Some Kind of Heaven is filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s feature debut. The documentary is set within the palm-tree-lined streets of The Villages, America’s largest and most utopian retirement community in central Florida, where four residents struggle to find happiness.
Some Kind of Heaven challenges stereotypes around aging, emboldening its characters to live as vibrantly as possible in the time they have left.
Daniel Garber cut the project using Adobe Premiere Pro. It runs 83 minutes in length and debuted on Sunday, January 26th at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT.
According to Garber, director Lance Oppenheim started working on the film as a school project.
“He thought it was going to be a short documentary at first,” recalls Garber. “After the first shoot, though, he realized that the subject, America’s largest retirement community, was far too big to cover in short form. Lance, who also has a co-editor credit on the film, is a stellar editor himself — but he had never worked on a feature-length film before and wanted to find an editor who shared his sensibilities but had also cut features.
“I had worked previously with producer Pacho Velez, and he put Lance in touch with me. We immediately hit it off. Lance and I had attended the same film program six years apart, and we found that we were speaking the same language and looking to a lot of the same references for inspiration. Before I had officially signed onto the project, I had the rare (for an editor) chance to go with the crew on one of the shoots. I met a lot of the people who appear in our documentary, [and] got to experience the strange world of The Villages for myself, which was extremely helpful as the edit progressed.”
The documentary was shot primarily with an Arri Alexa Mini, shooting 4:3 2.8K in ProRes HQ.
“Lance had already started editing with the first several dozen hours of footage when I came on, so I was trying to conform my workflow to the existing structure rather than reinvent the process,” says Garber. “We wanted to keep everything relatively mobile, so we decided to cut offline in ProRes proxy in HD, burning the LUT into the proxies to maximize performance during the edit. Lance and I would watch through long stringouts for each day of the shoot, annotating with markers, and then have our AEs help with pulling selects based on our evaluations of the footage.
“By the end of the screening process, we had many different ways of searching the footage—by date, by character, by topic — which was essential for this doc. Premiere proved to be a very capable all-in-one solution. I like doing a fair bit of sound work during the edit and would even occasionally mock up temp composites, and none of that work ever interrupted our flow in the editing room because of how quick and easy it was to do what I needed to do right in the NLE.”
Garber reflects on a key scene within the film that focuses on Barbara, a main character who lost her husband to a brain tumor.
“She’s had trouble fitting into this utopian retirement city and feels weighed down by her loss, wondering if she’ll find love and happiness again in her life,” he explains. “Later in the film, she meets a charismatic golf cart salesman named Lynn and experiences unexpected chemistry with him, which excites her so much that she recounts the entire story to her hairdresser. It’s a small victory for her — a moment of hope and optimism that breaks through the shroud of depression and grief.”
From an editing standpoint, Garber first approached the story beat in linear fashion, showing Barbara at the golf cart shop, meeting Lynn, and then showing her dwelling on the episode while at the salon.
“But it didn’t work,” he recalls, “Even after painstaking refinement. The former scene still felt long and unclear; the latter, redundant. But then I tried intercutting the two. We would experience the first exchange between Barbara and Lynn in the moment, but once their chemistry was palpable, we would launch into Barbara’s rose-tinted memory of the meeting, with snippets of her narration to the hairdresser intercut with the actual events. It worked.”
The intercut version was funnier, he notes, with Lynn in the golf cart shop finishing Barbara’s sentences in the salon, the hairdresser providing humorous reactions.
“And, better yet, it felt more true to Barbara as a character: rather than adhering to the slow progression of events in reality, we could be swept up in Barbara’s own version of the story, justifying leaps in time based on what her memories contained. The resulting sequence feels like a genuine high point for her. With the addition of a fine piece of music from composer Ari Balouzian, this became one of my favorite sequences in the film, which has been more or less locked since the very first rough cut.”