Editor Melissa Kent discusses her collaboration with director Rudy Mancuso on the feature film, highlighting the importance of the opening scene in setting the tone. She also delves into the challenges and creative solutions involved in editing the music and dance sequences, as well as the use of sound design to enhance the storytelling.

Today on Art of the Cut, we speak with editor Melissa Kent. She has been a guest on the show before for her movie Traffik, and she’s back to discuss the feature film Musica, which is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Melissa’s other work includes the feature films The Age of Adaline, The Virgin Suicides, The Dirt, The Intruder, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, and she BEGAN with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker. She has also cut TV including Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, the TV movie A Raisin in the Sun, and Netflix’s American Son.

Melissa, it’s been a while since we chatted last. Thanks for joining me on Art of the Cut. I just watched “Música” with my wife and we both loved it.

Oh, I’m so happy to hear that and I’m excited to talk to you about it.

Tell me a little bit about your background. I mean, you’ve got a keyboard behind you. You were just talking before we started this show, about singing lessons. I saw actually in your IMDB that you’re credited as a singer in a movie.

Yes, that was a bucket-list item. I’ve been studying music since I was five years old. I begged my parents for piano at the time, and that’s when I started lessons. And then through the years I picked up a little guitar, a little bit of bass.

I was a Theater major at UCLA and I’ve just always really loved music and I feel most comfortable and I’m doing my best work when something involves a lot of music. So with regard to singing lessons, that was my pandemic hobby.

On my previous movie to “Música”, “Tall Girl 2,” there’s a scene in a karaoke bar and when the scene starts and the characters are having dinner, they needed to be hearing an offscreen person doing karaoke. And the professional singers who did it, who were quote, trying to sound average, it just sounded like a record. They were so amazing.

And so some of the sound people and I said, all right, tonight, let’s all sing this song. And it was “Shake Your Love” by Debbie Gibson. No one else did it but me, and it just stayed and stayed. And ultimately I got, you know, Taft-Hartley’d or whatever and I got a credit as a singer in the movie.

I wanna start with the very opening scene of the movie. The opening scene is a place for the director and for the editor to kind of teach the audience how to watch the movie. Right? And it’s very clear from this opening scene that you did that. My question is the process. Did you, when you first cut that scene in dailies, did you realize how important that scene would be to understanding how to watch the movie?

We all know that beginnings are extremely important because you are establishing the tone of the movie. Who is the main character? What is the plot? What are we in for? What is the conflict? And in our case, we start on two characters.

So if you don’t know ahead of time what the movie’s about, you might question, “who is the lead character in this movie?” for starters. So we have to establish it as, very much so, Rudy Mancuso, who not only directed this movie — it’s his first time directing a feature — but he co-wrote it, he stars, he wrote all the music, and it is about his life.

The first scene went through a lot of iterations and the way it was shot, we just start, we’re just in it. There was no establishing shot of the diner. There was no helicopter shot of the city of Newark. We are just in the midst of it. So that was its first challenge.

During dailies, one of the first things I was doing was just trying to get the dialogue scene tight and cohesive as to what exactly they should be discussing as his soon to be ex-girlfriend is trying to get him to focus on his life and just to focus on her.

We thought it was important to let people know that this is based on a true story, but because Rudy likes to twist everything and add some comedy, as you saw, the title comes up “Based on a true story. Unfortunately.”

Unfortunately. (Laughs)

Unfortunately, because as we say in the trailer and as he’ll admit: One, he’s tortured by music. And two, he’s not proud of all the choices he made in this time in his life. You could look at it as not making choices, but really a non-choice is a choice, isn’t it?

Editor Melissa Kent and director Rudy Mancuso

We start out by hearing his girlfriend’s voice and Amazon Prime — and I don’t know if other streamers are like this — but they do not allow you to start a movie over black. Now in the theater, when people have paid their money and sat down, you can start hearing dialogue over black and then reveal picture.

But they don’t want anyone to think there’s something wrong with their television or their computer when they don’t see picture. So okay, we gotta solve that problem. So let’s have some animation. So while we’re hearing this very echoey kind of voice, Rudy is perceiving musical notes. And I actually lined them up timing-wise with the rhythm of what she’s saying.

So it’s like, “Rudy” is two quarter notes. “Are you even,” is like a triplet, “Are you even listening to me?” The “me” is like a half-note, et cetera.

We start out showing like, okay, we’re maybe not exactly in reality. And then Rudy had made a proof of concept, which is what got Prime to agree to make this movie in the first place. And he just dove into that with a synesthesia moment of rhythm, of different things in the diner.

Let me explain about the synesthesia. So this is a condition that Rudy has in real life. In many ways it could be considered the source of his creativity, and synesthesia is when a person’s senses tend to get crossed.

So I’ve read about several musicians who have it, like Mary J. Blige, or I think I was reading Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, where they hear a note and they perceive a color that goes with that note. And it’s not consistent among people. It’s not like everyone hears a G note and sees purple.

