WARNING – MILD SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE ‘THE FATHER’
Yorgos Lamprinos very kindly accepted an interview with me on short notice. He is on a work break, conveniently for the conversation, visiting his father in Greece. Man of his word, he joins dead on the time we accepted.
First things first, I guess I should say congratulations on the Oscar Nomination!
Yorgos: “Thank you very much.”
Where were you when the nominations were being announced?
Yorgos: “I was at home. I didn’t know the exact hour they were being announced. I was finishing a project so I didn’t want to get caught up in all of it. So I found out by friends messaging me. As an editor you learn to block things.”
Like you said, I can imagine you wanted to concentrate on your other projects, but it must be so nice to be recognised this way.
Yorgos: “Of course! It’s a huge recognition. To be recognised by the people of your craft is the best type of honour. There was also the nomination from BAFTA, so there was a whole thing going on. It was super gratifying because whilst we don’t do this for the awards, as you know it can expand your opportunities, the people you work for, so obviously it’s a big deal.”
Before we talk about ‘The Father’, something I’m curious to ask is what steered you towards editing during the early stages of your career?
Yorgos: “My first love in life was music. When I was around twelve I played trumpet, then I moved to electric base. I was very into making music with my friends. When I was 18/19 I accidentally found myself in an editing room, and I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it felt completely at home. I also felt a connection between editing and music. I left Greece when I was twenty-three-years-old. I had the chance to get to work in Paris quite quickly, even though I didn’t speak French! There was a great production studio across where I lived, it was my learning in a sense because I didn’t go to film school. I just arrived one morning asking if they wanted a runner or something, and I ended up staying there twelve years! They were doing everything like editing, sound editing, visual effects, all in one place, so it was an amazing school. I don’t want to belittle film school as it can be very important, but I just had the opportunity to be around amazing technicians and artists.”
What I’m taking from this is being a runner was your film school?
Yorgos: “Absolutely. I started off in the production office, then I was a trainee editor, then it was assistant editor, built my way up. In this line of work it’s really important to be right place, right time and when you get there work hard. I’ve been doing this for more then twenty-years because it’s my passion, it’s not by accident that you make it, you need to put in the work. I was also lucky because I started when an assistant editor would be apart of the whole process. Now because of budgetary issues it’s not always the case. So now I am an editor I battle to have my assistants to spend a long time with me on the project, because that’s essentially how you learn editing. Young people do have the budgetary issues as a disadvantage but what they do have the advantage of which I didn’t is that people are way more accessible. I recommend everybody to spam emails to people they want to work with.”
I’ve noticed this arrogant opinion some people have about editing where they’re like, “it’s just throwing a few scenes together”. But for a film especially like ‘The Father’, to intricately stitch it together really takes a special kind of art.
Yorgos: “It’s extremely complex. There’s a technical part, there’s a creative part which is important, then there is the emotional part which is super important. Cinema is a team sport, so generally we say editors are shy and not very social, but we give a lot of energy in terms of the people we collaborate with. It’s not something you’ll ever master, so it keeps you going and going and going, so it’s a craft that provides a lot to you. It’s helped me distance myself from things, it’s helped me distance from stress, which is important as in this work you can’t let yourself be consumed by stress. It’s so complex that you’ll never find yourself bored, which is a good thing!”
Am I correct in thinking ‘The Father’ was finished with the edit before COVID-19 hit?
Yorgos: “Yes, but then we had the issue of it not being released when it was meant to. I had the chance to see it once because we were at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and that was the only opportunity I got to see it with an audience, and it was a great experience, but I only lived it once with this film.”
Getting hold of the film in the UK has been a particular struggle for me. I was lucky to get a screener of it thanks to Borderline Film Festival, but I can imagine its inaccessibly has been a stressful thing for you and Florian [Zeller].
Yorgos: “Yes. Especially for Florian because it’s why you do this. But for the UK, there was a conscious decision to hold off the release until it can get a theatrical run. Lionsgate is going to distribute the film to cinemas on the 11th June, and I’m so proud they’ve stuck with that. I’m grateful for streaming services, but to me cinema is something to bring cinema together.”
