The longtime Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator talks choreography, deconstruction and his part in crafting the director's distinctive style
Shot in and around Hatfield House, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, The Favourite is Dangerous Liaisons as if reimagined by Virginia Woolf. Orlando and the Virgin Queen haunt the ambitious female protagonists in Yorgos Lanthimos’ gorgeous 18th-century revisionist romp, but so do the director’s previous films: the blistering family pantomime Dogtooth (2009), the dystopian absurdist comedy The Lobster (2015), and his downright creepy American Greek tragedy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). Power struggles, sexuality, excess, human frailty, narcissism, greed and love are served up once again with trademark Lanthimos style that is at times brutal, often hilarious, and always bracingly modern.
According to his longtime editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis, he and Lanthimos have developed an artistic shorthand that let them apply their favored techniques to this seeming outlier of a period piece with relative ease. As Mavropsaridis explained to StudioDaily by phone from his home base in Athens, the edit may begin with the script and assembly, but in a Lanthimos film, it never ends there.
StudioDaily: You’ve edited all of the feature-length films of director Yorgos Lanthimos. When and how did you two first meet?
Yorgos Mavropsaridis: Apart from his first short films, yes, I did all the rest, as well as a lot of commercials in between. That’s where we met and first worked together, when Lanthimos starting making his very first commercials. I’m a generation older than he is and I’ve worked with a lot of different filmmakers here in Greece. What instantly bound us together I guess was our common passion about creating a very distinct film language. He used commercials to experiment with his comedic film language. When it was time, in 2005, for him to make his first film, Kinetta, we made it with a budget of 20,000 Euros. The shooting script was about 15 pages long and so much of it was improvised. Kinetta was a way for him to break away from his commercial style at the time: we used handheld camera and he really started to experiment with his visual language. After this, we did Dogtooth, which brought him international attention. That was the film where we started to really communicate during the edit and I wanted to stay inside that world with this very specific kinetic language he was developing.
The physicality of those films extends to The Favourite, where the characters vigorously posture, pratfall, push, shove, chase, dance and gallop through the frame. Where does that come from?
Lanthimos has always been interested in choreography from the beginning. He has worked with Dimitris Papaioannou, a very famous dancer, choreographer and theater director in Greece. His films are always about movement, in a specific space, that is covered by the camera in the particular way he uses it. The actors are always part of that structure, because they are the ones driving the engine, the very pulse of the story.
What sets this film apart for you?
Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Alps, another very fine film, were very much a unified vision that came from Lanthimos and his co-writer, Efthymis Filippou. So of course The Favourite has a much different approach script-wise, but not in the manner in which Lanthimos decided to formulate and present the story. For me, the only difference is that Efthymis is not there! Sure, the plot isn’t nearly as surreal or absurdist as the other films, but the basic existential situations are still there. For example, before they are actors, the actors are human beings. This is why his direction of the actors can sometimes seem a bit unfamiliar — there is no Method acting here. It is more Eisensteinian, bringing related moments and movements together in very human and emotional ways.
Have you always been an Avid editor?
Because I’m quite old, I started on the Moviola and did about 20 films with it before transitioning to Avid Media Composer in 1992. I’m still with it.
Were you on set during production, and how do you Lanthimos like to work together?
When we first started working together, we were always working in parallel and we took our time and did commercial work in between. On The Lobster I was with them in Ireland during filming and although I was not in the U.S. during the filming of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I was getting the material immediately. But because I was finishing up Deer at the time The Favourite started shooting in England, another editor started doing the assembly. When I came to London in July 2017, I was presented with an assembly. I thought that was fine, because only after I saw the first assembly did Lanthimos allow me to read the script! So after that I asked for some time and then presented a new assembly in September. Then — and this is our usual method after we build the assembly or rough cut based exactly on what is in the script — we start to deconstruct it. It was harder on this film, because there is a specific historical plot to follow, but we began the process of making the narrative more existential; that’s a word we use a lot. For example, this script begins with Abigail [Emma Stone] in the carriage coming to the palace. A fairly conventional way to introduce a main protagonist. So we changed the first scene to one where Sarah [Rachel Weisz] and Queen Anne [Olivia Colman] are talking about love. From the beginning, we agreed, this film is about love. Also Lanthimos wanted these three women on the same level; it was not about a single protagonist at the center of it all. That is what we’ve done on every film: first we find and make those structural changes, then we experiment in the formal elements to give it movement and momentum. Sometimes we like to create montage sequences, not only to speed up the action but to add another layer of meaning.
Can you give an example?
When Abigail goes to the woods to find a natural balm for the Queen’s ailment, we played with the sequence of events. We didn’t want to present Abigail’s motivation outright, that she was already starting to scheme, so we went about it in a different way. It also turned out to be a way to deal with a scene in the palace that Lanthimos didn’t like so much. Another nice example for me, and also for the supervising sound editor and designer Johnnie Burn, was the dancing scene, which we came at from every angle. You can’t rush these kinds of decisions. They take time. Sometimes you have to see the whole film again to make sure it works. And luckily, Johnnie was always so kind to provide temp mixes and stems we could use in the edit to get us closer to the final mood of those scenes. Lanthimos hates to see a cut without the correct sound and levels. I do, too, because you don’t get the sense. And as we get further in the edit process, it’s important to watch it as close to a finished film as possible to better make our decisions.
Did his use of the fisheye lens during some scenes pose any difficulties for you during post?
Not really. I was really impressed when I first saw those scenes and I understood the challenges of using them sporadically — you don’t want them to jump out so much. We used them in specific places that Lanthimos wanted to draw back our attention and make us see the whole situation from afar.
As if we are peering directly through the looking glass into another period.
Yes, that was his idea exactly.
What other films inspired his framing and your edit of specific scenes?
We are cinephiles and we are always talking about other films when we work together. For example, the scene of Abigail and Masham in the forest chasing each other was directly inspired by Evdokia, directed by Alexis Damianos, a 1970s cult film from Greece. That film had a fantastic sequence in the woods, and he wanted to bring that same sense of wildness and freedom to it. It also helps that I also already know what his preferences are in classical filmmaking, such as [Robert] Bresson, so most of the time we don’t even have to talk about it. I simply see it in his images. Though sometimes, out of the blue, he’ll tell me, “let’s watch this” and see where it takes us.
Which scene stands out for you as the most rewarding?
I think because of the parallel editing and the chances he gives you to do some match cuts, it’s probably the sequence when Abigail puts poison in Sarah’s tea. We had this parallel editing of Sarah riding in the woods getting ready to fall and Abigail discovering the men playing this silly game with oranges, and the music that came in at that point, that operatic organ moment, was just so perfect! I do have this feeling when working with Lanthimos, when I am satisfied aesthetically — and I usually am with his films — of absolute pleasure artistically. The way it is done and how the story is told is often the most important thing for me.
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