The Call Sheet

Ava DuVernay and Spencer Averick

Episode Summary

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay has dissected and interrogated the criminal justice system with her work a number of times now, from her 2012 Sundance hit "Middle of Nowhere" to the Oscar-nominated documentary "13th." Her latest work, Netflix's limited series "When They See Us" — centered on the Central Park Five — is a natural step in this progression. It takes the domestic and legal elements of those films and meshes them into a definitive five-hour portrait of miscarried justice and its spider-web effects. The honing and shaping of these projects in the editing room has been vital to their success. DuVernay has been accompanied on each by editor and co-producer Spencer Averick, who joins her on this premiere episode of "The Call Sheet" to discuss their 10-year collaboration, how they landed on the engaging structure of "When They See Us" and what was required to put viewers inside the very headspace of five boys who had their collective innocence shattered 30 years ago. It’s highly recommended you watch “When They See Us” before listening to this episode, as this is a deep dive and there are spoilers.

Episode Notes

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay has dissected and interrogated the criminal justice system with her work a number of times now, from her 2012 Sundance hit "Middle of Nowhere" to the Oscar-nominated documentary "13th." Her latest work, Netflix's limited series "When They See Us" — centered on the Central Park Five — is a natural step in this progression. It takes the domestic and legal elements of those films and meshes them into a definitive five-hour portrait of miscarried justice and its spider-web effects.

 

The honing and shaping of these projects in the editing room has been vital to their success. DuVernay has been accompanied on each by editor and co-producer Spencer Averick, who joins her on this premiere episode of "The Call Sheet" to discuss their 10-year collaboration, how they landed on the engaging structure of "When They See Us" and what was required to put viewers inside the very headspace of five boys who had their collective innocence shattered 30 years ago. It’s highly recommended you watch “When They See Us” before listening to this episode, as this is a deep dive and there are spoilers.

Episode Transcription

The Call Sheet - Episode 1: 
Ava DuVernay & Spencer Averick

KRIS TAPLEY: I'm Kris Tapley and you're listening to The Call Sheet, a show that dives deep into the craft of your favorite Netflix films and series with some of the most talented artists and artisans in the game.

On a film set, the call sheet is perhaps the most important document outside the script. It's got your schedule, your shot list, names of the cast and crew, phone numbers, locations, instructions. It's packed with some of the most essential information about a production, and that's our aim with this podcast as well: to provide you with key insights and info straight from the creators themselves. So once again, welcome to The Call Sheet.

For years I covered Hollywood's annual Oscar and Emmy award seasons as a journalist on the circuit. I enjoyed a front row seat to the cream of the crop year after year. But one of my favorite parts of the job was demystifying the film making process and [00:01:00] inviting readers and listeners behind the curtain a little bit.

I've spent countless hours talking to filmmakers and actors about their craft and the intent and effect of their work. I've treated it as a sort of second film school experience, learning at the feet of masters, and I invite you to join me as we continue that journey right here with the many wonderful talents working with Netflix today.

I'm very excited to talk to our introductory guests here today, so I'll go ahead and let them introduce themselves.

AVA DUVERNAY: My name is Ava DuVernay and my craft is filmmaking.

SPENCER AVERICK: My name is Spencer Averick and my craft is film editing.

KRIS: The late, great film critic, Roger Ebert once said, to paraphrase: cinema is an empathy machine. What he meant is that through the power of visual storytelling, one can better understand the experience of another. But when you're dealing in drama about the criminal justice system, I think that element takes on a whole new importance.

Director Ava DuVernay has [00:02:00] worked in that vein a few times now from the 2012 Sundance hit "Middle of Nowhere" about a woman coming to terms with her husband's incarceration. To the even deeper dive of the documentary "13th" which examined the system and its insidious roots in the 13th Amendment. Her latest project, Netflix's limited series When They See Us," is a natural step forward in this progression.

It takes the domestic and legal elements of those two films and meshes them into a definitive five-hour portrait of miscarried justice and its spiderweb effects. Ava has been accompanied on each of these projects by editor and co-producer, Spencer Averick. The honing and shaping of these narratives in the editing room has been key to their success.

Laying out structure, building performance, establishing timelines, and often at its most artful, putting the viewer in a character's very headspace, film editing is the essence of what cinema is.

On this episode, you'll hear about how this collaboration began when Spencer cut a bucket of footage for Ava that convinced her he was someone special. They'll discuss things like structure and how the story of the Central Park Five [00:03:00] landed on a four episode template. You'll also learn about their patented stews and scraps and why they are so important to the process, and how an unused shot in one episode can suddenly turn into the emotional linchpin of another.

All of that in a whole lot more is ahead. So let's get right into it.

So Spencer and Ava, you guys go back 10 years or so now, right? At least right, back to "This Is the Life" and all the way through "A Wrinkle in Time" and now "When They See Us." And so the first thing I want to ask is just how did that collaboration begin?  What's the creative spark that brought you guys together and why does it work so well?

SPENCER: Well, we met somewhat randomly. It was a friend of a friend, you know, kind of looking for an editor. I had not edited anything at that point. Ava hadn't -- she maybe did a short film -- and we hooked up for lunch.

AVA: I remember I was really trying to have a professional interview and had no clue what to ask an editor. So... cutting. Tell me more. You know, like, I don't know what I said. I do [00:04:00] remember I was really desperate for you. Like I needed – you know the situation.

SPENCER: You were in the middle of editing --

AVA: I had lost an editor.

SPENCER: Yeah, and you lost an editor. Thank God.

AVA: Thank God! Because if that guy had been a good guy --

SPENCER: I know! I love that guy. Whoever he is.

AVA: We love him. Yeah we can’t remember who –

KRIS: Shout out to that guy.

AVA: Thanks, that guy!

SPENCER: He’s probably listening.

AVA: And so the first editor said, you know, she said, you know, I met a guy a couple of weekends ago who said, you edited. I was like, “Oh, that's going to be the guy. Can, can we meet him?” So I'm sitting in Doughboys in LA and in walks this fresh faced white boy who really, because this documentary was about hardcore LA hip hop, like, black people, brown people, like in the hood, like rapping for their lives.

And so Spencer walks in, straight from Petaluma, California. And I remember one of the first things I asked you was like, "Are you really an actor?" ‘Cause he looked like a, like one of these guys who wanted to be an actor for me and he was like, the eyes got big. He's like, "No, I'm an [00:05:00] editor. I want to be an editor."

I said "You want to be an editor? What kind of editor?" He's like, "I want to edit documentaries," very specific. I was like, "You want to edit documentaries for a living?" And I actually had the audacity to say: "I'm going to give you a little bit of footage and see what you can do." What an asshole! What an ass!

SPENCER: I thought that was par for the course too.

AVA: And he did it and it was fantastic. And that piece is actually in the film.

SPENCER: I'll never forget that moment because, again, it was fake it till you make it, right? I was like, "Yeah, yeah, totally. No, I'm ready to edit. Yeah." She gave me a little piece of footage and it was like interview mixed with really cool archival and I just had so much fun with it, but I didn't know if I was good or I had an instinct for it.

I just knew I love films and I just remember sending it back and getting the call back from her like a day later, and she was screaming on the other line. "You did it, you cut the hell out of that thing!" I remember where I was. I remember everything about it. And that like, gave me a lot of confidence, like maybe I [00:06:00] can do this.

AVA: It was not about artifice. It wasn't about what he thought was the right way to cut it. It was just him. It had personality. It was funny. He had made these, you know, dry pieces of material, have personality. And snap. And I had not seen that done before. And that's continued to be a big part of our relationship.

KRIS: So basically he put it together the way no one else would put it together?

AVA: No one else.

SPENCER: The only way that I -- you know, it was just me in my room and nobody else and I just did what I thought was right. And yeah, that's a lot of what it is, is just going off instincts and gut.

KRIS: How's the relationship evolved since then? How's it changed?

AVA: Spencer.

SPENCER: Well, it's funny cause we hit it off early, like right away we hit it off. We were laughing. Same sensibilities, same love of movies. We liked the same movies. The politics are in line, you know, coming from very different backgrounds, but we just felt really comfortable with each other right away.

And it's the [00:07:00] same way now. I mean, you know, we've evolved as filmmakers and as people. But it's similar to how it was before.

AVA: We became very close. Over the years I spent more time with him than anyone else. Family, other coworkers in different parts of the company…

You know, I ended up spending more time editing and because of the nature of her work has been so back to back to back… This is really nice to do, because it's like we're coming up on the 10 year mark, so to be able to sit down and talk about it is lovely. So thank you.

KRIS: Yeah, of course.

AVA: When I look at his life and how much his personal life has progressed since…like, I'm the same workaholic, single, crazy workaholic that I always was. I just have more to work with that's fun to me, you know?

But I've been able to see him go from this, I don't know! He looked like a frat guy! He lived in a house with all these white boys, but he was special. He was his own person. He wasn't a jerk. He was smart. And he was funny. And he cared about the world.

And you [00:08:00] know, I remember when he met his wife, like “she might stick!” You know, and then, when the first child and the second child and the first house and the second house and … I'm just proud of you. And so he's brought all that life experience into the work. So it'd be able to cut something like ”When They See Us” with the empathy of a father and all those things… his growth has helped me grow within the work.

KRIS: Yeah, I bet. Well, we're going to get into the beginnings of this project now. “When They See Us.” We owe this project to a tweet from April, 2015 from Raymond Santana, one of the Exonerated Five, and it was sort of a volley, like, ”What's next? Maybe something about us?”

You took it and ran with it. And I want to know, like once you saw the tweet and you decided, “Yeah, that would be the thing to do next,” what were the next steps?

AVA: You know, I get a lot of tweets and a lot of people asking me to do those things, but I had seen the Central Park Five documentary by Sarah Burns.

It'd be like a [00:09:00] year or so before. And I recognized… the account was from the Central Park Five. Raymond Santana runs the account. And so it just intrigued me because I knew the story. I didn't really have a burning intention to make it. I was just curious as a person who was interested in the case.

And then when I went to New York the next time, I said, “Well, let's get together! I'd love to hear more about it.” I mean, I’d just seen the doc. So they were kind of like stars, like public figures that I wanted to know more about. And as I sat with him, he was so charismatic and the story was so fascinating.

