August 30, 2017
A few months ago I had the privilege of Co-Chairing a fan event celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the television series La Femme Nikita. For this event, the Chairs were fortunate to be able to bring in a number of talented people for panel discussions. Their work ran the gamut of what it takes to bring a television show to fruition. One of these folks was Saul Pincus. Saul worked as Assistant Editor on La Femme Nikita for 33 episodes.
Having opportunity to meet Saul in person and find out more about his background as a television editor, I also discovered his very diversified work in Feature Film. His recent film, Nocturne, which Saul co-wrote and directed, has played to a variety of film festivals and won multiple awards! When Saul agreed to a Q&A for At A Glance, I was very excited to be able to bring his wide range of knowledge and experience here to share with you!
Thanks for agreeing to visit with us, Saul! I know your schedule is quite busy and we really appreciate you taking the time. So, let’s get started!
Can you share a little of your background…we’d like to get to know you and your journey better! How early in life did you realize you were interested in pursuing a career in the arts… as well as any training or education?
Other than my grandmother’s love for painting and playing piano – both of which she was good at but did not practice professionally – none of my relatives were in the arts, and certainly not in the film business. At seven and half, I saw Steven Spielberg’s impressionable and impressionistic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When we got home from the movie theatre, I asked my dad if he knew how they’d accomplished such fantastic visuals. His answer was “trick photography,” and he directed me to our local library. A year later, with much reading under my belt, I begged my father for a Super 8mm camera. So he took me to the local camera shop where the salesman showed us a few models. I knew exactly which one I wanted – but my dad announced we weren’t there to buy one just yet. “If you still want this next year, we’ll get it.” That was the longest year of my life – to this day I don’t know how I survived it – but we did return to that same store a year later as planned and got that camera. I was the kind of kid who’d rather spend a few months with his camera over summer vacation than away at camp, and that’s how it was though my teenage years. I became rather precocious technically as well, so by the time I graduated high school I had already sort of staged my own version of film school, you might say. I was self-taught.
You recently directed and co-wrote a film titled Nocturne which has played to very receptive audiences throughout the film festival circuit winning multiple awards, and which now has a worldwide digital release as well as DVD. Can you share a bit about the film?
Nocturne was very consciously a decision I made to follow through with what I’d started as a kid and continued to do regularly till I was in my mid-20s: make films. I’d pushed “pause” on that dream when I’d gotten a break editing movies in Toronto only a couple of years after moving there from my home town of Montreal. I’d learned a lot as an editor, and I thought it was time to invest in myself again. One of the great takeaways of collaborating on films for other directors is that in ideal circumstances you’re seeking pure cinema, which aside from dialogue, is really a more pure marriage of image and sound that tells the story well. So I thought that if I could take this to its extreme, I’d be able to create a very true cinematic experience with very little money. That’s how I came up with the idea of an insomniac who falls for a sleepwalker: because I wanted to be constrained to a narrative that emphasized, as much as possible, human interaction and behaviour though pure visuals and sound.
So as we continue the discussion of the film, let’s first take a look at the trailer for Nocturne and get a feel for the world you’ve created…
How long did it take you to write the screenplay and did it evolve once you started filming?
Getting the story right took about eight months. My co-writer Mitch Magonet and I spent about three months structuring the story, and then about four or five months writing the script. He was babysitting his 15-month old daughter at the time, so the writing wasn’t easy. We had to struggle to concentrate so much, that we felt it made for some strong ideas! It didn’t evolve much as we shot – but that’s probably due more to the fact that I had this fever dream I wanted to execute, rather than a lack of trust in my collaborators, because I was gifted with a very strong cast and crew.
When developing characters, most writers seem to draw from influences around them. Did you base any of Nocturne‘s characters on any specific individuals from your experiences?
The film’s really about loneliness, about being so inside yourself that you don’t know other things are happening around you that are much more important than yourself. I think that’s a universal feeling, because we all struggle to a degree for perspective on life and those around us. We all have family issues, too, and thoughts on them. So the characters of Cindy (Mary Krohnert), the insomniac, and Armen (Knickoy Robinson), the somnambulist come from those departments, for sure. But because Nocturne is a fairy tale, the characters are a little larger than life as written.
The Cinematography shots are amazing in the film. Can you share a little about your thoughts on how you wanted to perceive Toronto through the eyes of the viewer in relation to these characters?
In my mind, Toronto on film has always had a certain identity; when it plays itself, it tends to show off relatively new or even iconic architecture, like the CN tower or our city hall. But I wanted to create a more intimate, more timeless version of Toronto that’s almost defined more by those stretches of streets between the iconic architecture, where people fall more into shadow. That’s where I felt the characters in this particular story would live. We set about to create the impression of that, for sure.
Did you have specific locations in mind when writing? When it came time to find the actual filming locations, did you have any difficulty gaining access to achieve the look you envisioned?
Only Niagara Falls, which was essential to the story. Securing it was actually fairly simple; the hard part was getting our crew there on a minuscule budget for as long as we needed to be there to shoot. We could only afford two or three days, so I compromised by only shooting the portions of scenes at Niagara Falls where you’re actually looking at the falls. All the reverse shots – even within same same scene, moment or dialogue exchange – were done back in Toronto in a park lot surrounded by trees.
