Interview with the editors of BOYS DONT CRY

For Class #9

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at]

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at]

The following interview with the two editors of BOYS DON'T CRY speaks to several issues that we are dealing with in our class. The first, and most appropriate for this evening's class, is Granger's discussion of the use of sound and music in the film. I've highlighted that part of the interview like this.

The second set of issues pertains to the process of recutting the film, trimming it down to size, and the discovery of what scenes and script items were important and which ones could be lost without jeopardizing the film itself. Note that Lee Percy mentions that the key word for him was "focus". I highlight this discussion like this.

Tracy Granger and Lee Percy talk about "Boys Don't Cry"

By Elina Shatkin for EditorsNet

Interview with Tracy Granger and Lee Percy, Co-editors, 'Boys Don't Cry'

Thursday October 28, 1999, 12:10 AM PDT

In late 1993, 21-year-old Brandon Teena was brutally murdered in a remote farmhouse in southeast Nebraska. Despite the fact that he had been a dashing boyfriend to many women, people were shocked to learn after his death that Brandon Teena was actually a woman from Lincoln, Nebraska. What puzzled everyone who knew Brandon is how he could take on two opposite identities and be believed. This is the root of the mystery that director Kimberly Peirce spent five years researching and investigating for the fictionalized film "Boys Don't Cry" starring Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard. Peirce traveled to Nebraska, interviewing people who knew Brandon to ensure that her story would be authentic. Her screenplay was eventually produced by Killer Films and picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight.

When the time came to piece the dailies together, Peirce hired two editors to build this lengthy dramatic film. The first editor, Tracy Granger, began toiling on the first day of production. She spent five months working on the film, trimming it down from its initial rough cut of three hours and 45 minutes, to a tighter two hours and 20 minutes. Granger is an accomplished editor who has been cutting films for almost a decade. She cut "llltown" as well as two Allison Anders films, "Mi Vida Loca" and "Gas Food Lodging."

After Granger left "Boys Don't Cry," Lee Percy came aboard and spearheaded the film's post-production during its final push. Percy, who began his editing career in 1980 with "Shogun Assassin," has edited a number of prestigious movies within the past decade. His credits as an editor include "54" (1998), "Desperate Measures" (1998), "Single White Female" (1992) and "Reversal of Fortune" (1990).


You were the first editor, correct?

Tracy Granger: Yes, I was the first editor. I worked on it for five months, six or seven days a week. I started working the first day of shooting. Because it was such a long script, we tried to make suggestions as to what production could cut during shooting. Most scripts shot in 33 days are about 100 pages long, but we had a 138-page script. We had a very tight three hours and 45 minutes to show the director when the shoot wrapped.

During the process of shooting, we realized in the cutting room that we would have to come up with solutions for shortening the film. We decided to make certain scenes into montages and use sound design, flashbacks and flash-forwards to shorten it. We basically culled the images into a shorter version.

In what specific scenes did you use these solutions?

TG: Throughout the whole movie really, but specifically in the rape scene, in the scene where Lana (Sevigny) is lying on her bed with her two friends describing what it was like to have sex with Brandon (Swank), in the scene where Brandon gets arrested and also at the ending. My guiding principle about using montages and flashbacks was that what we were seeing dream or a memory of a person that was dead and any time I could achieve that feeling I went for it.

What about your use of sound and music?

TG: Through the whole movie, I used Lamont Young and Terry Riley in both the temp mix and the rough cut. Their music is basically sound design from the 1960s that uses a great deal of drone and analog synth music. Other bands I used were Jim O'rourk's Disengage and Stars of the Lid; I discovered them while working with Michael Almereyda on a movie called "The Eternal." Their music has an amazing organic quality. The composer and the sound editors based much of their sound design on the sounds we used while editing. Any time we used any kind of score, like a temp score from another film, it was too on-the-nose. We wanted the audience to reach their feelings about the subject on their own without being led by the nose. We tried to use music and sound design that would let that happen.

Music was very important throughout the whole film because any time we put a track with a female singer behind Brandon, she (Swank) looked more like a girl. She looked more like a boy when we used the song "Burning House of Love" by X, and more like a man when we used the song "Cow"

Lee, how did your duties intersect with Granger's?

Lee Percy: She was the first editor on the film. She saw it through production and the third director's cut before she chose to leave the project. I didn't meet her until after we were done. Mark Christopher, a director I had worked with, recommended me to the producers; they wanted someone to come in who had a lot of experience and could help shape the project into its final form. At that point, they had just sold the film to Fox Searchlight.

How much of the film was cut when you came aboard?

LP: When I came on it was about two hours and 20 minutes long but I think that how a film plays is even more important than its length. A film can be very long, as long as it plays well. In the case of "Boys Don't Cry," the film was starting to lose itself in the details. All of the scenes included so many wonderful details but the challenge was to determine which of these elements we needed and which we could lose. We had to keep the story focused on the essential elements of the character and of what happened to Brandon.

What was your first task when you started cutting?

