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HomeCraftsEditingJoy Ride Editor Nena Erb, ACE On The Science of Cutting Comedy

Joy Ride Editor Nena Erb, ACE On The Science of Cutting Comedy

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Joy Ride
Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Stephanie Hsu in Joy Ride. (Credit: Ed Araquel/Lionsgate)

Nena Erb, ACE initially turned down Joy Ride because she wanted to work on a quirky drama but the film team was persistent in bringing her vision onboard. In a race against time, Erb had a rough assembly cut put together four days after filming wrapped. The first cut for the film was about two and a half hours long and well beyond the film’s final run time, not to mention was also initially rated NC-17.

Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) have been best friends since childhood. With a promotion on the line, Audrey heads to China alongside Lolo and Lolo’s cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). After landing, they’re joined by actress and Audrey’s college roommate, Kat (Stephanie Hsu). From there, just about anything that can go wrong…will go wrong. But while the film is a raunchy comedy on paper, it’s not all laughs. Audrey was adopted at birth and seeks out her birth mother while overseas. The laughs die down for a bit as the film delivers its most emotional beat.

Joy Ride joined a solid list of Point Grey productions to premiere at SXSW. In recent years, they’ve launched Neighbors, Sausage Party, The Disaster Artist, Blockers, Long Shot, and Good Boys at the Austin-based festival. Following its successful SXSW premiere in March, Lionsgate released Joy Ride in theaters to further critical acclaim.

[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length] 

Joy Ride
Nena Erbattends, ACE the “Joy Ride” Los Angeles Premiere at Regency Village Theatre Westwood at Regency Village Theatre on June 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Lionsgate)

Below-the-Line: How did you first become attached to working on Joy Ride?

Nena Erb, ACE: It’s a funny story, actually. I was working on Insecure at the time. We’re coming to an end on the fifth season and my agents were like, “What do you want to do next?” I said, “Well, let’s do a studio movie. That’s my goal in 2021 so let’s see if we can make that happen.” A little bit of time went by and they came back with this project and said, “This one, we think might be good for you.” I remember saying no to it without even knowing what it was. It was a comedy, [so] no. I wanted to do a drama. I wanted to do a weird drama like Downtown Owl.

I said no initially and kept reading other scripts. Nothing was quite hitting the right way. They circled back and they’re like, “Hey, the people at Joy Ride really want you to read the script, just read it, no pressure, just check it out and see what you think.” I read the script and I laughed the entire way through until I was literally sobbing because it was so sad. I was in public when that happened, too, so that was really fun. [laughs] After that, I had to do this movie. I can’t believe I said no to this before. Fortunately, they were able to set up a meeting. I met with the filmmakers and I got hired.

BTL: How much fun was it getting to edit the film?

Erb: It was a blast. I think cutting any comedy—it’s a process because there’s always a lot of alts to choose from. With all the jokes and these amazing comedy writers, they’re all funny. All of them are funny. It’s always hard to pick which ones. My first cut was about two and a half hours long, which is not the right length for our studio comedy.

It was a lot of collaboration and experimentation, getting the movie down, and really honing in on what was making people laugh the most. That part of it was really fascinating to me, to the scientific part of my brain. But the creative part, just enjoy the process so much because I get to cut pictures together and make people laugh and I get paid for this. I just can’t even wrap my head around it yet.

BTL: How long after principal photography wrapped did you have a rough assembly cut?

Erb: Oh, it was fast. I had it ready four days after. Looking back on it, I probably should have asked for more time knowing how much improv there was. I know that this was a smaller project for the studio and they probably weren’t going to budge so I just said, “Alright, I’ll just do it. I’m gonna make it happen.”

BTL: How would you describe your process? 

Erb: My process is a little different. Usually, I’ll start with a first draft and then I’ll do many different versions and all of them are pretty rough. I like to come back the next day and look at it and go, “Okay, clearly this one’s not working but this one is or parts of A and C are working,” so I put that together and then that’s when I kind of polish and refine it and make it all beautiful.

On this movie, I didn’t really have that luxury because the schedule was so tight. I had to basically get together a first cut that was as polished as it can be and then sub out the parts with the jokes. I had all these alts after each scene and I would send them to [director] Adele [Lim] during production to make sure that this was she had in mind and also to get a feel for what she would find funny to help me know which version to put into the editor’s cut. It was a long process.

Joy Ride editor
Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sherry Cola as Lolo, Ashley Park as Audrey, and Sabrina Wu as Deadeye in Joy Ride. Photo Credit: Ed Araquel

BTL: Given where COVID was at the time of filmmaking, were you in the same room as Adele or was this one of those where you’re just interacting virtually?

Erb: They shot in Vancouver—dailies and editor’s cut, I was in my house. Once they came back, we actually found an office that was nearby and I always just worked in person with masks and we were tested every week. It was great because I think you get a lot more done when you’re working in person and collaboration and trust is established much quicker than if you’re doing it on Zoom.

