Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis is deeply philosophical about his craft. The desire to approach filmmaking with artistic rigor is something he shares with his longtime collaborator, director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster). And it’s hard to argue with the results — especially their most recent effort, the multiple Oscar-nominated The Favourite, which earned Olivia Colman a Best Actress win. We spoke with Mavropsaridis about the editing philosophies and techniques that influenced his work on the film and helped make it one of the year’s most acclaimed movies.
Breaking Away From Linear Narrative
Mavropsaridis and Lanthimos’ long collaboration has been marked by a shared purpose when starting work in the cutting room. “We strive to create the necessary environment that makes editing creative and free from constraints to serve the written plot,” he says. Freeing themselves from those constraints involves “decoupage,” which Luis Buñuel once described as “Segmentation. Creation. Dividing a thing to turn it into something else.” For Mavropsaridis’s purpose, it means taking the linear narrative and breaking it down into visual pieces.
The liberation of images from story allows for the type of editing experimentation Mavropsaridis and Lanthimos like to work with. It allows them to play with structure and non-linear editorial possibilities, like using a line of dialogue from one scene in another, or tracking The Favourite’s three main characters not so much chronologically, but by the progression and evolution of their relationships with each other.
Another example is the opening of the movie, which originally began with the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone) at the palace of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the catalyst for the whole story. But Mavropsaridis and Lanthimos changed the opening to a standalone, out-of-time, sequence where Queen Anne and Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) discuss love in a way that serves as Lanthimos presenting the movie’s thesis before the story ever properly starts. That ability to disregard linear plot in favor of something else is exactly why the filmmakers pursue the approach they do. “Editing then becomes the ‘writing’ of the script,” Mavropsaridis says.
Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Editing With Sound
Lanthimos gives Mavropsaridis music and sound very early on in the process, often during shooting, because they both consider it an essential component to how they work. “An important part of this method is to edit always with music and sound design,” he says. It’s not just a matter of making editing easier and more rounded; it’s because they rely on sound as an essential tool for conveying ideas to audiences.
“In the transition between scenes, all formal elements are used to help create a ‘meaning’ supporting the main ideas of the script,” he says. He points to a scene where Abigail dances with Queen Anne, which is then followed by a scene of Lady Sarah and Abigail shooting pigeons. Stripped of context, the dance would appear innocuous. But Mavropsaridis has noted that their use of non-diegetic sound of pigeon shooting, introduced during the dancing, helps put the innocuousness in question. Coupled with a shot of Lady Sarah watching the dancing from afar, the sequence uses sound to allude to the budding power struggle and jealousy that will begin to consume all the characters.
Wielding the Dissolve
Dissolves are often used in editing to convey the passage of time or a change of location. But in The Favourite, Mavropsaridis and Lanthimos wanted to use it to different effect: to serve Lanthimos’s vision. “Using them in the edit, we disengage with the linearity of the plot to introduce the director’s interpretation of the events.”
Take, for example, a scene where Queen Anne is suffering the painful symptoms of gout. The sequence uses dissolves shifting in a dreamlike fashion between shots of the Queen’s suffering, treatment of her sores, and Lady Sarah consoling her. It took a lot of work to finesse the sequence, especially because it was also intercut with an out-of-time sequence of Abigail going into a forest to put together medicine. “It must have been the last of almost ten completely different edit conceptions, different structures and different music,” he says.
But the time was invested to ensure the dissolves achieved their intended goal. “In the end scene, they’re used to evoke ideas and resolutions in the viewer’s mind,” Mavropsaridis says. “The dissolves don’t try to connect the timelines; they rather evoke the Queen’s subjective perception, due to her fever.” It feels dreamlike because we’re meant to feel as if we ourselves are going in and out of the Queen’s fever dream. In that way, it adheres to desire to make something, as Mavropsaridis puts it, “with the aim to add depth to the spectator’s experiencing of the film.”
Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Forgetting Editing Habits
Much of Lanthimos’s films share similar tones, to the point where Mavropsaridis even speaks of a ‘Lanthimic’ universe. However, commonalities shouldn’t suggest Mavropsaridis approaches every project the same way. “With every edit, I need to go against following my habitual editing patterns, and discover them anew,” he says. That’s especially necessary because of Lanthimos’ own approach. As Mavropsaridis has said elsewhere, “Always, the challenge with working with Lanthimos is to surpass the conventional, be always innovative and rediscover Lanthimos’ unique filmic language with each new film.”
The philosophy of discovering anew means remaining open to experimentation and, as such, Mavropsaridis doesn’t believe in ever saying, “I can’t do it.” He believes instead in exploring any and every idea to its end to see what it yields. It’s about the trying, which can either create a happy result, or the path to one. That requires determination, patience, playfulness and puzzle solving.
“All scenes are important, but maybe most important are those that, during the edit, reward you with the revelation of their cinematic reality,” he says. The rewards of those revelations, and their cumulative effect, are why, when asked which scene or cut he’s most proud of, he answers differently. “I’m usually pleased with the whole final outcome when, after a very long process, the puzzle has been hopefully solved and the many possibilities have become the final edit.”
Given the awards and accolades that The Favourite has been garnering, he can safely drop the “hopefully” this time around.
Top: Emma Stone in The Favourite. All images from The Favourite courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation