The Inverse Awards
Film editor Paul Rogers on parallel universes, The Matrix, and A24's breakout hit 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'
“Every scene was an incredible challenge.”
A few years ago, film editor Paul Rogers was meeting with the directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, along with producer Jonathan Wang, in Kwan’s back office in Highland Park.
Rogers had known and collaborated with the filmmaking duo — widely known as “Daniels” — for years. He edited some of their short films, as well as their 2014 music video for the DJ Snake and Lil Jon hit “Turn Down for What.”
Now, the Daniels were telling him about an ambitious feature film they wanted to make — a surrealistic, sci-fi dramedy about a Chinese-American father (later changed to a mother) who must save the world by teaming up with parallel universe versions of himself in a multiverse under attack.
“At that moment, I wasn’t technically involved,” Rogers tells Inverse. “They were just like, ‘Hey, we have this script. We’re trying to figure out some things. And we need someone to bounce ideas off of.’ I was just like, ‘This is amazing. I really want to see it happen.’ It was a very emotional experience.
“I had no expectations to work on it,” he adds. “They’d already done another feature film [Swiss Army Man] with another editor, Matt Hannam, who’s incredible and a good friend.”
But when the Daniels completed the script for what would become their dizzying breakout hit Everything Everywhere All at Once — one of the year’s most acclaimed films, and A24’s highest-grossing movie ever — they tapped Rogers to serve as editor. While actors Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan have attracted much of the award-season buzz, Rogers played a crucial role behind the scenes, cutting the film and helming its disorienting transitions between parallel universes. After filming wrapped in early March 2020, he spent the subsequent lockdown working from home, cutting Everything Everywhere All at Once on a years-old iMac using Adobe Premiere Pro in his living room.
In a recent conversation with Inverse, Rogers discussed the challenges of editing the genre-defying film, taking influence from The Matrix, and the moment he realized the movie was a huge success.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When you first read the script for Everything Everywhere All at Once, what was your initial reaction?
I was reading the script and I started trying to plan it all out in my head—how it was going to be cut — and I was completely overwhelmed. I had to just turn off the editor part of my brain and think of it as a film that I wanted to see and that I was excited to help make. I was like, “How are they going to pull this off?” But I was also like, “If there’s anyone in the world who could pull it off, it’s these two people.”
When they first pitched it to me, it was about a father and daughter. By the time it went to script form, it had shifted to the mother-daughter story it is today.
“When they first pitched it to me, it was about a father and daughter.”
During those early conversations, did you expect the movie to be an enormous success?
Not really. I would dream these dreams, and then I would say, “OK, let’s set our expectations in the real world. It’s going to find its audience. People who love it are going to love it. And people who don’t won’t. But it’s not for everybody.” Because it’s very weird, you know? It’s a very strange movie. It takes really big swings. And a lot of times, those movies just find a small, really passionate audience.
What was the most challenging part of editing this film?
We went into lockdown the week after we started the offline. And we had to go remote. We had to be alone. I had a 3-year-old and no child care. I cut this thing on a 2017 iMac in my living room. My kids are running around behind me. My wife is working on her computer behind me. It was this crazy thing. I was doing child care until 1 in the afternoon and then I would do the movie until 11 at night.
As far as editorially, every scene was an incredible challenge. They didn’t waste any pages in the script on something that wasn’t challenging in one way or another.
Any scenes that were particularly difficult?
Some of the most challenging scenes for me were the ending, with Evelyn and Joy in the parking lot. It required an incredible amount of groundwork to be laid from the opening scenes in the laundromat so that you care about these characters in the first 10 minutes so that when they finally have this moment of release at the end, you actually feel it.
The first couple screenings we did, everything was functioning correctly, but that emotional catharsis just wasn’t there. We weren’t quite empathizing the viewers to these characters well enough in the first 10 minutes. That was a huge challenge, figuring out how to keep the viewer engaged emotionally with these characters while we’re also going on these flights of fancy and making silly jokes and doing this 15-minute fight sequence.
Were you on set during the shooting process?
