Canadian film editor and visual effects artist Andres Vergara shines in the international scene of post-production for film and media, having an exquisite range of projects with great diversity from blockbuster feature films such as “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt.1” and “Safe House” (featuring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds), to working with the crème de la crème of independent feature films in the recently released documentary “Stray Dog”, directed by Academy Award nominee Debra Granik. (Director of “Winter’s Bone” featuring Jennifer Lawrence).
Andres has been a leading counterpart in the international creative scene with his ability to create top of the line work from the trenches of post-production and bring magic and life to documentaries and films after they are shot. He has contributed his talents as an editor and visual effects artist in places such as Vancouver, Canada – London, England, and the in vogue capital of filmmaking of Latin America, Mexico City.
As a lead post-production editor he has been in charge of ambitious documentary productions for Spirit Digital Media UK, in the heart of London’s buzzing Farringdon neighborhood, all the way across the pond to La Maga Films, stationed in the enchanting creative hub of La Condesa, Mexico City.
While working with La Maga he was invited to become the company’s lead specialized editor in charge of countless episodes for the “Portavoz” documentary series which aired on Portavoz TV, in addition to overseeing the full post-production process for projects like Nissan’s “Unbreakable” sports campaign; and rapidly switching his commercial gears for outstanding cultural live video exhibitions for prestigious museums including Victoriano Nieves Cespedes Museum in Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico. Today the video displays his work as a permanent exhibition of the museum, shedding a light on the city’s thriving fishing and oil industries.
Having a diverse body of work like Vergara is vital for anyone who hopes to succeed in the world of filmmaking and post-production. Vergara’s vast film-knowledge allows him to make effective editorial decisions along with using his trained eye to incorporate seamless visual effects that contribute incredible impact and emotion to the scenes unfolding before us. He is motivated to touch people on an individual level with his work as he thrives on creating gripping stories that hold the power to change audiences’ views of the world.
PLM: Where are you from?
AV: I was born in Mexico City and immigrated to Canada when I was 17 years old where I started my career as an Editor and Visual Effects Artist.
PLM: How and when did you first get into working as an editor?
AV: I have always specialized in post-production within the industry. I went to school at Vancouver Film School, which is a one of the most advanced schools in the area of feature film post-production in the world, they are very tech savvy and offer a balance education with a strong film and art foundation.
PLM: What inspired you to pursue this profession?
AV: As a person who is as much of a film fanatic as a filmmaker, I wanted to marry both things in the strongest way possible within my field of work. Great film editing requires a great deal of film knowledge, which can only be acquired by having a developed understanding of the art itself.
My experience with editing software and the post-production environment was already very good, so it felt really great when I realized the power I had to make great editorial decisions and raise the standards when it came to the technical part of things.
PLM: What kind of training was involved in order to become an editor? How long have you been doing this?
AV: Watching many, many, many films at home from the time I turned 12 was a huge part of my education, having the time to educate myself with some of the finest films around the world has always been very significant to my career. Most of my core post-production training came from my years at Vancouver Film School, where I learned a great deal about editing, visual effects, animation, film theory and the advanced use of software in all of these areas.
PLM: How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?
AV: I think the human value out of film school can be the most important one, when you are in film schools with teachers being industry professionals, you learn from their experience which gives you confidence to develop your own point of view on things, you meet very talented individuals and fellow students who can really inspire you to do even greater things than you imagined, and most importantly it all results in a better understanding of yourself as an artist and makes you aware of your strengths and limitations, which is necessary in order to become a great collaborator.
PLM: Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on?
AV: In Vancouver, Canada I was part of the editing team for this wonderful documentary Stray Dog. The film is a portrait of the life of former war veteran Ron “Stray Dog” Hall and his Mexican wife and sons who live together at an RV park in Branson, Missouri. The documentary makes a strong social commentary on America and modern society without the need to explain or narrate things to viewers; rather the film lets audiences draw their own conclusions about the events and gives viewer a unique opportunity to find their own angle on it.
I worked directly with Director Debra Granik selecting shots and proposing edited sequences for consideration of their inclusion to the film, also interpreting and classifying scenes out of hours of footage shot in Branson, Missouri and Mexico City according to their relevance to the story.
