"It was a constant search for the correct rhythm," says Tim Porter of the series' epic episode as The Hollywood Reporter also surveys top feats on Emmy nominees 'Chernobyl,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' and 'Fleabag.'
Among Game of Thrones' 32 nominations are three for the editors on the HBO fantasy series' final season. Katie Weiland earned a nom for the "Iron Throne" episode, Crispin Green for "Winterfell" and Tim Porter for "The Long Night." Porter, who over the years has earned three previous nominations and one Emmy for his work on the series, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about this chapter, which featured a massive battle sequence that finally saw the end of the Night King.
What was the biggest editing challenge to "The Long Night," and how did you approach it?
"The Long Night" is essentially a continuous action sequence from beginning to end, with very little dialogue. The challenges came from constructing the narrative mainly through the action. It was a constant search for the correct rhythm, tension building, hope, fear, when to feel that all is lost and finding unspoken moments between characters that the audience could engage with.
How did you approach so many different characters and keep their stories all moving forward?
Integrating all the pieces of the puzzle and individual battles across the episode was something that really appealed to me. It meant finding the right recipe to keep all of the characters present. I spent a lot of time exploring ways of structuring and intercutting the sequences to find the balance.
For me it's a feel thing, when something begins to flow, you know you're in the right spot. It was important that this wasn't simply a fast-paced battle episode, as "battle fatigue" can set in very quickly. The episode worked as three acts. The opening act slowly built the tension with the threat of the Army of the Dead's imminent arrival, leading into wild action and mayhem, then slowing down in the final act with Ramin Djawadi's amazing score synthesizing the intercut of the Night King's entrance and our heroes fighting for their lives and ultimately Arya's arrival and her slaying of the Night King.
How would you describe cutting Arya's suspenseful scene in the library?
The starting point was to cut this sequence to director Miguel Sapochnik's brief: He described it as "survival horror." This sequence never really changed from the first time that I cut it. It was beautifully choreographed and shot — Maisie Williams (Arya) moves so well, silently dancing through the scene; the timing of her avoiding the Wights who appear at every turn was really impressive. We end the sequence with her running through the endless corridors of Winterfell pursued by frenzied Wights, not knowing her fate. The sequence played mainly without music, and the sound team created a fantastic auditory experience from her point of view.
You let the audience sort of lose her before the big reveal at the end of the battle.
As there were so many characters fighting different battles, we were trying to make sure that we weren't away from each beat for too long, keeping the characters under pressure and the audience involved with their plight. All except for Arya, we wanted to lose her, to take the focus off where she was, and what she was doing, until we see her entrance into the Godswood to save the day.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
The work on this Craig Mazin-created drama about the 1986 nuclear plant disaster — which earned two nominations for editing — is "all about perspective and point of view, situating the viewer with our characters and experiencing the horrors of Chernobyl through them," explains editor Simon Smith, who is nominated for the "Please Remain Calm" episode, while Jinx Godfrey earned a nom for the "Open Wide, O Earth" installment.
Describing the helicopter crash in his nominated episode, Smith says, "We never go inside the helicopter, we never go close, all of the tragedy is experienced from a distance on the roof or from the point of view of the other helicopters. This restraint makes it so much more harrowing."
Smith adds that the story of Chernobyl (which stars Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard) comes largely from source archive and first-person testimony "to strengthen the realism and personal perspective — and this [shot] too came from an old piece of shaky footage where they witnessed a helicopter that hit some crane cables and crashed. You never meet or know the pilot and crew who died."
"It needs to feel like there is a musical rhythm to the dialogue," says editor Kate Sanford of the approach she uses for Amazon's period comedy. She's nominated for the "Simone" episode, while fellow editor Tim Streeto is singled out for "We're Going to the Catskills!"
"Simone" includes a scene with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and her parents in conversation at dinner in Paris. "They shot that with A and B cameras on each character. Depending on who's looking at whom, I'll be swapping out cameras to make sure that the looks are correct, the eye lines are correct, but we definitely wanted to keep it grounded in some kind of emotional reality even though it gets very heightened and crazy," Sanford explains.
In "Catskills," Streeto also had to create tension during a chatty scene, one in which Midge sees an old friend as everyone discovers that she's divorced, and there's a lot of gossip happening. "The tricky part of pacing out something is that you don't want it to feel too cutty," he says, "and I think that when you stay on who's speaking, that can help alleviate that somewhat."
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag began season two with an uncomfortable family dinner that seemed to unfold in real time. "The time scale of the narrative across a few hours of a family reunion meal was both its appeal but also its challenge," editor Gary Dollner says, adding that these "almost real-time situations highlighted the awkward tone of the reunion."
The dinner table setting helped create a strong sense of claustrophobia, which "added to the awkward comedy that we tried to rinse," says Dollner. "We used a jump cut to move from the table to Fleabag having a cigarette break, clipping the end of Godmother (Olivia Colman) saying, 'Lesbian.' It's a handy technique to jolt the audience and ramp the comedy of a moment." Flashbacks in the opening sequence helped the setup while "rhythmically it was key to build tension across the episode like winding a coil tight to the point of — bam! when Fleabag punches [brother-in-law] Martin and chaos ensues."
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.