That’s amazing. I don’t think anyone knew that was the plan for the release in the UK, but it’s really respectable for them to make that move, especially in times like this. It go’s beyond being professional, it shows there is great respect for the art of the film.
Yorgos: “I’m happy for it because for example, the screening at Sundance was huge. We were sitting quietly at the front. The whole place was laughing which was super gratifying because the film deals with things that touch everyone, but also thanks to the performance of Anthony Hopkins, everybody was having lots of laughs. I remember someone in my eye-line who was a big guy, with a baseball cap…”
I was wearing a cap during the interview (COVID made me have to cut my own hair), so I quipped…
You sure it wasn’t me?
Yorgos: “*laughs*, yes! Anyway, what we call a ‘mountain of a man’ at the end of the film was crying so much that the woman next to him, maybe his girlfriend or wife, wrapped her arms around him. It was so gratifying to me and the others to see that emotion. So this is what I mean, being in a theatre is feeling all the emotions at once with people you don’t even know, that is what cinema is all about”.
I’m grateful for streaming services and I definitely don’t want them to go away, but I agree for a film like ‘The Father’ which is extremely emotional, seeing it with an audience is the best way to view it.
Yorgos: “We need to adapt and evolve, obviously. Platforms like Netflix have opened up jobs for people which is super important. We also need a way to keep new releases going. So I don’t want to knock streaming services. But because of the way I was brought up, cinema is a big dark room with a huge screen.”
Something I’m curious to ask, I do a lot of editing myself whether it is for my own personal use or just for college, and I was wondering what editing software do you use?”
Yorgos: “Avid Media Composer. Since the early 80’s that was the standard. It’s the software I used since starting up and it’s what I’m most comfortable with. But it’s really a question of what are you most comfortable with? There is no right and wrong. But for feature films, I usually use Avid Media Composer.”
I only ask as I know Premier Pro is slowly becoming the industry standard, and I know editors such as Kirk Baxter have steered towards it. Have you tried it out?
Yorgos: “I’ve dabbled in Premier, Final Cut Pro, but my preference is Avid Media Composer.”
Getting into ‘The Father’ specifically now, how did you and Florian Zeller end up working together on this film?
Yorgos: “I was contacted by the production company saying Florian was looking for an editor for a film that Anthony Hopkins is attached to, so it already gave me a motivation. Then I read the script, I couldn’t read the whole thing in one sitting because it was so strong, and that doesn’t happen everyday. I really wanted to be a part of the project. Then I met Florian, and we had a really good meeting where we just got to know each other. The next day he called and said that he wanted to work with me. He told me something that really intrigued me, “this film is a puzzle, but you can never solve it”, I thought that was brilliant. There are films that have fractured narration, but then you can put them together, but the way this script worked, just like how Anthony can’t put things together, neither can you.”
Do you have any personal experience dealing with someone who has dementia?
Yorgos: “It’s funny you ask because when I got the phone call I was on a break in Athens, and it was the first time I felt like my father was an aged man, I hadn’t realised he was getting older. So when I started working on the film, I was putting together the first assemble and I got really affected personally by the film, because I was thinking my father. It was something I had to block out as I couldn’t have all that emotion in me throughout the whole process, because it’s a long process. As an editor you need to find a balance where you block your own emotion but don’t block the emotions you’re getting from a project. I find it a lot where I’m working on a project and it connects perfectly to something that is going on in my personal life at the time, so I needed to find my balance.”
In terms of ‘The Father’ did you edit in chronological order or was it on a scene-by-scene basis?
Yorgos: “During the first assembly I was just kind of editing scene-by-scene. There is a narrative tune to the film which is the production design.”
I’ve gotta say now that the production design is fantastic.
Yorgos: “Definitely. Peter Francis did an amazing job. I was happy to see him get nominated, along with Cathy Featherstone for the set decoration. Anyway, they did the filming by building the set film, tear it down, then build again. So they’d film a chunk of the story using the same production design then have to tear it down and build it up again. It’s very rare a film gets shot chronologically so you have to edit as it comes in. The production design was a big part of how the film was edited. You get a lot of rhythm from the way it’s shot, you get a lot of rhythm from the performances, but there was also the parameter of the production design which I had to always keep in mind.”
