An honest portrayal of trauma and recovery in I Used To Be Funny: Behind the scenes of the editing process using Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Frame.io
Image source: I Used To Be Funny Still.
Directed by Ally Pankiw and set to premiere at SXSW, I Used To Be Funny is a dark dramedy that follows Sam Cowell, an aspiring stand-up comedian struggling with PTSD, who must decide whether or not to join the search for Brooke, a missing teenage girl she used to nanny. The story alternates between the past, revealing Sam’s memories of Brooke that make it difficult to ignore her sudden disappearance, and the present, where she tries to recover from her trauma and pick herself up to get back on stage. We spoke with editors Curt Lobb and Mark Hussey about their creative process using Adobe’s Creative Cloud tools to create a funny but heartbreaking film that illustrates an honest portrayal of trauma and recovery.
After a decade of experience with it, Premiere Pro has become Lobb’s preferred NLE for all his projects due to its intuitive compatibility with his workflow. “Premiere felt so much more welcoming as a program that could meet all my needs and not take too long to learn how to operate,” he shared. “The interoperability between Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, etc. is a huge reason why we default to the Adobe suite of tools,” added Hussey, VFX designer for I Used To Be Funny.
Along with Premiere Pro and After Effects, Frame.io was an integral part of their remote editing process and was an invaluable tool for facilitating file exchanges through its transfer app, allowing the team to overcome the challenges of not physically being together during post-production. While Lobb edited the film from Canada and the director Pankiw was based in California, Frame.io helped streamline their remote editing process — with Frame.io, Lobb was able to share edits with Pankiw and incorporate the feedback she would share through the comment feature.
Crafting a film that alternates between the past and present and incorporates VFX shots can be a challenging task that requires meticulous attention to detail. The main goal in crafting this film was to make the VFX seamless and invisible. Read below to hear how editors Lobb and Hussey were able to establish an efficient workflow using Adobe’s Creative Cloud tools to help accomplish their goals.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
Lobb: I started playing around with cameras for the first time in 11th grade and editing instantly became the part of the process that I was most drawn towards. I made videos with my friends to show at our high school assemblies and through those practiced my editing with some pretty basic editing software. I stuck around for a fifth year of high school mainly so I could take a Digital Media Studies course where I jumped into more advanced editing programs, which gave me a good head start for entering film school at Humber College in Toronto the following year.
How did you first get into VFX design? What drew you to it?
Hussey: Initially by necessity. As an editor working on our feature films in a small town and with smaller budgets, I soon created a workflow where I could create the VFX shots we needed as I edited. Our workflow is often doing all parts of the process in tandem (editorial, VFX, color, sound). This allowed me to get what was in my head quickly into a visualized shot on the timeline. On “I Used To Be Funny” we implemented this approach and were doing rough VFX shots right from the beginning of the editorial. By the time we got to PL of the film many had been roughed out. I enjoy the challenges of each shot and the satisfaction of completing it and it is complementing and enhancing the film.
How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?
Lobb: From a technical standpoint when I begin on a project these days, I’m usually fortunate to be inheriting an organized and ready to edit project file, prepped by people I work with regularly who know how I like to structure my sequences and media. I also regularly edit out of a production house that I have with some of my oldest collaborators called FauxPop Station, so my workspace often remains the same as new projects come in.
On the creative side of beginning a new project, if the shoot is complete and I have all of the footage, I prefer to start at the beginning of the story and build it out chronologically from there, rather than jumping around and editing other scenes that come later. I do this because I might discover something new in the footage that I didn’t anticipate but want to incorporate into the story and it might inform my decisions on how I edit the rest of the film.
How did you begin this project? Can you talk about the collaborative process with the director and/or editor, and the process of creating your work from start to finish?
Hussey: Most of the collaboration with the director was directly through the lead editor (Lobb). My initial role was setting up the workflow for Lobb and the director, prepping the project etc. Once that was completed, I was editing the film ahead of Curt so that there were always a few scenes ahead of where he was fine cutting. This is where our team project workflow was invaluable as I would be editing the movie ahead of him and he could just jump on and finesse the scenes. As I was editing, I was also isolating potential VFX shots and roughing them out so that Lobb had more than just a mock-up in his timeline. On this film we edited linearly from the beginning of the film and with these tandem processes all working at the same time by the time we got to the first round of notes the film was closer to a fine cut then a rough cut.
Once we had a picture lock I went through and finalized the number of VFX shots and created a VFX pipeline for approvals with the director and from there worked on all of the turnovers for audio and color.
What was the inspiration behind your VFX work on the film? What were you trying to achieve?
Hussey: On “I Used To Be Funny” the main achievement was to make the VFX seamless and invisible. All of the screens were replaced on TVs. Graphics were put on objects (fences etc., painting out film crew and some replacement of backgrounds and a bunch of hair and makeup work.) The key was to have it all look like it was in-camera and the hope would be that anyone watching the film wouldn’t even know there were any VFX shots.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.
