We recently spoke with Rodrigo Brazão, an editor on Apple TV’s soul-baring Selena Gomez’s documentary My Mind and Me, which is available for streaming now.
For the purpose of this documentary, Rodrigo watched over 200 hours of raw footage and collaborated closely with Alek Keshishian to capture Selena’s most vulnerable moments. From the Revival tour to struggles with mental health and lockdown, his goal was to showcase the humanity behind the mass media image of Selena that many audience members consume on a regular basis.
PH: Hi Rodrigo! Can you share a bit of your background as an editor?
Rodrigo Brazão: I’ve been working with editing for more than 15 years, and I started back in Brazil, my native country. My passion for movies dates back to my teenage years, so when I got to college, I was anxious to be a part of the movie-making process. Getting there, I looked for something to work on and to do some practical training. I learned that they needed volunteers to edit and help with the student films in the old magnetic tape linear editing suites or early stages of Final Cut, and I thought, “This is a great chance to get my hands dirty!”. So I volunteered and learned the process from scratch when I was a freshman at 18 years old, and I never stopped.
I have worked on multiple projects ever since, doing documentary features and series, narrative TV shows, video art, commercials, and music videos. I wanted to test different genres and get a diverse background from them. I worked with big productions in Brazil, including superstar Anitta’s concert for DVD release. So, in 2015 I felt that I’d reached my professional goals in Brazil and wanted to advance more with my career, so I started looking for opportunities abroad and found a Brazilian company operating from New York City. We had a great connection working remotely at first - when that was not a big thing, back in 2016! -, and I moved to the US that year to start working on a Brazilian documentary series for HBO.
PH: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Did you always know you were going to work in the production industry? (Why or why not?)
Rodrigo Brazão: I try to get inspiration not only from films and TV shows that I’ve watched and admire, but also from my everyday life, and the perception that I have of how people interact and the world around them. I think one of the biggest challenges with editing is keeping the work invisible, and much of that lies in making it believable. Understanding how information is translated into people’s minds and their perception of it plays a big part in this - for a documentary or a fantasy world, the audience has to believe in what they are seeing. I didn’t always know that I was going to work with this, but it slowly became a passion. When I was a kid, I wanted to work with archeology or paleontology (you can blame Spielberg and Jurassic Park for that!), because I loved the idea of unveiling stories and putting together puzzle pieces, or dinosaur bones, to discover a new meaning. So I think that editing ended up satisfying my inner kid with putting clips together to make a new skeleton and reveal a story behind it.
PH: How did you become involved with My Mind and Me?
Rodrigo Brazão: After I moved to New York City, I lived there for five years, and in the middle of the pandemic, in 2021, I decided to move to Los Angeles to look for bigger challenges. When I was still in Brooklyn preparing my move to the West Coast, I virtually met James Haygood and Katherine LeBlond for a job at Union Editorial in LA - so that was a fortunate coincidence! We worked together in the documentary series “Always Jane” for Amazon, all remotely, and it was such a great experience! After I moved to LA, we kept working together. Haygood knew Alek Keshishian, the director of My Mind and Me, back when Alek did “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” Alek was looking for some help with Selena’s documentary and asked Haygood to join, and he brought me in to edit. Katherine is also one of the producers of My Mind and Me.
PH: Can you describe your creative approach?
Rodrigo Brazão: For documentaries, I like to study the topic or subject and dive into all the footage available. When I watch something, I register my first impression of it and what pieces are the most compelling for the story we plan to tell. After that, the trick is to keep this first impression fresh and give the audience a chance to feel it, even though they won’t watch the whole footage. Then, when I wrap my head around what is vital for a scene, I separate it and work on what comes before and after that to make it as meaningful as when I first felt it. So I’d say maintaining my first impressions fresh in my head is vital for my workflow.
PH: This is a pretty vulnerable documentary. Reviewing 200+ hours of raw footage must have been challenging. How did you select what to include?
