An actor rewrites his story in You Cannot Kill David Arquette

image of David Arquette with text You Cannot Kill David Arquette

You Cannot Kill David Arquette.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette has captivated audiences since its debut at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. The film’s editor Paul Rogers, along with co-director and co-editor David Darg, received the SXSW Adobe Editing Award, and the film also picked up a nomination for the 2021 IDA Documentary Award for Best Sports Documentary. The documentary follows actor David Arquette as he returns to the world of pro wrestling to repair his former reputation as “the most hated man in wrestling” after his controversial victory during the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in 2000. The result is a highly entertaining and comedic journey of a man looking for his happy ending, and to regain love and respect from his family and fans.

Rogers worked closely with the directors to put together the scenes and arrange them in a way that best tells David’s story. We recently spoke with Rogers about what it takes to put together an award-worthy documentary, the 1980’s inspiration weaved into the film, and his Parallax Post family.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

On a Steenbeck, cutting 16mm at the College of Santa Fe, which was a tiny and mostly wonderful school that no longer exists. We were required to shoot and cut a few films on 16mm before being allowed to edit using a computer. I didn’t enjoy working with people that I didn’t know so I cast my roommate and then-girlfriend, now-wife in all of those projects. I still prefer working on films with my friends. Like Drake says, no new friends.

But as far as learning to love the editing process, I found that when shooting my own projects in school the shoot felt like something I had to get through so that I could have fun in the edit. And then the first short that I cut for someone else, I remember feeling so excited that I had no previous attachment to the footage I was watching. I felt really free to play and experiment and kind of throw the plan out the window, and luckily the director was excited about what I was doing, so that kind of collaboration was a really great introduction to editing someone else’s work (thanks Zeeshan!). It kind of spoiled me, and I think is what has attracted me to the collaborators that I’ve been able to find throughout my career.

Image of computer screen with man behind it.

Photo credit: Parallax.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

On day one I follow my excitement and jump all over the place, watching anything in the footage that inspires me. The assistant editor on this project, Claudius Ansah, had spent a ton of time organizing and tagging footage, so it was easy to just jump around based on what keywords grabbed my attention.

On that first day I’ll edit little bits and pieces here and there just to get ideas out and on to the timeline. On this project the first thing I edited on day one was a scene of David trying to get his world champion wrestling belt out of its glass case at his house, but he can’t find the key. It’s a simple little scene, and it never made it into the movie, but it ended up setting the tone for what the film would become in a way. It was silly and sad and heartfelt. I think it’s in the special features as a deleted scene.

Day two and on I try to be disciplined and start at the beginning, watching every second of footage. You never know what you’ll find, especially in a doc, so I can’t sleep easy until I’ve watched every second. If I get excited about a scene, I’ll do a rough sketch and then quickly move on.

Black and white image of 2 men working in an office.

Photo credit: Parallax.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

The Hollywood Wrestling match about halfway through the film was a scene that had always bugged me. I never felt like the edit of that scene surpassed the feeling that I had watching the raw footage, and that’s always a fear of mine, especially in docs. If that raw footage is so captivating, and then the edit is just a condensed version of that, that’s a failure.

We had been really careful about “kayfabe,” which is the illusion that wrestling is real. And we held ourselves back by not being able to explicitly say “this is scripted, this is choreographed.” So, in the final days of the edit I decided to see if we could intercut that scene with their backstage rehearsals in a way that says: “this is scripted and choreographed but it’s also VERY impressive and funny and silly and exciting and endearing and BONKERS.” And I think we succeeded. I love the way that scene turned out and it’s so fun watching David care so much and try so hard and pull off his first real wrestling match.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

The references for this film were a lot of big 80s genre classics, movies like “RoboCop.” So, our first few cuts we were really pushing the line of turning these “doc” scenes into fun genre scenes. It was amazing how easy it was to fit all of this doc material into a classic genre structure. The challenge then was learning to pull back on that in order to let the real emotion of the scene guide the viewer. 80s genre films aren’t known for their subtlety, so we had to reign ourselves in a good bit and just let the natural drama shine through as much as possible.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

We used Premiere Pro to cut and it was wonderful. I can’t imagine cutting this film in any other program. The team went through and tagged every clip in the film with keywords to help us find moments or themes we needed. It was so useful to be able to search within Premiere for those moments. For example: “David gets butt waxed.”

What do you like about Premiere Pro, and/or any of the other tools you used?

The best thing I can say about Premiere is that it stays out of the way. I barely notice it when I’m working and that’s because it does what it’s meant to do, and it does it well. I don’t have to think about how to do something, it’s all really intuitive at this point.

What’s your hidden gem/favorite workflow hack in Adobe Creative Cloud?

I have so many custom keyboard shortcuts, I love that feature. It also prevents anyone from sitting down to edit on my system since they only follow my own nonsensical internal logic at this point.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

My Parallax family, my friends, the directors I work with, my actual family… I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by inspiring people. I wake up and my 4-year-old son is making up insane stories and new words, I get to work and check in on zoom with some of the most talented weirdo editors in the world, then sit down with some incredible filmmaker or artist for the rest of the day. I’m crazy lucky to be surrounded by all these people.

Aside from those day-to-day inspirations, my mother and grandmother are both artists, my mom a photographer and my grandmother a painter, and they have influenced me creatively since I was born. They’re incredible.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

Work-life balance has been a constant struggle for me. I’ve always prided myself on a “first in last out” mentality and it got me very far in my career. But once I had a child, I realized that philosophy gives my family the short end of the stick. And while I still have such a love affair with my work, I’ve had to start setting boundaries and being a little more mindful about my time.

My advice to aspiring editors or filmmakers or whatever is that it’s relatively easy to make something cool or clever. A video with amazing transitions and mind-blowing VFX isn’t going to change anyone’s life or perspective of the world. Don’t focus too much on that stuff. It’s great and absolutely necessary to be able to do that, but if you’re not using it in the service of a story or moment or emotion or whatever, it’s going to be empty calories.

Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

Image of machine.

Photo credit: Parallax.

Image of woman reading newspaper.

Photo credit: Parallax.

Black and white image of hammock.

Photo credit: Parallax.

Image of records.

Photo credit: Parallax.

I love our office at Parallax. The main hub is a converted apartment that must have been built in the 40s or thereabouts. Who knows how many people lived their lives in this place. You can feel that when you walk in. It feels like home. Our office manager Olivia Allen has done a fantastic job making it feel like an oasis where it’s almost impossible to be stressed out. It’s a special place.

The film is currently available to stream on Hulu.