Sally Field and Max Greenfield, which won the Audience Award at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival and will be distributed by Roadside Attractions. Other film credits include associate editor on The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford, and Gods Behaving Badly, directed by Marc Turtletaub. Television credits include WEtv's dramatic thriller South of Hell, executive produced by James Manos, Jr. (Dexter), and Noah Hawley's Emmy-winning ABC crime show The Unusuals. Marker was an assistant editor on seasons two and three of the Emmy-nominated HBO series Treme. She graduated from Yale with a bachelor's degree in Art and teaches editing as an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in the graduate film program.
 
Lead photo:

Erica Freed Marker (left) with Directing Fellow Brent Green at the 2015 Directors Lab. ©Sundance Institute | Jonathan Hickerson