He was telling me things that I didn't know, that wasn't even in the doc. I thought, “Oh, well, can I meet the rest of the guys?” And so I met them all one by one. And after meeting the first three, I thought, well, I got to figure out a way to do this.

KRIS: Well, you've said that you looked at the project as one film.

AVA: Yeah.

KRIS: But clearly the four pieces are distinct in their ways and just want to talk about balancing that. How do you balance those two aspects? That this is a movie, yet each part is kind of a whole unto itself as well, and distinctive?

AVA: What was the first for us because, we [00:10:00] usually just edit, and it's him and me.

He edits -- He's really the only person that touches my footage for the last decade. So to think about directing this whole piece and knowing that I was going to have to bring other editors in, that was a new prospect …to even try to organize that my head.

And so how do you keep the uniformity of one piece -- which was the intention and spirit of it -- when I had, you know, different editors. It would be like having, in my mind, four different DP’s. So we didn't make it that way. We made it as a film, in principal photography and in prep. But in post it got split. And that was a bit of a juggling act. It was a new thing for us.

SPENCER: Yeah. We did -- we look at it like one film.

It's one journey, but the way they wrote it, each episode has such a distinct feel and tone and different parts of their lives. So it feels like one long movie, but it's easy to break these up and you can have different editors and a different sort of style and [00:11:00] in the way that each one is edited.

AVA: And it was just tough too, because I'm so used to working with him. We have our own shorthand. I struggled with even how to communicate with the other editors who are fantastic, and it illustrated to me how much we probably don't talk, you know what I mean? Like normal people. Because as I was trying to explain to other editors, I was saying things they didn't understand.

I was like, “Yeah, just, just do that. And yeah, that and that.” And they were like, “What and what, dude?” And where we're just… we'll look at each other and I'll be like, “Yeah. Yeah. That.”

SPENCER: It's just deep down, I kind of know what you're going for and what you want. You know, sometimes it's hard to verbalize it.

KRIS: Well, Spencer you're a co-producer on this and you were on “13th” as well. So I imagine maybe you were involved in the earliest stages here, you tell me, but what I'm curious about in general is: how early are you brought into the process? Do you read the script once it's done? Like, are you there from the beginning?

[00:12:00] SPENCER: Yeah. Ava keeps me involved really early. She, even before the green light is going -- before the movie’s going, she’s handing me the script, asks me what I think. I mean, I'm not give me input on, you know, really how they should shoot it, but I'm involved early and we're talking about characters and she really makes me feel like part of the team from beginning to end. I love it.

KRIS: And just on a conceptual level, how did you decide how this would kind of move and be structured? Like how did you decide on these four episodes, which are, you know: the interrogations, the trial, the reentry into society, and then Korey Wise. How did you decide that this was how you would structure the whole thing?

AVA: Oh, the way I pitched it to Netflix was, this is Central Park Five. Each episode is going to center on a different boy.

KRIS: I remember that. Yeah.

AVA: Yeah. That changed. Once you start making the thing, you're like, “yeah, this isn't going to work,” because I became more interested in the systemic segmentation, the criminal justice system, and [00:13:00] thought, “Oh, it's more interesting to take all of the boys through these systems,’ in that there were four major kind of branches of the criminal justice system that I wanted to focus on.

And so I re-broke it. And it was a great group of writers and creatively, because it was so sprawling, it was a different process than what we've usually done in terms of writing re-writing, which I call the edit because the edit is just re-writing it.

KRIS: Yeah. Tell me about the research, because beyond spending plenty of time with the Five and getting their stories and that human element, you also have this vast legal drama to deal with. And not to mention, piecing together a timeline, the events of April 19th, 1989, and in a way that can be absorbed by the audience as well, right? Like you want to not lose them in how you're presenting what happened. So just tell me how you came to understanding that particular part of the structure.

AVA: The anecdotal research really was the focus of Episodes One and Three, One being when they [00:14:00] were arrested and how they felt and their family coming in and out, and what they say, you know, happened in those rooms.

The same for Episode Three. The kind of feeling that they had when they got out of prison and that post-incarceration time, being formally incarcerated, being in juvenile detention. Governmental paperwork, tapes, transcripts, legal documents, that research, were the basis of Spencer's episodes two and four.

So Two was the court case. Two court cases converging. And so Attica Locke, I wrote that one with Attica Locke. So she had to, you know, really, really parse through all that legal material. And then Spencer had to, on the other end, take all that and compress it down and make it digestible.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: Because it's so, so much. That was one of the wonders of what he did, in that he kept it human. You're in it with the boys, but you're also following a case all of a sudden. So it [00:15:00] changes from Episode One where you're in it with the boys and they're kind of going through this night in the precinct to this kind of sprawl over several months, several years actually, where you're going through the case.

And so many twists and turns and what happened being based on legal proceedings. The same with Episode Four, you know, really tracking all of the different prisons that Korey went through. And, you know, understanding, the whens and whys and hows of his trajectory through those facilities.

SPENCER: And shout out to Hannah.

AVA: Oh yeah. Well, come on. Hannah Baker.

SPENCER: I asked a couple of questions -- Hannah Baker, I asked a couple of questions, she had this massive document.

AVA: She was our writers’ assistant in the writers’ room, and then she became my director's assistant. So she was -- she is -- this incredible woman, a writer herself who stayed with the project and really became the custodian of the script and the research.

SPENCER: You got it. You know, we condensed the two trials into one in the end, basically.

AVA: It was a big swing.

SPENCER: The verdicts, yeah.

AVA: The big swing in the end on the verdicts. [00:16:00]

SPENCER: And the way it was written, it was like the first three kids have their verdicts and the second three [sic] kids have their verdicts. There was this like climax, climax, and another climax, so it didn't feel right. So we had to work with that for a while.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: I remember the first time you showed me the end of Two.

KRIS: I'm going to talk about that specifically, actually. I'm curious about that montage.

AVA: Man! Woo!

SPENCER: Yeah, I remember that.

AVA: My boy! Woo!

KRIS: Just want to briefly touch on the production phase before we get into the edit. Just aesthetic influences. What did you want this to look like?

AVA: I wanted it to look like the men said. It felt to feel oppressive at moments. And then they describe it as these spurts of joy.

And so the decisions about color temperature, the decisions about, you know, making sure that we were flooding the room with atmosphere, quote unquote atmosphere, so smoke in the room to give it that [00:17:00] filmy feel. Like there's just, there's a weight on them. The environment itself feels oppressive. So we're pumping smoke. I mean, we're shooting through smoking almost every scene. You can't quite reach them. They're not quite crisp. They're not quite clear.

A lack of clarity in the image. You know, a big part of it was in the color timing. Shout out to Mitch Paulson, my longtime colorist. It was really about trying to find a way to handle the skin tones and make those vibrant and fresh. So they feel like living, breathing boys, but then behind this veil of smoke, if you will, was the idea.

And so it came across most in the colors sessions. That's where we had to deal with it most.

KRIS: And beautiful work from your colorist and from your DP, Bradford Young. I don't know if it was just me, but when I first saw it, I got a Michael Mann vibe. I just want to say that because it was something about the observational photography, the way that it quickly, but succinctly would convey information visually. And I was just [00:18:00] wondering, you know, “Collateral” is an interesting part of your history, working publicity on that film. You recently hosted Michael in the –

AVA: He was here, yeah!

KRIS: We’re here at ARRAY, by the way, where we’re recording this. Beautiful space. I'm just wondering if there's anything about his work as a filmmaker that you're inspired by?

AVA: Well, it feels lovely that you see something that might be speaking to that in my work. But it wasn't intentional.

KRIS: Sure.

AVA: I just, I liked the way that stuff looks. I mean, “Collateral” is one of my favorite looking films.

There might be something with it – I mean, I was just watching “Collateral” the other day. That color timing! That green that’s just over that whole thing. And I was asking him about that and he said, you know, it was something that they really brought out afterward and it was – you know, sometimes you find those things later. You find it while you're in principal photography, you're attracted to something over and over.

Even though it might not have been spoken, it might not be intended, but you find, oh, I repeated that, or my eye went to that a few times. And so, anyway, there might be a little bit of that in there. I'll take it.

KRIS: Let's talk about the edit. Just  [00:19:00] broadly speaking, do you do a lot of, takes, leave a lot of options?

SPENCER: I mean, you know, there are budget constraints and timing, so I don't think so.

AVA: I do -- and I didn't know this until the, I was working with other editors -- I'll do a long, long roll, keep it going.

SPENCER: You know, it poses a little bit of a more of a more work for the assistant editor cause it's like –

KRIS: Finding stuff, probably?

SPENCER: Yeah, she says action and then she doesn't say cut for a long time. She says “reset.”

You know, because, if she says cut, then – I get it. Everyone stops and it's this whole thing and 20 minutes later you can pick it up, but the actors are in it. So she doesn't want to lose that. And she tells everyone “Okay, I’m still in it.” So you’ll have a take that'll have five takes in it.

KRIS: Talk about when and why you would go to closeups throughout the series.

Because there seems to be a strategy at play there. It was fascinating to me looking at it again recently. So can you about any kind of a general rule or thought on that? [00:20:00

SPENCER: Yeah, I mean, it’s always been something that you do. You always get close.

You know, it's like when you were talking about Michael, when you were talking about “Collateral,” the first image was like Tom Cruise tight in that car, you know, and, you know, Ava just has a knack for finding the truth, the humanity of people, just getting in there. And that's part of it.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: I remember the closeup that we used in “Middle of Nowhere,” because you know, an eye will follow. I mean I gave him two takes and was like, “Brother, do what you can.”

But I remember in “Middle [of Nowhere]” was the first time I used an ECU, extreme closeup. On Emayatzy [Corinealdi]’s face, right when she gets the news that her husband has betrayed her at the hearing.

And it was really the response from audiences that made me like, oh, the power of being that close. And to use it and wield that tool only in precise moments. And it's become really instinctual for us, but I do [00:21:00] prefer to get into the terrain of the face.

