Written by Matt Friedman

I’ve worked with Lulu Wang for years now, having edited both her feature films and a handful of short films as well. I love working with her, so I was excited to jump on the Expats ride.

Because Lulu and I have known each other for so long, we have a very established rhythm. We don’t generally talk that much about the cuts during production, but that’s true of most directors I work with - they usually have so many other things to deal with. I send scenes on a daily basis, and of course, if Lulu has concerns we would talk about them.

In the cutting room, it’s the opposite. Both Lulu and I are incredibly detail-oriented, so we would talk about a lot. As an editor, I have to be clear on every thought that goes through a character’s head. Even if I think I know, we’d talk about it anyway around important beats. If Lulu had directed the actor one way, but I cut the moment as if the character was thinking something different, the performance wouldn’t feel 100% genuine.

And because we’ve worked together for so long, we have a very safe space to talk honestly about what is working and what isn’t. Lulu is incredibly smart, and unusually for a writer-director, she is eager to hone, adjust, and even let go of things that aren’t needed or aren’t working.

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Finally, throughout the post process, neither of us settles or stops sharpening until it’s the best it can be, whether that’s through music selection and editing, looking at where ADR can sharpen a scene even more, or how we can make the story even richer through the mix.

When I talk to people about editing, I often find myself saying that it isn’t hard… just incredibly meticulous. Everything matters, down to individual frames… those 1/24ths of a second. Each one is important! But if I had to pick one thing that is relatively hard for me, it’s cutting scenes where characters cry… sculpting the sobs, gasps, breaths, sniffs, and the overall ebb and flow of the intensity of the crying. Sobbing is delicate dialogue in its own right. Crying is so delicate and emotional that you have to get it perfect or it will feel fake. But it’s also something that you get sensitized to and lose objectivity on very quickly, so I really work hard to get it right very early on in the process.

In terms of being meticulous, the opening montage where we meet Puri, Essie, Olivia, and Charly forced me to be meticulous to the point of ridiculousness. In an homage to Altman’s Nashville, Lulu wanted to create a sequence that was driven by a vocal song, yet montaged multiple scenes each with different characters speaking multiple languages, and even other needle drop music playing in the background of the song. This took an immense amount of design to pull off.

Matt Friedman

I started editing with temp music, and extensively used the audio plugin RX Music Rebalance to create the instrumental bridges I needed to accommodate the dialogue. But those instrumental bridges still had to make sense musically, so I couldn’t just drop into instrumental whenever dialogue came up… it had to be timed so it would feel like the song going to a bridge felt natural. But I couldn’t pad dialogue scenes with extra time, because then the scenes would feel slow. It was painstaking work.

In instances where background music intruded on top of the song, it had to sound elegant. It couldn’t be sonic mush, so we worked to find cues that wouldn’t clash, and in some cases beat matched them to the montage song so the two songs merged into one for a bit.

There’s a lot of incredibly intricate work in Expats, but my hope is you don’t see any of that editing. My hope is that it’s invisible, and therefore allows you to experience the emotions rather than notice the editing.