Television

Killing Eve

`

3rd Qtr, 2019

Seductively brilliant spy drama Killing Eve has already landed BAFTA® glory for writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, best supporting actress Fiona Shaw and best actress for Jodie Comer as well as an Eddie win for Gary Dollner, ACE. Waller Bridge was also nominated for best drama writing at the 2018 Emmys along with Lead Actress Sandra Oh and the second season continues to earn critical acclaim.

Produced by Sid Gentle Films for the BBC commercial division of BBC America, the thriller packs a feminist punch. Waller-Bridge’s adaptation of Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novellas portrays Eve Polastri (Oh), a desk-bound M15 officer, who hunts down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Comer), during the course of which both women become obsessed with each other. The template for both seasons was laid down by Gary Dollner, ACE, in the first and second episode of series one. Dollner had cut the first series of Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, the acclaimed comedy on which Harry Bradbeer was a director.

“We all got on well so when Phoebe was developing Killing Eve she was keen to gather the same team around her.” Familiar with the writer’s material, Dollner was nonetheless smiling within the first few pages of reading the Killing Eve script. “It was so playful. I could see Phoebe’s mark all across it. What really appealed was telling this dark story laced with humor.” Dollner was assigned to work on the first block of two episodes of the eight-part series, “Nice Face” and “I’ll Deal with Him Later,” both directed by Bradbeer.

While the crew was on location in places such as Tuscany and Bulgaria, the editor was based in Soho and flying solo. “Rushes would come in and I’d send out cuts on a Friday and talk to Harry during the week feeding back any comments,” Dollner says. “When I sent the assembly cuts out everyone seemed happy with how it was going.” Music is a strong element in the show’s style and Dollner had a considerable part to play in the soundtrack’s creation.

“I started playing around with various themes musically to try and spice up cuts. It was clear that genre pieces were not the right way to go. The watch word was ‘counterintuitive’ – to try to pick up on the humor flowing throughout the script.” A couple of Serge Gainsbourg songs set the tone when the characters are in France. Music in other episodes ranges from really dark German electro for scenes in a Berlin nightclub to Russian folk songs which became Villanelle’s theme.

For an early scene set in the Parisian home of Villanelle, Dollner selected ‘Contact’ a track sung by Brigitte Bardot and produced by composer and musician David Holmes. “I’m a big fan of David Holmes and I’ve always wanted to use this track so I tried it and it just felt right. It just played into that counterintuitive tone that we had talked about in prep, it went against genre and also just felt cool.” Bradbeer liked it too and with music supervisor Catherine Grieves, producers Lee Morris, Sally Woodward Gentle and Waller-Bridge, set up a Skype meeting with Holmes to discuss writing the series’ score. “He took it and ran with it,” says Dollner. “We sent him full episodes of the show to experiment with and he started feeding us loads of different tracks with strands and pads for us to work with.”

Holmes and co-composer Keefus Ciancia went through a back catalog of tracks made a decade earlier under the collective name of “Unloved,” featuring vocals from Jade Vincent. “We wanted a strong female voice to fit the tone of our femaleled drama and Unloved fit the bill,” Dollner says. So successful is the pairing that Holmes won a BAFTA TV Craft Award for his soundtrack to Killing Eve.

“Nice Face” ends with an assassination by hairpin of a Mafia boss at his Tuscany home. “One of the tracks David sent was called “I Could Tell You But I’d Have to Kill.” I thought that was too on the nose but I tried it and it worked brilliantly. Somehow it lightened what was a very dark and gratuitous act. It lightened Villanelle’s enjoyment of the kill.”

Dollner is an expert at cutting for comedy having worked on shows including I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, David Brent: Life on the Road and Veep. “I’ve been told by many directors and particularly those with a drama background that making comedy is harder,” Dollner says. “You still need to hit all the dramatic beats in the same way in a comedy, you’ve got character development and various plot strands to develop but you’ve got to make it funny as well.”

At one point in the episode Villanelle ‘plays dead’ in order to play a joke on her minder/mentor, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia). “We’ve seen her powdering her face to make it paler and arranging furniture in preparation for the surprise so it’s quite inclusive, the audience is in on it and the joke is played on Kim’s character but the audience can empathize with him as well.”

