A documentary editor gives us an inside look at her process.
Featured as a nominee for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, The Mole Agent tells the story of an 83-year-old man who is hired by a private investigator to disguise himself as a resident in a Chilean retirement home suspected of elder abuse. Surprisingly heartwarming and charming while offering the intrigue of a detective mission, the film shines a light on the realities of growing old and coping with the loneliness that can accompany living in a facility. The Mole Agent received the 2021 Cinema Eye Honors Award for The Unforgettables.
We sat down with the editor, Carolina Siraqyan, to find out more about the making of the film using Premiere Pro. We spoke with her about challenges she faced during the edit as well as during her career and how she overcame them.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
I studied audiovisual communications in my home country of Chile. In all the fields of this profession, editing, without a doubt, captured me.
I began working as an editing assistant, with a Moviola 35 mm in the ’90s, with an editor that was very generous and shared all his knowledge with me. Since then, I have been learning through my experience of more than 30 years of work.
How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?
When I begin a project, I dedicate an important amount of time deciding how I structure its order. I think that each project has a certain methodology of order and its own details that must be analyzed. This will allow for fluidity in the future. In documentaries like The Mole Agent, the order of material is more complex as there is no script, so you have to order the material in such a way that you can easily remember and quickly find shots to combine in the best way.
In The Mole Agent, there were 72 days of shooting, and I had two months visualizing and cataloging in order to register the material according to certain parameters that I had decided.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.
One of my favorites, because I have a number of them, or at least one that strongly underlines the message of the film, is when Sergio is speaking in the garden with the old lady, who recites a poem and then she recounts her loneliness, which moves me even after having seen it a thousand times. I feel that this scene expresses perfectly the reality of old age, which cannot be eluded.
After several screenings to colleagues who shared their thoughts and opinions with us, an important moment during the credits occurred when they all spoke of their elderly relatives, their mothers, and not of the film. In that moment, with [director] Maite Alberdi, we realized we were on the right road, and we had the general structure of the film.
What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?
The greatest challenge I had to face was moving my office from Chile to Amsterdam for two months to work on the edit.
There I changed my office twice with different computers. The first wasn’t a Mac, which is what I usually work with, and so it made me feel slightly insecure being unable to solve problems with the operating system. But once I could open Premiere Pro, I felt at ease as it was the same as working on my usual Mac.
Afterwards we moved to another office with an iMac, similar to what I work with. And once the peak files were generated, I could finally work fluidly.
At last, it was only a case of stress by the change. The program worked perfectly—it was like working from my own office.
What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?
I edited the whole movie with Premiere Pro. One of the tools I find very useful are the markers. I used them very often to make comments and mark segments.
I had more than 300 hours of material, 72 days of shooting, which I ordered by day, using the markers with comments. I made a Word document with the same points of the markers underlining the details of all the situations so that I could find quickly what I was looking for.
What do you like about Premiere Pro, and/or any of the other tools you used?
I picked Premiere Pro for its versatility in all the formats. I also like its playfulness and the flexibility of its timeline. It makes me feel very natural—I don’t have to deal with anything technical so that I can dedicate myself to the creative process.
I think and feel that it’s a program that allows me the liberty to choose how I work and how I organize my material.
I do have many things that help me with my work, but if I had to choose, they would be the available stock material that Adobe provides (typography, music, and texture), especially in my advertising work as it is always a very time demanding job.
Also, it is very helpful that you can change from one computer to another, and I don’t have to worry about bringing my settings over, as they can be easily restored with one click in Adobe Creative Cloud.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
I have many people who inspire me, I couldn’t name one. It always depends on the type of inspiration I need.
In a project like The Mole Agent, I look for inspiration in the director, as it’s in her creativity where the essence of the film is. I see her work and her inspirations and try to accompany her and empathize with her in everything possible to find in the material what she was looking for and feeling when she filmed the movie.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?
As an editor, without a doubt, taking on more work than I should has created a lot of stress for me. But the most difficult moment in my work life was when my first son was born, in the early ’90s. I felt that to be valued as a woman in my work field, I had to be strong and never show weakness. In those days I worked with a number of directors, mainly in advertising. As I was an independent worker I had to return quickly to work after giving birth and in between the hormonal changes and the emotional ramifications of leaving my child, it was a very difficult moment to overcome. I was emotionally restricted and it was almost impossible for me to concentrate.
When time passed, I was able to find a balance and organize myself in relation to both my child’s and my own needs and I received help from the director I worked with who was sympathetic to my situation. Now that I look back, I realize that women are closer now than ever to being their authentic selves and showing their emotions without being judged. I feel happy as a mother, wife, and editor.
I have my office in a local post-production house of image and sound, “FilmoEstudios.” It's a place not only with an attractive atmosphere, but also really cozy, and has a group of people who work there who are very nice.
As an editor, I work by myself for long hours, so the moments I share with others have become really important.