No matter how much action, zombie fighting, and tension there is in The Last Of Us (HBO) – and there’s plenty of it – Editor Timothy Good, ACE, always manages to zone in on the eyes where the emotions lie between the characters. Whether we’re watching the mayhem of gunfire and explosions in the Bloater outbreak in the episode “Endure and Survive,” Good focuses on the protective relationship between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), or in the unexpected love story between a stranger Frank (Murray Bartlett) and a survivor Bill (Nick Offerman) in “Long, Long Time,” Good finds the moments of real connection between them.
Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, Good was all about building and assembling things, from models to Legos, which sparked his interest in learning how to edit, with strips of celluloid coming together to form a film or television series. Some of his editing work can be seen in Umbrella Academy, Fringe, Gossip Girl, and the OC, where he got his first big break.
Nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Picture Editing For A Drama Series” for The Last of Us – among the hit series’ 24 nods – Good is humbled by being in the company of fellow editor nominees for Succession, White Lotus, and Better Call Saul.
Below The Line caught up with Timothy Good in the middle of family birthday celebrations in Newton, Massachusetts, where no doubt his Emmy nomination would be acknowledged as well. Timothy talked about how he turned his passion for building things into an editing career. He revealed how specific scenes were cut to maximize and heighten what was going on behind the character’s eyes, preferring the silent moments, giving the audience an opportunity to emotionally connect with the story.
Below The Line: While you’re celebrating this birthday week, I’m sure you’ll be celebrating your Emmy nomination as well.
Timothy Good: It is the big birthday week for my in-laws, my brother-in-law’s birthday, our aunt, and our cousin. I mean, the nomination is so crazy. I’m so excited. I was in Los Angeles, of course, when the nominations were announced, because it was early and I was sitting just with my husband. We were drinking coffee, and I had my little bathrobe on. We didn’t know that they don’t read all of them out, so I’m watching them and they’re reading, and I’m like, “Okay, how long is this going to take?” This is going to take hours, and then they’re like, “Okay, the rest of the nominations are online.” I’m like, “What do I do?” So immediately we went online and looked it up, and there it was. I was just like, “I cannot believe it.” Also with the category is the number of amazing people who have edited Succession, White Lotus, and Better Call Saul. I was so proud.
BTL: Wonderful, wonderful. First of all, I love this show, so congrats. One of the biggest challenges was the delicate balance between the emotional scenes and the tension. How did you achieve that in the editing?
Good: What I find interesting about creating tension is that a lot of tension is in silences, and there are a lot of nuances in silences as well. So actually, they go hand-in-hand. I prefer, in tension sequences, not to overtip my hand. I would rather have no music than music that’s telling you something should be tense. I’d rather the audience lean into what’s happening on the screen.
In the seventh episode, “Left Behind,” in the mall where Riley (Storm Reid) and Ellie have awakened this infected character, there’s an enormous amount of tension from that point all the way to the end of the episode. Our goal was not to try and tip that at all. So we decided to edit everything from that point on from the perspective of Ellie and Riley and never from the perspective of the audience, who knows better. We said as long as we’re with them and we edit as though we don’t know, it’s going to be that much more tense because we’re not trying to give anything away.
And in terms of emotion, emotion works really well when you find these beats of silence, when you allow the audience to really sort of attach themselves to the character, where they’re paying attention and processing something.
BTL: One of my favorite episodes is “Long, Long Time.” How did you find the emotional nuances between those two characters, Bill and Frank?
Good: In the Bill and Frank episode, it was really about finding these little nuanced silences together when they were sort of figuring each other out. A lot of times, if the audience is processing dialogue simultaneously with a face, they are divided. Their attention is divided. And so, I like to allow the audience moments of silence to really just look at a character’s face. They can connect more with them. It’s something that is antithetical to what television generally tends to be, which is hurry up. I’ve always felt and learned a lot of this from my previous producers, directors, and writers, that silence has really helped in terms of tension and emotion. That’s where I live.
BTL: What got you initially interested in editing?
Good: I was always building things as a child. I would build models and little houses out of Legos. Somehow, music and movies were also part of my upbringing. I was really good at the piano. I really loved how you could create an emotion by playing something either slower or faster or louder or softer. So the combination between that sort of musical background and someone who loved using their hands to build things kind of just gelled.
BTL: How did you turn that passion into a career?
