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Editors Vying for Emmys Shape Stories With Smart Cutting

When aliens and imaginary worlds come into play, it falls on editors to create a pace and tempo that helps us believe they’re real. Sometimes this means holding on an actor’s reaction to visual effects that they haven’t even seen yet; other times it can mean showing us just enough of the invented world to make us yearn for more.

Such shows as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and HBO’s “Westworld” all take us to highly stylized environments, and their editors have found ways to bring the audience into those places by carefully introducing us to their surroundings.

Editor Wendy Hallam Martin is keenly aware that “The Handmaid’s Tale” has resonance for many in the current cultural climate and also wants to pay her respects to the original text.

“I had read the book many times before working on this project so I knew the themes and the material before going in,” says Martin. “There are many times when we hold on a face to let a line of dialogue or a visual sink in, so you can stay with the emotion and feeling of what’s happening to these characters and their circumstances become more real. Now we’re going into unknown territory with the next season because the book leaves off at the end of the first season.”

For “Stranger Things,” sometimes editor Kevin Ross would also lean into sound cues to help the audience feel the full impact of the scene. Ross also had to move the audience from one “world” to another throughout the series.
“One of the biggest moments for me was when I transitioned from the real world into ‘The Void’ where [the character] Eleven woke up,” says Ross. “We ramped up the the sound effects into a kind of growl and then went back to almost nothing and then it would be silent once she opened her eyes in the ‘The Void.’ I think it made it clear we were going from one world to the next, and then you also had the faces of these amazing young actors and I would try to hold on them whenever I could.”

With “Westworld,” editor Andrew Seklir, previously nommed for his work on the show, has to manage a layered, complex place along with the emotions of the characters. That means each episode needs certain visual references.

“It’s important to bring the audience back into the story in a way that lets them get right into the next episode so that there’s no feeling of being confused,” says Seklir, who usually watches all the material first and then goes back in to start editing. “The good thing is that we’re pretty far into the story and the audience that has seen the other season understands a lot of the references and what we’re doing overall, but it’s still important to keep a sense of mystery so I tend to stay away from tweets and message boards and theories the audience might have about how the show will go.”

(Pictured above: “Stranger Things”)

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