SPENCER: Yeah. I think in “When They See Us,” there's a lot of closeups.

Not a lot of ECU’s, but there are a lot of closeups because we wanted people to just be with these kids and everything's happening so fast. At trial, getting accused for murder, so the more we can just be with each one of them. But then we got really close when the verdicts –

AVA: Sure.

SPENCER: But we stayed close a lot in this show.

AVA: I think especially for this, you know, this story has been given to the public in a way that it wasn't through the perspective of the men, of the boys. You know, this was shared with them through the media and through politicians, and it was contorted and distorted from the very beginning, so to prioritize their perspective was one of the main reasons why we're always on them.

KRIS: Yeah. Well, now I want to talk about these two specific episodes, Spencer, that you cut. Episode Two ism for me when I was rewatching it, it's essentially the storytelling episode. It's the victim telling the story she remembers. It's the cops telling [00:22:00] their story and then having it kind of clarified in their face by Mickey Joseph.

It’s how Bobby McCray's story is twisted and contorted when he's on the stand. And it also struck me again, that editing is part of the narrative here because we learned that prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer and her team edited the confession tapes to better tell their story, what they wanted to tell.

And it's brilliant because it's a commentary on the very medium itself. I mean, what you do, Spencer, is juxtaposing imagery, right? And just the power of that, the transformative power of that. Can you just speak to that, with all of that in mind?

AVA: That’s so interesting that you talk about, I mean, really that episode being, you know, really about everyone kind of editing and shaping and crafting their own story, which is true.

I remember when you were cutting this, you’d cut it all and we were with it. You thought, there's a layer missing. And I think we'd gotten some feedback that, you know, it felt more procedural than you wanted. And you said, “I'm going to [00:23:00] go back and do a boy pass.” And you went back through and you dug into not just the the stories that were being told, but the boys' reaction to every story.

And the omission within the story. And I remember that's when the whole thing came to life. What Mickey Joseph chose to say or not say, what Lederer chose to put in or not put in, how the victim when she took the stand, you know, was able to say the details or was not able to remember details. Their face and their reaction to each one of those edits, omissions, additions, really lifted it up.

SPENCER: Yeah. You have the boys, you have their families, you have the legal teams. There’s so many points of view that you have to keep in play and keep alive. We didn't want it to feel like “Law and Order,” you know?

AVA: Right. I was afraid of this one. I was afraid of this episode.

SPENCER: They shot it beautifully and there’s creative angles that don't make it [00:24:00] feel like TV at all.

But we laid it out and it was good, but definitely missing something. So it was like, whose reaction do we want to see at each moment? You know, which one of the boys are being affected right now? So we did the boy pass.

AVA: And that brought it up. That was the first thing that brought it up.

The second thing was the end. People say a dinner table scene is tough to shoot. No. Dinner table scene? Give it to me all day. I'm good.

Courtrooms. This is why, Kris. You have literally six sides. I had four cameras. That was the most I'd ever shot on this show. You got footage, four cameras’ worth. Brad had a camera on his shoulder.

SPENCER: Yeah.

AVA: Three different camera people, two camera women, two camera men, I mean you had a trough of footage.

SPENCER: I remember getting the first bucket of footage, and I was like, “Where do you start?” But then I quickly realized you had to do this in order to get [00:25:00] …yeah.

AVA: I had to shoot it all at once, or I wouldn't have been able to get through the days.

It was too much to cover, but I think it's the most footage I've ever given you at one time on any film. Every day you're getting four full days, four cameras full of footage every day.

SPENCER: And then as an editor, sometimes you get multi camera scenes a lot, but they’re usually on the same subject, so it's kind of like you can just kind of watch them together

But with this you had the treat each one as its own camera, so you shoot an hour. That's four hours that I have to like, really look at.

AVA: It wasn’t just different angles of the same person. One camera was shooting you, you, him, her. And try to put that all together.

SPENCER: Somehow we did it.

AVA: Somehow. Once you've got that layer down, which was complicated, then the boy pass and then the thing that really took it to a different level is when you cracked the end.

KRIS: Look at you just leading into my questions. Tell me about building that montage as the verdict is reached in ending on that haunting horn wail.

SPENCER: Yeah. Well, like I said, the two verdicts [00:26:00]… the first verdict was for three of the boys. Then a few months later in real time, they did the verdicts for the other two boys.

So that's the way it was shot. That's the way it was written. We were watching it and I think you just said, “Look, we’ve got to try to combine this and make this as one big moment.” And they shot these really creative, emotional, super tight closeups where, you know, the focal length, everything's blurry in the background, and these kids are looking right into the camera. Right?

AVA: Yeah.

SPENCER: Yeah. And so I had a lot to play with there. And just, I don’t know, you just…

KRIS: You start playing some jazz in there, yeah. You just start finding it.

SPENCER: Yeah. Put on some music and yeah.

AVA: But it was, I mean, that's a really special end. I mean, I can't watch the end of that without being very emotional.

SPENCER: Ava and I -- this had never happened like this. I played it for her for the first time in the dark. Music, everything was really loud, and I just started crying. I think I cried before when I was editing it, just sometimes you’re working and [00:27:00] then all of a sudden you go, “This is real. This really happened.”

So it's tough. And I remember just tears coming. I turn the lights on, tears down your face. I don't think we'd ever cried together.

AVA: That never – at the same thing. We cry.

SPENCER: We've cried.

AVA: I cry a lot. But that piece. Watching it for the first time, him showing me that for the first time, he became emotional, showing me and watching it and I just broke.

And for several times after that when we would work, I mean, when I was working with Chris Power and composing, in color… that piece. There were a few pieces in this would, no matter how I was dealing with the footage, I would just break down.

And that was, that was the first one. I don't, I don't cry at [Episode] One. But it's the end of Two. That is a wrap. And it's that the way that you juxtapose their faces slow-mo of the family’s faces. You put the repetition of the “guilty”s over it. [00:28:00] And then you jump into this shotof Asante Blackk on a chair, which --

Let me just say, the reason why I got that shot is because it was Teri Shropshire who said, “You need something! You need to grab something else here.”

SPENCER: For Episode One at some point.

AVA: It was Episode One. And she was needing something and I said, “Is it... like, what?” She said, “I don't know, like maybe in someone's head or memory or something.” It was not scripted.

I was like, “I don't know.” And she kept saying, “I feel like you need this moment.” I thought that was going to be for Episode One. I shot up for that. And we didn't end up using it in One. So it was really a scrap of footage --

SPENCER: A leftover.

AVA: Leftover footage that you took, and --

KRIS: So when it showed up, did you see it in the cut, and you were like, “Oh wow. He used that shot.”

AVA: Yeah!

KRIS: You didn't know he was going to do that?

AVA: No!

KRIS: I think that is a definitive portrait of innocence being lost. Just, I've never seen cinematically it portrayed so beautifully.

AVA: Not [00:29:00] planned. Not planned in advance for that purpose. That came out of the mind of Spencer Averick.

KRIS: Episode Four is almost a film unto itself. I mean, this is the Korey Wise biopic. It's one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I think I saw this year. And I want to know, did you look at it that way as separate from the whole?

You could queue this up and it tells a full emotional, complex story. It's a movie. Did you conceive of it that way?

AVA: Yes. Yes. He always said, one of the first things that Korey said to me when I met him for the first time: it's not Central Park Five, it's four plus one. I remember nothing else from our first conversation except that line, it hit me so hard.

He said I had a completely different experience than they had. And everyone calls us the Central Park Five, and no one knows my story or what I went through. I said, “If you tell me, I'll make sure I tell it the right way.” He did, and it was hard for many years. We would go through that story of what you see there, and I pick and choose and curated what I felt [00:30:00] was the most important to share.

But what was the most healthy to share? Because he went through a lot. I mean, what you see is not the half of it. But you get the picture. And so to think about how to do that, it was very purposeful that one would be like a bottle episode. It would just be his experiences, who would actually jump back in time, right?

So at the end of Episode Two, they all have their verdicts. In Episode Three he's absent. You do not hear from him. They go from juvenile detention, they become adults, and you see them through that whole storyline. At the top of Four, we jump back to the moment that he got his verdict, and we dedicate it to him.

KRIS: Yeah. I believe the first cut here was two and a half hours of this episode. Is that right?

SPENCER: Probably! Yeah.

KRIS: Well, I mean, that’s whole hour of material missing. I'm just wondering what stands out in those moments that you had to lose?

SPENCER: Ooh. Probably the first cut, you know, he's in the cell by himself.

They just shot a lot of footage of him. You know, just living in there and imagining things and just [00:31:00] trying to get through it. So the first cut probably we just really let breathe. And then I think it's close to 90 minutes still.

AVA: You’re watching something very down, very depressing, very diminishing to this person.

And then you have pops of like the chia pet and, you know, being able to just listen to the music when you mop. And for him to be able to find those moments and take as great of care in crafting those moments as the tough stuff… Throughout it, he was able to construct moments where we get these pops of relief in a very, very depressing story.

That's the only way you get someone through is you got to give them something to hang onto.

KRIS: Yeah, and I believe I read that you finished that first cut early on, but you didn't return to it until the rest of the series was finished?

SPENCER: Yeah. I remember we just really wanted to get One through Three in a good place.

Because Four, it's so different, it's not connected. We'll get back to it. Let's figure out One through Three and make sure we're happy with that. And then jump back to Four. I'm pretty sure that's how we did it.

AVA: I remember when [00:32:00] I kept saying in the editing room to the whole team, if they can't get through One, they're never going to see Four.

But I remember when Four just started to rise up from all of them. Like people -- I think one of the reasons why people started to watch is the early watchers kept saying, “The end! The end! You gotta get to the end. You've got to get to four.”

We have to shout out our other editors.

SPENCER: Teri Shropshire. Episode One. Great friend of ours, she's been helping with us for a long time. We love her.

AVA: Guiding us, giving us advice early on when we didn't know where we were doing.

SPENCER: And then Michelle Tesoro, we just met her on this project and she knocked it out of the park. She was great. She was great.

AVA: Badass.

KRIS: Yeah. Speaking of Jharrel Jerome – he won an Emmy for this incredibly moving performance. And he has to go to a lot of dark places, obviously, in the episode.

