Haoyu Ju is a highly acclaimed film editor with an impressive portfolio of work. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent filmmakers in the industry, and his work has been featured in numerous film festivals around the world.
Ju has been a key player in the post-production process for several award-winning films. He has worked on films that have earned recognition at prestigious festivals, such as the New York Shorts International Film Festival and CAA Moebius. His expertise in editing and storytelling has been instrumental in bringing these films to life and making them a success.
His editing work has been recognized in several film festivals. His editing has contributed greatly to the film “CHORUS,” which was nominated for “Best Film” in the New York Shorts International Film Festival (2022), a qualifying festival for the Canadian Screen Awards, presented by The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
It was also an official selection of one of the most significant industry festivals – Creative Arts Agency Moebius. Creative Artists Agency (CAA) is a leading entertainment agency with global expertise in filmed and live entertainment. CAA represents many of the most successful and innovative professionals working in film and television.
The festival is produced through a collaboration of colleagues across CAA’s Motion Pictures department and draws attendees from major agencies, management companies, production companies, studios, networks, and streaming companies.
Haoyu Ju’s latest editing work on the film, “AND I MISS YOU LIKE A LITTLE KID,” has also been showcased in several film festivals. It was an official selection in the AFI Fest (2022), which is a significant accomplishment because The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for both Short Films categories of the annual Academy Awards.
We are excited to share that we had the chance to speak with Haoyu to delve deeper into his career journey, his creative process, and his insights into the industry. We look forward to gaining valuable insights and inspiration from Haoyu’s experiences and expertise.
You’re such an inspiration to a lot of people, Haoyu. Tell us, what drew you to become an editor in the film industry and how did you get started?
Like most filmmakers whose initial encounter with filmmaking began when they picked up a camera and pressed record, my journey with editing started when I touched the keyboard of my laptop to edit the very first video I shot myself in a video class during my undergraduate years at UCLA.
After a three-year residency involving rigorous practice and study of filmmaking and editing, as well as collaborating with various filmmakers and cutting a dozen films, my qualifications, knowledge, and skill set as an editor have exponentially matured.
Now, I have joined thousands of other editors in Hollywood to pursue our shared passion for storytelling. However, like any other artistic craft, editing is a lifelong journey, and I have just taken my first step.
In your opinion, what are some of the most important qualities for an editor to have, and how have you developed these qualities throughout your career?
The Oscar-winning editor Richard Halsey was once a guest speaker at my editing class at AFI Conservatory, and he outlined three key goals of an editor:
- Trust your instincts.
- Tell the truth.
Since then, I have lived by those credos in my editing practice. We all know editing is the last draft of a film. It bears an enormous amount of responsibility and duty to shape a story, woven together with pictures and sound, into its best form.
Editing can also make or break a film. A single choice by an editor, whether a cut that’s a few frames longer or shorter, a wide shot or close-up for a beat, or a classical music piece or rock song, can elevate or plummet a film. This requires an editor to possess razor-sharp acuteness, attention to detail, a surgical level of technical proficiency with NLE programs, an unbeatable spirit for trial and error, and, above all, a thorough understanding of the story and characters.
Politics in the editing room often determine the fate of a film. As the film’s first audience, an editor must be truthful about how a film effectively portrays its story while working with the director, producer, or executives. The final outcome of a film is always uncertain. However, through careful and diplomatic collaboration and communication with other filmmakers in the editing room, by trusting your instincts and telling the truth, a film’s destiny will find its better path.
You have worked on several films that have been featured in prestigious film festivals around the world. What advice would you give to up-and-coming editors?
As a below-the-line role, an editor’s duty is to make others’ stories blossom. It is a blessing to work on a project you genuinely adore and care about. No matter which stage you are brought into a show, whether starting with development or after principal photography, an editor’s first core task is to thoroughly understand the story and contribute at any given stage they join.
If you are involved in the development stage, offer notes on the script to the writer or director, whether they accept them or not. Sometimes editors provide the best script notes that can fundamentally change a story. If you participate in pre-production, pitch in with shot list design and edit video storyboards to help preview the film. If you start working during production, watch dailies diligently after each day’s shoot. Begin cutting immediately to experiment with scenes, identify continuity issues or coverage gaps, and report to the director so they can plan for pickups.
Steven Spielberg once said, “Editing is synonymous with directing.” It may seem like a solitary and autonomous job most of the time, but its importance and power, starting during development if you are brought on board early, can make a significant difference to the film.
Of course, you cannot determine how much influence management grants you beyond editing for a given show, but with passion and integrity to do your best job, you should always try to contribute as much as possible. From my experience, no matter how big or small, these contributions will eventually benefit the film and show.
For editing, as I mentioned earlier, always follow your heart and tell the truth to yourself and your collaborators. On the other hand, let go of the ego that makes you think you are absolutely right about an edit choice. Even if you believe the director or producer’s idea for a cut is wrong or even ridiculous, always say, “Let’s try it,” and test it out.