Good: I went to high school, and they had a television studio in my little public high school in Oak Park, Illinois. The instructor immediately noticed that I was just taking it to the editing system. These were old at the time. They were just tape-based editing systems. They were not digital at all. But he was like, “You’re very good at this.” He sort of opened a lot of doors and said, “If you want to try this, try this here. I’m going to help you do that.” When I went to college, I was immediately going for editing, and I focused on that, and from that point on, it snowballed all the way to now.
BTL: What would you say was your first big break?
Good: My first big break, for sure, is being mentored by Norman Buckley. He’s an editor and now a director. I can’t tell you what mentorship means. It’s so important in my life now as well. In the editing world, you absolutely need it because it’s a craft that’s been basically honed over a hundred years, and it has to be taught because there’s no book that can teach you. There really isn’t. I’ve read them all!
Norman really just sort of said, “Hey, you should be editing more.” And so, he started to mentor me and teach me the craft. That was a major turning point for me because he brought me into the Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage production company fold, and my first major credit with them [was] The OC, which was a major turning point for me, because then they asked me to edit the pilot of the original Gossip Girl. At that point, it was like, “This is exactly what I love to do.” They have always been super supportive of me, and that was my big break into it.
BTL: That’s a great beginning. You mentioned the scene with Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman, which a lot of fans really gravitated toward. Tell me how you worked with the director in editing that episode.
Good: [Director] Peter Hoar I’ve known for a bit. He did the Umbrella Academy, which I also edited, so I knew him tangentially a bit. I worked on a couple of scenes with him, but I knew him personally as well because we met in the editing rooms, and I always found him lovely, sensitive, thoughtful, and, for lack of a better word, a simple director because he really believes in performance. He believes in what’s happening in the frame as opposed to collecting a lot of frames. What he does really well is get to the heart of things in single shots. So what he would do is deliver a very small amount of film in comparison. What I would do is start to decode what he was doing emotionally with these characters by seeing how they were playing in these two-shots, and I would be like, “Oh, I see exactly what he’s doing,” because he is allowing their relationship to develop on screen between the two of them.
We’re not necessarily focusing on this person talking and then cutting to this person talking. We’re keeping people in the frame, and then we’re accentuating their story with coverage. He would pick pieces for just moments where I could really hone in on a really important beat, an important turn, or an important emotion. Famously, my editor’s cut was about an hour and 45 minutes long, which everyone was like, “Uh oh!” but Peter was so lovely. He didn’t talk to me for two days after I delivered the cut, and I was like, “Oh God, is he upset?” I called him, and he was like, “Oh, no, I love it. I’m just British. We don’t say things.” I was like, “Oh my God, I’m American. I need constant adoration or whatever.” [laughs]
BTL: What was the final cut for the episode?
Good: He said I’ve just been spending the last two days thinking about what we can take out because I’m so happy. I know that it’s long; ultimately, the story evolved over the filming process. The person who’s monitoring the script length was likely thinking, Yeah, it’s getting longer, but it’s really, really good. So we basically figured out how to work to lose portions of the episode that didn’t connect or didn’t have things to do with either Nick and Murray’s characters or how Nick and Murray’s relationship affected Joel and Ellie’s characters. So we were able to siphon those things out and deliver a director’s cut a few days later, and [creator] Craig Mazin said it made him cry so hard it hurt. I was just like, “Wow, that’s something!”
BTL: I think this episode is why you were Emmy-nominated, it’s so gorgeous. What about the challenges of all the lighting going on in the series? It seems like there’s dark and then there’s light. How do you match the lighting in the editing?
Good: First of all, thank you for the compliment. You know it’s funny you bring that up because there was a specific scene in episode three where the sun was out for all of Murray Bartlett’s coverage when they were outside arguing. Then the sun just decided to go down. But when they turned around on Nick Offerman to shoot his side, we were like, What do we do about the lighting, which doesn’t match at all? Eben Bolter, the cinematographer, was like, “I’m going to throw a couple of lights in to try and replicate the sun.” In general, Peter, Craig, and I all decided the best thing we could do was tell the right story and not worry about the lighting. In color correction, we can actually try to rectify that just a hair, but in the end, they have mismatched lighting. I’m just sort of amazed again at how, if you tell a really good story, lighting concerns kind of fall apart. They just fall by the wayside. You know, people are so engaged in the characters. I always say the audience is always watching, like right here (pointing to his eyes) right in the eyes. If they’re connected with that story and the character, everything else will melt away. In that specific instance, we just led with character and story, and then everything else fell into place.
