‘Pam & Tommy,’ ‘Only Murders in the Building’ and ‘Russian Doll’ Editors Explain How They Cut Together Their Most Challenging Scenes

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Tatiana Riegel’s long collaboration with director Craig Gillespie includes I, Tonya — the dark comedy about the Tonya Harding 1990s figure skating scandal for which the editor earned an Oscar nomination — and their latest, Pam & Tommy, for which she again had to walk a fine line between humor and seriousness.

“For Craig to be attached to it, I knew there was going to be a certain emotional level to it,” she says of the Hulu limited series, which revolves around the marriage of model-actress Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and their notorious sex tape. “And it would be intriguing in addition to his comic sense, [showcasing] his ability to sort of walk back and forth between those two places in a lovely way.”

Riegel, whose work with Gillespie also spans Lars and the Real Girl (2007) and Disney’s Cruella (2021), cut the first three episodes of Pam & Tommy, which vary greatly. The first follows Seth Rogen as Rand Gauthier, the man who steals valuables (and, inadvertently, the sex tape) from the couple after Lee (Sebastian Stan) stiffs him on a construction job. The second goes back in time, showing viewers how Pam (Lily James) and Tommy met, fell in love and were married. The third in the eight-episode arc picks up the narrative just after Rand had stolen the tape, and the story proceeds from there.

“Then you get into this much more emotional storyline of what’s happening to Pam — both of them — but I feel, or at least how I interpreted it, was sort of more the Pam story,” Riegel says. “A lot of it is defined by the script, and that’s the jumping-off point in terms of the broader themes of fame, how women are treated versus men and a love story that is very unusual. Those are the things that I really liked about the scripts for the first three episodes that I read, early on, and that I thought were just going to be really fun and challenging to cut.”

Finding each character’s tone was critical. She says of the first episode, “Seth Rogen is obviously known for this wonderful, great, broad, hysterical comedy, and this was a very different role for him. It was much quieter and stiller. [In the editing, I had to] find that and make sure that we didn’t drift into other things.”

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Seth Rogen, who also served as executive producer, as Rand Gauthier; and Stan as Tommy Lee, whom editor Tatiana Riegel calls “fantastic and charming” despite playing an unlikable protagonist.

Erica Parise/Hulu

She also had to navigate the arc of Stan’s Lee as he is seen in the first episode by Rand. “To make Tommy Lee as unappealing as he actually is in that first episode [took] work, because Sebastian’s fantastic and charming,” says Riegel, who also worked with Stan on I, Tonya (he played Harding’s then-husband, Jeff Gillooly). “You have to find all of those moments without making him too horrible because you want the audience to empathize with him and be into his story as well. But he’s doing dreadful things in the first episode and is really a jerk. Finding that line is just always interesting.”

In contrast, a very different side of Lee is seen in episode two, during which newlyweds Pam and Tommy are home one night watching TV and Pam introduces her husband to The King and I. She sings “Getting to Know You” from the classic musical as the pair playfully giggle and dance around the bedroom.

“That particular scene was a real pivotal turning point, emotionally, in the story,” Riegel says. “This is a really unusual scene, to have a character like Tommy Lee watching this musical. She’s so into it. I find it to be this really sweet, vulnerable scene that they both are participating in. And I feel like that really cracks the door open for the rest of the season.”

It was also a tough scene to cut, she adds. “They’re moving all over this room, and musically, you’re having to follow along with the specific song and create the fun, the movement, the emotion, the relationship, the vulnerability, all of those things happening all at once.”

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

For Hulu’s comedic whodunit Only Murders in the Building, editors weave the story of three tenants in an Upper West Side New York apartment building — struggling theater director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), young Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) and retired actor Charles-Haden Savage (series co-creator Steve Martin) — who team up as amateur investigators after a tenant turns up dead under suspicious circumstances. “It’s really balancing the three characters, to make sure that everybody had their say … and to just make sure that all the characters that are in the building were part of the story,” editor Julie Monroe says, adding that the edit also was about “always keeping that sort of pressure cooker of the apartment and all of its inhabitants, and still have the comedy of the story.” Throughout the season, the team of editors drop clues and misdirects as the characters (and audience) try to figure out who is the murderer.

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Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin on the Hulu series.
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

“You can follow [a] character and not necessarily dismiss them as a suspect,” Monroe says. Through the season, suspects range from bassoonist and Charles’ love interest Jan (Amy Ryan) to Sting, who plays himself. Monroe notes that Jan (let’s just say she’s a pivotal character) “was the one we took the most care to try to make sure that every time she was a little bit suspect, there was something redeeming in her character, mostly through her relationship with Steve Martin.”

Russian Doll (Netflix)

On season two of the Netflix series, Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) continues her metaphysical journey, which this time involves time travel to the 1960s, ’80s and the World War II era, as well as “body swaps” with her mother, played by Chloë Sevigny. “I looked at [the time travel] as the characters going to a different location and focused on how they would act in these new locations and how the people in these locations would react to her,” says Todd Downing, who earned an American Cinema Editors Eddie Award nomination for season one before adding a co-producer title for season two. The body swapping in these time periods and locations was the main challenge, he adds.

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Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Barnett on Netflix’s Russian Doll.
Courtesy of Netflix

“Trying to find the right rhythm of cutting between two actors playing the same person was not easy. We were tweaking that in all the episodes until the very end,” he says. “The audience needs to follow Nadia on her journey while not forgetting that everyone in those scenes is seeing her as her mother or grandmother. It was double the work that you would normally do in tracking an actor’s performance in the edit.”

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

‘Pam & Tommy,’ ‘Only Murders in the Building’ and ‘Russian Doll’ Editors Explain How They Cut Together Their Most Challenging Scenes

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