Cinematographer Richard Henkels and Editor Michelle M. Witten reveal their unique teamwork on Author: The JT LeRoy Story.
Author made its world premiere at Sundance 2016 and quickly became Amazon's very first documentary acquisition. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the film tells the controversial story of novelist and punk author Laura Albert, who began publishing books in the 90’s under a fake literary persona known as JT LeRoy. LeRoy was invented as a 20-year old androgynous boy who was raised in truck stops with his prostitute mother, giving rise to a cultural sensation in the literary world. While the books (and LeRoy’s persona) garnered both critical and cultural notice, Albert's ability to keep her secret is at the heart of the outlandish story chronicled here.
The hardest thing to do at Sundance is to watch movies, so I wasn't able to see the film (hence my egregious mispronunciation of the titular fictional character — I won't lie, I was thinking of this), but our conversation covers a lot of ground, from decisions to shoot the film at 320 ASA, to lighting techniques for making subjects feel comfortable, to one of the most unique aspects of the film's production--how Henkels and Witten worked together to edit simultaneously while shooting.
Witten on Feuerzeig's editing direction:
Jeff likes percussive editing and hard cut sound design. He's always saying: 'You want to keep the audience alive, you never want them to go to sleep.'
Henkels on cinematography:
It's important to be a musician, to have a bit of rhythm. Especially when you're doing operating, working with actors. Knowing when to move the camera and not to move the camera.
Witten on her early editing career:
I just started doing it. I assisted a lot of really great editors and learned from them. It's never too late to do what you love, just be prepared to work for free for a while.
Henkels on advice for aspiring DPs:
Be proactive, just dive in. It's also really important to listen and observe. There's a lot of young people out there that don't listen or observe. Hear what people have to say and move from there.