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TV Editors Walk a Difficult Line With Sensitive Subjects

When editors take us into a story, they also choose which character will tell us the tale. Characters who’ve been victims of trauma, those who face mental-health issues and have to navigate surreal experiences still have to be engaging for the audience. It’s a difficult line to walk.

Some editors also have to make an unlikeable character sympathetic so we’ll follow them down a dark alley into who knows what.

“I was going for a kind of Tim Burton-meets-‘Brazil’ feeling, so that when you see the main character you know something isn’t right, and when you see her try to fall back on her privilege of being wealthy and entitled, you know it’s not going to work for her,” says Eleanor Infante, who edited the episode “Point of Origin” for “The Twilight Zone.” “You see that she’s going to have an experience that will change her outlook, but you don’t know if that will help her in the end.”

Tim Streeto, editor on Netflix’s “Maniac,” felt the production had a tone similar to work by helmer Terry Gilliam and writer-director Charlie Kaufman. “Keeping all of what happens in the lab plus the reflections of the two characters straight is kind of tricky,” says Streeto. “I loved movies like ‘Brazil’ as a kid, and so that thing where the science is totally ridiculous, but it’s treated with total sincerity like it’s done in ‘Maniac’ really appealed to me, because you see the characters in the middle of all that absurdity.”

In Amazon’s “Lorena,” a four-part documentary about Lorena Bobbitt and ex-husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, editor Azin Samari dug into research about the pair. “I got a completely different picture of her watching the trial [on charges of malicious wounding] and I got details about her life and what happened,” says Samari “[Lorena] is actually not the best narrator for her story because it was a very difficult experience and, even though she remembers it very clearly, it’s hard to wrap your head around all the things that happened in the media during her trial.”

On the NBC drama “This Is Us,” Bjorn Myrholt shaped the footage so we’d experience events in a more personal, intimate way.

“You’re going for those moments where you can feel things from the point of view of the character, and we also have a slower pace so we’re kind of allowing for things to play out and not rush the emotional impact of the story,” says Myrholt. “You can’t escape what the character is feeling so you get into the body and the mind of each character and really feel the unfolding of each moment.”

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