Q&A: Editor Jay Prychidny

Editor’s Note: We culled your questions from Facebook and Twitter for this week’s Q&A with an Orphan Black crew member. This week it’s Jay Prychidny, Editor and Consulting Post Producer.

1. ‏@vausemanprepon via Twitter: what was it like to see the reunion between Cosima and Delphine actually played out on screen?

@frenchyfaith via Twitter: Did you feel the pressure of the Cophine reunion scene having to live up to expectations?

Jay Prychidny: Since these two questions are pretty similar, I'll answer them together).

The Cosima/Delphine reunion was so beautifully performed and shot, it was really just a matter of doing the best with the amazing stuff I was given. There were a few things I brought to it. For example, I really wanted to do the abrupt changes between Cosima's slow-motion perspective and the frantic activity within the yurt. I also wanted to treat the editing more from Cosima's perspective. So I would hold on long shots of her face trying to absorb what's happening and have much quicker cut shots of Delphine, or shots of Delphine from more obscured angles. I really wanted that first eye contact with them in the yurt to connect strongly. That was just an emotional thing that felt right to me. But, I knew those scenes were pretty special when I was putting them together. The whole structure of the finale hinged on those scenes really working well, but I never had any worries there.Those two just have a certain magic that comes across on screen.

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2. @CloneClubAUS via Twitter: Whilst it is 'only' an additional two minutes longer than previous finales/episodes, did this have any impacts say, schedule-wise or perhaps even cost-wise? Was shooting extended to accommodate for the extra episode minutes or was this something that was achieved entirely in post?

JP: The extended time in the episode was not a factor in the cost or scheduling of the episode. Though, the finales are always given a little bit of extra time in general to make them extra special. This episode was shot over 11 days, as opposed to the usual 9 allotted for a regular episode. And we shot a few of the scenes from 410 during an earlier episode, just so director John Fawcett could pack as much other stuff into the official 11 shooting days. The scene with Donnie and Helena in the wigwam was shot by David Frazee during Episode 409 when he was shooting his wigwam scenes. And the Alison/Donnie wigwam scene, the scene of Felix answering Krystal's phone call, and Felix discovering Ira tied up in Rachel's bed were also shot prior to the regular production of 410. Aaron Morton, our cinematographer, is actually the one who directed those scenes!

Orphan Black episodes have so much story packed into every script that most episodes tend to run long without us having to actually plan for it. The first assembly of this episode was over nine minutes heavy, and my first assemblies are usually pretty fast-paced and don't have a lot of dead air in them to take out. So we started having conversations early on about making this an extended episode. We were worried about chopping a full nine minutes out of the show and possibly making it too fast-paced and confusing to follow. The networks agreed to give us two minutes of extra airtime, and then we also decided to make the minute-long Alison/Donnie wigwam scene an extended scene that will play online and on DVD/Blu-Ray but not on the regular broadcasts of the episode. So, in total, this episode is three minutes longer than your average episode. But the decision to make it an extended episode happened well after it was shot.

What is the general timeline/involvement when it comes to post production; from raw footage to final product, and does the editing process undergo consultations and re-editing, like the script process (say, order of scenes, score, voice overs, audio, colour palettes, etc.)?

JP: For the first editor's cut, you have the length of time it took them to shoot the episode, plus a few extra days. So, on Orphan Black, where shooting generally takes nine days for an episode, an editor has around 11-12 days to deliver their first cut. This first cut includes all temp music, sound effects, and temp VFX. The editor's cut is the first time anyone will see the episode, so it has to be as polished as possible. After that, the director of the episode has two or three days to make any changes they want, then the show producers step in with their notes. When everyone at the production company is happy, then it goes to the networks for two or three passes so they can get all their notes incorporated. It depends on the episode, but the notes process ideally takes around five weeks per episode (though, the editor is working on other episodes as well during those five weeks). But, sometimes the notes process can stretch much longer than that. Then after the edit, there needs to be a sound mix, music composition, color correction, and visual effects. The timeline varies depending on the episode. But, for episode 410, they finished filming on March 8, and the episode wasn't complete until very close to its airdate three months later.

How does one get into post production and what are employers generally looking for when it comes to new blood?

JP: There are generally two ways to get into editing in the scripted world: either by starting as an editing assistant on scripted shows and working your way up, or starting as an editor on low-budget shows (or in another genre entirely) and working your way up. Editing assistants are sometimes entry level jobs (depends on the show), and employers are often really just looking for a great attitude, ability to learn, and a great work ethic. I'd say many employers tend to value that over specific technical know-how. For editors, I think employers are looking for really great creative collaborators. I think I moved up quickly in my field because producers valued my insights on the material and my ability to reshape the same footage in many different ways. I think producers appreciate an editor who is able to put a very strong stamp on the show and come in with strong ideas about how to approach it, rather than an editor who waits to be told exactly what to do.

3. ‏@frenchyfaith via Twitter: What was the toughest scene to edit in the finale?

