Yorgos Mavropsaridis has been working with director Yorgos Lanthimos since nearly the beginning. The two Yorgoses met years ago and found a collaboration that has lasted through several films, including four that found their way to North American audiences.
I recently spoke with editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis about his work with Lanthimos in general, and “The Favourite” in particular.
Karen Peterson/Awards Circuit: You’ve worked on several projects with–
Yorgos Mavropsaridis: Yorgos, all of his projects!
KP: How did you two first meet?
YM: We met in the commercial industry in Greece. I’m kind of in between generations of Greek filmmakers and where I was an apprentice with them, I was working with them. By the time I met Lanthimos I had done a lot of work in the Greek film industry. Then I met him, I did a lot of commercials and met him there. We kind of stuck together because we shared the same passion for our work. He wanted to experiment. He wanted to find new ways of telling stories. I was interested in that as well. It was enough with all these mainstream films I had done by that time. Sex comedies, we would call them.
And Yorgos, after being very successful testing his comedic style, his mise en scene in commercials, we did kind of work together in the sense that, from the beginning it was obvious you had to follow or be in accordance with the world view that was specific to Lanthimos. The way he moved his camera, he’s very… technically he’s very well-educated. He knows in depth all aspects of filmmaking, editing film and sound. But he also has a very broad mind about editing in the sense and I liked to work with him because he tries to engage you creatively and he wants you in the production. It’s a test all the time. Once you’re in… I have all the time to try something more than my capabilities and that helps me personally as well as an editor, of course. Although I’m very experienced, it was a new language for me to develop, to discover with Yorgos.
I think we get along together well…It’s a good collaboration, I think, because I follow his stages of development with every film he makes. It’s helpful because I do know him and I know his sensitivities and his language, which of course is not formed. But it has to be formed according to specific ways of working. And we do follow a very specific process in our editing. All these years we worked together. So to make sure we examine every aspect of the editing, we have enough time. He gives me a good amount of time, but we have to try a lot of things and stick to our originality, which is his thing.
Of course he’s never satisfied which is something peculiar to directors, I guess. That’s why, I guess, he will make his next film. To try to find this perfect balance between the elements. But he’s a difficult guy to feel, “I like this.” I’m not sure he likes his films so much as other people. He does, of course, but he finds there’s always something missing. He finds this or… That’s why we spend a lot of time in the editing room to try to balance on the small things whatever we can. We have time, time and ideas. The film is there, he doesn’t reshoot anything. There was only a reshoot of the ducks in this field because I guess they were not good enough. So they had to do that again. That’s about it.
KP: One thing about his films is that they are very unique, unlike anything else you see out there. What are some of the differences you have experienced working on Lanthimos films compared to some of the other directors you’ve worked with?
YM: We had to discover together his language. Especially when we did “Dogtooth.” [That] was a very big school for me as well because it was obvious from the beginning that he didn’t want to follow a usual procedure, even not a modern procedure during the end of the film. Just before I started assembling the film the first days of shooting, he sent me the script with all the scenes in different order so as to make me understand this is not a film we follow the plot or what happens there. We have to discover sentences within the scenes. Because there were a lot of scenes saying the same thing but taking one out and placing in a different place…
And also the faces we present from the beginning. This is not a film about a family. This is a film about how you discover their world. We do a lot of structural experiment because, for example, in “The Favourite,” we’d save the order of the scenes. The script started with the young woman Abigail coming to the court, so it followed the story all the way. But because we wanted something different, we started with the scene between Sarah and the Queen discussing love. And then “The Favourite” starts and it says okay, this is a film about love. It’s not about a girl who goes there. It’s how people interpret and experience love. Because these are women who experience love in a different way, of course. But they do love. Of course, they are also, not devious, but they have many faces like we all [do]. They have other motivations as well. Sarah does, and Abigail has her motivations, and the Queen. But basically they do start with this premise of what love is.
KP: What did you think when you first read the script?
YM: This is going to surprise you, but I first saw the film and then read the script. (laughs)
YM: Okay, I will explain to you why because I stayed behind when we finished the editing of “[The Killing of the Sacred] Deer,” I had to stay behind to finish the post for that. Yorgos had already started shooting “The Favourite,” so he started with a different editor, working in London while I was away. Then I came on board after they had done an assembly with Lanthimos, where I was presented with an assembly of the film. He specifically wanted me to see the film first and then to read the script. So I cannot answer this question because it was a different procedure for this film.
But we stayed together for another six months working on this script. It’s assembled as the script we have on paper.
The degree of difficulties of his films is big. But if you know him and you know what he’s looking for, you’re nearer. As we go together, we get to follow some rules. How we would like to see things. I tend to interpret things in a similar way. But also for the editor, it’s a pleasure to work on this film because all our work is very creative. It’s not like editing is subordinate to the plot. It’s a very creative process that shapes what is Yorgos Lanthimos. What is his creative articulation. Combining all the elements of cinematography. Very specific cinematography in all his films. Especially this one, as well. The elements of acting, which is particular to Lanthimos. The elements of music and sound. All these things need to be combined and orchestrated during this editing process.
KP: One of the things that is particularly striking about “The Favourite” is the cinematography, because it’s much different than we see in most other films. What sort of challenges did that style present for you as an editor?
YM: I was very surprised with that choice, the 8mm lenses. They do present a challenge in the sense that they can be, and have been, interpreted as pretentious. But, you know, Lanthimos is interested in presenting himself. How he is aesthetically, what things he likes aesthetically. Also, sometimes he likes to create different feelings for the audience. He doesn’t specifically need a certain kind of emotion. He likes the surprise of the interpretation as well. All these formal elements are very important because they shape his particular articulation. How he speaks. How he composes his words. What is his view of human beings and the situation in the world, and his own personal situation. All these things are important in the making of the films. Not only about the exterior and about some characters, which of course it is. But also it has to do with specific formal and aesthetic ideas Lanthimos has, which have important meaning as well, apart from being there at the core.
KP: Now that you’ve worked with Lanthimos on several films, what is something you’ve learned from working on “The Favourite?”
YM: I do get to work on other projects, and of course I have been influenced by my collaboration with Yorgos. He’s never been satisfied in trying to find a new way or the new language he wants. I believe the same, going to the end. If we’re going to do something, let’s go until the end and see the results. Because I don’t like to leave things unfinished or unspoken or not tried. In the editing process, we can try lots of things, and some crazy ideas might help. Sometimes we do work with Yorgos and think maybe we can try that. It doesn’t have to be a specific reason, but it creates possibilities. And also it has repercussions in your view and experience. I take with me to never say, “I can’t do it.” We have to find a way to do it.
KP: I love that! Do you have any favorite scenes?
YM: A lot of scenes are my favorite. The one that is basically homage to Alexis Damianos, a great director now gone in Greece that made a cult film about a whore and a soldier. The freedom of this scene inspired Yorgos to shoot this scene with Abigail and Masham in the woods. So this kind of freedom of movement and excitement of these two kids playing was influenced by that and some sequences we like to create. The parlay between Sarah lost in the woods and with this game with the oranges with the music and the sounds. I did enjoy this. And all the film as well.