Although Director Debra Granik was very clear on what she was trying to find, and she communicated her vision and ideas in a way that was profound enough for me to understand the core idea of the documentary; this was a fantastic tool to have for such a complicated, almost existential real-world story as I was able to know what to look for without feeling lost.
Also, I was also able to work with Spanish speaking sequences of the documentary that needed editorial interpretation and was responsible for judging the relevance of the footage to the main themes based on what the director was trying to find in them.
At the moment, the documentary is currently being shown around the world in renowned film festivals such as the New York Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. Stray Dog also won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the prestigious Independent Spirit Awards.
I was also invited to work on this exciting project as an editor in London on Tech City UK. The city of London partnered with Spirit Digital Media UK to make a documentary interview series and promote the vibrant tech scene in London, and around the world.
Dozens of successful CEOs, tech representatives and business entrepreneurs told their points of views on why Tech City is one of the most technological city hubs in the world, in line with the greatest resource standards and opportunities that Silicon Valley offers in California, making it a premium Tech Hub in Europe and globally.
As an editor of the project I was responsible for making Tech City shine as much as possible to both businesses and the general audience.
I was also part of the Visual Effects Team as a VFX Compositor and within different effect sequences on Safehouse, an action film set in Cape Town, South Africa. The film featured Academy Award Winner Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. It was my task to add a full buzzing stadium crowd into one the biggest soccer stadiums in South Africa, which at the time of filming was partially empty. The stadium crowd needed to be integrated to fill up the stadium completely. One of the biggest challenges was adding a crowd with a moving camera and making it seamless without having to use a CG crowd, as other sport-related films have done it before. Although it had different challenges, the result of using real footage as opposed to a CG crowd was very successful and was composited seamlessly, adding excitement and realism to the sequence.
I was also invited by Image Engine to be a part of their Visual Effects Team and to be a VFX Compositor for the movie Immortals. Immortals was directed by renowned director Tarsem Singh, and because the story was based on themes of Greek mythology and visual styles from Caravaggio paintings the film had to be shot almost entirely with green screen backgrounds that needed a great amount of realistic fantasy environment shots to be added digitally in order to give the film the look and feel the director envisioned.
PLM: What projects were you working on before you came to the U.S.?
AV: The Canadian film industry has a strong film collaboration with many American film studios, therefore all of the American productions I have ever worked on were based in Vancouver, Canada – which is regarded by many people in the industry as Hollywood North.
PLM: What tools do you use to edit? Avid? Final Cut? Etc. And what are the primary differences?
AV:I use all of the main industry editing software’s including Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro 7 and most recently Adobe Premiere. I originally started with Final Cut 7 and still think it is one of the greatest editing programs ever invented, unfortunately after Apple’s decision to move away from it and turn it into a less industry and more audience based program named Final Cut X, it is facing its last days and turning into a nostalgic editing software.
Avid is an editing software with enormous potential and technical possibilities, making it instantly Hollywood’s preferred editing standard for blockbuster feature films. It does not have the friendliest interface, nor has it moved away from its very traditional way of operating, but there are a couple of reasons why it is still the king. Since you start using it as a film editor, you can instantly appreciate the way you can organize thousands of hours of footage in a very structured way within bins. Also the need to transcode footage into Avid friendly formats will make your life easier once you are actually editing…things run smoother and avoiding cutting corners will finally reward you with a smoother editing process.
PLM: What is that you love about working as an editor?
AV: Editing is one of the biggest responsibilities to have within the production of a film. It is known that within a production, no one spends as much time working directly with the director as an editor does in the edit room.
To me, the privilege of being the first viewer of a project, while also making substantial decisions with the director on which scenes have to stay or go, is a hugely rewarding process to be a part of. What I like the most about being an editor is the challenging process of understanding the necessary aspects a film needs to connect with an audience and then achieving it. There is no greater feeling for me than knowing I am creating something out of a giant unscrambled puzzle and making it work.
PLM: What separates you from the rest of the pool of editors in Hollywood? What is your specialty in the field?
AV: I am an editor who constantly moves between non-fiction (documentaries) and also fiction narratives (movies with a story). It is most common in the industry for an editor to dedicate themselves to one or the other; however, my experience in both genre’s have constantly proven to me that there is a big reward and competitive edge to know to rules of both games, which has lead me to exciting projects and opportunities.
