Hit Man

Sandra Adair, ACE, discusses her long-running collaboration with director Richard Linklater, the value of a reaction shot, how editing documentary works different editorial muscles, and how editorial is often like one of those cartoon fights that disappears into a giant cloud of dust!

Today on Art of the Cut we speak with Oscar nominee, Sandra Adair, ACE, about the Richard Linklater film, “Hit Man.”

Sandra was last on Art of the Cut for her film “Where’d you Go, Bernadette.” She was nominated for an ACE Eddie for her work on “School of Rock.” And she was nominated for an Oscar and won an ACE Eddie for her work on “Boyhood.” Her other work includes “Dazed and Confused,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and “Bernie.”

It is so nice to chat with you about Hit Man. Thank you for joining me.

I’m happy to be here.

Talk to me about using voiceover editorially: How it changes throughout the production; what it means to you; whether you consider doing it without voiceover.

Originally, the script had voiceover, and voiceover was always a part of the way it was conceived. But after we got to a certain point and we started sharing the film with some selected people - like small preview audiences - we started getting some feedback that sent Glen and Rick back to the drawing board.

The opening was revised with a whole new concept of how we would open the film. There were more pieces of voiceover that Rick and Glen came up with, and I sprinkled those throughout - some of them were written to be placed in very specific places.

Others, I was able to find a sweet spot for. The new voiceover really upped our ability to relate to the main character. It put us more into the main character’s mind and gave us an internal dialog from him, which I think was lacking in the very first version of the film.

I noticed Glen was credited as a writer.

So the film is based on a story that appeared in Texas Monthly magazine written by Skip Hollandsworth. The Hit Man article came out in 2001 and Rick had read it back then. And then, during the pandemic, Glen read the article on his own and called Rick and said, “Hey, I read this article.

I was really interested in it and thought it could be a cool script.” And the two of them worked during the pandemic, and they did it all remotely. They fed off each other and they co-wrote the script.

“Rick” being Richard Linklater?

Yes. Richard Linklater, the director, Glen Powell, the actor and co-writer. Both of them are producers as well.

Did you feel that was necessary for you to read that original article for research?

No, not at all, because the script actually is only partly based on the article. About halfway through the film is where the article ended, and then after that is purely fiction.

I’ve talked to people about projects that are based either on real life or on some other IP, and some people really don’t want to know anything about that. Other people say, “I totally want to understand everything I can.”

Yeah, I didn’t read the article. I still haven’t read it. I will read it. I really need to have my own brain about what I’m seeing coming to me on screen and dealing with what was written into the script and what was shot, so I really try to stay with that as my guiding light.

Doing all that back research? I can see where that could be helpful, but I just don’t go there.

Are you one of those people - speaking about what was written and what was shot - who prefer to read the script but you try to not worship it?

For sure the way Richard shoots. He’s very specific about the words on the page because he is a writer. He writes most - not all - but a lot of his movies.

He workshops those scripts with the actors, they rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and refine the script as it goes along, so that by the time they’re on a set and they’re shooting, everybody has a  good understanding of who their character is, what their motivations are, and what the words are and what the blocking is.

So there’s zero ad-libbing. If there is any of it, it comes across in the workshopping and the rehearsals and then those lines are added or changed in the script before it’s shot. So there are really no surprises by the time they start shooting.

There is a great scene, where they’re talking about a pileated woodpecker. It is very funny scene. I thought that one of the reasons why it’s so funny is because of the reaction shots. Can you talk about that scene and how you use reaction shots to up the comedy level?

Editor Sandra Adair, ACE.

When I’m watching dailies, when something makes me laugh or smile or get this feeling of, “that is funny” I highlight those on my timeline, or I put a locator on the clips so that I can remember of those moments. Sometimes I watch the reaction shots first so that I can keep that in mind when I’m cutting the scene.

That particular scene, they’re driving in a car, and Gary is like the nerdiest part-time cop, and he’s riding in the car with two experienced detectives, and he’s going on about his bird watching, and the two in the front seat don’t know Gary that well.

Obviously they don’t know he’s a bird watcher. Those reaction shots didn’t change from my first cut. They were funny. I had to put them in. When the performances are there, it makes everything so much easier. I really, really study performance, that is my thing. Rick is an actor’s director and he works very hard to get the performances that he wants.

