No matter what you do for a living, the best way for you to get continued work, and possibly better work than what you are currently doing, is to do amazing work. It sounds simplistic but continually striving to outperform yourself creates a lifetime of billboards which advertise how talented and unique you are at your vocation. This is applicable to the entertainment industry perhaps more than any other. Vishnu Perumal is a respected and lauded editor whose work on many varied projects continues to make him sought after in Hollywood. His work on the films Violet Hour and The Devil I Know placed his name at the top of the list when Zachary Skipp, Producer of Only Light, was looking for an editor for the film. Only Light would go on to become an award-winning film (receiving recognitions at the LA Indie Film Fest and First Film, US) for its all too real depiction of human trafficking in the US.
While news outlets and journalists are often the first to inform the world about the events occurring, artists and storytellers typically deliver the most impactful and provocative messages. It’s not simply the information we receive but the way in which it is delivered that colors and shapes our view of what is happening and how we feel about it. While writers and directors shape the story, editors like Perumal craft its content and appearance to audiences. Whether a plot is lighthearted or somber, the role of an editor is to be the force behind the punch that is delivered. Only Light hits like a ton of bricks. Vishnu was most interested by what this production had to offer him as an editor. He relates, “Only Light was described to me as a somewhat abstract, experimental narrative filled with nuance and drama. Since the films I had edited were numerous and eclectic, I felt that I was perfect for the position.”
Only Light is a film about the lives of two girls of the same age from very different parts of the world and how their lives intertwine as a result of sex trafficking. Laeticia lives in a village in Congo Africa. She is abducted by a group of armed men and taken away. Meanwhile, in California, a young rebellious girl by the name of Zora sulks about having to help her parents with the family yard sale. She comes into contact with her neighbor (whom she has a crush on) but her mother (who had always felt uneasy around him) quickly pulls her away from the conversation. As the story progresses, Zora notices weird events involving her neighbor, including a very late night arrival from a windowless van in which a cloaked figure is ushered into her house very quickly. Our suspicions are confirmed when we discover Laeticia locked in the basement of Zora’s neighbor, forced into use as a sex worker. To escape the horrors of her situation, Laeticia reverts into her own mind and fantasies, away from reality. Zora thinks nothing of that night at first but the evidence and her suspicions keep mounting. As her suspicions elevate, she decides to break into her neighbor’s house to save Laeticia. Sadly, this sequence is revealed to be nothing more than a fantasy imagined by Laeticia in her own mind.
Zora is an obvious proxy for society and their lack of involvement in this horrendous situation which is evident in real life. The intention of the film was to meld magical realism with hard grounded realism. Zora’s POV would be more realistic because she is the character who discovers and notices the horror that exists next to her home, and therefore moves the narrative forward. Laeticia’s point of view would often drift into fantasy because, in the logic of the narrative, she would have nowhere else to escape than in her own mind. The stark contrasts in these two points of view would prove difficult to transition between. These seamless transitions in the film supply the perfect means to move in and out of reality; discussed by both Allen and Perumal and perfectly created by Vishnu. He describes, “Trapped in the basement of her kidnapper, Laeticia puts her face through a bowl of water in an attempt to end her life. This seamlessly transitions to a fantasy like sequence of her underwater, and when that sequence ends, we spin the frame 90 degrees (while she was underwater) and had her float up to the surface as though she were moving horizontally. We would use that motion to match cut on movement again to the next scene. In terms of pacing, we agreed to have the film rev up gradually…so audiences would notice a much slower pace in the beginning, but as the story progresses and more is revealed through the plot, the pace of editing gets faster and faster. This reaches a pinnacle at the very end when Zora is trying to break Laeticia out of the basement as we constantly cut back and forth between Zora, Laeticia, and the sex trafficker, with each cycle getting faster and faster.
While the audience is rarely aware of this aspect, what you don’t see sometimes heightens the story just as much as what you do see. An editor’s role is sometimes one which calls for the positive delivery of a negative message. As the sculptor of a film’s message and content, Vishnu is regularly the professional who must deliver an unpopular idea to the filmmaker. He describes, “Cutting out the fat of unnecessary footage or moments is the very first thing we do as editors, so cutting out things that I deem unnecessary is one of the first things I try to visualize. Unfortunately, as with most directors, they tend to be very, very attached to their footage and are very hesitant to cut out anything.” Fortuitously for Perumal, Zachary Skipp sought him out. Skipp notes, ““I hired Vishnu as an Editor for Only Light after seeing what he had done on previous films. His ability to understand and work with abstract and experimental forms of storytelling and mold them into a cohesive story is one of the many reasons as to why I brought him onto the project. Vishnu was deeply involved and began working early on in the project, starting in pre-production. Only Light was a film with many technical aspects (shooting in different mediums, various effects, etc.) that an average editor would find daunting to work with. I knew that I had an amazing editor working alongside me on this film and I trusted his counsel.”
While the story of Only Light is uncomfortable to watch, it is one delivered with expert ability and in a thoughtful manner. It is a film which is important to experience.