Lincoln Center, Portraits In Dramatic Time – David Michalek + Johnny Luisi at the Whitehouse Post New York

Portraits in Dramatic Time

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Johnny Luisi recently edited David Michalek’s high speed, high def video portraits of actors acting out a scene for the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival exhibit  Portraits in Dramatic Time. Alan Rickman, William H. Macy, Lily Taylor and Liev Schreiber were some of the actors who performed the 40 video portraits, and the installation played on an 85 by 45 ft screen that hung from the David H. Koch Theater.

Completely mesmerized by the footage, I must be among many who’ve watched and re-watched Portraits ad nauseum.

Since we have backstage access to Mr. Johnny Luisi, we thought we’d run him through a quick interrogation of the project and share the results with anyone who might be as interested as we were.

Read on for the results.


So, the acting is obvious, but the editing, especially when it’s well-done, so often blends everything together so seamlessly that it goes unnoticed. But you built that tension to the break and then let it all settle – somehow always leaving me wanting more (hence the incessant replaying). How conscious was this process for you in terms of placement, rhythm, musical and lyrical interactions? Or was it more intuitive and instinctual?

This project was a lot of fun, cause as you mentioned, the performances were superb and looked fantastic.  When David came in, he had about 6 hours of film.  All we knew was that we had to make something that could give viewers an overview of the project while at the same time not taking the performances out of context.

Since all the films are silent and we knew we were going to put them together side by side for a 3-4 minute piece, music was the first thing we had to figure out. We tried several tracks.  The track we ended up with, “Undertow” by Warpaint had the right balance of starkness and melancholy and built into something that worked really well with the films to achieve a dénouement.

What did the process look like? At what point did you get involved? What was the team like?

David and I got together after the films were shot and were just starting to run at Lincoln Center.  He came in with hours and hours of film that needed to be put together to summarize the project and the experience.  It was just the two of us, so the process was instantly gratifying in a not-a-lot-of-cooks-in-the-kitchen kind of way. 

What was your proudest moment? Challenges?

Now I’m going to sound cliche here, so get ready for it, but the biggest challenge was choosing which films to use for this.  There was about 6 hours of incredible performances by people like Alan Rickman, William H Macy and Patti LuPone, so you could imagine how hard this might have been.  Once it was done, the emotional reactions we got out of viewers was an incredible feeling.

Do you have a favorite scene?

My hands down favorite scene is the Natalie Thomas one (lavendar dress woman on floor culminating with man holding her).  Incredibly powerful in both it’s beauty and message; mesmerizing.


Now, of course, it’s your turn dear reader. Watch as many times as you please – and if you just can’t contain yourselves, you’re always welcome to share your emotional outpouring with us on facebook.

# Behind the Scenes BTS David Michalek interview Johnny Luisi