With Rudy, his form of synesthesia is that his brain, when his ears take in the everyday sounds that surround all of us, and you and I are able to tune them out and just focus on the conversation, Rudy’s brain will take those sounds and organize them into rhythm, and sometimes quite complicated rhythms. So it can be very distracting. He can’t control it. It comes and goes.

As we were working together, sometimes it would come and go and he’d ask me to repeat myself. That is who he is as an individual. This movie is taking the viewer inside the mind of a person who has this form of synesthesia; taking us inside the way that he perceives the world. 

And the diner is one of the biggest set pieces in the movie where we establish this feeling, this perception. And the trick with the editorial was as he’s starting to get maybe a little stressed and his brain is starting to take things like the broom, the microwave, the spatula on the grill, pouring of the iced tea into rhythms, we’re starting it ever gradually.

And the trick is always balance, right? So we want to remain focused on what Haley is saying, but yet Rudy’s our lead character, so we need to fall into his perception. And as the distractions become more and more — so we’re cutting to these things, boom-boom-boom in rhythm — and then eventually he just can no longer even hear what she’s saying. And the entire diner erupts into rhythm and dance.

It was choreographed by Marivaldo Dos Santos, who performed for many, many years in “Stomp,” which was a Broadway show that used everyday items to create music, to create rhythm. The miracle of this movie is that these musical set pieces, which we refer to as “música,” the Portuguese word for music, were recorded live. So there were up to a hundred microphones around the set.

And as our DP Shane Hurlbut said: While many movies you get a day or half-day to pre-light, in our case they had to pre-mic.

When I received it, you know, it seemed a bit daunting and I only received stereo tracks. And I’m like, how is this all gonna sound clean? But ultimately we cut the picture with the tracks that we had and I always had to stay on time. So it starts with a foot tap and grows from there. 

That’s a challenge in and of itself is to keep a conversation going while also keeping the music going in time. And the way Rudy would speak to me was in music, sometimes. So he would imitate a quick moment of the piece and he would do it rhythmically, like “When we hear, (quick beatboxing), I wanna see this.” and I’ll be, “Gimme a second, I’ll find it.” I’d listen, I’d find it. We cut to the thing and he’d say, “Thank God you speak music.”

So it was an undertaking. But we are introducing the audience to the fact that there’s gonna be a little bit of Portuguese, because Rudy is Brazilian-American. His mom is from Brazil. A lot of her lines are in Portuguese. He’ll often answer in English, though. 

So there’s Portuguese, there’s music, there’s dance. Would you call it maybe a little bit of magical realism? We are going inside his perception, and that’s the world in which this movie will take place.

You mentioned music and the fact that you luckily speak music. That’s a lot of your background, correct? Tell us a little bit about your background and how did Rudy find you or why did he decide you were the right editor for this project, before he knew you spoke music?

Right, right, right. I feel like editing uses a lot of skills that I’m really good at, but I’m not good enough to be a professional in that individual skill. So I did play music growing up, also dance like a lot of children, started ballet at age five. 

After the movie “Swingers” came out I got very into swing dancing, became a competitive swing dancer for a while. And then that scene kind of fizzled out a little. I was a Theater major at UCLA and on the first day of editing class, my teacher A.P. Gonzalez said, “To be a good editor, not only do you need to be able to dance, you need to dance alone.” 

And I’ve never forgotten that line because we do spend a lot of time alone, although I don’t feel alone because I’m with the characters, and of course I’m always in contact with my assistants, the director, whoever I may be working with at the time. But there is something to be said for a certain sensitivity to rhythm. That’s very helpful.

Editor Melissa Kent

I went to UCLA, I wanted to study fashion design, then I changed my mind and decided to just go to design school for that. And I did that for a year and then I changed my mind and I studied acting. And then I went back to UCLA as a Theater major. 

So I did have a lot of background in acting, in writing. I feel like costumes is also very helpful. There was something about sewing costumes that I felt was sort of equivalent to building a scene in editorial, especially when we started on film. I got to work on film for about a year and a half before go jumping into the digital world. 

The first decade or so of my career. As much as I really love working with music — and that is why I chose to do back in the day, Britney Spears’ movie “Crossroads,” which I would’ve never imagined would’ve had a theatrical re-release. But I did get to see it with a whole bunch of fans in theaters last October, the week her memoir came out. 

Really for the first ten years, I focused on working in a variety of genres. Because it’s hard when you’re building a resume and you go into a meeting and they just say, “Well, can you cut comedy?” And you say, “Did you see “Something New?” “Nah, didn’t see it.” 

And then you’re like outta the conversation. For a long time I heard I couldn’t cut comedy. And then [I was] so grateful that Mark Helfrich brought me on to co-edit “Four Christmases” with him, ‘cause then that conversation disappeared for the rest of my career. 

