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June 7, 2024

The Art of the Cut: Inside the World of Film Editing with Lucas Harger

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Welcome to On Production brought to you by Wrapbook. And On Production we dive into the stories and expertise shaping the film industry today. In this episode, we're joined by Lucas Harger, a distinguished film and commercial editor partner and supervising editor at Outpost under the St. Louis based film production company. Bruton Stroube. Lucas brings his talent to the forefront with two sports documentaries, “Clemente” and “Lions of Mesopotamia,” featured at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival, and with over 10 feature films to his credit, an Emmy for the “The Road Through Warroad,” and a silver YDA Award at Con for “Sleep Well, My Baby.” Lucas’s editing skills tell stories that captivate and move audiences. I want to explore your approach to storytelling, Lucas, and so thanks so much for joining me on On Production.

1:08  

Yeah, thank you. This is awesome. Happy to be here.

1:10  

Can you walk me through your journey into film and commercial editing? What drew you to this field?

1:16  

So for me, I grew up in rural Michigan, but there's a lot of lakes and so there was a vibrant wakeboard community. And so I came at it kind of through a sideways a lot of a lot of people will talk about like making skate videos to start out stuff like that. So mine was all about, like wakeboard videos, and wakeboard videos always had a narrative through line. So I would, and a lot of these people that I was making these videos for went on to write for the X Games in response, and it was like, it was like a really cool community to be involved in. And so I would start making these videos for them and shooting and editing. But everything was always about the story and trying to get to the edit. And I was never, I mean, I liked movies, but I wasn't ever necessarily drawn from a, you know, cinematic stamp, right? It wasn't, you know, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park that made me want to make movies, it was more of like making these little videos with my friends, and then us all coming around a TV screen and watching it together. And that was the addicting part is like we made something that's like, entertaining, it's fun to watch. And so it was always that communal. For me, it's always been the communal aspect of filmmaking that I love, which in post production, specifically editing, it's like, you're constantly on to the next project. And so their projects are just churning, you're constantly collaborating with people working with people, as opposed to a director whom, especially in the future, we'll have like one every couple few years. Like once this one's wrapped, I have another one on its way. So that's always been my heartbeat. And what I loved about that, so from Michigan, it was just kind of always freelancing, and like meeting different people picking up different skill sets, I ended up graduating with a music business degree, moved into St. Louis, and just started freelancing, all of the things design, production, editing, web development, whatever, just kind of all of the things, but I'd always loved film making film and specifically editing, I hate production. And so for me, it was like a slow funnel down to when I landed here at Bruton Stroube as one of the internal editors to really service, the production that we had going on. That's where I could just sell all my production gear and hyper focus on editing, and then just hone that craft and continue to push. And then it was, you know, a lot of different relationships with people that I had met along the way that I started to bring in some work, and start to build the post house. And so it's kind of roundabout and not super traditional. I never lived in New York, or LA or any really major market is definitely the biggest city I've ever lived in. And so it was just about that relationship connection. And like finding cool people,

3:51  

I think it's really neat that you've been able to carve out a wonderful career in post from St. Louis from a place that is not New York or Los Angeles. And you've been making some really awesome films with with filmmakers. I mean, I think you've got, like 10 feature films under your belt, like how has your editing style evolved over time.

4:10  

So we do a lot of commercial work as well. And so it's really that combination of commercial and long form storytelling that I think there's a lot that you can explore from an editor standpoint. And so the evolution started with me and mostly short form, and like getting in getting out. There's an economy of seconds frames, you literally have a very defined amount of frames you can work with with a 30 second spot, this is it. And so it was the economy of storytelling. It was the setting up a goal and then achieving the goal. In this case, it would be for the brand, which is really fun, and it's still something to do but and then it's pulling in that kind of it's pulling in those sensibilities to the long form format. That is real that I think really helped me and So you can really start to craft and hone pace and tone and rhythm from a microscopic standpoint, and then start to zoom out and do it macro. And so for me, I'm always trying to find like, in for when I'm starting to cut a future I like we'll watch down all the footage, and then I'll start to just like pull little thread that I find interesting and might get in the weeds and then just like kind of, you know, let it unravel from there. And so it's been that balance between commercial work, which I still love, and I do a lot of it's been the balance between the commercial work and the long form. And then those sensibilities that like feed into each other in ways that you wouldn't necessarily expect.

