Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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The Acclaimed Editing of 'This is Us'

Editor Bjørn Myrholt explains, "The pilot had the cinematic language of an indie feature, utilizing a hand-held camera and a playful narrative. We wanted to continue and build on that style, which could allow us to jump freely between characters and timelines. "

Story by Mun Kang | June 24, 2018

Editor Bjørn Myrholt. Image courtesy of NBC.

'This is Us,' the renowned family drama series created by Dan Fogelman ('Pitch') returned for season 2 last Fall, delving deeper into the Pearson family, highlighting Milo Ventimiglia (Jack) and Mandy Moore (Rebecca) and starring Emmy Award winner, Sterling K. Brown, for his enthralling performance in the role of Randall Pearson, as well as Chrissy Metz (Kate), and Justin Hartley (Kevin). The phenomenal performances in this emotionally charged drama generates tear-jerking moments, but much of that credit goes to the series editor, Bjørn Myrholt ('Prison Break: Proof of Innocence'). The editing shapes the story powerfully as it jumps to different timelines of the Pearson family's narrative.

As the characters learn and grow from life's challenges, the editing also goes through iterations. Myrholt explained, "At the beginning of season 1, we went through a process of finding the style and thematic essence of the show. The pilot had the cinematic language of an indie feature, utilizing a hand-held camera and a playful narrative. We wanted to continue and build on that style, which could allow us to jump freely between characters and timelines. Going into season 2, we have become bolder in jumping between timelines as our audience is now familiar with our narrative style. We're able to move quicker from present to the past, as the characters and the actors who play them at various ages are well established. It allows us to focus more on the story, characters and emotional impact."

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (left) and Mandy Moore as Rebecca (right). Image courtesy of NBC.

Like most shows, the pacing evolves through the seasons. "We soon found a style that allowed for some scenes to play out entirely in one take when the performance and drama allowed it. The show has a very wide range of pace, from the slow and impressionistic to a more rapid comedic style. Music is an important part of the show. This has evolved to a quite sophisticated use of music that sets the pace and drives the emotional impact of the scenes," continued the editor.

Flashbacks are often used throughout the series in different timelines as the characters are shown babies, kids, or teenagers. Myrholt added, "The transitions between time periods of the characters' lives were challenging at the beginning of the series. We needed to establish a clear narrative to not confuse the audience. Visual cues were important, and we made sure to spend time in the transitions between the 80s, 90s, and present time to let the viewers know what era we're in. We have three sets of actors playing the characters at different ages. One trick was to end one scene and start the next in a close-up of the character, cutting directly between the faces of the character at different ages. Eventually, we could cut a lot more freely and rapidly between the time periods. By the end of season 2, we could be bold with stylistic choices and still have the viewers easily follow our story. The flashbacks in season 2 can sometimes be very brief and still create a strong emotional impact. This has allowed us to create an appealing emotional continuity between the past and present that is impressionistic and artful."

(Left to Right) Pictured Justin Hartley as Kevin, Chrissy Metz as Kate, Sterling K. Brown as Randall. Image courtesy of NBC.

The point of view often shifts with multiple characters to focus on an issue or person. "Point of view is something I feel is incredibly important when shaping a scene, storyline or episode. When assembling the episode for the first time, my individual scenes are cut very precisely so when I watch the episode for the first time, I'm focusing on the narrative structure of the entire episode. At that point I always get a good sense of the POV, then the real editorial shaping starts. The scripts are often very long, resulting in rough cuts that are up to 60 minutes that need to get trimmed down to 43. This opens up the story for quite a bit of shaping in terms of the POV and theme of the episode. It's a challenge to switch too often between storylines in the same episode as you can easily disrupt the narrative flow and the emotional investment in the characters," expressed the editor.

The powerful editing in 'This is Us' shapes the story, shines a light on the outstanding performances, creates a powerful emotional impact, integrates flashbacks seamlessly through different time periods, and provides changing perspectives throughout the season.

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