There were two Indian winners at this year’s Oscars: Naatu Naatu from RRR in the Original Song category, and Kartiki Gonsalves’s The Elephant Whisperers for short documentary. There is a third Indian connection to the Oscars – the assistant editor on Everything Everywhere All At Once, which won seven awards, including Best Picture, is Mumbai-born Aashish D’Mello.
Directed by the Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as “Daniels”), Everything Everywhere All At Once is headlined by Michelle Yeoh’s Chinese-American laundromat owner who embarks on a multiverse adventure in the midst of a failing marriage and a tax problem. Among the Oscars won by the A24 production, including best actress for Yeoh, was Editing for Paul Rogers. Aashish D’Mello and Zekun Mao served as Rogers’ assistants on the film.
D’Mello and Mao were invited by Rogers to attend the Oscars in Los Angeles. D’Mello described the experience as “surreal”. He added: “I am the first person I know to be at the Oscars. I feel incredibly lucky to have been there because I know very few people get that opportunity.”
D’Mello graduated with a Bachelors in Communications and Media degree from St Xavier’s College in Mumbai in 2013. He worked as an assistant editor in advertising commercials and Pradeep Sarkar’s Hindi film Mardaani in 2014.
In 2015, D’Mello moved to Los Angeles to study at the American Film Institute. After graduating, he served as an assistant editor on short films and documentaries, garnering enough working hours to become eligible for membership to an editors’ union.
“The film industry here is informal, you get jobs through word of mouth,” D’Mello said about Hollywood. “Zekun Mao and I were together in the same class at AFI. She is from China. Paul had reached out to AFI asking if they knew any good editors who could serve as assistant editors and who knew Chinese. AFI sent this email to Zeken. She got the job first. She reached out to me because they needed another assistant editor.”
D’Mello has written about editing Everything Everywhere All At Once in an essay that is reproduced below with his permission. About the Daniels, who have gone overnight from indie darlings to multiple Oscar winners, D’Mello had only praise: “They light up every room with their informality. They were very cool people to work with. What I admire the most about them is that they are so creative and such great filmmakers, but they are very nice too. They put their crew first, and they believe in humane working conditions.”
D’Mello has most recently worked as an assistant editor on A24’s upcoming Showtime series The Curse, created by Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder. In his essay, the 30-year-old professional writes about being a part of what he correctly calls the “weirdest, quirkiest film” at the Oscars.
‘A wild and wonderful process’
The experience of being on the weirdest, quirkiest film of the year’s editing team was as amazing as it sounds. Being able to watch the film as it went through various stages of editing – the story getting shorter and clearer each time, watching each universe connect to the other, the music becoming more and more epic, the sound design getting fuller and more detailed, new technical challenges each day, our stress levels rising – it was all part of a wild and wonderful process that lasted for more than a year.
We were entirely remote for most of the editing process – filming completed in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. Because the situation was so unfamiliar to everyone, we had to get creative about how we worked. The footage was shot in multiple different formats, which added to the complexity of editing with it as well as doing visual effects on it. Additionally, the directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert like being very hands-on with the editing and visual effects process, which meant including them in our workflow.
There were three of us on the editorial team – editor Paul Rogers, and two assistant editors – Zekun Mao and me. The two of us had to work closely together as well as with the directors to get the movie finished and delivered on time. We used the software Adobe Premiere Pro for editing the movie, as it was something everyone was familiar with. Adobe chose our project to test some of their new software features and Zekun visited the company to learn some of them, which she then showed the rest of us. Due to the experimental nature of these features, Zekun and I were constantly working with Adobe to improve them, which led to improvements in the software for everyone.
Zekun and I worked together to prepare and organise the footage for Paul and the directors. They each have their own way of approaching the editing, so it was important to prepare the editing project files according to everyone’s individual preferences. Because of the wide variety of scenes and genres in the movie, we ended up sorting footage by universe and by character, which made it much easier for us to find specific moments.
The movie contains dialog in 3 different languages – English, Mandarin and Cantonese. One of Zekun’s responsibilities included subtitling all the footage before it was edited.
A big part of my role was coordinating with the visual effects team, headed by Zak Soltz, regarding what shots needed visual effects and what didn’t. Because of the complexity of the film’s narrative, the use of visual effects shots was constantly evolving in the edit.
We had approximately 550 visual effects shots in total, being worked on by an in-house team of only 5 artists – so keeping track was key to being efficient. Our workflow was very streamlined and unique – a combination of us working remotely, having to communicate so many different kinds of effects, and having a small team with whom we could communicate quickly and directly. Zak and I were able to refine the workflow through a lot of trial and error, and we eventually found something that was suitable for our project’s needs.
One of the most complicated visual effects in the movie was definitely the scene where we see Evelyn’s face flashing across hundreds of universes. We went through that sequence one frame at a time and listed out the different clips we would need to pass off to visual effects. The VFX artists designed a lot of the crazy backgrounds in that sequence. Getting that sequence together took the longest time, but it’s completely worth it when looking at the final version – it’s the most chaotic moment in the movie, and the music elevates it to another level.
The editing team were constantly finding new ways to achieve certain things we would’ve never discovered had we not been pushed to figure them out. It really felt like we were working on a small independent movie because our team was so small and everyone was comfortable and informal with each other. It gave us a kind of freedom to experiment with different techniques and technology, something that would be considered too risky on a larger movie. Because of the film’s complex narrative and the infinite possibilities it lends itself to in the editing, and because working remotely complicated things further, we ended up working on the movie for over a year. The earlier cuts of the movie were much longer than the final cut, so we had multiple test preview screenings in order to gather feedback and bring the film to its final runtime.
This is the craziest project I’ve worked on, but it was an incredible learning experience. The best part of any project is what I learn from it – no matter how big or small, there’s always something to take away from it.
The reception to the film has been so rewarding. We knew we were working on something unique and heartfelt, but I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted how big a phenomenon the movie would turn out to be. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Working on this was a big part of my pandemic experience, and although working from home for so long can feel at times isolating and detached from what was going on in the outside world, I feel incredibly lucky to have been part of the film’s journey along with Paul, Zekun and all the other incredibly talented people that came together to make this possible. During a time of incredible suffering in the world, I’m glad we were able to work on something that brought people joy and spread a positive message.
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