In Session: Tony Grocki

GUILDERLAND – A veteran in the film industry, Tony Grocki certainly has his fair share of involvement in cinema. Working with the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and Abel Ferrara, among others, Grocki has had no shortage of incredible masterclasses in his craft that have helped lead to a successful and storied career. Currently in post-production for his directorial and writing debut, Grocki is in the process of a crowdfunding campaign for his quirky comedy, Krazy Oats.

To learn more about the IndieGoGo campaign, please click here.

I sat down with Tony this past week to discuss his career, as well as his work process, and more. What follows is our conversation.

Tony Grocki. Photo provided.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you for sitting down today. How’re you doing, Tony?

Tony Grocki: Pretty good. Working as usual; I always seem to be editing.

LG: Tell us a bit about yourself.

TG: I graduated from Hofstra University Film Department. I got a job right away in New York in the post-production world—a couple of years. Became an editor; my first show was on the TV show The Equalizer. I graduated up to feature films. My first film was on the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. Arguably their best film; very proud of that film. It’s a really good film. I worked on a bunch of films with Jim Jarmusch; a couple of Abel Ferrara, I’ve worked on a couple of Paul Schrader films. My favorite of his is Affliction. That’s my favorite and most proud achievement of all the films in New York.

I got caught in the change from analog to digital. From editing on 35mm film to digital. I was an assistant editor up to that point, and then the assistant editor role drastically changed when it went to digital.

LG: Why is that?

TG: On film, the assistant editor would be standing right next to the editor, getting the next piece, or the editor would call for the next piece of film. You’d be right over the shoulder, right there for every moment; every decision you were learning at the side of the editor. When digital came out, the assistant editor was out in another room at another workstation. The editor was sitting by themselves, so that whole training of being alongside the editor was done. It was also the time that I was trying to transition to becoming an editor from an assistant editor without a solid foot on the ground for the transition. An opportunity arose to advance my status as a home-owner in upstate New York with my family. Since things were digitally spreading out where you could have your own workstation at home, I made the jump upstate. I’ve been up here in the Capital Region since 2000.

LG: When it went digital, did you have to relearn everything?

TG: Not at all. The machine is just a tool. When the transition happened, the brain process, for me, was still at the pace and cadence of working on film. When you’re doing all the work with the film, your brain is thinking two or three moves ahead with the shot or what could happen after. Even though I moved to digital, the brain cadence of editing is still the same—it’s still the same today. I’m still editing it at a pace or cadence where I’d use the time between edits. You’d use the time between edits to get the next plan, the next couple of shots in your brain.

LG: How do you work on getting everything that was used or captured into one consistent movie? How long of a thought process is that for you?

TG: All my editing skills go back to how I was taught. All those films I was lucky to be on—that’s where I learned how to edit. I was so blessed to have people like Richard Cirincione, Michael Miller, and Jay Rabinowitz as my mentors and teachers. One of the things I learned that’s key – and this is something you find lacking sometimes in emerging filmmakers as they edit their own material—is divide and conquer. Literally editing the next beat and the next beat. Working to give each beat its due diligence, making sure you’ve checked out every possible angle, ending with the best performance and pacing, and not worry about the whole thing. Knock it down to beats, then expand it to scenes before you start putting it all together. I’ve found a lot of emerging filmmakers have the urge to see the whole thing together. They’re in love with every part of it and want to press play and watch it go from beginning to end.

When I have emerging filmmakers in my cutting room, I try to teach them the patience to do the due diligence on each scene and each beat. If you race to the finish line… without doing the due diligence, you’re not honoring the footage. The other thing that is my mantra is: at the editing stage, we’re at the end of the line. All the stuff has happened: the conception of the idea; the writing; the casting; the production; all of it. All those people and that work has to be honored when you get to the editing. With the director, as we edit the film, we have to honor that work and do [our job] to make the film as great as it can be. It takes training to learn the patience. That’s my editing philosophy.

The other thing I try to teach emerging filmmakers is… sometimes [they] think hiring an editor means giving up some part of creative control in some way. There’s nothing that’s farther from the truth. A good editor will work with you and allow you to discover the heights the film can take. It’s a total collaboration. I feel, as a more experienced editor, part of the task – I follow the editor’s code—is to impart this knowledge to the emerging filmmaker.

LG: What are you working on right now?

TG: Right now, I just finished a film, Krazy Oats, that I wrote and directed. We have an IndieGoGo campaign going for that.

On the set of Krazy Oats. Photo provided.

LG: Give me a thirty-second pitch of the movie.

TG: Krazy Oats is a short comedy about a writer who overjournals a little bit. He journals a little bit too much, and it turns out to create a conflict with his romantic relationship. It’s quirky; the humor is very dry. I’m not sure half the audience will get the joke, but that’s the way my humor works. That’s my style. I’m happy with it.

My actors include Jermaine Wells, Olga Bogdanova, and Nicholas Baroudi. Lakota Ruby-Eck was my DP (director of photography).

LG: Being a musician, I know that if a song isn’t “good” to begin with, in terms of production quality, it can’t be fixed in post, no matter how much editing is done. Is it like that with film?

TG: I’ve had a range of films come through here, and some are more of a challenge than others. You can do your best to work with your director. It might mean suggesting a new scene to be shot; it might mean suggesting the removal of certain things that are weak. In editing, one of the key things is addition by subtraction. Ultimately, it’s not so much “fixing” in editing. Editing is a place where solutions are found. Certainly, you can only do so much.

LG: As a musician, I can’t not hear music critically. Can you just watch a movie and enjoy it, or no?

TG: Yes, I can, because one of the tools we learn as editors is “change hats.” I’m constantly turning the hat from being a creator or constructor to being a tough, skeptical viewer. I have a high bar it has to pass to say it’s okay. Because I’ve learned to do that so quickly and naturally, when I watch a movie, it’s very easy not to get hung up. Early in my career, I was more concerned with when I watched films, but as time goes on, you learn to enjoy.

LG: Do you have a favorite movie you’ve edited?

TG: That’s a real tough one because I’ve edited features and shorts. It’s tough to say what my favorite is. It’s a bunch. Working with emerging filmmakers, it’s not like you end up with films that end up in major theaters. They’re all personal favorites. Too many to even think about that question. It’s not only the favorites in films but some of the great times and working relationships that were forged in this editing room, going back to 2002.

LG: As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to elaborate on?

TG: Any contact I get with these young, up-and-coming filmmakers, I’m really focused on—as much as anything—education and getting them to understand the benefits of collaboration. I’m trying to stay relevant in that community. Some of the recent projects I’ve been involved with have opened up a new door for me. Getting immersed and getting exposure into this up-and-coming community is my goal. It’s working out well.

LG: Thank you very much for the chat! Have a great day.

TG: You, too. Thanks for getting in touch.

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