Rebecca Lally is an extraordinary film editor, director and animator, and LOVES her work. She works for some big networks like Showtime, Nickelodeon and CBS, to name a few, and has several amazingly cool projects of her own in the works. But underneath her talent as an editor lies her passion for painting, a medium which she recently hooked back into in order to recharge the artistic authenticity that ultimately defines and characterizes all of her work. This not only makes her desirable to work with on an artistic level, but explains why, when you meet her, you feel like you have permission to let your artistic soul spring to life!
Love and Water- Can you talk about how you came to start painting again after many years?
Rebecca Lally- I have a background in painting, having studied it in high school and college, and actually had an amazing experience with delving back into it last May when I decided to take a two week painting course in Italy. I really wanted to challenge myself to push my technique to a new level because I realized I was painting the same way I had been for years. The reason I hadn’t explored other ways of expanding my craft was simply because I hadn’t been doing it for such a long time. I had never done landscape painting before, but I wanted to try it and figured if I was going to start it might as well be in Italy. I signed up for a course in this little town called Montecastello, which means ‘little castle.’ It was on top of a mountain and the art school is in a converted convent. I would take a class in the morning, then go outside and paint, then have lunch made by a local Italian cook, and drink wine and paint some more, and then have a siesta at 4:00 and then dinner at 7:00. At night the school invited artists from Canada and America show us slide shows of their work. It was an incredibly inspiring time where I reconnected to my art. I’ve now decided that I’m going to start a painting project where I do a painting every week for a year, until I go back to Italy again next May. They’re all going to be done with palette knives, which helps to loosen me up as a painter. I set up a blog called ‘A Painting A Week,” where I will post each painting and talk about each one. It’s a bit of a large undertaking, but I think I can do it every week as long as I work two hours a day, twice a week. Each painting will be of different landscapes in New York City. I’m really looking forward to starting it.
L&W- Where did you get your training as an editor?
RL- I was interested more in directing at first, but when I got to film school editing was definitely an appealing medium for me. Basically I went to film school before any digital editing was mainstream. So I learned to cut film with a razor blade and tape. When I left school, I did some acting and photo assisting jobs, and it was around the time that Final Cut was exploding. So I decided I needed to get a job that would help teach me how to use it. I had a friend who worked at Showtime Networks, and got me an interview. I ended up getting a job as a post-production coordinator. It basically consisted of being in charge of booking the Avid room for editors, which is an older editing system. I became friends with the editors and they let me come in after hours and on the weekends to work on my own short films. I had help from the editors was I went along. I finally got hired as a staff editor, which wasn’t very complex editing but I definitely got better as a result. After a year of doing that I began to freelance, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I freelance right now for Showtime, CBS, Nickelodeon, TLC, Smithsonian Channel HD, and Fuse.
L&W- What do you like about editing?
RL- I tend to work with a lot of creative, cool people, for one, which is a huge part of what I like about the editing world I work in. As for the work itself, I really like cutting visual images to music. When I work on promos I can cut images to the music they give me and create something really beautiful. What really strikes me about the power of editing is the ability to make the audience really feel what is happening or what is being represented on screen. When I was a kid I saw ‘The Color Purple,’ and I remember this scene where Whoopi Goldberg is shaving Danny Glover and you think she’s going to kill him. The scene is intercut with her children in Africa having a ritual of a kind of blood-letting, and we go back and forth between the two. I remember thinking at such a young age that it was one of the most brilliant choices in editing that I had ever seen because it was so effective. It enhanced the power of the emotion of the scene so beautifully. So I see editing as a way of bringing new life to scenes and images that are already powerful on their own by figuring out the most effective way to put them together. I experiment a lot with this when I do projects with Dora Mae Productions, the production company I have with my mother, playwright Debbie Jones and my two sisters, Samantha Jones and Jeannine Lally. When we collaborate on a project such as the feature film “The Last Christmas Party” we shot last year, it gives me a great opportunity to follow through with my vision from start to finish.
L&W- How does that effect or complement your work as a painter?
RL- I’m so visually driven and caught up in creating frames. Editing has forced me to really look at what is happening in the composition of my paintings. When I’m editing and playing around with images there are so many times I will freeze on a frame that is so compelling that it moves me, and often it’s a frame within a rather mundane series of footage. I try choose the subjects of my paintings in the same way- I wait for a landscape to move me rather than choose something I think will make a pretty picture. It has freed me up to paint from a more emotional place instead of an intellectual one.
L&W- Where do you see your working heading?
RL- I have a couple of animation projects that I want to work on, which combine my love of drawing, editing and film. I have a film project that I want to work on as well. I want to shoot, draw and animate a project in the next year, because I’m very visually-oriented right now. I will make a foray back into directing at some point, but right now I want to focus on the projects that have strong visual elements to them. When I was in film school I was thinking that when I graduated I would go out and figure out how to become the next Steven Spielberg. But I didn’t do that, and it occurred to me recently that if I really wanted that I would be doing it. So I’ve begun to get really specific about what it is I do want to pursue artistically. I think it’s really important to not let my art work and ideas float around, but to have specific goals for them so that I can work at fulfilling them. That has given me more of a distinct purpose as an artist and has made me really excited about my work.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far with your art?
RL- When I was in Italy we went on trips over each weekend. I had studied so much art history, and when we were in Florence we went to this museum and I lost my group almost immediately. So I went off on my own and began exploring. When my sister Jeannine and I were in high school we had this great art history class where we studied a female Renaissance painter named Artemisia Gentileschi. She’s a very interesting figure in history and a remarkable painter. She has done very dramatic light and dark works. She did a couple of treatments of Judith beheading Holofernes. Many Renaissance painters did paintings of this scenario, but most of them depicted Judith looking very demure. Gentilileschi painted a much more dramatic version that I had studied in this class, but never knew where the actual painting was in the world. I turned a corner in this museum, and it was there. It was just huge, and so much more powerful than I had imagined. What is so striking about it is that Judith’s face is calculating, because she is doing what she has to do to save her people. It is beautifully painted, and beautifully lit, and when I came across it was like a tremendous gift. I felt very connected to the painting and to my own work in that moment, as if I was doing what I should be doing with my art. It was very moving and very inspiring.
L&W- When is your birthday?
RL- February 1- I share it with my twin sister, Jeannine, and we always go to terrible movies all day. We used to sneak in, but when we got older I got caught once, so we then decided that we would just pay for all the movies we go to. It’s really fun. At night we go out with our mom and other sister Sam for BBQ. It’s usually a great day.
L&W- Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your work as an artist?
RL- I think what I’ve figured out is that after being in promos and advertising is that I had to make a lot of compromises with my art. That is good and bad, for many reasons, and there ar e parts of that process that I enjoy. But one part of that process that wasn’t as good for me was that it kept me in a safe-zone. I didn’t branch out a lot or take many risks because I was trying to achieve what the overall goal was. I’ve had some jobs recently that have allowed me to break out of that habit. I’m working right now with Steven Sebring, who directed “Dream of Life,” which is the movie abotu Patti Smith that premiered at Sundance a couple of years ago. He shoots a lot of fashion and has been working on some campaigns. In the project I’m working on with him he asked me to be creative, to go for what I thought would work and take some risks, and then we could look at it and see how it fits with what the overall goal is. It ended up being a great collaboration between us and the client was so excited, and it was still a commercial product. It was an interesting lesson to me that I don’t always have to play it safe when I’m working for someone else artistically. My advice to other artists working in a similar medium is, when in doubt, keep connecting emotionally to the piece and trust the direction it takes you, regardless of how off the path it may seem.