‘The second act is always a challenge’: editor Taryn Gould on Nam June Paik: Moon is the oldest TV

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‘The second act is always a challenge’: editor Taryn Gould on Nam June Paik: Moon is the oldest TV


Nam June Paik: Moon is the oldest TV

In director Amanda Kim’s feature debut Nam June Paik: Moon is the oldest TV, the groundbreaking 20th-century video artist is fleshed out through archival footage, interviews with collaborators, and excerpts from diaries read by Steven Yeun. The film chronicles Pike’s creative career and eventual move to the US, analyzing how his art has since influenced our understanding of moving images and the technology that produces them.

Editor Taryn Gould discusses cutting the film, including the importance of emphasizing Pike’s palpable sense of humor.

See all the answers to our annual Sundance Editor Interviews here.

director: How and why did you end up editing your film? What were the factors and qualities that led to your being hired for this job?

Gould: Amanda Kim and I met through David Ko, one of the producers of the movie Paik. I had worked with David on several other projects. Amanda and I ended up talking on the phone and meeting for a year as the pandemic delayed production schedules. We got along pretty well and had similar movie tastes. When you sign up for a documentary, you’re committing to months, if not years, of collaborating with someone. My advice to any director or editor is to always share a meal with a potential colleague and see if they get a laugh. If you can’t easily laugh together, it can be a really tough road. Editing can be exhausting and a shared sense of humor can really carry a team through the more challenging moments. Amanda and I cracked each other up in these exploratory conversations, and it really was such a gift that kept on giving throughout the process.

director: In terms of the progression of your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to improve, or keep, or remove, or completely redo?

Gould: Amanda didn’t want to make a standard art documentary, filtering Nam Joon through the lens of art history. She wanted Nam Joon’s fascinating personal story and experience to shed new light on his art. We were very much in agreement on that front, but of course it’s easier said than done. His personal history spans many countries, wars, languages ​​and philosophies. His art spans 5 decades and multiple movements and mediums. We knew that distilling it all down to a digestible narrative would be a challenge. There were versions where we tried to go more chronologically through his life. In the end, the film felt much stronger when his early life was revealed more slowly, infusing more and more meaning into the art as we progressed. It mimics the feeling of watching a Nam June piece. The meaning of the work seems to grow and change, something that at first seems whimsical and funny, begins to expand to be profound and prophetic.

Also, Nam Joon was legitimately hilarious and used humor in his art and life to open people up, to surprise them into looking at something differently. That was really important for us to keep in the film. The first sequence we cut in the first week of editing shows that part of his expression and personality, and this sequence still opens the film, framing how to watch.

director: How did you achieve these goals? What kinds of editing techniques, or processes, or screening feedback allowed this work to happen?

Gould: When you start, you work on the contours, choose your arcs, your actions and climaxes. Some choices rise to the challenge and others reveal a wrong turn. I always have a gold bin when I’m editing, and Amanda had one on this project too, since we basically lived together in the edit room. The gold bin was full of our favorite moments and quotes, the ones that moved us the first time we saw them. It’s the place you go when you’re lost and need to re-inspire.

Although the gold bin is a beacon, feedback projections are one of the most important components to completing a film in my opinion. As soon as you get fresh eyes on the room, you can tell what’s working and what’s not almost immediately. Over time, you get your trusted circle of observers who know how to evaluate a rough draft, people who have given you honest and critical feedback, even if it’s just their confusion. This is how you diagnose the big problems and find solutions. This movie was no exception. We had great editors and directors who gave us their very valuable time and thoughts.

director: As an editor, how did you get into the business and what influences have influenced your work?

Gould: I went to the Newhouse School in Syracuse to study film. I had a great mentor there in Thula Goenka, who had worked as an editor with Mira Nair and Spike Lee. After school, I worked for several startups and ended up working for Atlantic Records, shooting, editing and directing in-house content. From there I directed and edited music videos. Meeting Danny Clinch while filming an Atlantic Records video set the stage for a truly fruitful 10-year working relationship. I was able to really sharpen and develop my editing and filmmaking skills. This grew into further collaborations with Danny, including co-directing a film, as well as all the other opportunities that are now part of my filmography.

As for influences, one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen is Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive, and I was lucky enough to see him in college. I think the feeling of that movie tries to find its way into all my work.

director: What editing system did you use and why?

Gould: We used Premiere. We had a more streamlined post-production situation early in the process, and in the past, for me, Premiere was more flexible with less technical support compared to other systems.

director: What was the hardest scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Gould: There was a part after the middle of the movie that we ended up calling “the spot” because we had such a hard time finding a shape for it. The second act is always a challenge, but those 20 minutes into the film were a problem and remained a problem even after the film got much stronger. The problem was that we didn’t want to get rid of a great anecdote and description of a work. Once we opened ourselves up to cutting that content, those 20 minutes were transformed and we found our way through it. In hindsight, it always seems obvious, but letting go of these attachments is hard, and we were rewarded quickly once we did.

director: Finally, after the process was over, what new meaning did the film take on for you? What did you find in the footage that you might not have initially seen, and how did your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding you started with?

Gould: Working on a documentary can feel like getting a master’s degree in the subject of film, and in this case, Nam Joon in particular was such an amazing teacher. As well as being the innovative artist I knew he was, he was a brilliant teacher of philosophy, world history, politics and most of all the future.

Watching the footage and reading his writings, I learned about the oppression, colonization, censorship and ideological clashes that led to these horrific events in history. I was able to see how he uses different art forms to challenge, draw attention to, and offer alternatives to these recurring disasters. Then Amanda and I would listen to the news in the morning and we would hear these same conflicts and horrors played out again in real time.

The film feels really urgent because Nam Joon’s visions and worries about technology come true with stunning accuracy. He saw its potential to bind and free us, and he saw its potential to further disorient and break us. With each passing day in editing, I realized more and more what an honor it was to help share his insights, work and life with a larger audience. I feel very fortunate to have kept such intimate company over these years with Nam Joon and Amanda as we searched through this vast archive to find and convey some pressing messages that were clearly missed.


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