Oscars: <I>Past Lives</I> editor Keith Fraase
Marc Loftus
February 21, 2024

Oscars: Past Lives editor Keith Fraase

First-time filmmaker Celine Song’s feature Past Lives is Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Original Screenplay. Editor Keith Fraase says that once he read the script, he was extremely interested in coming onboard to cut the project, which was shot over five weeks in New York City and South Korea.

“The script was so strong and had such a clear voice,” he recalls. “And, [Celine] had in-hand so firmly what she wanted to say. That was so apparent with script that it just swept me away. I was completely taken with the characters that she was writing and in the style that she wanted to tell it.”

Fraase (pictured) got involved in late 2021, with production taking place into 2022 and the film ultimately premiering at Sundance in early 2023. The feature was shot on 35mm film, so he was approximately two days behind with the dailies, which his assistant would sync with audio for him to edit in an Avid system. Initially, he worked from his home in Westchester, with Song coming by for session, and then ultimately moved to Company 3 in New York City once shooting wrapped.

The film begins by introducing the audience to Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), two elementary-school students in Korea, who have feelings for each other. After Nora’s family emigrates to North America, the two are separated for a dozen years before reconnecting online. Years later they meet in-person in New York City, where Nora is now married to Arthur (John Magaro), leaving both Nora and Hae Sung to question their choices and paths.
While the first act is set in Korea, and much of the second act intercuts between New York and Korea, the Korean sections of the film were shot last. All of the New York scenes — where the later part of the film takes place — were shot first. In fact, Fraase says it was the Statue of Liberty scene that he received to work on first.

“I love the style of shooting that they did on that,” Fraase recalls. “It really energized me too. This is the first day (and) I was super excited about what footage I was receiving.”

Fraase points to a handful of scenes that he sees as highlights of the film. One being the Madison Square Park scene, where Hae Sung is waiting to meet Nora for the first time since they were children. The camera stays focused on the performance, as he nervously awaits her arrival. And when she calls out to him off-camera, the edit stays on Hae Sung, capturing his reaction.

“We wanted every edit to have meaning — every cut to have meaning…So the idea behind holding on a shot was a challenge. How long can we hold this shot without it losing meaning or getting boring? Sometimes we held long. Sometimes we cut short. But with Hae Sung, (we’re) starting to feel anxious. When is this meeting going to happen? You don't want to cut away from that because you want that tension to build. If you put a cut in there, it's going to deflate that moment a little bit. Hae Sung is holding his breath, so we're going to hold the shot.”

Fraase also points to the scene where Nora brings Hae Sung home to meet Arthur for the first time. The two actors had never met before that scene, and the nervous tension is apparent. 

“I loved cutting that scene,” says the editor. “That was one of the few scenes we didn't make that many adjustments to, from the first edit. It was kind of very natural. The performances were all great, and the scene kind of presented itself to us almost fully formed from that first edit.”

Fraase also really likes the bar scene at the end of the film, where all three characters are present. 

“[It’s] just kind of culmination of everything,” he states. “All these strands Celine had set up earlier kind of come together, and this one scene, this one conversation, is really where the fireworks start happening…That area (is) where I feel like we're firing on all pistons.”