Television

Upload

 

Prolific showrunner Greg Daniels released the comedic sci-fi series Upload on Amazon Prime Video, May 1, and the show was quickly picked up for a second season. The series focuses on Nathan (Robbie Amell) whose consciousness is  uploaded into Lakeview virtual heaven moments before death. At the last minute, his clingy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) has him uploaded to her account, making her master of his well-being in this pay-as-you-go virtual world where the wealthy can afford a much more enjoyable digital afterlife, while the poor are capped at 2 GB of data per month. The series jumps back and forth between the real world and the idealistic Lakeview virtual experience.

As Nathan falls in love with his real-world handler Nora (Andy Allo) and struggles to find a way to break up with Ingrid (without being deleted), questions about his death start to arise.

When he was ready to shoot the pilot, Daniels tapped longtime collaborator David Rogers, ACE, to serve as consulting producer, editor and to direct one of the episodes. Rogers explains that he has worked with Daniels for many years, going to back to the first season of The Office. He eventually rose to the level of co-executive producer on the show, earning him five Primetime Emmy® nominations (including two wins) and three ACE Eddie Award nominations, winning two. After that, he worked with Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project before signing up for Upload, as well as Daniels’ latest comedy series Space Force, which premiered just a month later on Netflix.

In his consulting producer role, Rogers primarily focused on “making sure post was running smoothly from the creative stand-point … basically being Greg’s right-hand man, when it comes to post-production. Because I’ve been with him for so long now, sometimes I’m better at getting answers from Greg. I can be a little more specific. You know, everybody has pressing questions, but some are more pressing than others.”

The pilot was shot in Los Angeles in early 2018, then picked up by Amazon and started shooting in January 2019 in Vancouver. The series was lensed by cinematographer Simon Chapman, ACS, and the pilot by Amy Vincent, ASC. “The pilot was interesting and challenging, because it was the first time where Greg and I were really doing a lot of visual effects work. We both come from comedies where we do some VFX, but it’s usually just small stuff, like adding a set extension or something in a New York street,” says Rogers.

He explains that Daniels had done extensive storyboards and knew what shots he wanted. “But then, you’re like, ‘How do we really make this work? What does this look like?’ Then it was just hammering out the design,” he says.

“There was a lot of back and forth with the effects house on the design of what the VFX would look like.” That included developing the look of the ever-present hand phones, as well as transitional visual and sound effects for when people jump in and out of the virtual world. Rogers explains that he originally started temping in Star Trek-type sounds, but only as a guide. It was never really supposed to sound like that. “These are just shortcuts in storytelling for us. And then we went through later and replaced them all.”

He stresses that VFX always had to serve the story and never overwhelm the audience, but on the other hand, the audience has certain expectations and “cheap VFX can really take you out of the story.” Vancouver-based FuseFX was the primary VFX house on the show under VFX supervisor Marshall Krasser, along with a team that includes VFX artist Jeffrey Olney and VFX editor Devin Schwyhart. Rogers explains that the filmmakers relied heavily on color to distinguish the real world from the virtual heaven of Lakeview. While the real world was darker and greyer, Lakeview is always bright, with rich colors. He adds,“We had originally talked about doing more handheld stuff in the real world and only using Steadicam and dollies and things like that in the virtual world.”

Another key distinction was in the costumes. In the real world Nora might be wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, while in virtual heaven, she’s in a nice tailored outfit. Rogers recalls that they tried to play with the idea of subtle computer glitches in virtual heaven. “You’ll see birds flying and then one of them will kind of disappear and then pop back in again as the computers catch up. That got flagged by the technical people at Amazon because they thought it was a real error with the footage and we had to explain that it was intentional.”

Overall, Rogers cut five episodes. Rob Burnett cut four and Dane McMaster was brought on to cut one episode. Burnett was another alumnus of The Office as well as The Mindy Project. McMaster had worked with Burnett on the NBC comedy A.P. Bio. Rogers relates that while he was editing in L.A. they would get the previous day’s footage overnight and he could start cutting in the Avid the next day. “Our assistant editors would get it. And they would start prepping it for us, running it through ScriptSync, and consolidating media where we needed to consolidate it. And so, they would prep everything, and gather elements like music, temp FX or stock footage.”

He was assisted by Tim Kuper for the series. Josh Toomey served as assistant editor on the pilot. Carmen Hu served as assistant editor to Burnett. In addition, Brandon Brown was added  as an assistant to help keep everything on track.

Additionally, Rogers directed episode 7, “Bring Your Dad to Work Day” where Nathan meets Nora’s father Dave (Chris Williams) in virtual heaven. But back in the real world, someone sets off a bomb in the Lakeview server room, and suddenly, the virtual characters start to lose their resolution, reverting to a low-res, Lego-block version of their avatars as the backup servers kick in.

Rogers explains that the VFX team gave them a bunch of options for how the low-res avatars might look. But the scene is actually a comedic moment, so they needed something that supported that and helped sell the gag.