So just kind of to shoot back into production a little bit. I imagine that made for some emotional days on the set. How did you shake it at the end of the day? Was it easier to shake it cause you wanted to get out of the headspace? I mean, that question.

AVA: Yeah. It wasn't just him, it was all of them, you know, it [00:33:00] was those boys early on.

I mean, the boys really got me cause you're dealing with such young actors. And you're asking them, I mean, you're terrorizing them in the room for the camera. Caleel Harris’s face and Asante Blackk when he's like, “I want to go home” and I'm the one who's responsible.

Like I'm saying, do that, go through that. So that's tough. I mean, even with the adults, the women, you know, Aunjanue Ellis, Niecy Nash, and having to ask people and be with people and be by the side of people who are putting themselves on the line emotionally to translate these feelings for us.

KRIS: And then tell me about, particularly in Episode Four, sculpting that performance the editing room as well.

SPENCER: Well, I take all the credit for his performance. [Laughs]

AVA: Well, what I will say, you know: the editor is a lost partner in any performance that is lauded, awarded, nominated, or loved.

Because actors are doing things different ways every [00:34:00] time. And to be able to find, Oh, the first take of this moment matches with the third take of this, and to be able to craft it so that it feels seamless, is you know. Spencer's, a real partner in that performance, I think.

SPENCER: I think this is a little bit different. Like, everything you said is true, but this kid came in as Korey Wise. Sometimes you get actors that one take is different then the next take is better or whatever. You're trying to pick and choose. He was like this throughout every take. So, you know, in the edit it's more of like helping tweak the nuances of this evolution of this kid becoming a man in prison.

AVA: You weren't shaping a performance that wasn't there. I think you were strengthening. There'll be takes where like, you know, he's himself in his own body. So there are takes where he's playing young Korey, where the moment his eyes are just a little wider and he's just feeling younger, you know what I mean?

Or in a later one that his body, he was able to carry [00:35:00] more of a weight to find those moments, to help track time to keep him young when he was young. Right? And older when he was older.

And then to find the moments of transition. You know, I mean, it's hard when he gets the chia pet, right? He's looking like in his body, he's his age, but the exuberance of really just a kid who got that, right? Finding that right take. Because I remember there was -- We would look at takes like, “Oh, he's feeling a little older here,” or “Let's keep him more innocent here” in those pieces, I think, you know, he gave it all to you. He gave us so much to work with that it was like a treasure trove of picking and choosing the best moments.

KRIS: Speaking of solitary confinement, I also just wanted to touch on that first section when he's in solitary and that's when we get the story of his trans sister, Marci Wise.

And that further serves to unlock Korey as a character. So can you just kind of walk me through how that came together? Because it is like so much in this episode, it serves, and throughout the series, it [00:36:00] serves to put you in the character's head space.

SPENCER: We wanted to get out early this story of his sister and his mom, we wanted to sort of put that out early so you could care about him sooner.

AVA: It also allows us to get out of the cell.

You know, when I asked Korey, “How did you make it all those years?” And one day he said, “I lived in my mind.” And that was the key to unlocking the episode as we were writing it. It's like, okay, well, Whoa. Okay. You lived in your mind. Let me talk about what that was.

And it wasn't really in make-believe. It was really, as I would talk to him and got to know him over the years, it was in memory. And so to be able to seed it and to put it down, you know, the first time that you see him and Marci when Marci's not identifying as Marci, when we know the next time when she's leaving the house, and then the final time when she appears to him from beyond or he remembers her even within a memory.

Right? So this whole idea of memories, what we played with, and to be able to edit that seamlessly [00:37:00] where you feel like you're moving in and out of the present and memory, it's all the same thing for him -- is really a lot of what Spencer had to deal with, with all that footage there.

SPENCER: And when you told me that in the beginning, you're like, “No, this is -- he told me this. This is real, what happened in his head. This is all real.” You know, he's sort of tying up loose ends in his life. In his head, he's doing it. And I thought that was so interesting, and hopefully it came across.

KRIS: Absolutely.

We're going to switch gears at the end here. Cool things down, as I like to say. A couple of rapid fire questions for you. What’s a recent movie that blew you away with its editing? Or series?

AVA: The Irishman. Damn it! God dang it, that film. I mean, I was sitting there for three hours.

KRIS: It doesn't feel like it.

AVA: I'm good. Like when I saw it, I [00:38:00] literally could have gone right back and watched it again. That's how much that flew . And that editing. Thelma [Schoonmaker] did it? Oh Gosh. I mean, what a what a giant. You should be jealous, Spencer, you have not seen it yet. We should go see it together. I'll see it again.

SPENCER: I want to see it so bad.

AVA: So great. What about you, Spence?

KRIS: How about you?

SPENCER: A film I was late to seeing that I saw recently was Phantom Thread. Paul Thomas Anderson. And I just loved the editing in that movie, the use of closeups. He always talks about being a big fan of Jonathan Demme and his use of closeups, and just that, like punctuation -- I think he shot this movie too, and I just loved the way it was put together and the editing stood out to me.

KRIS: What's your go to junk food when you're sitting at the Avid?

AVA: Ha!

SPENCER: trying to be healthy at the Avid these days.

KRIS: That's fine. That's fair too.

SPENCER: I love me some sour candy. Sour worms. Yeah.

KRIS: Yeah. You got anything?

AVA: Oh, gosh. [00:39:00] I eat everything.

SPENCER: You love sunflower seeds.

AVA: I do love sunflower seeds. That wasn’t what I was thinking of, though.

SPENCER: It’s like your little addiction.

AVA: Yeah. Sometimes I say to you, “Is this too loud?” You always say “No. Nope. That's okay.” So sweet. I mean, I’m cracking sunflower seeds like I’m on a porch. Yeah, but you know what I drink when I get stressed. Yeah. It's an ice blended white chocolate from Coffee Bean. Yeah. And it is like drugs. Yeah. It goes straight, bam. Straight into the vein.

SPENCER: She goes, “Don't let me have it.” And then at the end of the day she's like, “Where is it?”

AVA: It’s true!

KRIS: I’ll have to go try one if it's that good. Spencer, I believe you have the phrase, “What if?” framed on your desk. So it's a way to inspire yourself to look in new directions, right?

SPENCER: I got that from Terry Shropshire by the way. She always had it. And I stole it from her.

KRIS: Well, just for you both, what's a “what if” moment that you've had on a project that led to a breakthrough where you said, “What if we did this?” and [00:40:00] it completely broke what you were looking for?

AVA: It's hard for me. I do it all the time. I mean, it's a constant.

SPENCER: It's constant. I mean, we're always, our minds are always going to: “What if we just broke this up?” Yeah, we call it a stew. You know, if something's not working, let’s try to intercut.

AVA: See, this is one of these things where when I'm sitting with the other editors. I’m like, “Do a stew!” They’re like, “What the…?”

SPENCER: Then they go, “Spence, what’s a stew?” So, something's not working. We try intercutting. We try juxtaposing images and it ww just try crazy things and a lot of the times it works.

AVA: A stew is really… Everything that doesn't work. If you put it together, could it be something?

SPENCER: Don't give up on it.

AVA: Don't give up on it. We also have scraps.

I love scraps. Scraps is, um, pieces of things that we've liked that didn't make it in that we keep in a folder. And sometimes we'll just be like, “Let's look at the scraps” and just like, see what's there. That’s probably how you [00:41:00] found the Asante Blackk horn at the end.

Yeah. Scraps from One.

SPENCER: Yeah. You go through -- you know, when you edit a film, in month two, you might say, “Oh, we don't need this. You definitely don't need it, I'm sure.” And then in month six, you're like, “We need this. Where is it?”

KRIS: Where's that shot?

SPENCER: Yeah, exactly. So we're, we're constantly challenging ourselves to think outside of the script. You know? There's so many ways to put things together. Yeah.

KRIS: What is the movie that made you fall in love with movies?

SPENCER: I’ll never forget going to the theater and seeing Stand By Me.

AVA: Aww, little Spencer!

SPENCER: Just the music and these kids and oh God. Like that's the kind of thing that makes you love movies. Like that feeling that you have.  I can still remember that feeling. It's a feeling I still get. When I’m editing movies, it's like, how do I get back to that? This love, like, it feels so real.

As a craft. I think The Shining or Space Odyssey, one of Stanley Kubrick's movies where I just went, wow, look [00:42:00] at these beautiful shots.

The way it's cut, there's not a lot of cuts, right? You know, I'm growing up in the 80’s and MTV, and I'm watching this. This film is just as most beautifully crafted film, and that's when I was like, I remember, okay, I want to do this. For sure.

KRIS: Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. All right. You've had time to think about it.

AVA: Oh, no, I already know mine. It's West Side Story, I say it all the time. West Side Story. I saw when I was young. My aunt Denise -- we're sitting in the Denise Amanda theater, the Amanda Cinema here at ARRAY named after her -- gave me my love of movies. She worked at night as a nurse that she could watch movies during the day.

So she watched movies and she'd go to plays and exhibits, and she was just an art lover. So she didn't, you know, live to work. She worked to live.

Then one day after school, I was over at her house. She had a night shift and she said -- it was a weekend. And she said, you know, you gotta be quiet. I gotta sleep. And she turned on KTLA here locally and West Side Story was on. [00:43:00] And she said, “Ah!” I remember being relieved. “It's a long one. Sit here and watch this.” And I sat there and I watched, it was a rainy day, and I'd never seen anything like it and never been the same since. The brown people, the dresses, the dancing, the romance, the camera, the story.

I mean, I was hooked and just became a long time, deeply-in-love-with-movies person. Some people are pet people, some people are sports people. That made me a movie person forever.

KRIS: Are you excited to see what they're going to do with it on this new one?

AVA: I really love the old version. I'll say that I don’t feel the need for another, but we are always fans of Mr. Spielberg and are eager to see whatever he offers us.

SPENCER: We'll see what it is.

KRIS: Well, thank you again for talking to me and for inviting me here to ARRAY. Beautiful space. If anyone’s listening ever in town, come over here and check it out. They're doing the film series and [00:44:00] it's just, it's an awesome community. So thank you again for coming on the show.

