Editing: <I>True Detective</I>, Season 3
Leo Trombetta
Issue: July/August 2019

Editing: True Detective, Season 3

The biggest challenge of my career was also my most rewarding experience. As the sole editor of all eight episodes of HBO’s True Detective, Season 3, I was given the responsibility of telling an extremely complex and intricately-plotted story. It was told from the point of view of a character in the early stages of dementia, a story that regularly shifted between three separate time periods as well as between objective reality and dementia-induced hallucination. Having previously edited a number of projects for HBO, beginning with Carnivále in 2003 and including Big Love, Temple Grandin and the Michael Mann/David Milch series Luck, I was happy when Lori Slomka, an associate producer on Luck and now the post supervisor on True Detective, called to enquire about my possibly editing the series.

Editorial, I was informed, was to take place in Fayetteville, AK, where the series was to be shot — a prospect I initially approached with some apprehension given my limited knowledge of the area. With images of dirt roads, shotgun shacks and Dueling Banjos playing in my head, I arrived in Fayetteville to find a very sophisticated college town with a number of upscale shops and restaurants, a used bookstore the length of a city block and a Taco Bell that served margaritas (!) Not exactly the gun-toting, MAGA hat-wearing town I had expected.

Our post production offices and editing rooms were set up in a spacious house just down the street from the Waffle House. (It was Arkansas, after all.) On the technical end, my assistants Roger Fenton and Daniel Scott worked in a networked environment, linked via the Avid ISIS network so they could access the same footage and projects simultaneously, trading bins back and forth. Our operating system was OS 10.10.5 and our Media Composer was version 7.0.5, not the most up-to-date but one I was very comfortable with. Episodes were shot in 4K using the Arri Alexa camera with the footage transcoded into Avid DNxHD36 by Sim International in Atlanta, then sent to us via Aspera to be edited offline. One of the challenges in editing the series was the fact that, given the Time-shifting nature of the narrative, multiple episodes were regularly crossboarded and shot out of sequence. This often required both Mahershala Ali and Steven Dorff to play characters in three separate ages within a given episode, sometimes within a single scene.

For example, in Episode 5 titled, “If You Have Ghosts,” there’s a scene where Mahershala’s character, 70-year-old retired detective Wayne Hays, watches as his 50-year-old self lays in bed while his wife reads a bedtime story to their children. The 50-year-old Wayne then turns to see a vision of his 40-year-old self, shirt bloodied from a traumatic altercation, gazing at him through their bedroom window. Due to the make-up and hair requirements as well as location difficulties, this scene, directed by creator and showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, was shot over three non-consecutive days in two separate locations. This type of complex shooting arrangement was the norm rather than the exception throughout production and it was the responsibility of keeping these scenes intriguing rather than confusing that made this assignment one I’m particularly proud of. When production wrapped, post moved to Hula Post in Burbank where we remained until the final episode locked almost a full year from when we began.

The visual effects, of which there were many, were supervised by John Heller of Fuse FX. Our sound supervisor was Mandell Winter and our mixers at Sony were Greg Orloff and Tateum Kohut. It goes without saying that working with Nic and producer Scott Stephens (along with directors Jeremy Saulnier and Daniel Sackheim) on such a beautifully written and superbly acted show was one of the highlights of my career — a rare opportunity that I consider myself lucky to have been a part of and one that I hope I get a chance to repeat in the future.