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Mike Hugo
Mike Hugo

Embracing Discovery While Cutting ‘The Florida Project’

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Mike Hugo didn’t grow up dreaming of a career in Hollywood. He was just another skateboarder in the Bay Area, knocking around with his friends, exploring their city.

But then he and his buddies got the idea that it might be fun to make video of their skateboarding moves.

“We started experimenting with cutting,” he remembers. “It was very primitive back then, but that’s where it all started for me. It was that experimentation of going out, shooting something and seeing what I can create.”

Hugo was a tinkerer then, and his fascination with how things worked led him to not just become an editor but to adopt a specialty: He worked in post houses solving technical issues in online editing. That fed his left brain, but he was working on other people’s projects. He hungered for the creative side. So he left that behind to return to the more creative side of editing.

However, that particular combination of skills proved a boon. It brought him together with indie auteur Sean Baker and “The Florida Project.” Baker was going to cut the film on a laptop as he traveled, using software that was new to him: Adobe Premiere Pro. Hugo, based in Los Angeles, was his tech coach, assistant and sounding board.

They had identical copies of the footage, and they’d send the project file back and forth. Baker would cut, Hugo would clean up the cut. But it was also a collaboration. They’d bounce ideas off each other by text, phone and video call.

“The Florida Project” had been shot fast, without pickups or reshoots. It had improvised scenes and its central characters included children. The edit included using Premiere to do special effects, including time-remapping performances. “Timing was huge on this film,” says Hugo, but the timing wasn’t always perfect in the raw footage. Together, they fixed that in post.

“We did a lot of work to make it seem like there was no work at all,” says Hugo. “We wanted to make you feel like you’re a fly on the wall.

Baker and Hugo ended up working in bedrooms thousands of miles apart, experimenting and reshaping the story in post. “It’s a process, says Hugo. “You experiment and see what hits. You might go in thinking “This is what I want” and you see a take where they didn’t say the line the way you want, but it’s even better. That’s the excitement in the edit bay.”

And in the end, the nights cutting at home made the project even better for him. “It took me back to those days of creating films with my friends, where this is just something we’re having fun doing.”

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