'The best way to learn is on small films' Like Father editor Mollie Goldstein on filmmaking

Mollie Goldstein is a documentary and narrative fiction film editor known for Little Men, Weed the People, Most Likely to Murder and Netflix movie Like Father starring Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer. Here Molly walks Mandy News through her journey into editing, her process on Like Father and what aspiring editors can do to get noticed.

22nd November 2018
/ By James Collins

like father editor mollie goldstein NETFLIX

Mollie, please tell us how you got involved with editing and the film industry?
I made some short films in college, for various classes, and just fell in love with the editing process. I had this instinctive reaction where shooting, and even writing, were things that you had to get over with so that you can get into the editing room and play with your blocks.

I PA-ed on a film set one summer – I love the comradery and the team work but film sets are chaotic and you’re always lost or tired or hot or whatever. I like to be in a calm place, with an "Undo" button and nobody yelling at me. So, editing was just where I naturally gravitated.

I moved to New York after college and did a six-week course at this place called The Edit Center where students work on real films. The film gets a rough cut and students get to learn on a real project with professional editors as teachers. After six weeks there, I was like “Yes, this is what I want to do. This feels right”.

I worked in a couple of jobs, then ended up working at The Edit Center. The owner, Alan Oxman, was the editor of all of Todd Solondz’s movies at the time – Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness and Storytelling – and Todd was putting together a new film. Alan was transitioning into producing, and the film had a very low budget, so they needed somebody who would work for peanuts and was really excited to do it. Alan recommended me and a friend, Kevin Messman, and the two of us ended up cutting Palindromes.

That was my first feature and a real training ground to be able to work with Todd straight out of the gate.

What was it like to work on your first feature and to be in the same room, working with Todd Solondz?
It was…intense. It’s sort of like jumping straight into the deep end. When I think back to that time, I was operating a lot on instinct, and I think it served me but every day was just sort of “I’m going to work as hard as I can and just try to figure this all out”.

We were cutting while shooting and there was a period before Todd came into the room where he’d call me every day – he was very calm for a director in production – and would ask “How’s it looking?”, “Is everything OK?”, and I remember feeling like “Yeah…It looks good to me? I don’t know?”

Since then, on other projects, I’ve said “I have this concern” or “I think you’re missing this shot”. Luckily, Todd knows what he’s doing so there were no missed shots or missed opportunities on that film.

Then, when Todd came into the room and worked with us, he was incredibly precise about performance, so I learned a lot from him about how to tune one. Also, for someone who’s such a writer, he really was not precious: if a line or a scene wasn’t serving the story, it was gone. That was huge lesson to learn at the beginning of my career – story is so key and keeping that forward motion, and keeping the audience feeling like they’re on a ride, even if they don’t know where it’s going, is so important.

Fast forward to Like Father, how did you end up on that production?
I met Lauren [the film’s director] through my agent: they’d submitted my name, and Lauren had seen another film that I’d done, Little Men, and really liked it, so she said “Yes, let’s meet Mollie”.

She and I met over Skype – she was in LA and I was in New York – and we just had a great conversation. We talked about the story…at one point both of our dogs jumped at our laps and we bonded over that [laughs]. It was just clear to both us that we’re interested in telling a warm, female-driven story. I related to her and to the script right away.

I actually met her months before we ended up working together, which is sort of unusual. They had to push the schedule back until they got the casting right. By the time it came back around, my agent called me and said “Like Father just made an offer” and said the cast was now Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer. It was a dream cast, and I loved Lauren, so I was on board immediately.

We’ve actually had the pleasure of hearing some great ‘crew bonding’ stories from Seamus Tierney, the cinematographer on the film – like the Disneyland trip – were you around then and involved in any of it?
[Laughs] I was on the film, but I was not going to go on the ship. Early in the process I had tried to convince them that they needed to set up an editing room on the cruise ship, but that didn’t go anywhere. So, we had this plan that I was going to get the dailies over Wi-Fi from the ship – this ship in the middle of the ocean, they were going to send dailies over the Internet! – I was like “God, no way this is going to work”. Spoiler alert: it worked incredibly well.

Anyway, I was back in New York catching up with the script supervisor – who’s usually my best source for “backdoor” information of what’s going on set – and I was saying, “What’s going on?” He said “I don’t know, we’re going to Disneyland”. Then “What’s going on now?” and he said “I’m not sure but we had a really fun day.” I was in New York thinking “They’re going to shut this movie down any minute. I guess I’m just going to keep working on it.”

They had shot the game sequence in a theatre in New Jersey, right before they moved the company down to Florida – so I had a giant sequence to work on. The post supervisor would call me several times, “What’s going on? Are you busy? Are you still working?” and I was like “Don’t worry, I have so much. I’m good for work”. But I was freaking out every day, thinking “I hope they don’t shut us down”. They didn’t, though, and the crew had an amazing experience.

How did you go on about putting the film together? What did you edit it on?
We were editing on Avid Media Composer. At the beginning, there were two weeks in New York and that was just normal process: they’d bring the card over, we’d process the dailies, fix them, whatever. While they were on the ship, they were processing them there and sending them to me – at lower resolution, rather than trying to send an 8K master over the Internet.

