FOCUS ON: Pedro Kos, Editor of Waste Land

By By Melody Morgan
Posted on April 16, 2011

BTB is delighted to introduce a new feature called FOCUS ON — a regular interview series profiling independent filmmakers and their projects. Up first is editor Pedro Kos, whose Oscar-nominated doc Waste Land airs Tuesday, April 19 on Independent Lens.


What was the first film project you ever edited? In 1996, I was a student in the New York Film Academy Summer Program held at Yale University. I edited a Super 16mm short about an overwhelmed secretary who has a breakdown, shreds all her paperwork into confetti, and then dances through the offices. This was a one-minute short. 

You’re an editor, but you are also a director. Do you think that being an editor makes you a better filmmaker/director? Absolutely.

Why? So much of the editing process is working with the director, and going through hundreds of hours of footage, and finding a 90 minute narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.  I was a theater directing major in university and that has proven to be very useful. Reading Aristotle’s The Poetics — it clearly lays out the importance of character, arcs and plot, and your basic three act structure. As an editor, I have to put it all together with the micro details in mind, determining how it all fits in this huge puzzle we call the film. 

How was the process of editing Waste Land different from how you imagined it would be? Editing this film was a lot more emotional for me than I thought it would be. I knew it would be an emotional film, but since I’m a native of Rio de Janeiro, I was unexpectedly moved and struck by the pickers and their lives and their transformation with this project. 

What was it like working with director Lucy Walker?  She’s an incredible visionary filmmaker. She has the most amazing sensibility for people and story. I really connected to her approach to the material and constructing the narrative, so much so that early on in the process our Associate Producer Emilia Mello declared us director & editor — much like being declared husband & wife, it was truly filmmaking bliss. 

And how did you get the job? Lucy was looking for an editor in L.A. who spoke Portuguese. And through a friend of hers, who had worked with a friend of mine, I was put in touch with her and I applied. I interviewed with her and a few days later she asked me to do the film. 

What was that meeting like? I basically talked about the way that I like to approach material:  with a very open mind, paying attention to whatever moves you first. That’s an indication that there’s something worth looking into — and she responded to that. Also, I think there were no other Portuguese-speaking editors at that point in L.A. so I don't know if she had much of a choice! But, luckily it worked out alright.  

When you began editing Waste Land did you immediately realize the main characters would be the main characters or did that slowly evolve as you edited the film? Tiao stood out so much, and his transformation was so great that after viewing his footage it was undeniable he would be a leading character. The other pickers in the film had portraits made of them, with the exception of Valter, but Lucy and I felt so strongly about Valter’s role in the film because we were so moved by his story. 

Waste Land and the film you are currently editing, The Island President, are both environmental films. How did that happen? It’s an incredible coincidence. I am preoccupied with environmental issues — I was president of the environmental club in High School, I’ve been a member of Green Peace, and maybe its just that these projects have found me. It's something that speaks near and dear to my heart:  environmental issues and sustainable development. 

What's next for you?  I am finishing The Island President (about the amazing President of the Maldives). Next I am editing a documentary feature called Elemental, which is about the essential nature of water in the face of the global environmental crisis. 

And one last, very important question:  what is your must-have snack in the editing room? Salt water taffy. But no more than three pieces a day. 

This BTB interview was conducted and condensed by Melody Morgan.


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