<I>Yellowstone</I>: Editor Chad Galster, ACE, reflects on Season 5
Issue: May/June 2023

Yellowstone: Editor Chad Galster, ACE, reflects on Season 5

Editor Chad Galster, ACE, has a history of collaborating with filmmaker Taylor Sheridan that dates back to the first season of the Paramount hit Yellowstone. In addition to working on all five seasons of Yellowstone, the two have collaborated on its prequel, 1883, as well as on Mayor of Kingstown and Those Who Wish Me Dead. They are currently working together on the upcoming spy-thriller series Lioness, starring Nicole Kidman and Zoe Saldana.

Paramount’s Yellowstone follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton (Kevin Costner), who controls one of the largest ranches in the United States — a property that’s under constant attack by bordering developers, an Indian reservation and a National Park. The neo-Western drama is shot in Montana, as well as on stages.
Galster recently sat down with Post to discuss his work with Sheridan, how the show comes together and how he pushes himself to deliver a series that goes beyond what audiences expect of the genre.

Chad, you have a long history working with Taylor Sheridan. Can you detail how that 
came about? 

“Yeah, at this point, I’ve been with him since Season 1 of Yellowstone, so I think we’re going on some 60-somewhat hours of TV together and a Warner Bros. movie. We were introduced through a mutual friend. He was editing Season 1 of Yellowstone, and they needed another editor. A friend gave him my name. We met and figured out pretty quickly that we shared a relatively common vision. I understood what he was trying to do. I love the kind of stuff that he wrote…And we just built a rapport. We’re years in at this point, so it’s a very rewarding and exciting creative relationship/partnership I would say that we have. 

“We don’t have to talk much about things. I do see him quite a bit, but, it’s like in any long-term relationship — there’s a lot of unspoken communication. I can tell when he doesn’t like something if I’m sitting in the room with him. It’s little expressions, head movements, whatever it is, you know? We’re going strong and it’s been the highlight of my career, working for him. We’ve gotten to do some pretty exciting things, so I hope it doesn’t stop.”

Going back to Season 1, were you involved in the pilot?

“They had not yet locked Episode 1, so I came in on Episode 1 and there was a small editorial adjustment that I made…I started becoming the last hands on the cut. [It’s] just the way that it worked out. And that was a rhythm that Taylor and I got into, so by Episodes 103, 104, I was the last one touching it, and have locked almost every episode of Yellowstone since then. 

“During Season 3, the first three quarters, we were actually making Those Who Wish Me Dead, Taylor’s last feature film, so I came on and did the last couple of episodes of Season 3. We have some very talented editors in our orbit that do incredible work.”

What is your workflow?

“The way that it generally works out is, I travel to Texas every week-and-a-half, two-weeks to sit with Taylor, and we lock notes together. And that’s a working rhythm that we have found that works really well. I am going to see him next week, so it’s constantly happening that way. We’re working on a new show, a show called Lioness that comes out in July.”

Are you far behind the production as far as keeping up with footage? I would imagine the shooting never stops?

“It depends. It really does, because with Taylor, there are so many shows and often there are shows running concurrently. Earlier this year I was doing both Yellowstone Season 5 and 1923 Season 1 at the same time, so the short and unglamorous answer is that it’s a ton of work and not a ton of sleep when we’re in production. There’s no shortcut. I might be working on an episode of Yellowstone and finishing that up and then transitioning into some 1923 footage that came in that day. 

“1923, for instance, started shooting in August and we premiered in December. It’s a massive show with not only just a huge production, but a significant VFX footprint as well. It’s a period piece, so there’s a lot of work that we had to do in our environments. That was incredibly fast to go from production to premiere in three-and-a-half/four months on a show that size. Yellowstone tends to have a little bit more time, but with all these shows, we spend a lot of time shooting outside, so we were up against the elements in ways that are not entirely predictable. Our schedule is at the mercy of the elements more often than some other shows — maybe a lot of shows. We have a fair amount of stage work, but we also have a lot of exterior work. Sometimes there are episodes that I just cut by myself. There [are] some episodes where other editors are doing first cuts of things, and then hand it off to me later on. It’s on an as-needed basis and it is sometimes by the seat of our pants.”

You mentioned that Taylor’s in Texas, and I know that the show shoots in Montana. You also had stages in Utah. Where are you in the mix of things? 

