While there are many components to creating suspense in a film, the editing is likely the most powerful means of manifesting this. The art of storytelling lies in the ability to keep the audience present in every moment that unfolds; editor Sijie “Leslie” Liu proves with her work on Writing Class that she is a master of this. The film seems to continually reinvent and transform the mystery at the heart of this story as well as the perspectives from which it is told. Through the artful dissecting and assembling by Ms. Liu, the audience finds itself in swirling possibilities that cause one to question reality. Accolades for Writing Class were numerous, including a Hollywood Gold Award and others. While the general public will find themselves entranced by the story’s constant redirection, filmmakers in the know will marvel at how the editing of Writing Class creates an identity for this film which stands out amongst so many other productions.
The story begins as a young woman named Olivia enters an adult writing class. When the teacher speaks in a harsh tone to her, the woman (Jesse Rojas) responds that she is an orphan and this takes the instructor aback. Invited to share her short story idea with the class, this tale evolves into a three-card-monte version of whodunit. Suspense, adultery, murder, and racism all find a home in Olivia’s story but the most stunning reveal is that the killer is in this very same classroom. Twists are plentiful and ultimately, present day combines with the events of nearly two decades in the past.
The two storylines that exist in this film are the present day classroom and the tragedy which occurs in the past that is presented in Olivia’s story. There’s an obvious choice by Leslie to use a different pace for these timelines, slow for the classroom and much quicker for the murder that transpires in the past. The back and forth of this thrusts the viewer into different emotional states, an exciting and somewhat wrenching experience. At one point when the writing class professor is giving his input on the story, describing a possible switch in the temperament and motivation of the characters at the center of the murder, Leslie switches back to the present day classroom to heighten the tension and delay the reveal. Director Tianli Liu’s confidence in Leslie’s talent is proven by the alteration of the final surprise ending. The editor explains (Spoiler Alert!), “I think the most rewarding part of my involvement is how I changed the ending to create a suspenseful feeling. The original ending of this story concluded with Olivia believing the professor and stopping him from drinking the coffee she has drugged. However, I cut this part out. In the end, although Olivia believes the professor’s word, she forgot to tell him that the coffee has been drugged. While she’s walking out of the classroom, we see in the background that the professor is about to drink the coffee. At this time, Olivia suddenly remembers the drugged coffee and turns back toward him but we cut to black, leaving the viewer to guess whether she goes through with her original plan or if she truly believed the ‘truth’ that he suggested.”
Atypically, Leslie was invited to be on set during the filming of Writing Class; another sign of the respect Tianli Liu had in her abilities. Multiple overnight shoots in Georgia with the cast and crew was a vastly different working environment than this editor typically finds herself; so how did Ms. Liu feel about it? She warmly relates, “Although it’s tiring, it feels good when you see the beautiful sunrise after wrapping and know that everybody has done their best to make the story come to life. We used to say that we’d seen every hour of Savannah. (laughs). I’d have breakfast before I went back home to rest, accompanied by the director and DP, and we’d discuss how the shooting went while enjoying a meal. It’s quite a special memory for me. It made me feel that I’m not fighting alone, that there are many people working together and holding each other’s back. That’s a great environment to be in.”
Writer- Winston King