In fact, the scene transitions rapidly from a suspenseful moment when someone plants the bomb, to a dramatic moment where Nathan is having a man-to-man discussion with Nora’s father, to a comedic moment, when he suddenly turns into a Lego-block avatar.

Editorially, that was one of the challenges of the show. Rogers explains, “The show has different genres. There’s romance; there’s the sci-fi aspect; there’s the mystery; there’s some action in places and then there’s a romantic comedy. “So when you’re cutting one scene, you’re editing in a certain way to tell that story when there’s comedy. And then if there’s mystery, you want it to be a little scary and your pacing and things like that are a little different,” he explains. “It was almost like four different shows in one.”

This led the editor to really experiment with a wide variety of temp tracks. “We loaded in a ton of things. And we had a lot of needle drops in the pilot. I know there were a bunch of places where I laid in songs that I knew were going to get replaced, but at least you could watch the scene right away and get the sense of, ‘Oh, okay. This is what we’re going for,’” says Rogers. For temp tracks, the editor would grab music that conveyed the mood of the scene, whether Nathan is stressed and frustrated or calm and happy.

He explains that after he shot episode 7 in Vancouver, he flew back to L.A. to start editing it. He agrees that editing his own show gave him a bit of an advantage in the edit suite, knowing the material and the intent so well. “I might take a couple extra days with my editor’s cut, but it’s kind of a director’s cut at the same time,” he says. But he stresses that when he’s in the editor’s seat with another director, he’s there to serve the director’s vision.

“I always told them that if they have any info they want to give me while they’re directing, that’s great. If not, I will build it the best I can and then we’ll just go through it when it’s time for the director’s cut,” he says.

Overall, the biggest challenge was probably the sheer volume of work to be done. “We could’ve used a third editor right from the start and more in-house VFX artists because we had so many things to deal with. By the time we got to the end of the show, we were just flying by the seat of our pants,” he says. “I don’t want to say we underestimated it. But you look at the calendar and think, ‘Oh, we have all this time to build these shows.’ But all these shows have new, different VFX in them. It’s not just people popping in and out.”

Rogers reported that while the scripts for season 2 are currently being written, it’s not clear when they will be able to go into production due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re still trying to try to figure out what changes will be made because of the virus,” he says. “I think we will have a little bit of freedom with our Lakeview environment, because it’s possible that we could do more stuff greenscreen and use VFX to build environments that can be a little digital looking to match that kind of world. But we’ll see. Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The Great

Hulu’s period comedy of (grotesque) manners charts the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longestreigning female ruler in Russia’s history. From the pen of Tony McNamara, who wrote Oscar®-winning royal satire The Favourite, this fictionalized story set in 1761 centers on an idealistic, romantic young woman who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter III. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. Showrunner McNamara was a fan of Veep and The Thick of It, British satire that targets political power play, and invited Ant Boys, ACE, whose credits include both shows, to help craft The Great. He edited season 1 with editors Billy Sneddon and Edel McDonnell.“I am sent a lot of comedy scripts and the first thing I ask myself is, is it funny,” says Boys. “I was laughing out loud just two pages in.”

Ongoing creative discussions about The Great revolved around tone and point of view. “The tone of a show is something you hope to achieve while writing and filming but may never really find until it gets to the edit,” Boys says. “Tone is something you need to keep in the back of your mind at all times. You need to gain the audience’s trust by showing them the universe of the show and keeping within its rules. Go too far in one direction and you run the risk of losing the audience. Get the balance right and it allows you to play around with jokes in the show and make some lines funnier.”

As an example, Boys describes approaching a scene involving the Emperor, Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), and General Velementov, head of the armies (Douglas Hodge). “In a scene where the Emperor is criticizing the General, if we were to show it from Peter’s POV it would show him being in control and frustrated that things weren’t going the right way. If we present it from the General’s POV and the audience knowsthat Peter is wrong but the General can’t tell him that because of the subservient relationship between them, it allows you to play off reaction shots. The scene is funnier because we’re looking to see what the General’s reaction is.”

This cuts to the heart of Boys’ approach to editing the show. “There’s a mismatch between behavior in public and what people actually think in private. The Great depicts a world with a lot of secrets and where a lot goes unsaid. Using reaction shots is an effective way to show what people are thinking.” Conventional wisdom has it that comedy works best when presented in a two-shot but Boys felt that wouldn’t work on a show whose characters hide their true feelings. “There are a lot of funny reactions to be had in single.

Separating a character from the characters around them tells the audience that this is a glimpse into what they are really thinking.” The character of Catherine (Elle Fanning) is introduced as “a wonderful, naive optimist” but by the end of the second episode she realizes the world is not as rosy as she hoped. “We worry for her but there’s something rather lovely and heartwarming about her character. Where one person might see all the problems and obstacles in their path, she is intent on fixing it and making it better.”

The Emperor, on the other hand, is simply “inevitable,” describes Boys. “If you take someone who is spoilt rotten, surrounded by yes men and who has complete power then he is what you end up with. There are definitely parallels to be drawn between Peter’s court and current events as well as previous royal and political leaders but I think Tony was more interested in talking about feminism than current politics.”

