Sculpting Important Stories in Modern Film with Editor Tianying Jiang
Film is about communicating ideas. Beyond the obvious entertainment value it possesses, this medium allows an audience to experience the perspective of others through its fashioning by filmmakers. The relationship between director and editor supersedes all others as these two professionals have the most influence on the final version of a film’s vantage. Editor Tianying Jiang is increasingly recognized throughout the industry for her seemingly innate ability to place viewers in the body and mind of characters. Though she’s not the only one involved, many of the directors declare her insight and influence to be profound on their productions. Jiang is highly aware that everyone, even the directors whom she works with, are predisposed to their biased views; which is why she always keeps an ace up her sleeve to assist them.
Tianying’s time as an editor for Adidas campaigns (with Sockeye Creative for the Chinese market) and NBC Universal helped hone her ability to understand how minute subtleties elicit a response from the viewer. Director Cai Shangyu sought her out for his film Revelation precisely because of this trait. Editor and director painstakingly poured over acting performances again and again, dissecting micro facial expressions in order to sculpt each scene. This is paramount for a story such as Revelation which is based on a real case. This social reality film depicts a female student who is raped by a professor and the ensuing cover-up attempt by the university. When a female teaching assistant becomes the sole voice of outrage and takes the story public, a major confrontation occurs; one particularly timely for present day. To maximize the emotional impact of the story, Tianying often makes use of CU and POV for the main character Suhui. Revelation is particularly provocative in the fact that it not only discusses and presents rape but does so from different female perspectives: the girl, the professors, the friends, and how they actually react to it. Having a talented female editor like Tianying crafting the story with the film’s director was integral to its final form as well as its success.
Jiang displays her clear mastery of comedy in the film Smoked, an official selection of the Hollywood Comedy Shorts. This story of a full time stoner/part time convenience store clerk who tries to tries to strike up a relationship with a girl involves a drug deal gone wrong and poses the question “who is the real criminal?” Director/writer Jonas Schubach turned to Tianying to help define the main characters in the film; Johnny and the sheriff. Tianying’s approach for this proves her to be more calculating than any of the criminals in the film. She reveals, “It was important to build up and maintain the audience’s perception of the sheriff long enough for viewers to never doubt his appearance but yet believe the twist when he starts taking the money from the cash register. We wanted to give some small hints at his true identity that you would be able to recognize upon second viewing. I edited his approach of the store the same way we would introduce a robbery. I added close ups of the sheriff looking around and observing things, including a close up of him showing a tiny bit of confusion when he heard that the owner’s name is different with the sign outside. All of these tiny hints works well in nudging the audience.”
The most successful professionals are not only the most skilled; they are also the ones who understand how to work well with others and how to give them what they TRULY want rather than what they might think they want at the moment. Artists are passionate people and Tianying understands this. Describing one of the most powerful parts of her process, she relates, “One of the most important lessons I learned early in my career is the importance of communication between a director and an editor. I need to be convicted in my opinion of what is best for a production but I don’t need to argue. I always make a cut that the director or producer has asked for but I also make a cut which doesn’t contain their ‘babies.’ I explain why the ‘babies’ aren’t a part of my cut and why I feel it’s better for the film. Sometimes SEEING truly speaks louder than words. I’ve made my point and the final version is up to them…and we’re both able to see the differing versions next to each other. I find that almost every director appreciates this way of pleading my case.” Talent tempered with pragmatism; it’s no wonder Tianying Jiang has become such a sought after editor in today’s modern film industry.