Those actors embody the characters that he writes, and so I’m very tuned in to what Rick’s intention is. I studied performance very carefully on Hit Man.

I was not on location. They shot that in New Orleans, and I was here in Austin. I depend very heavily on the script supervisor to communicate with Rick: to get Rick to say which takes he’s liking on the day. I look at those takes first so that I can get a sense of what Rick is going for.

I’ve worked with him so much, I can just watch one take and think, “Okay, I know what he’s trying to do here,” then I can watch all the other takes and find pieces that are in tune with where that scene needs to go. I’m not tied to anything.

I never feel like I’m tied to anything. He’s a very generous director and a wonderful collaborator, so I can show him things upside down and backwards, and he will watch them and give me feedback. I try not to do anything upside down and backwards, since we’re not on film anymore.

With reaction shots do you try - as a steward of the actor - to use those performances where they actually reacted to a specific moment? Or do you just say, “This is a great reaction. I’ll stick it wherever I want.”?

I think both. Both. Sometimes the reactions that are right on, exactly where they belong. Other times I’ll mix it up. It really just depends on what I need to make something work. I use any piece anywhere if I think it’s going to help something work.

That’s very freeing. I don’t feel tied to anything.

There’s a great montage of hit man movies. Can you talk about what it took to build that and how much of that was scripted?

The idea that hit men are not real - that hitmen are myth - was part of the old beginning of the movie. When we changed the front of the movie, Rick still wanted to address this idea that hit men aren’t real. I guess there are a few, but there’s a lot more myth about hit men than there are realities where people actually hire someone to kill someone.

Rick knows practically every film that’s ever been made. He is a cinephile beyond belief. He remembers everything. He has somewhat of a photographic memory, so he can remember the year a film was made and who’s in it, and who the director was, and even specific scenes.

All the trivia. He had the idea to create this montage and use it pretty early in the film, but not at the very beginning. He rattled off the films right away, so the producer’s assistant and my assistant got together and they found the clips.

My assistant actually ended up cutting that montage, and she did a fabulous job. The voiceover was written specifically for that, so she had that to work with as well.

She worked with Rick on it while I was editing other parts of the movie. 

And her name is?

Her name is Carissa Bronson. I’ve worked with her several times since she graduated from the film department here at the University of Texas. She came to work with me as an intern on a film that I directed, and then she worked as a post-production PA on Last Flag Flying, and she worked with us as sort of an apprentice on Bernadette.

I love her, and she’s so good at her job. I take some pride in having my assistants here in Austin, Texas - where we don’t have the editing community that people enjoy in LA and New York. They come from U.T. having had some really wonderful editing instructors - one of which was my intern and assistant for many years - Chris Roldan.

He ended up teaching editing at U.T., and both Carissa and my other assistant, Nathan Berkowitz, had Chris as an instructor. They come fully prepared to learn, so once they get into my camp, I kind of let them know what the protocol is, how to be in the room with a director and a producer.

There’s so many things that go into the job of an assistant that can’t really be taught in school. Carissa also was the visual effects editor on Hit Man.

Adair and Carissa Bronson

One of the things that you mentioned that I think is so true for assistants is that it’s more important that they’re there and ready to learn from you then that they have learned something that they’re bringing to you, right? That you are looking for somebody that has an attitude more than a talent, or is that not true?

I think it’s both. I need to have people who have talent, who love being in the editing room and who are good at their jobs. I depend on assistants for most of the technical aspect of the job. I really can’t be depended on to know all of the things that assistant editors do.

I know they do a lot, but it’s a very technical job in many ways. But beyond that, they also have to support me in logging the shots the way I want them. Preparing the bins for me the way I need them organized. Then we also have this old-school chart that I have used ever since Dazed and Confused.

It’s a paper chart. It’s not on a spreadsheet. We put the film in script continuity and then we have columns for the day it’s shot, the day it’s brought into the Avid, the date that it’s logged and prepared, when it’s ready to cut, and there’s a column for when it’s cut so I can keep track of where I’m at in terms of the schedule of shooting - how close I am to camera.

