Rolling Rocks & Cheesesteaks: A chat with “Mare of Easttown" Editor, Amy E. Duddleston, ACE

Amy E. Duddleston, ACE is an editor at the top of her game. With decades of experience, her immense talent and drive have helped craft an extremely impressive resume that includes many beloved TV shows like The Killing, Dexter, Big Love, In Treatment, American Gods, The Last Tycoon, The Umbrella Academy, and Hunters. Duddleston’s most recent credit is HBO smash hit, Mare of Easttown, a show where she is credited as an editor on every episode.

The following has been condensed, edited for clarity, and CONTAINS SPOILERS

Photo provided by Amy E. Duddleston, ACE

What initially drew you to editing? Was there a film or TV show that started it all? One that made you more than just a fan.

I became an editor because I read an article about Dede Allen. I was doing research for a paper in college, and it just sounded like the most amazing job in the world. I was like... “I want to do that. I want that job!” And I followed through with it.

Then I think the movie that really cemented it was All That Jazz. I was too young when it originally came out, but I saw it in college, and said to myself, “That is editing! That is the thing I want!” I also remember seeing Raging Bull when I was a kid, and probably shouldn't have seen it, but I knew that there was something in that movie that captured me. I didn’t know what editing was then, but I knew there was something in that movie that was affecting me and it wasn’t just the filmmaking or the actors. There was something going on that I couldn’t put my finger on until much later when I saw it again and realized I was drawn to these images being smooshed together.  

But All That Jazz really was the movie that made me say, “Yes! I’m going to do this!”

Were you studying film in college?

I wasn’t. I was studying journalism at the University of Arizona. My dad was a newspaper editor, and I was going to follow in his footsteps, but I was always a film fan. I was raised watching movies, my mom and I were big cinephiles, but I never thought you could have that as a job, like work in the movies. It was never something that seemed accessible to me, and then when I read that article by Dede Allen, I thought to myself, “Oh, there’s a woman doing this job. She’s working in the film industry and doing this stuff.” And so I changed my major from journalism to film. I mean there wasn’t really a film school where I was going, so it was like an art major where you could take film classes.

When Dede was working, it was a time when she wasn’t just sitting at a computer, she was using a Steenbeck, actually cutting the film, hanging it up in bins.

Yeah, I’m lucky that I worked on film too. That’s how I came up.

How was that transition from cutting film to working on an Avid?

It was kind of great; the last film I was an assistant editor on was Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, and we cut it on film. Then after that, I plunked down $900 to learn how to use Avid.

So you have only used Avid as an editor?

Yes, only as an editor.

What were your big breaks that helped you get to where you are? How was that transition from being an assistant editor to an editor? That can be a tough jump to make.

It is really tough, I had to commit myself to not taking assistant jobs. I actually moved away from Los Angeles and moved to Portland, Oregon, where I had been working on and off throughout the 90s with Gus Van Sant. So I knew a lot of people there and the filmmaking community, so I was able to jump in and find work. None of it very lucrative but luckily Portland is cheap.

And then my friend who was formerly an assistant editor went to school at Columbia Film School in New York and she said, “I wrote this script, and I want you to be the editor.” That friend was  Lisa Cholodenko and the film was High Art.

And of course, she turned out to be Lisa Cholodenko.

Haha yes, she turned out to be Lisa Cholodenko, but we became friends as assistants. So that was kind of my big break.  

For Mare of Easttown, can you tell us about the editing software you were using and what the workflow was like before and during the pandemic?

We started in October 2019 and were in an editing room, working off the Nexus and the Avid software. The director [Craig Zobel] wanted to communicate and do work once in a while so we actually hooked up with Evercast pre-pandemic. So we started early, learning how to use it, and it was really useful. I thought, “Well this is better than Skype or other things like the Blackmagic box.” I’ve gone through every remote editing system. 

So then during the shut-down in March of 2020, we weren’t sure what we were going to do. I was put in charge of the entire show.The other editor was let go, and I was told, “We’d like you to recut all the episodes.” Originally, we thought we were going to be off for six weeks, but it ended up being six months. Pre-production didn’t start back up until August, with cameras rolling by the end of September.

How many episodes were you in the midst of editing? How many were fully in the can?

None of the episodes were in the can. It was cross-boarded over seven episodes, so every episode had footage, some more than others. I’d say about 75% of it was shot when the pandmeic hit. Episode seven was the one that probably had the least amount of finished footage. When we had to shut down, Kate Winslet only had about three weeks left, and there was probably another month and a half after that of additional shooting that needed to be done.

