Sundance: <I>Boys State</I> editor Jeff Gilbert, ACE
January 28, 2020

Sundance: Boys State editor Jeff Gilbert, ACE

Boys State is a political coming-of-age story that examines the health of American democracy through an unusual experiment. One thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state of Texas gathered together to build a representative government from the ground up. High-minded ideals collide with low-down tricks as four boys of diverse backgrounds and political views navigate the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus, and campaigning for the highest office at Texas Boys State — governor.

Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine document impeachment threats, debates, underdog victories, and internet memes. By charting the dramatic twists and turns of intersecting stories, the viewer is reminded that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Jeff Gilbert, ACE, cut the project, which runs 109 minutes. It screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 24th. Here, Gilbert details his work with the directors.

How did you get involved in this project?

“The directors, Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine are longtime collaborators. We last worked on The Overnighters, which is a film that holds a very special place in my heart. When they approached me to come and take over the edit of Boys State, I was very excited to get the band back together, so to speak. 

“I watched a very long assembly they had put together with another editor and knew immediately that I wanted to get involved and help bring the film to the finish line. What struck me, even in its earliest iteration, were the characters. The young men in the film possessed idealism and ambition, and I connected with them emotionally in unexpected ways. Making that sort of resonant connection is a critical component that drives my decision making process about whether or not to get involved in a project. So the combination of my excitement for working with Jesse and Amanda again, coupled with my enthusiasm for the material made this a very easy decision.”

The feature was captured in 4K using a Canon c300. Can you talk about your Adobe Premiere workflow?

“The workflow for this particular project proved to be challenging. First of all, the project was set up by another edit team, so inevitably things were lost in translation during the hand-off. Another challenge was having to work remotely, as myself, the directors and the assistant editor, Connor Hall, were all in different offices across two different cities. The onus of keeping all of our projects aligned fell on Connor’s lap a lot, and he came up with some creative solutions to meet our particular demands.

“Footage-wise, there was a lot to work with, as there were sometimes nine camera crews running at any given time during production. We used the proxy function of Premiere Pro to cut offline and ultimately did the online in (Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci) Resolve and finished color in Lustre.” 

Is there a scene that you would call attention to because of the editing challenges or success in helping to tell the story?

“There was a particular sequence that was restless throughout the edit. These scenes were part of our two state party chairmen's - Ben and René - story. The work they had to accomplish within their parties had a somewhat subtle effect on the larger governor’s race, which is the story spine, so it took a lot of trial and error to find a home for these critical scenes. We needed to highlight the contrasting experiences of the opposing party leaders in order to build their characters, yet we needed to do so without deflating the energy of the race itself. Finding the right balance was tricky, but in the end I think we found the right equation. Sometimes when the placement of a scene isn’t perfect, but you know it has a larger function and can’t be discarded, it’s important to be ok with the notion that there is, at least, no better place for that sequence to go - and then act like it’s the perfect place.”

To learn more about Boys State, visit the Website,