A distinctive element to the show’s look is its use of graphics in a big bold typeface to introduce different locations. Says Dollner, “Harry had the idea of putting cards in for locations and said why not go really big. It looked fun and it stuck.”

Perhaps the show’s signature cut is one that cuts quite hard into the next scene. It’s a technique Dollner says he learned from working with British satirist Chris Morris on his cult series, Brass Eye. “We were doing a spoof 1970s news report and he said I needed to clip the end of words, to intentionally make a bad edit.

In the 1970s, news was shot on film and turnaround time was tight so words were occasionally trimmed in reports. We did it for comic impact of course but I used this stylistic device to punch up the launch into certain scenes. You really notice the cut which goes against everything you are supposed to do which is to cut seamlessly. Instead of giving the audience a nice smooth ride the intent is to jolt them out of the narrative, and energy to cut it propels you. It’s saying to the audience, ‘Right we know you’ve had enough of that information for now, let’s get on with the show.’ Plus, it’s just fun to be playful.”

Opening scenes are often challenging. They have to grab the viewer and pull them into the story. For a TV drama, that’s especially hard since you’re asking the audience to potentially commit to following the characters over several hours.

“There’s so much pressure and weight on any first episode of any series but the opening scene here had no dialogue so the normal things you get to play around with in words was not available. Harry covered it really beautifully. What was so important to this opening scene was to introduce so many elements including the
look of Villanelle in her beautiful clothes, the whole dynamic of mimicry that goes on between her and the little girl, and the three way between them with her server. It was very delicate. We had to get it just right for the balance to work which took a bit of noodling around.

When I’ve watched it back in various screenings, the moment when Villanelle knocks ice cream into the kid’s lap always get a laugh because it’s a huge relief for the audience. Now we’re on our way – we like the character and want to follow her journey.”

The opening scene ends with the huge bold title card, ‘Killing Eve,’ and goes straight into a shot of Eve in bed. It’s introduced using one of those crash cuts which Dollner has spoken of and accompanied by a scream of pain. This, it quickly transpires, is only because Eve has been asleep on her hands. It’s another rugpulled-from-under-feet moment.

“This scene was a rewrite because originally there was a different scene which featured a birthday celebration for office colleague Bill Pargrave (David Haig) in a karaoke in Soho which explains Eve waking up with a hangover. But it was felt that this bumped a little against Eve’s character. She is not the type really to go out and party so introducing her for the first time this would be untypical. Phoebe reworked that scene to be quite playful.”

While Dollner edited the first two episodes, Xavier Russell came in to work on the second block. He came into the edit to get a fix on the vibe and tone of the show. Editors on season 1 and/ or season 2 also included Dan Crinnion, Colin Fair, Al Morrow, Helen Chapman and Liana Del Giudice. Incidentally, the series attracted the attention of actor Daniel Craig who asked Waller-Bridge to lend her writing talent to the currently-in-production James Bond film. A third season of Killing Eve is also underway.

Lorena

`

3rd Qtr, 2019

Lorena Bobbitt became a household name in 1993 after she infamously cut off her husband’s penis and threw it out a car window as she was driving away from the scene of the incident. Doctors were able to reattach it later, and her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, went on to star in two porn films. As the salacious details trickled out, the subsequent trial became fodder for late-night comedians. The story become a national joke, but lost in all of the punchlines and bad puns was the story of a woman who had suffered years of emotional and physical abuse as well as rape leading up to that fateful night.

Now, Amazon Prime Video’s four-part documentary series, Lorena, directed by Joshua Rofe, offers a more sober retelling of events in light of the #metoo movement. The series is edited by Poppy Das, ACE (Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind), Morgan Hanner (Studio 54), Azin Samari (Love, Marilyn; Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie) and Allan Duso (What Haunts Us; American Masters; Janis: Little Girl Blue).

Das got involved in the project in February 2018 and worked on it for almost a year until its release earlier this year. The editor explained that she had attended a screening of Rofe’s first film, Lost for Life (2013), and got to know the director. But when he first approached her about doing a documentary on Lorena Bobbitt, “I really wasn’t sure what the take on the project was. I was like, Lorena, huh? I wonder why they’re doing that? “

And then when I spoke to him, it became very clear what he was trying to do with the story,” she added. “I found it really intriguing and an interesting task. What is the historical perspective of why women are treated in this particular way?”
The documentary combines archival footage, one-on-one interviews, recreations or reenactments and highly-cinematic bridges that link scenes and offer the audience an opportunity to process what they’ve just seen.

