Emmy-Winning Editor Yan Miles on Navigating Sharper’s Twists and Turns

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In our latest interview, we dive deep with Yan Miles, the Emmy-winning editor behind A24’s and Apple TV+’s recent crime thriller, Sharper. We discussed everything from approaching a non-linear script and how paradoxically Yan created a linear timeline in his office before turning it back into a puzzle organized in chapters rather than a series of events, as well as crafting a mystery training montage to highlighting small gestures and subtle dialogue hints, and more. 

PH: Hi there Yan! How would you describe yourself?  

Yan Miles: Good question…. I would start with calm, collected and patient. Followed by creative and imaginative.

PH: Can you provide a bit of your professional background? 

Yan Miles: I started out training at an edit hire company called The Salon. We had a small post house in Archer St London Soho that was mainly cutting rooms with film editing equipment like Moviolas and Steinbecks. I learnt how to handle film just before the digital non-linear computers arrived: Lightworks and Avid.

From there I learnt the nonlinear system and eventually fled the Salon, and started cutting EPKs and music videos followed by short films. I also learnt Apple Final Cut Pro versions 1 to 7 through gritted teeth and became very fond of using FCP for short form editing.

I also directed and edited a low budget internet drama series called NewBlood, which consisted of ten three-minute episodes during the very early days of YouTube. The internet was very slow then but amazingly, people found the show. It was about London vampires and featured Roger Sanchez. It was lots of fun if I remember correctly.

At this juncture, I realized the desire to get closer to scripted TV drama, so I reached out and was lucky to get a break working as a second assistant editor on the acclaimed HBO show Band of Brothers, working with fantastic editors Francis Parker, Oral Norrie Ottey and Billy Fox and alongside very experienced assistants and a remarkable VFX team. The producers were amazing and inviting. The rest is history, one would say. I learned heaps. 

PH: Can you share some of the projects you've worked on?

Yan Miles: I've worked on many shows which all have been a huge learning curve, including Rome, The Prisoner, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, The Crown,  Star Wars’ Andor, and now my first feature Sharper for Apple and A24.  In lockdown I helped a longtime collaborative friend with a music documentary about Professor Longhair which sharpened my scissors. One of my favorites was a pilot for Amazon called Oasis starring Richard Madden and directed by Kevin Macdonald, a genius. A science fiction genre and very rich in story, though unfortunately it wasn’t optioned. Why, one will never know!

PH: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

Yan Miles: Other editors and storytelling. They all inspire me with their work and life and the world we live in… Everything is a story. I’m currently immersed in the show Atalanta, it’s truly amazing - the complexity of characters and the storytelling is so so bold. Inspiring.

PH: How did you become involved with Sharper 

Yan Miles: I had previously worked with the director, Ben Caron on the first season of The Crown and we crafted the episode “Assassins” together. We work in great harmony and Ben has a certain shooting style that forges well with me, so we assimilated. After several years teaming up, we have shared a lot of life together, which I’m grateful for. It helps with the long hours in the cutting room.

PH: What drew you to this project?

Yan Miles: Firstly, it was obviously working with Ben on his debut feature. When he asked, “Do you fancy cutting a movie?” you can guess my answer. The script was a page-turner and the non-linear acts really excited me as it's something Ben and I have played around with before. Funnily enough, the production was called Woohoo, which was the feeling I had when reading the shooting script. Totally exhilarating. The writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka are mavericks.

PH: Can you describe your creative process? How do you approach a non-linear script, like in this case?

Yan Miles: Our process was to look at the material with an open mind and let the characters and the performances lead us, to make them believable and multi-dimensional. On approaching the non-linear narrative, we started giving each character in each chapter more focus from the other characters around them, spending more time getting to know each character. Although each character has their own chapter, they are also featured in other chapters. With each on-screen appearance, we meet a slightly different version of them, causing the audience to never truly know who the characters really are. Lot’s of white boards went up on all the walls of the cutting room, and Ben and I often moved the acts back to a linear structure and discussed them endlessly. 

Creatively I like to surprise the director. I love going down blind alleys even if it leads to nowhere. For me this always reveals to me the core material and how much it can shape and bend.

PH: What did collaboration look like with you and the team?

