Schmeer Fellow Leigh Johnson's first entry for the POV Blog's Enter the Edit series has been published. It’s a rollicking interview with Penelope Falk, the award-winning doc editor of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Maidentrip, and Step. She’s also one of Leigh’s Karen Schmeer Fellowship mentors. They discuss Penny’s own mentors, why it’s okay to be wrong, the importance of figuring out thematic principles of the film you’re working on, and much more!
Penny on how to use notes from rough cut screenings: "I love feedback sessions, to me it’s a tool of our trade. But when people watch films, they tend to give solutions, like “here’s what you need to do.” But they don’t know what you’re dealing with. So listen to people’s problems, never their solutions."
Leigh: I thought I could get meta and talk to you about mentorship. You’ve told me about some people who have been mentor type figures in your own career, and I’m curious about how that happened for you.
Penny: I love editors. One of the reasons I became an editor is that I was in a job where a lot of editors came through, and I thought they were smart, engaged and curious. I wanted to be just like them. And I was right, it’s a great world that I love being a part of. We’re oddly not competitive, we all help each other get work, and it’s just something organic that happens. So I found three people who became my mentors – Toby Shimin, Jonathan Oppenheim, and Jay Freund – who helped me, and still help me, figure out how to navigate the doc world.
Jay would say things to me and I would actually run home and write them down. Like, “there’s no such thing as a cutaway.” I went home and wrote that down. Because I didn’t know anything about editing! “Every shot has to resolve the last and set up the next.” And another thing, I fight to this day about this with directors: “A scene can only be about one thing.” That is so important. Not that a scene can’t be complicated, have nuance, have layers of complexity, but it should just be about one thing.