Drama Explores a Character Trapped Between Fiction and Reality

Featured in Creativity
Image credited to Zoë White, courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Drama Explores a Character Trapped Between Fiction and Reality

NANCY, a film that premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category at the 2018 Sundance Festival, represents director Christina Choe’s and editor David Gutnik’s first time working together on a feature film project and cutting in Adobe Premiere Pro.

The duo met in film school at Columbia University. Christina, who had a few short films to her credit before entering the acclaimed school, was working on her thesis film. Although she had always edited her own work, she came to an important realization. “It’s not always good to edit your own film,” she laughs.

Christina Choe, director of “NANCY,” an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photo credited to Zoë White, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Enter David, who needed a way to keep paying his rent. “I somehow started cutting everybody’s thesis films, which was like a second film school for me,” he says. “There were a lot of really talented and smart storytellers like Christina making films, and I was lucky enough to edit a bunch of them, not the least of which was Christina’s thesis, ‘I Am John Wayne.’”

“I Am John Wayne” went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for the best short film at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2012. “NANCY” represented another opportunity for the two to collaborate. “It’s nice to work with someone who has both editorial and directing experience,” says Christina of David.  She drew inspiration for “NANCY” from both a lack of complex female protagonists on screen, and the increasingly blurred lines between truth and fiction.

Andrea Riseborough appears in “NANCY” by Christina Choe, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photo credited to Zoë White, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“Nancy is a lost, morally ambiguous, and complicated character,” she says. “The film explores the coexistence between being an imposter and being your authentic self, which is so prevalent in our society right now.”

“NANCY” was shot on an ARRI ALEXA camera, followed by several months of on-and-off editing. David worked from the raw files —  and cut the entire film on his laptop —  using Premiere Pro. “It was time to be a grown-up and use professional-grade editing software for our films,” says David. “It was a seamless move to Premiere Pro, with a minimal learning curve.”

David is a self-taught editor. Before applying to Columbia, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He went on to work at the World Bank, where he decided to make a documentary about the international financial institution. With no one else to edit the footage, David had to figure it out himself.

“I edit in a very hands-on, organic way,” says David. “I like to touch it and feel it and cut it.”

While the overall edit of the film was fairly straight-forward for “NANCY,” Christina and David did apply masking techniques to the film’s opening credits sequence to give it a television-like vibe and feel. David also did some minor adjustments to the color and sound as he edited, (putting reverb on music playing in the background of a scene, for example).

But perhaps most noteworthy is how they used Premiere Pro to switch the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9 halfway through the film to signal Nancy’s expanding world. They achieved this by dropping the 4:3 image into a 16:9 sequence — and when they got to that moment of the movie they added a slow, imperceptible zoom that pushed the image out to the larger frame size.

“Creatively, it was a conscious choice to make Nancy’s world look very claustrophobic and oppressive when she’s with her mother,” explains Christina. “When she embarks on a journey to meet who she thinks are her real, long-lost parents, we expand the frame. It’s like she is free, and the world is opening up for her.”

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