5:38  

That makes a lot of sense. And that's really inspiring, you know, I've always loved commercials. So you know, wrap up, we support the talented entertainment industry, live events, commercials. But I think we really got deep into commercials here, because my own personal journey as a producer was in commercials, I just loved that. You could from pre through post, really get to work at a scale in film that was at the same level of a major studio most motion picture, it's just that you, you're truncated into 30 seconds. But your sequences are still super complex, your storytelling is still incredibly complex, but then it's just like, squeezed in and you learn to respect the value of every second. And that's really cool. That's really, really awesome. I mean, do you feel like you have a bias for being almost too fast paced and your edits? Why'd you slow it down? Like, I'm really curious?

6:34  

Yeah, no, I mean, I do like punchy edits, that's for sure. And I like really juice and things up and going on roller coasters. And I like smashing emotional ships to be close, like, take you to the mountaintop and then drop you off. And now have some the ground has been pulled out from under you. And you know, I really do like truncating those emotions, but I also love sitting in moments. And so for me, a lot of that, you know, that more slow cinema that more like, you know, adopting things that would traditionally be and this is always in collaboration with the production, but you know, adopting those things that do feel a little more like Ozu or burden, you know, or Tarkowski, like finding different elements from the masters and like weaving them in. And it is that understand when to not cut is as important as understanding when to cut. And so while I have a propensity to love to truncate emotions, it's also really fun to sit in a moment and just let it breathe, and like, let the screen and the speakers do the work.

7:34  

I love it, you know, The Road Through Warroad, one and any, which is remarkable. Can you share your experience working on that documentary?

7:43  

That was through the production company. So we actually also did production, it was in collaboration with cannon ball, which is an ad agency here. And it was started off as a branded content piece, just a couple of I think the goal at the beginning was like three to five minute piece, and they went up to Warroad and kind of shot the story. There's so many NHL players have come from this super tiny town. And so is like what's happening in this town that would produce so many incredible hockey players. And so it started off as a short piece, we cut it, and then the agency, the creative directors and a director, they were just like, This feels like it could be longer can we make this like seven or eight. And so we took the put it that we hadn't made it longer. And then the brand enterprise was like, I feel like we should just like make a short documentary that could air on NBCSN. Like, can we do a 27 minute piece? And is like with more production? Like? Absolutely. And so we started to work on what would it look like to as it expanded. So it was awesome. And the brand was so incredible work with the ad agency was so amazing to work with. They like understood the goals of the piece. But then they also understood that it's TV, and it's storytelling, and it's like a longer format. And so it was really fun to collaborate with them in that way. And so yeah, that project was super special. It was a lot of collaboration. It was a long time period, because it started off as a five minute thing and ended up as a 25 minute piece. And so it went through a lot of, you know, iterations and morphing of like, what is this and some exploration in the edit and in production. But at the end of the day during it, it was a great piece. It was super awesome to work on. And it's it's one of my favorites that I've done for sure. That's awesome. Well,

9:23  

I want to shift gears a little bit to something that just kind of came out I believe was really exciting Lions of Mesopotamia. It tells a really powerful story amidst conflict. Tell us what the project how did you approach editing this this project? You know, it's a sensitive, but yet compelling narrative. What was the balance like? Yeah, so

