Director Dave Franco’s sophomore film, Somebody I Used to Know, hit Amazon Prime Video just in time for Valentine’s Day. The film reimagines the traditional rom-com trope of a love triangle and finds all the characters falling for each other in one way or another.
Somebody I Used to Know follows Ally (Alison Brie) on a trip back to her hometown after her reality TV series gets canceled. With no work or personal life in LA, Ally reminisces with her ex Sean (Jay Ellis), and questions the life that she chose to lead. Things only get more confusing when she meets Cassidy, who reminds her of the person she used to be.
The small team on the project needed a set of tools that would allow them to have the flexibility they needed to bring this complicated love story to the screen. Editor Ernie Gilbert, known for his works on Donald Glover’s Atlantaand This is America music video, used his ever-evolving skills to highlight the nuanced moments of reflection, growth, and closure wrapped in this humorous love story.
Gilbert sat down with No Film School over Zoom to chat about editing Somebody I Used to Know, finding your style as an editor, the tools used to edit the film with Franco, and what he believes is the key to success as an editor.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: Congratulations on Somebody I Used To Know. It's sweet. It's funny. I think it's so absurd but in a realistic way.
Ernie Gilbert: I had worked with Dave [Franco] a little bit. I did a commercial for him a year prior, and when he pitched me on it, what got me excited was just how grounded they wanted the film to be. We were talking about the scene where the cat has an accident on the airplane, and there's a version that's really broad and really goofy. And Dave's pitch to me was just, what's the version of what's real, awkward, and uncomfortable, but speaks so truly to where Alison's character was at the start of the film. When he told me that, I was just like, "I'm in. Let's do it. This sounds fun."
NFS: How did you end up becoming the editor for this film, and what factors and attributes led you to be hired for this job?
Gilbert: Dave and I connected on a sunglasses/luggage commercial. His first film was edited by a friend of mine, Kyle Ryder, who cut on Atlanta. I was Kyle's assistant editor on Atlanta and Barry. We kind of connected through mutual friends. Chris Storr, who's the creator of the show, The Bear, on FX, Chris produced Dave's first movie, and I had done a bunch of stuff with Chris. So, we were just kind of in each other's orbits. When Dave was looking for an editor for his commercial, he wanted somebody who had done commercials, had done music videos and had that style. I think we just really clicked on that.
He was gearing up to make this film, and it seemed like it was moving pretty quickly. I mean, movies always move slower than anything else, but they were kind of on track. They knew they had to shoot because the weather was going to turn on location up there in the Pacific Northwest. It's not a movie set in winter, it's set in springtime. It was something we had to move on. It was just kind of the confluence of all those things, availability, and right place, right time. It all worked out.
NFS: That's the motto of Hollywood. It's like who you know and being in the right place at the right time.
Gilbert: A hundred percent.
Alison Brie as Ally and Jay Ellis as Sean in 'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: Your style as an editor, I feel works for all the projects that you've been on. It's very grounded, but also can dabble in surrealism. How would you describe your style as an editor?
Gilbert: Over the years I've tried to quantify or make sense of my style, but at its core, I think I'm drawn to things that are not simple for simplicity's sake, but just simple for a focus on story and a focus on character. A movie like The Big Short, which I enjoyed, would be a movie that I would want to cut because that's throwing a bunch of stuff in there and making this big salad of an edit. Any point where I can use one shot instead of two, I'm into it. It's finding those grounded human stories. I'm lucky to say that I can be a little choosy. It's about the process, it's finding collaborators that want to play, that want to explore, that want to try things, collaborators that are open and supportive.
I was really lucky early on in my career back when I was assistant editing to work on a lot of TV shows where it was just this very communal process. On Atlanta, for example, we would screen episodes, and the assistant editors would weigh in or the post-PA would weigh in. It was just like we're all in this together trying to make the best thing possible, the thing that speaks to us.
To me, projects that the process is nice. I knew going into it, Dave was a passionate director and had an opinion and intention, which I think I respond to well when working with directors. I'm going to bring my own thing to it, but I want somebody who doesn't want me to just fix it and make something. I want somebody who wants to engage and really try to one-up each other with ideas and push each other.
NFS: In terms of advancing a film from the first cut to its final cut, what are your goals as an editor throughout the entire process?
Gilbert: My girlfriend does ceramics – she does pottery – so I came up with this analogy when we first started dating and I took one of her classes where you're working the wheel.