I was cutting during production, which is always really important to me, because I consider a part of my job to give feedback – if they didn’t catch something, that we can fix that while the cast is still there and the camera is still rolling, then we do it. Whether it’s an establishing shot or an insert or even performance issues, we can get it.

I was on a film once where two characters had to end up in love at the end of it, but they were just having so much fun playing the animosity, I just didn’t see that little hint of spark that was going to get them together at the end. Stuff like that. Seamus is really, really good at his job, so there were no coverage issues on this.

I was cutting the during the shoot, then two weeks after they wrapped, more came in and we started working together.

Once Lauren was in the room with you, how long did it take to edit?
We had a very, weirdly, long time on Like Father. Netflix was incredibly supportive of the film and there were a lot of things that we didn’t, initially, plan on doing that they let us do. There were just a lot of choices that weren’t initially part of the schedule that we ended up deciding to do and they added time.

So it wasn’t a crunch of an edit; it was very moderately paced. We had time to explore everything we wanted to do. It’s a nice feeling working that way.

Is your process different on the other formats – TV, documentaries – if at all, and what challenges do they tend to throw your way?
I feel like, whether it’s narrative, documentaries, television, every project is its own thing and every project sort of tells you how it needs to be edited. The one through line for me is organisation.

On Avid I use ScriptSync; if we don’t have ScriptSync, I’ll make string outs, where every take is organised by line. The constant need for me is knowing exactly what’s in my footage and having it organised in a way that I can find whatever I need at any time.

The biggest difference between all those kinds of shows is the time you have. Television is incredibly fast paced; you have to figure it out, go with your first idea and make sure that it’s right! Narrative, you have a script to start with, so you’re able to start with a blueprint and have a little bit more time to try thins and experiment; you can screen it for people and get a sense of how audiences are responding and what you need to change to get them to respond differently. Documentary, you just have this initial very long phase where you have to go through all the footage and figure it out.

At the beginning of my career, I spent about five years thinking “I’m just going to take the best job offered to me in the moment, whether it’s a TV show, documentary or feature film.” Editors are freelance and whenever we finish a job we’re like “OK, world, what’s out there?” Sometimes nothing [laughs] I would took all kinds of jobs, because I wanted to try different things. About five years ago, I started to feel that the jobs I found most satisfying were narrative fiction films. I love working with actors’ performances, having the time to work it out and pushing to find the best ideas and the best versions of things, and get feedback.

You need a lot of patience to edit a documentary. I enjoy being in the sweet spot of a 4-6-months edit, not a year-long edit or longer. For a reasonable, feature-length, documentary it’s something like 200 hours of footage. It’s just hours and hours of going through and figuring it out. It can be very satisfying, but it can also be very tedious – sometimes both at once.

What are you currently working on and what do you have planned in the future?
I’m on this movie right now called Someone Great, which is also a Netflix film, directed by Jennifer K Robinson, who did the show Sweet/Vicious on MTV. It stars Gina Rodriguez and DeWanda Wise and Brittany Snow. The three of them have such an incredible chemistry that it’s been really fun to work on, but this one is on a very tight schedule. It’s also a music-heavy film, so we’re really trying to save as much as possible for music.

It’s another one where Netflix has supported a first-time female director, making a really heart-felt story.

I know there’s a lot of controversies around Netflix, but on the first weekend Like Father had 10 million streams – that is a gigantic number! Lauren, the director, is married to Seth Rogen and he was saying that the response he got on Twitter was one of the biggest responses he’s ever gotten – and Seth’s movies are huge.

Like Father is the sort of movie that studios aren’t making anymore. This sort of mid-priced, heart-felt film. They’re giving us a reasonable budget, we’re casting great actors, and we get to make this good looking thing. A nice movie. Netflix not only decided to make this movie but gave an opportunity to a first-time female director, in a way which was completely supportive, never undermining.

What advice would you have for young editors or filmmakers wanting to become involved in film and TV?
One: learn the craft part really well. I think there are three main skills that you need as a good editor: technical, creative and personality. You have to have a personality where you can take direction, collaborate with other people and you’re pleasant to be in a room with. You have to have the creative chops to be able to look at footage and figure out how to work with it. And you have to have the technical skills, so that Avid or Premiere – or whichever – is not going to get in your way.

I encourage people to do tutorials and take classes – the easiest part to solve is the technical part. Get comfortable with Avid, get comfortable with the technical skills and then edit as many things as you can. Nothing breeds expertise like time.

The "dirty" secret of filmmaking is that, as you get onto bigger projects, it kind of gets easier. It’s more pressure, sure, but the skill level of the people you’re working with makes all the difference. On Like Father, the people that needed to do their job well for me to do my job well had totally come through.

The best way to learn is on small films: when they don’t have the time or the DoP doesn’t have the experience, or one of the actors just doesn’t come through, and you have to figure out how to solve those problems. That is the best film school.

Editing basically boils down to being able to solve problems and making it look like there was never a problem in the first place. The more practice you have doing that, the more tools you have in your toolkit, and the better you become as an editor.