So when I took over the whole show, I was told to restructure all of the episodes, find all the humor, find all the emotion, dig it out, and start working. I was still working on local drives. We had not yet set up a remote system because we weren’t sure when we were going to go back to the cutting room. It was funny because my internet at my old house was really bad, so I would have to go into the office to use Evercast with the director.

So I started with the first episode, did a director’s cut, did a producer’s cut, and sent it to HBO with all of the footage we had. We didn’t take anything out. Once in a while, there was a line of dialogue, maybe a scene, we knew we weren’t going to need. Then I started going through all of the other episodes like that and by the end, when we knew they were going to come back for shooting, we went completely remote and used the company Remote Picture Labs to set us up at home. They put all of our stuff on a giant server in a downtown Los Angeles warehouse. That’s when we started working very remotely.

How much did Covid affect the rewrite from a practical standpoint of like we can’t necessarily shoot this or we need to scale down? Also, since everyone had a lot of time to play around with the footage and review the story, was that helpful?

The silver lining was that it was a complete and utter luxury to have all of that time to edit. But yeah, we were able to see things in the script and decide that maybe we’re not going to need a certain scene or that scene that takes place in a concert with 200 people, let’s not shoot that. For example, that was the end of Frank and Faye’s wedding because there can only be 20 people there. I would say our 75% completed became closer to 60% because of pandemic rewrites.

Was there an especially hard episode or sequence to crack? 

Episode four was hard to crack because we rearranged a lot of things in that episode. Also, episode five has that giant set piece at the end where Mare is in peril, and Zable is killed. That was a tricky one too, having to make sure that you understood everything that was happening and were also at the edge of your seat. But episode four in terms of story and plot was probably the trickiest. It’s in the middle of the series, so you have elements of Mare’s life, plus the mystery, and then you’re also introducing Katie Bailey, Missy, and all the people surrounding them. 

The show utilizes perspective in such elegant fashion to not only build empathy for the characters but to also misdirect the audience with its many mysteries. How far in advance did you know how the story would unfold, including who the killer was, and how did that influence your approach to cutting the show?

I had all the scripts when I started, so we knew where the story went. Brad Ingelsby [the show’s creator] changed things slightly but only like a location or something that came through. Craig Zobel and I always talked about this, it’s a family drama with a murder mystery thrown into it, so the center of the story was always Mare’s inner life and her family with the murder mystery coming second. So that’s how we approached everything, and I think that’s what made our show special because it was something where you invest in Mare’s family and learn about her son or wonder what’s going on with Siobhan, then see that she’s making this documentary about her brother but then here comes a clue because we’re at Lori Ross’s house. It was a very tricky balance.

In regards to episode structure, since they were a little more fluid and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode were so good, were those constantly evolving as well?

Brad had those down, he knew what the cliffhangers were going to be and they never changed.

Independent of Covid, was there any story restructuring that you were surprised by or didn’t necessarily expect?

It was funny, we never had Guy Pearce because he showed up the day that we shut down. So I had like one shot of him getting out of a car, that was it. So when we started getting dailies from his scenes I was like, “Oh my god, this is incredible! Hooray! Mare has this different thing now.”

Did that help balance out the other stuff so you could have a little bit of romance?

Completely. It was like Mare had this other thing happening because all we had was her sad family drama, the mystery, and then we finally had Richard.

I don’t know if you were following the internet as the show was coming out, but many people were suspicious of Guy Pearce. Were you at all aware while cutting, that he would be considered such a prime suspect?

It’s so funny; it never even occurred to me. I was mostly concerned about the relationship and where it was going to go. I really was just more into the family drama. So for me all the suspects and everything, that was so much fun to see everybody else enjoy that because for me it was all about Mare and her family. I would sometimes have to be reminded like, “Hey, we can’t do that because that’s a suspect,” and I was like “Oh, right right, okay.”

Then was all the curiosity around Guy Pearce a surprise to everyone? 

Well, when HBO gave us the first promo and he was highlighted, I figured everybody’s going to think it’s him. 

How was balancing your mental health while working on a show so dark, especially given the weight of the past year? 

It was really hard, especially at the beginning when I was at home. I missed my crew. I missed everybody and had nobody to bounce things off of. Getting back into the cutting room, through Evercast, with Craig and Brad was definitely a lifesaver. Just having my assistants, we were all masked, next door to each other helped. It was a very emotional journey, we had so many ups and downs. But those times where I was by myself at home cutting this was hard, and I would take little mental health breaks throughout the day. Things like going outside for a gardening break or taking a walk. I try to make time for little breaks even when I’m in a cutting room, getting some sunshine and fresh air really helps to break up the day of being home.

How was it decompressing after working from home all day?