BTL: I’ve spoken with some film editors who worked on films released in 2021 and they moved in with the director.

Erb: What??!?

BTL: They set up a guest room.

Erb: Wow. Oh, that’s wild. I guess we could have done that. I think Adele has a guest house but there’s so many other people involved, too. I think it would have been a little uncomfortable for everybody.

BTL: For a raunchy comedy like this one, how hard was it hard to restrain yourself from laughing when you’re working on the edit?

Erb: Oh, I don’t restrain myself at all (Laughs). If I’m laughing, I actually—again, with the scientific brain, I laugh and I rank myself, was this a five, four, three—I rank the level of laugh because after you’ve been working on it for four months or five months, you forget what was funniest to you. I think having that to refer back to is important because after a while, everyone’s seen it a million times. We’re like, “Is this still funny? I don’t know but let me check.” I think if we all laughed, we ranked it a five.

BTL: Was there a scene that you found the most challenging to edit?

Erb: The drug smuggling montage and the sex montage were the most challenging for different reasons. I think those two big set pieces were originally supposed to be scenes. I think as a longer version, they didn’t really work. It wasn’t funny. The drug smuggling one, it needed frantic energy and this heightened like, “Oh, crap, we’re gonna get caught kind of vibe,” and it wasn’t coming through. I tried different versions. I made it shorter and it got down to a montage.

I was like, “Oh, a little short but this is probably going to work.” But then, it was a little hard to know what was happening because it was just a series of short shots, right? It became a balance of finding which shots to play longer and which ones to speed up so that they are faster. I don’t normally use speed changes much in any of my work but it worked for this one. The moment I sped up certain shots, it became really funny and I don’t know why. Once we found the right song, it just all came together very nicely.

The same thing with the sex montage, too. It was very long at one point so I had to decide which pieces are really funny, which ones were meh, and which ones were cringy. It was figuring that out, taking it out, and keeping the good stuff in. Also, one thing I was really aware of is how quickly that can go into pornography land. I again used the magic speed change to make certain shots really funny like the bobbing heads between Audrey’s legs. If it was normal speed, it might look uncomfortable like you’re watching it actually happen but in high speed or fast speed with the heads just going crazy, it became really funny.

BTL: Just thinking about both scenes makes me want to laugh hysterically again. The way all those basketball players get injured!

Erb: Yes, it was great, right? All these women being shown enjoying themselves and not being shamed for it. They’re women, they enjoy their sexuality and they destroyed a bunch of guys process.

Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, Sherry Cola as Lolo, and Stephanie Hsu as Kat in Joy Ride. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

BTL: At any point while editing the film, did it ever feel like Adele Lim was a first-time director?

Erb: I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors before so this didn’t feel that different to me. I think she was very humble and she admitted certain times, like, “Okay, I think I want this but you tell me if it’s not possible.” She was open that way and there was a lot of trust immediately from the start. Other than her admitting certain things that she wasn’t aware of, no, it was similar to working with any director.

BTL: How did you first get an interest in editing?

Erb: I actually didn’t even know anything about editing. I went to art school. I loved movies but didn’t think that you could have a job or career in movies. It was just something that I went to with friends. After I graduated with an art degree, I couldn’t find a job. I didn’t want to teach so a friend was like, “Hey, come work in the art department.” I did that for a little bit, and it wasn’t really a right fit. It wasn’t the right fit because art department stuff, as beautiful as it is, I thought it was closer to architecture than storytelling the way that I wanted to do it.

I started doing other positions and eventually ended up becoming an associate producer, where I got to work with an editor and that’s when my entire world opened up. He showed me what you can do with editing and how you can create characters and shape stories and change the tone with just cutting things in certain different way. It felt like home, so I realized that was my path. I stopped producing, learned the Avid, and he hired me as his assistant.

BTL: Would you say Avid is your preferred software to edit or do you prefer working on something else?

Erb: Avid, definitely. I’ve used Final Cut Pro before. I have not had a chance to use Premiere. I’m curious about it and definitely want to try it. But yeah, I think Avid because it’s so prevalent in the industry. It’s really comfortable. It’s become an extension of my brain.

BTL: It’s amazing to see how much the industry has changed especially when editors used to come up working on those old Moviolas.

Erb: Oh my gosh, can you imagine if this movie was cut on that? I wouldn’t even know how to do the alts with the jokes. I’d be in those bins looking for these—it would be so difficult. No Script Sync, nothing.

BTL: The joys of technology.

Erb: Yes. Script Sync was the best invention ever, especially for comedies. It just made it so much easier. It gave me hours of my life back.

Joy Ride is now playing in theaters. 

Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and filmmaker. The founder of Solzy at the Movies, she is a member of the Critics Choice Association, Galeca, AWFJ, OAFFC, OFCS, and OFTA. She is MPA-accredited and Tomatometer-approved.
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