The Great is inspired by true events rather than pretending to be a historic document but the kernel of the story is faithful to Catherine’s achievements not least being a strong woman in a foreign country at a time of extreme misogyny.

Autumn and Winter of 2019 with editorial in a room adjacent to the set. This made it handy for the editors to catch up with McNamara while maintaining their own space to work.  “I’ve known Billy for 15 years,” Boys says. “We have this shorthand where we invite each other to look at something and without communicating we’ll just watch the material and provide our feedback. It’s a good way of getting an honest response. We play poker together so I know when he’s lying to me! “I’d not met Edel before but she was just as willing to share scenes and exchange opinions on work we’d cut.

Because the show is very dense with characters and plot you do have to have a very clear through line for each character so you know who everyone is, what they are doing and why. We’d have long chats about what we’d left in and which pieces were cut and the impact of those decisions on characters in earlier or later scenes.”

The Great depicts a court of opulent depravity with copious amounts of profanity, drunkenness, public sex and wanton cruelty. McNamara ensured that scenes were filmed with maximum gratuity and gave the editors responsibility to judge where to draw the line. “When you have torture, sex and violence along with comedy you have to be very careful about how you balance it,” Boys says. “Show the audience too much blood and it can turn their stomach or make them flinch too much and you break their trust. “It comes back to tone. We had many discussions about what was gratuitous or vile and to what extent we wanted to pull it back in the edit.”

In episode 2, titled “The Beard,” there is a dinner to celebrate the Emperor’s victory over the Swedish army and some severed heads of soldiers are brought in and placed in front of the courtiers while they eat. “Then something extremely graphic is done with the heads. It’s very gratuitous and we spent a lot of time deliberating whether it had overstepped the mark. We got it to a point where myself and [Executive Producer] Marian Macgowan enjoyed it but Tony felt it had gone a bit too far.

We invited Billy, Edele and [assembly editors] Chris Hunter and Andrew Walton for their opinion to gauge where the balance of the scene should be. The fix can be as subtle as taking out six frames from one shot or adding six frames to another. In this case we brought it back a touch more towards Tony’s point of view. He’s always right!”

The main challenge, though, was finding the right pace for a comedy which unusually is an hour per episode spanning 10 episodes. “Most comedies are half hours and when you’ve worked in them you get used to the rhythm. You know instinctively after a few episodes that if Act 1 feels a bit wonky then if you take a minute out of the first 11 minutes you can perfect the rhythm. In an hour you can’t rely on the same formula. You can’t simply double the duration of ‘acts’ from 10 to 20 minutes. It doesn’t work that way.” Boys sought clues watching stand-up comedy shows and noticed that the audience tends to flag with an hour of non-stop gags. “I noticed that at about the 40-45 minutes mark a good comedian will go into a longer anecdote which is maybe not as laugh-out-loud funny but it gives the audience a breather before coming back with a barrage of jokes in the last 10 minutes.

I’d look for a point in the show where it felt natural to relax like that. In episode 9 ‘Love Hurts,’ for example, there’s a very violent scene that leads into a perfect moment of introspection played through Catherine’s point of view which gives the audience a chance to absorb the horror before the comedy starts again.”

The final 10 minutes of the season finale demanded particular attention and the best part of two weeks to solve. With the audience anticipating a spectacular climax, the story has Catherine needing to pause and make an almost impossible decision. “This isn’t what you’d usually want to happen at this point in a series,” Boys says. “You’d want to increase the pace to build toward a climax but, in this case, she is faced with a decision that stops her in her tracks. Because the show lives so deeply in point of view, I spent a long time making sure the audience felt Catherine’s POV – her frustration, her indecision and her heartbreak, really pushing those feelings as much as I could so that the ending is as satisfying a treat as the audience has every right to expect.”

The Mandalorian

When developing a series based on the Star Wars universe for the fledgling Disney+ streamingservice, The Mandalorian’s creator and executive producer Jon Favreau knew that he had a special property on his hands which required delicate handling. At a special 2019 advance screening of the first episode, Favreau told the invite-only crowd, “My whole taste in movies was probably formed in a big way from seeing George Lucas’ original [1977 Star Wars] film.” As he led his measured departure in his concept for The Mandalorian, he and Dave Filoni (co-creator, executive producer, and one of the show’s directors) decided to focus on the journeys of the titular bounty hunter. “It has a lot of the qualities and aesthetics of the [original] film, but the novelization of serialized storytelling … opened a lot of freedom and opportunity that we’re not repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced from Star Wars.”

Enter editor Jeff Seibenick, who was thereafter joined on the show by editors Andrew S. Eisen and Dana E. Glauberman, ACE. Seibenick boarded the production in May of 2018, at a very early stage of the series’ previsualization phase. “I was the post department for the first few months,” Seibenick recalls. “I was cutting entire episodes in previs, complete with voice actors, sound design and temp music. Jon and Dave would watch them and then go rewrite the scripts because once they could see an episode fully realized they knew exactly where and how to dial it in well before the cameras even rolled.” Using a process that shared similarities with techniques that Favreau used on his retelling of The Lion King, the team developed a new system that effectively meant production could take place on a stage at Manhattan Beach Studios, where the sets and environments (all created using video game engine technology) would be projected on a giant LED wall behind the actors.

