Based on the Steven Soderbergh feature, Starz series The Girlfriend Experience – created by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz – centers on Christine (Riley Keogh), a Chicago law-school student, as she attempts to balance her legal career with work as a high-end escort.
Postproduction was not typical of television series. The creators/show runners had not only written every episode, but also directed every other one. Each brought on an editor to work on their episodes. Kristina Boden had edited the indie feature Claire Dolan for Kerrigan. Greg O’Bryant has known Seimetz since the early 2000’s when they were students at Florida State.
The relationships from other projects created a shorthand for working together on the current production. “We were working on the modal of a director-driven series, as opposed to the writer-driven,” explained Boden. “A lot of his stylistic things, which I had been familiar with from having cut a feature with him, put me in a very good position to understand what he was trying to do with The Girlfriend Experience.”
O’Bryant talked with Seimetz at length before production. They discussed cutting with the movement, and the need to keep things moving. “She gave me some references – All the President’s Men and The Conversation – where her head was stylistically at,” revealed O’Bryant. Once he arrived in Toronto for production, O’Bryant would assemble shot footage daily, and upload for the director to review at night. Because Seimetz had been an editor, O’Bryant noted, “She has more of an editor’s brain than the traditional director. Her notes were really insightful.”
Boden found editing the sex scenes –which ended up being in most of Kerrigan’s episodes – to be her greatest challenge. First in the shooting and then in the editing, the team had to think about what they really wanted to see in those scenes and to focus on what the sex was really about, differentiating between romance and sexuality. The solution according to Boden was to make it all about Christine’s experience, focusing on her face and what she was going though.
“We know the client is having a sexual experience. That’s what he is paying for, but what is Christine thinking? What is her experience in this new profession she has launched into?” shared Boden. “I think that had a very nice arc throughout the series, watching her face as she is engaging in her practice as a high-end escort, culminating in the last episode where you can see on her face a very different attitude about her passion.”
Other than normal revisions, all scripts for the show were completed before the shoot, and shooting was completed before any episodes were turned over. Delivery was not dictated by an on-air schedule.
Both editors commented that collaboration with their directors was much closer to working on a film than a traditional television series. Like a movie, shows were cross-boarded and scheduled by location and actor availability, so there were no completed episodes until the end of the shoot. They did not talk about acts, but focused on narrative. Before airing, the show runners were able to view all the completed episodes, tracking the story and character arcs from beginning to end, adjusting as needed.
“Their pitch to me when I got hired was we’re making a six-and-a half hour movie,” stated O’Bryant. “That’s the way it has to feel. That’s the storytelling style that we’re doing. Watching this narrative is going to require an investment. When the dialog is not telling the audience what is going on in the show, pace and tone and transitions really effect how you watch the show.”