Editing the Dystopian World of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ with Affonso Goncalves

They say that shooting a movie means collecting footage, but editing a movie makes it a film. Ok, that’s not an actual quote from anywhere, I just made it up. But doesn’t make it any less true. The editing process is actually where a movie finds itself. And for director Olivia Wilde’s head-trip, Don’t Worry Darling, you need a strong editor to bring to life the nightmarish fever dream poor Florence Pugh must fight through. That’s where Affonso Goncalves comes in!

Nominated for an Emmy for his terrific work on True Detective, and known for his terrific collaborations with Todd Haynes and Jim Jarmusch on films like Carol and Patterson, Goncalves approaches the disturbing dystopia of Don’t Worry Darling with a surgeon’s hand at balancing out the nightmare among the mundane. And we had a chance to speak with him about his process. Here’s what he had to say:

Thank you for joining us. Honestly, I have to commend your work. You’ve succeeded in making this movie feel like a fever dream and nightmare among the picture perfect suburbia setting. There are terrifying moments spliced in between different scenes that reflect Alice’s emotional and mental state going through this nightmare. Can you talk about your approach with getting into her head and immersing her in this world?

Goncalves: So my story, how I came to be in the film — there was an original editor who did the first cut. Then we had to stop the film after a while because of COVID. But then that editor had to move on… so they came to me [to finish the film]. And then I watched the film, talked to Olivia. And she had this really amazing ideas to elevate the film because it was already there. And we kind of re-conceptualized the journey, and deepened the world around Victory. And that’s what it was. It was so much fun. It’s different when you come to a project that already exists. But there was so much still that we could play with.

And to figure out the pace, there’s the pace of Alice slowly finding out what’s happening in the world and realizing what’s happened to her world, to now being in grave danger where she has to escape. To navigate that kind of pace and rhythm is fun!

Olivia is such a terrific director visually and in terms of getting the best performance out of her actors. I loved Booksmart, and really love the work she did here. This is the first time you’ve worked with her. How does she differ as a director compared to Jim Jarmusch or Todd Haynes?

Every director has their own way to work. This is [Olivia’s] second film, so she may not have the amount of films under her belt that Jim does. But once we’re in the cutting room, she’s a very serious director, she knows a lot, she’s a cinephile, she’s very smart and knows exactly what she likes and what she doesn’t like. So once you actually are doing the editing, the approach is very similar. You have the film in front of you, you have ideas, let’s make those ideas work. If I compare her to the other directors I love working with, she’s as collaborative as they are. She’s as interested in listening what you have to say, flying your ideas, trying things out. She’s in a way fearless which I really appreciated and I hope to work with her again.

There is a stark shift in this movie. It’s a huge spoiler so I won’t spoil anything. But throughout the movie the nightmarish images indicate something wrong, but why was it important to save some of the surprises revealed during that shift to the end of the movie rather than earlier on in the movie?

It’s tricky. There’s an earlier version of the film where you noticed something was off. And I think if that was the case you don’t have time to grow or discover. I think it’s more fun if it’s seems one way and slowly you look around and realize it’s not what you think it is. And when you have these flashes, how long are the flashes, and how much information do you give. So it is challenging. How much do you give? Do you give too much away and it spoils what’s about to happen? Or do you not give enough so that when it happens people are confused. It’s complicated. It’s difficult to navigate both, and that’s what we were trying to do.

I think it was the right call. Because as you’re on this journey, and the shift happens, it’s like a gut punch, and the effect is even stronger as a result of it. Affonso, thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the film and your great work in it!

Thank you very much!

Get ready for a gut punch, when Don’t Worry Darling hits theaters this Friday, September 23.

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