Bringing the Story of Three Protagonists Together in “Monsters and Men”

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alystyre Julian.
Bringing the Story of Three Protagonists Together in “Monsters and Men”

For editors Justin Chan and Scott Cummings, cutting “Monsters and Men” was like editing three movies in one. The film, which premiered as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition and won Special Jury Award for Outstanding First Feature at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, follows three men in the aftermath of a police shooting in their Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood. The shooting, which was caught on video and uploaded online, impacts a young father, a police officer, and a star high school athlete in very real — but different — ways.

Telling each man’s story while transitioning between characters in a seamless way was tricky for this experienced editing team. Striking the right emotional tone was key, because each character was affected by the same event, police brutality against an unarmed man, in very different ways.

“When you edit a feature, it’s a little different because things naturally break into six to eight sequences, and that’s how you organize it in your head,” says Scott. “But this was a lot different because there were three equally long sections that didn’t follow the normal narrative sequencing.”

“What was most technically challenging for us on this movie was maintaining the emotional tone from one story to another,” continues Justin. “The timelines for each section were much shorter, so we had to be careful to not overshadow previous sections. It was like figuring out the sequencing for three films in one.”

Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of “Monsters and Men,” an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by by Marie Constantinesco, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“Monsters and Men” was written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who made his Sundance Film Festival debut in 2014 with his short film “Stone Cars.” He has produced and directed numerous short films over the years, many of which have included Justin and Scott in post-production. Both men have known Reinaldo for years on a personal and professional level. Scott worked on Reinaldo’s first project, and Justin was a student at NYU with Reinaldo.

“Reinaldo was looking for an editor, and our paths crossed,” Scott says. “I have cut pretty much everything he’s done since 2012, all on Adobe Premiere Pro.”

“Monsters and Men,” which was shot over 26 days in August and September 2017, was cut in less than five weeks using Premiere Pro. “Things are just easier in Premiere Pro, making it possible for us to edit quickly,” says Scott.

The ability to work rapidly was especially important because the editors spent a lot of time getting the sequencing just right. Color coding, sound effects, characters, and cameras with labels in Premiere Pro were particularly helpful for identifying footage in the timeline.

Daily proxies were created, synced, and sent to Scott and Justin, while Reinaldo remained on location, shooting. The editing team split up the work based primarily on characters, and a bit of preference. Scott edited the first character, which was particularly time-intensive because he sets the tone for the rest of the film. Justin focused on the second character, while the third was a mix of Scott and Justin. Justin also handled the big dialogue scenes and montages simply because he really likes cutting those pieces.

Although they worked with a visual effects editor and a colorist, they used Premiere Pro to retime one of the transitions from one character’s story to another. “It was a long shot that was set-up in a way that made it impossible to cut,” says Scott. “So we sped it up in Premiere Pro and nobody even knew that we did it.”  

They utilized the Lumetri Color panel to match footage taken from a Sony FS7 camera to that of an ARRI ALEXA camera. Reference sound editing was also done in Premiere Pro to let the sound engineer know what sound effects they wanted deployed in certain scenes. Justin also did some stabilization work in Adobe After Effects using Warp Stabilizer.

After a whirlwind few weeks of editing, the film was submitted to Sundance. “We racked our brains over this until the day it was due,” says Scott. Their hard work paid off and they are pleased with the end result — and hope the audience will be, too.

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