Film Editor Wei Li Aspires to Emulate Legendary Oscar-winning Editor Walter Murch
“I was consistently amazed by Wei’s unparalleled initiative, work ethic, and commitment throughout the post-production process of my documentary film, ’26 Seconds,’ He possesses both a powerful sense of confidence and the unique ability to multitask under high-pressure environments, is certainly a huge plus in this industry.” — award-winning Director/Producer Kelly Galindo
As an award-winning film Editor himself, Wei “Will” Li looks up to legendary Hollywood editors like Walter Murch who worked on The English Patient, Apocalypse Now, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, among many others. Will, who sees a film editor as a second director which means a huge responsibility, says of Murch, “I still use his book ‘In the Blink of An Eye.’ He was a pioneer in editing, and created a rule of editing called ‘Walter Murch Rule of Six,’ believing the most important elements for editing was emotion. I live by that. For me, a film communicates with its audience through emotional resonance. Good editing helps tighten the story and convey its emotional messages effectively for the audience to engage, interpret, and digest. Walter Murch believes in ‘cut for emotion.’ For me, in each cut, I continue to explore more possible ways to present emotion to the fullest.”
Using his broad range of skills and focusing on “cut for emotion,” Will is proud to have contributed to the storytelling of two recent films: Here Cut Salon, which has earned several awards including the Platinum Remi Award Winner at the 54th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival; and, Gamin which recently won an award at the Pasadena International Film Festival.
Will also worked as a Production Manager and Editor on the award-winning feature documentary, 26 Seconds, which was directed and produced by Kelly Galindo. This eye-opening film about the pandemic of child sex trafficking has earned numerous wins from Hollywood Shorts Fest, and New York Indie Shorts, to being an official selection at That Film Festival at Cannes 2020.
Additionally, short films he’s worked on like Circle and Collision Escape, have earned Best Editing awards at several Film Festivals. He humbly offers: “It really means a big recognition to myself, which is the most important thing which pushes me forward in my editing career. The best editing is to not make the audience be aware that there was editing in scenes in a film. So, that makes it challenging to get a personal editing award.”
Indeed, the fact that so many Oscar-nominated Best Picture movies are also nominated for Best Editing, dramatically underscores the importance of the skills used in the editing suite. And, Will, who has worked on over 40 film projects as both director and editor, and others talk about what makes him unique and so in demand to producers and directors.
When it comes to Will’s strengths, director Kenneth Ma, who worked with Will on his breathtaking and inspirational Here Cut Salon film, offers, “Working with Will is an excellent experience because of his skilled workflow and attitudes. Will is very familiar and highly efficient with operating the editing program. Overall, he saves me a lot of worry and extra time by communicating with other post-departments and keeping the workflow fluent. In this way, Will is an indispensable filmmaker in the industry.”
An “indispensable filmmaker,” is quite the compliment, and for himself, Will says, “My unwavering passion for filmmaking and my previous work experience have shaped me professionally and guided me to Hollywood with a clear career plan in mind.”
Consequently, he talks about his invaluable efforts on Youth Crossing the Breeze (originally titled, Until the Autumn Wind Start), a feature where he organized the workflow so well, that he treated his first cut as a fine cut.
Speaking more about the film, Gamin, he helped build that much sought-after “emotion,” while also cooperating smoothly with the director, even though they were working during the Pandemic where they had to rely on communicating online. But they made it work. In fact, Gamin was an Official Selection at the Phoenix Film Festival.
As for director Kenneth Ma’s Here Cut Salon, whose theme is about cutting off sadness in a magical hair salon, Will explains, “Everyone has experienced sadness. So, we built the ‘Here Cut Salon,’ a place where people could get rid of their sadness. I think this is one of the reasons it resonates with audiences.” He also says he prefers to join a film team in pre-production in order to ensure every step in the production follows the workflow. But he came late to this production after filming was done, which meant him having to deal with mistakes made in pre-production.
As a result, he says, “Director Kenneth Ma really wanted me to help in post, and I was able to fix those mistakes in the editing suite. I helped him not only with the editing but also communicating with each department such as VFX and sound effects. We spent lots of time sitting together, discussing the story and how to make it better. Eventually, we got everything done and made the film better than we expected.”
Most importantly, Here Cut Salon won that prestigious Platinum Remi Award Winner at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival. As for being part of the team, Will celebrates, “For the team, it meant recognition for all of our efforts. A good film is not about one key person, it is actually a team job. We face the challenge altogether. We argued with each other. Eventually, we got this great award. It really reminds me of the importance of the team.”
It’s Will Li’s love of editing that keeps him so busy. He worked as assistant editor, with many additional responsibilities, on the feature documentary Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres, a famous journalist. As an assistant editor, he also worked on an Amazon official after-show Inside the Wheel of Time.
With an MFA (Film Production in Editing Emphasis) from Chapman University, Will enthuses about editing as a profession, “I love editing and try to find some ways to make myself different from other editors and use my unique strengths to make the film better. Sometimes, it can be a little arduous, and editing is a long-term job that requires much patience and resilience. But, my love for editing allows me to spend days in a row fully focused, examining each take for performance and emotional highlights.”
Will Li is now working on several feature and short projects as well as helping to make trailers for several feature films and series produced by big production companies such as Disney+, Warner Brothers, and for Apple TV+ shows such as Pinocchio, and Ted Lasso. Additionally, some of the new short film projects he’s involved with as editor include Amina, Ballad of Lakeshore, Rose Boy, and Good Night Earthlings (with director Kenneth Ma, again).
As for his goals in the industry, Will refers back to celebrated Walter Murch, who won several Oscars, one for Apocalypse Now, and also earning an unprecedented double Oscar for Best Sound and Best Film Editing for his work on The English Patient. He adds, “My dream is to win my own Oscar. For me, Editing is like dancing. You can explain the rules but to really learn how to dance you have to dance. The only way to learn is to practice. I’d like to catch every chance to practice and work with more great filmmakers.”