Also, I would be told, “Well this is too violent for you. We can’t hire you. You know, we loved working with you, but we can’t hire you on the next one ‘cause there’s just too much violence.”

And I thought, “I’ll show them.” So I cut “An American Crime” which has some really horrific violence in it. Anyway, just trying to prove that I could do anything. But in my heart, I really just love a music movie. And I say “music movie” and not a “musical” per se, because I love movies where music plays a strong role or even just something as simple as in “The Vow” where Channing Tatum played the guitar. 

You know, just give me one scene where he can noodle on a guitar.

The last several years, I’ve really made an effort to find those movies when they’re about to be made. I was very fortunate to be hired on “The Dirt,” which was about Mötley Crüe, and I felt like that really made my skills shine with regard to telling that story. 

And I’m especially proud of the scenes when they go on their world tour. Because after this massively successful world tour, the band broke up.

And when I was watching early cuts, it felt sudden to me. I didn’t see it coming. Everything was so great. And now they’re getting divorced and they’re breaking up the band and they’re at each other’s throats. And so I came up with a way to make everything happen simultaneously. 

So it felt like the stress of the tour was helping to cause these difficulties, which it probably was. So that scene I’m super proud of in “The Dirt.”

You know, luck plays a role as well. My first job out of the pandemic was “Mahalia” about the legendary Mahalia Jackson. “Tall Girl 2” had a lot of music. They put on basically an off-Broadway-worthy version of “Bye Bye Birdie,” and between the auditions and the rehearsals and the behind-the-scenes, and the show itself, there was a lot of singing and dancing that I got to cut. So I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

And [the] honest truth is, I was looking at a list of upcoming projects. It was a few months away from “Música” being shot, but I saw, oh, what’s this? It’s called “Música.” And then I see, oh wow, it’s produced by Wonderland: McG and Mary Viola and Steven Bello. 

I just worked with them on “Tall Girl 2.” So I immediately called the post supervisor Max King. I said, “Tell me about this movie.” And finding out that Rudy Mancuso was involved, and I knew from his YouTube videos that he, up until that point, had been doing his own editing. 

Well they sent me a script. I loved it. And three days later — it was a Friday night at six o’clock, a very rock ’n’ roll time to have a job interview — we all got on the Zoom. Rudy and I just got along amazing. And we have a similar aesthetic. We’re both from New Jersey and I got the job. So, a little bit of hustle and a little bit of luck.

That should be the name of your memoir.

Ha! I was gonna call it “I Dance Alone.” But you know what, I think I like this better!

Maybe one can be a subtitle for the other one.

The problem with my memoir is I’ve only written the first line, which is, I get bored in 1/24th of a second.

(Laughs) That’s a short attention span right there.

And a short memoir.

Have you read Paul Hirsch’s memoir? That’s a great one.

I have not.

“A Long Time Ago In a [Cutting] Room Far, Far Away…” is his memoir. It’s very entertaining and very educational for editors.

All right, good. I love a good book recommendation.

And you gave me a great recommendation last time we talked, which was to watch “The Rainmaker” DVD to see how to direct actors.

Yes. So basically the biggest break I ever got was [to] be hired as co-editor on “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and it was Matt Damon’s first movie. After my work on that was finished, his wife Ellie, who — rest in peace — had shot and directed “Hearts of Darkness” about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” she got a call a few days into the shooting of “The Rainmaker.” 

I think one of the actors said, you gotta get down here and start documenting this, the way Francis is choosing to work with the actors on this movie. He was bringing all of his theater background and they were playing theater games and he was using all these original strategies to get the performances that he wanted for this movie. 

I mean, these are hotshot actors we’re talking Jon Voight, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Mickey Rourke, Claire Danes, who was still a teenager. The list goes on and on. Eleanor shot 80 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. The young editor in me is hoping and praying I’m gonna get to cut this documentary…

And the theater kid in you.

Yes, but obviously — I mean, I was sort of the obvious choice. I’ve learned that too is sometimes when you were chasing, chasing, chasing something and you are actually the obvious choice. I just worked on the movie for six months, I know all the dailies that illustrate the result of these exercises he was doing with the actors. So yes, she hired me to cut that and we watched the 80 hours.

We wanted to turn it into a one-hour documentary and HBO wanted a half hour. So that is a tight documentary. I feel like it’s really chockfull of advice.

So you’ve worked with some great directors and you have even stepped into the directing role yourself. Correct? I wanna get back to “Música,” but I saw that you’ve directed. What is it in your background? Is it the editing you’ve done or watching great directors, or is it your theater background that made you want to make a short and direct it?

I’ll be honest, when I was watching, I think, season 4 of “Sex and the City,” I noticed that the episode was directed by Wendey Stanzler who was an editor on the series. It just kind of stuck in my head like, wow, if she could do that, maybe I could do that. 