Not every day. I was cutting while they were shooting. But I would visit the set, and it was insane. They have a really fun set. I don’t know if you’ve seen the behind-the-scenes, but it’s very much like a summer camp.
At the beginning of the day, they do warm-up exercises. And massage trains. Dances. And they take breaks to make sure everybody’s happy and having fun. There’s this feeling in the creative world that great art comes through suffering. I don’t doubt that that is true in some cases. But I think Dan and Daniel have taught me over the years that pain is not a prerequisite for creating something beautiful.
“Each transition was treated as a unique thing.”
Part of what makes this movie complex is the constant jumping back and forth between different parallel universes. As an editor, how did you approach those constant transitions in the film? What direction did the Daniels give you?
Each transition was treated as a unique thing. We tried not to establish a language of the transition and then just replicate that every time. I felt like that would just get old and repetitive. So each one was like, “OK, how can we make this one unique? How can we make this one special and feel right and also maybe [reflect] what’s going on in the story or what’s going on with the character?”
Were there any movies that you were using as a touchstone or that the Daniels referenced to you?
Obviously, The Matrix is a huge influence. That was almost just unspoken. You can’t make a sci-fi movie or action movie without having The Matrix in mind. It was so influential on our generation of filmmakers. We all love The Matrix. We would talk about it all the time. But we didn’t want to just replicate The Matrix. What we wanted to do is replicate that spirit of watching something new and groundbreaking.
[The Daniels] had me watch Holy Motors. What they wanted me to take from watching Holy Motors was the idea that a movie could break all the rules and that a movie could be anything. It was really a lesson in the spirit of filmmaking from that film. I tried to keep the feeling of watching that film: At any moment, anything could happen and you’re totally open to it because it just establishes this world where you trust the film. That was something I kept in mind as we cut this film.
How did you approach editing the “Raccacoonie” scenes?
When the Daniels work, they have this tendency to take something really ridiculous and treat it really seriously. They also have the inverse of taking something really serious and treating it really ridiculous. When she discovered “Raccacoonie” for the first time, we treat that whole universe as this really dramatic, scary tragedy. It starts off as this story of this woman who’s about to lose her job, and then she discovers this secret, and then it turns into a horror movie and she’s being chased with a knife and the raccoon wants to kill her.
So we just leaned into that. Editorially, we really just tried — as silly as it is — to stay true to the drama and terror and tragedy of what it would actually be like to discover a raccoon hovering over your co-worker’s body as he cooks hibachi-style Japanese food.
You were working on this movie during the initial lockdown. Two years went by before it actually came out. What was the moment when you first realized this movie is really resonating with people, this is really going somewhere?
I had an inkling of it at South by Southwest when we finally got to get together as a crew and cast and watch the film in a theater with film lovers. The laughter and the tears — people were sobbing. You could hear audible sobs in the theater at the end. People were laughing at all the silly inside jokes that we thought were just for us and people wouldn’t get. I remember being like, “Huh! Maybe this is a really easy crowd because it’s a film festival, but wow, this is really playing well.”
Every screening I went to, and every theater I went to afterward, it played the same. Once my uncles and cousins and aunts who don’t follow my work and wouldn’t necessarily know of anything I’ve done started being like, “Hey! I saw your name on this movie! My co-workers were talking about that movie you made!” — it wasn’t all at once. It came out and spread pretty organically and slowly. That’s why it was in theaters for so long. It was like this really steady, monthslong journey of watching it find a new audience around the world.
“God, I just hope they let us make another movie.”
It eventually became the highest-grossing A24 movie ever.
I remember when we were cutting it, Dan and Daniel were like, “God, I just hope they let us make another movie. I hope it just makes its budget back so we can maybe make one more.” We were all just blown away once it surpassed the budget, once it doubled the budget — it was crazy.
It’s amazing. I remember the first week it came out, Dan Kwan texted me saying, “Oh, my God, I just heard someone in the coffee shop saying they just saw our movie. Wow, so cool!” Just so blown away that someone in the world had seen the movie. And then, a couple weeks later, we were like, “Oh, my God, everybody’s talking about it. It’s not just the random one guy in the coffee shop.”
