Melissa Kent, acclaimed film editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline, makes her directing debut with short film Bernie and Rebecca. She talks to Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens about the film’s UK debut at Edinburgh International Film Festival.Melissa Kent is no stranger to film. But she’s new to directing. She arrived at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) this year to showcase her short film Bernie and Rebecca, a drama that marks the acclaimed editor’s first foray into direction. Sarah Cook from We Make Movies On Weekends described the film as a “tender, poignant” look at “the intricacies of dating and that road you navigate when you are trying to find the one that you loved.” She is one of many voices in Edinburgh singing a similar tune.
Certainly, Kent’s deserving of the limelight. Heralded by her peers for her eye for the nuances of character and the evocative potential of tone and pacing, she’s a commodity worth having. But as a film editor on many critically lauded films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, daughter Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline, she’s remained part of the background scenery. That’s about the change.
After reading the scripts of finalists at the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition she came across Bernie and Rebecca. She describes the funny, touching story as one that “deserved my time and resources.” In just 14 minutes audiences will experience “romance, humour, drama, laughter and tears” as they get an emotionally intimate look at a couple’s blind date and their imagined imperfect future together.
As the tagline suggests (“a blind date turns into the experience of a lifetime”), Bernie and Rebecca gave Kent the scope to challenge herself behind the camera but within the comparative safety net of short form cinema. At the very least it gave her an ideal platform to showcase her potential as a multifaceted filmmaker.
Kent cut her teeth as a theatre major at UCLA when, during an internship at Entertainment Tonight, she was introduced to film editing. She went to work as an apprentice at Roger Corman’s film production company before earning her first official credit for Gregory Nava’s My Family. This was the moment she met Francis Ford Coppola. To date, Coppola and Kent have collaborated on eleven individual projects including behind-the-scenes documentaries for The Rainmaker and The Virgin Suicides.
I remind her of the critical and commercial success of her work. She tells me: “You’re very kind”. But we both know it’s not false praise. “I have been fortunate to work with some fantastic filmmakers and we always do our best to entertain. When it connects with the audience and moves people, there is nothing better.”
Unsurprisingly, the collaboration she’s enjoyed with an array of fine filmmakers has had a positive influence on her. “Whenever a scene or a moment in Bernie and Rebecca reminded me of something I had worked on as an editor I would recall that approach and tweak it as needed. It’s really just a case of learning from experience, as we all do.”
How did she tackle the challenges of directing, and how did they differ from constructing a film in the editing room, I ask. “As a director I certainly had a plan and made sure that every shot had a purpose. I believe that shooting is about accumulating as many interesting options as possible. When a particular shot wasn’t great for a particular moment I was able to explain that we had it covered elsewhere.”
It was great to see audiences responding to the film the way she intended, says Kent, as the film screened in front of an enthusiastic Edinburgh crowd. “Edinburgh is a beautiful city and everyone at the festival is very gracious and welcoming. It is always a thrill to watch Bernie and Rebecca with an audience, as they lean in, listen and laugh. There is a quick visual joke involving the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the UK audience got it immediately!”
It’s a busy time for the in-demand editor whose latest project – Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut American Pastoral – lands in UK cinemas in November. Kent, whose credits also include romance The Vow, festive comedy Four Christmases and psychological drama An American Crime, is now setting her sights on her own feature film debut. Making Bernie and Rebecca, which covers a “lifetime of emotions”, was “excellent preparation for that”.
To watch the trailer for Bernie and Rebecca visit www.bernieandrebecca.com
To learn more about Melissa Kent’s editing career go to www.melissakent.com