BTL: Was it tricky to edit scenes that were shot with only firelight for lighting?
Good: What I think they did really well was that in the dark scenes, you could see them. I think that was the big key for me as an editor; again, my primary focus is on seeing eyes and seeing nuance. So if it’s firelight or a shaft of light coming in from behind when Ellie is practicing with the gun in that disgusting bathroom, there’s always a source of light that’s natural. Craig’s very specific about this as well. He loves to see the emotion on the face. So that was how we always made sure that, even if it was a dark or a light scene, there was always that ability to see nuance. Otherwise, the audience will start to disconnect and start thinking that they’re watching something in an objective space, when our goal is always to be in a subjective space.
BTL: Very cool. What about the challenges of action sequences?
Good: In episode five, which has the big Bloater action sequence, I did that entire sequence, and they shot for like three weeks, which is a long time. Of course, trucks broke, things didn’t go well, etcetera. It always happens that way. They were filming with four cameras, so I had mountains of footage, and I created selects of every single shot so that I could start to put together an architectural structure in my mind as to what the story was and what the pieces were. I always have sort of a backup of, Well, this tower could be built, and that tower could be built, or it couldn’t. But what was really great about working with Craig on this battle sequence is that we ultimately decided to tell it as a character-based action sequence. So instead of thinking of it as, “Oh, this is going to be cool shots and neat things, we’re going to base it and ground it on Ellie and Joel’s relationship and how the relationship is at this very moment.” It’s a turning point for Joel, where he suddenly focuses on nothing else except protecting Ellie. So we had lots of footage of Joel firing at the Bloater and firing at other infected, and ultimately, we said that’s not what we wanted to focus on. We want him to be completely focused on protecting Ellie. Basically, Craig said, Let’s turn this into a two-person scene, and then there are just a thousand extras. Everything else sort of revolved around that. That’s how we designed this action sequence.
BTL: When you are watching the series, after you’ve edited it, what’s going through your head?
Good: What’s going through my head is that we did it. We actually got out of there. What I really love about working with Craig is that he doesn’t stop until he is happy. He also doesn’t overdo things. So he’s like, Okay, what you’ve done as an artist is exactly what I’m looking for. I’m not going to nitpick anything. He doesn’t do anything until he’s happy. So when we were watching it all together, I remember we just looked at it and said, “Yep, this is right.” The extent of the reaction to the series was something we didn’t anticipate. I didn’t anticipate It was really nice to see all the hard work that we had put into every little detail really resonate with an audience. It was an amazing feeling.
BTL: Have you given much thought to your acceptance speech?
Good: [laughs] No, but I will say this. The beauty of it is that if there is an acceptance speech, my goodness, it will be 50% Emily Mendez and 50% me. And that’s a big deal for me. She was my assistant editor to start this project, and they allowed me to elevate her to co-edit with me, because ultimately, Craig just sort of asked me, “Can you do them all?” I said, “Well, no. I can’t; it’s like seven feature films in a row!” So we had a couple of editors come help us. When we were doing the “Left Behind” episode, I said I was really busy. I’ve got three other things spinning. If you want me to give that specific nuanced edit to this episode, I can’t do that. There’s just not enough time in the day. So Emily, who’s a lesbian woman, can help tell the story of this lesbian relationship (between Ellie and Riley), and Craig was like, That’s a really good idea. She had been editing scenes for me all along, so it was really easy for me to have her do it. Look at the scene at the end of episode three when they played the Linda Ronstadt tape. That’s Emily, she did all of that. She stepped up in a huge way. So in terms of an acceptance speech, it’s really fantastic for me to know that 50% of it is going to be hers.
BTL: Are you already thinking about the next season?
Good: I am thinking about it very much. The neat thing about what happened in Season One is that I never played the game (that the series is based on). I never had any preconceived notions about what it was supposed to feel like. I went in completely blind to this situation, knowing that everyone else knew what they were talking about and could adjust as necessary. And similarly with season two and the second game, which season two is going to be partially based on, I don’t know anything again. So what’s fun is this idea of sort of being dropped into a story and just looking at all of the film that comes in and trying to do what I’ve always done, which is decoding relationships and character dynamics, pushing a story forward, and elevating a sequence that I hopefully can do as an editor. I love working on these stories. I think Craig is the best writer I’ve ever, uh, worked with, and I just can’t wait to do more.
The entire first season of The Last of Us can be streamed via Max.