It’s just a fantastic tool that I’ve always used, and my assistants now treasure the chart because it’s a fantastic way to just look at a big piece of paper and say, “Okay, there’s six scenes that are ready to cut and I can work on that while you’re prepping the next couple of days,” or I can look at it and say, “I’m all caught up!

There’s really nothing… There’s maybe a oner somewhere that needs to be cut in, but I can actually go to lunch today!” It’s a great tool for me. Even once the film is cut, I use the chart to look at scenes in script continuity and be able to just eyeball it real quick that that scene right there can be moved down here. It’ll work perfectly. I don’t know if other editors do that, but it’s a great tool for me.

When I was talking about assistants, what I meant to say that you’ve got things where it may be more important that you show them your way more than maybe the way they even learned it. It’s not necessarily that they have a knowledge of the exact way they’ve been taught. They need to learn your way.


Let’s talk about tonal shifts. The movie is largely a comedy, but there’s also great romance in it. There’s danger. There’s a lot of theme work - the IDEA of the movie - the subtext. Can you talk about jumping between tonal moments or how to transition between tones, or is that work all done in the script?

Most of it is done in the script, but I think I had to pay deep attention to the performances that are going to allow the shift to feel real. There’s a certain amount of finesse and nuance that goes into creating a moment where things turn.

Finding the performances and the timing to have things turn and roll out the way they’re intended becomes very … purposeful, I guess is the word. So I pay attention to that, and a lot of times it’s built in to the performance and they just nail it.

Other times it needs to be finessed. For example, there’s a scene where Gary has found out that Madison’s husband has been murdered, and he comes to the apartment and he is concerned and he’s still pretending to be this other character, Ron.

It’s a pretty serious scene until she confesses that she killed her husband and then on a dime, it switches to his reaction, which is fully comedic. That took some time to finesse. I didn’t want to foreshadow the fact that she was the murderer.

That was tricky because I knew the script. I was afraid the audiences were going to already guess and know that she was the one who did it. So I tried to withhold that as long as I could, and I worked with the composer on the music cue leading up to that, so that the crescendo of it sort of falls away right when she confesses.

Then I cut to Gary and he’s just twisted up and in utter disbelief. But it’s real. He would be worried about her and confused by the confession, but the expression on his face and his physical antics are hilarious. So that is a good example of this kind of tonal shift.

Avid timeline screenshot from Hit Man

I could see how the performances and how even the score would be important to that. 

There’s another scene where he comes to her apartment, but he’s wearing a wire. The police are trying to get a confession, but “Ron” has his phone and he’s showing her “THEY’RE LISTENING! FOLLOW ALONG WITH ME!” It’s a great scene. A couple of things I thought about: obviously, it’s beautifully directed. There’s a momentum to the scene. Then there’s a shift in their attitudes. She transitions from being worried she’s going to be caught to like comedically playing along with him, like an actress. You could have played the scene more on the phone screens or “Ron” typing madly, but you stick almost totally in the actors’ performance. Can you talk about what you had to build that scene from, and how you tried to keep the tempo of it up and the pace?

It’s really hard to remember the process of editing. I mean, sometimes I swear I think about the cartoons of a cat and dog fight where you see just smoke coming out of this flurry of fighting…

…just a big dust cloud!

Yes! Well, that’s how I feel sometimes when I cut a scene like that: this is going to work; that’s going to work; this is going to work; that’s going to work. It’s just very rapid-fire pulling pieces and putting them together and scooting them around and moving them around. It’s coming from a place in my brain that isn’t fully…

…thinking, right?

Cognitive thinking. Yes. It’s much more about just playing with the footage and finding opportunities and just allowing things to - I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a very difficult process.

It’s not like I sat down and said, “I’m going to use this take for this, and then I’m going to cut to this little piece of the phone, and then I’m going to cut to this other shot.”

Another thing that adds to that kind of “dust cloud effect” is the fact that the performances had a big range. There were certain takes where Gary - or Ron -


Glen was huge, a huge performance. Then there were others that were less huge. I have to say, they rehearsed that scene a lot. That’s always wonderful when they know exactly what the scene is about and what each other is going to do.

