“Performance is absolutely everything,” declares editor Dean Zimmerman. After winning an Emmy for the first ever episode of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Zimmerman was back on hand to cut some of the most impressive installments of Season 3. His secret to making the smash hit series sing is all about emotional connections and breakthroughs. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” admits Zimmerman. That emotional openness is an asset as the editor makes his way through the dailies. Selecting the right take can make or break an actor’s performance, so Zimmerman is always on the lookout for the moments that move him. “I’m really, truly guided by my instincts,” he says.
A powerful take can end up anchoring the scene. This was the case for a sequence in the Season 3 finale, “The Battle of Starcourt,” where Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) brings Billy (Dacre Montgomery) back from the “dark side” by reliving precious memories from his childhood. The arc of the scene was built around one riveting and resonant take from Brown. The “delicate balance” of this process is “the hardest part of editing” for Zimmerman. He says that he must always ask “how far can you take that emotion before people go, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’”
Of course, this intense moment was just one piece of a large puzzle for the editors during that particular scene. While Eleven has a spiritual connection with Billy, the camera also cuts between her friends battling the monstrous Mind Flayer in the shopping mall food court, and a vicious brawl between Hopper (David Harbour) and a Russian agent in an underground lab.
The task of cobbling together both set-pieces was so time consuming and involved that Zimmerman called upon Katheryn Naranjo for help. He would handle the fireworks studded Mind Flayer attack while she pieced together the melee with Hopper. The two scenes were melded together for what Zimmerman refers to as “seamless integration of the action above and the action below.” Visual effects cues, such as firework bursts and light flares were often used as transitional elements to help keep up the frenzied pace. But Zimmerman made sure that these action scenes held the same emotional weight as the quieter moment with Eleven and Billy. “For me it’s all about performance,” he notes, “and making sure you were really connected with these characters.”
Zimmerman praises The Duffer Brothers for the creative process they allow. “Their scripts are very tight,” claims Zimemrman, “they have a very clear vision of what they want. But they’re also not afraid to let us try anything and everything.” That spirit allows for exploration and creative risks, such as a hysterical musical interlude set to “The Neverending Story” theme song. There is time to experiment creatively, and to look at every frame of an episode to ensure it’s perfect. “They have an innate ability to bring out the best in everything.”
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