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Moonlight Co-Editor Nat Sanders Talks Quitting Your Day Job, Disagreeing With Directors and That Awkward Oscars Moment

Moonlight Co-Editor Nat Sanders Talks Quitting Your Day Job, Disagreeing With Directors and That Awkward Oscars Moment


On Cutting the Courtyard Sequence From Moonlight

“So, that scene in the courtyard… There’s maybe one line in the script for which we had the idea of it being in slow motion. It was all shot over the shoulder at 24 frames per second. At the end, they popped off those two shots of the actors directly looking at the camera. I don’t even know if we were planning to use Chiron in slow motion.

I was cutting during production—and I don’t usually talk to the director at this point—so I cut it with just one moment of slow motion in the first pass. Barry saw it and it worked fine but he wanted to go even further. We worked together and had known each other for so long, so he sent me this code word we developed in school and I knew that meant. I took the scene and I went really far with it. I thought I’d gone too far but I showed it to Barry and he loved it too. You always know when you make Barry happy because he starts jumping up and down and doing airplanes around the room.

There was a moment where Naomie [Harris] tries to keep everything together before she asks him for money. So she says her line with a smile, and the smile just fades as she runs her hand through his hair. It’s a really powerful moment, watching that façade fall. I figured editing with a jump cut would work there. It was really fun putting that part together.

We also did some tricks to tweak the performance, like syncing up softer reads to the visuals of a harsher version and sliding/tweaking to keep it in sync.”

On Determining Which Takes Are the Correct Ones To Use

“I don’t use locators and don’t really write anything down. I guess I’m lucky in that I have a photographic memory so it kind of gets seared in. First, I’ll watch every single daily to get the feel for everything that the director did.

As you go along the process, you lose objectivity very quickly so you need this full process of watching the dailies to develop your purest thoughts on the footage. The second time through, I’ll start making all of the decisions.

In the scenes that are shot loosely or even improvised, I’ll grab everything that pops and throw them in a huge timeline and organize them by quality and order. That’s if it’s looser and less organized. If it’s a more traditional scene I’ll use the Avid script sync tool. You put locators for every line of dialogue. Next to each line, you’ll have bullets for each word. I probably use script sync the most and, on the fly, figure out how each shot should be used.”

Naomie Harris in Moonlight. Image courtesy of A24

On Having Disagreements With Your Director

“There always are [disagreements]. If you really feel that your version is the best version. Sometimes you have to tell the director what the audience is going to see and what they won’t. Obviously, every director is very different. The director I’m working with right now likes brutal honesty, so I can tell him, ‘This performance is a little cold, we should go across the movie and try to warm it up as much as we can.’ Some can potentially get defensive, or even just say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ Sometimes, directors will forget what you say and come to you weeks later, saying, ‘I think we should do this.’ Of course, it’s the exact idea you came up with and you have to say, ‘Yeah, sounds like a great idea.’”

On Whether Film School Is Necessary to Pursue a Career in Editing

“No, definitely not, especially with the technology we have being so available. It’s about doing it over and over. Keep working on it as much as you can.

If you ask these old school editors, they studied literature in school. Just living can be more important than the 180 rule. The best part of film school will be the connections, but, of course, you can watch short films on YouTube and reach out to directors on that platform.”

On That Crazy Oscars Incident

“I was sitting next to Joi and they had the La La Land editors two seats away from us. Best Picture comes up and La La Land was supposed to win—no surprise. In one of the producer’s speeches talking about diversity—really, that’s what that movie was about?—everyone was going up there and I turned to the La La Land editors and said, ‘Go up there!’ They said, ‘No, I don’t really want to.’ Then, we could see commotion and thought something’s not quite right. Sure enough, when they said, ‘Moonlight, you guys won,’ I sat straight upright and probably screamed in the face of the La La Land editors. Everybody was confused and we kinda had to push people out of the way to get up there. I didn’t know anything anyone said. I remember looking over at Joi—this was her first movie—and she had her arm around Warren Beatty and said, ‘Don’t worry Warren, it could’ve happened to anybody.’ Then we walked backstage, we had to walk past everyone from La La Land. They were all very gracious and had to pretend that they were happy for us. The whole rest of the night was very surreal and we had to piece together what had happened.” MM

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  1. Avatar

    Francisco Ibarra

    May 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Love the bit about Joi McMillon and Warren Beatty! So happy for everyone involved with this amazing movie!

  2. Avatar

    James Mayfield

    June 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Don’t really get why he’s so afraid to be on set, but if it works, it works.

    The La-La-La bit though. Haha, good for him. I can’t imagine what the rest of the night must’ve been like.

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