Sundance: <I>Shirley</I> editor David Barker
February 12, 2020

Sundance: Shirley editor David Barker

Shirley debuted at Sundance on Saturday, January 25th. Directed by Josephine Decker, the 107-minute film is based on a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell and screenplay by Sarah Gubbins. 

The film tells the story of Fred and Rose, a young couple who move to a small Vermont college town in pursuit of a job for Fred as an assistant professor of literature. In return for free room and board from professor Stanley Hyman, Rose agrees to spend time cleaning up the home and looking after his wife, acclaimed horror author Shirley Jackson. The production stars Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman.

Editor David Barker had worked with director Josephine Decker in the past, collaborating as a consulting editor on Butter On The Latch and Madeline’s, and as an editor and co-writer on   Thou Was Mild And Lovely.

“Meeting Josephine is a big part of why I am still working in film, because she brings such intelligence and energy and creativity to the work,” says Barker. “I loved the script for SHirley, and was a big fan of Sarah Gubbin’s show I Love Dick, so was thrilled when Josephine invited me to collaborate on this.”

The project was shot by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen in 3.2 ProRes 4444XT.

“The shoot was upstate and we were in New York City, so we had dailies sent via Dropbox, and  I had a staggered work week, which allowed me to travel upstate on Jospehine’s days off to talk about the material and discuss scenes together,” explains Barker, who cut the project using Adobe Premiere Pro. “Otherwise, as an editor, I am interested in humans and drama, I’m not technical at all, so can’t tell you too much about this end of things.”

Barker says there are scenes in Shirley, where the horror author is writing, and the audience hears her thoughts. 

“That developed out of the edit,” says Barker. “Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal of Shirley Jackson is so powerful, but the challenge for editing was that she portrayed her as someone who has a power over people, because you never know what she is thinking, and she is very unpredictable. That makes for some great drama, but to create a really full character we wanted the audience to be able to relate to her from the outside, as Rose does, as well as from the inside.”

The solution, says Barker, was to open up and dramatize her writing process through voice-over.  

“(Screenwriter) Sarah Gubbins came into the edit room and wrote beautiful passages that reflected Shirley’s struggle, as well as the ways that things that happened in life insprired and were worked into her writing,” he recalls. “This not only made Shirley a much more relatable character, to constrast with her fierce exterior, but became an important element of Shirley and Rose’s relationship because we could track Shirley’s use of her as a muse better.”

Tamar-kali composed original music for the film. For more on Shirley, visit the Website