Lobb: There’s a needle drop near the end of the movie that’s my favorite one in any project I’ve ever worked on. The song is *spoiler!* ‘I Know the End’ by Phoebe Bridgers which is about 5 minutes and 45 seconds and we play it in its entirety, as it weaves from non-diegetic, to diegetic, back to non-diegetic and eventually becomes our end credits music. The song itself has an amazing evolution, starting softly and gradually building up until it finally goes very hard at the end. Each stage of the song works so great for the same build that happens in our final scenes of the movie and I don’t think we could have found a track more perfect to pair with our ending. Also, the crescendo of the song during the closing credits has a lot of catharsis that matches where our protagonist is at once the credits roll, and hopefully the audience is also feeling that release from the story they’ve just watched.
Hussey: On this and any project it really is the collaboration with a bunch of creative people that is my favorite piece. Taking a script or an idea and then crafting that into something that can be seen is the reward.
What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?
Lobb: The director of the film (the wonderful and talented Ally Pankiw!) was in California for the duration of the edit, while I was cutting in a small town called Goderich in Canada. So we actually didn’t end up meeting each other in person until after picture lock. Although we did do some live remote sessions together during the process, for the most part I would send her edits with Frame.io once they were ready for review and she would use the comment function to give her thoughts. We’d then get on a phone call together to discuss the direction to go in from there. That process started with just sending a scene or two at a time as they were first edited and eventually I’d be sending bigger and bigger chunks of the movie as it accumulated, which she would then be watching as a whole and making notes on accordingly.
Hussey: In this film there were no specific 3D elements though many shots involved tracking the camera in 3D as the shooting style was a lot of hand-held, moving shots. This did present challenges, but it is that problem-solving and finding a way when there seems to be no way that I enjoy the most about creating VFX. Every problem there is a solution for and so far, I haven’t bumped into anything that couldn’t be solved in After Effects, Photoshop, etc. Often on this project it meant creating plates in Photoshop from the heads and tails of a shot to replace say a background or to pull out the film crew or a light stand from the shot or replace the name on a gravestone etc. Lots of challenges but if the audience watches the film and isn’t dislocated then we found a way to solve the problem.
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?
Lobb: I used Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the film and as previously stated, Frame.io for sharing my work. It was less of a choice to use Premiere Pro on this project as it was a choice to use it about 10 years ago when I transitioned from Final Cut Pro. Like many others, I wasn’t keen on the direction Final Cut was going and Premiere felt so much more welcoming as a program that could meet all my needs and not take too long to learn how to operate. I had dabbled with Avid before that and it just never felt intuitive to how I worked, where Premiere Pro did instantly. Since then, every project I edit I try to ensure that I use Premiere Pro.
Hussey: On this film Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop and Frame.io were the main tool set. Premiere is the NLE tool of choice for both Lobb and I and the interoperability between these tools is a huge reason why we always default to all of the tools within Creative Cloud. On this project and many others since COVID, the Teams and Production features of Premiere have proved invaluable, and we now have cut several feature films with members of our team in remote locations without any major issues.
Frame.io was invaluable for sharing cuts with the director and producers, getting notes, and syncing those notes into the NLE. Frame.io also became invaluable in moving large files and folders quickly between team members using the Frame.io transfer app. It is insanely fast, does checksums and maintains folder structure. It’s a great tool all-around.
Do you use Frame.io as part of your workflow? If so, how do you use it and why did you choose it?
Lobb: I love working in Frame.io. It's user friendly and intuitive and works with Premiere Pro (for example: importing comments from Frame.io uploads right into your project file). It makes detailed collaboration easy for everyone on the team.
If you could share one tip about Premiere Pro or After Effects, what would it be?
Lobb: Consistently read up on potential keyboard shortcuts that you might not know about, as there are lots of things that I would do for years before realizing there was a more efficient way to do them. (‘Increase/Decrease Clip Volume’, ‘Nudge Clip Selection Up/Down’ and ’Extend Selected Edit to Playhead’, among other keyboard shortcuts discovered over the years, all changed my LIFE). You definitely want to get to the point where when you’re editing, the technical stuff is in no way acting as a barrier to what you’re doing, and you can just zip along and put all of your focus into the real work, which is the creative decisions you’re making.
