Sharper is a dramatic thriller set in New York City. The feature, from Apple Original Films and A24, stars Julianne Moore and John Lithgow, along with Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, newcomer Briana Middleton. The film’s characters compete for riches and power in a high stakes game of ambition, greed, lust and jealousy that is design to keep audiences guessing until the final moment.
Emmy-winner Yan Miles edited the feature, which is streaming on Apple TV+. He recently shared insight to how he approached the
nonlinear script, and how Sandy’s character serves as the link between multiple storylines.
Hi Yan! How did you get involved in this project?
“I became involved in Sharper after previously working with the director, Ben Caron. We met on the first season of The Crown and crafted the episode Assassins together, among many projects. We work harmoniously, and Ben's shooting style forges well with me. In addition, working together for several years and learning shorthand with one another helps with the long hours in the cutting room. When Ben asked if I wanted to cut a movie with him, you could guess my answer. The script was a page-turner, and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka are geniuses. The nonlinear acts also excited me, as it’s something Ben and I have played around with before.”
How did you approach the editorial, and what was your workflow like?
“The workflow was similar to my past projects. Shoot, edit on Avid, mix and grade. One difference was that Ben and Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the cinematographer, decided to shoot on 35mm film. This doesn’t change much for my edit workflow, but with developing the negative, scanning and grading to LUT stills, my dailies would arrive for sound sync at the end of the day the next day. I do have to say that Picture Shop in New York City handled the process perfectly, but I often cut on-location, as I feel very in sync with the shoot, which is not always possible. So, initially receiving the footage one day later was a minor obstacle in pursuing the joy of 35mm photography.
“We had a quick workaround by asking the video playback from video village to supply the files with sound from the in-built HD camera in the 35mm camera. The video feed was horrendous! Although it was similar to a bad video shoot from the 1990s on U-matic or VHS tape, it allowed me to get the footage early and start assembling it. Cutting this low-quality dry run was extremely rewarding the next day when the 35mm, beautifully colored, crisp and visually-cohesive version arrived. I would assemble it from scratch again. Most editors don’t like to cut twice, but having a sense of the footage, even a fuzzy and cloudy one, was advantageous for me.”
How did you approach navigating this particular storyline and the amount of characters involved?
“We looked at the material with an open mind, and let the characters and the performances lead us to make them believable and multi-dimensional. Regarding the nonlinear narrative in chapters, we focused more on the title character, thus spending more time getting to know them. Then there is the nature of Sharper and never knowing the real characters at play. So, to keep track of the story, we had many whiteboards on the walls of the cutting room, and Ben and I also often moved the acts back to a linear structure and discussed them endlessly.”
Can you point to a section or two that are particularly interesting or challenging from an editing standpoint?
“I love the film as a whole, but if I had to pick, a few scenes would stand out. Firstly, it would be Sandra's training montage in the second chapter. Max gives her fake university education and backstory whilst helping her get clean of her drug habit — all in a one-knitted edit. With the nonlinear structure, we have already witnessed Tom being conned by Sandra in the first chapter, but the montage provided insights into how and why she did it.
“Next would be Sandy’s chapter, as it was a joy to unravel. To fully lean into the final narrative, the story returns to the linear order at the end of Madeline’s chapter. However, we did jump back in time to show Sandy getting off the plane, which helped focus us on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of her journey. Finally, we see how she worked with others to con Max and Madeline because she just wanted to be loved, which all of the characters are searching for in the end.”
“The scene of Max and Madeline dancing in the bar was ridiculously sensational. We chose Don Henley’s song prior to filming. With the support of Simon Astall, our music supervisor, Ben and I discussed using music for the characters and being bold when using source music. Ben shared this choice with Sebastian. It turned out he was a big fan, which helped his character, Max. I was struck by the core when I cut this scene. They successfully pull off the con and simply go out to dance and drink. A late-night scene followed the dance, and I loved the hard cut from Don Henley’s crazy and odd dance to calm back to business.
“Finally, Madeline tries to call Max back after Sandra has moved into the guest room. She’s losing everything, and we conveyed a passage of day and night on the glorious Central Park balcony. This formed to lean into her dread, and when Clint Mansell decided to reach for his guitar, it was forged.
“In addition, Ben always wanted each character to have a montage — it’s one of his trademarks. I like to joke that we often stick the film in the washing machine to see what comes out. I’m a huge advocate of telling stories in fragments and nonlinear ways, as it gives the audiences a profound way of connecting the dots and narrative.”