JP: The toughest — and one of the most fun — was the opening scene where we integrated new footage shot in the DYAD parking garage with the footage we shot last year in the same location. We brought all the old Season 3 footage back, so I could also use some different angles and moments that weren't used last year. It was actually such a kick to go back and re-edit the same scene I edited a year ago from a different perspective. So, the beginning of the scene (before Delphine is shot) wasn't tough, but it was just incredibly fun. The tough part was after Delphine gets shot. There is so much going on in that scene, and my first cut of the scene was much slower and more clear in terms of what everyone's doing. But, in working the scene, we found that the less clear we made it, the more effective it became. So, it was a constant process of speeding it up and confusing the geography around everything. For example, when people watch the scene now, they assume that Van Lier arrived in the van. But if you watch very carefully, you might notice that Van Lier is actually coming from a completely different direction. The original idea was that Van Lier arrived separately in his own car BEFORE the van got there and he did his own examination of Delphine alone. But we changed the order, so that everything is now happening at the same time. So, I could only use shots of the van arriving where you couldn't see that Van Lier is already there, and I could only use shots of Van Lier where you couldn't see that the van isn't there (if that all makes sense! Makes my head hurt...) With the scene in its original form, it gave the audience too much time to think about everything that's happening and to question it. So we wanted everyone just to be caught up in the action and enjoy the ride.

4. @CloneClubQuotes via Twitter: Was it difficult to shoot and edit the fight scene between Rachel and Sarah? 

JP: The fight scene was very challenging to edit, but it was very fun too! I love fight scenes because they are so fast and action-packed. And it's very satisfying to make punches, hits, and stabs feel as visceral as possible. One of the challenging aspects of this particular fight scene was trying to make sense of it all! Second unit helped out a lot on this scene, as more than half a day was dedicated to getting any additional shots that didn't require seeing Tatiana's face. (So, closeup inserts, or extra shots of Susan Duncan). So, after I viewed all the footage John Fawcett shot with Tatiana during main unit, I flagged all the holes or rough patches that we might want to clean up with additional footage. I sent the assembly to Grant Harvey (the director of Episode 406) who came in to shoot our second unit footage, and coordinated with him on everything we felt was missing, and how to clarify all the action that was going on in the scene. It was fantastic to have such a great director on the second unit shots, as Grant really goes above and beyond to really try to make the shots special. And he even grabbed a number of extra fight shots that we didn't even talk about! So, in all, the fight portion of the scene is under two minutes and it took around a day and a half to film. At that rate, it would take 32 days to film an entire episode!

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6. @GiParise via Twitter: What software do you guys use to edit? I'm an editor so I love the show's amazing editing!

JP: Thank you! We edit the show on AVID Media Composer. Every professional job I've had in the past seven years has been on AVID. It's generally the most trusted and established in terms of smooth integration with post sound and picture (color, VFX, etc.), so that's why most productions still use AVID. AVID also has some great tools that we use on a pretty regular basis. It has some good down-and-dirty image stabilization filters that we use a ton in order to smooth out any shaky camera footage. It has good temp composite software (AniMatte) which allows us to do our clone composites pretty quickly and playback in realtime. It also has an awesome tool called FluidMorph which allows you to make a lift in the middle of the shot (to compress time) and morph the two ends together to appear continuous. It doesn't work in every scenario, but if the actors and camera are pretty still, it can be a lifesaver! There is a single wide shot with Susan and Rachel at the end of Episode 403 that looks continuous but actually has three completely invisible edits in it. It would have been much harder to edit that scene without that tool.

7. @BourguignonLynn via Twitter: How was it to film/edit the scene where Evie Cho is killed? The bot stuff looked so real!

JP: That scene was interesting to edit, mainly because they didn't have enough time to shoot much coverage facing Evie! If you look at the scene again, you'll notice that there are lots of wide shots and footage from behind Evie (facing towards the board members) and not all that much on the front of Evie and Van Lier's faces. It really works, because it gives a lot of weight to the board and the architecture of the room, but it was actually edited that way out of necessity. But it was fun to edit since it was so different from a normal Orphan Black scene, which would generally have lots of face closeups, as it gave the scene a totally different vibe. And, for the bot taking over Evie's face, I used a shot from behind Evie with her face in darkness. That often wouldn't be the shot you would use, as you would usually want to be on the side of her face that's lit so you can see what's going on, but maybe that's what helped make it feel so real!

8. Danielle ‏@demo521: How did the production/editing of this episode differ from past season finales?

JP: The great thing about this finale, I think, is the narrow focus on just a few clone characters. It is mainly a Sarah/Rachel/Cosima story with a strong supporting turn from Krystal and almost cameo roles from Helena and Alison. I know fans always want to see their favorite characters heavily featured in every episode, but when we looked back at our Season 3 finale, we felt strongly that we wanted to tell a more focused story this year. The episode has a very linear progression from the top of Act 1 until the end, and I think that helps make it more involving and cohesive. So, we didn't have the same challenge that we had in all the other finales of trying to tie so many separate stories together.

