This is the third (!!!) edition of the POV Blog's Enter the Edit series exploring the regrettably underappreciated process and craft of documentary editors.
Maya Mumma most recently edited O.J.: Made in America, which has won numerous awards including an Emmy for Outstanding Editing, an ACE Eddie Award, and the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Her other editing credits include the Emmy nominated film Which Way Is The Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington and the Peabody Award winning Mr. Dynamite, The Rise of James Brown. She is a mentor to editor Leigh Johnson through the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship this year.
Leigh: Your award-winning edit team for O.J.: Made in America was you and two other editors. On a film nearly eight hours long, how did you all work together in the edit? I’m curious about that process.
Maya: When the project started, director Ezra Edelman knew that it needed multiple editors. He hired Bret Granato first, who he’d worked with before, and I came on right afterward. We knew we had a massive story to tell from day one. Ezra’s process is to start with interview selects, so he had put all his selects together in a document that was about 150 pages long. I think it was over 12 hours strung out in a sequence. I spent the first few days watching it through in the edit room.
What Bret and I did first was each take on some sections that we already had a good amount of interview and archival material for. We were looking at both O.J.’s history and the history of race relations in Los Angeles, and seeing how those different stories interacted was important to start to figure out. Bret took the Buffalo Bills section of the film early on and I got the L.A. riots section up and going, in addition to a few other sections.
After about a month or so in to the edit, we realized we needed to take on bigger parts of the storytelling. You can only edit pods for so long, because you can easily end up having a film where you’re just trying to stick a bunch of things together. So we divided the story, and the murder seemed like a very logical place to split it. I took pre-murder and Bret took post. But after a few months, we just weren’t getting to the post-trial part of the story, so a third editor, Ben Sozanski, was hired. There are so many things that happen post-trial, and for Ben to be able to focus and narrow it down while we were in the weeds of our own sections was incredible. Ben was also able to fill in some of the storytelling earlier in the film as we moved toward a rough cut.
We would screen sections together periodically and we were constantly checking in with each other about how things were going and ideas we were having. There were a few scenes that got passed back and forth, like the Buffalo Bills section. Bret had put so much into that, it was important that he took it to the very end even though it ended up being in my section. Ben cut the very opening of the film, the parole hearing. I love that within the first hour of the film you’re seeing all of us represented in some way.