Dinner Scenes and Summer Labs: A Conversation Between Sally Menke Fellow Daysha Broadway and Veteran Editor Suzy Elmiger

Sean Wang and Daysha Broadway working on “Dìdi (弟弟)”  at the 2023 Directors Lab by Sam Emenogu

When you picture a film editor, oftentimes you conjure up mental images of someone hunched over a keyboard with giant screens acting as a spotlight in a pitch-black room, playing the same few seconds of footage over and over. A solitary life working behind the scenes. According to Daysha Broadway, this could not be further from the whole truth when it comes to those working with the fellows at the Directors Lab

“There were a couple of nights where everyone else was still working and we were playing Uno and having drinks at the house,” she says with a laugh. “Me and the other editors, we spent a lot of time together and we got to know each other really well. We’re all in a group chat now, so we’re friends.” 

It’s hard not to immediately become friends with Broadway, the award-winning film and TV editor and 2023 Sally Menke fellow, her bright smile and warm enthusiasm radiate through everyone she interacts with. This past year, many have had the pleasure of collaborating with her because as part of her yearlong fellowship with Sundance Institute, Broadway edited scenes for two directors at the Sundance Directors Lab.

While she’s best known for her work on Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Insecure, Surviving R. Kelly, and A Black Lady Sketch Show, last summer Broadway worked at the labs with writer-directors Farida Zahran (The Leftover Ladies) and Sean Wang (Dìdi (弟弟)) and quickly developed a shorthand with both. Broadway’s ability to instantly connect with someone is a quality not lost on Suzy Elmiger, a longtime advisor at the Sundance labs as well as an accomplished film and television editor in her own right.

This fall, Broadway caught up with Elmiger and Sundance over Zoom to discuss the ins and outs of being an integral part of the Directors Lab, the importance of collaboration, and why editing is so essential to how we tell stories on the screen. Below you’ll find their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Broadway will also be attending the 2024 Sundance Film Festival to be acknowledged during the annual Art of Editing celebration as well as the premiere of Your Monster, her latest editing project. Learn more about the Sally Menke fellowship and our labs here.

Elmiger: Well, I have to admit, Daysha, I wrote down some questions, but I also wanna know what you wanna talk about.

Broadway: You know what? If you ask me questions, I’ll ramble on, which is probably a good thing! 

Elmiger: Okay! Well, I really only wanna talk about the [Sally Menke] fellowship… [Can you describe the process of working with the directors at the labs?] Is it the same scene that they all direct [for practice]?

Broadway: Yeah. Everybody has the same script — and the dialogue doesn’t make any sense in the script. And, I guess that’s not the point. The point is to approach it [with] your vision for this script. It’s like a three-minute scene… [and when you’re reading ] the script, you’re like, “Okay, this doesn’t make any sense.” But it was really cool when we screened them all the second night because everyone’s [take] was so different. And I think that was kind of the point. It’s like, “This is how you would make this scene. This is how Sean [Wang] would. This is how Farida Zahran would. Or Walter [Thompson-Hernández] would make it this way.”

I thought that was really cool, it was just crazy! [laughs] Each editor is paired with two directors, and I quickly realized that we were all paired based on genre, so I had the comedy directors. [laughs] I had Sean and Farida, who wrote comedic scripts, which was great because I cut a lot of comedy. They would shoot the first half of the day, and we would spend the rest of the half cutting it. And then the next morning, the next director does the same thing, and then we have to cut it, but then we also have to screen it that night. Everyone was screening the second night, so there’s just no room to polish, or sometimes there was no room to make sure it was working [laughs]…

Chloé Zhao on set with Suzy Elmiger, Joan Tewkesbury (2012) by Fred Hayes

Elmiger: What kinds of things did you bond over? It must seem like another life, I would imagine, because so much happens there that time… 

Broadway: I think Sean and I have the same sense of humor. That was great because his movie was a coming-of-age comedy, and when I was thinking about something, I would start to do it and he would say, “Hey, what if we did this?” And I was like, “Oh my God, I’m doing that right now.” [laughs] We kind of had a shorthand immediately. 

And then I was so blown away by the writing in [Farida’s] script. She’s such a great writer. We also have a similar sense of humor. So I feel like we were just joking a lot in the bay and we would talk through the beats of the script and be like, “Okay, what do you want this moment to feel like? Because we need to pull back from the actress’ face when she reacts to this.” 

I feel like we spent a lot of time laughing and joking about everything in life and then going, “Okay, okay, okay, we have to do this! [laughs] Like we really have to do this.” I felt like we just clicked. Sean and I [and] Farida and I, I think we just clicked, and I’m like, “You guys are my family now.”

Elmiger: Was the second scene longer? Did they have more time for that?

Broadway: They were just more difficult. It was funny because both of them had dinner scenes, which, you know, as an editor, [Both Suzy and Daysha laugh with a common sound of frustration] I don’t like… 

I explained to Farida at one point, “Listen, I’ve read the scene. Do not feel bad about what you are able to get, because if you actually go and shoot this movie, this scene with like seven people in it, you’re gonna shoot over multiple days probably. And we’re gonna be cutting it forever just to make sure it’s right. And we actually just have a day. So [laughs], you know, don’t feel bad about what it ends up being. [This is] a way to like work out the kinks.”

Elmiger: Mhmm.

Broadway: And Sean had a dinner scene [both laugh]! His was four people, luckily… They both had dinner scenes, but they had dinner scenes in which they didn’t have miles of footage because they were only allowed to do their selects that they selected on set. So we only have this dinner scene, and those are very, very difficult. And if you didn’t know, now you know. [laughs] They’re very difficult. I think the directors chose their most difficult scenes that they wanted to workshop.