The process began with present-day interviews with Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt. “Then we would pull out the material that we thought best related to each of our episodes,” Das relates. “We each had different parts of the story. I had the last episode, so I had the period of time from her court verdict, going forward to what happened after her trial, and then what John was doing at the time and his descent contrasted with Lorena’s attempt to pull herself out of it.

“We worked with those interviews trying to understand what their stories were, and trying to figure out, which part of the story goes in which episode and so forth,” she explains. “And then it became really clear, in order to tell this, we needed to get other witnesses. We needed to really drill down and really tell the story like it happened.” While the editors all worked separately in their own suites, “we’d always come together, and screen together and then figure out how to improve things or change things. We didn’t look at the show as individual stories.”

Das explains that the editorial team would meet at lunch every day to talk about what they had found and what they needed to tell the story. “A lot of how the process worked was us having these conversations at lunch, and then going back and working on our materials more, and then working with our archivist to find specific bits, and building the story out from the interviews to make it a little bit richer and bigger and get other voices and demonstrate the things that we were saying.”

Das reports that they had a couple of researchers and associate producers “who are really good at tracking people down and getting people to corroborate stories or telling stories that no one really found the first time through.” After all of the original interviews were shot, the team went to work trying to find the appropriate archival material and raw footage. The editorial process involved a lot of mixing and matching of archival footage formats with current-day interviews. “Our assistants, who were great, had to deal with most of that,” she says.

“It was really an undertaking to marry everything together and to finish it. That was a long process.” The editorial team had three assistant editors – Rachelle Hoppel, Jonathan Petermann and Steph Zenee Perez. “They did everything. Sometimes they were doing research, sometimes trying to help find archival stuff, doing all the assist tasks, making sure that they were managing the media, making sure that everything worked well – and the producers got what they needed and wanted. They were great and they were part of every step.”

Editing on Avid, they found ScriptSync particularly useful for managing volumes of archival footage and interviews. “When you want to be able to call things up and get at them quickly, ScriptSync is just great that way.” She explains that while the director was there every day reviewing material, “he really gave us a lot of freedom to come up with things on our own. And then he would weigh in or reshape them or say, ‘Oh my God, I hadn’t thought about that!’ So, he was very collaborative.”

“It wasn’t just top down. It was really a discussion, a dialogue that we all had together. What are we making? What are we talking about? What is the experience we want people to have? And then how can we more effectively shape that experience?” “I really loved our collaborative process,” she adds. “It was great that we treated it like one story as opposed to where the director only works with an editor one-on-one, and you don’t know what’s happening with the other episodes. It just made sense to work more collaboratively this way.”

Das explains that she was going for an observational style, that was a little bit dispassionate and a little bit removed. The editors wanted to let people make up their own minds and just show them what they might have missed. They tried not to cut into court testimony, and let it play out, “to let you experience what it was like for someone in her position, at her age. And at that time, you see her breaking down. We didn’t have to comment on it because it’s enough. It’s painful. You get it. You understand it.”

On the other hand, there was a lot of contrasting of how things were reported at the time. Das says that she wanted people to see how Lorena Bobbitt’s horror had been turned into a joke. “When you hear newscasters or newspaper articles making obvious puns and jokes, and yet right next to that you see somebody really breaking down and trying to explain to you what happened, you start to question things, which I think is really important.”

The project’s biggest challenge then was to give the story context to compel people to take another look. “Everyone thinks they know the story,” she says. “Even I, when I heard about it, said, ‘Why are you making this? Don’t we know everything?’ But then I had forgotten that she was abused, or I don’t even know if I remembered it.” Das hopes viewers take away the idea that they shouldn’t believe everything they read. “Now, as I look back, it just seems crazy to me,” she says. “Why was it only told from one perspective? People surmise now that it was just because men didn’t want to hear the other side.

Because most editors were men, or most newspaper commentators just wanted to talk about the penis because it was so outrageous. And so, it was interesting to me, that the person whose wounds you couldn’t see, didn’t get the sympathy.”

