‘Arcadian’ Interview with Editor Kristi Shimek

Kristi Shimek is Arcadian’s editor and one of the people responsible for helping to create the post-apocalyptic tension in director Ben Brewer’s horror thriller. Arcadian is a story of survival, where ferocious creatures that go bump in the night are after a father and his twin boys. The film stars Nicholas Cage as the dad, Paulwith Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins as brothers Joseph and Thomas. It recently premiered at SXSW in Austin with a lot of positive buzz and releases in theaters nationwide this week.

Shimek is no stranger to working on high-profile projects for both film and TV. She can trace her entertainment roots through working on titles like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and the Lindsay Lohan project Falling for Christmas. I sat down over Zoom with Shimek to talk about working on Arcadian, helping to bring the creatures to life, and working to help craft the story. You can read the full conversation below. 

The Interview with Arcadian editor Kristi Shimek

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Ayla Ruby: Yay, okay. So I’m Ayla. It’s, again, wonderful to meet you.

Kristi Shimek: Nice to meet you, too.

Ayla Ruby: I’m excited to talk. I haven’t seen the movie yet, which I’m very sad about, but I’m counting down the days ’til it’s out and then on Shudder, so I’m excited.

Kristi Shimek: Right. It’s fun.

Ayla Ruby: Awesome. So can you talk a little bit about how you first came out to this film, how you came on to Arcadian.

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, definitely. So I knew the two producers that were on the actual production side of the film, David Wulf and Braxton Pope. I’ve done quite a few movies with both of them, and so I knew them directly and they thought I would be a good match for the director, Ben Brewer. So me and Ben interviewed together. I got to read the script, and then as soon as I talked to Ben, I just knew that I wanted to do it with him, and luckily he felt the same way, so it was great. Our personalities matched and we were able to talk about inspirations right away and things like that, so it was really great because it was really a creative match, which was so nice.

Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, and Maxwell Jenkins in Arcadian. Image courtesy RJLE.

On Shimek’s First Reactions to Reading the Arcadian Script

Ayla Ruby: What were your first reactions when reading the script?

Kristi Shimek: It was fun. I love thrillers and horror, so for me, and I’ve actually been in comedy the last few years, so it was really fun to get back to my thriller and horror roots, which is where I kind of started. And so yeah, I loved it. It was a great read and we already knew that Nic would be in it, Nicholas Cage, and so again, I could picture him in this role and it was just such a fun read.

On Achieving Director Ben Brewer’s Specific Vision with the Edits

Ayla Ruby: So was there anything really challenging or professionally gratifying to kind of pull off with this project?

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, it was really fun. What I liked about this project was even though we were a really small internal team, so there were only a couple of the effects guys, there was Ben, and then there was me and my assistant, who’s also an additional editor on the film, his name’s Matt Jensen, and-

Ayla Ruby: Yay Matt.

Kristi Shimek: I know, he’s great. And so it was this really small team and we became really close. And because Ben’s background is … He is a VFX super, and he was actually the VFX supervisor on everything Everywhere All at Once, so all of us were kind of always working together to capture his vision. That was really fun because we did things kind of in an unusual way.

Kristi Shimek: I would cut the film. Of course, me and Ben had a great rapport with notes. We’d talk about that. But then once VFX started, I actually was handling bringing in the visual effects in and placing them and reframing and all of those things so that we were always … Again, he had such a specific vision that we were all kind of working together to make sure that it was exactly what he wanted, so it was kind of fun because it was a very hands-on, intimate group experience.

On Finding the Rhythm of Creative Collaboration on Arcadian

Ayla Ruby: You mentioned working with the director, Ben Brewer. Can you talk a little bit about finding that rhythm? You haven’t worked with him before, right? You mentioned that you had just had an interview with him and then found that creative meshing.

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, yeah, totally. So as post goes, I do my first cut, so as they were shooting, I would cut my version of the movie, my editor’s cut, and of course in the editor’s cut, you kind of leave everything in, or I do, so that he can see everything. But there was already stuff that we knew we maybe wanted to lift or change. Once he had seen that pass, and luckily it was over the Christmas break, so we could both kind of sit with it for a few weeks, which was nice. You don’t always get that opportunity. Sometimes it’s like you jump right in. But in this case, we could sit with it for a couple of weeks.

Kristi Shimek: And so then we got together, and it was great to work with Ben because he’s super collaborative. He would tell me the tone and what he was looking for, and then I could go back and work with it and try things out. And some directors are like that and some aren’t, but he is, and so it was fun because it allowed me to find, again, the rhythm, like we were talking about, the tone, the pace, and be able to give my creative spin to his thoughts and his notes, and so it was fun. It was a really fun process and I think we got along really well and it was fun to work together. I think, again, he knew exactly what he wanted, so it was a lot of fun because we could work together to get there together.

On Editing Thrillers vs Editing Comedies

Ayla Ruby: Now, when you’re editing something like this, you mentioned that you have thriller roots and you’ve been doing a lot of comedy. How are they different? Is there more, you mentioned the VFX. Is that one of the ways?

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, there’s a lot of different ways. I would say one of the big things is actually pacing in this movie. And in a lot of thrillers, you’re kind of holding on takes to get suspense, and you definitely lengthen out the cut. In comedy, it’s very fast-paced, so it’s like boom, boom, boom, boom, you’re trying to hit those jokes. And so I would say pace-wise, they’re pretty different, as well as how you get to the heart of the characters is pretty different in comedies versus thrillers. In thrillers, you have a lot of these more quiet, dramatic moments. And in comedies, again, you’re kind of discovering their characters through humor.

