Editor Ting Poo doesn’t have an obvious personal style. The editor of the Academy Award-winning documentary short “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” tries to adapt her style to the material.
“I think the best editing is when the form is really married to the content, so the form doesn’t try to do more than the content, and it doesn’t try to outshine the content,” she says.
But, when pressed, she’ll admit there’s a thread through her films: She leaves the audience in tears.
“I don’t know whether that’s because of the kind of projects I gravitate towards,” she says. She looks for emotional beats to build the story around. “I’ll go back to those selections over and over again, and just watch them again and again. Those are the anchor points you have to hold onto.”
In conversation, she’s low-key and thoughtful, but she consciously starts her work with compassion. She looks for the emotion in footage and uses those emotional moments to anchor her storytelling.
“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” is about Mindy Alper, a Santa Monica-based artist who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood. “I think there’s something very female about Mindy’s experience, and the struggles she’s had to put up with in her life, that I can identify with and hopefully express on screen,” says Poo.
Poo likes a challenge both in her work and in her personal life, where she practices yoga and loves to golf. “I think what attracts me to yoga and golf is the fact that you can never master them,” she says. “It’s a process of self-discovery, self-discipline, and a process of compassion for yourself. It’s rising to a challenge that you’re probably never going to conquer.
“The joy in it is the process itself, of making incremental change,” she says.
Incremental change was certainly a key to “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405.” The film took four years to complete. During that time, she had a child, among other major life changes.
Four years is forever in the world of digital cinema. Codecs, software, and operating systems can all go obsolete over such a long time. Poo was in the middle of cutting “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” on Final Cut Pro 7 when Apple dropped support for the software. She chose to migrate the project to Adobe Premiere Pro.
The switch turned out to have unexpected advantages. FCP had forced her to transcode footage, but Premiere Pro could accept native files from the Canon 5D that director Frank Stiefel was using to shoot the film. “The entire finishing process was easier because of (the switch to Adobe),” she says. “We basically onlined the whole thing in Premiere.”
At one point, the film was a full-length feature, before she and Stiefel pared it down. “At the end of the day the movie is entirely told from Mindy’s perspective,” she says. “I think that’s important. When we made the final edit of the movie, it really just came down to that. What scenes are the most direct experiences of her internal battle? Everything else just sort of fell away.”