For years, I had this idea that I’m gonna work on a series and I’ll eventually get this opportunity. And then, finally I looked at my life and I said, Melissa, you’ve worked on like one series in a decade. If not now, when?

As an editor we often don’t meet the actors until ADR, or sometimes even the premiere. And I was always really good working with the actors at ADR and being able to help guide them to the performance that we needed to fill that hole. Whether it’s matching exactly what they did or creating an additional line for explanation or for humor, or what have you.

And I always enjoyed it, but I knew that of all my filmmaking skills, working with actors was probably my weak point. And if I wanted to give directing a try, I would have to improve that. So I did start by reading books and Judith Westin’s book was very, very helpful. 

I think it’s called “Directing Actors.” And she taught a workshop in LA. She would assign us scenes and we practiced with some professional actors and then I asked them, would you like me to make a short film of this and you can be in it? And they said yes. 

So that was the first thing that I did. But no one’s ever really seen that. And then a couple years later between projects, after “The Age of Adaline” and before “American Pastoral,” I was ready to make a film.


I knew I wanted it to be 15 minutes or less. I knew I wanted, for the most part, two characters in one environment. I wanted to keep it simple. Again, coming back to what I’m not professional-level, I’m not a professional-level writer. I’m a really good rewriter. 

I knew I wasn’t gonna come up with a short that I wanted to invest in shooting because of course I was gonna pay for it myself. So what I did was I reached out to various film festivals and I said, can I read your finalists for short films? And several festivals sent me scripts. 

And it wasn’t until the following year that someone from the festival said, you know, we came across a script, we think it’s exactly what you’re looking for. 

It was called “Bernie and Rebecca,” written by John F. Harris, a gentleman in Virginia who had retired from running a hedge fund and wanted to get into writing. And it was exactly what I was looking for. He kindly sold it to me for a dollar and a bottle of wine. 

I made the movie, shot it for the most part at my house, and it went to 36 festivals around the world. I did use every trick in the book with editing. There’s flash-forwards. It’s about a couple on a blind date imagining a not-so-perfect future together. So as they imagine it, we also showed it with flash-forwards.

I learned several things from directing my own piece. One, I think I got a lot more empathy for directors in general and, you know, having a little more understanding when they don’t get it exactly the way you thought they would because of the time constraints and the money constraints. 

And also just sometimes actors are people and they don’t do what you think they’re gonna do. They’re gonna do what feels right to them.

I also learned that while certain producers may have really liked my film, they weren’t about to open their drawer and just say, “Hey, we’ve optioned these scripts. Pick one.” The people I talked to and the agents I talked to said that at the time, and this is 2016, that people were really looking for a director to bring them the material, to option the book themself, to hire a writer themself, to attach actors themself and then bring a more finished piece. 

The director-for-hire jobs just seemed very few and far between. And as a newbie, I just didn’t think I was gonna get those. And I thought to myself, well I could spend several years, let’s say even five years developing something, spending a lot of money, maybe getting to make it for low budget, maybe then it gets into a film festival or not, and maybe it gets distribution or not. 

Whereas I could take those same five years, edit maybe seven movies that will be seen by millions of people. And make a nice living doing it, and enjoy myself, and work with really talented directors and actors. So that’s what I chose to do and I think it is a better fit, but I do use the knowledge that I gained from having directed my own piece every day.

Sound Supervisor Christopher Aud, Assistant editor/VFX Artist Todd Greenlee, 1st AE Jill Piwowar, Post Production Coordinator Cathryn Cheek, Assistant editor/VFX Artist Kenzie Woodrow, Editor Melissa Kent

Let’s get back to “Música” and you’ve got this collaboration with this director, which I’m sure you’ve never had because he’s so personally invested. Like you said, he wrote it, he directed it, he did the music and it’s literally about his life. What kind of collaboration can you have with someone like that, that is so deeply invested in their own project? Tell me a little bit about that.

And let’s not forget that he cast Maria Mancuso, his own mother to play his mother.

I didn’t know that. No.

Yeah, she basically steals the show. She’s a natural…

She does steal the show. She is great. I can’t believe that’s his mom!

Yes, it was shot in his childhood home, that’s her home. It was shot in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey where he grew up. Where there are many Brazilian-Americans who live there. There’s a good amount of Portuguese, whether the main characters are speaking it here and there or the background actors are speaking Portuguese. 

He had such a strong backbone with regard to how he felt the movie needed to go. And he stood up for that. I’m not just saying with me, I’m saying with the studio, but like he just felt so comfortable, and this is the story we’re telling. 

In Hollywood, it seems that everyone is chasing the four-quadrant movie. We wanna please everybody and by attempting to please everybody, I won’t say we please nobody, but we don’t please everybody. One thing I absolutely loved about Rudy is that there are no half-measures.

So often on movies we say, oh, we need to explain a little something. Let’s shoot the most simple thing we can with as little dialogue, just to get from A to C, we need to shoot B and fill this hole. It’ll be easy. He’s like, oh no, I’m getting to shoot? It’s gonna be the best scene in the movie.