AVA: Thanks for having us.

SPENCER: Thank you, Kris.

KRIS: As you can tell, this was a vastly important and moving project for both Ava and Spencer. It took a world renowned criminal case and did something with it that no one else really has, which is to move away from the headlines in the media identity of this moment in hThe Call Sheet - Episode 1: 
Ava DuVernay & Spencer Averick

KRIS TAPLEY: I'm Kris Tapley and you're listening to The Call Sheet, a show that dives deep into the craft of your favorite Netflix films and series with some of the most talented artists and artisans in the game.

On a film set, the call sheet is perhaps the most important document outside the script. It's got your schedule, your shot list, names of the cast and crew, phone numbers, locations, instructions. It's packed with some of the most essential information about a production, and that's our aim with this podcast as well: to provide you with key insights and info straight from the creators themselves. So once again, welcome to The Call Sheet.

For years I covered Hollywood's annual Oscar and Emmy award seasons as a journalist on the circuit. I enjoyed a front row seat to the cream of the crop year after year. But one of my favorite parts of the job was demystifying the film making process and [00:01:00] inviting readers and listeners behind the curtain a little bit.

I've spent countless hours talking to filmmakers and actors about their craft and the intent and effect of their work. I've treated it as a sort of second film school experience, learning at the feet of masters, and I invite you to join me as we continue that journey right here with the many wonderful talents working with Netflix today.

I'm very excited to talk to our introductory guests here today, so I'll go ahead and let them introduce themselves.

AVA DUVERNAY: My name is Ava DuVernay and my craft is filmmaking.

SPENCER AVERICK: My name is Spencer Averick and my craft is film editing.

KRIS: The late, great film critic, Roger Ebert once said, to paraphrase: cinema is an empathy machine. What he meant is that through the power of visual storytelling, one can better understand the experience of another. But when you're dealing in drama about the criminal justice system, I think that element takes on a whole new importance.

Director Ava DuVernay has [00:02:00] worked in that vein a few times now from the 2012 Sundance hit "Middle of Nowhere" about a woman coming to terms with her husband's incarceration. To the even deeper dive of the documentary "13th" which examined the system and its insidious roots in the 13th Amendment. Her latest project, Netflix's limited series When They See Us," is a natural step forward in this progression.

It takes the domestic and legal elements of those two films and meshes them into a definitive five-hour portrait of miscarried justice and its spiderweb effects. Ava has been accompanied on each of these projects by editor and co-producer, Spencer Averick. The honing and shaping of these narratives in the editing room has been key to their success.

Laying out structure, building performance, establishing timelines, and often at its most artful, putting the viewer in a character's very headspace, film editing is the essence of what cinema is.

On this episode, you'll hear about how this collaboration began when Spencer cut a bucket of footage for Ava that convinced her he was someone special. They'll discuss things like structure and how the story of the Central Park Five [00:03:00] landed on a four episode template. You'll also learn about their patented stews and scraps and why they are so important to the process, and how an unused shot in one episode can suddenly turn into the emotional linchpin of another.

All of that in a whole lot more is ahead. So let's get right into it.

So Spencer and Ava, you guys go back 10 years or so now, right? At least right, back to "This Is the Life" and all the way through "A Wrinkle in Time" and now "When They See Us." And so the first thing I want to ask is just how did that collaboration begin?  What's the creative spark that brought you guys together and why does it work so well?

SPENCER: Well, we met somewhat randomly. It was a friend of a friend, you know, kind of looking for an editor. I had not edited anything at that point. Ava hadn't -- she maybe did a short film -- and we hooked up for lunch.

AVA: I remember I was really trying to have a professional interview and had no clue what to ask an editor. So... cutting. Tell me more. You know, like, I don't know what I said. I do [00:04:00] remember I was really desperate for you. Like I needed – you know the situation.

SPENCER: You were in the middle of editing --

AVA: I had lost an editor.

SPENCER: Yeah, and you lost an editor. Thank God.

AVA: Thank God! Because if that guy had been a good guy --

SPENCER: I know! I love that guy. Whoever he is.

AVA: We love him. Yeah we can’t remember who –

KRIS: Shout out to that guy.

AVA: Thanks, that guy!

SPENCER: He’s probably listening.

AVA: And so the first editor said, you know, she said, you know, I met a guy a couple of weekends ago who said, you edited. I was like, “Oh, that's going to be the guy. Can, can we meet him?” So I'm sitting in Doughboys in LA and in walks this fresh faced white boy who really, because this documentary was about hardcore LA hip hop, like, black people, brown people, like in the hood, like rapping for their lives.

And so Spencer walks in, straight from Petaluma, California. And I remember one of the first things I asked you was like, "Are you really an actor?" ‘Cause he looked like a, like one of these guys who wanted to be an actor for me and he was like, the eyes got big. He's like, "No, I'm an [00:05:00] editor. I want to be an editor."

I said "You want to be an editor? What kind of editor?" He's like, "I want to edit documentaries," very specific. I was like, "You want to edit documentaries for a living?" And I actually had the audacity to say: "I'm going to give you a little bit of footage and see what you can do." What an asshole! What an ass!

SPENCER: I thought that was par for the course too.

AVA: And he did it and it was fantastic. And that piece is actually in the film.

SPENCER: I'll never forget that moment because, again, it was fake it till you make it, right? I was like, "Yeah, yeah, totally. No, I'm ready to edit. Yeah." She gave me a little piece of footage and it was like interview mixed with really cool archival and I just had so much fun with it, but I didn't know if I was good or I had an instinct for it.

I just knew I love films and I just remember sending it back and getting the call back from her like a day later, and she was screaming on the other line. "You did it, you cut the hell out of that thing!" I remember where I was. I remember everything about it. And that like, gave me a lot of confidence, like maybe I [00:06:00] can do this.

AVA: It was not about artifice. It wasn't about what he thought was the right way to cut it. It was just him. It had personality. It was funny. He had made these, you know, dry pieces of material, have personality. And snap. And I had not seen that done before. And that's continued to be a big part of our relationship.

KRIS: So basically he put it together the way no one else would put it together?

AVA: No one else.

SPENCER: The only way that I -- you know, it was just me in my room and nobody else and I just did what I thought was right. And yeah, that's a lot of what it is, is just going off instincts and gut.

KRIS: How's the relationship evolved since then? How's it changed?

AVA: Spencer.

SPENCER: Well, it's funny cause we hit it off early, like right away we hit it off. We were laughing. Same sensibilities, same love of movies. We liked the same movies. The politics are in line, you know, coming from very different backgrounds, but we just felt really comfortable with each other right away.

And it's the [00:07:00] same way now. I mean, you know, we've evolved as filmmakers and as people. But it's similar to how it was before.

AVA: We became very close. Over the years I spent more time with him than anyone else. Family, other coworkers in different parts of the company…

You know, I ended up spending more time editing and because of the nature of her work has been so back to back to back… This is really nice to do, because it's like we're coming up on the 10 year mark, so to be able to sit down and talk about it is lovely. So thank you.

KRIS: Yeah, of course.

AVA: When I look at his life and how much his personal life has progressed since…like, I'm the same workaholic, single, crazy workaholic that I always was. I just have more to work with that's fun to me, you know?

But I've been able to see him go from this, I don't know! He looked like a frat guy! He lived in a house with all these white boys, but he was special. He was his own person. He wasn't a jerk. He was smart. And he was funny. And he cared about the world.

And you [00:08:00] know, I remember when he met his wife, like “she might stick!” You know, and then, when the first child and the second child and the first house and the second house and … I'm just proud of you. And so he's brought all that life experience into the work. So it'd be able to cut something like ”When They See Us” with the empathy of a father and all those things… his growth has helped me grow within the work.

KRIS: Yeah, I bet. Well, we're going to get into the beginnings of this project now. “When They See Us.” We owe this project to a tweet from April, 2015 from Raymond Santana, one of the Exonerated Five, and it was sort of a volley, like, ”What's next? Maybe something about us?”

You took it and ran with it. And I want to know, like once you saw the tweet and you decided, “Yeah, that would be the thing to do next,” what were the next steps?

AVA: You know, I get a lot of tweets and a lot of people asking me to do those things, but I had seen the Central Park Five documentary by Sarah Burns.

It'd be like a [00:09:00] year or so before. And I recognized… the account was from the Central Park Five. Raymond Santana runs the account. And so it just intrigued me because I knew the story. I didn't really have a burning intention to make it. I was just curious as a person who was interested in the case.

And then when I went to New York the next time, I said, “Well, let's get together! I'd love to hear more about it.” I mean, I’d just seen the doc. So they were kind of like stars, like public figures that I wanted to know more about. And as I sat with him, he was so charismatic and the story was so fascinating.

He was telling me things that I didn't know, that wasn't even in the doc. I thought, “Oh, well, can I meet the rest of the guys?” And so I met them all one by one. And after meeting the first three, I thought, well, I got to figure out a way to do this.

KRIS: Well, you've said that you looked at the project as one film.

AVA: Yeah.

KRIS: But clearly the four pieces are distinct in their ways and just want to talk about balancing that. How do you balance those two aspects? That this is a movie, yet each part is kind of a whole unto itself as well, and distinctive?

AVA: What was the first for us because, we [00:10:00] usually just edit, and it's him and me.

He edits -- He's really the only person that touches my footage for the last decade. So to think about directing this whole piece and knowing that I was going to have to bring other editors in, that was a new prospect …to even try to organize that my head.

And so how do you keep the uniformity of one piece -- which was the intention and spirit of it -- when I had, you know, different editors. It would be like having, in my mind, four different DP’s. So we didn't make it that way. We made it as a film, in principal photography and in prep. But in post it got split. And that was a bit of a juggling act. It was a new thing for us.

SPENCER: Yeah. We did -- we look at it like one film.

It's one journey, but the way they wrote it, each episode has such a distinct feel and tone and different parts of their lives. So it feels like one long movie, but it's easy to break these up and you can have different editors and a different sort of style and [00:11:00] in the way that each one is edited.

