The editor, in Zekun Mao’s opinion, is the second writer of a film. As an editor, she is a storyteller, taking footage and transforming it into a cohesive work of art. Sometimes, this requires going off script, using her better judgement and innate talent to decide just how to convey the meaning and message to the audience.
As an in-demand editor, Mao knows just what it takes to succeed in her industry. She has worked on many award-winning films, including Our Way Home, And The Dream That Mattered, Janek/Bastard, and more. Mao has always had an interest in film, and her passion for her work translates directly into every project she takes on.
“I think editing is the most important part of the entire post production process. An editor can either lift the story or ruin the film. I think my job as an editor is to realize the vision of the director, at the same time making sure that I am using all the footage as best as I can. My job is to highlight the great performance of every single actor, meanwhile hiding all the flaws. I want to lift the story by not only telling it, but also telling the story in the most beautiful way,” she said.
With such success throughout her career, Mao had some difficulty deciding just what the highlight has been. However, her work on the film Jie Jie received international acclaim. She put her heart and soul into the film, and it was recognized, as she took home several editing awards from prestigious film festivals around the world.
“The story is the reason why I worked on this project, and telling the story was the most enjoyable part of this process. I believe a lot of people had these feelings that the film reflects. Watching the film and revisiting those moments and feelings are such a magical experience,” she said.
Jie Jie follows three Taiwanese immigrants – a young Taiwanese girl, her younger sister and mom – as they try to adjust to their new life in the United States. The director, Fiona Roan, wanted to create an entirely female and Chinese team, because the story is about female Chinese immigrants and she wanted her crew to have a real connection to the story. Mao felt that connection every time she sat down to work.
“The story is about growing up, especially how it feels growing up as a girl. I truly love that. Girls are very sensitive and emotional. A lot of the feelings that we have while growing up were painful, confused and embarrassing. Through this story, I wanted to tell every single girl that it is okay to have those feelings, and it is okay to feel confused, because that’s what growing up is,” said Mao. “Moreover, the story is about Chinese immigrants. Immigration is a huge topic nowadays, so is the Asian community. I want to highlight stories that are about my own community and about our history. As a Chinese filmmaker, I see that as one of my responsibilities. I think it is very important to show the difficulties and struggles that Chinese immigrants have even today.”
Mao began working on the film during pre-production, something that is unusual for an editor, but she was very committed to telling the story in the best way possible. She suggested having limited cuts in the film, as this would create a natural flow, as if it was happening in real time. In pre-production, they therefore planned exactly where they would cut while shooting.
“I believe that because of this decision, our story was truly told the way it should be. The story is emotional, portrayed through a child’s point of view. I wanted to show the vulnerability and the pain in the most real way, therefore having limited cuts to allow the actors’ performance to have a strong influence on the audiences,” said Mao.
Jie Jie was an Official Selection at over 30 film festivals. It took home 15 awards, including three for Best Editing, recognizing Mao’s outstanding work. It went on to air on HBO platforms around the world, giving audiences everywhere a chance to be immersed in this timely and emotional story. Such success could never have been achieved without Mao as editor and storyteller.
“I am really happy that our film has been such a success. I feel really rewarded. All the hard work that we put in really made a difference. I am happy that I highlighted the story from my own community. I am happy that I was able to say what a lot of Chinese immigrants want to say. I am so happy that I can share this beautiful piece with people from all over the world. And I am even more thrilled that so many people like it,” she concluded.