The virtual sets would sync up with camera movements using motion-capture sensors which created the illusion of being on a massive three-dimensional set and gave the filmmakers enormous creative flexibility. “It was great how early they brought all of us in because we got to be involved in the artistry, not just the editing.” Seibenick said, “Our entire experience was very inclusive. We were on board as everything was being worked out, which is rare for a TV editor.”

With Seibenick having edited the previs for most of the episodes – save numbers 4 and 6 – Eisen joined the post-production team in October of 2018, coming from the world of features. “I came into this project not knowing what to expect given that streaming television was a new medium for me.

 

What I quickly found was it felt as familiar to me as any feature I had worked on,” Eisen says. “Not all scripts were locked yet and I started cutting previs for episode 4, [director] Bryce Dallas Howard’s episode, while they were shooting episodes 1 and 3 simultaneously. Dave Filoni was directing episode 1, and Deborah Chow was directing episode 3. The plan was for Jeff and I to cut four episodes each, staggered, based on the shooting schedule so we had time to get through a full first pass before the next one would begin. But as the schedule changed, we were getting back-to-back episodes while still trying to complete full episodes in previs. We had an incredible crew of assistant editors who stepped up to the challenges, especially our associate editors, Dylan Firshein and Erik Jessen, who were instrumental in helping pick up the editing slack when the deadlines were looming.”

By January 2019, with the work on The Mandalorian piling up, Glauberman joined the team, taking over editing duties on episode 4. “My agent, Jasan Pagni at WME, called to tell me about this incredible opportunity, literally three days before I started on the show,” she recalls. “I think episode 4 benefited from an editor like me who is not necessarily a Star Wars super-fan, but does come from the feature world, and has edited movies with a little comedy, a little drama, a little action, a love story, and so much more … all of which this episode contains.”

The trio of editors worked on their respective episodes, encompassing a full year, ending last October. “Previs took quite a bit of time, with the artists and the directors coming up with the ideas,” Eisen explains, “so it was almost like we edited not eight, but 16 episodes. They would shoot roughly three weeks for an episode. As far as post goes, it was a significantly longer feature model only limited by our release date a little more than a year out from when shooting began. We really had no downtime.” Seibenick, Eisen and Glauberman also report that in addition to what was effectively on-set compositing of the environments through the virtual production process, there were an estimated 4,000 post-produced VFX shots in this season. “Jon approached it like a feature. It wasn’t what the studio was expecting, possibly, but he let the directors stay on for as long as they felt they needed to get their cut,” Eisen says.

Regarding the freedom afforded by a streaming platform, Eisen notes that the three Mandalorian editors were unencumbered in their efforts, given the creative approach offered by Favreau and Filoni. “Each director had their own unique vision, and Jon embraced that. So the episodes are very different. Rick Famuyiwa’s episodes [2 and 6] are very different from episode 4 which [features] Bryce’s unique style. Jon was very open to that.” “The Mandalorian greatly differs from traditional episodic shows in that Jon and Dave really kept the editors involved in every step along the way,” adds Glauberman. “On the few episodic shows that I’ve edited in the past, I have not had the opportunity to see my particular episodes through to the end; something that I really enjoy. However on The Mandalorian, Jon and Dave wanted to include us from the beginning to the end, all the way through to the final mix, just like on a feature. It was a true collaboration between all filmmakers; also something that I really enjoy.”

Given the enormity of the production, the editors expressed that, in addition to cutting, they served as overseers for their individual episodes. “We were deeply involved in the visual effects process since we were so familiar with every aspect of our episodes,” Seibenick relates. “We’d catch little details in the blocking, or the timing of an effect shot that only an editor would notice – but was ultimately hugely important to the overall story.”

At the outset of The Mandalorian, Favreau sought to plan the trajectory of each episode in its entirety, which was why he insisted on requiring previsualization for every scene of every episode, though many elements eventually changed once shooting took place. “[For] the big action scenes, the directors did their best to stick to the previs,” Eisen says. “When it comes to the talking scenes, the previs looked nothing like the finished product. It did help Jon pre-approve the whole episode, making changes ahead of time, so by shooting, they were just more prepared, and they could get through it on a much shorter schedule.”

In addition to proving useful for visual effects artists and directors, previsualizing The Mandalorian was also informative for the show’s talent. “Our actors were able to watch previs cuts prior to shooting any particular scene,” Glauberman explains. “This, coupled with not having to act in front of a greenscreen, but instead having the backgrounds and environments being projected behind them on the LED wall, really helped them feel like they were in that world. And if all of that helps their performances, it certainly helps our editing and the outcome of the show.”

Industrial Light & Magic served as the lead VFX house, though additional vendors also created shots. “Our in-house visual effects team was terrific,” says Glauberman. “They would filter visual effects through ILM up north, down to us [in Los Angeles]. So, like on any big VFX project, as shots came in, we would have VFX reviews with Jon and Dave and the visual effects department for each episode.”

