Balancing Surrealism and Emotion: Autumn Dea Discusses Her Work on 'Bleeding Love'

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In an exclusive interview, Autumn Dea, the editor behind the new drama "Bleeding Love," shares insights into her meticulous editing process. The film, which hit theaters on February 16, stars Ewan McGregor and his daughter Clara McGregor, and follows a father-daughter duo on a turbulent road trip aimed at reconciliation. Autumn expertly navigates the film's surrealism, humor, and intense emotional beats, ensuring that the complex relationship arc between the estranged pair is both believable and moving. By thoughtfully framing their interactions, particularly shifting from isolated shots in the first act to more unified compositions in the second act, Autumn masterfully illustrates their journey from division to connection.

PH: Bleeding Love incorporates elements of surrealism, humor, and intense emotion. How did you approach balancing these diverse elements during the editing process to ensure they complemented each other and contributed to the overall narrative cohesion?

Autumn Dea: Striking this balance tonally was one of the bigger challenges of the film from an editing standpoint. The subject matter is heavy by nature, but there’s also a lot of levity within the story. I think the goal Emma Westenberg (director) and I had going into the edit was to get it all on the timeline and then pair it down from there. Some characters and scenes that worked in the script didn’t translate in the edit in terms of tone, so we spent a lot of time restructuring areas to ensure the emotion of the story didn’t get lost in some of the more whimsical/surreal moments. Furthermore, I tried to lean into the surreal elements throughout the film. This allowed me to integrate that style into the serious scenes as well. I think this approach can be seen in the third act in particular. During the climatic moments between the father and daughter, we still see and feel some of the surreal elements, but they’re incorporated in a way that makes us feel heavier and more emotional. I think the score also played a big role in this. Our composer, Raven Artson, did a really beautiful job taking the soundscape of the environment and creating the score around it. Which I think helped keep the tone balanced and cohesive.

PH: Crafting the relationship arc between the father and daughter seems pivotal to the film's emotional resonance. Can you discuss your approach to portraying their dynamic on screen, especially in terms of highlighting both their flaws and redeeming qualities?

Autumn Dea: I love a flawed character, and in this case, we had two. In order to make them likable and have redeeming qualities, though, we had to be very intentional about how we arched out their relationship, as well as their emotional arcs. In the first act, I focused on the tension between the father and daughter. My goal was to make it clear that they don’t know each other well, yet have the father come across as a pretty caring and likable dad. We can see this early in the film when he’s fixing his broken-down truck at someone’s home. His body language shows a sense of urgency and a need to check up on his daughter. Around this same time, we witness the daughter being reckless and cold toward her dad. As an audience, we don’t understand why she’s being so stubborn and standoffish toward her father, so we begin to favor and feel investment in the father but not the daughter. However, as their journey unfolds, we begin to learn why the daughter has these very valid feelings toward her father. In the second act, my goal was to redeem the daughter and show a little more of her soft side. I think this comes into play when the father and daughter attend an AA meeting together, and we learn a little context about their past. At this point, the characters warm up to each other a bit, but there’s still a lack of trust for one another. I think this lack of trust is an important part of their relationship throughout the film.

Additionally, we learn about their past by incorporating flashbacks of her childhood. Through these moments we begin to understand the pain and unresolved trauma the daughter is experiencing, and we begin to feel for her. I don’t think we ever dislike the dad completely, but we begin to feel a sense of disappointment toward him. So, every small moment of joy and chemistry between the father and daughter feels like progress, and we begin rooting for their reconciliation.

PH: The evolution of the father-daughter relationship from estrangement to reconciliation is central to the film's storyline. Could you delve into how you utilized editing techniques to visually represent this emotional journey, particularly in terms of framing and shot selection?

Autumn Dea: In the first act, the pacing of the edit is a bit slower. We let each character speak without much interruption or “ping-ponging” between the two. This helped us portray the strain in their relationship and helped emphasize how little they knew about each other. As the story unfolds, the cutting style and pace reflect their familiarity with one another. The editing feels more “conversational” in both the arguments and joyful scenes. We cut back and forth between them more and show more reactions to one another. This allowed me to emphasize the progression of their relationship. Whether it was moving in a negative or positive direction, their relationship was evolving.

PH: In the first act, the characters are rarely seen in the frame together, emphasizing their division. Conversely, in the second act, wide shots of them together signify their emotional closeness. Can you elaborate on how you strategically used framing and shot composition to convey the progression of their relationship throughout the film?