Fosse/Verdon

`

3rd Qtr, 2019

There’s a scene in the third episode of Fosse/Verdon that exemplifies all there is to know about the iconic romantic and creative partnership of Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Fosse is in the middle of editing Cabaret and makes a surprise visit to Verdon’s home. “I was thinking maybe you could come to the editing room for a few weeks,” says Bob to Gwen, “you know, and maybe you’d see some things that I don’t see. I’m feeling a little lost right now.”

When Gwen explains that she has her own play to concentrate on, Bob all but ignores this and further presses his request for her to be by his side during editorial. Even for Bob Fosse fans the FX network’s miniseries may be their first real experience learning about Gwen Verdon. “I think that we all hoped to introduce Gwen to the uninitiated, and to deepen everyone’s understanding of how influential she was,” says Kate Sanford, ACE. The New York-based editorial team consisting of Sanford; Tim Streeto, ACE; Erica Freed Marker and Jonah Moran all had great reverence for the material, as well as editorial hero and longtime Fosse collaborator, Alan Heim, ACE, who won the Oscar® for Fosse’s All That Jazz in 1980.

“Before I read anything, I was concerned that the show would just seem like an All That Jazz impression, which would’ve been a disaster because that film is a masterpiece,” says Streeto. “There’s no way any of us can ever land an astronaut on that moon again. That fear was gone when I saw how much the series was focusing on Gwen and her role in Bob’s life and work. So I hope that Gwen fans will really embrace that perspective of the story.”

The Fosse/Verdon team took on the formidable, yet almost mandatory task of playing with time and space for a story that spanned five decades. “Bob and his editors, notably David Bretherton and Alan Heim, created something that came to be known as ‘Fosse time,’” notes Moran. “He would jump around in a non-linear fashion often juxtaposing fantasy and reality, revealing information and memories out of time, injecting deeper meaning into the reading of a musical number or a simple interaction.

They helped define a very contemporary and stirring form of cinematic storytelling that we see broadly emulated to this day.” Moran, who was particularly moved by Fosse, the Sam Wasson biography upon which the series is based, notes the important role that both Gwen and Bob’s early life traumas and passions played in shaping their careers, work ethic and aesthetic sense.

“Both Gwen and Bob grew up in the shadow of the disappearing glow of vaudeville,” he says. “They found themselves, at a very early age, performing in burlesque houses and clubs, far from the luster of the showbiz dream personified in the films of Fred Astaire that they grew up watching and emulating. This glitzy ideal became perverted – figuratively and literally – early in their lives, both having seen too much too soon and both being taken advantage of by the dream of fame. So, here we are in some ways using Bob’s own language to examine who these characters are.

We were literally reaching onto Bob’s aesthetic playbook to articulate our story.” To keep track of the intricate timeline, Sanford had scene cards on the wall of the edit room. “They were constantly being manipulated and reconsidered by me, [director/creator/writer] Tommy Kail, and the producers, Joel Fields and Steven Levenson. As we began to intercut scenes, I would duplicate cards and begin to arrange them in alternating order.

“For instance, Bob and Joan talking in the bedroom as he comes home after meeting Gwen, then Bob and Gwen rehearsing, back to the bedroom, back to rehearsal, etc. Soon there were too many cards to represent each intercut, but you would get the idea when you looked at the wall. Overall, I think most of the episodes were written in whole scenes and the experimentation with short flashbacks, fragmentation and intercutting began in post and became a major part of the editorial process. Once we began to find the structure and rhythm of the piece, the experimentation continued right up until locking picture.”

Moran says the challenge was finding the right voice for the flashback language. “Our producers emphasized that there were real differences in how Gwen and Bob experienced their pasts. Bob carries his with him every day; it lives right next to him, which is why you see the camera deliberately drift off Bob into his memories – especially in episode 1, where he’s shaping Cabaret with the experiences of his past. For Gwen, there’s much more of a wall protecting her from the pain of those memories. So, her memories are more intentionally jarring and fragmented. This was something that Tommy, Steven and Joel were very clear about. It’s a very interesting distinction that says a lot about the differences in these characters, but also, how each were, in a way, living out lives shaped by trauma and ambition.”

Moran sings Michelle Williams’ praises in having captured Verdon’s cool and graceful outward presentation, even at home. “Only rarely do you see cracks in that veneer, of the real trauma underneath that claws at her. We found that sharp quick cuts, like shards and fragments of memory were working well to portray this, but the fully-articulated flashback scenes that played out of time could feel out of place if they were too literal.” Freed Marker shared that across the four editors and eight episodes, they felt the magnitude of inspiration and collaboration.

