<I>We Were the Lucky Ones</I>: The editing & VFX behind Hulu's limited series
June 18, 2024

We Were the Lucky Ones: The editing & VFX behind Hulu's limited series

Hulu’s We Were the Lucky Ones is based on author Georgia Hunter’s best-selling novel. The limited series was inspired by the true story of a Jewish family that was separated at the start of World War II, but remained determined to survive and reunite. 

Thomas Kail directed and executive produced the show, along with Jennifer Todd. The series stars Joey King, Logan Lerman, Hadas Yaron, Henry-Lloyd Hughes, Amit Ravah, Sam Woolf, Michael Aloni, Moran Rosenblatt, Eva Feiler, Lior Ashkenazi and Robin Weigert.

Oliver Cubbage served as VFX supervisor for the show's eight episodes, collaborating closely with VFX producer Lucinda Keeler, as well as supervisors from Buf, Crafty and Ingenuity.

“My responsibilities on-set included coordinating with other department heads on scene logistics, capturing and managing various data, like texture references, HDRI, camera and LIDAR data,” he explains. “I also brainstormed ideas for upcoming scenes to ensure proactive planning. Given the evolving nature of filming locations, extensive preparation and location scouting were essential to find solutions that met the creative vision while staying within budget.”

Cubbage used a Canon 5D camera with an array of lenses to capturing texture references and HDRI. He also called on Autodesk Maya and Foundry’s Nuke for previsualization, shot temps and concept art.

“One particularly challenging scene involved Halina, the main actress, running down a street away from an explosion,” he recalls. “With only half of the street usable on-camera, we had to green screen a significant portion and digitally reconstruct the rest in post. This process also involved designing the surrounding street network to match the time period and existing architecture, (as well as) integrating moving vehicles, stationary objects and people in the background to enhance the scene's depth. The explosion effects combined real and CG elements, including residual smoke effects. Compositing these elements with all those on-screen required meticulous effort but yielded impressive results. Extensive collaboration with the production designer, locations manager, director and cinematographer through concept art and previsualization was crucial to developing a solution that aligned with our creative goals within the VFX budget.”

Kate Sanford was part of a three-editor team that cut the series. 

“[We Were the Lucky Ones] was an incredibly ambitious international project with a collaborative dream team,” she notes. “Director Thomas Kail also served as executive producer and was hands-on throughout the process, partnering with writer and showrunner Erica Lipez. As in any pilot, I had the great honor and responsibility of establishing the characters, shaping the tone and pacing and offering temp music as a guide to storytelling.”
In addition to Sanford, the editing team included Erica Freed and Jonah Moran. 

“We had previously worked together on the limited series Fosse/Verdon, so we were very comfortable sharing our work and getting feedback from each other while collectively developing editing strategies for the series as a whole.”

Each editor had an assistant, and the team was led by post producer Christina Fitzgerald. 

“Everyone worked remotely for over a year using Media Composer 2018.12.8 via Jump, and collaborating with our directors and producers over Clearview,” Sanford recalls. “Our machines lived at Harbor Picture Company in Manhattan, and we could Jump in from anywhere with just a Mac Mini and peripherals. I worked from my apartment in Brooklyn, our house upstate and even from Tokyo for a week during dailies while visiting my husband (editor Gary Levy), who was cutting Tokyo Vice! Our crew was shooting in Bucharest and Spain, so we had a time difference either way.”
Throughout picture editing, there were many times that the editors veered away from the script in order to intensify the storytelling. 

“In the first episode, the showrunners wanted to start with a burst of energy to create tension and show the scope of the series,” notes Sanford. “As scripted, we began with a title card stating that 90 percent of Poland’s Jews were annihilated in the war, and then designed a suspenseful opening scene by borrowing from the end of the show. As our main character Halina is about to receive important news about the fate of her family, we used her closeup to cut back and forth to a series of short ‘flash-forwards’ of the family in moments of jeopardy. These short montage bursts gave a glimpse of all the main characters, in action and in danger, without giving away the outcome of their fate. After this initial context and foreshadowing, we begin to meet the family in the innocent days before the war.”

As the series continued, the editors began to vary their rhythms to increase tension and move faster through story. 

“One of my favorite sequences is in Episode 4, when Mila is readying her daughter Felicia to hide in a mattress in order to escape the Radom ghetto,” says Sanford. “As she tells Felicia the story of baby Moses, we start to flash forward to the next scene when the family is carrying her toward the wall, wrapped in the mattress, and hoisting her over and into the arms of a trusted friend. By intercutting the two scenes of a brave mother and her daughter with the action that follows, I think we achieved something even more heartbreaking than playing them in sequence. The first flash-forward cut also creates a breathtaking realization of the plan for the audience, and continues to become more poignant in the cross-cutting.”

Sanford notes that the series made use of many visual effects elements to fill out the streets and cities of Radom, Poland, and the other locations around the world. 

VFX Supervisor Oliver Cubbage, his producer Lucinda Keeler and their team were extremely patient and easy to work with,” says Sanford. “One specific sequence in Episode 5 was a particular challenge: mapping out what the real Ilha Das Flores location off the coast of Brazil was going to look like.”

The original location doesn’t exist today, and there were very few reference photos or maps. 

“We needed establishing shots that had to be comprised entirely of visual effects, and many other shots that were supportive VFX,” she explains. “The crew had already had shot in a fortress location and off a pier for a scene where the characters coming off a boat realize that they weren’t going to shore. They look left to the fortress/prison on a sandbar, they look right to the coast of Rio, and they realize they are going to be taken to the fortress. I mocked up this sequence as well as I could imagine with the plates, then called a meeting with VFX to puzzle it out. How could we understand that this was actually a sandbar peninsula with Rio in the background? Multiple drafts of VFX shots were created showing the relative geography of the island, the fortress, the coastline and the ship. I’d cut them in and we would all review the sequence to refine the positioning of each element. It took a little while, but the end result is magnificent, using the very recognizable coastline of Rio as an anchor point.”