We continue our look inside the world of FOX's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey by chatting with editors Eric Lea and John Duffy, to discuss how they and their fellow editors pieced together this epic miniseries. Needless to say, it was no small work order, so how did they divide up the episodes?
"On this show, shows were assigned initially to each editor. We each had sort of our allocation of shows," Eric explained. "But what made it so different and unique is that all 13 episodes of Cosmos were being shot and edited simultaneously over about 15 months, whereas [with] a normal TV show, you'd shoot episode one, episode two, and so forth. We had an international shoot, and footage was coming in on a daily basis all over the world. So we're all cutting on every show really. And as the shows took more shape, we were assigned specific ones, but even then, we'd get so busy with certain episodes."
The result was a team effort all the way around, for the entirety of the project. "As we were finding the show, dealing with our separate episodes, we're literally discovering what the show was going to look like," continued John. "What happens in one episode will inform what happens in another episode. The show is very continuous. The shows all have a similar appearance. And that's because we bounced this stuff back and forth. It was just a growing process. The whole 13 episodes grew at once."
What were their points of pride on Cosmos? Look for the montages of stock footage in each episode, as well as a particular segment from the last installment, "The Immortals." Said Eric, "At the start of episode 10, we have this concept of the Cosmic Calendar. When they shoot that, it's basically Neil [deGrasse Tyson] on a soundstage, walking on a reflective surface with green walls. You have this challenge of trying to imagine, what is this world that he's in and how do I make it visually interesting?
"So in show 10, we have this forest, he's walking through a forest, and then we have these big bugs that come out of nowhere and he's interacting with the bugs. The sequence just came out really nicely. The VFX team really hit a home run with it." (You can check out our previous interview with the Cosmos VFX team here.)
We've included above a clip of the Cosmic Calendar for you to see just what Eric is talking about.
These guys are editors, not Ph.D.'s, so we asked them if they picked up anything from piecing together hours upon hours of one of the most exhaustive science documentaries ever made. "Tons of stuff," Eric enthused. "The Milky Way Galaxy, I don't think I could've picked it out of a crowd, to be honest with you. All that kind of astrophysics stuff, it was all new to me. I was an English major, let me put it that way.
"In the interview for the job, they never once asked me if I had a background in science," he told us. "That wasn't what was important to them. What was important was your background as visual storytellers. That was what they needed. We had to learn a lot on the job."
"The thing that really surprised me is the vastness of what we know. The vastness of the universe," added John, who quipped, "After working on it and hearing it over and over about how vast it is you just kind of go, is this deadline really that important?"
Since they're some of the unsung heroes behind the camera, we also asked Eric and John what they'd like you to know about the process of editing as you're watching tonight's episode of Cosmos. "To me, it's writing with pictures and sound," reflected Eric. "You're putting together pieces of film to tell a story using images as opposed to words on a page. It's visual storytelling."
"It's so complex yet so simple, what we do," agreed John. "It's way too involved to explain it - and yet on the other hand it's really very simple. You try to find an arrangement that finds an emotional reaction in the audience. We're really in charge of the rhythm, the flow, and the pacing."
And thanks in part to Eric and John, we have a beautifully put together miniseries that continues to move audiences around the world.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey continues on FOX tonight at 9 PM ET/PT. The miniseries will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 10.