Now a days many fiction based productions are getting closer to having the feel of Verite documentaries; people are beginning to take interest in the way the organic approach to filmmaking looks and feels, and it is starting to be perceived as more creative and more authentic, and if you can successfully tell a great fiction story using this style it is very rewarding. It is a different way of saying something within the same language of fiction.
Award winning films such as The Hurt Locker and District 9 have now found Cinema Verite styles as a storytelling vehicle to make audiences vibrate in a theatre like never before. For me as an editor, understanding the line between conventional narratives is essential in the same way some documentaries need complex structured narrative arcs to reach to an audience.
PLM: Can you tell me a little bit about your editing process? Once you get the footage, where do you start?
AV: For documentaries, I always look for the best possible way to tell a story, and breaking down days and hours of interviews and footage is essential for this. It really comes down to a combination of organizational skills, experienced editorial decisions and most importantly– a savvy gut of knowing what it is that you are looking for.
Having as many versions as you possibly can, while not becoming too attached to one individual scene or theme, can help you move along faster and break down what you are really looking for.
By the time the footage reaches you as an editor, the director can already have a very different view of what he originally envisioned in the script or might not know yet which direction he wants to go with it, for both cases I select the scenes that work the best to tell the story efficiently and help realize the possibilities to be had with that first cut. This opens many doors and you can always find your way back if something was left behind. Ultimately it makes the director consider what he is looking for as a general theme and what you actually have to work with to make it happen.
PLM: What is the collaboration process like in terms of working with the other departments on a project?
AV: Within editing, working with your production to coordinate a smooth collaboration with other departments is crucial. Getting the latest rushes, working on schedules and deliveries based on editorial needs, and connecting and communicating with other departments is always essential for a successful workflow in a production.
PLM: Up to how long can it take to complete the editing on a project?
AV: How much time it takes to finalize the editing on a project depends on various circumstances. First being, how much material is there to be edited, then working with the director to narrow down what he really wants to communicate based on what was actually shot, and ultimately budget limitations determine the possibilities of finding different solutions and achieving a quality polished product, that comes with time as well.
I have experience with both long and short cases. It can be three days worth of work for a music video, which later turns into weeks because the band has requested something completely different from what was done, in the same way that it took a year and a half for a documentary feature to be finalized that was originally supposed to be edited in 3 months, sometimes additional story elements need to be shot or the budget is boosted as production goes to achieve better quality within the edit.
PLM: What companies have you worked with in the industry? What role did you play? What did you take away from the experience?
AV: I worked with Image Engine as a Visual Effects Compositor. My job was to integrate CG elements and footage into live action films. Visual Effects has grown to be an industry of its own within the industry, it now operates similar to how a bank or big corporation would. It has different layers of specialized production niches that have become essential to high-end visual effects productions.
Having been a part of that was a unique experience in valuing the quality that can be achieved through an organized production, when specialized attention is acknowledged from a production point of view and resources for time and budget are available, the results can be incredible. Understanding the value of a production pipeline can influence many other areas of work and even life.
As an editor I have also worked as a contract freelance editor partnering with different production companies for editorial services as an editor.
PLM: What has been your favorite project so far and why?
AV: My favorite project so far has been Stray Dog, it was a great project to be a part of. The narrative of the film was structured unlike few, if any, other documentaries ever done, and having the opportunity to work with director Debra Granik was very inspiring from the beginning.
PLM: What do you hope to achieve in your career as an editor?
AV: I would like to continue building a name that is associated with productions that have high values embedded in them, and working behind cameras to help others build their vision in the best possible way. Also, to constantly present great stories and relevant messages with subjects that can contribute change in the way audiences view the world for a good cause.
PLM: What would you say was your first foot in the door to the industry? Any advice as to how to maximize your chances for landing that first gig?
AV: I would say my first foot in the industry was actually my formal education, which was Vancouver Film School. It helped me land my first industry job interview, and industry peers acknowledged the abilities of my work, which lead me to begin working on Hollywood feature films straight out of film school.
That being said, film school didn’t do it all, it was dedicating to the fullest potential my time without being fearful of failure and always believing in myself. Proving myself wrong when I stopped believing in crazy ambitious ideas with hard work at times, until I could accomplish them and there were no more minutes on the clock for uncertainty to take over.