LP: My first task was to look at the current cut of the film and my next task was to sort through all of the footage. Then I read all of the notes from the executive producers and from producer Christine Vachon. After doing that and taking a couple of days to experiment with some things on my own, some radical structural elements, Peirce and I sat down together and talked about what we thought the film needed and what our strategy would be to achieve that. Then we set about cutting.

Did Peirce discuss with you any specific scenes that she was worried about?

LP: They had just had a small public screening and I think everyone was concerned that while people liked it, it was very long and certain things were repeated. The key word for me was focus. It was very a good movie, it just needed to be focused. By that, I mean I had to help bring the audience into the story and keep the story happening in a way that would maintain their interest.

Sometimes the details that are so important in a screenplay are conveyed through an actor's performance and don't need to be repeated. There were several of these vestigial moments that we had to let go of. There were other cases where we were able to eliminate some of the details that felt repetitious for the audience and convey that information through the way we cut the performances together. You can convey a great deal of information and emotion with an actor's face. One of the first things we did was clean up those areas so the key moments were clear for the audience.

With some of the other moments, we began to realize that we didn't need them at all and found ways to eliminate them. Whenever you take something out of a film, it affects the whole structure. When you remove a scene in the first act, it might suddenly cause something in the third act to resonate differently for the audience. Each time you make changes, it has ramifications throughout the entire film. If you cut out a scene with four pieces of information in it because you don't need three of those pieces, you might discover that the fourth element is key and it isn't anywhere else in the film. It's your job as an editor to find another way to convey that information.

Can you think of a specific scene that was very difficult to work on?

LP: Yes, the rape scene, which is a key scene in the movie. It's a very difficult scene to watch and it was a very difficult scene to work on. I know Peirce and Granger rethought that scene several times. When they started, Peirce thought she had solved it but as we began to change the film and it became more focused, people's response changed. We realized that there was probably something more that we could do with that scene so we substantially reworked it. I'm very happy with the final structure of the scene.

Along with her friends, Peirce and I had several discussions about how memory works, how things come back to you and how you try to keep from remembering things. So that's how the rape begins to infuse Brandon's thought process during the interrogation and in the police station. You begin to see those flashes of John (Sarsgaard) raping Brandon until the police officer finally forces Brandon to say "my vagina," which is where Brandon is forced to strip off his disguise -- not only for the public but for himself as well. When Brandon is forced to admit that he is a woman, we suddenly have these long cuts of the rape all out of sequence and jump-cut together. It's as though he's been fighting the memories and the flashes suddenly come to him. As Peirce put it, the floodgate is broken and the images pour into Brandon's mind, and that's how we show them on the screen.

The rape scene actually involves two rapes, not one. When I spoke with Peirce, she said she didn't know how to deal with that scene because it's hard for audiences to watch one rape scene, let alone two.

LP: Right, exactly. A couple of times we tried cutting things in a completely different way and it didn't work. In the case of the rape, we had to be very careful because the audience needs to feel that the filmmaker is leading them through something and that they are going to come out on the other side. What happens is that you're finally given the nurse and she's so kind and loving that it's a bit restorative for the audience. We had to be very careful about that because the audience can turn against you if they feel that you're putting them through something like that just for shock value.

Another tricky scene was the opening, which was recut a number of times. In the final version, we started it much later than we had in prior cuts. Initially, you saw Teena at a party thinking about cutting her hair but we finally realized that the story begins with the transformation of Tina into Brandon Teena. We eventually tried starting it with the haircut and it made perfect sense. We had tried showing flashbacks of Tina and her life in Lincoln, but that's another movie.

You cut this on an Avid?

LP: Yes. I worked on it for 15 weeks.

Did you have a strategy for cutting to wide shots as opposed to close-ups?

LP: I think I have a tendency to use more close-ups than some people. I probably used close-ups more than Peirce was using them when we started, although by the end, we agreed on everything. I like exploring people's faces and getting into their eyes, especially for a film like this. I've worked with John Frankenheimer a couple of times and he always shoots wide. He is shooting more for tension because his films are based on suspense. In those cases, you want to use wider shots. But for an intimate film like this, holding on people's faces and getting inside their heads as much as we can helps the story and the performances.

Did you hold test screenings?

LP: Not in the classic sense. We did screenings for invited audiences: friends, people we knew or audiences that Killer Films recruited at certain movies in Manhattan. The audiences were very carefully recruited from movie lines of films that we thought might have a similar audience to "Boys Don't Cry."

What would you say was the most enjoyable thing about cutting this film?

LP: I loved working with the material and the performances, which were very good. For me, the most important job that an editor faces is making the performances believable. You can do everything else, you can have a flash story, you can have loads of special effects and wonderful plot twists -- but if the audience doesn't believe the actors the film won't work. Having such strong performances was very rewarding. The other thing I enjoyed was the support that we received from both Fox Searchlight and Killer Films. All the way through the process, they allowed us to think it through and take our time.

© 2000, EditorsNet



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Last Modified - September 30, 2008