Rodrigo Brazão: When I got into the project, Alek had the first cut of approximately three hours. He wanted me to dive back into this 200+ hours of footage to look for moments where we could relate to Selena, where she would be most vulnerable, and with those moments, bring his vision for the film. There was a significant amount of footage from Selena’s Revival tour in 2016 since that was the first embryo of the film. But when the focus turned to mental health and her journey, we had to analyze what scenes would bring this story forward. The editing team worked with Paul Marchand and Alek in the film's structure to stay on Selena’s mental health journey. That was the main thread I had to follow, selecting and editing scenes.
PH: How did the footage you selected tell enough of the story / get into Selena's mind enough to give viewers a true sense of what she's feeling?
Rodrigo Brazão: I think the way Alek shots helped to bring the viewer into Selena’s state of mind - and how much access she gave to the crew. It was essential to show the highs and the lows throughout the years we filmed, to bring the complexity of her mental health state. We see Selena making some choices, good or bad, and how she deals with the consequences. For example, when Selena gets to Kenya, she needs that space to decompress from all she was experiencing back home. As soon as she gets there, they explain how the locals view rain as a blessing, so we incorporated that with a cathartic moment near the end of her trip - but also with her realization of how much more she wanted to do for mental health. Her choice was, in a way, blessed by the rain. Another moment we focused on how she felt was regarding the Revival tour. Our main scene ended when Selena broke down after doing great in the rehearsals. She couldn’t see herself like that, and we wanted to contrast this feeling with what we showed to the audience. The viewer and everybody there could see how great she is, but this isn’t what was in her head, so we had to bring this duality to the moment.
PH: What boundaries (if any) were established regarding what to show to viewers? Can you talk about your collaboration with Alex Keshishian on selecting the footage?
Rodrigo Brazão: We didn’t have specific boundaries when we were creating concerning topics or footage. We had choices of what we wanted to show. We were mindful of what was necessary to tell the story, though, without being exploitative and invading Selena’s privacy without need. The goal was to bring only the essentials to make the viewer experience Selena's feelings during these moments. Sometimes it would be intense, like when she is experiencing pain from her lupus and talking about her desires to be a mom and a “normal” person. That was a very vulnerable scene, and although very real, we did an exercise to keep only what was needed to tell the film’s story and her feelings. Alek is a great director to work with because he has a clear vision of what the movie should be about and of how much to use to tell the story we wanted. For him, every frame needed a purpose to be there, not just illustrating something, but having a true meaning behind it. So after we had the scenes we wanted, the process was to strip down the cut from unnecessary moments and keep only the bits that would move this journey forward. It was a very collaborative process. The editors would work on scenes, and we would discuss together what was needed or not to reach the final cut.
PH: As an editor, how do you reveal humanity (like in this project) through your editing choices?
Rodrigo Brazão: When I watch the footage, I try to look for these glimpses of reaction and truth that we let out, even if a camera is following us, and I try to incorporate those into the journey. Often, a mere silence reacting to something tells much more than words and leaves more room for interpretation. We are complex beings, so it’s crucial to keep characters as complex as humans when we work with editing, giving them nuances of humor and sadness but also of reflection and surprise. It’s a delicate balance.
PH: What have you learned (professionally and personally) about yourself as an editor over the years?
Rodrigo Brazão: I learned that I love to observe people and see beyond the first layer. When you edit performances or documentaries, you must focus on what is being translated from the actor or the subject’s words and expressions. How will this be read by somebody else? What lies beneath the first thing we see? The more filled with the intent we want to achieve, the better the shot. Editing involves a lot of psychology too, which I love. You have to have good ears and eyes to understand and translate the director’s vision to the final piece, so it’s essential to be a good listener - and I think I have that in my personal life too. And being part of the final stage of creating a film is one of my favorite things about editing. Everything can change depending on what you bring before or after a scene. How much you feed the audience will always impact the result of their reaction to the next scene.
PH: Can you share any upcoming projects?
Rodrigo Brazão: I worked on the final stages of the Netflix documentary series Harry and Meghan, directed by Liz Garbus, which just premiered. I’m working on another Netflix documentary project with James Haygood and Katherine LeBlond at Union Editorial, coming next year.