With ILM having been opened in 1975 to create the visual acquainted with the machinations of The Mandalorian’s realm. “Everything in season 1 came through visual effects supervisor Richard Bluff,” says Eisen. “He would look at everything, and it would have to get his seal of approval before it even came to us. We would spend about four or five hours in the visual effects review room and scrutinize every shot. Jon would scrutinize the tiniest of details down to the lighting on a leaf on a tree; he was that specific, and it’s what made the show.”

Oftentimes, a visual effect came to the three editors unlike what had been planned, necessitating that the editors stay flexible. “We would have to adapt,” Eisen says. “It was a very detailed process. We had such an amazing team, coordinating everything, and keeping track of all of those changes over eight episodes.” Not only did certain visual effects change over the course of the yearlong post period, some of the shots would fundamentally alter the storytelling process in the editing room. “A lot of the time, our VFX reviews became editorial sessions,” Seibenick explains. “We would start to see shots or whole scenes come to life that would be drastically better than the temp shots we’d been living with and would give Jon new ideas. Sometimes we would literally rethink whole scenes based on the visual effects. Jon would say, ‘Oh, that’s good. Now let’s make it better.’”

Referring back to the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucasfilm ensured that sound was a critical aspect of The Mandalorian. Says Seibenick, “Half of the Star Wars universe is created with sound, and Jon was insistent that the editors and the [Skywalker Sound] artists work together to perfect the soundscape for each episode. All of us had an opportunity to make everything better every step of the way.”

Summing up, Eisen says Favreau “gave everyone a lot of free reign, but, in the end, he and Filoni pulled it all together. They made sure that everything was cohesive, tight and engaging, and then hoped that the public would love it as much as they did.” “The whole reason I wanted to make movies is because of my love for Star Wars, so getting this job was a dream come true!” Adds Seibenick, “Star Wars changed the face of cinema as we know it and here we are, trying to continue that legacy – by building upon the foundation of greatness.

Watchmen

 

HBO’s limited series Watchmen reimagines the world of the classic 1987 DC Comics graphic novels created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Series creator Damon Lindelof – who has racked up a string of industry accolades including 10 Emmy® nominations and one win for his work on Lost – led the series, which premiered last October.

The story follows Detective Angela Abar (Regina King) as she investigates the reemergence of a white supremacist terrorist group inspired by the long-deceased moral absolutist Rorschach. The plot is set 34 years after the events of the original comics within the same alternate history timeline where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws.

To edit the nine-episode series, Lindelof tapped long-time collaborator David Eisenberg along with editors Henk Van Eeghen, ACE,  and Anna Hauger. Eisenberg – who was nominated for a 2020 ACE Eddie Award for his work on the Watchmen pilot episode “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” – recently spoke with CinemaEditor about cutting the series’ wonderfully complex story.

CinemaEditor: How did you get involved with Watchmen?
David Eisenberg: I have a long relationship with Damon, dating back to Lost where I started out as a PA and then worked my way up to assistant. I’d stayed in touch with him and basically begged him to put me on The Leftovers. Our friendship has grown over the years, so when HBO signed off on this, I had become one of his guys, so that’s how it all ended up shaking out.

CE: It’s a complex story. What was the overall creative directive that was initially discussed with Damon?
DE: One thing we discussed early on was to not hold back. We have a unique opportunity to do something really fun but also send an important message. Damon and his writing team made the bold decision to tell this story about race in America housed in the strangeness of the Watchmen universe. It was a duty for all of us to get it right and be as respectful as possible. I remember reading the pilot and being overwhelmed with emotion reading the opening that sends us right into the middle of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. It was so raw and powerful and those feelings only increased when our director, Nicky Kassell’s, amazing footage was shot. That event happened 99 years ago this week and seems even more relevant than ever given the injustices we’re continuing to see right now.

So, for me as a white male, I questioned whether this was my story to tell, and honestly I don’t really think it is. But since  I have the privilege of cutting this I need to get it right. The best I could do was be as informed and as engaged as possible. Damon never gives strict demands on creative direction heading into something because he has tremendous trust of the people he’s put  in place to execute the story. Respect, thoughtfulness, consider all sides especially those different than yours … these were the types of creative directions we discussed the most.

CE: Could you describe your workflow?
DE: Editorial was based at Lantana in Santa Monica while production shot in Atlanta, but we never went there. The ARRI Alexa media was processed overnight, so we’d have everything early inthe morning. My assistant, Anthony McAfee, would come in and get everything ready, so I could hit the ground running first thing in the morning. There wasn’t much wasted time.

 

CE: How would you describe the editorial style that you were going for?DE: Given that there was source material in the comic and there was a [2009] movie, I generally stayed away from the movie, just because I felt like what we were doing was really different stylistically and tonally. But I looked to the comic a lot because the book was what we were building to. It was the same world as the comic and an extension of that as much as possible. I watched a lot of 1970s paranoia films, but I can’t say exactly how I used them as a reference – things like The Conversation or Three Days of the Condor. There was just something about those movies but nothing really specific. I think it was this notion of okay, here’s this problem we’re facing that’s right in front of our eyes but at the same time there’s something much bigger at play.