Autumn Dea: Emma was very intentional about how she wanted to portray this visually. At the beginning of the film, we primarily use medium closeups and closeups for coverage. However, as their relationship and bond become stronger in the second act, we begin using wider shots. This opens up the world and the landscape, and for the first time in the film, we can actually see the road ahead. It not only brings our characters together in the frame, but the beauty and the vastness of the road reminds us of the bigger picture. It reminds us that they are on this journey together.

PH: Bleeding Love features flashbacks that provide insights into the characters' past experiences. How did you integrate these flashbacks into the narrative seamlessly, ensuring they enhanced rather than disrupted the flow of the story?

Autumn Dea: Integrating the flashbacks was actually one of the bigger challenges we had in the edit bay. As scripted, the flashbacks served as individual scenes; however, in the edit bay, we realized they were slowing down the film and not as effective as they could be. So, we made the conscious decision to integrate them more fluidly throughout the film rather than letting each scene play out. I think this decision allowed the flashbacks to unfold in a way that mirrored the modern-day emotions of the daughter and, as a result, helped the flow and pace of the film as a whole, as well as her emotional journey.

PH: Working with a cast that includes Ewan McGregor and his daughter, Clara McGregor, must have been an enriching experience. Can you share any memorable moments from the editing room or on set that exemplify the collaborative spirit between the actors and the editing team?

Autumn Dea: Working with such a talented cast was a dream! Ewan is obviously a very experienced actor, so even during production, he was very conscious of how things would affect the edit. He was very aware of continuity and how sounds, cross talk, etc., could make a take unusable in the edit. Overall, Clara and Ewan were lovely people to work with. They were both very collaborative and appreciative of every part of the process.

PH: The film's release on February 16th garnered attention from audiences and critics alike. As the editor, how do you feel about the reception of Bleeding Love, and were there any particular aspects of your editing work that you were especially proud of?

Autumn Dea: I’m proud of the entire film, honestly! Although the plot is pretty straightforward, I think the film packs a lot of emotion. Editing these characters and performances to have an impact in a grounded way isn’t an easy task, but I think that’s what makes this film so unique and special. We lean into the humor, whimsical and surreal elements but still land the emotional ups and downs in a way that resonates with people. I’m proud of that.

PH: Balancing the emotional arc of the characters amidst the film's various elements must have presented unique challenges. Can you discuss any specific strategies or techniques you employed to ensure the emotional coherence of the story remained intact throughout the editing process?

Autumn Dea: Bleeding Love is a unique film because it’s both heavy and quirky. The characters that the father and daughter meet on their journey serve as comedic relief at times, but they also serve the father and daughter’s emotional journey. That being said, keeping their relationship at the forefront of the road trip was crucial. It was important to remember that the oddities they experience on their drive should be used to elevate or show a different aspect of their relationship and not just serve as a comedic beat. I think that’s what helps keep the film grounded but not too serious/depressing at the same time.

PH: Are there any key themes or messages in Bleeding Love that you aimed to highlight through your editing choices? If so, how did you approach conveying these themes effectively to the audience?

Autumn Dea: I think a major theme in this film is acceptance. Accepting your family, accepting your own flaws, accepting apologies, and learning to grow from all of that. I think this is a universal theme that resonates with a lot of people, so from an editing standpoint, you don’t have to beat the audience over the head with it. This allowed me to let the characters’ emotional evolutions play out in a more nuanced way. My goal was to portray this through a look or a gesture rather than dialogue. Clara and Ewan have a lot of natural chemistry as it is, so their body language and expressions in their performances went a long way.

PH: Finally, looking back on your experience editing Bleeding Love, what aspects of the project do you feel have had the most significant impact on your growth and development as an editor?

Autumn Dea: Thankfully I feel that every project I work on makes me a stronger editor, but Bleeding Love helped me grow in several ways. First, I’d say it really pushed me to consider structure as a whole. Emma and I spent a lot of time structuring a restructuring the flashbacks, as well as the third act. We were focused on making sure the film flowed in terms of pace and emotion. I’d also say that working with such a talented cast helped me grow as a storyteller. Because I had such strong performances, I was able to make decisions based on the story rather than problem-solving, which isn’t always the case in my decision-making process. That being said, focusing on the story as a whole was a real treat for me and something I’ve taken with me to other projects.

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