Recently I spoke with Editor Dev Singh. He was an Editor Resident at the prestigious Canadian Film Centre’s Cineplex Film Program. He has worked in Visual Effects on films such as Resident Evil – Apocalypse, Four Brothers, and Assault on Precinct 13 and is one of only 3 editors ever named in the yearly PLAYBACK Magazine – 10 to Watch. Some of Dev’s past credits include Spiral, starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella; Ghostland, the fourth movie by horror maestro Pascal Laugier, which won three prizes at the Gerardmer Festival including the Grand Prix for Best Picture and Best Director; Adam Macdonald’s Backcountry and most recently, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City, directed by Johannes Roberts and produced by Constantin Pictures in association with Sony / Screen Gems.
How did you get into film and what was your big break?
I was a Sciences Major in College and was always interested in Film. After college, I was a little uncertain of my future so I worked for a year and decided to travel – I did a 19 day hike in Nepal to the base camp at Mount Everest and travelled through India and South Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and applied to film school. I somehow managed to get accepted with my writings and work from my travel journals, and I came back to attend film school. I’m still waiting for my big break (haha) but I’ve felt very fortunate to have had a series of small, hard won breaks. First, I got accepted to film school and luckily found my passion for editing there. After working as an assistant editor and then in VFX for the company Mr. X, I found myself going back to my first love – editing. I got accepted to the prestigious Canadian Film Centre’s editors program, then did my first two films: Picture Day, which was a coming of age comedy drama that was accepted into the Toronto Film Festival, and then Backcountry, directed by Adam MacDonald, which was his first film and was accepted into TIFF. I suppose that was my first real break into the thriller/horror genres. Then came Trauma, directed by Ed Gass Donnelly, and Incident in a Ghostland directed by Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), which led me to Spiral directed by Darren Bousman. These past experiences culminated in my involvement in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City for Johannes Roberts and Constantin Films, which I feel extremely fortunate to have edited and worked with such wonderful collaborators throughout the production.
What were some of the biggest challenges with Resident Evil and your greatest success stories?
I think one of the biggest challenges in Resident Evil was its collective history, the history of the Resident Evil films and the history of the Resident Evil games we were setting out to use as our influence. Coincidentally, my very first VFX job was on Resident Evil: Apocalypse, so I was very familiar with the films of the Resident Evil Franchise. Johannes Roberts set out to do his own version of Resident Evil and took his inspiration from the video games and wanted to move his film into the horror genre. I think overall what I’m most proud of with the film is that it is a true reflection of Johannes Robert’s personality. He loves horror and the Resident Evil games and he has a wonderfully fun spirit and sense of humour. He’s a horror aficionado and likes his films to scare you and also have a sense of fun to it. I think his set pieces and the story and the style in the movie are so reflective of that spirit that you can see the joy in his filmmaking and going along with him on the journey was a privilege. We were free to try things and experiment and he always said to all his collaborators “How do you know where the edge is unless you go past it?” It was a quote from one of his favourite music producers, Jim Steinman. And we were all encouraged to approach Resident Evil in the same spirit, and of course Robert Kulzer encouraged that too. Without his blessing, I’m not sure we would have been able to do what we did!
What are some of the challenges Horror presents vs other genres?
The horror genre does present some challenges, but there are also opportunities to play with the art of cinema: the notion of how time presents itself when things are scary, building tension, holding shots for an unusual amount of time, stretching time, using sound design to hear specific sounds like a creak, a drip of water from another room, the sound of absolute silence can be deafening. These are all things that we can play with. As editors, we can use character perspective and/or point of view so that the audience can fully share what the character on screen is experiencing and seeing in the dark. For example, extended holds followed by quick staccato moments can mimic a flight response of a character.
Horror is a wonderful place for an editor to play with what really makes cinema its own unique art form in that we can play with time. The horror Genre along with Sci Fi present the most opportunity to showcase this, so much so that it has influenced how I like to edit drama, comedy and every other genre in film and television.
What type of prep did you do?
I like to do a lot of prep – I find it one of the most enjoyable aspects of editing. On Resident Evil,l I was given the script about a month before we began shooting. Upon my first read of the script, I just let the story wash over me. Then I start to dig into the characters and their journeys – the tone of the script and start to build some music playlists that are just experiments in style and tone for the film. I look for films and references and things within the script that can clue me into some of the ideas represented in the film. With Resident Evil, I watched cinematic and gameplay from the first two games and played the remaster games a little as well. We imported those into the Avid as reference and Jo Hughes (VFX Supervisor) and her VFX team at Mr X did as well. Johannes Roberts sent us location scout videos and we had some storyboards made out for two of our set pieces. I watched a lot of 70’s horror films for inspiration as well. I also like looking at things that are opposite of the genre. I suppose coming from a science and experimental film background has lent itself to my thinking, and a lot of creativity can come from a cross pollination of ideas.
How far in advance of filming do you begin?
It depends on the production. With films where I know the director or have worked with them before, I tend to get the chance to read the first drafts of the scripts – sometimes a few years in advance of the film being shot. I love that because I have a lot of time to really dig in and contribute from the earliest stage idea and conversations with the director. On others, I get the script maybe a few weeks to a month before shooting. I like to start as early as possible.
What do you have upcoming?
While Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City finds its way across the world, I have a TV series I’m working on called The Porter – a period drama series about railway workers from both Canada and the United States joined together to give birth to the world’s first Black union.