To me, editing is pottery. I have to start from a place of something. I need a cut. It can be the worst cut. Until I have something to react to and refine and improve upon and tweak, I'm lost. I'm just lost in the wilderness. For me as an editor, it's putting that raw clay, all that material in knowing where it all is, what colors I have, what moments I have. Then, turning it into something.
It can be the worst edit ever. Anybody should see those edits. It's from there that I can then say, “Okay, why is that not working? Let me try this thing. Why is this working? Let's do more of that.” I find that editing is a game of time. It's taking the time to try something, being how you react to it. On a feature, it's hard because to review a cut, you're watching two hours of an edit, and then you have to react to that. So it's constantly being in the micro, being at that, we're right on this scene, right on this moment, literally on frames at times on this film, and then zooming back up to 35,000 feet and saying, “Is that servicing? Are we tracking what these characters are feeling and what they're thinking? Are we along for the ride? Is there intention here?”
It's a constant state of exploration, play, trial and error, and not being afraid to take risks. Some of my favorite things I learned in music videos early on are that some of the best things are accidents. That's the magic of editing is you're getting more meaning out of it than what you put in.
Alison Brie as Ally and Kiersey Clemons as Cassidy in 'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: From your perspective, when do you know that an edit works and it achieves what you and the director wanted it to achieve?
Gilbert: Hopefully the director will tell me when they think it works. I know when it's working when – it's cliche and it's simplified – it just feels right. I don't know. I can be working on a scene that it's not working, it doesn't make sense. I'm not grounded in it, and I'm not feeling it. When you get the right performance, you get the right pieces in place, and then all of a sudden it feels like your movie. It feels like that moment. It feels real and alive. Once you get to that feeling, for me at least, that's when I'm like, “Okay, we got to protect this. This is the special thing.”
Notes are going to come in. Everybody's got their point of view, and you as an editor have to be the fulcrum point that's balancing all of these things. Once you get that feeling where you're like, this is connected and grounded, and I'm responding to it on an emotional level, whether it's making me laugh, it's like a tickle. There are always little looks that awesome comedic actors will give you where I laugh more at the look than the joke sometimes because you hear the joke a thousand times, but there's something about the human moment of just Haley Joel Osment doing something silly and making a look and then Alison's reaction to it.
I feel like as I've gotten further in my career, you do start to second guess. I want to figure out the equation. What's the equation that's going to make this thing work? I find that when I go down those paths is when I get lost. It's when I'm just really kind of at the moment feeling it almost like I imagine an actor would if you overanalyze and overthink about what my facial expression reacting to this versus just being in that moment and feeling it and listening.
NFS: Your intuition as an editor is what makes you great at your job. Being able to listen to the feeling that's in you. That's the same with any creative. It's just listening to it.
Gilbert: You got to listen and respect it and try to. It's funny, it's like you almost need to nurture it in ways that are not always directly related to the task. Are we listening to the right music as we talk about this scene? Are we referencing other things? It's just all those little things add up, I think, and then go into what your edit is. What I love most about it is Dave and I worked on this film in the edit bay together for something like six or seven months. You grow, and you change as the film does. Our perception of who these characters were, and what these moments were at the start of it is different at the end of it. I think that's a really fun singular experience you get as an editor to just really, watch the film almost grow up in front of you and become a thing.
'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: What editing software did you use when working on this project?
Gilbert: We cut in Adobe Premiere Pro, which I've been using for probably 90% of my work since 2014 or 2015. If I have a choice, it's my preferred tool. The way a painter might have a favorite brush or a sculptor a favorite chisel, I find Adobe Premiere works how my brain works. I find it to be incredibly flexible. I like starting from that raw place and being not precise, throwing a bunch of stuff into a timeline, treating it almost as if it's a big desk that I'm just moving pieces around on and trying things.
We were a small team. It was myself, a post-producer, an assistant editor, and a visual effects artist. I found it to be the perfect kind of workflow for us where a lot of times on jobs, you get lost in the bureaucracy. I worked on a TV show, as an assistant editor, where we spent more time tracking the visual effects than it would've taken me to do the visual effects if they just had me do them. That's frustrating as a creative person. Anything I can do or anything that the workflow can do that removes those things, I think helps. I would temp out a visual effect shot or a split screen or something. Dave and I would look at performance, say it's a split screen and we're trying to time, make sure lips are in sync on somebody over the shoulder, or we're trying to maybe we need that laugh a little sooner, the next line a little sooner or whatever.