The production design really is a character in the film.
Yorgos: “It’s a character, but it’s also a reflection of what is going on in Anthony’s mind. There is also something really lovely that is going on where you start with an apartment that starts yellow-ish, then as the story goes on it becomes blue-ish. There’s also a lot of actions going on where for example when Olivia Colman’s character, Anne, comes back with the shopping in a plastic that you’ve seen at the start of the film, the apartment goes forward but the narration goes backwards. That’s the amazing story teller Florian Zeller is, that’s not just something you build in editing, it’s something already there from the inception of the story.”
That’s incredible! I didn’t even notice that when watching the film. It makes me wonder did it make editing more difficult and stressful as you had to remember to incorporate these little things?
Yorgos: “I wouldn’t say stressful as for an editor it’s bliss. I know from the star it wasn’t a flashy project. The whole point is to put the audience in Anthony’s head, so it’s told at his rhythm. The difficulty is how you use your choices. For example, you can use a wide-shot to establish a place, and then if you want to confuse the audience, you can use close-ups, then if you need to go back to a shot we’ve already seen, you can use a similar shot you’ve used previously in order to create balance. It can be challenging but it really is the essence of editing. You’ve got to try and be subtle efficient at the same time.”
Staying on the same topic, like we were discussing ‘The Father’ is a very contained film, about 90% of it is set in the apartment, so I was wondering did this make editing easier, harder or did it not really make a difference?
Yorgos: “Again it’s not a question of easier or harder, in the end you just try and serve the story as much as you can, in this case get inside of Anthony’s head. It’s like a compass, to guide you through your choices.”
Keeping in mind I can’t remember the word ‘dementia’ being uses in the film, how did you convey to the audience Anthony’s situation?
Yorgos: “When I read the script for the first time, the first thing I thought was nightmare but not in the horror sense. So there was a conscious decision on my part, as well as Florian’s, to put the audience in a space where they feel confused, but keep on the thin line where you don’t lose them. As an audience you get just as lost as Anthony, so you don’t need to hear the word ‘dementia’, because your head is already being spun.”
It’s funny you say that. The first thing I was saying to people after seeing ‘The Father’ is that, “it’s the closest film you’ll get to a horror film that isn’t a horror film”, because Anthony’s situation really is like a nightmare.
Yorgos: “I’m glad you put it that way, because that was the exact thing I had in my head when reading the script. The other thing that was important in the script was the perspective of Anthony, we’re in his head. People who suffer from this type of illness find it super hard on themselves, but it’s also super hard on the people around them. It wasn’t about making a showcase of Anthony Hopkin’s performance, even though he is amazing. That’s where someone like Olivia Colman’s character comes in, and she blew my mind. The chemistry between them is shifted between characters so you empathise with them all.”
Does good acting help in editing?
Yorgos: “As an editor you take the rhythm from the actors. Having performances like this is the best gift you can have. The chemistry between Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, to the smallest things like a look, tells so many things, and allows you to tell so much more of the story. It’s really the editors place to have performances of that calibre.”
Speaking of the acting, I read that you never want to be on set with the actors, is this true and if so, why?
Yorgos: “I have an enormous amount of respect for the acting craft, but it’s not helpful for me to meet them as actors, I need to know them as characters, not to undermine them as people. Sometimes when you’re around actors for so long, you pick up on little aneurysms that they may have, and when you see them on screen you ask yourself things like, “is that his character? Is that just him?”. It actually happened to me when I was editing a film and I knew one of the speaking actors well, and I had a tough time editing his scenes as I’d get too interested in the person I know. Each to their own, that’s my personal taste, I know some editors who love to go on set and meet the actors. But, I did get the chance to meet Anthony Hopkins after the editing was finished. Florian suggested we go and meet him as we were in Los Angeles at the time, and there was no way I would say no to meeting him because it’s Anthony-fricking-Hopkins!”