After we showed it to audiences and we learned where we could improve the character a little bit, we shot for two days. And honestly those are some of my absolute favorite scenes. One of them is what I would call the day-in-the-life montage. One of our challenges is that the ending came too quickly. 

We just needed a little passage of time and Rudy had always wanted to shoot this scene. He is in a medium shot in the center of the frame and it appears that he’s not moving, that the world moves around him.

Well he’s doing actions, but the outline of his body is constant. So he’s waking up, he’s brushing his teeth, he’s on the bus to school, he’s typing on his laptop, he’s eating lunch, he’s practicing music, he’s getting into bed. That was one of our pieces of additional photography. So he does all the same actions with seven different shirts, one after the next. 

Then not only do we create this incredible time-passing montage with animated backgrounds, but he also is turning into a puppet. As the sequence gets faster and faster — like everything, this movie, it’s very musical — so the first day every scene is eight beats, and the second day every scene is four beats. 

The next day in the new shirt, every scene is two beats, one beat and then like really fast until it’s a frame each, you know? But it was so ambitious and challenging and a ton of visual effects.

Avid timeline screenshot

As you’re making a movie, you never really know how it’s gonna connect. It’s such a unique story and a way of telling a story we just didn’t know. And then we premiered it at South by Southwest. It brought down the house. It was the first time we saw it in a movie theater full of people. 

And then the reviews, it has a 98%. I’ve never had such good reviews in my entire career. So it just goes to show, stay true to your individuality. Make something that’s meaningful to you, stick to your guns, and a lot of people are gonna like it.

I love that Rudy stuck to his guns and made the movie that he wanted to make. You were a collaborator in that. How much did you feel you could push back against such a personal vision or what were you able to contribute of your own and how were you able to get him to buy into your vision?

I don’t know that I necessarily have a vision so much as I work from a place of sensitivity and responsiveness. As the dailies come in, I’m trying to be sensitive to what I find entertaining, funny, beautiful, interesting. And I take copious notes. 

I was just checking over some of my notes from the beginning of making of this movie. And I didn’t hear from him really for the first several weeks. Every Friday I send cut scenes, if the director wants to see where we’re at. And he had so much going on, being the director, being the lead actor. 

And there’s a scene in the park where he explains to Camila Mendes, the character of Isabella, what is going on inside his head when he seems to be drifting off, when his attention seems to stray. What is happening? And we very clearly show how the people playing sports in the park, on the jungle gym and the seesaw and playing soccer and joggers going by and traffic organizes into a massive explosion of rhythm in his mind.

And he’s explaining to her and us the audience what this feels like for him in this particular scene. It’s also paired with orchestral instruments, like the basketball is paired with a cello. And that was the first and second day of shooting. 

So it was extremely ambitious. Ordinarily day one you assume that it’s gonna be something very simple. How about mom and him sitting in the kitchen talking at the kitchen table? Something like that. How about him alone in his room studying? 

No, we have 30 rhythm performers. The rain is coming and going. They are recording this piece of music live, obviously not the cellos, but the diegetic sounds were recorded on the day. And also it’s a very key moment because he and the character Isabella are getting to know each other. 

And not only are the characters getting to know each other, but Camila Mendes and Rudy Mancuso as actors are getting to know each other.

So I cut the scene, I sent it to him, and when I heard from him, he gave me such a beautiful compliment saying that it was cut exactly as the way he would have imagined. And later in the process he said, of course he had visions for the photography. “The way it was shot,” he said, “it’s as good as I could have ever imagined. It’s better than I imagined.” 

And then he said, “and I had visions for how the edit would go. And when I watch this edit, it’s either, some scenes are exactly as I imagined and when they aren’t, I like them better.” And as for pushing back, I feel like that’s our job. There’s nothing aggressive about it. But I even remember when I was a baby editor and Francis Coppola walked in and I said, “So while you were gone, I took some initiative.” And I…

Wow. And you’re still working?

(Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in the case of this, I think where I came in handy was offering the perspective of the audience who does not have synesthesia. So sometimes Rudy might feel the underscore, the rhythm, might need to be a little louder because that’s how it feels to him. 

But if we’re just in a two-shot, like he and Isabella are walking down the street getting to know each other, I need to be in that conversation. And if little clicks and traffic and taps are too loud … we took it just to the point before you would say, “What’d he say?” Because for me, that will take you out of a movie if you’re listening to the background. So we tucked that in.

Another place that I pushed back, I will say unsuccessful, but I think rightfully so, is what we might call the kissing montage or the lying montage. The oner. He’s basically dating two women, and lying to his mom. And it starts out in his bedroom and as he stands up, the walls part and we are now on a massive sound stage.