Hussey: I think one of the greatest things about Premiere and AE is the ability to customize your workspace in pretty much any way you imagine. Take the time to organize your tools, customize your keyboard shortcuts and create a layout for your own specific workflow and the way your brain works. Get the distractions of a clunky UI out of the way so that you can just be creative and have the tool be a true extension of yourself. The Creative Cloud applications allow such specific customization. Every pane can be undocked and moved somewhere else on your screen and re-sized and you can soon create your own space and it travels with you which is awesome.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
Lobb: The ‘Brendan Leonard Show’ was a series I discovered in high school which came along at the perfect time in my life to make me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in film and television. It featured a guy named Brendan Leonard who, along with his friends and family, made a comedy show from the ground up, just them playing every role to make it happen. That might seem like an easier feat these days but at that time, it was incredibly inspiring that a show that I enjoyed watching so much was made by talented, hardworking and hilarious, but also: normal people. It really broke down an idea I had in my youth that film & television was a far away and unattainable goal, not to be pursued by a small town kid.
Hussey: I think that anyone who is driven by the passion of creating and not distracted by the external measures of “success” are the people that inspire me and how I hope I live my life. I find joy in the process — head down — making something become real that started as an idea. Bringing those together into a form that manifests the vision of the idea and more often than not the discovery of those happy accidents that bring an even greater visual experience then was imagined at the start. I am inspired by people who just do what they do and maintain that and also change as greater truth and ideas emerge. The journey is the adventure.
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?
Lobb: Right when I graduated film school and trying to navigate what the first step on my path would be. It can be hard to get a job in this industry right out the gate and you of course need to support yourself, so there is absolutely no shame in getting any type of work while you’re pursuing jobs within film and television. Like my first gig was as a camera assistant on an HGTV show, even though I really had no interest in a career in that department. But, I enjoyed the job and made a lot of friends on that show that I still have today, including a producer (if I haven’t already reached my max on shout-outs, I’ll give one more to Anne Francis!) that I eventually told my aspirations of being an editor to and she ended up hiring me for my first editing gig in television the following year.
“Pounce on opportunities when they do come up, even if it isn’t exactly a part of the industry you pictured you’d be working in.”
I believe it’s all about making connections when you can, showing people you are hardworking and enjoyable to work with and then letting them know what roles you are most passionate about, and often the people around you can then help on your journey to doing the things you want to do in this industry. You’ll inevitably run into a lot of people who won’t be interested in helping you, but if you just keep working hard and honing your craft, people will notice and want to work with you.
Hussey: Flip bad into good — use it as an opportunity to learn new skills, make something better than it was the first time etc etc. Motion graphics specifically can be sometimes overwhelming at times as you see the result in your head and sometimes the solution isn’t immediate. However, just like anything you must just keep doing it and eventually you will find the solution and more often than not the result will surpass your initial idea. The key is just keep doing it and the more you do the more the tool just becomes an extension of yourself, and it becomes more like thinking a thing then just doing the thing. That only comes from years of doing it though. There really is no short-cut except just to keep on learning, solving problems and not settling for anything but what you are wanting to achieve. This might mean off the top that you take a lot longer to get to the goal but the skills you learn along that quest stick with you and your ability to quickly get to what you are envisioning becomes more and more realized.
Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?
Image source: Curt Lobb.
Lobb: I work out of a production house called FauxPop Station that I run with my cousin, Randall Lobb and our business partners Isaac Fisher and Hussey. It’s a 110-year-old red brick Train Station that we’ve renovated for all of our production and post-production needs. My favorite thing about my workspace is that I’m in the same building as my collaborators, including Hussey who is one of the biggest tech geniuses I know. He takes on the role of post-production supervisor on most projects I edit these days (including I Used To Be Funny) and it’s always an amazing feeling to know that he’s nearby to help me with any issues I might run into. He did additional editing on this film and would often be ahead of me assembling scenes before I would jump on them to give them my pass.
Premiere Pro Team Projects was super valuable for that reason, as I would be inheriting Hussey s sequences on a daily basis. Also, the VFX workflow was integrated into the editing process as Hussey was (also!) the VFX artist on the movie and often did rough versions of the shots while we were still cutting so we could plug them in and see how they felt as we went along. I couldn’t have edited the movie without Hussey by my side and both of us couldn’t have done the work we did without the Adobe tools that we used.
Image source: Mark Hussey.
Hussey: Since I spend as much if not more time in front of my workstation as I do at home, I want my work area to feel comfortable and inspiring. For me having every tool at my fingertips that I could possibly need throughout a project is imperative. I don’t want to have to stop and find something, I just want to be able to think and then do. We have a few editing suites here at FauxPop Station and enough space where everyone working can feel like they are alone in their own creative space and when we need to collaborate, we can easily walk between suites or meet in the common area to screen something etc.
It’s a great collaborative environment. I love our workplace being in a small town as well. It’s the area where both Lobb and I grew up as did our other business partners Randall Lobb and Isaac Elliott-Fisher. We love being able to work all around the world from our small town and be able to step outside to fresh air, beautiful sunsets and no traffic. My home is just one block away from our train station. It’s kinda like working from home really. I guess that's the vibe in our space, the feeling of being at home.