Interview: Editor Nena Erb, ACE Discusses ‘Joy Ride’

One of the main reasons why Adele Lim‘s Joy Ride works so well is its perfectly-timed editing, which not only complements the movie’s brilliant comedy but is also able to balance it out with a human core among the four characters, Audrey (Ashley Park), Lolo (Sherry Cola), Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and Deadeye (Sabrina Wu).

Awards Radar had the chance to speak to editor Nena Erb, ACE on the movie (reviewed highly positively by Joey here), where we discussed capturing the comedic spirit of the movie while also crafting the character dynamics, what were the most challenging scenes to cut, her collaboration with director Adele Lim, and how she balanced out the film’s comedy with its more dramatic latter half.

Be warned that the transcript does contain some spoilers for the movie.

Read the full conversation below:

As an editor, what was your main objective in trying to capture the comedic spirit of Joy Ride and the relationship between the four characters?

First and foremost, with any comedy, you want to make it funny. I wanted to get across the friendship between the four of them. Not all of them start out as friends in the beginning. But I want people to understand who the characters were as individuals, how they came together, and be on the journey with them as they discover their friendship and themselves. Whenever I’m looking at a performance, it must serve their character or help tell the story. These were the things I was keeping an eye on when I was putting it together.

Can you discuss your collaboration with director Adele Lim on the movie? Did she have a specific vision of how to approach the film’s comedy throughout the edit?

She definitely had her favorite jokes during production. She would send scenes all the time during production. I would cut the scene and then take a little bit of them, like a clip right before the joke and save that out so that there would be plenty of alternates. The writers on set were hilarious and threw a lot of different jokes. You want to see all of them in the cut to understand how it feels and hits you when you first see it. I was trying to figure out what made her laugh the most because I’d never worked with her. I needed to find out what her taste and sense of humor were. Is it super raunchy, or is she into more subtle jokes? I just wanted to know, so I gave her everything. That process was fun. She is very open to ideas and always willing to let me try things, and I appreciate that trust. 

How challenging is it to edit a film that strongly emphasizes physical comedy and consistently puts its characters through one elaborate sequence after the next?

Oh, that’s definitely challenging for sure. The drug scene on the train was very difficult. It started out as a full-on scene, but it didn’t jump off the page once it was put together that way. We understood what was happening, but that was about it. To make it funnier, I tried a lot of different versions, starting with different shots and lengths of shot, and got it down to a montage. It was definitely better, but not as funny, because we had a series of shots but didn’t necessarily understand what was happening. So it was a matter of figuring out what shots we could get away with and how we could play with the timing to make it more funnier. In the end, it was finding that balance of what I can speed up for comedic effect and slow down for the story to be still there. The funnier shots were of Kat trying to hide the coke bags. It was fun to alter the speed of the scene because their expressions sped up and slowed down were hilarious to play with. Changing speed was definitely my friend in this movie. It was also difficult to figure out which songs we would put for this montage. 

We tried many different songs, from classical to techno and everything in between. The song we ended up using was “Burnt Rice” by Shawn Wasabi. It had that right off-kilter vibe to the scene. It changed rhythms frequently, which was perfect when I wanted to slow something down or speed something up. Ultimately, it turned out great, but that scene was very challenging. 

It must also be helpful when you have really good actors who always give their A-game when editing scenes like these. 

Oh, absolutely. Honestly, I was not prepared. When I saw the dailies,  I was blown away. Usually, when you’re on a project, some actors are stronger than others. But these four were all on the same level. They all brought their A-game, and they were just amazing. My biggest surprise was Sabrina Wu because, as a newcomer, there was nothing out there about them, and they quickly became one of my favorites in the movie. 

How do you ensure the character dynamics stay strong throughout the movie and that we also get a sense of a clear progression in their respective arcs from where we first meet them to where the movie ends?

For Audrey, it was fairly straightforward. She didn’t know who her birth mother was, and the whole journey was about her finding out where she belonged and accepting herself. For Lolo, she’s out there, creative, and pushes the envelope with her art, but she’s never really put it fully out there. By the movie’s end, she’s starting to show her art in her coffee shop, but it’s baby steps. For Stephanie’s character, Kat, it was coming to terms with her own sexuality, owning it, being honest about it, and being okay with it. Deadeye was probably the most fun. When I read the script, I knew I had to carefully deliberate with what I chose for Deadeye. It’s easy for comedies to go over the top with certain characters, and I didn’t want to do that with Deadeye. I wanted the character to be easily relatable to anyone who might have been awkward at any stage and anyone who wanted to be friends with people but felt too awkward to make friends. That’s how I started with them. Throughout the movie, you’ll see different scenes where everybody leaves Deadeye alone, but they all come together. No one is leaving anybody, and they’re all friends with each other. 

