“The Awkwardness in the Air is the Spirit We Want to Capture: The Accidental Getaway Driver Editor Yang-Hua Hu
Feb 1, 2023
The Accidental Getaway Driver, courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Collateral meets The Desperate Hours against the backdrop of issues of Vietnamese immigration and assimilation in this Orange County-set thriller that marks the feature directorial debut of music video director Sing J. Lee. Below, editor Yang Hua Hu discusses his work in cutting this Sundance 2023 premiering thriller, in which an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage by three recently escaped prisoners.
See all responses to our annual Sundance editor interviews here.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Hu: Both our producer Andy Sorgie and director Sing J. Lee loved the film I cut, MASS, which premiered at Sundance 2021. They reached out to my agent Tara Kromer and Walker Harris at Gersh in late March 2021 and sent me the pitch and treatment documents. I was intrigued by the story and the vision, so we arranged a phone call.
Sing and I grew up on Hong Kong New Wave and Taiwanese New Cinema, and we were in love with that type of film language. He told me The Accidental Getaway Driver would head in that direction. I understood exactly what he wanted, and after sharing what I could bring to the cutting room, we knew immediately we wanted to work together.
In June 2021, they sent me the first draft of the script and I was moved by the father-and-son story. I told them I could totally relate to Long Ma who was an immigrant and had experienced cultural differences and a language barrier in the United States. At the same time, I also grew up in a place where people couldn’t express themselves much, or didn’t know how to say “love”, which are the personalities our characters have. Soon after I was invited to give them script notes and they adopted my thoughts into the script. I was honored that I could contribute my creativity to this film based on my background and experiences.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Hu: I wanted to make sure the father-and-son story works because that’s the core of this movie. We felt the need to preserve Long Ma’s sense of loneliness and regret for how he treated his own family during the quiet moments to contrast the kidnapping event. Meanwhile, Tây’s internal conflicts between the guilt of dragging Long Ma along, and peer pressure during the escape put him in a balancing act. As Tây starts to grow a strong feeling of seeing Long Ma as a father figure, that makes the situation more complicated than just seeing him as a hostage. We needed to intertwine these two lonely souls’ character arcs, so they can be bonded at the end.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques or processes or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Hu: We want to invite the viewers to live in the movements between Long Ma and Tây’s interaction to create empathy. We built pauses and natural breaths during their conversation in the edit, hoping to recall the audience’s personal experiences when they talk to their elders. Sometimes when we are in the same room with our elders, we don’t know what to say, how to continue the conversation, or even try to act like we are the adult in the room. From the elders’ perspectives, everything seems I and immature. The awkwardness in the air is the spirit we want to capture during Long Ma and Tây’s early conversation in the film. As our goal was to link these two lost souls together in the end, I found that using two shots and dirty shots to build the scene was effective. Seeing both characters on the screen during the conversation, viewers are invited into the scene and able to follow their journey. Then, we gradually reduced the usage of single shots throughout 5-6 significant conversions between Long Ma and Tây to highlight the growth in their relationship – they become family.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business and what influences have affected your work?
Hu: After graduating from USC, I was paired with an industry mentor, Sarah Boyd. She is an amazing director/editor and introduced me to her close friend and fellow alum, the very talented Cecily Rhett, who was looking for an assistant editor for a feature film, Sister Cities,”based on the play of the same name. That was my first assistant editor job, and I learned a lot from working with Cecily and director Sean Hanish.
Later, Sarah told me the ACE Diversity Program was accepting applications. Luckily, I got accepted and this mentorship program expanded my network further and helped me grow. From there, Mark Yoshikawa passed along my resume to Richard Chew, who was looking for an assistant editor for Emilio Estevez’s film The Public. During post-production on this project, I worked closely with both Richard and Emilio. At first, they let me cut a few scenes, and then I contributed more and more, building trust until they bumped me up. That was my first on-screen feature editing credit, and I had the great honor to co-edit with Richard.
I think my experience working with Emilio and Richard had a great impact on my work on The Accidental Getaway Driver. I learned a lot of useful editing techniques from Richard such as how to use the long take and usage of action versus reaction shots within the scene. By working with Emilio, I learned how to keep the movie flowing, knowing when to remove redundant information, keeping the viewers interested and engaged throughout long conversations. These are the techniques I used on The Accidental Getaway Driver.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Hu: In The Accidental Getaway Driver, we used Avid Media Composer. For me, I think editing software is a tool. It depends on the workflow and the post-production schedule. I don’t limit myself to only one tool as long as it can help us present the best version of the film.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Hu: The most challenging scenes are three long conversations between Long Ma and Tây. First, I don’t speak Vietnamese, so if actors skipped the lines, it would take time to trace where they were in the script. I also want to make sure I don’t cut out their words. I know in Asian languages the sound and tone will define the meaning of the sentence. As there were many takes, it required a lot of work between our assistant editor, Julian Claborn, and the associate producer, Linh Nguyễn, who is a native Vietnamese speaker. Every time I recut the scene, I would need to send it over to them to double-check if the scene made sense.
In addition, we were trying to remove lines, rewrite the scene direction, and make the conversations more intriguing with limited angles and takes. I had to keep finding the right pieces to maintain the rhythm I wanted, which was challenging.
When we were in post at Formosa Group watching the playback in the mixing session, both our director, Sing J Lee, and I looked at each other and said, “Do you remember how hard it was to shape these scenes to where we are now?” We were so happy we did it with a group effort.
Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?
Hu: I always want to find the bridge between eastern and western cinema. As I mentioned before, both Sing and I grew up on Hong Kong New Wave and Taiwanese New Cinema. We both love the storytelling styles like Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love, and Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn. These filmmakers place the viewers in the middle of the scene and let them sit with the characters to live in that moment. The beauty of the movie magic in the early 2000s in Hong Kong and Taiwan cinema was that it invites the audience to live in the movie’s time. However, Hollywood’s commercial storytelling style focuses on the plot with strong visual effects. It generated a lot of buzz and changed people’s viewing habits on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In the early 2010s, there was a time that investors in China wanted to work with US productions. However, due to cultural differences and language barriers, the final product didn’t reach either side’s expectations. As the pace of our life gets faster, people have no patience to see a movie that is over 2 hours or stay in the scene with our characters anymore. I have found that it’s getting harder to integrate the early 2000s Asian cinema style into our current era.
I think we did something special for The Accidental Getaway Driver. The audience already knows this is a kidnapping story based on a true event. We introduced the action in the first 12 minutes to get that out of the way. We don’t know anything about Long Ma and the three escaped prisoners. Later, we slow down the film to reveal each character throughout their runaway journey. We were playing with the pacing and rhythm to mix both plot-driven and staying in the moment elements. I think this is one of many ways to connect both sides of cinema. I hope I’m able to keep discovering different storytelling techniques to be the bridge between different cultures.
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