“In the beginning you fall in love in some way.” Martin Piga – In interview
Martin Piga is the editor for the docu-fiction film 107 Mothers, and you could say he started his
career a long time ago. When he was younger, Martin and his friends recorded themselves
practicing their favorite sport; riding BMX bikes. An idea popped up that they might do
something more with this material and so Martin taught himself how to edit on Premiere Pro
when he was thirteen, somewhere between 2007 and 2008. Finding that he had a natural talent
for the craft he decided to go to a highschool that focused on filmmaking and subsequently
university in his native country Slovakia. Peter Kerekes, director of 107 Mothers is a teacher at
the film university where Martin studied and he was still in his second grade when Peter
approached him to be a part of the project.
“When you’re in highschool everyone thinks that they’re going to do these big budget huge
movies, but when I came to university I realized that the best way for me to improve myself
would be by editing a documentary.”
107 Mothers is set in a real life all female prison in Odessa, Ukraine. The film started out as a
documentary and without an actual script. Martin started as an assistant editor and made the
rough cut after the team came back from Odessa. In the editing room it became clear that the
film didn’t really work with what they had. Peter then decided to write some fiction to tie it all
together. The main character, Lesya is a fabricated mixture of inmates that were interviewed.
The interviews with the inmates were originally mostly meant for research purposes and not to
be used in the film. Peter liked the interviews so much, the inmates’ life stories, their dreams
and crimes and how they talk about love that some of them ended up in the finished film. Real
inmates can also be seen in the background in some scenes.
The editing department consisted of two teams that would compare their work constantly, Martin
being in one of them. The biggest challenge was to tell the stories of the two main characters
Lesya and Iryna side by side. They are both the protagonists of their side of the story, and also
their own antagonist. They both want what the other one has, freedom vs. the love of a child.
After some grueling back and forth work Martin found the solution: “The biggest mistake we
made was starting by editing the stories of the characters side by side. […] We didn’t actually
know who each character was separately, so then I got the idea that we had to separate the
stories of these two characters into two different movies”. And then suddenly they had the
breakthrough that the team had been waiting for. The two were then combined into the finished
product along with the documentary footage.
But the sailing did not suddenly turn smooth, and after two years of strenuous work Martin
asked if he could try editing the film for himself. The direction he chose was fresh and after
reviewing Peter Kerekes let him have full control of the edit. “What I like about working with
Peter is that he really relies on the work that comes from his team […] I like to work a lot by
myself, and he wants to get as much as he can from his colleagues as possible.” Martin then
finished the edit in 5 months, making the total editing period 2 years and 5 months.
He mentions that taking a break from a project can be just as productive as working on it, that
constant editing shouldn’t really go on for more than six months. Going over to another project
or even taking a vacation, if possible, can do wonders for figuring out new ways to tell a story.
Martin does like to listen closely to the material at hand to hear how it wants to be edited, no
matter what kind of project he is working on. Neither he nor Peter found references necessary to
find the editing style necessary for 107 Mothers. It all came together rather naturally in the end.
This is far from being their last cooperation. At the moment Martin and Peter have a new
documentary project in the works that will be an oath to their home city, Košice in Slovakia. In
1924 the first Košice marathon was run and next year will be its 100th edition. The history of this
little city that has been split between belonging to Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and
Slovakia will be detailed through the marathon’s 100 year running time.
“The relationship between an editor and a director is some kind of life/love relationship. In the
beginning you fall in love in some way. Everyone who has had any kind of personal relationship
in their life knows that there will be breaking points, differences of opinion. You need to always
be ready to find some kind of compromise to continue.”
Explaining what his job entails to others, industry professional or not, is something that Martin is
still trying to perfect. “An editor is sort of like a psychologist for a director. As an editor you need
to care about them alot.” He compares a film project to being like a big puzzle with pieces that
have yet to be put together, and even though you can see some colors and shapes, you can’t
see the whole picture yet. Editors love to organize things and mathematical order has always
fascinated Martin. If arts and editing were taken off the table, Martin believes that statistics or
even computer science would interest him.
Martin thinks that the most important thing in starting your career is finding like minded people to
work with that you like, and that a great place to find them is film school. He believes that it
would have taken him much longer to get started if he didn’t have that opportunity.
“The inspiration is out there, you need to go out and meet people, travel, this has worked for
me. It is a bit hard to leave the editing room, but I’m doing my best.”
– Written by Katla Gunnlaugsdóttir