“We created only one Avid project for the entire series. While this obviously made it easy from a technical perspective, one of the unexpected highlights from a creative perspective was sort of to subliminally send the message that all of the material from the series was available for use in any episode. As a result, I found myself constantly looking through earlier episodes for inspiration as I was cutting both 5 and 8.”

Freed Marker edited the finale. “For the final Gwen/Bob sequence in episode 8, we had the assistant editors pull and organize all of the Gwen-and-Bob scenes in exact reverse chronological order. Since the series itself is told out of order, experiencing these interactions in chronological context for the first time – even as the footage itself was being experienced for the second time – imbued every interaction between them with new significance.

In terms of advancing meaningfully through time, especially with the finale episode, the text and placement of the chyrons was also very carefully considered and changed significantly with every cut. Since so many years are covered in the finale, and tracking each milestone and the characters’ journeys relative to those milestones was so important, we auditioned a lot of text before agreeing on what felt right.”

Fosse/Verdon is also designed as a time capsule of Broadway’s glitziest years, a labor of love for so many of contemporary theater’s most powerful and brilliant voices. It was a deeply personal biography from Nicole Fosse, the daughter of Gwen and Bob. It was an incredible spotlight on her mother who was so much more than Bob Fosse’s muse. Freed Marker says it best: “Across the departments, it truly seemed like all of the most talented people in New York had been tapped to offer their individual gifts.”

Production designer Alex Digerlando led the creation of the edit bays that feature in several episodes of Fosse/Verdon.

“Every scene in the edit room had to meet several goals” he says. “For audiences who might not understand how films were edited before computers, we had to show how the sausage was made, so to speak. We had to make sure all this great gear was placed in such a way that we would be able to see it, but at the same time, a lot of what is happening in the scenes doesn’t actually have anything to do with the editing so much as the emotional interactions between characters. We had to be thinking about the blocking of that, too, while making sure the gear also didn’t get in the way.”

Episode 3 opens with Bob Fosse dancing into the Cabaret edit suite through a colorful array of backup dancers, choreographed against “Willkommen,” one of the show’s most notable songs. After a quick back and forth with his editor, David Bretherton, we follow Fosse into the fourhour first assembly screening.

While Cabaret went on to win eight Academy Awards®, including best editing for Bretherton, who also won an Eddie, Fosse/Verdon sends Fosse out of the theater and back into the once-colorful hallway, which is now dark and gloomy, physically pulling him into a black hole through trim bins and film canisters.

“You have to think about things more precisely for a musical number than you do for more straightforward action,” says DiGerlando. “It’s more like planning for a stunt. All the dressing has to be placed according to the choreography. Originally,
we thought we would build the edit room hallway to achieve that falling gag, but it proved too costly and time consuming. Also, we just didn’t have enough space on the stage with all the other sets we were building so we ended up doing both the edit suite and the hallway on location at Bayley Seton Hospital in Staten Island.

“The falling effect was a combination of canting the camera, pulling a harnessed Sam Rockwell with a cable down the hallway and rigging set dressing to slide with him as he went. We added the rolling film cans and other items with visual effects so they could whip by dangerously near him without having to worry they’d injure our actor.”

To amass the wealth of 1970’s gear, the team searched high and low for equipment. “Research told us that Cabaret was cut on two Moviolas,” notes DiGerlando, “but we took license and added the KEM because it presents better for filming. We didn’t feel it was too much of a leap because we did know Fosse’s movies from Lenny onward were cut on KEM. The KEM and one Moviola came from a props house while Blythe Quinlan, one of our assistant art directors, mentioned that her husband had a Moviola on display in their house as decoration, so we rented hers, too!

“Christie’s in L.A. had a lot of the smaller items that we used to fill the shelves, like grease pencils, cores, leader, etc. Many of the reels and canisters and film shipping crates were found on eBay. Because we see some film actually being cut on-screen, we had to have our versions of the ‘Mein Herr’ and ‘Two Ladies’ dance numbers printed on film so we could run it through the KEM for picture. The trims filling the bins were a print of 18 Again! starring George Burns, which we also purchased on eBay.”