Yan Miles: We cut the film whilst shooting in New York, so my cutting room was midtown in a building with all of the production. I was around everyone from coordinators to art directors, the costume department, accounting - everyone. For me, when cutting on location with the shoot I soak up the whole bigger picture. My first assistant had a vast experience working in New York, Salah Anwar who is brilliant, as is my long standing first assistant in London who we worked with, Istvan Molnar. This helped rushes as syncing up in London capitalized on the time difference. I often visited the locations and chewed the fat with Ben. He extended this as he often has done in the past to shoot splinter units, book store inserts, squibs, blood, and various cars driving around New York. He trusts me to find his style in-camera. After the shoot Ben and I returned home to London for the director's cut.

PH: Did you have a favorite sequence? Can you go into detail on how you brought it to life?

Yan Miles: I love the film as a whole, but if I was to pick a favorite sequence, it would be a montage in Sandra’s chapter after she meets Max. He gives her a fake backstory and university education while helping her get clean of her drug habit, all in a one-knitted edit. For example, Max shares little bits about classic books, like Tolstoy, but just a little and just enough, to keep him in control. With the non-linear structure, we have already witnessed how Sandra used this training to scam Tom in the first chapter, so this montage showed us the elaborate preparations that led to it. Also, adding Sandy’s chapter at the end was a joy to unravel because we seem to be finally meeting a true version of Sandra.

PH: What challenges did you encounter, and how did you approach those? 

Yan Miles: Often when challenged to help us understand the characters motivations we discussed our own versions of the story to illustrate what happened in the time gaps between the scenes using the linear version - the non-scripted time gaps. Filling in the backstory gaps untold helped us immensely, particularly when we structured Sandy’s chapter.

PH: Tell us a bit about Sandy and how she links all the storylines. Why did you create her chapter in post-production?

Yan Miles: "Sandy, everyone calls me Sandy.” Sandra was always Sandy. Max trained her well but her moral judgment was always as Sandy. Max made a fatal mistake and became involved and close with her. She was troubled, but inside a really good person on the wrong side of the tracks.  To fully lean into her final narrative, Sandy's journey, we studied the film again in the linear order, which is Max, Sandra, Tom, Madeline, then Sandy, being linear from the end of Madeline's chapter. However, we jumped a small beat back in time by replaying her getting off the plane.  This helped focus us on the WHY and the HOW of her journey and revealed she just wanted to be loved, which in turn is what all of the characters are searching for.

PH: How did you approach exploring themes of love and satisfaction? 

Yan Miles: For me the film is deeper than the con. It's about being human, to be loved and understood. So it goes like this… Tom falls in love with Sandra, he's depressed and lost his mother and has a father that finds him disappointing. Sandra falls in love with Max because he helps her and teaches her how to con: the lesson. Max kind of loves Sandra because she reminds him of himself. The student of the con. Max loves Madeline and the acceptance she gives him and he believes she understands the real him. Madeline loves Richard for security and money. Richard needs Madeline’s love as he’s old and unwell and selfishly desires her company. Sandy, deep down, fell in love with Tom because he's a decent guy and you can’t cheat an honest mark. A ricochet of love....that's at the core of the film, not the con. 

To recite one of my favorite of Madeline’s lines, "we are all human just doing the best we can.”

PH: What are some of the ways you created complex characters and how did that add to the overall story? 

Yan Miles: All the characters are complex, as I've mentioned above, love and vulnerability being at the core. Richard had the least screen time so to convey him clearly was to see him for what he needed: more life and more time. With all of his billions he just wanted someone to be with (and definitely didn't want Max around).  

New York itself is also a character in the film, and so is the music. Both the score and source music we meticulously embraced to enrich our characters. Never too contemporary, timeless themes, and I hope we achieved that. Clint Mansell was an enormous character in the room. I was changed forever when I watched Requiem of a Dream so many years ago. Clint is masterful!

PH: What have you learned (professionally and personally) about yourself as a production professional over the years?

Yan Miles: I've learnt to listen to any idea no matter how crazy or apparently upside down - it might be the making of something beautiful, and to always trust your instincts, the story will reveal itself this way.

PH: Can you share any upcoming projects?

Yan Miles: Ben has a few projects in the furnace that I’m cutting at the moment but can’t share about just yet, but keep your eyes peeled!

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