Editing: Prime Video's <I>Emergency</I>
Issue: May/June 2022

Editing: Prime Video's Emergency

In Prime Video’s Emergency, college seniors Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) have a night of Spring Break partying planned, but when they return to their apartment, they discover their roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) has left the door open. As they enter, they find a drunk, semi-conscious, white female on the floor. Carlos is oblivious to the scene, as he’s been playing videogames with his headphones on. 

Rather than call the police, the young men decide they are going to take Emma (Maddie Nichols) somewhere safe. In the meantime, Emma’s sister Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter) has realized that Emma left the party and begins her own search by tracking Emma’s phone location. 

Photo: Lam T. Nguyen

The film was directed by Carey Williams and runs 1 hour and 44 minutes. Lam T. Nguyen (IG/Twitter: lamt_nguyen) edited the feature and recently spoke with Post about his involvement in the project. 

How did I get involved with Emergency?

“I worked with director Carey Williams prior to Emergency. That film was R#J  — a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. We built a strong relationship on that project and he approached me for Emergency to see if I was interested. After reading the script that was beautifully crafted by KD Davila, I immediately called Carey, sharing my excitement about the story. We instantly aligned on what the core of the movie was about, which was a love story between two friends and their journey on this wild night. After a few meetings with the producers at Amazon and Temple Hill Entertainment, I was fortunate enough to be selected for this opportunity.”

Can you talk about your editing setup?

“I used Adobe Premiere Pro for this project. This was quite an interesting remote workflow. My assistant editors, Jaime Blanco and Darnell Stallworth, were in New York and I was editing here in LA. Amazon has a cloud storage system, and we would use the Adobe Suite connected to the cloud. So my AEs and I would have remote access to our own super PC at Amazon and those PCs would be connected to one cloud storage drive. 

“Initially I was using my 2018 Macbook Pro to log in to Amazon’s remote PC when I was assembling scenes during production in Atlanta. After production wrapped, I was set up at a studio with an iMac Pro connected directly via gigabyte ethernet and two 50-inch TV monitors for the rest of post production. One TV in my space and the second for the director in a separate room.

“We used the Adobe production feature, where we can access the same project simultaneously. It was awesome for my assistants to pull anything that was needed while I did my edits, and sharing updates was seamless. Pretty neat that we all were virtually using one space while living in different parts of the country.”

What were some of the challenges in cutting this feature?

“The challenge on this film was the balance between comedy and drama — how to land comedy just right so that the drama can carry the story. One of the most challenging scenes was at Terrance’s apartment. This was where the boys rush out of the apartment after hearing about Emma being in high school. There were so many variations of the scene. Carey and I had to surgically work through the scene to find the right combo since we had to bounce out to Maddie and her group getting near to finding them, and the dramatic moment inside the apartment. We knew we had something right when the producers laughed out loud. It’s even more assuring and gratifying to hear the roaring laughter from the crowd during theater screenings.”

Do you have a favorite scene?

“One of my favorite scenes would be the police chase/hospital scene. To be able to feel the speed on how rapid things can go wrong and break away from the chaos for a moment to experience Kunle’s emotions while he tries save the girl — then back to chaos again —was cool. There was a moment during the police chase where we focused on Kunle and Maddie making eye contact, worried that Emma might not make it. This moment was actually meant for later, when they stopped at the hospital. Carey had a great idea to insert that moment during the chase instead to add that extra emotional layer. Carey and I really wanted to focus on being in Kunle’s shoes this entire time instead of just making it a dramatic chase. This helped for the payoff at the hospital, when we freeze in time while feeling Kunle’s fear and innocence slowly being stripped away. We really needed this moment to be very powerful and this scene emotionally gets me every time.

“Another favorite scene would be generally almost everyone’s favorite — the lab scene at the end, where Kunle and Sean open up their hearts and embrace each other. When I saw the dailies for this, I knew we got something special. The actors really did a stellar job and that, in fact, really made my edits more delicate. It was hard to cut away from such an emotional performance. But I knew we needed to get reactions. So I tried this exercise: I closed my eyes and play the take where Kunle pours out his emotions without stopping. With my finger placed on a marker key, I would hit the key on a moment where I felt like I wanted to look up. That’s where I would insert Sean’s reaction. I would step away from the scene and come back to it a couple days after and did the exercise again. The cutaways stayed consistent. So those reaction shots you see in the film really stayed there from the first round of edits. The goal was simply emotional. It’s more about the emotion than what we’re seeing, and I really wanted the audience to feel that instead of just observing.

“One last scene that I like to point out was what Carey and I called ‘the night reverse montage.’ This is the montage after the hospital scene, where it was just music and shots of locations in reverse as a summary of the film. This wasn’t in the script. It was something that I tried without telling Carey before showing the first draft. It was one of those things where the boys were supposed to have a ‘legendary tour’ party, but instead, each party was replaced by a dramatic event of each location. So it was like a reverse montage opposite of the legendary tour montage. I recall Carey really loving this moment and [was] so glad this stayed in the final cut.”