Interview with editor Maria Freire


Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Maria is a LA based editor who completed her MFA in Editing at the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2019. Maria also has a BA in Social Communications at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. During her time in Los Angeles, Maria has edited multiple awarding winning short films. The short film Louise was an official selection of NALIP’s Latino Media Fest, the biggest Lantix film festival in the U.S, as well as part of AFI Fest’s Showcase. Her second thesis A Strange Calm was an official selection of Sitges International Film Festival, an Academy Award qualifying festival, and Fantasia International Film Festival, a Canadian Screen Awards qualifying festival. “Another Satisfied Customer”, an experimental silent film she edited, won Best Comedy at the Short to the Point, Best Silent Film at Near Nazareth Festival and Best Microfilm at Independent Short Awards. Maria’s work has also been selected to festivals around the globe, being screened in countries such as Brazil, UK, Spain, Germany, Israel and Tokyo. Maria has also worked on feature films, such as Seberg and Jumanji: The Next Level. She’s currently working as for Nina Menkes (Magdalena Viraga, Queen of Diamonds) on her latest project, BRAINWASHED, as well as working on the newest season of Total Bellas and Born for Business, both reality TV shows.

  • When did you decide that you wanted to be an editor? Did you try your hand at any other type of filmmaking positions?

When I started college, the only position I truly knew about was directing. So, for the 3 years, I worked as an AD on TV shows back in Rio. But once I started learning about editing, I realized its creative beauty and the sense of responsibility you get from having to piece the film together. There is no better reward than the feeling of giving life to a film. Editing is a mix of art and tech, which I find so fun. I then decided that the best decision for my career would be to apply for the MFA in Editing at the American Film Institute Conservatory. It has been 3 years since I’ve been in LA and have worked on award winning short films, reality TV, docs and narrative feature films. I’ve had many great experiences so far.

  • How do you prepare to start editing (organizing scenes, takes, files and folders)?

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of amazing editors that had different ways of working, from organization to keyboard shortcuts, and I loved learning from them. The way I work today is based on things I saw people do that I thought would help me work better and faster. I start with the editor’s binder. Script supervisor’s notes are very important and can give you great insights on what you are about to see in the dailies. In any case, I still watch all dailies, but I keep the binder close by so I can write my own notes on it. Keeping it all in one place prevents you from having to re watch takes in case you forget where a specific moment is. As for my folder organization within the editing software, I like to number my project folders in the order the post-production will happen: dailies being first and turnover being last. My dailies are organized by camera setup and I usually signal circled takes with two asterisks and my favorites with one. I also like to have scene cards where I can visualize possible scene changes and keep track of the  story’s timeline. As for the drive organization, I usually leave it up to the Assistant Editor, but we try to mirror the software’s organization so we can find things easily. Always be as specific as you can, so you won’t lose time being lost in your own project– it doesn’t hurt to have as many folders as you need. After all that, I can start cutting.

  • How do you decide when/where to make a cut?

Editing and story need to go hand in hand, so that will dictate your cutting. A mentor of mine always said to think of Walter Murch’s Rule of Six: a cut needs to be “true to the emotion of the moment”, then it needs to advance the story, but also needs to be “rhythmically interesting and right”, it needs to help guide the audience’s attention to a focal point within the frame (‘eye-trace’, as he calls it) and, at last, respect the three-dimensional continuity of the space and the people in it. I see this as a guide in case you’re having a hard time knowing where to cut. However, there is no right or wrong way to edit a scene. You should always make sure that your cut has a meaning for the story. At some point, those decisions will come instinctively and you won’t need to rationalize your cutting.

  • How can editing change the tone or emotion?

The great thing about editing is that you can “find” the film as you go. Sometimes, emotions don’t translate visually as well as we thought. Through editing, you can define tone and emphasize emotions that might not have been clear before. The decisions you make in the cutting room, from which take you’re going to use to which lines you might cut or how long you’ll stay with a character, can influence greatly the end emotion of a scene. With that, you’ll give a new tone to the scene and you can end up with two different interpretations of the story.