9. Naomi M. via Facebook: What clone vs. clone fight was more difficult to create for everyone involved (editing/directing/production and acting-wise), the Sarah vs. Helena one back in season 1 or this one from the recent season finale between Sarah and Rachel?

JP: The clone fight in the Season 4 finale is definitely the most complex clone fight the show has ever attempted. I believe it also breaks the record for number of individual Technodolly clone shots in a single scene. John Fawcett, the director of this episode, shot four individual clone shots (which were then cut up to make even more shots in the final edit). The first shot is Rachel beating Sarah against the table. The second is Rachel stabbing Sarah, dragging her along the floor, and Rachel standing up and pressing the cane into the knife in Sarah's leg. The third shot is the wide shot of Rachel pressing the cane into Sarah's leg. And then the final shot is Rachel turning into a close-up (with Sarah in the background) when she sees Susan with the gun. We have definitely never had such a prolonged clone fight with so much interaction where you can clearly see that Tatiana is playing both roles, instead of playing off a double. The fight goes on for almost two minutes, and just that section of the scene took well over a day to film (including main and second unit). If you look at the Helena/Sarah fight in Episode 110, or the Sarah/Rachel fight in Episode 201, there are much fewer moments of clone interaction where you can see both of the clones faces at the same time compared to the Season 4 finale fight. We knew going into this episode that we weren't going to have a four-clone scene like the ones that ended Season 2 and 3, so John Fawcett knew that this had to be the biggest and most involved clone fight ever attempted on the show. Even from a VFX perspective, the Season 4 fight has around 35 or 40 VFX shots, while the Sarah/Helena fight only has a few.

10. Benjamin S. via Facebook: As an editor on a show with loads of storylines and limited episode lengths how do you determine the right balance of exposition, character development, and funny moments into the squeezed timeframe? Does being the person who decides what gets cut make you enemies?

JP: When I do my first cut of the show, everything in the script is in there. When it comes to shaping the show and deleting moments or scenes, it is more of a collaborative process between the editor and the director and producers. But as I am finishing my first editor's cut, I am already getting pretty strong ideas of where I want the episode to go, where the weak spots are, etc. There is certainly an intellectual component to those decisions, but it's really more of an instinctual or an emotional one. An editor is hired mainly for their taste and perspective, more so than anything technical. And as you grow as an editor, you learn to trust your instincts more and more. So, you hope that producers have hired you because they want to see your take on the material and have some trust in what you think should be deleted, altered, or restructured.

11. Darlene B. via Facebook: Have you acquired new skills working on such a technically challenging show? Also, are you able to watch an episode and just enjoy the story, or are you constantly critiquing your work?

JP: I've never worked on a show like Orphan Black before, so I have learned a ton by working on it. The thing that was most challenging for me when I started was just how fast-paced it is. Producers get bored with a scene if it starts to lag at all, and it was a bit of a learning curve until I figured out exactly how to deliver what they were expecting to see. At the same time, I'm concerned about not rushing through emotional beats too quickly, so I try to modulate the pace of my episodes so they are a mix between the high-speed pace everyone expects and slower, more drawn out, emotional beats where they can really have an impact.

When I watch an episode, I'm definitely always watching for the editing but I wouldn't say I'm "constantly critiquing" (unless it's an episode I'm not particularly happy with). My intention when editing an episode is to take the audience on an emotional journey, and so when I watch an episode, I usually just like to go on the same emotional journey with you guys!

4. Maryam M. via Facebook: We've seen a lot of behind-the-scenes on how multi-clone scenes are shot. Any insight on the process of actually cutting those sorts of scenes together?

JP: In a weird way, I think the secret is just to treat them like any other scene! If Geoff Scott, our VFX supervisor, had his way, he'd love if we used way more visual effects shots in the clone scenes. And it would definitely make the scenes much more dazzling. But editors are always looking for how to play a moment for the most emotion or impact, rather than just the most dazzle. It always hurts Geoff a little when we don't use some amazing moment that he has planned for, like a pass of a cup between Mika and Beth in 401 or Rachel plunging the knife into Sarah's leg in 410. But something remarkable about the VFX in Orphan Black is how we don't treat them as being remarkable.

But, one of the challenges of clone scenes is definitely getting them to feel like any other scene. Technodolly master clone shots can sometimes feel a bit slow. Once the timing of a camera move is set, actors are tied to that and it can sometimes give the scene a bit of an unnatural feeling. There have been several times on the show where the Technodolly camera move was just too slow, and it almost seemed like the actors were moving through the scene in slow motion. So the editing becomes about finding those moments with life and spark that you can build the rest of the footage around. If you look at the four-clone dinner scene from the Season 3 finale, it feels very natural, loose, and off-the-cuff. And, of course, the shooting of a scene like that is the complete opposite. So, it's about finding those individual moments that will be able to sell the right feeling that you are going for.