 And the whole thing is intricately choreographed whereby the dancers or the extras are setting up a country club set and by the time he gets to his table and sits down, everyone else in the scene are now other customers or clients or patrons you would say. And he’s speaking with his — to him, it’s his ex-girlfriend, Haley thinks they’re together — for a quick beat. 

And then she takes off, he gets up, he changes his shirt, he ends up in his mom’s kitchen and he’s walking set to set, speaks to his mom, then to another set with Isabella to have a juice, then to another set, another set, another set.

And it’s all in real time. It’s all one shot. They did shoot a piece of coverage from another angle. And so as an editor I felt obligated to really study all 15 takes for the very best, very best moment or line reading from every single take. 

And then use the coverage to get between them and then use maybe some speed ramps to jazz up the walking. And I didn’t have the music at the time, I didn’t have the score that was gonna work with it. So I’m trying to give it like a little pizazz and he’s just like, “No, no, no, no, no, we are just going to use the best take, (which was the last one) and that’s what we’re gonna do.” 

I think ultimately I’m so proud of it. Yes, the music did help quite a bit. It’s surprising how much work in editorial it took to make a oner fly. You would think I just had my feet up. But there is so much sound work and loop group, ultimately.

Anything else that you had to do in there. Like Lee Smith talked about how “1917” was like his hardest editorial movie and it’s one cut, you know?

Well those cuts are well hidden and I’m sure within the frame they were probably stitching frames together. This is one take.

I thought I remember he’s walking away from camera. Were you able to use different audio takes or did you use the audio from the last take?

I used the audio from the last take except for the last scene where they’re in a movie theater. I just loved how Haley said, “Are you coming for brunch tomorrow?” in a different take. And it’s in the dark anyway. Because the women were having to change costumes extremely quickly between their scenes, they didn’t have lav mics so they were only recorded on his mic. 

So ADR was required for that. But we were matching performance, they nailed it. They rehearsed for a full day, which gave me a nice catchup day, no dailies. And then they shot for a full day. The DP said once that sometimes the camera would make mistakes, sometimes sound would make mistakes, sometimes the other actors or the background actors might make mistakes, and Rudy’s the only person who nailed it top to bottom every single time.

Talk to me a little bit about sound design since sound is so important to this story.

Oh it really was. And we mixed in Atmos. I wish more people could have heard it in the theater, and my fingers are crossed that one day it will have a theatrical re-release à la Britney Spears. Maybe in 20 years? So our sound supervisor was Chris Aud and he also was our dialogue-music mixer and his co-mixer on the sound effects-BGS side was Aaron Glascock. 

I’ve worked with Chris probably at least seven times. I’ve worked with Aaron before as well. He loves music too. And he reached out to me: Hey, I heard you’re on this movie “Música!” I said, I was literally just talking about you. That you and Chris, in my opinion, would be the perfect people to mix this movie. Again, right? You’re chasing someone and you’re the obvious choice.

They had their work cut out for them because, like I said, I was pretty much working with stereo tracks with regard to the music. Our executive music producer, Jamie Rise, he’s the one who planted all those microphones, got that clean sound and worked with his own engineer to prep the “música” for the stage.

But it was a learning curve for everyone because Jamie and Rudy had never worked on a feature film. Chris Aud and Aaron had never worked in a situation where music is gonna provide you a hundred tracks. And he realized it’d be the best not to get crash downs, and to have every one of these hundred mics available because the picture edit is pretty intricate. 

And so if we cut to one hit of a man hitting a trashcan lid, we wanna hear that a little bit louder. If we cut to the person on the jungle gym, we wanna hear that hand slap a little bit louder. In all these environments: there’s a man tapping on watermelons, they’re throwing fish, you know, we wanna be able to hear those things. And so they had quite the organizational challenge. 

I think what happened was music editor Jenny Barak, who’s one of my favorites, received all these tracks and organized them in a way that the Warner Brothers stage could deal with it. And it wasn’t a long mix, you know, these things never have enough money and time for the sound mix. They rocked it, man.

MÚSICA mix at Warner Bros. From L–R: Eliza Pollack Zebert (ADR Supervisor), Jenny Barak (Music Editor), Eric Von Gootee (Music Engineer), Christopher S. Aud (Sound Supervisor/Re-recording mixer), Marivaldo Dos Santos (Rhythm Supervisor/Choreographer), Rudy Mancuso (Director, Lead Actor, Composer, EP), Jamie Rise (Exec. Music Producer), Melissa Kent (Editor), Aaron Glascock (Re-recording mixer), Mitch Osias (Sound FX editor), Not pictured: Albert Gasser (Dialogue editor)

You did picture cut to a stereo mix?

Yes. And then I would sweeten as needed if I felt like it needed it to. And those were also taken into account at the final mix.

When they’re all dancing. I mean that’s a lot of microphones going on that just had to sound like mush I would think. That’s crazy.