Many times, those bad notes you initially conceive turn out to be great ones. And if it truthfully turns out to be a bad note, the director or producer will see it and be convinced to admit it too, going with your choice. Carefully maintained diplomacy in the editing room is vital for the health and longevity of post-production.
How do you approach your work as an editor, and what do you think sets your work apart from others in the industry?
As I keep emphasizing, an editor’s first job is to thoroughly understand the story. An editor is like an orchestra conductor who waves their baton to lead the ensemble in performing the music harmoniously. An editor who doesn’t thoroughly understand the story is like a conductor who misreads the music sheet and conducts offbeat, throwing off the entire performance.
Without a comprehensive understanding of the story, it leads to a series of ripple effects in editing – the tone is wrong; the pace and rhythm are too fast or slow; the choice of coverage is off; the music doesn’t fit, etc. In the end, it’s not the film that the filmmakers envisioned.
Many amateur editors focus on the techniques and styles of editing that make the film look or sound “cool,” but when the film’s edit seems off, it’s not because one or two cuts are wrong. Most often, it’s because the editor didn’t fully understand the story to determine the proper execution of the entire edit.
That being said, my approach to any work, whether for a commercial, short, or feature film, is to first read the script, analyze the tone, and dissect and digest the story as if I am absorbing the project’s DNA. This way, it will save a lot of potential time bombs for future edits. I also like to communicate closely with my director and collaborators.
Even though editing is a relatively autonomous job, it is still part of the filmmaking team sport. I believe synchronization between the editor and director, whether in ideas or communication, is key to the efficiency and ultimate success of editing and post-production. When the editor can quickly understand and execute the director’s notes, and the director can easily digest and accept the editor’s advice, the editor/director combo becomes a lethal snipers duo, so to speak, that can point and shoot effectively to fulfill the mission.
My works come in different styles and tones, but they all encompass human trauma, grief, growth, or redemption, with a social cause. I believe filmmaking is responsible for social progression and public enlightenment by portraying humanity in various conditions. That is my credo for the kinds of films and content I pursue to make.
If my films can make someone walk out of the theater with a change of heart for the better, I think then my duty is fulfilled.
How do you stay up to date with the latest technologies, techniques, and trends in the film industry, and how important do you think it is to continue learning and evolving as an editor?
As an editor in this ever-changing and evolving technological society, keeping up with advancements and trends in the film industry is not just an aid but a necessity. NLE software, computers, and other accompanying equipment are editors’ tools, lifelines, and battle stations for creating and working. We all know how new updates and changes in technology can fundamentally affect our workflow. Especially with the rapid emergence of AI, the future of our job or industry could be heavily impacted.
Decades ago, in the old film days, editing was still an analog and mechanical job. Now, through powerful creative software, editors can perform numerous tasks with exponentially boosted efficiency, fundamentally changing the qualifications and demands for our profession compared to past generations of editors. Filmmaking has always been a hybrid product of art and science. There is an unstoppable force driving its evolution, just like in any other human domain.
Keeping up with the latest technologies and techniques and adapting to trends is the only way to ride this wave instead of being drowned by it. After all, like any artist in human history, we need to master our tools first to create.
Can you talk about a particularly challenging project you worked on as an editor and how you overcame the challenges?
My thesis film at AFI Conservatory, CHORUS, was a challenging but rewarding project I edited. I worked closely with the director to polish the film to its best shape based on the script. We held screenings with our cohorts and mentors, receiving overall positive feedback except for two scenes that were repeatedly mentioned as feeling long or redundant. Our major mission was to tackle these two scenes to make them work. The story centered around a father and son who missed their wife’s/mother’s farewell phone call on a 9/11 plane and how they carried on together afterward.
The problematic scenes were one in which the father goes to pick up a birthday cake at a cake shop for his wife’s birthday anniversary, and another where he and his son celebrate with his parents-in-law at his house. The first attempt to address a long or redundant scene is to cut it down. We made surgical compressions of both scenes, trimming out any unnecessary parts or beats without damaging the story. However, no matter how concise they became, new audiences still felt detached from them.
We then had to make hard decisions to cut down story parts that didn’t transition well from the page to the screen. Unhappy with the overall performance of the cake shop scene, the director took a leap of faith and decided to cut out the scene entirely. Killing your darling is always a difficult but necessary part of the editing process. This turned out to be the right decision, as the story still progressed naturally without this scene, and we saved about three minutes of screen time.
The scene with the grandparents required more careful editing due to its importance for exposition and story progression. We continued to strip it down bit by bit, consulting with my editing mentor who gave me a golden piece of advice: “You don’t need to reveal the entire scene or dialogue to deliver the information.” With this enlightenment, my director and I decided to cut the main dialogue halfway in, removing all the setup dialogue from the first half of the scene. Though it seemed radical at the time, it worked great.
After showing the new cut to people, they no longer felt the slow pace or redundancy. Half of the dialogue delivered as much information as the full scene, but in a much more concise and straightforward way. Sometimes in editing, less is more. With this mindset and strategy, we finally cut the film down from a 30-minute first cut to a 20-minute picture lock cut, a 10-minute gap that made a transformative difference to our film.