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Thursday, 06 January 2011 00:15

Interview with Let Me In Editor Stan Salfas

Written by  Debra Kaufman
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FilmEditng_DirectorMattReevesWhen the executives at Overture Pictures asked Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) to write the screenplay for the American adaptation of the Swedish cult hit Let the Right One In, he turned to his frequent editor and friend Stan Salfas. The original film, which came out in 2008, tells the tale of a delicate relationship between two pre-adolescents, a boy who’s an outsider and a girl who happens to be a vampire.

“The original movie is venerated around the world,” says Salfas, who notes that it’s considered a horror genre film. “When we started working on it, we felt very exposed from day one, and we were very concerned about how the audience would react to the movie.” Reeves and Salfas watched Let the Right One In before it had even hit U.S. theaters. “We talked about the values in the movie that would be good for him to work on, to nurture as a story,” recalls Salfas.

As an editor, Salfas faced numerous challenges with this project, one of which was his self-assessment that he’s not a “genre person.” “I did one other thing that was a little bit in the scary genre — horror is too much to take in,” he says. “‘Miracles’ was an ABC show, and in one scene an eyeball is pierced by a hypodermic needle. It made my blood run cold [because] all my work has been naturalistic, relationship oriented. When I watched Let the Right One In there are parts that are really frightening and upsetting, and I thought this is an area that would be very challenging to explore … unless I was working with someone I could trust and felt in sync with.” And since Reeves is that person, Salfas stepped into the role of editor of a horror film, although, as the director conceived it, Let Me In is less a horror film than a relationship film, and it was shot naturalistically.

Remaking a cult classic — especially one that came out less than two years previously — was fraught with challenges. Did Salfas and Reeves refer back to the original or avoid it like the plague? “Kind of both,” says Salfas. He recounts a couple of scenes that are very similar to the original: one in which the two children are sitting in a snow-covered courtyard and another where they’re quietly sitting together in an apartment. “We’d ask ourselves if they were as good as the original,” says Salfas. “It was inevitable to have those conversations. Usually I would say, ‘Let’s trust our own instincts.’”

The movie, which was shot in anamorphic 35mm 2.35 format, had a miniscule budget of $15 million — and this included 300 visual effects shots and a very tight timeframe for post. Since working with two children meant eight-hour shoot days, Reeves shot as much footage as he could to create enough material. All that material made it into the edit suite, and Salfas’s assistant David Kashevaroff helped out by creating numerous temp effects. And because the audio played such an important role in the movie, Sound Designers Doug Murray and Will Files from Skywalker Sound began creating it concurrent with Salfas’s edit.

When Overture Pictures was sold to Starz, Reeves and Salfas found themselves answering to a supportive but wary group of studio executives. This last, unexpected twist added to the anxiety level and ended up creating their biggest challenge. “Matt is such a visionary, and because he didn’t really have the right of final cut on the movie, we had to work very, very hard to maintain the values that he wanted in the movie,” says Salfas, who cut on an Avid Media Composer at Pivotal Post. “Even at the earliest phases, we wanted to present it in a finished way, so that if the studio came in to watch scenes, they’d understand what the final movie would feel like.” That meant Salfas worked with 16 audio tracks and up to 7 tracks of video –– all on just the “rough cut.”

In the end, all this painstaking attention to detail paid off when, at an early screening in Portland, Ore., viewers gave the movie a thumbs up –– and almost half had seen the Swedish film. “Almost everyone who liked the original liked ours as much or better,” says Salfas.

Let Me In has been nominated for Best Feature at the Independent Filmmaker Project’s Gotham Awards and Best Horror Movie at the People’s Choice Awards.

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