  • What kind of problems come up during editing?

Usually they are things that happen on set: lack of coverage, technical problems with production audio, things that need to be “cleaned” out of frame, among others. That’s why I always ask to be part of pre-production meetings so I can make sure they are thinking about the post-production process as they prepare for their shoot. However, even with those meetings, things don’t always happen like we want them to. Set can be unpredictable and there’s nothing we can do. As an editor, I need to be ready to problem solve things on the spot. It’s not ideal, but honestly, I find it exciting and can be a great way to learn how to troubleshoot on the spot.

  • How does your work as the visual editor feed into the work of the sound editor?

In post-production, we work together to create a cohesive story through picture and sound. As an Editor, you need to be thinking about those two elements to create a believable emotion in your edit. So you need to sketch your idea and have cues that will help the sound editor know what you and the director are looking for. It’s also a great conversation starter for when you’re sitting together with the sound department discussing how to take your temporary sound work to the next level. From that point on, they will not only enhance your ideas, but add their own, giving a more complete feel to the film.

  • With all the adjustments, how much can a movie end up deviating from the original script?

I like to think of the edit as an extension of the writing process. As you start to shape the story in the edit and bring it to life, sometimes the cut “asks” you to take a direction that neither you nor the director thought of before. You need to allow yourself to “listen” to the footage, but at the same time, making sure the core of the story remains the same. That’s why, when I work, I like to have a close relationship with the screenwriter and director, so I can make sure we are doing what is best for the story. The most fun part of editing is when you have the freedom to play with the footage and encounter new ideas as you go. It’s very exciting.

  • How much creative input the editor has, or how do you get your director accept your ideas?

Whenever I work on a project, I always make sure the director and I are on the same page about what we want to create together. If I don’t feel that confidence, I usually don’t move forward with the partnership. The reason for that is, I want the director to work with someone they can trust and I rather work with someone that can feel that connection with me. It’s a very close relationship, where you’ll spend months of your life creating art together and, if there’s a disconnect, it’ll only bring both of you headache. I always make sure we both want the same thing for the story and the ideas I’ll bring forward will come based on that common creative goal. Of course, you won’t always have the same opinion, but it will most definitely be a more collaborative environment where you’ll feel comfortable enough to talk about finding a solution that you and the director agree on. Usually what I’ll do is explain why that idea will influence the story for the better. Will it move the story forward faster? Will it help with a character’s arc? Once we talk about it, I’d duplicate my timeline and start working on that idea with the director. At the end, it’s all about open communication.

  • Were you influenced by any directors or film editors in the development of your craft over the years?

I’ve always loved looking for movies edited by women. A lot of them have made film history like Viola Lawrence, who was the second woman film cutter in cinema history and was considered the first woman cutter in Hollywood. Dorothy Arzner is also a huge influence, not only as an editor, but also director. She told female lead stories and only hired women editors to work on her films (Viola Lawrence being one of them). Gloria Schoemann was a Mexican editor who worked on 227 films throughout her career, working from the Golden Age to Mexico’s New Cinema. Dede Allen is one of the most celebrated editors in Hollywood history and she was one of the first editors to receive a single card credit. Anne V. Coates, the mastermind behind the match cut. Thelma Schoonmaker, who I had the honor to meet at the beginning of the year, is the second most nominated editor in Oscar history and is the one with most wins. These are some of the amazing women editors I aspire to be and I recommend everyone to go and get to know more about their work.

  • Quite a few directors that once they find their editor, that’s who they continue to work with. Do you find that that’s the case with you?

I had the pleasure of working with Austin Rourke on two shorts, one of them being our award winning thesis film “A STRANGE CALM”. Austin likes to push the boundaries on genre movies and I have so much fun editing his projects. His creativity with sound design never ceases to amaze me. Natalie Camou has also been an amazing collaborator, having worked with her on three shorts, one of them being my other award winning thesis film “LOUISE”. We have very similar creative ideas and great communication, which has always been my goal when finding good collaborations. I have been very lucky with the directors I have worked with throughout the past 3 years. I would love to work with all of them again.