9:42  

the film is called Lions of Mesopotamia, which is the nickname of the Iraq national soccer team. And it follows the 2007 team as they're going through the Asian Cup, which is, you know, there's the World Cup and then right below the World Cup is the Asian Cup. It's the second most watched soccer tournament in the world. And so it follows the team as they're making their way through that tournament. But the the backdrop and the setting is the sectarian civil war that's happening. And what that is doing to the country as this team, who is contains all of the sects, all the Sunnis and Shias in the current, like all of them on this team. And so it's following that team. But then we step back, and we look at how this team came together in 2000. Under the bath is regime was Saddam and EU day. And then we followed them into 2004 Olympic tournament, which was also right when the US invaded Iraq and Baghdad and in the new country fell, and then coming out of that into sectarian so it kind of explores I, I've said, it's kind of the tragedy within this timeframe, the tragedy of Iraq, as told by the national team. And so it's a super powerful story. There's so many facets, so many intricacies, culturally, religiously language. It was a it was a beast, to kind of wrangle and to make sense of all of the footage that we had. And so we always wanted to keep the Iraq story centered. Lucien was a war photographer in Iraq during these years, in Afghanistan. And so he had been there and he had told, you know, in a lot of respects the American side of the story, but now he's going back, and we're looking at it through the Iraqis’ eyes. And so he was his understanding of while he was there, what it was like, and all of this kind of fell into unrolled into the film,

11:34  

how do you balance kind of the elements of war football, the story to maintain the film space and kind of emotional impact, I had the chance to speak with some documentarians at Smartypant who did Stranger at the Gate, which was awesome film nominated for an Oscar. And they had actually had an experience of like, playing with the spacing, the feel of the edit. It really not resonating, going back to audiences with new cuts, and really like workshopping it, like, is there anything that you did with this film? Or how did you guys kind of get your heads around how it was hitting emotionally, but then also like the story that it was telling?

12:14  

Yeah, we wanted the play with the film and the cut and the pace and what the football does, and what just the tension of the of the moment was, we always wanted the football to be the payoff for the setup. And the setup, is really the context of what's going on in the country, and what's going on politically, and what's going on through these wars. And so we explored through the players eyes, these more intense and huge topics of war in their government being taken over and the sectarian tensions and all of that. So we explored that geopolitical, that cultural aspect, and then we let the games just be the payoff to that. So we understood what was on the line. And so we didn't want to infuse necessarily too much unless it was very natural, ie the announcer is bringing it up. There's a rocky announcers and they're talking about what's going on in countries. But we didn't want to muddy the waters too much, by having too many voices, just break in to a gameplay sequence and be like, this is why this was important. If we had done our job, you should know why this is important without us having to tell you why it's important. And so for us, it was like always working with the context, how we're going to set it up, and then we're just going to let the game play. And like, obviously, there's music and it's montage, and it's pushing, but we didn't want voices breaking in. We didn't want voices just like crashing in and like having to explain something. And so all of the work was before we got to the tournaments, and there's kind of a tournament that anchors each of the acts, the movements, you know, the Saddam a new day, US invasion, sectarian civil war. So there's those things that anchor each tournament and give it its own personality. And so that was something we were constantly talking about. Let's do all the work up front. And then we just let these gameplay sequences pay off.

14:02  

Really cool. It's nice that you had people understand the game, the rules of the game. And so like that's a really beautiful way to kind of finish that off. Look real life, you know, within the timeline that you built in your edit, lead to this thing. That's awesome. So the films were at South by Southwest, the time of us recording this that just happened. How was it? Did you get to go? Did you get to watch audiences engage with the film? Yeah, it

14:30  

was awesome. It was super fun to go. And so as you mentioned, we also had another feature there called Clemente, that when Chet Stein Brink was the lead editor, I was the supervising editor. And then on Lions I was the lead editor. And then but we also did sound design and mix onlines we did color on both of the films and then Elise was the story producer on both film so it was like it was a whole team environment busy the whole we were busy. Yeah, yeah. So we all went down for for it for the screening. to South by, and it was amazing to sit in a theater. And like, Yeah, it's cool to see it on the big screen. But it was really cool to watch it with that many people who had never seen it, and to get their reactions and, you know, Film Festival audiences and specific probably maybe specifically I don't know, South By they were like very vocal and like, very engaged, you know, with the gasps or the they were just like very vocally in it, which was super fun. And so he's like these moments that you talk about hitting, are they going to hit in this capacity in this way? It was really awesome to see that hit and then yeah, just like having the conversations and the Q and A's were cool. But then having the conversations afterwards where people were just like, you know, catching on to all the things that you had hoped that they would catch on to when you're in the cuts, like, do you think someone's going to notice and realize X, Y, and Z, like what we're doing to connect this thought to this is just like, yep, they sure did. So that was a lot of fun to be able to do that. And then yeah, just that whole time was just wild with the two the two films, and a lot of screenings and a lot of conversations. So yeah, it was amazing South by was awesome.