They had obviously thought it through very well, so that the screens on the phone were perfect and it’s just well-directed, well-acted. And that’s a gift to an editor to get in there and be able to actually put the pieces together.

You’re not so much trying to fix mistakes, and you’re not trying to create something that wasn’t shot. It’s all there. It’s just finding the right pieces that are going to fit together and feed off one another. So the beauty of that scene and the fun of cutting it was that they fed off of each other so well.

You’re right, there is a tonal shift where it goes from him being freaked out. He’s wearing a wire. He wants to protect her.

Adair’s cutting desk

She’s realizing she’s caught.

Yeah. And this is right after they’ve had a big fight. He’s revealed himself to not be Ron and she is pissed at him. She didn’t know he was working undercover. So when he enters the room, she’s mad at him.

But very quickly she catches on that, “Oh gosh! He’s trying to protect me and I have to go along with this game that he’s going to try to pull off by having me say things that are going to prove that I’m innocent. So it starts out very scary, then as they get into a rhythm, they start to lighten up.

There are some really funny moments. He’s got a bug in his ear and they ask him to ask her about the $1M insurance policy her husband has, and he asks her about it. It’s funny, but it’s also part of the ruse that they’re trying to pull off. Then toward the end, it gets a little romantic.

She gets a little flirty, and there’s that fabulous wink as he’s going out the door. I don’t think he did that on every take - he may have. It certainly puts a perfect button on the scene.

Absolutely. It was like a romantic tango by the end.

Yeah, yeah.

Very fun scene. There’s a sequence of potential hits - meaning murders - and then mug shots. Can you talk about cutting that - deciding to use the spinning mug shots and putting that together? I’m sure that could have gone on longer, it could have been shorter…Did you have to shorten it? When you finally saw it in context, did it change?

Yeah. That is what happened. So each of those scenes of people trying to hire a hitman, almost all of them - except for the first one with Craig and maybe the last one - were written much longer.

They also were in a different order. We moved them around and we sort of spaced the last couple out - pushed them further down into the body of the film to kind of keep the time line, as if Gary was working as a pretend hit man for a much longer amount of time.

Originally they were one right after the other, so we tried to spread those out. Audiences figured out pretty quickly that, “Okay, they’re going to eventually hand over the money or they’re going to eventually say, I just want you to kill them.”

So we needed to get to that point and not drag it out and hear all the details of each client. The woman who says, “I like suicide,” I don’t think we cut anything out of that sectiion. Some of them we just shortened a little bit. Some of them we shortened drastically. 

As for the spinning effect: I came up with that because production had shot the mug shots on height charts or against a wall that didn’t address the heights correctly. We studied real mug shots from Louisiana on the internet, the backgrounds, the lighting, and came up with ideas of how to fix them.

Carissa was fantastic. She worked on fixing the height charts and found some different backgrounds to put behind them. They all seemed to work better and eventually they all became visual effects. I came up with the idea of using the spinning effect to try to keep things going and to try to heighten the comedy as we are transitioning out of the mug shot.

Just a static mug shot was not going to seem as fun as doing some kind of an effect.

Also, we had playlists of music from New Orleans. At one point, I think I had tried to use an instrumental section from a different song for each mug shot. That didn’t really work. In the final version, I don’t think the all of the music is the same for the mug shots, but a lot of them are.

When I watched the film with a preview audience and I heard the audience laugh, it’s was very validating. When we were getting the dailies, Carissa and I knew it was funny. We knew it was funny when we started to screen it for the first audiences, small groups, like 5 people.

We knew it was funny, but then after many months of work, color correction and visual effects and sound and score and this and that, I found myself asking, “Is the movie funny? Like, I can’t even tell anymore.” It’s real hard to not second-guess yourself.

Then, when you hear the bigger audiences laugh - and sometimes applaud - in the middle of the movie, you think, “Okay, that’s validating. We’ve been on the right track the whole time.”

That’s one thing that I appreciate so much about Rick and our long collaboration together is that sometimes we’ll be watching a take together to just make sure we’ve got the best performance, or looking for some little thing, when we both simultaneously laugh, and it’s like, “Okay, that’s going in the movie!” If it works for me, if it works for him, then we have to assume that it’s going to work for everybody.

