Emmy Creative Arts: ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ Editors are a Cut Above the Rest

'Breaking Bad' challenges to tie '24' with three picture editing trophies

Balancing tension and payoff, unease and release, misdirection and revelation for the span of a 90-minute film is never easy for an editor. But keeping viewers’ fingernails well-bitten over a 60-minute TV episode — frequently with commercial interruptions — can be even more precarious and even more rewarding when done right.

Since its creation in 2002, the Emmy’s single-camera picture editing for a drama editing award has gone almost exclusively to shows that traffic in suspense and mystery. Though “24’s” four wins make it the Alan Menken of the category, “Breaking Bad” is breathing down its neck, with three victories so far.

As the saga of Walter White drew to a close, “Breaking Bad’s” editors were tasked with keeping audiences at a fever pitch without giving short shrift to the slow-cooking character development that had been a series hallmark, often attained through long, unhurried scenes — in many ways the antithesis of “24’s” Greengrassian cutting style.

“To have a nine-minute scene is not average but not abnormal,” “Breaking Bad’s” Kelley Dixon told Forbes last year. Dixon won the editing Emmy last year, and worked on two of the show’s eight eligible episodes for this season. “On any other show a scene that long would be ‘Oh my God.’ I’d say the average scene is five to six minutes, which makes it different than most other shows, which average two to three minutes.”

For HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” the task of maintaining tension was complicated by the series’ huge swath of characters, all playing out different storylines simultaneously. Yet when various plot strands converged in last season’s instantly infamous “The Rains of Castamere” episode, aka “The Red Wedding” (which secured editor Oral Ottey a nomination in the category), the low-lying undercurrents of dread and foreshadowing were brought together with symphonic precision. HBO is entering three episodes for consideration: “The Laws of Gods and Men” (Crispin Green), “The Watchers on the Wall” (Katie Weiland) and “The Children” (Tim Porter).

On the net’s freshman series “True Detective,” the distances between plot strands weren’t geographic, but temporal and mnemonic, with a “Rashomon”-style structure interlaying present-day events with not-always-reliable accounts of an earlier investigation. HBO is entering two episodes for editing consideration, including the Affonso Gonclaves-edited “Who Goes There” and Alex Hall’s “The Secret Fate of All Life,” which cleans up a long-teased mystery while introducing a whole new chronological stream.

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