It’s with great thanks to Alan Heim, ACE, Jeffrey Wolf, ACE, and the late Norman Hollyn, ACE, for providing the wealth of personal experience in the halls and rooms of those old edit suites from which DiGerlando was able to draw on so many precise details.

The Good Place

`

3rd Qtr, 2019

Oddly enough, for an editor who has majored in comedy throughout his career, Eric Kissack never saw himself working in the genre. “I was never the class clown growing up,” he says. “I always appreciated more dramatic films … Kurosawa, Tarantino, directors like that.”

At an early age Kissack did, though, have a suspicion that everything in life was, well, silly. “Girlfriends would get mad because if we got in a fight I was always like, ‘This is silly, why are we fighting?’” From an early solo edit credit on The Daily Show, Kissack has worked his way up the comedy ladder including episodes of sketch show The Whitest Kids U’Know, Wainy Days and Veep to features like Horrible Bosses 2 and Daddy’s Home.

For the last couple of years he has been busy editing 17 episodes and counting of The Good Place, created by Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur for NBC. The series, currently in its fourth season, centers around Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who wakes up in something called ‘The Good Place,’ an afterlife designed by an eccentric named Michael (Ted Danson) who is eager to reward Eleanor for her righteous life. But Eleanor soon realizes that she was sent there by mistake and must hide her morally imperfect behavior while trying to become a more ethical person.

The show received positive reviews on debut and has since gained critical acclaim. It has been praised for its acting, writing, originality, setting and tone. In addition, the first season’s twist ending and the show’s exploration and creative use of ethics and philosophy have been positively received. The recognition also earned the series a Peabody Award earlier this year.

“The show has a lot of magic going on in heaven,” says Kissack, who says he particularly enjoys working with the VFX team led by VFX producer David Niednagel. “I’ll be editing a scene that requires, for example, a giant magical bird that flies out of a volcano and turns into a turtle – I need to put that into my cut. I will walk to David’s office, explain what I need, and he’ll send me a rough version and we go back and forth like that. It’s a super fun part of the job.” Kissack has too many favorite The Good Place episodes to count, but one in particular stands out. “Michael Schur is a huge fan of TV series Lost. A lot of people have drawn similarities between that show and ours – the structure of all the characters thrown together in some mysterious place, secret hidden histories revealed in flashbacks; there’s something mysterious going on, a deeper hidden truth.

So in one episode called ‘Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By,’ the opening scene was written to resemble that of the opening scene of Lost episode ‘Man of Science, Man of Faith’ that started the second season, which was set to Mama Cass’ hit song ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music.’ We did our own version of that intro for our episode, using another Mama Cass song referenced in the episode’s title. It got a ton of great feedback; Lost fans definitely noticed and appreciated it.”

Kissack notes that episode was also a blast to edit because it contains a giant fight scene. “It’s extremely rare in network comedies to get to edit a scene with stunt fighters and actors flying across the room on wires and so on. It felt like being a kid in a candy store getting to put that together. I also used an old editing trick that my co-editor on The Dictator, Greg Hayden, showed me which is that if you want to make a punch seem more violent, you remove one frame of footage before the moment of impact.

It’s a tiny jump cut that serves to subconsciously help audiences believe the stunt work.” Kissack had studied film at Brown University. “We studied film theory, linguistics, mixed with cultural theory – heady stuff like that. I quickly figured out that wasn’t for me. So instead of going to class I made short films. And I wanted to work in film, but I had no hookups.”

He wound up editing random corporate videos around the time Apple Final Cut was first released. Then he met comedy actor/ director David Wain, who asked him to be an additional editor on Comedy Central show Stella, where he eventually got promoted to editor. Before long he was editing his first studio feature film, Role Models, with Paul Rudd.

But for Kissack, film was an environment that didn’t feel completely right. “For a while I was chasing film directing projects and realized film directors need that aura of ‘I’m the man with the plan, the visionary,’ and I’m not, personally, that narcissistic. To me TV is much more about working in collaboration with the same great group of people. It’s about what other people bring, not just you.” After editing features like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno and The Dictator, Kissack wanted a change of pace and decided to head back to TV.