I noticed that the music selections seemed almost to be another leading character in the story, helping to express the thoughts and emotions particularly during the first half of the film where the dialog was more minimal. Can you speak a bit to the process of music selection and how you saw it’s role in the film?
95 percent of the music you hear in Nocturne was not just written for the film, but also to the film. It was very much part of the design that it be a character, almost as if it manifested the inner thoughts of Cindy and her adventure. She’s a very lyrical entity, and Raiomond Mirza, who wrote the score, is very lyrical composer. Film music is a very special thing – perhaps to me more than to most filmmakers these days. I own thousands of film score recordings dating back to the 1930s, and have written for Film Score Monthly magazine, the world’s leading chronicle on the subject. A lot of filmmakers working today have a fear of music’s influence on their films, and seek to limit its language and depth – and by doing so, they limit the emotional breadth of its impact. I’m just the opposite, so Nocturne is a reflection of that.
I understand there’s a special feature exclusive to the DVD.
Yes, and it’s exciting. I’ve always loved when a filmmaker is keen to take you behind the scenes of his or her film in a truly substantive way, and I felt the experience of making Nocturne warranted something similar. So in addition to the film itself, the Nocturne DVD features a full-length screen-specific audio commentary about how we made it. I sat down with the lead actors last summer to record it. It takes you on an adventure behind the scenes – one that I hope is both entertaining and educational.
At what point did you feel the pull to cross over into film making (writing/directing/producing) as opposed to your professional field of Editing?
I’d placed myself pretty solidly on the path of becoming a filmmaker, but then practicality took over. My dad took ill and I wanted to remain closer to him than Los Angeles would allow, so I chose Toronto. My girlfriend (and now wife!) was living there too. Not knowing a soul in the business in Toronto, I decided to either write or edit for a living. Editing posed the prospect of a slightly less hermit-like existence, so I focused on that. A year later I was an assistant editor on La Femme Nikita, and a year and a half after that, I got my big break editing feature films. I’d say my path was atypical in terms of the speed, though.
Can you share a brief synopsis of what Editing entails, for all of us uninformed readers who know the job title, but maybe just not exactly what an Editor is specifically in charge of.
Though his/her input varies a bit depending on the personalities involved, the film editor performs tasks akin to rewriting the script – except that it’s no longer a blank page, but raw film. As an editor you’re hired for what you can contribute to the experience and how you can identify flaws in the material that lead to solutions as to how to shape that material into the best film possible.
In the Editing process, how much interpreting do you allow yourself to rely on as opposed to staying strictly to the script and storyboard?
Just because there was a script doesn’t necessarily mean the director decided to shoot it, or shoot it only one way. Sidney Furie (The Ipcress File, Lady Sings The Blues, The Entity, Iron Eagle), the director with whom I’ve collaborated the most, is a sure hand but also gives his actors tremendous room to improvise and try things. This material demands you bring the skills of documentary editor to the table in addition to those of a dramatic editor, if you get my meaning. Nothing is cut and dried. But a well-shot film shouldn’t be, within reason of course.
How does music influence your editing choices, or do you prefer to cut without sound?
I don’t like to cloud my first pass with music, no, because doing so can obscure flaws you should solve before dressing it up with music. That’s not the prevailing wisdom these days, but what works for me.
Other than the director, who are any others whose opinions you take into consideration when making your edits?
It depends on your definition of “opinion.” A director of photography has lit his set and framed things in such a way that suggests a point of view or opinion on the material. The director, writer, production designer, and actors contribute this also. The sum of this is very much a collective opinion that forms the fabric of the material you’re editing, so yes, I’m particularly sensitive to that.
Are there rules for editing certain types of scenes (i.e. comedy, dialogue, action) that you like to follow – or like to break?
There are proven tools, for sure. I think the word “rule” is wrong, though. Which is why they’re probably meant to be broken!
Can you give us an example of an editing scene that you are particularly proud of how you cut?
It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to communicate effectively in print. There are many sequences – chapters, you might say – in the film Going Back that I’m proud of, because of the challenge of the film’s Vietnam wartime setting and the constantly-improvising ensemble cast.
Is there a film you would love to have the chance to re-cut, giving us some sense of what you’d try to do differently and why?
Yes, all of the above! Because editing is all about thinking and perspective, and given time away, you can always be clearer.
As with any field in the Entertainment Industry, are you able to turn off the craft part of your brain when you are viewing films and television?
I used to be able to more than I’m able to today. But it’s also part of the fun for me, so I don’t try to turn it off.
Any advice for someone starting out in Editing as well as Film Making and looking to progress into the fields?
Only one piece: you have to want it, but you also have to know how to handle it.
So much interesting information here, thanks for sharing your insight with us, Saul! For everyone who would like to keep up with Saul and his projects, he may be found on his website and Twitter, and you can buy or rent Nocturne on Amazon and iTunes! Also, you can check out more about the fan event with Saul at the ReCon Website! Before we go, don’t forget to check out Saul’s Fast Five questions and more photos from Nocturne below!
If you were a t-shirt, what color would you be and why?
Blue, because it’s my favourite color.
If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
My great great great grandparents – just to know how they lived their lives and what their thoughts were.
Favorite food indulgence?
Chocolate and coconut – but the coconut must be toasted.
Favorite guilty pleasure?
Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau – even the mediocre films.
What shows do you DVR?
None – I don’t have the time!