Editing: <I>False Positive</I>
Issue: May/June 2021

Editing: False Positive

Editor Jon Philpot recently cut director John Lee’s new feature False Positive, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu. The dramatic thriller stars Ilana Glazer as Lucy and Justin Theroux as Adrian - a couple who have been dealing with infertility issues, but seemingly find hope after meeting renowned reproductive specialist Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). Here, Philpot shares his experience working on the feature.

How did you get involved with the project?

“I became involved with False Positive while cutting the last season of Broad City. Though, going further back, I had an insane job interview for a show called Kids Show with John Lee and Vernon Chatman. The interview was kinda meta, part prank, part art. I thought I bombed it. Strangely enough, I passed the prank, got the gig and wound up working with them on what would become Wonder Showzen. 

“Over the years, we've built a great working relationship and friendship. We like a lot of the same films and music. It’s nice to hang-out and work. I cut their shows Xavier: Renegade Angel, The Heart, She Holler, Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter and The Shivering Truth. Both of them have been my champions. I'm pretty sure John gave me the recommendation that landed me on Broad City, where he was a director. I worked on Broad City for three seasons and was fortunate enough to cut two episodes that Ilana Glazer directed. We built a shorthand and trust. I was also able to get a sense of her rhythm, which is on another level. Working with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana was transformative. They pushed me to become a better version of myself.” 

Tell us a bit about the film. What was your approach from an editing standpoint?

“I’m very happy with how it came out. It lives between genres - it's a social satire, a horror and a thriller. It’s in a world of its own tonally. I started cutting in shoot order, when production got ahead of me, I doubled back and worked in script order. I would cut scenes and then have my assistant, Kira Ablak, do small alternate versions of how to move from shot to shot. She was great to bounce ideas off of. Always a helpful, grounding voice in the room. 

Editor Jon Philpot

“Outside of the edit, I would listen to music that I thought would be the imaginary soundtrack to that world. During that time, I found Lucy Railton, who would eventually compose the score with Yair Elazar Glotman. I made a mix. It’s fun and a little dark...I'll refrain from spoilers but I feel like the ending is a triumph. At one point we had time working in three directions at one time, but ultimately settled on time working two directions at once.”

What kind of dialogue did you have with the writers/directors?

“Working with John and Ilana was great. Since they were the writers, there wasn’t much confusion about the film's ultimate goal. John and I were in the edit room on the day-to-day. I would work through scenes with him or screen an alternate version that I cut during dailies. It was great connecting the dots with him, and highlighting things we both find interesting or acting as a soundboard for a new direction. Ilana was crucial during the notes process. It's nice to have new ideas that shake up old ideas. It reminds me of when I was in a band. We would write a song and then communally pick it apart. The end product is a thing of it's own that exists autonomously.”

Tell us about edit?

“There are no wrong ideas. It’s an open playbook. John and Ilana have roots in absurdist comedy and their minds work in magical ways. For example, when John and I were working on Wonder Showzen, I would get a request like, “Take one frame of that puppet, loop it and then change the pitch of that loop so that the puppet says another word”. So, I would try it and oftentimes it would work! So much is possible when you stay flexible in the edit. Scene order and scene structure are malleable, being open to a new path can improve the story. That said, I try to keep a log of motivations in the back of my mind so we don’t get too far off course.”

What else have you been working on?

“In the depths of the pandemic I was able to cut three episodes of Girls5eva for Peacock. It was my first time working with Meredith Scardino, Tina Fey, Robert Carlock and the show’s secret weapon, composer Jeff Richmond. They are dialed into a tempo of joke writing that the average human cannot sustain.

“Currently I'm wrapping up Season 2 of Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, which has been great. Nora radiates positivity, her whole team is great. I spent a lot of time editing with the amazing Karey Dornetto and Teresa Hsaio. Nora is also hands-on with her show, she’s happy to get into the weeds while at the same time keeping it fun and funny.

“Next up, I'm jumping onto Search Party Season 5. That's some really good luck right there - working with Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, Michael Showalter and all the folks at Jax Media for five seasons of this incredibly-funny and anxiety-inducing show. The writing on this show is so good. They always build a great foundation for us to build upon. Make sure to check out Seasons 1 to 4. You won’t regret it.”