Filmmaker U recently caught up with "Squid Game" Editor Nam Na-young and talked with her about her amazing work on the Emmy-nominated hit "Squid Game", her career in feature films, and Korean filmmaking.
Nam Na-young is a South Korean film editor and negative cutter. She has edited films with directors Ryoo Seung-wan ("Arahan," "The City of Violence," and "Crying Fist"), Kim Jee-woon ("The Good, the Bad, the Weird" and "I Saw the Devil"), and Kang Hyeong-cheol ("Scandal Makers," Sunny," and "Tazza: The Hidden Card"). Her recent work includes the smash Netflix hit "Squid Game." Nam has edited more than 60 films.
Gordon Burkell (GB) - Today I am joined by editor Nam Na-young whose work includes "The Good, The Bad and The Weird," "Mother," and most recently, one of Netflix's most popular shows, "Squid Game." Welcome to the show.
Nam Na-young (NN) - Thank you for having me.
GB - Not many people in North America know the film "The Good, The Bad and The Weird," but it is such a great Korean film that I think more people should know about. How did you get involved with that film?
NN - Well, I got a call from the studio. At first, I watched a lot of the director, Jee-woon Kim, past work as I didn't have a chance to work with him before. But I jumped at the opportunity to work with him, I got a call from the studio and met with the director and then started working on the film.
GB - When you first got the "Squid Game" script, how did you break it down? Did you make notes? I’d love to know in general how do you first approach a project when you get the script?
NN - The way I start working is different for different films and directors. In the case of "Squid Game," the script was ready when I joined the project. So I was able to receive an almost finished script. As I read the script, I was able to share the feelings that I had reading the script with the director. If there were some areas that I didn’t understand the director’s intentions, then I was able to ask questions right then and there. So we had a constant conversation going.
GB - How different was the script compared to the footage/dailies that came into your edit room? Or was there not much of a difference?
NN - Well, there were not many big changes from the script to the final version. I edited the show mostly according to the script. But there were some cases where I had to edit the order of scenes, so that it would increase the tension of the drama. And since the running time of this series is quite long, I had to make some adjustments according to that, as well.
GB - A lot of scenes in "Squid Game" rely on performance. How do you approach building tension or suspense in a scene?
NN - I would first analyze the content of the scene, whether the scene should focus more on the events, or whether it should focus more on the emotions of the characters. Then I make a judgment around that. And then I would edit accordingly. When there is a scene where the emotion should be highlighted, I would just follow the emotional arc of the character and probably have more shots with the close ups of the actor. So the performance of the actor would be more important in these cases.
GB - A lot of editing work that you have done is on feature films rather than episodic television. Was there anything you learned from your experience editing feature films that helped you when editing "Squid Game"? Did you learn anything new from editing this series?
NN - Yes, I worked a lot on feature films in the past and I didn't really have a lot of chances to work on a series. Film has a fixed running time usually around two hours and because the story has to be told within this timeframe, it has to be quite compact. "Squid Game" on the other hand is nine episodes long. This meant that it had to be more detail focused. In film you have to create some entertainment out of that fixed short timeframe, whereas in a series, you can approach it with a more relaxed manner and be more sophisticated, because you have more time to maneuver. I am planning to work on more series in the future.
GB - When I've talked to other Korean film editors, they often talk about having editors on-set, did you have on-set editors for squid games? Could you explain what an on-set editor does?
NN - In Korea on a TV series the on-set editor is a role that is played partly by the script editor. In the case of the feature film where effects are quite heavily used, the onset editor helps the director to see the feel of the film quite easily on the set. Different directors want different things from the on-set editor. A director might have a lot of his or her thoughts infused into the on-set editing cut, or there will be other cases where the on-set editor will be just doing the edits on their own. "Squid Game" did have an on-set editor. In the case of "Squid Game" it was the first time that the director had worked on a series so he didn't have enough time to instill too many notes to the on-set edited version. So the on-set editor actually sent me the version that he or she created but I didn't really look at it to do my editing job. The on-set edited version was used only in preliminary discussions with the director.
GB - Earlier, you mentioned moving scenes around to build tension. What were some scenes that were moved around to help build that tension?
NN - There is a sequence in the glass stepping stones game, where three events are happening in parallel. As the glass stepping stones game is ongoing, the VIPs are watching the game and the policeman, who is the sibling to the mask manager, is going on his own adventure too. So all these three events are happening at the same time which could easily be too slow for the audience. So I had to make a lot of changes in terms of the order of the scenes, so it would be more fast paced. So in that sequence, the orders were changed a lot. And there is a particular sequence where the identity of the masked man and the mask manager is revealed. That is a sequence that goes from the anatomy lab scene to the day of the revelation scene. And that sequence also had a lot of changes in it so that it'll have the right level of tension.
GB - Is there a particular scene or moment in the series that was difficult to edit, but you're really happy with the way it came out?
NN - I would say that there are challenges in all the projects that I take on so I don't really have any particular example that I can recall from "Squid Game." But, I would say that every moment of it was so challenging but I don't really have any specific moments.
GB - You started out as a negative cutter which seems to me to be one of the most stressful jobs in the film industry because you are cutting the original film. How did you cope with the stress of that job?
NN - It is true that stress can be a side effect of having that job. When you have a lot of stress, then you need to eat something healthy. Also, hang out with your friends, listen to good music, go to a club so that you will have some relief.
GB - I have one last question for you. We've been stuck in this pandemic for over two years now. Depending on where you are in the world, you're locked indoors or you're under quarantine. Is there a short movie you discovered in the last two years that people should check out other than "Squid Game"?
NN - Well, during the pandemic, I had to work tirelessly. I didn't really have much time to go to the theater, so I didn't really didn't watch much content. But recently, I enjoyed watching "Succession" and absolutely loved it.
GB - Thank you so much for talking with me today.
NN - Thank you for having me.
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