I could temp that out. We could get the timing feeling good. Then, I could pass that shot off to my assistant editor who then would dynamic link it, send it to After Effects, and refine that to that 80% point. That could now live in our edit as we're reviewing cuts and working through stuff. Once that shot was locked or once we were closer to finishing, all of that work would then translate to our Visual Effects Artist [Neil Lokken]. He wasn't starting from scratch. He was able to then take those things and just build upon them with the online footage, and make the beautifully finished shot.
What I just described was very efficient. The entire time, it's at the service of us being in the edit bay watching the cut and not having these jarring [moments].
NFS: For Somebody I Used to Know, were you all working in an actual physical edit bay, or were you working remotely?
Gilbert: Everybody was remote for the whole thing, except for me. I was remote while they shot in Portland. When Dave got back from Portland, he and I worked out of an office in Silver Lake for six or seven months. It was just us. They wanted to keep it very tight. Then, we went into finishing. We were coloring at Company 3. We were mixing at the Formosa Group with our awesome colorist Sean [Coleman] and our awesome supervising sound editor Trevor Gates. We went to the office because we wanted access to the suites for the sound and color, making sure we were looking at the right calibrated monitors and stuff.
Alison Brie as Ally and Danny Pudi as Benny in 'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: Have you worked on a hybrid or a remote editing process before? I know during COVID, a lot of people were doing that, but I was wondering how do you feel about being back in person and editing from an actual edit?
Gilbert: I've done both. Throughout the pandemic, I did a lot of commercial work, which was all on Evercast or Zoom sessions. I find there to be a benefit. The thing I'm doing right now is remote until the producer's ready to look at some stuff with me, and then he'll probably start swinging by the office or by my apartment, my apartment office. Honestly, there are benefits. On one hand, the remote gives you flexibility. The producers could be in London working, remote in, review a cut, and give me some real-time feedback.
But it's really hard to replace sitting in front of my edit bay and the director is watching, and I can almost hear just a shift in the couch or a shift in whatever. That let me know that I needed to hit the pause button because we got to go back and look at that thing again. It's really hard to navigate that on Zoom. I find that I have to kind of be more of a conductor on the remote sessions where it's like, all right, pause. Everybody, are we feeling good? Do you want to revisit anything? But it's just a different skill set. I think the beauty of it though is with the remote workflows, I've got friends who were in LA for 10 years and now are like, “I'm going to raise a family in South Carolina, but I can still do this work.”
There is definitely a benefit and pros and cons. I like it in person. I just find it to be way easier to say, “What do you think? Let's look face to face. Let's look at this together and get the tech out of the way.”
NFS: For this project, what was the most difficult scene for you to cut and how did you overcome it?
Gilbert: Most of the scenes were pretty easy to cut just because we had such an amazing cast like Alison, the precision with which she can tweak her emotion, tweak her delivery, but still be sipping the water cup at the same time, I'm just like, I could never do that. It's so precise, but still grounded, but still just compelling. I think the most difficult scene is there's a bar scene where Kiersey's Band is playing a song, then she notices that Alison might be flirting with Jay Ellis's character Sean. So, she challenges Alli to come on stage and perform. Alison goes on stage and does her rendition of Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind.
What was challenging about that scene is I think they spent it was either one or two days, but that was all they did in those one or two days was shoot that scene. It's several pages long in the script. It has to be both a music video showcasing, because if Kiersey's band isn't a good band, then the stakes of her giving that up. She has to be a real musician. You have to buy that as you watch the film. Then, for Alison to take that and do her own little thing, you have to buy that too, or it just comes across as false. It's a music video that also has to introduce the dynamics of this love triangle, these three characters who are all kind of competing for different things.
You also need moments with the parents. You're kind of checking in with the friend, the brother, the parents, all these people. So, that was one where I spent probably a week just getting my rough cut done, just trying to navigate all of those moving things. That's one where my music video background came into play where I was able to do some of the tricks that I do in music videos where I stack multi-cams, and I'm able to, as I'm cutting at any point, I know, okay, I still have three other closeups of Kiersey lead singer, I've got a shot of a drummer. All of those things are still in sync, and then I can kind of peel away the layers and start injecting like, “Oh, here's Haley Joel Osment doing the worm.” That's not tied to any part of the song, so I can put it wherever it needs to go. There were a lot of layers, and that's a really fun timeline to look at. It's probably 20 tracks deep, just navigating all of the different elements of that.
Kiersey Clemons as Cassidy in 'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: On the opposite spectrum, what was your favorite scene to cut?
