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‘Mr. Robot’ Editing Style Reflects Chaotic View of Main Character

USA Network’s cybersecurity drama “Mr. Robot” entered the Emmy race for the first time in 2016 and came away with six nominations and two wins. Now, after a year that’s featured continuing real-world cyber attacks on corporations and a hacking scandal at the highest political levels, the show’s zeitgeisty vibe could well advance it to more Emmy love — perhaps even in the editing category this time around.

Franklin Peterson, who edited three “Mr. Robot” episodes in season one and six in season two, saw the show’s degree of difficulty increase ever so slightly in its second go-round as the series took a visually darker turn.

Peterson was a relative newbie to television editing when he joined the show in 2015. He had edited 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” and a handful of other indie films, then had the good fortune to cut director Sam Esmail’s 2014 feature debut, “Comet.” So when Esmail needed an editor to fill in during the first season of his hacker-takes-over-the-world drama, he called Peterson.

“[Director] Sam [Esmail] is open to outside-of-the-box ideas. I loved getting time to experiment.”
Editor Franklin Peterson

The editor read the pilot, saw a cut and was hooked. He joined the team with the season already well in progress. Working in L.A., he regularly received updates about the story threads as the show was being shot in New York, and accustomed himself to a TV schedule that was far more accelerated than that of the features timetable he was used to.

To portray the unusual, often confused worldview of lead character Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), Peterson used creative editing styles that included jump cuts, varied lengths of takes and shuffling scenes around within an episode and sometimes even between episodes.

Esmail encouraged the experimentation as Peterson and his team explored the personality of each character in the editing suite, finding creative ways to tell their stories and maintain their humanity — especially that of Elliot, who suffers from social anxiety.

“Sam is open to outside-of-the-box ideas,” Peterson says. “I loved getting time to experiment and play.”

Peterson was initially apprehensive about the show’s darker look last year, but he praises DP Tod Campbell for carving out actors’ features with limited light and finding the proper balance in the backlit shots. “There was always plenty of extra coverage to work with,” he says.

With “Mr. Robot” renewed for a 10-episode third season set to premiere in October, playtime will continue. And who knows what real-life scandals the coming months will hold.

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