Did you get to meet Olivia Colman in any sort of sense?
Yorgos: “No. I’ve never met her. She blew my mind as an actress and just her way of being. She gives you something that effects you as an editor, I’d actually like to talk about it. So, you can keep a shot on her face a little bit longer and something else happens and it’s almost magical! I was already impressed with her acting from previous work, but here you get a whole new idea of the calibre of an actor she is.”
Olivia Colman is great. She really is one of those actress’ that can go from super funny to super serious in the flick of her fingers. She’s extremely popular here in the UK.
Yorgos: “Oh and there is a reason! Like you say, I remember her from comedy, then I see her in this and her and Hopkins complement each other so well. Anthony Hopkins has the advantage where audiences have this idea of him, so he can play with it a little bit. He can scare the audience a little bit. We all have the image of him as Hannibal Lecter. So it’s not about doing an homage to that, it’s not the point, but you can use that to play with the audience. Then with Olivia Colman, you can look her in the eyes and you immediately identify with her. So it allows the audience to shift their empathy from one person to another.”
When you’re editing, do you use the screenplay heavily or do you limit the use of it?
Yorgos: “When I start editing I don’t have the screenplay on my desk. I make lots of notes and gather sounds. But when I’m editing I don’t really use the script. This way I’m not scared of failing, even if the director doesn’t like the edit of a scene, it will take me only twenty-minutes to re-cut it. It can also spark an idea if he doesn’t like it. So I always say you can’t be afraid to fail as an editor. Editing is a balance of being super confident in order to be free. Make all the choices you want to make but remember to suppress your ego, you’re there to serve a film, not yourself. When I work with a director, especially someone like Florian, this whole thing came from his mind, so I have complete trust in him that if he feels like something needs to be shifted a little bit, I’ll have the confidence to know that is the way it should probably go.”
I’m curious, because Florian wrote the play of ‘The Father’ around ten-years-ago, were you familiar with his work before getting the call to edit the film adaptation?
Yorgos: “No, because I’m not much of a theatre person. I like to have the buffer of a screen. Theatre is very direct and I don’t find it easy to appreciate it as much as I should, though I have seen some brilliant plays and I do like to go to the theatre from time to time. When I got the call I didn’t to know a thing at all to do with the play as I didn’t want it to effect my edit of the film.”
Did Florian work closely with you during the edit of the film or does he just let you get on with it and take a look at a much later stage?
Yorgos: “To me as an editor I like to work closely with the director. A film has one personality and that is the personality of the director. I want to put on the screen what the director had in mind. I like to work with the director so I can translate what they have in mind to the screen. Sometimes an assistant editor can be too present and have the same connection as the material, that’s not good because one of the two has to have a distance. In this instances I’ll ask them to go for a walk, have a day or maybe even a week off. I’m very self efficient and I don’t want to get inside anyone else’s head. In France usually the director writes the script. This is good for me as I know they have a strong connection to the work. But something I always advice newcomers is just because the director is in the room, it doesn’t mean that they tell you what to do. There is always the way of how you want to express yourself.”
So does the director have final say?
Yorgos: “The director has final say but no one will refute a good idea.”
I’ve got one final question, what was it like working with Zeller on ‘The Father’?
Yorgos: “This project I’m really proud of. It had a personal effect on me, and I think it has an effect on the audience. I appreciate it’s not a film that teaches you a lesson, rather put you in the shoes of someone in a situation and let you decide how this will affect your life. It keeps the audience active. Most of all, it made me grow as an editor and a person. Not only that, I’m proud to say Florian Zeller is a friend of mine.”
So it’s fair to say if you don’t connect well with the director, it’s hard to work on a project?
Yorgos: “It’s very fair to say this. Very rarely does this happen, but if I can’t respect the director and their vision, then it messes with me a little bit.”
Mr Lamprinos, thank you so much for your time. I wish you and the whole cast and crew of ‘The Father’ well, and good luck with your nomination!
If you’d like to watch the video of this interview, please do head over to my Youtube Channel!