No, not at all. It sounded amazing. So I wanna give props to our sound mixer, Anton Gold, and our playback engineer John D’Aquino on set, he was there for the days of the rhythm performances. They recorded it so well that even when it came to me, it was clear. It was clear as a stereo mix and then it was just icing on the cake, the fact that we had access to fifty to a hundred at any given time, precise hidden microphones around set. 

I was worried because sometimes the dancers in these big environments had to dance to a click that was not in their ear but in the room. And I was saying, boy, I’ve never had an experience where you can remove a click. You can always add things; you cannot remove. 

And Jamie Rise, our music producer would just say, trust me, trust me, it’s gonna be okay. And sure enough, yes, once it was cut he would send us sound to replace it and it had no click. And then lo and behold, all these little hidden magic microphones saved the day.

I wanna talk about approach. One would be what is your general approach when you get new dailies and you’re cutting a scene? And two is, is your approach different when you’re doing the “música” scenes to when you’re doing a dialogue scene?

Yes. For all dailies, the first thing I do is watch them and I take copious notes and I mark time codes, just anything that interests me. Whether it’s a line reading, something looks beautiful, a lens flare, a quick little arm movement through the frame.

At ADR with JB Smoove

Quick interruption, how do you take notes? And two, how do you watch dailies? Front to back, back to front, circled takes?

Because shooting on digital they have the freedom to shoot so, so, so much, one of my assistants will put together a “string out” of all the circled takes. And I start with those because those are clearly the director’s favorites on the day. Yeah, I sit back, I press play, I watch them, and I’m just keeping my eye on that time code, and just taking very quick notes, you know next to the time code of the line. 


Handwritten, yeah handwritten. I think that sticks in your brain better as well, handwritten?

It’s like taking notes in school, you don’t ever have to refer to ’em. That just gets in your brain, right?

I was a very good student. So yes, I take handwritten notes and so yes, if it’s a non-music scene I’m watching, I’m taking notes, I’m assembling. And I do always like to save a scene for the morning so that I can be cutting and not get in my assistant’s hair while they’re receiving all the new footage and organizing that.

Actor Camila Mendes and Editor Melissa Kent

That’s a great tip.

Oh, okay. Yeah, you’re welcome. Now music takes a lot more organization, So anytime there is dance involved — and I would even say sports, like the basketball in “Just Wright” where it’s multi-cam choreographed movement. I like to have one group clip in the Avid whereby with a touch of a finger I can scroll through all of my options for any given moment in the music. 

And my assistant, Jill Piwowar, is an absolute master at organizing group clips with music. There may be 35 tracks of picture, there may be more. That organization takes time, and to make sure that every take and every camera is perfectly in sync with the music that served as the base for the performance. 

It also just seems to take longer for me to watch all the dance or music sequences and take those notes because of the quick cutting. Some of these cuts might be 10 frames because an arm might go through a frame in an amazing way or like a tuba might get lifted, like he might kick and the tuba goes up and it looks really cool. 

So I just feel like I end up with a lot more notes but also because there’s way more takes and more cameras.

And then the actual cutting for me, actually goes pretty fast. It’s the organization where the time is spent. And I don’t use Script Sync, I just find that I remember things. And I’ve never had the luxury — some of my friends have told me they need an extra assistant just to do all the Script Sync. 

I may be a little afraid that, ‘cause if they miss something or it’s not noted, I don’t want it to be lost to me forever. I generally know where in every take things are and then I enjoy the discovery of the pieces you forgot about or that might be helpful now that didn’t seem helpful earlier.

I mentioned how I love the tip of saving a scene. I do that occasionally when I think I’ve got a scene that’s very difficult, I save it ‘cause I can sleep on it. Not so much to give myself the time in the morning, but because I wanna procrastinate. No, no because I wanna sleep on it. Yeah, I want my brain to be thinking about it longer than having to cut it right now.

A tip that I got from Eleanor Coppola was, it’s okay to start the day with the easiest thing. And I still do that. I always start with the shortest scene, the most basic one or two people, and I always save the hardest thing for last. So I’m diving into the hard thing at like 5:00 PM. 

Yeah, I don’t know. I like to go from easy to hard and it feels nice to check things off your list

From our Zoom call during this interview

Were there structural changes to the film? Did you have to either lose things or reorganize things?

No, not really. Of course tightening and the usual things working on the humor, it’s more like we added. It’s more like, yeah we need some scenes, we need to really get where Rudy is coming from. What is he thinking about? How is he justifying his action or lack of action? 

And we added scenes where he’s talking to the puppet Diego, his alter ego and expressing to himself, to his puppet, and to us where he stands. Why he doesn’t wanna hurt his ex-girlfriend. 

That he’s coming from a place of caring even if he doesn’t always make the best decisions. He’s learning and he is trying and he’s growing. We added a few scenes where we could get inside his motivations a little bit better.

What was a solution that you were happy you came up with?