Gilbert: Towards the end of the film, our characters have been put on this collision course through their actions, through their bat-poor choices, and it erupts in these different conversations. It's really fun, too. I often say that casting directors and editors should form an alliance. As an editor, I'm watching all the stuff, and I can tell you who's got the chops and who we have to massage in the edit.
With this cast, there were just moments where I found myself tearing up as I was watching Sean and Allie fight. Yeah, those scenes, I think it was just the culmination of I got to know these characters through the footage. I got to know all this stuff. And now I'm like, I'm in the fight with them. That stuff was really rewarding to get to edit.
NFS: From your perspective, how does your final understanding of this film differ from how you understood it at the beginning after living with it for seven months?
Gilbert: It was really cool to see the final cut of the film with all the finished color visual effects and sound mix in a theater with a bunch of people watching it. Watching with fresh eyes, I just really am proud of where we were able to land just with the performances, with just the nuance of it all. It's raunchy at times. It's funny at times. It's really kind of melancholy at times, but through all of that, it just feels very real. It feels like these are real people going through something that is relatable, something that as I think about my own career, my own kind of quest to succeed and to get to work in this industry and do what I do, you think about those things of where you came from, what you left behind.
I'm from North Carolina. Growing up, the idea of moving to New York or LA was a very foreign kind of wild idea. I remember when I moved here, my mom was like, “That's 3000 miles away. It's just a whole different world.” I think it's just really kind of connecting with those characters and seeing them become, in my mind, real people. It's one thing to read it on the page and it's another thing to look at it in dailies, but there were moments in that premiere where it was just small things. There are things that I had watched a thousand times that I was still, they felt fresh and they felt new because they just felt so alive to me.
NFS: Do you have any advice for any new or young editors?
Gilbert: Be organized. Every now and then, I'll get brought in to help out with a project that might already be in process. I'm always surprised at how organization just really helps you. Take time to get organized and to do a workflow properly. It's all of those little decisions at the start of a project that adds up over time, and it's an investment. Getting to know your footage means that when you're sitting with your director, your producer, you're able to be like, oh, I have a thing that'll work for that. That makes you really invaluable. It's just knowing your software, knowing your workflows, and then just building those relationships. I have found the most success and the most pleasure in my career from just connecting with collaborators that we view the world the same way, but are still able to push against each other.
That doesn't come overnight. If you're new to it all, editing is a fun arena. I say often that it's not the sexiest part of our industry. It's not like everybody wants to be the cinematographer with the ARRI Alexa on their shoulder, but you have a lot of power. You have a lot to say. It's almost like an inverse of the writing.
The writer takes something infinite. Anything could be in this movie, and they make it into a finite thing. As the editor, you take a finite thing, 10 hours of footage, 100 hours of footage, and you have infinite possibilities of where it can go. Cherish that.
Then, my biggest thing is just to try. You can often try things faster than you can debate whether you should try them in an edit. If you're just open to trying, you're going to find cool and amazing things, and you're going to get your creative collaborators excited. I never want to tell a director, no, that won't work. Even if I know in my heart of hearts, this is going to be really weird, I still want to try because I think that's just ultimately being open the way maybe an improv actor is just being open to that. It's going to lead you down the right path and open the right doors. I ultimately think that makes your end products better, and your projects better.
'Somebody I Used to Know'Credit: Amazon Prime VideoNFS: It's funny that you say you compare yourself to a writer in a sense because there are three writers on a film. You got your screenwriter, the director, then the editor.
Gilbert: It's funny because I feel like in today's day and age, so many people edit. To post on TikTok, you have to edit. So many people know how to edit, but it still seems to be this kind of misunderstood craft. It really does take a lot of craft, a lot of care, and a lot of hours. I think that a thing that people are often surprised by is just how many hours it takes. If you give me 10 hours of footage, you have to assume it's going to at least take me 10 hours just to watch it because I wasn't there. I didn't see what was on set. I need to at least spend 10 hours watching it just to be able to edit it. Yeah.
NFS: Is there anything you want to touch upon that I did not mention in our conversation?
Gilbert: I just want to give a shout-out to my assistant editor Riley Adamson, who is the real kind of hero of this film. He went above and beyond every step of the way, and I want nothing but success and happiness for him forever.
I really think the people I've watched who have the best careers are talented and hardworking, but at the end of the day are nice. We're not working in an ER. We're not on the front lines of a war. It does feel pretty hectic at times, but at the end of the day, I think the thing that at least I'd like to hope to believe is that if you're kind and compassionate, and clear with people about this industry, that's where you get the ultimate success.
Somebody I Used to Know is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.