The movie also blends lots of visual styles. I think about the K-pop scene in the airport or the TV show that Kat stars in. How do you ensure that these different types of filmmaking add energy and complement the comedy on screen?

The soap opera was hilarious to cut. That was always shot with a certain blue tint to it. Adele’s direction was very clear. She wanted it to look like one of those Asian period dramas. She wanted the cuts to be over the top, just like those shows. 

I did some research, and that was a lot of fun. It was hard to make it bad. Not that it’s necessarily bad, but make it just not how you would normally cut something here. That was a challenge at first, but then I decided to go against everything and go for it. We wanted to amp up the comedy with the effects in the blood. That was definitely the idea of VFX artists who decided to shoot that little last squirt of blood up at the very end. 

The K-pop scene was always supposed to be Deadeye’s fever dream. And so we wanted to ensure that it was all from Deadeye’s point of view, as they were the ultimate K-pop fan. It had to have that vibe, with the images that we use behind the characters. We also wanted to remind the viewers of their journey and how many crazy things they got into. 

Can you talk about editing that sex scene montage in the hotel? 

That was another set piece that was very long. In the first iteration, a lot was going on there. They shot quite a bit for me to choose from. That was great because I prefer to have more options than less. The first cut always puts everything in there to take a look to see what’s working and take out what’s not. There’s a lot of sex, and I wanted to ensure that our characters were shown as women who enjoyed it and owned their sexuality, but I didn’t want it to go into the pornography territory. Again, I used speed changes to certain shots, like one of the two guys being in between Audrey’s legs. It could have been a little uncomfortable if they did their own thing at normal speed. But with their heads sped up, it was ridiculous, with how their heads moved. And that became funny, so it had to stay. 

The movie’s latter half is more emotional than comedic because Audrey learns the truth about her birth mother. How do you effectively transition from moments of very high-spirited comedy to a more human and dramatic core near the film’s ending?

During the entire film, we had to ensure that audiences were on that journey with Audrey and understood her character so that it would be emotional once you’re with her when you find out that her mother has died and watch the video with her. There was a version of the movie where the video wasn’t as emotional as the final cut, and I think it was because the rest of it was too funny. She had many different jokes, so it was a matter of pulling back on a little bit of it and making sure that we understood what it meant ultimately for her to find her birth mother and how much that meant to her identity and our self-worth. Once we got that set up, it was much easier, and people were much more emotional about the video from the mom.

Is it difficult to balance out that human core from these elaborate comedy sequences, or does that require a specific approach?

You know, I never thought of it that way. There are always comedic moments out of dramatic moments. Sometimes, dramatic moments are very funny, too. I had to try to lean on that if it’s getting too syrupy and too earnest, is it time for a joke? If it’s getting too jokey, we must tone it down and bring some emotion. We are surprising people when they least expect it.

Is there a particular scene in the movie that you’ve worked on that you’re the proudest of?

I would say the whole thing. The first cut was about two and a half hours. Initially, the challenge was cutting it to about 90 or 100 minutes. It was a long process of collaboration and experimentation, and I’m very happy with where we arrived. Thinking back on it, I can’t think of one favorite scene because it’s quite hard to pick. However, I do have moments. 

The first one is the soap opera set when the four characters meet for the first time. Kat and Audrey are doing their little toodles improvisational acapella song, Lolo’s wondering what is happening, and Deadeye is trying to chime in. I just found that really funny. That was an improv moment from Sabrina that I fought really hard to stay in. Fortunately, everyone else liked it, too. Another shot I liked was the one of Stephanie Hsu after the K-Pop number. Her whole situation is exposed with her arms up. She’s oblivious that everything is out there, and I just thought that for her character, that was such a funny thing for her to improv. Of course, that was in my editor’s cut and through all the different iterations. It eventually found its way to the cutting room floor. It wasn’t until Stephanie entered the cutting room that it returned. We showed her many different versions that we had, and she picked the ones that she liked, and the one that she liked had that in there, so we worked on it together. I was very happy because I got my shot back.  

Joy Ride is now playing in theatres everywhere.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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