AVA: And it was just tough too, because I'm so used to working with him. We have our own shorthand. I struggled with even how to communicate with the other editors who are fantastic, and it illustrated to me how much we probably don't talk, you know what I mean? Like normal people. Because as I was trying to explain to other editors, I was saying things they didn't understand.

I was like, “Yeah, just, just do that. And yeah, that and that.” And they were like, “What and what, dude?” And where we're just… we'll look at each other and I'll be like, “Yeah. Yeah. That.”

SPENCER: It's just deep down, I kind of know what you're going for and what you want. You know, sometimes it's hard to verbalize it.

KRIS: Well, Spencer you're a co-producer on this and you were on “13th” as well. So I imagine maybe you were involved in the earliest stages here, you tell me, but what I'm curious about in general is: how early are you brought into the process? Do you read the script once it's done? Like, are you there from the beginning?

[00:12:00] SPENCER: Yeah. Ava keeps me involved really early. She, even before the green light is going -- before the movie’s going, she’s handing me the script, asks me what I think. I mean, I'm not give me input on, you know, really how they should shoot it, but I'm involved early and we're talking about characters and she really makes me feel like part of the team from beginning to end. I love it.

KRIS: And just on a conceptual level, how did you decide how this would kind of move and be structured? Like how did you decide on these four episodes, which are, you know: the interrogations, the trial, the reentry into society, and then Korey Wise. How did you decide that this was how you would structure the whole thing?

AVA: Oh, the way I pitched it to Netflix was, this is Central Park Five. Each episode is going to center on a different boy.

KRIS: I remember that. Yeah.

AVA: Yeah. That changed. Once you start making the thing, you're like, “yeah, this isn't going to work,” because I became more interested in the systemic segmentation, the criminal justice system, and [00:13:00] thought, “Oh, it's more interesting to take all of the boys through these systems,’ in that there were four major kind of branches of the criminal justice system that I wanted to focus on.

And so I re-broke it. And it was a great group of writers and creatively, because it was so sprawling, it was a different process than what we've usually done in terms of writing re-writing, which I call the edit because the edit is just re-writing it.

KRIS: Yeah. Tell me about the research, because beyond spending plenty of time with the Five and getting their stories and that human element, you also have this vast legal drama to deal with. And not to mention, piecing together a timeline, the events of April 19th, 1989, and in a way that can be absorbed by the audience as well, right? Like you want to not lose them in how you're presenting what happened. So just tell me how you came to understanding that particular part of the structure.

AVA: The anecdotal research really was the focus of Episodes One and Three, One being when they [00:14:00] were arrested and how they felt and their family coming in and out, and what they say, you know, happened in those rooms.

The same for Episode Three. The kind of feeling that they had when they got out of prison and that post-incarceration time, being formally incarcerated, being in juvenile detention. Governmental paperwork, tapes, transcripts, legal documents, that research, were the basis of Spencer's episodes two and four.

So Two was the court case. Two court cases converging. And so Attica Locke, I wrote that one with Attica Locke. So she had to, you know, really, really parse through all that legal material. And then Spencer had to, on the other end, take all that and compress it down and make it digestible.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: Because it's so, so much. That was one of the wonders of what he did, in that he kept it human. You're in it with the boys, but you're also following a case all of a sudden. So it [00:15:00] changes from Episode One where you're in it with the boys and they're kind of going through this night in the precinct to this kind of sprawl over several months, several years actually, where you're going through the case.

And so many twists and turns and what happened being based on legal proceedings. The same with Episode Four, you know, really tracking all of the different prisons that Korey went through. And, you know, understanding, the whens and whys and hows of his trajectory through those facilities.

SPENCER: And shout out to Hannah.

AVA: Oh yeah. Well, come on. Hannah Baker.

SPENCER: I asked a couple of questions -- Hannah Baker, I asked a couple of questions, she had this massive document.

AVA: She was our writers’ assistant in the writers’ room, and then she became my director's assistant. So she was -- she is -- this incredible woman, a writer herself who stayed with the project and really became the custodian of the script and the research.

SPENCER: You got it. You know, we condensed the two trials into one in the end, basically.

AVA: It was a big swing.

SPENCER: The verdicts, yeah.

AVA: The big swing in the end on the verdicts. [00:16:00]

SPENCER: And the way it was written, it was like the first three kids have their verdicts and the second three [sic] kids have their verdicts. There was this like climax, climax, and another climax, so it didn't feel right. So we had to work with that for a while.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: I remember the first time you showed me the end of Two.

KRIS: I'm going to talk about that specifically, actually. I'm curious about that montage.

AVA: Man! Woo!

SPENCER: Yeah, I remember that.

AVA: My boy! Woo!

KRIS: Just want to briefly touch on the production phase before we get into the edit. Just aesthetic influences. What did you want this to look like?

AVA: I wanted it to look like the men said. It felt to feel oppressive at moments. And then they describe it as these spurts of joy.

And so the decisions about color temperature, the decisions about, you know, making sure that we were flooding the room with atmosphere, quote unquote atmosphere, so smoke in the room to give it that [00:17:00] filmy feel. Like there's just, there's a weight on them. The environment itself feels oppressive. So we're pumping smoke. I mean, we're shooting through smoking almost every scene. You can't quite reach them. They're not quite crisp. They're not quite clear.

A lack of clarity in the image. You know, a big part of it was in the color timing. Shout out to Mitch Paulson, my longtime colorist. It was really about trying to find a way to handle the skin tones and make those vibrant and fresh. So they feel like living, breathing boys, but then behind this veil of smoke, if you will, was the idea.

And so it came across most in the colors sessions. That's where we had to deal with it most.

KRIS: And beautiful work from your colorist and from your DP, Bradford Young. I don't know if it was just me, but when I first saw it, I got a Michael Mann vibe. I just want to say that because it was something about the observational photography, the way that it quickly, but succinctly would convey information visually. And I was just [00:18:00] wondering, you know, “Collateral” is an interesting part of your history, working publicity on that film. You recently hosted Michael in the –

AVA: He was here, yeah!

KRIS: We’re here at ARRAY, by the way, where we’re recording this. Beautiful space. I'm just wondering if there's anything about his work as a filmmaker that you're inspired by?

AVA: Well, it feels lovely that you see something that might be speaking to that in my work. But it wasn't intentional.

KRIS: Sure.

AVA: I just, I liked the way that stuff looks. I mean, “Collateral” is one of my favorite looking films.

There might be something with it – I mean, I was just watching “Collateral” the other day. That color timing! That green that’s just over that whole thing. And I was asking him about that and he said, you know, it was something that they really brought out afterward and it was – you know, sometimes you find those things later. You find it while you're in principal photography, you're attracted to something over and over.

Even though it might not have been spoken, it might not be intended, but you find, oh, I repeated that, or my eye went to that a few times. And so, anyway, there might be a little bit of that in there. I'll take it.

KRIS: Let's talk about the edit. Just  [00:19:00] broadly speaking, do you do a lot of, takes, leave a lot of options?

SPENCER: I mean, you know, there are budget constraints and timing, so I don't think so.

AVA: I do -- and I didn't know this until the, I was working with other editors -- I'll do a long, long roll, keep it going.

SPENCER: You know, it poses a little bit of a more of a more work for the assistant editor cause it's like –

KRIS: Finding stuff, probably?

SPENCER: Yeah, she says action and then she doesn't say cut for a long time. She says “reset.”

You know, because, if she says cut, then – I get it. Everyone stops and it's this whole thing and 20 minutes later you can pick it up, but the actors are in it. So she doesn't want to lose that. And she tells everyone “Okay, I’m still in it.” So you’ll have a take that'll have five takes in it.

KRIS: Talk about when and why you would go to closeups throughout the series.

Because there seems to be a strategy at play there. It was fascinating to me looking at it again recently. So can you about any kind of a general rule or thought on that? [00:20:00

SPENCER: Yeah, I mean, it’s always been something that you do. You always get close.

You know, it's like when you were talking about Michael, when you were talking about “Collateral,” the first image was like Tom Cruise tight in that car, you know, and, you know, Ava just has a knack for finding the truth, the humanity of people, just getting in there. And that's part of it.

KRIS: Yeah.

AVA: I remember the closeup that we used in “Middle of Nowhere,” because you know, an eye will follow. I mean I gave him two takes and was like, “Brother, do what you can.”

But I remember in “Middle [of Nowhere]” was the first time I used an ECU, extreme closeup. On Emayatzy [Corinealdi]’s face, right when she gets the news that her husband has betrayed her at the hearing.

And it was really the response from audiences that made me like, oh, the power of being that close. And to use it and wield that tool only in precise moments. And it's become really instinctual for us, but I do [00:21:00] prefer to get into the terrain of the face.

SPENCER: Yeah. I think in “When They See Us,” there's a lot of closeups.

Not a lot of ECU’s, but there are a lot of closeups because we wanted people to just be with these kids and everything's happening so fast. At trial, getting accused for murder, so the more we can just be with each one of them. But then we got really close when the verdicts –

AVA: Sure.

SPENCER: But we stayed close a lot in this show.

AVA: I think especially for this, you know, this story has been given to the public in a way that it wasn't through the perspective of the men, of the boys. You know, this was shared with them through the media and through politicians, and it was contorted and distorted from the very beginning, so to prioritize their perspective was one of the main reasons why we're always on them.

KRIS: Yeah. Well, now I want to talk about these two specific episodes, Spencer, that you cut. Episode Two ism for me when I was rewatching it, it's essentially the storytelling episode. It's the victim telling the story she remembers. It's the cops telling [00:22:00] their story and then having it kind of clarified in their face by Mickey Joseph.

It’s how Bobby McCray's story is twisted and contorted when he's on the stand. And it also struck me again, that editing is part of the narrative here because we learned that prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer and her team edited the confession tapes to better tell their story, what they wanted to tell.

And it's brilliant because it's a commentary on the very medium itself. I mean, what you do, Spencer, is juxtaposing imagery, right? And just the power of that, the transformative power of that. Can you just speak to that, with all of that in mind?

AVA: That’s so interesting that you talk about, I mean, really that episode being, you know, really about everyone kind of editing and shaping and crafting their own story, which is true.

