×

Florida State Classmates Helped Make Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ Shine

Working on “Moonlight” felt like a college reunion for editor Joi McMillon. The film’s writer and director, Barry Jenkins, was her classmate at Florida State University, as were producer Adele Romanski, DP James Laxton, and co-editor Nat Sanders. They had all worked on each other’s projects.

After graduation, McMillon continued to work with Jenkins on commercials and his 2011 short “Chlorophyl.” Through their collaboration, they developed a shorthand that proved especially valuable when she and Sanders cut “Moonlight.”

“We’ve known Barry for a really long time,” says McMillon. “We know his aesthetic and how he likes to approach cinema. We had a sense of how he was trying to tell this story.”

Jenkins’ style involves defining nuanced shots and camera moves that, along with cast performances, highlight specific mental and emotional states. The helmer works without a storyboard, allowing details of location to dictate the type of shots — a practice that immerses viewers in the story. One example: the rotating shot of the street corner that opens the movie.

Under Jenkins’ direction, Laxton and his team captured a “oner,” or key shot, with a limited amount of safety coverage. As the editors explored the best ways to shape the scenes, specifically those with multi-character interaction, they paid equal attention to the performances, camera movements, and silences to determine the desired tone.

McMillon and Sanders shared the workload by splitting up the movie’s three distinct acts. Sanders tackled the coming-of-age acts one and two; McMillon wrangled the complex adult sequences in act three. While working on dedicated scenes allowed them to manage their timeline, the two editors regularly shared advice and suggestions on all scenes throughout the process. (Their editing suite was a small office with two computers set up on opposite sides of the room.)

Careful observation guided McMillon through some challenging edits — especially in sequences where the character, Black, has a tense reunion with former best friend, Kevin. During a phone call that reconnects the two, McMillon purposely manipulated the information presented to the audience, extending the camera’s slow reveal and capturing awkward silences and vocal stutters to heighten each man’s nervousness.

“We treated it as if Black was trying to piece together what grown-up Kevin looked like,” McMillon says. “We played with whatever information we gave to the audience and what we decided to take away.”

McMillon also used her skillful eye to tackle the challenge of editing the two men’s reunion at a diner. She first experimented with cutting between them. Upon reviewing the clips, she noticed a place where Black takes several beats before slightly glancing at Kevin … and realized that playing with the silence, and holding on a shot at a point when the audience was anxious for that “what comes next?” moment, would make the perfect cut.

More Artisans

  • This photo shows composer Hans Zimmer

    Hans Zimmer on Recreating Iconic Score: 'The Lion King' 'Brought People Together'

    Composer Hans Zimmer is seated at the mixing board at the Sony scoring stage, head bobbing to the music being performed by 107 musicians just a few yards away. He’s wearing a vintage “Lion King World Tour” T-shirt, frayed at the collar. On the giant screen behind the orchestra, two lions are bounding across the [...]

  • On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los

    On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los Angeles in Second Quarter

    Held down by a lack of soundstage space, total on-location filming in greater Los Angeles declined 3.9% in the second quarter to 8,632 shoot days, permitting agency FilmLA reported Thursday. “Although our latest report reveals a decline in filming on location, local production facilities tell us that they are operating at capacity,” said FilmLA president [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    How 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood' Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

    Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described [...]

  • Just Roll With It Disney Channel

    Disney Channel's Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They 'Just Roll With It'

    The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv. The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), [...]

  • "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" cast

    'SpongeBob' Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

    On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting [...]

  • Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor

    Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor Veteran Executive Martin Cohen

    The Motion Picture Editors Guild will honor veteran post-production executive and producer Martin Cohen with its Fellowship and Service Award. Cohen worked at Amblin, DreamWorks and Paramount. He was a co-producer on “The Hunger Games” and supervised the restoration Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” trilogy and “Jaws.” The award recognizes an individual who embodies the values set [...]

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content