CE: You, Henk Van Eeghen and Anna Hauger previously worked on Lindelof’s The Leftovers together, how did you divvy up the work on Watchmen?
DE: Basically, each one of us would handle our own specific episodes. But it was very collaborative. We were always talking because this story was so serialized and there were a lot of elements to keep track of for the macro story. So, we were constantly showing each other stuff, and I credit Damon for being the genius that he is. He’s able to track all this stuff in his head and he really is the baseline to keep it all under control and under a unified vision. But Henk, Anna and I had to talk outside of the conversations we’d have with Damon to make sure everything was flowing together even though there were  some episodes that felt like they were pretty singular.

CE: How did the use of flashbacks impact the editing?
DE: We definitely love our flashbacks. It’s something we’ve always felt the power and creativity from in storytelling. Luckily for us in editorial, the scripts were so dialed in it didn’t require much restructuring. But something we did use a lot were these ‘flashes’ or ‘flash-cuts’ that were not scripted. Especially since our story delved so deep into ideas of memory and history these were a great way to visually show the audience what a character is thinking about without them having to verbalize it. For example, in episode 7, Angela is being treated by Lady Trieu and she’s still feeling the effects of taking her grandfather’s nostalgia as depicted in the incredible episode 6 story. She’s having these flashbacks of her time in Vietnam and at the same time being flooded with flashes of her grandfather’s experience. It was a great way to show her layered experience and gently guide the audience. We discussed this idea of the toxicity of nostalgia and, in some instances, this was a visual way of conveying that idea.

CE: Would you describe a favorite scene and how you
approached the edit?

DE: I loved so many. A few come to mind like the Tulsa riot and the Owlship in the pilot. Also, for pure lunacy, the courtroom scene that culminates in Adrian Veidt’s fart and pigs running around. But my favorite scene by far is between Angela and Will in the theatre in the finale. After the insanity of the millennium clock, Trieu, Keene and frozen squids we get this beautiful and quiet yet immensely powerful scene between two iconic actors. The scene does such a good job of wrapping up the two parallel journeys for Angela and Will and what an origin story truly means. It was pure poetry to end in the Dreamland theatre where our story began. Watching dailies of Regina King and Lou Gossett Jr. for this scene is one of my all-time best career experiences. Regina is one of those rare actors that never delivers a bad take. And Lou Gossett Jr. is an absolute legend. We probably spent more time crafting this scene than any other in the finale. Not because there were any problems but maybe because deep down we just never wanted to leave that theatre. I wanted to let the quiet moments shine and focus on pacing. Be on someone for an important line but also be on them when they’re listening because there’s a lot of power in seeing how someone is taking something in.

CE: Tell me about the role your assistant editors played.
DE: We had three assistants. My assistant [McAfee] has been with me for a long time and he is just an incredible asset for me. Yoni Reiss worked with Anna and Kevin Soares was Henk’s assistant. They were all phenomenal. I can’t say enough about the hard work that they all put in and what an integral part of the process they were, from dailies to doing sound work, and all the clerical things that go with an assistant job, but also being there as creative people to bounce ideas off of and try things.

CE: How did you work with the VFX department? Did you use previs in the rough cuts?
DE: Visual effects was definitely the biggest undertaking of this whole process. Erik Henry and Matt Robken and their entire team were absolutely amazing. In order to get the show done on time we had to lock certain sequences way further in advance than the normal chronological order of things. There were certain scenes that we shot early for the finale, not necessarily knowing what the finale would even look like. For some of the bigger sequences, we did have the luxury of previs that we used in our cuts. For example, things like in the pilot, the Owlship sequence, those were prevised pretty early. And then, sometimes we didn’t have previs just because of time constraints. But if we had it, then we used it. The whole VFX department was in our office, tracking the shot changes, so wewere able to talk them about the creative side of it too.

CE: Who were your additional key collaborators?
DE: Our post team was led by John Blair and Pam Fitzgerald and a long list of other amazing people who were integral in keeping the ship on course. I don’t want to leave out our brilliant sound team led by Brad North. Our mixers Chris Carpenter and Joe DeAngelis are as good as it gets, so they really elevated the sound of the show. And our music editor Sally Boldt, who worked closely with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, was just phenomenal.

CE: Overall, is there anything that you want people to take away?
DE: Every show has its challenges and this one did too. But every person that worked on it poured their heart and soul in and I think all that was displayed on the screen. I have to say that Damon is a true leader and it really does start at the top. He sets the tone for everything. From the cast and crew in Atlanta to our writers and producers and post team in L.A., everyone deserves the utmost respect and credit. It’s hard to know how things are going to be received when they make their way into the world, but judging by the response, I think we did our jobs.

