In director Max Barbakow’s short film The Duke, the issue of traumatic brain injury is explored in the story of J.P. Duke (LaMonica Garrett), an ex-professional football player who is suffering through the effects of the progressive generative disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). With a loving wife by his side and a set of twins on the way, J.P. seems to have everything to live for if it wasn’t for the daily headaches, memory loss and confusion. During an interview with Mexican-born Film Editor Salvador Pérez García, Remezcla asked him about how he was able to use his skills as an editor to examine the symptoms of CTE and what he hopes a film like this will contribute to the conversation about head trauma among athletes.
The Duke premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 15 at 6:45pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park. Encore screenings take place April 20 at 2:45pm and April 22 at 5:30pm. A final screening can be seen April 23 at 9:45pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea.
What did you want to convey through the editing process about what the main character is experiencing in the film?
The film is very strongly rooted in J.P. Duke’s point of view, so my goal was always to have my choices reflect that. Short-term memory loss and impulsive behavior are a couple of the symptoms football players present after repeated head trauma, and that allowed me to use a cutting pattern that was at times frantic and unexpected, but in other instances a bit slower actually. In addition to that, I was doing very involved sound design as early as the first cut, because that was also key in showing what was going on in his head. There’s a ringing sound effect you always hear in movies whenever someone is in a state of confusion, but I really wanted something unique, so I made a very conscious effort to try to come up with aural elements that would veer away from the ringing. I realized that incorporating the sounds of fluorescent lights in lieu of said ringing effect would make a lot of sense.
Why did you feel it was important to tell this story as a nonlinear narrative?
That was actually something that was present even at script level, from the very first draft. It was always meant to be that way, and I think the main reason it works well is because it’s another element that speaks to the character’s erratic state of mind. There’s an inherent degree of chaos in a nonlinear narrative that feels very fitting in this case. I think [director] Max [Barbakow] and the writers were very much aware of that as they were shaping the script. It also serves to introduce a bit of a thriller element into the proceedings, because it lets us withhold certain information from the audience and create some tension and expectation as the story unfolds. Things are being revealed to the viewers at the same time as J.P. is rediscovering them, so it makes for an accurate portrayal of how he’s experiencing this situation as well.
What were some of the most challenging aspects of cutting this film to 21 minutes?
The most challenging part was that there were a lot of things to juggle: the two different timelines, pacing, finding the balance in the more surreal elements, being broad in some of our comedy but not to the point of alienating the audience, keeping tonal consistency and letting it naturally evolve into a more dramatic place towards the end, being aware of character and plot development [and] all the sound work. It was tricky to keep all those threads going, but it’s all part of what makes it fun.
What do you hope a film like this can do for the issue of CTE?
I definitely hope it can add to the conversation about CTE. I think everyone is responsible for their own decisions, but they should be able to make those decisions by backing them with information and awareness of the risks involved, and that is becoming more of a possibility now as this issue gains more notoriety. I think our main goal as filmmakers wasn’t necessarily to make it a wake-up call, but rather to place the audience member directly into the mind of somebody who’s going through that, humanizing the issue in the process and confronting people with their own conclusions. It’s something that we all felt like we hadn’t seen before, not quite this way at least.
What do you enjoy most about your job as an editor?
I love that I get to be in my cave and don’t have to be on set! I also really like working with directors, and I thrive on that one-on-one collaboration and in helping them achieve their vision. I think what I enjoy the most though is putting together the first cut. It’s always really stressful, but also fun and stimulating. I personally always get to such a deep state of concentration that I forget time and space and am fully immersed in whatever scene I’m working on. It’s all quite engaging for me. As an editor, I have the privilege of having a firsthand contribution in how other people view a movie, and I guess that sort of makes it the ultimate shared experience in a sense. Maybe my love for editing is rooted in my own intrinsic need to connect as a human being. Maybe at the core editing is my way to connect, and maybe that’s why I love it so much.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24, 2016. We partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on remezcla.com and tribecafilm.com.