In 2019, Mah Ferraz became the first Film Editor to win the coveted Young Guns Award—it wasn’t her first accolade, and it certainly won’t be her last. Hailing from Brazil and currently based in New York City, Ferraz’s client list spans from Nike and Adidas to Apple Music and Spotify, Polaroid, and the NFL.
Her music-related work features artists like Rosalía, A$AP Rocky, Megan Thee Stallion, Flo Mili, and Mariah Carey, among others. The self-proclaimed workaholic not only perfects the final cut but also shapes the sound design to evoke emotion and her unique sensibilities in the art of editing. We spoke to Ferraz about how she maneuvers her editing career—both in post houses and as a freelancer, what advice she has for upcoming editors, and the importance of change in her work and environment.
This interview took place over email and the phone between Ella Jayes and Mah Ferraz in New York, and was edited by Duc Dinh.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
MF: I went to the New School for Media but took film and TV-related courses in many schools like SVA, Columbia, and the University of Copenhagen.
I was constantly taking courses on film and TV, from writing to editing. I took TV writing courses and Script Analysis courses as well as editing. I loved to write and edit more than anything else, which makes sense to me since editing is basically a re-write in post-production.
I interned at places like the International Emmy Awards and Sagmeister & Walsh, but I basically started my editing career at Uppercut, a post-production house. After that, I went on freelancing and joined Forager, a collective of freelance talents. Recently, I just signed with Cut + Run, a post house, who will be representing me in North America and the UK.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Forager Collective? What kind of support did they offer you?
They represented me like a post-house would, but in a more casual manner. They provide support as the intermediary that takes care of negotiating rates and other sides of post-production—talking to the client, agency, or the production company. They also provide assistants, which is super helpful for a freelancer.
Things like that were really great, especially for me as I work on multiple projects at the same time. Because I'm a workaholic, it's nice to have assistance or support that makes sure everything works and goes smoothly. I really think what they're doing is great.
Is it a membership? Or do you have to apply for it?
In my case, the creative director and the EP [Executive Producer] contacted me and explained to me their service. At that point, I was already freelancing, but I didn't want to go back to the post-house world yet. I wanted to explore my craft, without much noise.
Forager was perfect for me at the time.
I love that you can recognize when it’s important to shift and adapt your workflow.
I don't like feeling comfortable; the moment I'm comfortable, I have to change. That’s also why I signed with Cut + Run. I had a lot of talks with post houses, from big to small, and I chose the one that I trusted the people and believed would take care of my career with the same eagerness/excitement that I take care of it.
What does your role consist of now?
I work from about 9 AM until who-knows-when, depending on the project I’m on. I’m often on multiple at once, so I’m used to working late and weekends. I do try to manage my time and have some balance, but I do work a lot—and I love it.
What team members do you work with? Who do you report to?
I guess in editing, I’d say the director is the one that I’m the closest with. Of course, eventually, the agency, creatives, and client are involved, but the director’s relationship is the most important to me. My EP and producers are also important since they keep everything running smoothly, and protect me and my time.
What skills do you think are most important for this role?
It’s hard to tell. I take editing as an art, and it’s more of a vision and sensibility than a specific skill.
What was your most exciting project to work on and why?
Every project I’m about to start feels like it is the most exciting. I’m always hungry for what’s next. But I do have favorites like La Rosalía, Holy Dog, the OREO commercial Proud Parent, and the Megan Thee Stallion piece for the New York Times.
These are recent and very important work I’ve done. I’m also super excited now for my new projects with Flo Mili.
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What does the process of editing look like for you?
I usually chat with the director about how the shoot went, and how similar or different it was from the creative I received. Now that I have an assistant, he’d receive the footage first and organize it the way I like—not super crazy, but in a way that's simple enough to for me to start and have the audio and everything else synced and organized.
Getting a bit technical here, we’d have to transcode the footage before organizing because people shoot in high quality and when I'm editing, I need it to be fast. I only need to be able to play it back during editing.
Sometimes, the creatives have certain music in mind or they have limitations—like it needs to be stock music, or they have a composer. If so, I ask the composers for demos to work with so that I’m closer to what’s going to eventually be there at the end.
I also love doing sound design—I find it very important and crucial for my editing to have that element but a lot of editors don't really do that. They’d wait for the sound designer or do it very lightly. I just personally really need those skills. I create my sound design from scratch and I love it!
When you're saying that you're creating sounds from scratch, what does that mean?
For example, if you have a scene with someone walking, and they are outside with birds, for example, but they didn't shoot those sounds or it was shot on film, then you would have to add that sound back in to create the atmosphere. So I basically create the soundscape of what we're seeing.
I also personally do sound designs that are just emotions. So sometimes, from a scene to another, I’d add a whoosh or any sound element that I feel will help my cuts or helps a change of pace in the story.
Then, it's a lot of work—with layers of sound. A lot of times, they're subtle. At times, they are stronger. It depends on the cuts. It’s hard, it’s the whole dance of visuals and sounds that I love doing. I just find it impossible to edit without it. I have so many sounds [in my library] and I already know what I like, so it's easier than it seems, in a way. The choices are somewhat organic to me.
Do you have a signature sound?
Honestly, I don’t want to be defined by a signature—that's what I try to get away from. I have different vibes as I go through and phases. But I would never want to be labeled as one thing.
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You mentioned working with an assistant. What traits do you look for in someone that is working under your direction?
