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This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In order to shape a story, a show’s editor must select the actors’ best performances from multiple takes, oversee the pacing as the various takes are assembled and, sometimes, even remove sequences altogether. So it’s no surprise that the edit often is referred to as the “final rewrite.”
The first episode of Fox’s The Last Man on Earth, called “Alive in Tucson” — written by the Emmy-nominated Will Forte and directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord — originally was designed to take the audience on a solo journey with Forte’s character, Phil Miller, who believes himself to be the sole survivor of a viral epidemic, for the first 20 of its 22 minutes. Then there were to have been flashbacks to his life before the virus wiped out most of mankind, and several scenes were shot. But they never made it to the screen.
Explains editor Stacey Schroeder: “In the finished episode, you see Phil thinking back on a birthday he celebrated with his friends and family before the virus. That moment was shot as a full scene but repurposed as a small montage.
“There also was a flashback where Phil visited his old office where he was a temp,” she adds. “It’s revealed that his former boss, who was a high school classmate, is still bullying Phil. The car Phil eventually blows up in the bowling sequence was to have belonged to that boss. In the end, the flashbacks seemed to set the wrong tone for the show and not necessarily do enough to advance Phil’s character and story.”
In the “Sand Hill Shuffle” episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, editor Tim Roche helped shape audience perceptions of several characters. “This episode overall was very tricky because we were extremely long to begin with,” he says. “Most things we ended up cutting were for time. Overall, the episode moves much better with the time cuts, but there is one part of a scene we omitted that helped the narrative.
“Originally during the Peter Gregory memorial service, we had Monica speak about what [the venture capitalist] meant to her,” he explains. “But once we saw it buttoned up against a speech by [Hooli CEO] Gavin Belson, we felt it became overly emotional. More importantly, Gavin’s speech became a little less impactful. The way the show is now, Gavin gives his own sentimental speech, which helps us show the audience that Gavin could in fact be a sympathetic character. However, shortly after, we see Richard receive a text that Gavin is suing him.”
Silicon Valley‘s “Two Days of the Condor” episode initially had a comedic moment between the characters Erlich (T.J. Miller) and Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) in which they argue over the rising temperature in the Hacker Hostel, says editor Brian Merken. “It was basically a continuation of the same language barrier exchange they’ve had throughout the series in which Jian Yang doesn’t understand Erlich’s clear and precise English,” he says. “It usually ends with Erlich storming off, but in this case it was a role reversal, with Jian Yang getting frustrated over the fact that Erlich doesn’t understand him. Though a funny joke, it didn’t help advance the story or stakes in the episode, and we had to lose it.”
‘The Last Man on Earth’
In the finale of 24: Live Another Day, agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) races against the clock in a mission aimed at stopping a potential war between the U.S. and China. But editor Scott Powell says he edited out a phone call between President Heller and Prime Minister Davies. “The scene states that the U.S. has upped its nuclear readiness to prepare for war with China, which is information that we already know,” explains Powell. “The value of the scene was to potentially up the tension, but we felt it was more important to keep the show driving forward.”
In the “Five-0” episode of Better Call Saul, editor Kelley Dixon moved (rather than removed) some dialogue, exemplifying another way that editors shape their stories.
’24: Live Another Day’
In the episode, penned by Emmy nominee Gordon Smith, Dixon says, “Mike explains to his widowed daughter-in-law that not only was she correct in accusing him of colluding with his son about cops in their precinct on the take but he was guilty of it as well and set a bad example for his son. And in doing so, that led to his son getting killed.” Adds Dixon, “It’s a very long confession. I felt that these beats of explanation might make the scene quite a bit longer and possibly overshadow Mike’s guilt.”
“In the preceding scenes, the audience experiences a flashback — Mike’s memory of the night he took revenge on the cops who killed his son. As that flashback returns to the present, the audience sees that Mike has been sitting alone in his car, outside his daughter-in-law’s home, struggling with his feelings. This scene was supposed to be silent, Mike thinking. But I took this time to dig into the dialogue from the confession scene that followed to give the audience a little more insight into Mike’s thoughts. It sounded as if Mike was talking himself through the justification. [But] the audience learns that Mike has been explaining to his daughter-in-law the entire time.”
With Smith and the team on board with the suggested change, that’s what audiences saw.
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