He snapped into hustle mode and called the current showrunner of Veep, David Mandel, who he worked with on The Dictator. “I asked him if he needed an editor. He did. So I ended up work- ing on the sixth season of Veep.” TV editors commonly seem to struggle with the same challenge: keeping the episodes to time. “There is so much good content to work with that the hardest thing is having to leave some of it on the cutting room floor,” Kissack explains. “With the nature of TV and how little time we have in an episode, everything that is shot is sharp, quality content.

Most cuts start at 28-30 minutes. I have to end up cutting almost a third of the episode out.” The Good Place season takes about 30-32 weeks to make. Each season has 13 episodes, shoots for 13 weeks, they edit for 13-15 weeks and then have three or four weeks to wrap everything up. “We are in a time right now where most acclaimed comedies actually straddle comedy and drama,” Kissack explains.

“The Good Place strikes a similar tone. It’s a hybrid. If you don’t have the pathos that counterbalances the comedy, I don’t think it can win an audience.” Kissack recently finished Sunnyside, a pilot for NBC, and he also worked on the show, Black Monday, for Showtime. “I love editing but my passion is directing. The goal ultimately is to be a TV director but maybe not just comedy. I’d love to work with a larger canvas. It would be a dream to direct a show like Better Call Saul.

At this point, though, I’m still primarily editing and my skills as a director mostly serve to make me a better editor. I’m also at the point where the people I work with are perhaps more important than the material. If the people seem cool, then I’m in. And as long as Michael [Schur] keeps creating shows, I’d like to be a part of that.”

Game of Thrones

 

`

3rd Qtr, 2019

The final season of HBO’s sword-and-sorcery epic was always going to end in tears. If not for some of its characters fated to be given the chop, then for the editing team which has carried the show’s battle-fatigued heroes and villains over many years.

Tim Porter, ACE, is one of those. He joined in season 4 and edited 11 episodes, of which three were nominated for Emmys® and Eddies.“Thrones has been a huge part of my life for the last seven years, so heading into season 8 definitely felt like the endof an era,” he says.

He returned to the Belfast shoot for two of the final season episodes: 803 “The Long Night” and 805 “The Bells,” arriving in January 2018 for the edit, although the crew had already been filming since October 2017 on episodes 1 and 2.

“In that week before your episodes begin filming, I’ll set the cutting room up with the assistant editor, and reread the script,” Porter explains. “An episode like ‘The Long Night’ will all have been previs’d. I’ll familiarize myself with that. It’s a great shorthand into what’s about to be filmed, as I’ve not been heavily involved in pre-production.” Unlike other seasons he’s worked on, there was no cross shooting of episodes 803 and 805. “The Long Night” was shot from January to April with delivery of the director’s cut in May. Filming 805 followed for delivery of the director’s cut in September.

These episodes were directed by Miguel Sapochnik with whom Porter had collaborated on the show since 2014. “I was hugely excited by the challenge of doing two large-scale action episodes to finish off my time at Game of Thrones,” Porter says. “Teaming back up with Miguel, felt like we were getting the band back together.

I had Meredith Leece as my assembly editor [Porter’s assistant on seasons 6 and 7] and Richard Denbigh [who’d worked with Porter on The Crown] was hired as my assistant. It was great to be reunited with the editorial team headed by producer Greg Spence, with Alan Freir and Ide O’Rourke.”
The season’s other editors, and also Thrones stalwarts, are Crispin Green and Katie Weiland, ACE, with whom Porter shared cuts. “Katie, Crispin and I are always incredibly busy on the show, so we don’t religiously share our work, or ask each other’s opinions, but I will definitely look to show the episode once it’s fully assembled and get feedback from them. They know the show and their notes can be invaluable.”

While there have been lengthy battle scenes in the series before, none matched the scale of “The Long Night,” which is one continuous sequence from beginning to end. “There wasn’t any build-up within the episode before we get to the battle, as with the other battles I’d cut,” Porter says. “Creatively I was most interested in constructing this singular action sequence, as I’d not had the opportunity to do one over such a sustained period, as a standalone film. The sparseness of dialogue in the episode was also extremely attractive, constructing the narrative mainly through action is a rare treat.”

He enthuses, “Navigating and synthesizing the characters’ journeys across the episode was something that really appealed to me. Rhythmically, it was challenging to decide when to have tension, where to have hope, when to feel all is lost.” With a considerable quota of visual effects for this episode, Porter needed to turn over shots very quickly, particularly plates with a dragon in, or shots that needed tracking for motion capture. “Miguel and I met every Saturday to watch cuts. We would also make time for VFX, which would have sent a list of shots that they needed us to pick plates for. We turned stuff over to them from the very first week of filming.