My favorite solution is about a week or two into director’s cut. There are scenes where Rudy goes into the subway station where he’s going to perform his puppet show. The subway stairs seem to be a piano, musical notes. 

And one fun thing for me was each time he goes down the stairs, I went to my keyboard that’s here behind me and chose a sound that should accompany the way he feels. And I was actually looking at the scale on the steps, which wasn’t perfect, and trying to figure out what would those notes be? 

And also listening to the busker who’s playing guitar and singing and figured out what key that was in. So therefore figured out what key his feet should “play” as he went down the stairs, and added those notes and those made it all the way through.

So we’re working on these scenes and basically the busker is singing about change and sort of commenting on where Rudy is in his life. And because Rudy, his world is one where music absolutely surrounds him, he said, “You know, I just wish we’d had the time and the resources to paint the lyrics in graffiti all over the subway station.” And I said, “Let’s do it!” 

So luckily one of my assistants, Kenzie Woodrow, was fantastic at After Effects and for all three of those scenes we decided which posters on the walls would be covered with lyrics. And she created them in graffiti. As Rudy walks forward, she put more lyrics on the ceiling. Having the lyrics there help you better understand the song. 

And then she went a step further and researched slang in Newark, added that here and there. It’s quite difficult because when you have a moving camera and the walls are curved and there’s people walking in front of the walls and the lyrics are behind, to make that settle on the wall was a bit challenging and she did a good job, and of course visual effects did the perfect job. So that’s one solution I’m really proud of.

And then on a personal level, something I guess I’m pretty proud of is that, when I first read the script, I knew maybe the most challenging scene would be Rudy and his mother Maria in the kitchen having a heart to heart, 100% in Portuguese. I studied French for about 10 years. 

My first movie, “My Family/mi familia” on which I was additional editor, the first 20 minutes are in Spanish and I was able to work on that and I studied some Spanish here and there over the years. How am I going to cut this scene in the kitchen, that’s all in Portuguese? 

And it’s such an important scene and it’s a long scene. When we received those dailies, they did it as scripted, but then while they were still rolling they would stop and Rudy would direct his mother and they would start over.

But did they always start at the beginning? No, sometimes they would start at the middle. They did a take where she was free to say whatever she wanted as long as the story points were hit. And so how was I supposed to know, when is he directing, when is he reacting as a son, when is he directing as the character? What are they saying? What are these subtle differences in meaning? 

The first obvious thing to do is put subtitles on this scene. Kenzie, my assistant, worked with Rudy’s sister Marianna and they subtitled all the dailies and made it clear for me: it just would say he’s directing or otherwise it would be what the dialogue was, what the meaning of the dialogue was.

Dancer Kelli McKee, Editor Melissa Kent, Executive Music Producer Jamie Rise

And then I started also learning Portuguese. So when I found out I had the job, I started with Duolingo. I’m now on like day over 600. Every single time I watched the movie, I understood without subtitles more and more. And it would always feel of course really good, like something that used to just sound like, as you said, mush or gibberish, to hear the words, to understand the meaning more and more. It was so much fun. 

And then once we wrapped, my goal was to be able to speak to Maria “no tapete vermelho” which means “on the red carpet.” I heard a podcast that suggested, “do the hard thing” and I thought, okay, I’m gonna sign up for these in-person Portuguese lessons.

I found a Portuguese school that’s fantastic on TikTok called Easy Portuguese School. And I’ve since January taken private lessons and they have twice a week group lessons and you have to talk to people. So by the time we went to South by Southwest in the middle of March, I was able to, I happened to bump in Maria at breakfast and we sat down for half an hour and talked in Portuguese. And that’s like a highlight of my life!

That’s doing the hard thing!

And just like in the movie, she was trying to get me to eat more, which was just hilarious. Yeah, so you just never know when you take on a project, how it’s going to augment your life, what it will expose you to, the people you’ll meet. 

And just also the things you might start doing, like learning a language that is so much fun, and with my online school I’m meeting people all over the world who are trying to learn Portuguese and to get to hear about their lives in our little conversations like, who would’ve known? So yeah, in that way, it’s been a blessing and a joy.

Melissa, so you had that great little piece of advice earlier about saving a scene for the next morning. Do you have any other advice?

It’s funny you asked me that because I have a bulletin board next to my Avid with several Post-its of advice and the one that comes to mind right now is from the book, “Good in a Room,” which is a very helpful book about pitching. It also applies to job interviews. 

And the advice that I have remembered from that book is: Don’t sell, past the close. So on that note, I think I might stop talking. (Laughter)

Melissa, this has been such a pleasure to talk to you about this and thank you for a great evening. My wife and I love the movie and it’s gonna stick with me for a while, I think.

Oh Steve, I love hearing that and I just really appreciate that you reached out and wanted to talk about “Música” and it’s been really a fun chat. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Can you say goodbye to us in Portuguese?

Tchau, obrigada. Tenha um bom dia!  (Bye, thank you, have a great day!)