Utopic editor Jill DiBiase’s second feature cut for Director Jack C. Newell, Open Tables was recently picked up for digital release on iTunes, Amazon, hoopla, and Vimeo VOD. Garnering acclaim and awards during its run on the festival circuits in 2015 and 2016 – including winning Best Feature Ensemble from LA Comedy Festival – the film, largely improvised, uses Newell’s script as a jumping off point and features Second City actors in the ensemble cast.

Shot in numerous Chicago restaurants, the story focuses on the elusiveness of relationships for the often humorous 84 minutes running time. Getting to that magic 84 was a challenge for DiBiase who found herself “cutting and laughing” her way through a progression of edits culling from what was originally 40 hours of what she describes as “fascinating footage” – a result of Newell’s improvisational approach, the many editing choices it presented, and how “good the actors were on their toes.”

“This is dialog-driven film,” says DiBiase, who joined Utopic in 2013 and has cut numerous TV commercials and web stories since them for their ad clients including Com Ed and Acuity. “The cast was so good at improvisation that I found it fascinating and so full of good stuff that it was really hard to let go of some of it.”

Her first cut clocked in at four hours. Subsequently, she and Newell went through more edits “being somewhat merciless--even if it was really good--if it wasn’t absolutely necessary to the story,” she says.

Newell, who also appears in the film, was unfazed by the abundance of footage. Partial to using improvisation as a “tool” because of the spontaneity and excitement it elicits in performances, he knew it could also take the project in unexpected directions.

“Most fiction/narrative films are written before they are shot, so when you are improvising, as we were, you sort of shift that writing time/energy to the editing,” he says. “We were shooting and improvising, then bringing footage to Jill and we would edit it. Then I would rewrite the script and go back out and shoot more and come back with more footage. We were in a constant state of writing/shooting/editing. All that to say, for Open Tables, Jill was definitely writing / rewriting more than she would on a normal film project and having to think about this in a different sort of way.”

Working from the script and Newell’s notes, sometimes with him present, DiBiase continued to the edit nights and weekends. During the process, the film got shorter.

"We collaborate well together,” she says of her synergistic relationship with Newell. “We’ve created a handful of films together and have great dynamic that gets better with each film." Currently she editing another indie feature, A Little Water directed by Alexandra Zelman-Doring, in addition to commercial projects for Utopic

"I love working on films in addition to commercial editing,” says DiBiase. “Cutting a variety of lengths and genres challenges my creative ability and lets me explore new techniques and ways to get a reaction out of the viewer. Open Tables with its added improvisational factor created even more possibilities for me to explore. ”