It was tough. I would go into the bedroom, try and cover up my workspace, pretend it wasn’t there, and spend time with my family. Last summer, when we started getting dailies and getting back into things, it was hard because I was working by myself again. That was when I brought Naomi Filoramo on to help me with dailies, and later on, she ended up helping me with some of the episodes because HBO wanted their show sooner rather than later. 

What was it like working on every single episode of the show? Did the pandmeic allow for this, or was the plan always to treat it more like a feature with one main editor throughout? 

No, originally it was two editors. He had four episodes, and I had three. Then, when the pandemic hit I took over the show and did all of the episodes; it was a lot of work. But it was a luxury to have that summer to go through everything. Not all of the episodes were finished and not one was over an hour yet. There were a couple verging on 55 minutes, episode five probably was the longest.

But when dailies started coming in, I was still doing producer’s cuts. So I had an additional editor, Naomi, come on to help me do a lot of that work, like cutting dailies and doing assemblies. We finally finished the editor’s cut on Christmast Eve 2020 and turned it over to Craig Zobel for him to watch. When we started back up in January 2021, Naomi took over episode two for the director’s cut and the producer’s cut. Then it seemed like she got the trust of the other people and was able to jump on to take care of some of the other episodes with me supervising. It was super collaborative, we were always on Evercast chatting with each other. My assistants were also a huge part of the collaboration. We were always talking about the show, character motivations, plotting out the VFX, music, whatever. We were always together; my Evercast room always had all my assistants. I just want to give a shout out to the great team I had by my side: Génesis Henriquez, Jimmy Durante, Luc Castillo, our post PA Chase Slover, John McCracken, Kristen Kuchenbecker and Pam Fitzgerald

As the pandemic does slowly come to an end, is there anything from the remote world that you hope sticks around? 

Well, I had done a lot of remote work before, especially in television because directors take a job right after they finish the last one. So I’ve worked with people who flew to Hungary. I’ve worked with a lot of people in Vancouver or wherever their location was. So I’m always happy if I have to jump on remotely, I find I work with it pretty well. I also like that it helps make the day a little shorter. I’ve never had a 12-hour day on Evercast, thank God. That’s one thing I really liked, it made our days super normal. We stopped working on Mare at like 5:30 or 6:00 and that never happens, like ever. Though working online is hard, you’re sitting there staring at the screen all day. Especially for someone on the other end because I’m sitting in front of my Avid. When Naomi took over and I would go into her Evercast room, I was like, “This is not fun, how do you do this all day Craig?” 

Is there a piece of advice that has been especially helpful as a storyteller that you hang on to?

I’m just always watching the actors, always looking for all the little beats in their faces and listening. Watching the actors listen is one of the most important things in telling a story. I was so lucky, Kate Winslett and the entire cast were amazing. Having actors like that was just like gold. They made my job really easy.

So the flip side of that question, any advice on navigating the industry? Were there any lessons you learned early on that you were especially surprised in how they paid off? 

Being patient. Meeting as many people as you possibly can. It’s just making acquaintances, taking meetings that you don’t want. I’ll read a script and be like, “Oh God, I don’t know, but this person’s attached, and I kind of want to meet them.” I do a lot of that. I feel like it’s really important to know people. And when people get to know you, they feel like they want to be around you. That’s part of our job, as editors, spending time together. Whether it’s in an Evercast room or in person, you’re spending a lot of time with them. So building that trust, knowing people, and having a good time.

Have there been any especially exciting pinch me moments where you realized how far you’ve come?

There were a few moments where I was editing Kate Winslet’s dailies and was like, “I am so lucky to have this job.” I think it was the scene where she finds out that it was Ryan and goes to the security system. I was editing Kate Winslet reacting to a blank iPad, because we had to VFX all of that stuff in, and it was jaw dropping. All the emotions were just there. It was a real meaningful moment. 

It’s also been really fun to see the reaction to the show because we really had no idea that people were going to react to it so much and have so much fun with it. I mean a pinch me moment would’ve been when the HBO server crashed on our finale day, and Katie Couric is tweeting, “I can’t get my HBO Max to work,” and I sent it to Craig and he said, “Was there any moment during our working on this did you think you’d be texting me this?” and I was like, “No”.

Last question, as a fan, has there been anything you’ve been watching recently, old or new, that you’ve been enjoying or thought was especially well cut?

I finally finished Schitt’s Creek, that was really fun. Wandavision was one of my favorite pandemic shows to watch with my family over the holidays. I thought it was really beautiful and well done. And I’m not even a Marvel Cinematic Universe person, and I was still captivated by the whole thing. I’m watching Mythic Quest right now, which is a super underrated as a comedy about toxic masculinity and workplace issues.

[Header photo: HBO]

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