16:07  

I love it, man. Lucas, how do you stay creative and kind of maintain your passion for editing amidst tight deadlines and commercials, technical aspects of the job? AI is emerging. We were talking about that before we started recording, how do you how do you stay creative and kind of stay passionate about building these and telling the stories.

16:26  

For me, it's the space, we have a space here, the post house and we put a lot of time and attention into our space and creating like this is for editing period, we do nothing else here but edit in this room. And it's same thing for the other disciplines here. But then it's also having all of the team members around so we can pop into each other's rooms and watch stuff down. And the team has been together for a while. And so you kind of understand each other's creative sensibilities and how to speak into something. And so for me, it's the space, it's the team. And it's always having that mix of project with a long form project and commercial project back to long form. And some of that can get tiring, but mostly it just keeps me creatively engaged in on the specific projects. And so, you know, like your, I mean, like you mentioned, the tight deadlines, and especially in the commercial world. And, you know, feature once once things have to get done, they have to get done, you don't have an editing, you don't have a lot of time for to wait on your creative genius to come around. and Dow you with inspiration, you have to go now. And so it's also a process of a years of process of being able to get yourself into that creative space when you need to get to that creative space, because we don't have time to wait. And so for me, all of that is the space, the team, the conversations, what you watch what you don't watch what you listen to how you set up your life, you know, this isn't just a punch in punch out, especially when you're working with creative. Other creatives on creative projects needing to be creative on demand, you kind of have to set your life up to be able to execute on that. And so it's everything. It's all how you kind of approach your life, your craft your passion, incredible

18:11  

Lucas, looking towards the future? Are there any projects or genres you're particularly excited to explore?

18:17  

I mean, it's, you know, Doc is my heartbeat. And so I love living in dark. I think there's a super interesting a feature that I'm cutting now there's super interesting crossover where and this isn't obviously the first film to do this. But what there's an interesting crossover where you as an audience member, you're like, is this dark? Or is this not? And that's really fun to kind of mess with people and like, under the subject matter that this one is it's like really fun to kind of mess with people, the audience and to like, make them kind of second guess what like they're seeing. And so that is a kind of a sub genre, I'll say of doc that I'm having a lot of fun, a lot of fun doing, we start a multi hour doc series for one of the major streamers shortly, and that will and that's gonna go over years, two or three years of production and post production running alongside and so I'm really excited. You know, we've done some series, but not over, essentially a four year period, like they've already shot a lot and they will shoot us. So for five years of production. I've never really worked on a project that has had that long of production from a live capture standpoint. And you know, in lines, there's archival, and you can argue that went back to 1993 is when that film start but no truly cameras up to cameras down. So I'm really excited to explore kind of a longer period of time that is bookended by events that will be really fun to kind of see how characters ebb and flow and morph throughout these years between these two bookended events. And so I think those are the things I'm always interested in like really cutting deeply personal character study Doc's and seeings. You know, somebody's arc and personality change over years and over time, they start off believing X and they end up not believing, you know, it's like always interesting to see how humans change and evolve. And so I'm always looking for like those, you know, Character Study doc pieces as well. So those are the things that are like on my immediate horizon and I'm always keeping a lookout for.

20:26  

That's amazing, Lucas, just to finish up for listeners that want to find you. Watch more of your work. Learn more about your post operation, where can folks find you and reach out?

20:36  

Yeah, I'm on, the place. I'm the most active on his Instagram lucasjharger. At Lucas J. Harger. I have a personal website. That's just lucasjharger.com. And then the studio site,https://brutonstroube.com/outpost. And then there's like contact info and all those places and so definitely an email in Instagram DMS quite often. So that's the place. Lucas, thanks

21:00  

so much for sharing your story. And the stories that you make really inspiring the films are awesome lines, Mesopotamia Clemente and all of the other amazing work that you do. Thanks so much for joining me on On Production.

21:12  

Awesome. Thank you so much.

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