SNL At Home

In its 45-year history, Saturday Night Live (SNL) has hosted, made and chronicled a deafening amount of America’s cultural fabric. Between skits and musical guests, Weekend Update and Digital Shorts, SNL has served as both a timeline and touchstone for several generations of viewers. Paul Simon bringing the show back post 9/11, the New York City Children’s Chorus singing “Silent Night” to open after Sandy Hook, Adam Sandler’s moving tribute to Chris Farley and Cecily Strong’s cold open in French after the Paris attacks of 2015, SNL is a show that faces grief head on. Laughter through tears, the show goes on.

As New York’s COVID-19 cases continued to climb, Governor Cuomo ordered “New York on Pause” measures beginning on March 22, effectively canceling SNL’s plans of returning to a live broadcast on March 28. “On March 7th we wrapped what would become our last live show of season 45 and started our pre-planned two-week hiatus” says SNL coordinating producer Adam Nicely. “The idea of creating new content remotely started coming up during that time as it became clearer to everyone that we’d be in this situation for quite a while. As soon as the idea was out there, everyone sprang into action – writers sent pitches to the producers, cast, special guests and musical guests who all ended up shooting material on their iPhones. There was a lot of uncertainty about how a show like SNL, where the live audience plays such an important role, could continue, but there was a definite sense that the show must go on, and a willingness from everyone to contribute if it was possible.”

“Around the first week of April, I heard whispers of the show potentially trying something remote,” shares Sean McIlraith, one of the film unit editors on SNL. “We had no idea if that meant producing solely digital content, a 30-minute special, or a full 90-minute show. When we got word a remote show was happening, it was a flurry of frantic phone calls between the post department about how we were going to pull this off.

How would we receive footage? When were the final scripts going to come in? What does this workflow even look like? I’ve been working in the SNL post department since 2013 and it’s already an intimidating, anxiety-inducing place to work in terms of the tight schedules and little-to-no turnaround time, but add in the remote editing factor and it was completely uncharted territory. It was scary, but exhilarating. It felt very in line with the youthful and dangerous spirit from which SNL was born – the show airs at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and by any means necessary, we get these sketches on air.”

McIlraith had the rare fortune of self-isolating with his brother Ryan, who also happens to be one of the other film unit editors. “All of the editors had multiple pieces to work on and there was a lot of co-editing and passing projects back and forth,” he explains. “That first week, Ryan and I co-edited the music video Drake Song. It was a flurry of us yelling at each other from the other room and sprinting hard drives back and forth as we shared and switched off projects, especially as I worked on edits for the opening montage, where footage would come in on a rolling basis, and I would have to switch gears in an instant.”

SNL uses Adobe Premiere Pro for editing as well as After Effects for their pre-recorded sketches. “I think if you compare Drake Song from the first ‘At Home’ show, to Danny Trejo Song, a music video I edited for the season finale four weeks later, you can see the difference in production quality and manpower involved,” says McIlraith. “Drake Song is a much more bare-knuckled effort while Danny Trejo Song has a lot more varied coverage and VFX work. I would say at least onethird of that piece is greenscreen supplemented with animated titles and graphically treated stock footage. By the third SNL ‘At Home,’ the wheels were greased, and everyone was firing on all cylinders, trying our best to make these sketches look as if they belonged on a normal episode of Saturday Night Live. The main goal for all of the editors was to have the audience believe these sketches were worthy of being on any normal episode of SNL. While the production value and use of iPhone cameras might have been distracting, editorially our aim was to transport viewers and help them believe this content belonged on air.”

“The first SNL ‘At Home’ show came together really quickly and spontaneously,” relates Nicely. “We sent whatever microphones and LED lights we had to talent and we did a read-through of several sketches via Zoom on Wednesday, as we typically do for live shows. Then shot several skits via Zoom the next day.”

By Friday evening, they shot a 12-minute Weekend Update with anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che, using Zoom. They used Jost and Che’s iPhones (1080p 30fps) so the files wouldn’t be too large or difficult to upload. “By then it was clear that we had more than enough content for a full 90-minute show. With the second and third ‘At Home’ episodes, we had the additional time and opportunity to really improve the quality of the production,” Nicely says.

While the first SNL ‘At Home’ was a feat in and of itself, the second and third ‘At Home’ episodes benefited from the extra time and previous week’s crash course. “We used the built-in camera app on the iPhone for capturing audio and video since everyone was already familiar with using it,” explains Nicely. “Mostly at 1080p 30fps to keep file sizes low. Sometimes 4K if we really thought we’d need to punch in on the shots during the edit. I think almost everyone had at least an iPhone X, but most had an iPhone 11. We had the time to procure lav mics, the ClipMic digital from Apogee, which could plug right into everyone’s iPhones. We also purchased an iPod touch for everyone so they could record the lav if they were too far from their iPhones to plug in directly. We used the Voice Memos app on the iPhone and iPods when recording the lav – with the quality set to ‘lossless’ instead of ‘compressed’ in settings. With Dropbox, we created a file request link to which the cast could upload their videos for all three ‘At Home’ shows. Installing Dropbox on the iPod touches made it so the cast could just “save to Dropbox” directly from the Voice Memos app and their audio would land where all of the editors could get at it.”

