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A Decidedly Unique Cultural Perspective: Outdooring’s Andy Shen

The intersection of a Venn diagram is where the commonality is found of the different subsets. This is the connection in which the different parts relate. This is an appropriate metaphor for the work of editor Xiaoyao Shen (aka Andy Shen) on Outdooring. Director Maxwell Addae was fully aware that the film was relatable to a portion of the general public but he needed it to be also accessible to those who had no direct connection with the characters depicted in the story. Still, Addae was convinced that the proper editor would be able to grant insight from a perspective that was unfamiliar with the circumstances of the main character Kobby and those around him. After seeing Andy’s work on Armistice which clarified complex characters and arcs, the director was convinced that he’d found the ideal editor in Shen. This decision is vetted by Outdooring’s win for Best Drama Short as well as a nomination for Shen’s editing (both for the International Film Awards) as well as a nomination at the film’s premier at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival. Outdooring has premiered in six countries throughout the world such as the U.S., U.K., Portugal, Australia, and will soon be shown in France. Premiering at notable festivals in the US like the American Black Film Festival and Outfits Fusion as well as an upcoming screening at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival (the biggest short film festival in the world) testify to this film’s enthusiastic embrace throughout the international film community; proof that the artists who created it are held in the highest regard by their peers.

(from left to right) Cinematographer Samudranil Chatterjee, Director Maxwell Addae, Editor Xiaoyao Shen 

Outdooring’s central character is complex and conflicted to say the least. Kobby Ankrah is attending his nephew’s baby naming ceremony with a duplicitous intent. Kobby loves his family but he plans to steal the money given to the baby so that he can run away with his boyfriend. His sexuality is a secret which Kobby fears will not be understood by his family, based on his witnessing of their harsh treatment towards his gay uncle Red. The tension swells, ultimately leading to an action by Kobby that involves the baby and forces the truth to come out. Kobby is a young African American man who is gay. While someone who is also African American or a member of the LGBTQ community may intuitively understand his motivations and actions, the director of this film needed an edit that would not presume this. Shen painstakingly reviewed, cut, and organized every scene to establish the emotion with a wide appeal rather than from a place of familiarity. By establishing a basic human sense for the fear of judgement instead of one which only applies to Kobby, Andy brought all viewers into a place that we can all empathize with. This is the paramount goal of all films, to allow the audience to witness a story’s uniqueness while connecting and endearing us to its characters. It’s unquestionable that while Kobby Ankrah’s actions are at times distasteful, his presentation in this film shows the blurring of lines that separate proper conduct from understandable mistakes.

The end result of this award-winning film seems so natural that it’s hard to imagine it before the sculpting which Andy performed. There’s nothing automatic or basic about the pacing or selection of scenes and perspectives which he crafted. Shen communicates, “Editing a film requires you to know the story and the characters so deeply; you can’t just string footage together and labor under the idea that this is how you present a story. I enjoy getting into the minds of the filmmakers and the characters. There’s a scene in Outdooring where Kobby and Uncle Red are talking. Normally you’d cut back and forth between the two of them in a conversation but I kept the camera on Red after the first transition to make the audience guess about Kobby’s reaction to what Red was saying. By not showing what Kobby was doing it kept the tension for the audience. Later, in one of the final chaotic family scenes, I rejected presenting things in chronological order in place of camera perspective to increase the intensity. These choices are a way to increase the emotional impact of what the actors and director have done; a way to heighten the experience for the audience.”

Outdooring's SXSW Premier

Sometimes being a passionate editor means being a bit of a thorn. There was a major scene in Outdooring which contained an exceptional performance with a large amount of dialogue; one which Andy felt was not conducive to the message of the film. Cutting out something that took such effort to manifest was not going to be a popular suggestion. Pleading his case to the director and showing him how the film could be better without the scene, Shen recalls, “If you believe in your abilities and that we’re all here to make the best film possible, you have to say what you think is correct…even if it’s not going to be popular. Luckily, within fifteen seconds of my description of why this scene should be deleted, the director agreed with me.” Based on the accolades and awards received by Outdooring, everyone agrees.

Written by Patrick Wilson

A Decidedly Unique Cultural Perspective: Outdooring’s Andy Shen Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:12:00 AM Rating: 5
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