Broadway at work by Sam Emenogu

Sundance: Why are dinner scenes so notoriously difficult?

Elmiger: Dinner scenes are really hard because they never get enough reaction shots. You’re never in the right place. There’s also the stupid food and the continuity of the food. Some of them are smart enough to know just to do dessert or something, just something where there’s minor amounts of food, you know? Just maybe the coffee course, you know? Because it’s impossible to match everything. Not that we all have to be matchy-matchy all the time. I always think, “Well, what would Thelma [Schoonmaker] do?”

Broadway: Right!

Elmiger: [Schoonmaker is] known for not matching, but you feel like it matches. But what do you think, Daysha? Why do you think they’re so hard?

Broadway: I can’t even imagine shooting a dinner scene, just the eyelines alone! If for a second, it feels like someone’s not looking at who they’re talking to, you’re thrown out. Like, where are we? Where is this person sitting? And then you kindly, as an editor, have to sometimes remind the audience where everyone is sitting so that you don’t perhaps lose a character that is important because you haven’t cut to them in a while because they weren’t a part of this specific conversation but it’s important to know that they’re there.

The dinner scene in Whiplash is great because of the reactions from the main character — he’s not totally engaging in the conversation the entire time, and a lot of people are talking at him and about him. When he engages, you know how he’s feeling. And when he doesn’t, you know how he’s feeling. Because, like Suzy said, there’s reaction shots. You know, the dialogue that stings, you can feel it because we have the reaction shot. 

Elmiger: Do you think, by working with you on it, [the Directors Lab fellows] figured out new things or [ways to set up their scenes?] Maybe they’d say “You know what? Let’s give that information in another way besides a dinner scene.” Did they have those kinds of awarenesses after working with you and editing?

Broadway: Yeah. I think that they did. Farida especially was just like, “OK, I know moving forward, this is what I need from my actress. If I didn’t get this, I know I need that.” That’s why me and her went through the beats of the scene and were like, “OK, what is she feeling here? What is he feeling here? What is this in reaction to?” [With] every piece of dialogue and how they’re reacting to it. Because her scene especially was about what wasn’t being said.

Elmiger: That’s pretty major though, because that’s a huge learning curve. I always feel like [directors] don’t spend enough time in edit rooms. They have a block, you know. Some of them sit there and learn a lot and work with you all day. But others, you can barely drag them in there. So the fact that you can teach them how to construct the scene based on editing, which is where it’s all gonna end up anyway — that’s really impressive, I have to say! 

Broadway: Right?

Elmiger: Was there anything that you particularly learned or ways that you got stretched, you might say?

Broadway: Yeah. I really do have social anxiety, and I think it comes out in me just talking a lot. [laughs] And then when I get home, I’m exhausted because I’ve just had way too much energy expended. My guard was down for the first time in a very long time while I was up there, because it was just great to be around filmmakers, and it wasn’t about all this other stuff — budgets and studios and all this stuff. It was just about filmmakers creating and learning together… You’re just focused on the thing you love to do, which is awesome. You’re not worried about anything else. The meals are timed! [laughs] I don’t have to worry about anything. I have a great place to stay, the food is there when I need it. There are rivers everywhere. It’s really peaceful. All I have to worry about is the cut, and even that doesn’t have to be perfect. It was just great.

Benh Zeitlin, Suzy Elmiger, Joan Tewkesbury working on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the Directors Lab

Sundance: How has the mentorship side of the Sally Menke Fellowship been for you, Daysha?

Broadway: One of the better parts of everything to do with the fellowship was the mentorship because I got to meet editors whom I didn’t have a direct connection to. Even now, I don’t know how to meet these people [laughs] whose work I admire and have admired for like forever. And now, they’re my mentors, which is awesome! I had a list of like seven people that I wanted to be my mentor and Suzy and I narrowed it down. So I have Dody Dorn and Bob Ducsay, and I think their work precedes them. But it was cool, I got to tell Bob, you know, “Whenever I had a bad mood, I put on The Mummy.” [Both laugh]

Dody used to be in sound, and I’m someone who is obsessed with sound, sound design, sound editing, and I like to do music editing. When I’m cutting, I’m very particular about the sound, and it was really cool to see how she transitioned her career from one thing to the next. And I was like, “Obviously, Memento is insane, and you’re insane, you’re great… But I also really love the Power Rangers movie you did in 2017.” The versatility of her career has always been just so impressive to me, and I think Bob gets to do these action films that totally can be comedic and then they can bring you right back… it’s a delicate balance when you’re trying to make people laugh but also keep them engaged in the plot. And they’re both spectacular at that, so it’s been really great to just talk to them about the work and ask that advice.

Elmiger: It really is a very generous community, I think, right?

Broadway: Yeah.

Elmiger: It’s so specific, what we all do, that it’s kind of great to be able to have conversations, because the rest of the world — they don’t know what we’re doing!

Broadway: No idea what we’re doing [both laugh]. My grandfather just turned 90, and I flew to Atlanta [and] a bunch of family came and we celebrated him. And the amount of times I got introduced as a producer — I was like, “I’ve never told you I was a producer! Why does everyone still think [laughs] I’m a producer?” It’s because they just don’t know what we do!

Elmiger: Yeah, it’s true. I always wanna bring people into the edit room and show them, because they kind of freak out. I mean, they really do.

Broadway: They do, yeah.

Elmiger: It is really specific, and we do spend an awful lot of time alone in those damn rooms, you know?

[Both laugh.]

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