You mentioned that you couldn’t be formulaic about getting each hit man client to be faster and faster. I have seen movies - where it’s not formulaic - but it’s definitely faster and faster. But I think the difference with this is the comedy, right? Because if you’ve got a scene that’s really funny, like the suicide one, that maybe SHOULD be shorter because you’re trying to maintain a rhythm, you can’t, because it’s just a funny scene. You’ve got to let play out longer.

Exactly. Exactly. The suicide one, I think I did shorten that one, now that we’re talking about it. But each hit man was so unique and different, we didn’t want to shorten anything we didn’t have to. A little tightening helped keep them flowing.

Talk about the intercutting in the section where Gary’s in the classroom talking about the ID, the ego and the super-ego, and it’s being intercut with his affair.

Those scenes were not written exactly the way they ended up in the film, but I didn’t make a lot of changes there. Those lovemaking scenes that are intercut with his lecture - I think I made one small adjustment when Rick saw the first cut. 

If I can find music that feels that it’s the right vibe to cut with, it really inspires me and it works as some kind of weird guide of how to put a scene together. I sometimes - especially in montages and intercuts and things like that - I try to find the music first, and once I find the music, it seems so much more apparent how a scene should flow together. 

I think that was part of the score from Graham Reynolds. That music right there, it really guided me through those particular scenes. Rick has not shot very many movies that have that kind of love scenes, so it was kind of a new thing for me to have to work through - my own resistance to doing that and knowing I was going to have to show it to him.

It’s kind of embarrassing. What I think is sexy and coming across on screen as hot but not too revealing, and how much and how little you want to see and how it’s going to work with the voiceover. It’s a bit of going out on a limb and saying, “I’ve never done this before, but I know I can do it.”

I’m going to use this music and I’m going to just start here and see what happens. Those pieces that I selected, I went through all the footage I pulled - what I like to call the “greatest hits” - put them on a timeline, and then got with my music and my voiceover and kind of created the soundtrack of what I was going to be hearing and put images with that.

Is that the way you like to work? Do you like to work with selects reels?

Usually, only in a montage situation.

Only in a montage. And when you’re not in a montage situation, you’re dealing with just the way that the bins have been laid out for you by your assistant?

Yep. I use a color coding system in the bin where you can color code a clip. We use blue for Rick’s selects. We use green for Sandra’s selects. We use yellow for assistant selects and we use red for no good.

I use those same colors on the timeline for locators, so when I go through takes, I will put my green locators on moments that I like so that later - when I’m going back to try to make changes - I can easily find those pieces that I thought were great on the first pass. I’m big on color coding things.

There’s another edit that I want to talk about, which is the final classroom speech monologue: Just making it visually interesting. I’ve talked to other editors about the idea of using all the coverage. How do you make what is essentially a speech visually interesting?

Yeah, you’ve got to move around. If there’s a speech and there’s an audience, you want to see what the audience is thinking: are they engaged? Checked out? Are they bored? Are they into it? In this particular classroom scene, it’s right before they take their final exam.

Also, Gary has sort of morphed a little bit into Ron. He’s found this perfect blend of Gary - the super nerd - and Ron - the super-hot guy. He’s found this sweet spot. That classroom scene was not actually written to be in that place.

I put it there after we worked on the ending and some changes needed to be made. We see the murder, then fade to black, a beat of black and then  I pre-lap the audio before coming up on the classroom. Surprise, surprise, it gets a laugh. I didn’t realize it was going to come across funny, but somehow that transition gets a laugh.

It’s a great scene because he’s kind of giving his new manifesto of being him.

Exactly. He’s learned so much about himself. He’s learned that he can change, and that identity is what you make it. It’s kind of the premise of the whole film. It’s a great speech and the students are into it, and he gives them a way to go forward in their lives.

Do you remember choosing the exact moment you were either going to be on Ron’s face or on a close up during that scene?

Yes, always. I’m always thinking about what is it that should be on an actor’s face and what line should be on a reaction shot, because you want the audience to really get what’s being said. Sometimes if you’re not seeing the person who’s speaking, it may not land the way that you want it to land.

I’m very deliberate about what shots I use for certain parts of a speech or in a scene in general.

