Impeachment: American Crime Story has taken us right back to the late 90s, to the scandalous affair between Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton. It was a tumultuous time for America and caused quite the stir in the political world.
Helping to bring this story to the screen is Emmy and ACE Eddie Award-winning editor Chris A. Peterson. Show Snob had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with Chris and ask him about how he used close-up shots of the show’s central characters to highlight their plight and pain.
Thanks to his phenomenal work, the audience can feel immersed in all the drama that unfolds throughout the series. Chris used his editing skills to bring the characters front and center in the scenes and have the chaos swirl around them in every way imaginable.
In this week’s episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story, Chris’ work allows you to empathize with the characters, feel their pain, and be involved in the story. An editor’s job is anything but easy, but Chris makes it look effortless.
Check out our conversation below!
In conversation with Impeachment: American Crime Story editor, Chris A. Peterson, ACE
SHOW SNOB: For those that may not know, what is your job as an editor?
CHRIS A. PETERSON: My job as an editor is to take the raw footage that was shot on set, cut it up and sculpt it into the final episode — including which actor performance to use, what camera angles to use and often determining the choice of music. Once I have put together the entire episode, then I work with the director and producers to hone in the final episode. For this episode, “The Assassination Of Monica Lewinsky”, director Michael Uppendahl gave me some amazing, emotional footage to work with and then worked extensively with Executive Producers Alexis Martin Woodall and Ryan Murphy to craft the final cut of the episode.
SHOW SNOB: Impeachment: American Crime Story is seen through the eyes of Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp who are the front and center of the scenes. The chaos seems to engulf them in every way imaginable, especially in the most recent episode, and you make that very evident with how you edited the scenes. What nuances did you have to hone in on to make this an immersive experience for the audience?
CHRIS: This is the fourth series I have worked on for Ryan Murphy over the years (911, American Horror Story, The Politician, and now American Crime Story.) He has a unique voice and style that permeates all of his work. It’s great to have learned to channel that voice in every scene I cut.
SHOW SNOB: Every scene I’ve seen thus far of Impeachment: American Crime Story has made me empathize with the characters on the screen, particularly Monica and Linda. In your opinion, as an editor, how do you string together scenes and/or moments to elicit such a response from viewers?
CHRIS: My approach in sculpting almost every scene was to keep Monica and Linda front and center and have the chaos swirl around them — physically, rhythmically, and sonically. The goal was for the audience to feel immersed in Linda and Monica’s experiences.
SHOW SNOB: There is a moment Linda Tripp sees someone portraying her on Saturday Night Live, and it occurs to her that she hasn’t been deemed a hero, but rather a joke. What was the process of creating those shots specifically?
CHRIS: Sarah Paulson has so embodied the character of Linda Tripp that any take you pick is gold. One of my proudest editing moments in the episode is the scene where Linda sees herself being portrayed by John Goodman for the first time on Saturday Night Live—where she realizes instead of being a hero. She is the butt of every joke.
At that moment, I resized the shots to be a literal match cut between John Goodman and Linda Tripp as the laughter begins to echo in her head—becoming a visual and sonic metaphor.
SHOW SNOB: In Clinton’s famous live address to the nation where he denies having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, you went with scenes that didn’t focus on his face, but rather on the women who were manipulated and affected by him. What inspired the decision to use close-up shots of the women and how did you envision the audience’s reaction to it?
CHRIS: Many of us lived through the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, but the lens was foggy. And this series really felt like an opportunity to polish that lens to see this event from another perspective and to build understanding and compassion.
SHOW SNOB: As an editor, what are some of the most crucial aspects of your job that go into editing a particular scene or moment?
CHRIS: For me, one of the most important aspects of approaching editing a scene is first looking at the point of view. Which character do we want to experience this moment with? At that point, my decisions fall into place. For example, sometimes that means spending more time on shots of that character or playing their scene in more close-ups. It’s simple but effective.
SHOW SNOB: Music, dialogue, and sound, in general, can define a scene or a moment, were there any particular scenes in Impeachment: American Crime Story that you were very proud of that encompassed those details?
CHRIS: In the final scene in the episode where Monica turns off and collapses on her bed, and as the camera pushes towards her, I chose to subtract sound. Any dialogue and sound effects fade away as the music slowly builds — drawing the audience into the breakdown in her face and the emotions of Mac Quayle’s amazing score.
SHOW SNOB: Not just the most recent episode, but throughout the season, I’ve noticed a lot of close-up shots of the characters, especially during tense moments. What is the purpose of using those kinds of shots?
CHRIS: Shots in a scene often mirror real life. The closer we are to the character — the more we feel their experiences, their humanity. And that was so important with Linda and Monica.
SHOW SNOB: Is there a part of your job as an editor that many people don’t know about?
CHRIS: For an editor, I think most people don’t realize how much work goes into an episode of television. On average, a one-hour episode takes me over 500 hours to edit.
SHOW SNOB: Apart from Impeachment: American Crime Story, you have worked on other political-based shows and films including The Politician and The Assassination of President Kennedy. Is there something in particular about this genre that pulls you in as an editor?
CHRIS: I’m a huge fan of thrillers, and some of the best thrillers have a political backdrop.
SHOW SNOB: Advice for aspiring editors?
CHRIS: Editing is such a diverse craft, and it’s important to find out what area of it will bring you the most enjoyment. Try editing different genres — scripted, unscripted, trailers, commercials, documentaries. You will learn what kind of projects you like to cut and who you like to work with.
To learn more about Chris’ work, head to his website here!
Be sure to catch new episodes of Impeachment: American Crime Story on FX at 10 PM EST.