The way in which we choose to frame the events that make up our life is a personal decision that defines our experience on Earth as a comedy or a tragedy. The thin delineation between these two is reliant upon perspective. The same can be said for the art of filmmaking. While many professionals are involved in creating the footage, the editor may indeed be the most powerful when it comes to establishing the tone and pace which moves the audience towards laughter or sorrow. When a director and editor work in congress to deliver this, a story can achieve authenticity and land on-target with great effect. This is quite true in the collaboration of director Emily Meyers and editor Youssef Gouda with the film Oatman Goes South. The tension and anxiety of the story and its main characters is evident but the emotional tone crafted by Meyers and Gouda elicits abundant laughter. While much credit is certainly owed to the cast and all involved parties behind this production, the praise it received is largely the result of the vision which its director and editor manifested.
Oatman Goes South has a minimal yet stellular cast that features Emily Manker (of CBS’s Primetime Emmy Nominated Series SWAT) as Frankie Debeau, Blake McCormack (as Henry Wessel), and Kelly Connell as Jerry (of the Oscar Winning Spider Man 2 and TV’s Picket Fences, winner of fourteen Primetime Emmys). Henry Wessel is a criminal of undisclosed offense who is on the run from the police when he fortuitously finds himself encountering a potential savior in the form of a blonde barfly named Frankie. Rough as Frankie is, she is magnetic in this story. Youssef confides, “Every take Emily delivered was funny, vibrant, and electric. Writers and directors can talk all they want about how much work it takes to get a film to work and engage an audience but in reality it’s all on the actors, they are the human heart of the film and they are what the audience focuses on. A good performance can overcome anything, a story problem, a bad shot, a bad cut, a bad line because the audience will not notice anything else. They will be locked into the story being told and that’s the whole point in the end.”
The tension of the situation for both Henry and Frankie could be nail-biting for the audience but the decision to highlight the dark comedy of it and create an “odd couple” dynamic that utilizes Frankie as the humor fulcrum; this is the genius of Mr. Gouda’s editing for Oatman Goes South. In spite of her drunkenness and volatile nature, Frankie is the conductor of the action as it evolves in the story. Youssef makes fine use of the performance Ms. Manker displays in this film. Presenting the pairing of Frankie’s altered-state while keeping her street smarts about her, the editing leaves the audience to wonder what side of lucidity Frankie will land on. It’s this perfect balance of performance and editing decisions concerning how much to reveal about Frankie’s state of mind which anchors the entire film.
Youssef is quick to spread the credit around to his director on this film. He professes, “Emily was a fantastic leader, very clear with what she wants but tremendously open to all ideas. Her characters are so vibrant. Always looked upon with empathy, she never looks down on any character and the result was an effortlessly funny and moving script that I wanted to work on.” Known within the industry for his ability to root out comedy like a truffle, much of the laughter elicited by the story and performances are the result of Mr. Gouda’s veering into these moments effectively. He communicates, “It’s true that an editor can elevate a film, make a bad film good, but they can never make a bad film great. Thankfully Emily provided a wonderful story with really funny and heartfelt performances and John Hanle the DP shot this beautiful neo noir with the darkness enveloping the frame. All the ingredients were there and I just added to what was already in the footage.” Oatman Goes South was selected at the Los Angeles Lift Off Film Festival in 2020.
Writer: Coleman Haan