‘Mad Men’ cutters cue subtle moments

'Aftershocks' display show is really about women

They say “Mad Men” is really about the women, and for proof of the theory, one needn’t look any further than the show’s unique editing style. Consider a typical scene from an upcoming episode: In a combative exchange between ad agency rivals Pete and Peggy, the pair seem evenly matched, but after Pete exits, the camera lingers on Peggy for an extra beat as what he’s said sinks in.

Moments like that can be found throughout the series — “aftershocks,” as editor Malcolm Jamieson calls those quiet, introspective “singles” (a shot with just one character in frame). Through this technique, confrontations that at first appear to be about the men frequently shift the focus to Peggy, sharper-than-she-seems housewife Betty Draper or other female characters.

“Most of the scenes on the show are about some kind of dishonesty, even in the mildest conversation,” says exec producer Matthew Weiner. In both writing and editing, Weiner frequently structures the interactions around character entrances and exits. “You can often reverse the story. If you’re following the person who’s coming in to the room and you leave with the other person, it really creates conflict.”

Weiner invites the editors to “tone meetings” before each episode in which he reads through the script with the various department heads, making it easy to plan for such moments. During dialogue scenes, Weiner and his team use a lot of “dirty coverage” (medium and over-the-shoulder shots with multiple characters onscreen), with the editors reserving closeups to reveal subtle “tells” — a biting of the lip or flick of the eye that indicates when someone is lying.

“Matt has certain tastes,” Jamieson explains. “He likes to see dialogue on camera.” Where a more modern editing style might overlap dialogue, intercutting back and forth between the speaker and his audience, Weiner prefers to hold on whoever’s speaking, not cutting until the character finishes. Then, he’ll show the listener’s entire reaction.

The approach may make for a slower show, but auds don’t seem to mind. Ratings are up for the AMC skein this season, and the tactic actually gives viewers time to digest the dialogue and observe the characters thinking — qualities Weiner picked up during his time on “The Sopranos.”

“On a network, you’re pressured to show closeups more often, take out all the air and punch things up,” says Jamieson. But on “Mad Men,” if an episode is running long, Jamieson and Weiner look for unnecessary dialogue or a redundant scene to take out.

“With the first episode after the pilot, there was a feeling that the story was moving too slowly,” Weiner remembers. “There was an attempt at a more traditional edit that cut it down, but you didn’t feel anything. We ended up fixing it by putting a minute and a half back into the show.”

Signings & Bookings

Dattner Dispoto bookings: cinematographers Jeff Cronenweth on David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” Giles Nuttgens on David Mackenzie’s “The Last Word,” Stephen St. John on ABC’s “Lost” and Jon Joffin on Damon Santostefano’s telepic “Best Player.” Agency also placed d.p. Ottar Gudnason and production designer Carlos Menendez on Dermot Mulroney’s directorial debut, “Keep It Together,” and production designer Cecil Gentry on TV series “Gigantic.”

Marsh, Best bookings: d.p.’s Dino Parks on Bruce Caulk’s “Barry Minkow” and Paul Elliott on HBO’s “The Sunset Limited,” with Tommy Lee Jones directing; production sound mixer Kirk Francis on Dan Bradley’s “Red Dawn”; and production designer Dan Hennah on Guillermo del Toro’s “The Hobbit.”

Montana Artists has signed producer Anthony Mark and booked producers Bergen Swanson on Mitch Glazer’s “Passion Play” and Cecilia Roque on Galt Niederhoffer’s “The Romantics”; production designer Alec Hammond on Robert Schwentke’s “Red”; costume designer Alexis Scott on Abel Ferrara’s “Game of Death” and Suttirat Larlarb on Anton Corbijn’s “A Very Private Gentleman”; cinematographers David Miller on “Desperate Housewives,” Jamie Barber on FX pilot “Covert Affairs” and Michael Price on NBC’s “100 Questions”; editors Andrew Seklir on Syfy’s “Caprica” and Larry Madaras on HBO’s “Sunset Limited”; 1st a.d.’s Chad Rosen on Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom,” David Sardi on Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” William P. Clark on Simon West’s “The Mechanic” and Jay Tobias on The CW’s “Life Unexpected”; UPM JoAnn Perritano on David Fincher’s “The Social Network”; stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell on James Mangold’s “Troubleman”; and editor Malcolm Jamieson on HBO’s “Treme.”

Innovative Artists has signed d.p. Ekkehart Pollack (“Gamer”) and costume designers Deborah Scott (“Avatar”) and Monique Prudhomme (“Juno”). Agency’s bookings include production designers Laurence Bennett on Paul Haggis’ “The Next 3 Days”; Clay Griffith on Cameron Crowe’s untitled Marvin Gaye project; Andrew Menzies on James Mangold’s “Wichita”; and Craig Stearns on Andy Fickman’s “You Again.”

IA has also placed costume designers Deborah Scott on Ed Zwick’s “Love and Other Drugs,” Sanja Hays on Jonathan Liebesman’s “Battle LA” and Michael Boyd on Randall Wallace’s “Secretariat”; editors Tom Costain on Dennis Dugan’s “The Lake House” and Jake Pushinsky on the Rob Epstein/Jeffrey Friedman-helmed “Howl”; line producer Kevin Reidy on Tommy Hines’ “Alleged”; d.p.’s Phedon Papamichael on James Mangold’s “Wichita,” Eric Edwards on Dustin Lance Black’s “What’s Wrong With Virginia,” David Hennings on Andy Fickman’s “You Again,” Darren Genet on Gil Cates Jr.’s “Lucky,” Charles Minsky on Garry Marshall “Valentine’s Day” and John Thomas on Michael Patrick King’s “Sex and the City 2.”

Creative Entertainment Connections has signed editor Jennifer Lilly (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), 1st a.d. Joe Ciccarella and line producer Lauren Silver. CED bookings: d.p. Adrian Correia on Mustapha Khan’s “Rocksteady”; costume designer Amela Baksic and script supervisor Andrea Ulrich on “The Gonzo Files,” with Amy Sedaris; production designer Travis Zariwny on “Barry Minkow”; and editor Lilly on John Doe Entertainment’s “A Girl Like You With a Boy Like Me.”

Paradigm has signed editor Tia Nolan (“The Women”) and d.p. Luciano Tovoli (“Titus”), and booked d.p. Hubert Taczanowski on “Beat the World.”

— Peter Caranicas

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