Kristi Shimek: And then, yeah, most comedies don’t have a ton of visual effects. Sometimes, I mean, if you’re on a certain location or something, but generally they don’t. But then thrillers, horror, if they don’t have a lot of visual effects, they generally have a lot of practical effects, so you still get blood and gore, whether it’s on set or in post. And so yeah, there’s a lot of definitely a difference there as well, for sure.

On How Sound Design Influences The Edit

Ayla Ruby: How about with sound? Does the sound and sound design really influence your editing differently in a project like this versus in a comedy or not really?

Kristi Shimek: Definitely. In a movie like this, I mean, I had 30 tracks of sound effects just for temp, because of course we had a creature sound, but then we also had environments. It’s so important, again, for the suspense, for the pace, for the tone, that I’m always very particular about what we’re hearing, even in the early phases because it’s a huge part of the final film, and so I always temp out as much as I can.

Kristi Shimek: And again, Matt helped with that as well. Shout out. But yeah, so we did a lot of that work early, early on, I mean, again, in this first cut that I even sent to Ben, because it’s such a part of the pace and tone of the movie, and same with music. I temp music, everything out, and then as we get cues in from the composers or depending on what the project allows, we get those in as well.

On How She Decides to Get Into a Scene with Her First Shot in the Edit

Ayla Ruby: You mentioned that the director had a very specific vision, but you also have your editor’s cut, and maybe this works in collaboration with the director. How do you decide to get into a scene? And how do you decide on what your first shot is going to be? How does that come about?

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s interesting because I would say each scene does have kind of a feel for what should be at the top and the bottom, and we call them the buttons. Well, the bottom is the button. But it’s interesting. I think in really traditional editing, you kind of start with your master and then you move into your close-ups, but I tend to not gravitate towards that. I like to kind of get little moments that give us a feel of the scene before getting to a master, so a little close-up of one of the characters or a close-up of the environment.

Kristi Shimek: And that’s not always the case, but it’s something that to me sets the tone of the scene we’re about to see, and so that’s something that I do. And again, sometimes those stay, sometimes as we’re working through the edit, they go. But that’s something that I do tend to do just to kind of give us a flavor of what’s to come, and especially in a movie like this where we can take a little more time, it’s nice because you can have those have moments of high tension and then you have moments to breathe and get those little pieces back into the movie.

On Bringing Arcadian’s Creatures ,Designed by Director Ben Brewer and His Brother, to Life

Ayla Ruby: Was there anything that was really cool to bring to life, anything that was really fun for you specifically or just really like, “I can’t believe I got to do this”?

Kristi Shimek: Yeah. One of the aspects of this movie that is so fascinating is the creatures. And they were designed by Ben and his brother, and so they’re very different, and I love that. Once I got to see the design and then we were working with them in the edit, it was such a fun … I’ve worked with creatures before. I’ve done quite a few creature features. Well, some. I’ve done some creature features, and so I’ve had that experience before, but this was so fun because they’re really different, and we also weren’t trying to cut to the super action.

Kristi Shimek: We were, again, still lingering and stuff. And so that made it really fun because it was kind of different. It was really fun. That was probably one of my favorite things to, again, bring to life, like you were saying. I mean, I always love character pieces too. I love bringing the emotion into it, but that was just something that was really unique to this film that I think will be a blast for people to see.

On Shimek’s Favorite Horror and Thriller Films

Ayla Ruby: I’m excited about it… Do you like horror films? Do you like thriller films? And if so, what’s your favorite? What’s in this world that you really love?

Kristi Shimek: I love thrillers and horror. I mean, I’m a huge fan. I’m the type that watches stuff that’s super obscure and then also loves the regular stuff as well, or the more mainstream, I guess I should say. So yeah, I love thriller and horror, and I always have since I was young.

Kristi Shimek: I would say one of my favorite horror films is Nightmare on Elm Street. I just think the practicals in that movie are beyond. Every time I watch it, I’m just like, the practical effects are just amazing. I don’t know. I mean, I love so many. I’m like, how can I name them all?

Ayla Ruby: It’s hard.

Kristi Shimek: There’s just so many. And I think on the thriller side, I love stuff like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There’s just such a wide gamut of great films in both of those genres and mixed genres. Yeah, but I love them. Yeah, for me, they’re the type of thing I turn on the weekend for sure.

On What People Should Know About Editors

Ayla Ruby: Oh, that’s awesome. And I know we’re starting to get close on time. What would you like people to know about this film or even to know about editors? Because I feel like that’s kind of an underappreciated thing. I’m a writer and I love talking to editors just because you guys do writing as well with your work. So, what would you like people to know about editors?

Kristi Shimek: Yeah. I think it would be, I’d love people to know that we are a part of that process, that final process of writing the film. I think it’s hard to know in anyone’s work, where does the director end and the editor begin? It’s because it’s actually just such a collaborative process. I mean, I think all of it is. And so production, too, it’s like, well, where does the director’s vision end and the production designer’s vision begin? But the whole point is that it’s a collaboration and it’s a really fun collaboration. It’s a really unique form of art.

Kristi Shimek: And so yeah, I guess that’s what I would let people know is just that it’s a really unique part of the process and it’s something that I think is really fun. I don’t think everyone does, but for me, it’s putting a puzzle together and I’ve got all these amazing pieces, and then it’s just finding how those pieces fit together, so I guess that’s what I would say about editorial.

Ayla Ruby: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much. I really loved talking.

Kristi Shimek: Yeah, it was great to talk to you too. Thank you.

Arcadian will be in theaters on April 12th.

You learn more about Kristi Shimek and see more of her work at her website.

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