Would you build the scene out of order where you knew, I want to be on a closeup of him for this line, so therefore I’ll put it in the close up?


You work linearly.

I do, I work linearly because I feel like one shot juxtaposed to the next shot is everything in editing to me. If I can go from shot A to shot B successfully, then shot C is going to probably have to be this piece because it’s going to work in conjunction with the B shot, and then I get the C shot to work.

It’s really that I build one after the other. It’s the only way I know how to do it. That may be because I was trained on film. On film I used select shots because it was such a hassle. You’d go through a roll of dailies and you pulled out shots that you thought you were going to want to use, and you’d hang them in the bin sequentially or with tags so you could find them again.

But even then, I’m pretty sure I worked linearly.

But you needed to think it through much more when you were on film because - like you said - the hassle of undoing it.

Which I did a lot - but didn’t we all?

You’ve mentioned your relationship with Richard a couple of times, and the two of you are getting to that Thelma/Scorsese level that so many editors dream of: this relationship that the two of you have - this long-standing collaborative relationship. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it’s either morphed or how comfortable it is?

I consider myself one of the luckiest editors on the planet. Honestly. We’ve known each other a long time. We started working together on Dazed and Confused, which was, I think, 1992. I moved back to Austin from LA in 1991, and I got the job with Rick on Dazed in 1992, and I’ve cut almost all of his films since then. Not every one.

We bonded, I think, on Dazed. That was a difficult film to get through because our first cut was so long. They took us out to Universal for previews and they kept us there a long time.

We did several previews and then we’d wait, and then we’d get notes, and then we’d do the notes, and then we’d do a temp mix, and then we’d have a screening, and then we’d get notes and the whole exercise was about trying to get the time down, and I don’t know exactly what their agenda was, but I think in the end we made a better film because we were put through those paces.

I remember sitting on the mixing stage with Rick mixing the final, and we both loved chocolate, and every day it was like, “What are we going to eat for chocolate today?”

And I swear to God, for me, I can’t speak for him, but for me I just loved him so much because we needed the chocolate and we both enjoyed it at the same level. I mean, I know it sounds silly, but it’s little things like that that have been so enjoyable. He’s a very, very smart person.

He’s also so easy to be with. He’s extremely laid back. He’s very kind and present. He doesn’t carry a cell phone around. I guess he has his cell phone in his backpack or something, but when he’s in the room with me, he’s 100% present. I so appreciate that because I need him to be.

I think we share a love of being in Texas and being able to do what we do here. 

One thing that I will say about working with him is that I’m always surprised by what the next project is because it’s usually so different from anything we’ve ever done before, with the exception of the trilogy and I guess Bernie, the film Bernie and Hitman kind of have similar themes of murder, and they’re both based on Texas Monthly articles.

Other than that he has done a wide range of different kinds of films. So that’s always been fun. I remember when he came to me and said, “Oh, I’m going to be starting shooting this film, and it’s going to be a long project, but we’re going to shoot the first section of it in a few months, and we’re going to shoot it on film. He gave me some bare details, and that ended up being a 12 year project: Boyhood.

He never came in and said, “I’m going to do this expansive 12 year project.” He just kind of made it very simple for me: “We’re going to shoot this little thing for a few days, then you’ll cut it and then we’ll see what happens.” I know he wasn’t like that with the cast. I know he got huge commitments from the cast and made sure that they were all in going the full way, but I don’t recall him ever describing that to me.

I caught on pretty quickly for sure. I was like, “What is this going to be?” I never saw a full Boyhood script, ever. In the whole time that we made the film, I would get script pages for the year that was being shot, and sometimes they were handwritten pages from set. I think he knew he had these islands of story that he was going to hit in these different years.

The film is very autobiographical for him, and I think during the year prior to shooting, like, say, between the shoot of the year four and the year five, he would really think about what the next segment was going to be, what the transitions were going to be, and he would consult with Patricia and Ethan and Ellar, the little boy, and Lorelei, and find out what was happening in their lives during that year.

They’d all kind of get together and workshop it and figure out what they were going to incorporate that year. Some things were set. He knew what he was going to do with some of the characters, that the mom was going to be going to school, and that at one point she’d have an abusive husband.