Nicely adds that they also shipped green screens to those that would need them, and “found a way for our directors to see the cast’s iPhone screens directly while they were shooting. This helped immensely in that the directors were able to quickly give notes and get the framing they wanted or make adjustments to the lighting. This was critical because the sketches were getting more and more ambitious now that we knew we could pull it off. This also allowed us to use the higher quality rear-facing camera since we could keep an eye on it for the cast, allowing us to know how long a take had been shooting and to keep them short so they wouldn’t take forever to upload afterward.”

McIlraith notes that the shared Dropbox folder effectively acted as the series production SAN. “For obvious reasons, this was sometimes less than ideal in that the Dropbox would routinely bottleneck as our editors, assistant editors and graphic artists were all uploading and changing their own files at the same time as we were all working on multiple, simultaneous edits,” he says. “Even though a cut of a piece was ready to send for feedback, that video file had to export and sync to a Dropbox that was being bombarded with competing files that are simultaneously being uploaded to this one shared Dropbox.”

Associate director Mike Poole advised that they stick to using the HEVC codec that the iPhone produces and edit natively without transcoding. McIlraith relates, “This was the correct decision in that it didn’t add the extra step of transcoding footage, but it proved a little tricky as we found that Adobe Premiere doesn’t play too nicely with this codec. We were getting slammed with our render and export times. I cut the show’s opening montage, which had a lot of speed ramps, digital noise and VFX overlaid on top of the footage.” He reports that on his 13-inch MacBook it typically took 25 minutes, when the timeline was only one minute and 55 seconds long. “I have been in a lot of sticky situations in my tenure at SNL, delivering video files 10 minutes before they went to live air, but I think SNL ‘At Home’ takes the cake for the most nervous I have ever been waiting for a render to finish or a Dropbox file to sync.”

Nicely relates that by the second and third “At Home” episodes, “we knew that we needed a lot more time to edit and mix the sketches, so we moved the read-through and subsequent rewrites (all done via Zoom) up in the week. Traditionally, our read-through has always been on Wednesday afternoon.” For the second “At Home” show the read-through was held on the Tuesday before broadcast, and for the third “At Home,” the read-through took place on the Monday. “We were asking so much of our cast in the way of production – setting up green screens, their own lights, mics and cameras, hair, makeup and wardrobe – but I was so impressed with how well everyone did with these new responsibilities.”

“One of the nice parts of editing remotely was that the cast was essentially their own film crew,” adds McIlraith.  “As I was editing, if I thought I needed a certain shot or I needed more coverage of something, (director) Paul Briganti could just call and ask the cast member to shoot what I needed and 30 minutes later I would have more footage in my Dropbox. This was one of the nice parts of working on Pete’s (Davidson) music videos. For Stuck in the House, that was less a video that relied on performance footage than a video that needed cutaway shots for every line for the jokes to land since the lyrics of that song were so specific. Pete and Adam Sandler were literally sending footage to me right up until the last possible minute on Saturday. Sandler sent me a shot of him looking be- wildered while his kids were talking to him to splice into his last chorus at 3:30 p.m. that Saturday. It really shows how these SNL ‘At Home’ shows only came to be because the entire SNL family across generations and departments came together to make them happen.”

SNL’s live shows typically stick to three pre-taped sketches, but with SNL “At Home,” every piece of content required an editor, which opened the door for the team’s assistant editors, like Chris Salerno, to cut their first piece. “The team was so overwhelmed,” shares McIlraith, “so we asked Chris to step up to the challenge, and he edited Andre 2000 for us. The VFX team also went above and beyond – watching the first SNL “At Home” to the third (season finale), you see production values increase with each episode.” Adds Nicely, “I cannot say enough about our post team. The amount of edited content in the ‘At Home’ shows increased tenfold from the traditional live show. Because it was all hands on deck for the editors, we brought in a former film unit director and several additional editors who had since moved on to other projects, but were available to help us out and knew the demanding nature of our schedule.”

Turnaround time also varied. “Typically, for the live show, pretaped pieces and short films are shot either on Friday morning or Friday night. Depending on when they begin filming, we either start editing that Friday afternoon/evening or Saturday at 4 a.m.,” explains McIlraith. “For SNL ‘At Home,’ I was getting footage sometimes on a Monday of a show week and then footage for other pieces I was working on that week would either trickle in as the week progressed or would be shot later in the week. By the season finale we had reached peak confidence, and I think the writers felt very assured in the post department’s abilities, so they naturally started pitching more ambitious sketches.

“The Sunday night before that finale show week, I received a script for a sketch called Dreams, which was a love letter to New York City, showing each cast member in a different environment going about their daily life before the pandemic hit. To be completely honest, I thought I was being pranked when I first read it. It was so ambitious. The amount of time it would take researching for stock footage, the amount of visual effects work it would entail to rotoscope out all of the cast members on greenscreen, I remember telling everyone and anyone that I didn’t think we could pull it off. But sure enough, come Saturday evening I find myself exporting the final piece for air. Though we were working [remotely] and our conditions had changed radically, the same SNL spirit of pushing the impossible held firm.”