For those who are old enough to remember, the O.J. Simpson murder trial was an American obsession bolstered by an emerging 24-hour cable news cycle. From the grisly slaughter of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, to the wild freeway chase in the white bronco, through the shocking verdict, the 10-part FX Networks/Fox 21 Television Studios/FX Productions series presented an inside look at the events and behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the case. The series focused a spotlight on the racial divisions within Los Angeles caused by the LAPD’s long-standing bigotry towards the African American community that ultimately put reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors despite overwhelming evidence of guilt.
All three editors on the show have been nominated for Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Limited Series Or Movie: C. Chi-Yoon Chung for The Race Card, Adam Penn for From The Ashes Of Tragedy, and Stewart Schill for The Verdict. Chung (The Good Wife, Stalker) discussed the series and her role in the editing with Below the Line News.
Looking for a new project after coming off a cancelled series, Chung was referred to Lionsgate producer, Alexis Martin Woodall who was looking to staff editorial on three shows. “She called me for an interview and we hit it off immediately. I was hoping she would ask me to do People versus O.J. because that was the show that appealed to me most,” shared Chung. Because the editor had worked on The Good Wife, the producer thought she would be perfect for the series on the Simpson trial.
Chung was based in New York at the time of the trial in the 1990’s and was originally swayed to believe Simpson was innocent due to the police corruption. She admitted that she “Drank the Kool-Aid.” After the trial, she eventually came to believe in the football star’s guilt. The editor’s personal history with the case adds an element of presentiment to the fact that she came to be nominated for “The Race Card” episode.
Based on the Jeffrey Toobin book, “The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson,” the series was developed for television and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The account followed multiple characters with their individual stories as they related to the Simpson case. Although some scenes were taken out during post-production, the interwoven story lines were all scripted, giving editing firm guidelines for the construction of each episode. The scripts were tight and sequential so moving scenes between episodes would not work.
“It was all in the script. Every time the new script came out, we were all like, ‘Did you read the next script?’ It was a lot like waiting for the next episode of the next hot T.V. show,” explained Chi-Yoon Chung. “Every time the script was released, we were like, ‘This is so good.’”
The shoot wrapped in October, but the series was not set to air until February, so the editorial schedule was not reliant upon looming deadlines like a regular weekly series. When Penn left the project after editing 3 episodes to write for Mr. Robot, the editorial rotation changed. Chung and Schill ended up trading episodes back and forth, alternating on whichever shot next.
The show was cross-boarded, so episodes were not completed in order. The editors would get most of the scenes, but some scenes or an insert might be missing. Nevertheless, they stayed right behind camera to make sure they had everything the overall story arc needed before production wrapped, just in case any pick-ups were needed.
The first two episodes were all about O.J. and unlike the remainder of the series. Once the trial began “it was a whole different animal”. Chung felt that director Ryan Murphy had a better idea of what he wanted the show to be. He was “refining his vision” as the production progressed.
“That schedule really allowed us to look at the show. If we felt like something in an earlier episode didn’t quite work, we went back and retold it. A little bit of an adjustment, or music adjustment.” Chung revealed, “It was hard to find a tone for the music and we realized early on that is was basically going to be dialog and sound effects driven. Mac [Quayle, composer] did a great job with the cues that were there, but we wanted the show to be more spare.”
The main focus in the editing was in creating totally real and believable performances. The editors looked forward to getting the dailies and “watching the actors do their stuff and watching what the camera was doing.” Chung was familiar with the principal cast except for Sterling K. Brown who played prosecution attorney Christopher Darden.
“I did not know his work and it was so great seeing him really flesh-out Chris Darden,” noted Chung. “It was lovely to watch him and Sarah [Paulson] work together. Marcia [Clark, head prosecutor] and Chris Darden had a very close relationship and you can totally see that in the dailies. It was really fun to watch.”
There were no major challenges in the editing. The show’s writing, directing, acting and cinematography were awards quality, confirmed by the number of Emmy nominations the series has garnered. The casting (also nominated for an Emmy) fit like the proverbial glove.
“The show was kind of a dream. I was really lucky,” stated Chung. “It was really about trying to make sure performances didn’t feel out of place. You stayed true to the characters. A lot of it was staying in the scene. I didn’t want anything to be too big and operatic. American Horror Story is very operatic. This show is the complete opposite of that. We wanted the words and the performance to really carry it. We didn’t want to do any tricks for it.”