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The Heart of the Matter: Editing The Documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

28/05/2021

The Heart of the Matter: Editing The Documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

data-src=https://creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/avatars/263018/5fa08c562aaf4-bpthumb.jpg data-srcset=https://creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/avatars/263018/5fa08c561c0e7-bpfull.jpg 2x class=lazyload avatar avatar-80 photo height=80 width=80 />

Brie Clayton May 27, 2021

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Editors are artists and storytellers, crafting together footage like puzzles to create compelling stories. Experienced documentary editor Jeff Boyette has, this time, pieced together the tale of a master storyteller herself, author Amy Tan.

Jeff Boyette's editing on the documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, co-produced with PBS American Masters and currently streaming on Netflix, included cutting away fascinating but peripheral details to focus on the heart of the matter, which was Amy Tan's relationship with her mother Daisy. Jeff edited this entire film in a pandemic, and he and his team effectively took the reins to complete the film when producer and director James Redford passed away from complications of bile duct cancer.

Fondly referred to as Jamie, James Redford dedicated his career toward highlighting both pressing modern issues, and the meaningful side of humanity. Jamie was compelled to illuminate the facets of Amy Tan's life after meeting her through a different project, Playing For Keeps. With an interest in Amy's tenacity to overcome trauma, and her intense character that contributed to her success as a writer, Jamie's work uncovered the profound emotional connections that endeared her to readers with this memoir.

Jamie and Jeff also included the amazing illustrations of Xaviera L pez in Amy Tan's documentary. From the film's opening they flow across the screen, filling gaps in understanding between interview excerpts and family photos. Jamie's decision to bring in Xaviera's art serves to represent the stress relief and creative spirit that Amy Tan developed in childhood through drawing.

As a child, when Amy's mother would act in wild unexplainable ways, Amy would draw to express herself. As she matured, this self expression developed into writing, and she authored The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and many other books. Drawing resurfaced later in life for Amy when her fame turned writing into another stressor. Amy again found drawing to be a way to fill those gaps in her understanding of the world, and in the same vein, so do Xaviera's illustrations for Unintended Memoir.

Jeff Boyette joined Creative COW to reveal the creative process he accomplished with James Redford and their team to create this deep dive into Amy's life.

data-src=https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-1024x576.jpg alt= class=lazyload wp-image-2410541 data-srcset=https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-1024x576.jpg 1024w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-300x169.jpg 300w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-768x432.jpg 768w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-624x351.jpg 624w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-50x28.jpg 50w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200-100x56.jpg 100w, https://gcs.creativecow.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/19225206/Amy-Tan-Unintended-Memoir-Still1200.jpg 1200w data-sizes=(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px />A still from Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir by James Redford, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by KPJR Films.

When I watched Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, I've got to admit, I cried through about 70% of your film. That was incredible. It was really well done.

Jeff Boyette: Thank you.

I know that previous to this documentary on Amy Tan's remarkable life, director Jamie Redford and yourself had been working on a project called Playing for Keeps. How was that project the launching point for Unintended Memoir?

Jeff: When Jamie decided to make Playing for Keeps, a film about the value of play and downtime, he was looking for people who had some sort of play outlet, some part of their life where they were just outside what you knew of them, outside of their day-job, where they just went out and did something purely for the joy of it. Amy is in a rock band, which was just sort of a silly thing. Some people knew about her so they said hey, you should try meeting Amy Tan . They connected and he interviewed her. Jamie had a deep background from other films in talking about trauma, childhood trauma, and resilience. As she's getting into her story, and of course you know from her story it's full of trauma, they just had this immediate rapport. She went so deep in that interview, it's one of the source interviews for the film that you see in Unintended Memoir, even though at the time the idea was that she was going to be in this film about play. Jamie went home and talked with the producer Karen Pritzker and they just decided, this has to be its own film. Then they spoke with American Masters, and they were excited to support it. It took a little while, but eventually Amy agreed to do it, too.

When did Jamie and you realize that you had effective filmmaking chemistry?

Jeff: Well, we had known each other for ten years. When we first met I was sort of an assistant and an additional editor on some of his stuff. Then I went off and cut some other films, partly through people he introduced me to actually. But we
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