I remember when you were cutting this, you’d cut it all and we were with it. You thought, there's a layer missing. And I think we'd gotten some feedback that, you know, it felt more procedural than you wanted. And you said, “I'm going to [00:23:00] go back and do a boy pass.” And you went back through and you dug into not just the the stories that were being told, but the boys' reaction to every story.

And the omission within the story. And I remember that's when the whole thing came to life. What Mickey Joseph chose to say or not say, what Lederer chose to put in or not put in, how the victim when she took the stand, you know, was able to say the details or was not able to remember details. Their face and their reaction to each one of those edits, omissions, additions, really lifted it up.

SPENCER: Yeah. You have the boys, you have their families, you have the legal teams. There’s so many points of view that you have to keep in play and keep alive. We didn't want it to feel like “Law and Order,” you know?

AVA: Right. I was afraid of this one. I was afraid of this episode.

SPENCER: They shot it beautifully and there’s creative angles that don't make it [00:24:00] feel like TV at all.

But we laid it out and it was good, but definitely missing something. So it was like, whose reaction do we want to see at each moment? You know, which one of the boys are being affected right now? So we did the boy pass.

AVA: And that brought it up. That was the first thing that brought it up.

The second thing was the end. People say a dinner table scene is tough to shoot. No. Dinner table scene? Give it to me all day. I'm good.

Courtrooms. This is why, Kris. You have literally six sides. I had four cameras. That was the most I'd ever shot on this show. You got footage, four cameras’ worth. Brad had a camera on his shoulder.

SPENCER: Yeah.

AVA: Three different camera people, two camera women, two camera men, I mean you had a trough of footage.

SPENCER: I remember getting the first bucket of footage, and I was like, “Where do you start?” But then I quickly realized you had to do this in order to get [00:25:00] …yeah.

AVA: I had to shoot it all at once, or I wouldn't have been able to get through the days.

It was too much to cover, but I think it's the most footage I've ever given you at one time on any film. Every day you're getting four full days, four cameras full of footage every day.

SPENCER: And then as an editor, sometimes you get multi camera scenes a lot, but they’re usually on the same subject, so it's kind of like you can just kind of watch them together

But with this you had the treat each one as its own camera, so you shoot an hour. That's four hours that I have to like, really look at.

AVA: It wasn’t just different angles of the same person. One camera was shooting you, you, him, her. And try to put that all together.

SPENCER: Somehow we did it.

AVA: Somehow. Once you've got that layer down, which was complicated, then the boy pass and then the thing that really took it to a different level is when you cracked the end.

KRIS: Look at you just leading into my questions. Tell me about building that montage as the verdict is reached in ending on that haunting horn wail.

SPENCER: Yeah. Well, like I said, the two verdicts [00:26:00]… the first verdict was for three of the boys. Then a few months later in real time, they did the verdicts for the other two boys.

So that's the way it was shot. That's the way it was written. We were watching it and I think you just said, “Look, we’ve got to try to combine this and make this as one big moment.” And they shot these really creative, emotional, super tight closeups where, you know, the focal length, everything's blurry in the background, and these kids are looking right into the camera. Right?

AVA: Yeah.

SPENCER: Yeah. And so I had a lot to play with there. And just, I don’t know, you just…

KRIS: You start playing some jazz in there, yeah. You just start finding it.

SPENCER: Yeah. Put on some music and yeah.

AVA: But it was, I mean, that's a really special end. I mean, I can't watch the end of that without being very emotional.

SPENCER: Ava and I -- this had never happened like this. I played it for her for the first time in the dark. Music, everything was really loud, and I just started crying. I think I cried before when I was editing it, just sometimes you’re working and [00:27:00] then all of a sudden you go, “This is real. This really happened.”

So it's tough. And I remember just tears coming. I turn the lights on, tears down your face. I don't think we'd ever cried together.

AVA: That never – at the same thing. We cry.

SPENCER: We've cried.

AVA: I cry a lot. But that piece. Watching it for the first time, him showing me that for the first time, he became emotional, showing me and watching it and I just broke.

And for several times after that when we would work, I mean, when I was working with Chris Power and composing, in color… that piece. There were a few pieces in this would, no matter how I was dealing with the footage, I would just break down.

And that was, that was the first one. I don't, I don't cry at [Episode] One. But it's the end of Two. That is a wrap. And it's that the way that you juxtapose their faces slow-mo of the family’s faces. You put the repetition of the “guilty”s over it. [00:28:00] And then you jump into this shotof Asante Blackk on a chair, which --

Let me just say, the reason why I got that shot is because it was Teri Shropshire who said, “You need something! You need to grab something else here.”

SPENCER: For Episode One at some point.

AVA: It was Episode One. And she was needing something and I said, “Is it... like, what?” She said, “I don't know, like maybe in someone's head or memory or something.” It was not scripted.

I was like, “I don't know.” And she kept saying, “I feel like you need this moment.” I thought that was going to be for Episode One. I shot up for that. And we didn't end up using it in One. So it was really a scrap of footage --

SPENCER: A leftover.

AVA: Leftover footage that you took, and --

KRIS: So when it showed up, did you see it in the cut, and you were like, “Oh wow. He used that shot.”

AVA: Yeah!

KRIS: You didn't know he was going to do that?

AVA: No!

KRIS: I think that is a definitive portrait of innocence being lost. Just, I've never seen cinematically it portrayed so beautifully.

AVA: Not [00:29:00] planned. Not planned in advance for that purpose. That came out of the mind of Spencer Averick.

KRIS: Episode Four is almost a film unto itself. I mean, this is the Korey Wise biopic. It's one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I think I saw this year. And I want to know, did you look at it that way as separate from the whole?

You could queue this up and it tells a full emotional, complex story. It's a movie. Did you conceive of it that way?

AVA: Yes. Yes. He always said, one of the first things that Korey said to me when I met him for the first time: it's not Central Park Five, it's four plus one. I remember nothing else from our first conversation except that line, it hit me so hard.

He said I had a completely different experience than they had. And everyone calls us the Central Park Five, and no one knows my story or what I went through. I said, “If you tell me, I'll make sure I tell it the right way.” He did, and it was hard for many years. We would go through that story of what you see there, and I pick and choose and curated what I felt [00:30:00] was the most important to share.

But what was the most healthy to share? Because he went through a lot. I mean, what you see is not the half of it. But you get the picture. And so to think about how to do that, it was very purposeful that one would be like a bottle episode. It would just be his experiences, who would actually jump back in time, right?

So at the end of Episode Two, they all have their verdicts. In Episode Three he's absent. You do not hear from him. They go from juvenile detention, they become adults, and you see them through that whole storyline. At the top of Four, we jump back to the moment that he got his verdict, and we dedicate it to him.

KRIS: Yeah. I believe the first cut here was two and a half hours of this episode. Is that right?

SPENCER: Probably! Yeah.

KRIS: Well, I mean, that’s whole hour of material missing. I'm just wondering what stands out in those moments that you had to lose?

SPENCER: Ooh. Probably the first cut, you know, he's in the cell by himself.

They just shot a lot of footage of him. You know, just living in there and imagining things and just [00:31:00] trying to get through it. So the first cut probably we just really let breathe. And then I think it's close to 90 minutes still.

AVA: You’re watching something very down, very depressing, very diminishing to this person.

And then you have pops of like the chia pet and, you know, being able to just listen to the music when you mop. And for him to be able to find those moments and take as great of care in crafting those moments as the tough stuff… Throughout it, he was able to construct moments where we get these pops of relief in a very, very depressing story.

That's the only way you get someone through is you got to give them something to hang onto.

KRIS: Yeah, and I believe I read that you finished that first cut early on, but you didn't return to it until the rest of the series was finished?

SPENCER: Yeah. I remember we just really wanted to get One through Three in a good place.

Because Four, it's so different, it's not connected. We'll get back to it. Let's figure out One through Three and make sure we're happy with that. And then jump back to Four. I'm pretty sure that's how we did it.

AVA: I remember when [00:32:00] I kept saying in the editing room to the whole team, if they can't get through One, they're never going to see Four.

But I remember when Four just started to rise up from all of them. Like people -- I think one of the reasons why people started to watch is the early watchers kept saying, “The end! The end! You gotta get to the end. You've got to get to four.”

We have to shout out our other editors.

SPENCER: Teri Shropshire. Episode One. Great friend of ours, she's been helping with us for a long time. We love her.

AVA: Guiding us, giving us advice early on when we didn't know where we were doing.

SPENCER: And then Michelle Tesoro, we just met her on this project and she knocked it out of the park. She was great. She was great.

AVA: Badass.

KRIS: Yeah. Speaking of Jharrel Jerome – he won an Emmy for this incredibly moving performance. And he has to go to a lot of dark places, obviously, in the episode.

So just kind of to shoot back into production a little bit. I imagine that made for some emotional days on the set. How did you shake it at the end of the day? Was it easier to shake it cause you wanted to get out of the headspace? I mean, that question.

AVA: Yeah. It wasn't just him, it was all of them, you know, it [00:33:00] was those boys early on.

I mean, the boys really got me cause you're dealing with such young actors. And you're asking them, I mean, you're terrorizing them in the room for the camera. Caleel Harris’s face and Asante Blackk when he's like, “I want to go home” and I'm the one who's responsible.

Like I'm saying, do that, go through that. So that's tough. I mean, even with the adults, the women, you know, Aunjanue Ellis, Niecy Nash, and having to ask people and be with people and be by the side of people who are putting themselves on the line emotionally to translate these feelings for us.

KRIS: And then tell me about, particularly in Episode Four, sculpting that performance the editing room as well.

SPENCER: Well, I take all the credit for his performance. [Laughs]

AVA: Well, what I will say, you know: the editor is a lost partner in any performance that is lauded, awarded, nominated, or loved.

Because actors are doing things different ways every [00:34:00] time. And to be able to find, Oh, the first take of this moment matches with the third take of this, and to be able to craft it so that it feels seamless, is you know. Spencer's, a real partner in that performance, I think.

SPENCER: I think this is a little bit different. Like, everything you said is true, but this kid came in as Korey Wise. Sometimes you get actors that one take is different then the next take is better or whatever. You're trying to pick and choose. He was like this throughout every take. So, you know, in the edit it's more of like helping tweak the nuances of this evolution of this kid becoming a man in prison.