Did you see people dressing up as characters from the movie for Halloween?
I didn’t personally because I had a 6-year-old and a 16-month-old. I was very much in the Pokémon and Elsa camp. But I did see all the pictures. We were cutting it through Halloween in 2020, and I remember we were all like, “Man, these would make some great Halloween costumes — Raccacoonie and hot dog fingers and all that.
There was an article in the New York Times last week about how original, non-IP movies have been really underperforming at the box office and haven’t been recouping their budgets. This is the one non-IP movie that did really well and got people to leave their homes and go to the theater. Why? What is it about this movie that resonated so well with theatrical audiences?
Despite the fact that it’s basically about embracing nihilism and using nihilism as a weapon for good, it is an anti-cynical film. This film, I think, was written as a response to the election in 2016, when it just felt like everyone in our circles was a ball of negativity and cynicism. What we ended up doing was embracing those relationships and those people closest to us and finding the beauty in community. We ended up doing the same thing over Covid. Our isolation and our longing for connection with our friends and family made their way even more into the construction of the film and the edit of the film. So I think we were making a film during Covid lockdown as a form of therapy. When people finally saw it, I think that came through and it felt therapeutic as well to them. It’s cliche and a bit reductive, but it’s got a really positive message and it feels nice to watch it, as difficult as it is.
Not to mention the fact that the performances are insanely high-level. All the actors just killed it. Every department. Larkin Seiple, who shot it. It’s an incredibly well-made and well-crafted film, made by two incredibly thoughtful and sensitive, talented filmmakers.
Everything Everywhere swept up six nominations at the Golden Globes. Are you anticipating an Oscar nomination for editing?
I try not to anticipate anything because this just leads to disappointment. There was this beautiful moment when the film first came out where we were all winning as a team. As the box office was getting released, we were all just celebrating collectively. It’s the whole movie that’s being lifted up — everybody who worked on it, from the PAs all the way up to Dan and Daniel.
An unfortunate side effect of the award shows is that it’s a little more isolating to say “This person, you did great. You, not so much; you’re not invited. This person, you also did really good.” I kind of miss the collective celebration. I’m just as happy to see people like Shirley [Kurata], who did the costumes, getting recognized. But I also want people to remember that the PAs worked their f*cking *sses off on this movie. They’re never going to get an award, but they should feel like those awards are for them as well. One of the things I loved about the film was that Dan and Daniel made the choice to put the PAs first in the credits, which I’ve never seen in a film before.
The movie does seem to be a frontrunner for a Best Picture nomination, although I realize the Oscar technically goes to the producers.
Yeah, but Jon Wang and Jon Read and Allison Carter — they understand. They get it. That it goes down to the people with the smallest credits and the smallest paychecks.
When you rewatch the film today, is there one scene where you’re like, “Oh, man, I should’ve edited this a different way”?
There’s little cuts where I’m like, “Ahh, I could have done that better.” I imagine actors feel this way too when they watch their performances. It is what it is, and the imperfections become a part of the beauty and also a part of the story of the film. The worst day of cutting was when we locked and I was hit with the realization of “Oh no, I can’t work on this again!” It was this thing I looked forward to every day for 11 months: I get to play with these characters and at any moment I can change their story. And then it was locked and it was like my best friend died.
“It was this thing I looked forward to every day for 11 months.”
I know the feeling you’re describing. When you finish a big project and you’re like, “Sh*t. Now I can’t keep working on this.”
There were all these possibilities in the air at any moment that you could grab. Then, all of a sudden, they all just fall on the ground. And there’s no more possibilities anymore. Now, it’s just up to the rest of the world to discover it.
That’s a poetic note to end on because it’s kind of the theme of the movie. There are all these different parallel universes, and ultimately you have to live in one universe.
I’ve talked before about how there are alternative cuts of this film that use a different performance take for every single shot of the film that are just as good. That are different, but just as good. I’ve never thought about it that way, but when you’re cutting the film, each choice you make editorially is kind of a parallel universe that you could take.
Inverse celebrates the best of the best in entertainment, gaming, science, and technology of 2022. Go to the Inverse Awards hub.