What’s most important for me is having someone who is eager to learn and excited to be there. I personally didn’t like assisting, but then I got out of it. If you hate assisting, you should figure how to be an editor as a freelancer. But if you want to learn, you should really be a part of it. You have to put yourself out there to get somewhere. I'm lucky I'm around assistants that want to learn and it's not just a job for them.
I find assistants so important—not only to help everything run smoothly, but eventually, they will become editors. They are learning, and I like being a mentor to them. I love having an assistant with whom I have that [mentor/mentee] relationship. At Forager, I had someone like that, and she was my favorite. I loved to give her editing responsibilities, or if she has any personal projects, I like giving her notes and thoughts.
How do you go about training your assistants?
For me, I like working with them as much as I can. Right now, I'm changing assistants and I want this new assistant to work on my passion projects and commercial projects—to establish a relationship and a vibe and to help her understand my work and how I like things.
I stick to one or two assistants max, one for music videos and one for the rest, just to have that relationship. But I try my best to just be very close to them.
What are the first steps you recommend for someone who wants to be an editor?
Personally, I found that starting at a post house, learning the craft, and learning how the industry works from professional editors was very important. But being a freelancer and evolving my own craft, with my vision, was also essential for my work and confidence. So I find it important to understand the industry from the inside, but while finding room to evolve your voice in your unique way.
What advice do you have for someone that's emerging in your field?
I find it’s essential to understand the value of each project that you take on. Building relationships with directors, agencies, and brands is also crucial. It used to be with the agency, now it’s with the directors—which is how I always worked naturally and prefer to work. In some markets, the relation directly with the brand is more important.
I also like to be up-to-date with the industry, learning about the people and companies who are doing great work, as well as fresh creatives. Some ideas, styles, and themes become overdone, and I find it important to filter the creatives to stay fresh.
When it comes to work, you should challenge yourself and your reel. It’s super important to keep evolving. I’m never fully satisfied. I take editing as my art and as an artist. The world around me and I, myself, are constantly changing, so my inspirations and vision are too. There’s a lot to explore and evolve.
And lastly, choose projects that speak to you and work on both passion and commercial projects. Passion projects give you the opportunity to really explore your voice without too much noise. But it’s also important to learn how to deal with agencies, clients, and a lot of cooks in the kitchen on commercial projects, how to collaborate, maneuver around it, and still leave your fingerprint in a project somehow.
It’s important to learn when to let go as well—there’s always a director’s cut you can do.
Speaking of the director's cut, let’s talk a bit about the audience. Do you think there's going to be a shift where people are more willing to watch longer feature films or do you think the average attention span will continue to decline?
I feel that the world evolves, but things also kind of go in a circle. Even with fashion, styles come back all the time, but with a new take. With entertainment, things are more fast-paced, but I also miss the old school vibe of films based on plays that just live in the moment/story like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woof?, 12 Angry Men, Rear Window, etc.
Everything is fast-paced in the world today, but in general, I feel that there's room for all types of spectators. I am someone who loves to believe in the viewer. I don't like to think people watching are dumb, and you have to explain everything to them—I just hate when things are over-explained. I like feeling smart when I watch something, and I think people do too.
If your movie needs to be 10 hours, make it interesting. In editing, for me, I always ask myself, “Okay, am I still here? Am I still engaged?” And sometimes, it's a long shot that does not stop, and that engages you and brings you in; sometimes, it's 700 shots together with a lot of sound design that gets crazy and frenetic. It depends on what feels right.
Going back to your passion projects, what helps you decide to take them on?
The passion project has to really speak to me, especially now that I'm so busy. There's a lot of great things out there. Normally, it's the director I trust and know that they have a great vision, and we trust and understand each other. I love when there's a depth to the story or a message, but I also love just working on visual beautiful projects that just have a vibe/feeling behind them.
I try to do passion projects with creatives and people I believe in—that's the most important since money is not involved. And I know, I'd be able to say, “Trust me,” and I can do my editing freely and show my vision, and they're gonna be open to it.
How would you describe your editing style?
It’s not black and white at all. In my editing, it's kind of messy and I have my own flow. Editors can be super perfectionists—but I'm not. It’s my own mess. I love opening my mind in a different way. If I follow 1-2-3, I don't feel I'm really exploring what this could be. I like following my own messiness.
We featured a director, Munachi Osegbu, recently and he mentioned the importance of having a voice in his work. He said that if you don’t let other people know what you think, you’re betraying your art. How do you feel about that?
I agree. There's no other way, for me—I'm very honest, I'm not rude. I'm actually very sensitive, but I feel that especially when it comes to working, I have a lot of thoughts/care for it so it's important to share your opinion. I'm very much about saying how I feel. What's the point in hiding? Especially in the creative world, it's a collaborative industry. You have your point of view, and it's meant to be valued, and you need to voice it.
What do you like about your industry today? How would you like to see it improve?
I’m back in the traditional commercial world—I just signed with Cut + Run to represent me in North America and the UK—the industry has changed since I was at Uppercut, it’s definitely getting cooler and more interesting. The directors are more in charge, and the creative is a lot less tone-deaf than it used to be. There is a lot of really exciting work being pitched and being beautifully executed, and I’m super excited about what’s to come with Cut + Run by my side.
Want to know Mah's favorite tunes?
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Mah Ferraz + Ella Jayes
Special thanks to Polaroid