AVA: You weren't shaping a performance that wasn't there. I think you were strengthening. There'll be takes where like, you know, he's himself in his own body. So there are takes where he's playing young Korey, where the moment his eyes are just a little wider and he's just feeling younger, you know what I mean?

Or in a later one that his body, he was able to carry [00:35:00] more of a weight to find those moments, to help track time to keep him young when he was young. Right? And older when he was older.

And then to find the moments of transition. You know, I mean, it's hard when he gets the chia pet, right? He's looking like in his body, he's his age, but the exuberance of really just a kid who got that, right? Finding that right take. Because I remember there was -- We would look at takes like, “Oh, he's feeling a little older here,” or “Let's keep him more innocent here” in those pieces, I think, you know, he gave it all to you. He gave us so much to work with that it was like a treasure trove of picking and choosing the best moments.

KRIS: Speaking of solitary confinement, I also just wanted to touch on that first section when he's in solitary and that's when we get the story of his trans sister, Marci Wise.

And that further serves to unlock Korey as a character. So can you just kind of walk me through how that came together? Because it is like so much in this episode, it serves, and throughout the series, it [00:36:00] serves to put you in the character's head space.

SPENCER: We wanted to get out early this story of his sister and his mom, we wanted to sort of put that out early so you could care about him sooner.

AVA: It also allows us to get out of the cell.

You know, when I asked Korey, “How did you make it all those years?” And one day he said, “I lived in my mind.” And that was the key to unlocking the episode as we were writing it. It's like, okay, well, Whoa. Okay. You lived in your mind. Let me talk about what that was.

And it wasn't really in make-believe. It was really, as I would talk to him and got to know him over the years, it was in memory. And so to be able to seed it and to put it down, you know, the first time that you see him and Marci when Marci's not identifying as Marci, when we know the next time when she's leaving the house, and then the final time when she appears to him from beyond or he remembers her even within a memory.

Right? So this whole idea of memories, what we played with, and to be able to edit that seamlessly [00:37:00] where you feel like you're moving in and out of the present and memory, it's all the same thing for him -- is really a lot of what Spencer had to deal with, with all that footage there.

SPENCER: And when you told me that in the beginning, you're like, “No, this is -- he told me this. This is real, what happened in his head. This is all real.” You know, he's sort of tying up loose ends in his life. In his head, he's doing it. And I thought that was so interesting, and hopefully it came across.

KRIS: Absolutely.

We're going to switch gears at the end here. Cool things down, as I like to say. A couple of rapid fire questions for you. What’s a recent movie that blew you away with its editing? Or series?

AVA: The Irishman. Damn it! God dang it, that film. I mean, I was sitting there for three hours.

KRIS: It doesn't feel like it.

AVA: I'm good. Like when I saw it, I [00:38:00] literally could have gone right back and watched it again. That's how much that flew . And that editing. Thelma [Schoonmaker] did it? Oh Gosh. I mean, what a what a giant. You should be jealous, Spencer, you have not seen it yet. We should go see it together. I'll see it again.

SPENCER: I want to see it so bad.

AVA: So great. What about you, Spence?

KRIS: How about you?

SPENCER: A film I was late to seeing that I saw recently was Phantom Thread. Paul Thomas Anderson. And I just loved the editing in that movie, the use of closeups. He always talks about being a big fan of Jonathan Demme and his use of closeups, and just that, like punctuation -- I think he shot this movie too, and I just loved the way it was put together and the editing stood out to me.

KRIS: What's your go to junk food when you're sitting at the Avid?

AVA: Ha!

SPENCER: trying to be healthy at the Avid these days.

KRIS: That's fine. That's fair too.

SPENCER: I love me some sour candy. Sour worms. Yeah.

KRIS: Yeah. You got anything?

AVA: Oh, gosh. [00:39:00] I eat everything.

SPENCER: You love sunflower seeds.

AVA: I do love sunflower seeds. That wasn’t what I was thinking of, though.

SPENCER: It’s like your little addiction.

AVA: Yeah. Sometimes I say to you, “Is this too loud?” You always say “No. Nope. That's okay.” So sweet. I mean, I’m cracking sunflower seeds like I’m on a porch. Yeah, but you know what I drink when I get stressed. Yeah. It's an ice blended white chocolate from Coffee Bean. Yeah. And it is like drugs. Yeah. It goes straight, bam. Straight into the vein.

SPENCER: She goes, “Don't let me have it.” And then at the end of the day she's like, “Where is it?”

AVA: It’s true!

KRIS: I’ll have to go try one if it's that good. Spencer, I believe you have the phrase, “What if?” framed on your desk. So it's a way to inspire yourself to look in new directions, right?

SPENCER: I got that from Terry Shropshire by the way. She always had it. And I stole it from her.

KRIS: Well, just for you both, what's a “what if” moment that you've had on a project that led to a breakthrough where you said, “What if we did this?” and [00:40:00] it completely broke what you were looking for?

AVA: It's hard for me. I do it all the time. I mean, it's a constant.

SPENCER: It's constant. I mean, we're always, our minds are always going to: “What if we just broke this up?” Yeah, we call it a stew. You know, if something's not working, let’s try to intercut.

AVA: See, this is one of these things where when I'm sitting with the other editors. I’m like, “Do a stew!” They’re like, “What the…?”

SPENCER: Then they go, “Spence, what’s a stew?” So, something's not working. We try intercutting. We try juxtaposing images and it ww just try crazy things and a lot of the times it works.

AVA: A stew is really… Everything that doesn't work. If you put it together, could it be something?

SPENCER: Don't give up on it.

AVA: Don't give up on it. We also have scraps.

I love scraps. Scraps is, um, pieces of things that we've liked that didn't make it in that we keep in a folder. And sometimes we'll just be like, “Let's look at the scraps” and just like, see what's there. That’s probably how you [00:41:00] found the Asante Blackk horn at the end.

Yeah. Scraps from One.

SPENCER: Yeah. You go through -- you know, when you edit a film, in month two, you might say, “Oh, we don't need this. You definitely don't need it, I'm sure.” And then in month six, you're like, “We need this. Where is it?”

KRIS: Where's that shot?

SPENCER: Yeah, exactly. So we're, we're constantly challenging ourselves to think outside of the script. You know? There's so many ways to put things together. Yeah.

KRIS: What is the movie that made you fall in love with movies?

SPENCER: I’ll never forget going to the theater and seeing Stand By Me.

AVA: Aww, little Spencer!

SPENCER: Just the music and these kids and oh God. Like that's the kind of thing that makes you love movies. Like that feeling that you have.  I can still remember that feeling. It's a feeling I still get. When I’m editing movies, it's like, how do I get back to that? This love, like, it feels so real.

As a craft. I think The Shining or Space Odyssey, one of Stanley Kubrick's movies where I just went, wow, look [00:42:00] at these beautiful shots.

The way it's cut, there's not a lot of cuts, right? You know, I'm growing up in the 80’s and MTV, and I'm watching this. This film is just as most beautifully crafted film, and that's when I was like, I remember, okay, I want to do this. For sure.

KRIS: Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. All right. You've had time to think about it.

AVA: Oh, no, I already know mine. It's West Side Story, I say it all the time. West Side Story. I saw when I was young. My aunt Denise -- we're sitting in the Denise Amanda theater, the Amanda Cinema here at ARRAY named after her -- gave me my love of movies. She worked at night as a nurse that she could watch movies during the day.

So she watched movies and she'd go to plays and exhibits, and she was just an art lover. So she didn't, you know, live to work. She worked to live.

Then one day after school, I was over at her house. She had a night shift and she said -- it was a weekend. And she said, you know, you gotta be quiet. I gotta sleep. And she turned on KTLA here locally and West Side Story was on. [00:43:00] And she said, “Ah!” I remember being relieved. “It's a long one. Sit here and watch this.” And I sat there and I watched, it was a rainy day, and I'd never seen anything like it and never been the same since. The brown people, the dresses, the dancing, the romance, the camera, the story.

I mean, I was hooked and just became a long time, deeply-in-love-with-movies person. Some people are pet people, some people are sports people. That made me a movie person forever.

KRIS: Are you excited to see what they're going to do with it on this new one?

AVA: I really love the old version. I'll say that I don’t feel the need for another, but we are always fans of Mr. Spielberg and are eager to see whatever he offers us.

SPENCER: We'll see what it is.

KRIS: Well, thank you again for talking to me and for inviting me here to ARRAY. Beautiful space. If anyone’s listening ever in town, come over here and check it out. They're doing the film series and [00:44:00] it's just, it's an awesome community. So thank you again for coming on the show.

AVA: Thanks for having us.

SPENCER: Thank you, Kris.

KRIS: As you can tell, this was a vastly important and moving project for both Ava and Spencer. It took a world renowned criminal case and did something with it that no one else really has, which is to move away from the headlines in the media identity of this moment in history and drill deeper into the human stories at its center.

To allow those perspectives to guide the narrative. That boils all the way down to the very title. When they see us, when we see them, they're no longer the central park five they're not even the exonerated five. They are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise.

So if you haven't seen “When They See Us,” please check it out. It's streaming on Netflix now, and it's a powerful reminder of what film craft can accomplish.

[00:45:00]

KRIS: The Call Sheet is a Netflix podcast hosted by me, Kris Tapley. The show is produced by Noah Eberhart and the team at Blue Duck Media. Stuart Park created all the original music in this episode and a special thanks to the team at Netflix.istory and drill deeper into the human stories at its center.

To allow those perspectives to guide the narrative. That boils all the way down to the very title. When they see us, when we see them, they're no longer the central park five they're not even the exonerated five. They are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise.

So if you haven't seen “When They See Us,” please check it out. It's streaming on Netflix now, and it's a powerful reminder of what film craft can accomplish.

[00:45:00]

KRIS: The Call Sheet is a Netflix podcast hosted by me, Kris Tapley. The show is produced by Noah Eberhart and the team at Blue Duck Media. Stuart Park created all the original music in this episode and a special thanks to the team at Netflix.