For our offline VFX temps we would get the greenscreen elements pulled from the previs and use those to temp comps into our cut. Richard [Denbigh] would do all the temp VFX in Avid.” It was also a challenge to track the storylines and characters in an ensemble sequence such as this. “When you have lots of characters with lots of events happening to them in different locations, the challenge is not being away from those characters or that story for so long that you’ve forgotten about them – unless its Arya, of course, we wanted you to forget about her! “But with everybody else, it’s a juggling act. It means going over and over the sequence and questioning your choices.

You need to explore alternative ways of structuring the shots or plotting the character journeys to find a balance again. It takes a little bit of elbow grease to find what feels right for the sequence.” Porter explains that he likes to put the shape on a scene or sequence as quickly as possible, and then go through all of the dailies to make select reels with all of the best bits of action. “I have select reels of each character and each beat or moment, and any cool stuff, all logged and ready for me to use. So, when I start fine cutting these sequences, I can re-watch the selects at any time without having to go trawling back through the dailies, searching for a needle in a haystack.

“I suppose what I’ve learned from cutting these big sequences is that managing and staying on top of the material on a daily basis is vitally important. Getting too far behind is a really negative place creatively for me to get into.” Part of a sequence in the episode was dubbed ‘Man the Walls.’ Everyone has retreated inside Winterfell and are being overwhelmed by the Army of the Dead.

The defenses have just been breached, and we see The Hound leaning against a wall, frozen with fear. This is intercut with mayhem all around him. “What I try to do during these action sequences is to find some character moments in them,” Porter explains. “In this case we had Arya fighting up on the ramparts. I took the opportunity to intercut her with The Hound, as we know there is an emotional connection between them. While it’s an obvious thing to do, it’s an effective way of putting an emotional layer in the sequence.”

Porter went on to mirror this intercut on 805, “The Bells,” where The Hound is fighting his brother, The Mountain and Arya in the middle of the obliteration of King’s Landing. “Again, I feel that this was a really effective emotional grounding for the sequence, because the audience understands the relationship between these two characters and it’s important to them. In both cases, I think it was successful.” Perhaps the biggest challenge of the “Long Night” episode was act three, and the moment it came together was the most rewarding.

“Jon is fighting his way into Winterfell to get to Bran. The Night King is heading to kill Bran. Theon is fighting for his life while protecting Bran and Jorah is making his last stand defending Daenerys while the people in the crypt are being attacked by the undead. “I found it really tough to find the right pacing. The action that had come before it had been quite intense, and to find a way of presenting this act without repetition was hard. When I’m struggling with a sequence, I might do the opposite of what I’ve been doing.

As it was an action sequence, I had some fast-paced action music playing, so I tried a piece of [composer] Ramin Djawadi’s music that he wrote for episode 10 of season 6, called ‘Light of the Seven.’ It’s a fantastic piano piece, that slowly builds. I laid that on this 10-minute sequence of everybody fighting for their lives and it suddenly felt like it was the end of the world. “It was a moment of alchemy that, for me, brought the sequence together. Miguel had also shot some of the material around that section at 96 frames, which lent itself to being slowed down.

Maybe I should have spotted that sooner, but that’s the fun of what we do, sometimes you need to do the opposite of what you’re thinking. There’s always a solution. There’s a constant sense of discovery happening in a sequence like this. It’s really satisfying when you finally find the missing link and it comes together.” It’s been a few months since Porter walked away from the show completely – he was still dropping in visual effects shots and doing final tweaks to this episode until February.

Watching the final episode unfurl on TV was, for him, the realization that it really is over. “When I began editing, nearly 20 years ago, I used to get home from work and watch The Sopranos. I was completely in love with that show. My dream was always to work for HBO, and to get that opportunity in 2013 was amazing. It was actually the one goal that I’d set myself in my career and that it happened, and that my experience on Thrones turned out to be everything and more that I could have hoped for, that’s just fantastic.

I thank the editing gods for that one!” He adds, “I feel really lucky and fortunate to have met and worked with such talented people, many of whom are now my friends. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I’d do it all again … maybe.”