Many editors will use a director’s shaky hand-held footage and use quick, short cuts to create tension and suspense in the thriller genre, but not Phillip Fowler.
For Blumhouse’s new anthology series airing on Prime Video, Fowler collaborated with director Veena Sud for “The Lie.” Sud had written much of the tension and tone within the script, so when it came to setting the pace, Fowler’s job was to hone in on that and build suspense by lingering on characters and letting the audience simmer on the character’s actions.
“The Lie” stars Joey King as Kayla, a teenager who confesses to killing her best friend. It’s up to the parents to protect their daughter and cover up her crimes, but it’s not without consequences.
Below, Fowler breaks down how he created that tension and discusses why the opening montage was the most challenging to cut.
What conversations did you have regarding the pacing, and building suspense and tension through the editing?
I always read the script intensely. In this case, Veena Sud wrote and directed the film, and she’s a very clear writer. So much of the tension and tone was in the script. My job early on was to hone in on what her vision was and what the intention was for her characters.
Popular on Variety
Veena and I had so many discussions before shooting and during the shoot of what the tension is within each scene, and what the characters are going through in each scene. That’s how we established the pacing.
Most of what you see in the film and the suspense that the audience feels is a result of being true to the characters and editing to what a person would do in that situation within each scene. We got there by doing an edit pass with each of the characters.
With “The Lie,” what makes it so special is that we really linger and marinate in what the characters are going through. So, we see them reacting in real-time to the obstacles that are being put in front of them. We’re not cutting away. We hold that uncomfortable space, and I think a lot of attention is created by just not cutting.
In a sequence by the bridge and the ravine where an important part of the movie happens, what did you and Veena discuss about not cutting that moment?
That was about being in Jay’s shoes and his perspective. It was about playing to the silence of that space and the wilderness and in the middle of nowhere.
It was about slowing the pace down. When you’re in that location you can hear anything, even a pin drop. Suddenly, you hear a teenage girl scream and that’s unsettling, but you don’t know what’s going on and something isn’t right.
The big theme of the movie was the guilt of parents and trying to protect your child. What we were trying to do with the editing was really be true to the characters and what that would feel like; which is to panic and the need to save your kid at any cost. And you don’t necessarily have that grand viewpoint of what the ramifications will be for your choices. So, it was about trying to get that across in the editing and showing what Jay experienced which would then set up the rest of the film.
How did the opening sequence and the home footage montage come together? When you see something like that open a film, it sets up that something bad is going to happen, or has happened…
That was a fun editing process was the opening montage of videos that you see at the beginning of the film. It wasn’t scripted and not shot. It came together in the editing room during post.
When you’re watching people do terrible things, you still need the audience to feel that humanity, and to understand why they’re doing that.
With Kayla (Joey King), it was understanding where she’s coming from because a lot of her actions could be perceived as psychotic or abnormal behavior. What we realized in the editing process was that we needed to ground the family story with a vision of what things looked like when we’re a cohesive unit.
We decided to cut this home video section that opens the film so you could see before the trauma and then after.
How challenging was that to put together?
The editing challenge was that they didn’t shoot anything. We took home videos from each of the actors individually, and the challenge was to cut them together with the use of voiceover and to make it seem like all three of these characters are in this section. That was fun to manipulate footage and completely repurpose it for this new version.
Personally, it was exciting because the first video you see of baby Kayla in the bath, that’s actually a home video on my one of my daughters when she was two months old.