And he told me he personally got a rifle and a Bible one birthday or Christmas and that is in the film.

You mentioned earlier that you had directed, which I did not know. Can you talk to me a little bit about how your editing has morphed into directing and how those two skills, directing and editing played into each other?

The film that I directed was a documentary about a collage artist. I never really intended to direct that. There’s an artist here in Austin, Lance Letscher, who is a collage artist who works mainly in paper, and he spends hundreds of hours cutting out little pieces of paper and building these incredible collages.

My cousin had commissioned him to make a metal collage to put on a building in downtown Austin. When she told me about it, I thought, “God, that would be so cool to document the making of a metal collage instead of a paper collage” but I was thinking about documenting it with photographs.

Then I met Lance and he invited me to come to his studio, and when I went to his studio, I realized, “Okay, this guy is kind of a madman and he’s wildly, wildly creative.” I was so enamored with him and his process and his mess and the boxes of vintage paper.

I talked to him about making a film, and he’s very shy and but he was receptive. Then I scrambled around: “Who do I even know that can shoot it?” And I called a friend of mine who is a documentary filmmaker, and she recommended someone.

We met with Lance at my cousin’s house and we all seemed to get along pretty well. So I shot an interview with him. Well, I planned to shoot an interview with him, and the DP was shooting a yogurt commercial or something, and he just showed up like 2 or 3 hours late.

But in that time, Lance went through a book of his collage work, a published book, and he talked about his work, and he revealed to me that his father had committed suicide.

I learned so much about him just while we were waiting for the DP to show up, just one thing fell into another, and I ended up shooting everything that I needed over a year’s time. Then I thought, “Nobody is going to cut this except me! Oh no!”

Adair on her documentary

Do you think that knowing what you needed to create the film helped you direct it?

Yes, yes. I had to make a film that would tell the story of this multifaceted man. Also, film and collage are one in the same.

Montage and collage.

Yes, absolutely. So that was something that he and I were able to talk to each other about a lot, but I knew I had to tell the story, not only of him going from paper to metal, which was a long process, but there was a creative process that I was documenting.

From the documentary

And he was stumped by it. There was also this incredible love story about he and his wife and his sons and their marriage and his background, his education, making marble sculptures, and his collectors who found delight in some of his very, very early work.

And then his relationship with his father, which was wildly dysfunctional and that ended with his father’s suicide. So there were just a lot of layers to the man. His art is so striking and his process so utterly obsessive. I really, really wanted to tell all those stories.

So out come the three by five cards. And I tried to pull a story out of all of the interviews. I shot six different interviews. At first I was worried: “Oh no, it’s going to look weird because he’s wearing a different shirt every time and we’re in different locations.” Then I just thought, “Screw it, I don’t care. I’m going to get what I need out of him.” 

At one point, he wrote a book. It’s somewhere in that book that he refers to his father’s suicide. I had the idea that I would have him read the book on camera and tell the story of the collages in the book, but I also had his wife do it, and I also had a woman who owns a bookstore - a very good friend of his - read the book.

So I had three different versions of people reading the book and interpreting the artwork. When I had Lance read it, he got to a point in the book and he started to cry, and he just did not know what to do with that. He just got up and left. I thought, “I’m a genius! How did I ever know that that could happen?” It was a gift that helped tie that part of the story together.

Story “cards” for “Secret Life…”

Documentaries are fun. They’re so hard. They are so hard. But documentaries allow me to hone skills that I don’t get to use cutting narrative films, and I feel like it exercises my brain in a different way.

I think it’s good for my sensibilities as an editor to understand how to manipulate footage and story and move things around and use my editing brain freely in a documentary. I think those skills are helpful when I do narrative film, so I do like to mix it up a little bit.

Can you articulate what you think is different? How is your brain being changed when you’re doing documentary? I think you need to be able to think of material that you have outside of the context that maybe you created it for.

Exactly. It’s a free-for-all. You can use anything, anywhere. It does not have to be linear. It does not exactly have to make sense. You can cheat things more easily, and you can even make people say things they don’t say. I don’t like to do that and I have never really done that. But you could.

It was great talking to you. Thank you so much.

You’re welcome.