“It depends. Yellowstone, in the early days, we had stages in Utah. Two seasons ago (we) moved to where it’s entirely shot in Montana now, but we were in Park City, UT. When I started working there, we had Avids at the soundstage complex. At lunch, I would go to set, or if I had a question for Taylor, I could just walk over to set and ask him. And in-between setups he would come and look at things that [I] or one of the other editors were cutting. When they moved entirely to Montana, I actually spend a lot less time on the Yellowstone set than I used to because it’s just not practical. Where they shoot in Montana, logistically, it’s difficult to get footage there. They don’t have high-speed internet where we’re shooting, so there’s a lot of physically shuttling drives, taking drives or cards and uploading them in whatever the nearest big city is. 

“I primarily work and live in Los Angeles. That’s where I am based. That’s where I am right now. Taylor likes to be in-person when we’re locking shows, and I think it’s completely invaluable. Just the body language you’re able to read, (and) feel how it’s playing, so we make sure that we’re in a room together every week-and-a-half to two-weeks. It’s either in Texas, where he is primarily based, or in 1883, for example, there’s an Airstream edit trailer that has an Avid in it and a bed. I went on location. I would stay there for a week at a time and he would be shooting during the day and then at night, he would come and watch cuts. That trailer is always around. I stayed in it two weeks ago because we were in North Texas, and that was the easiest thing. I was editing and staying there.”

Is Avid your system of choice?

“I’m just an Avid editor. I mean, look, I very firmly believe that it doesn’t matter — they’re just tools, and whatever tool an editor is most comfortable with is what they should use. I have been doing this for about 20 years. When I started, Avid was the thing, and when I was at film school, we had all of their latest gear. So when I started working professionally, I was up to speed immediately on what was primarily being used out in the world. On a project like an episodic television series, with shared users, in my experience, it just happens to be the thing that handles that the best. My first assistant editor lives in Atlanta. I’m here in LA. I’m sometimes in Texas, and we’re all accessing the same shows and the same media, so it’s just the tool that works the best for us.”

Do you know what the show is shot on, as far as camera and format? And then, how do you receive it? 

“No, I don’t. I used to know that kind of stuff, and I’m spoiled by some fantastic assistants who make sure that I don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.”

So you’ve got somebody else who may be receiving dailies and performing transcodes?

“A bunch of people who are, or are receiving dailies and who are doing ScriptSync and grouping and all that stuff so that by the time it gets to me, it just comes in a ScriptSync bin, and also scene bins if I want to look at it that way. I primarily use ScriptSync bins and then I start going through the footage. ScriptSync is a tool that’s actually really, really helpful in the revisions process. When you’re first watching (and) when you’re first putting a show together, you watch everything — at least I do. ScriptSync, and being able to jump to a line by line by line, isn’t all that important at that stage. When you’re revising — you just want to see five takes of Kevin Costner saying one particular line — then that tool is really valuable. So I use it a lot when we’re revising cuts or making changes.”

Yellowstone is obviously a scripted show, but is there room for you to be creative editorially?

“Working with Taylor, the creativity is the whole thing. It’s everywhere. It’s a wonderfully-rewarding environment to be in. Taylor does not circle takes. He never has, and I don’t think he ever will. He just says, 'Watch everything. Whatever’s the best, use it.' I have a tremendous amount of latitude to put together the best version of the show.

“[On] an episodic show, you have to make sure that you don’t allow yourself to become stale — that you don’t go on autopilot. A show like Yellowstone, where we’re five seasons in now, you can see a scene on a ranch and scene with horses and think, ‘Okay, I could do it somewhat blindfolded, or I could try to do it in a way that I’ve never done before and challenge myself, and come up with something different, whether it’s visually or in the audio track.’ 

“Every editor is different (in) how much time they put into the sound effects and music. I tend to put in a ton. I leave a very specific blueprint to the sound team, the post team, of what I think works best. Sometimes it’ll just be like experimenting with sound in a different way to tell the story with sound. Absence of sound. Music. Absence of music. So long story short, I have a ton of creative freedom in that initial stage.”

You talk about challenging yourself and not falling into clichés of the genre. Has Yellowstone evolved from Season 1 to Season 5?

“It’s a good question. I’m sure it has in a way that I’m probably not entirely aware of. I don’t think of Yellowstone as a 'Western.' I mean, that’s going to sound silly when I say it, but just because I don’t. It is a story about people. It is in that genre, unmistakably — undeniably in that genre — but it’s just a story about a certain group of people with certain conflicts and relationships — love, life, death, all of those things. I just simply engage with the material on that level. 

“When you’re talking about pacing, I think the show is paced in a way that modern audiences are accustomed to. When you look at a Western like The Searchers (1956), for instance — you’re going to go back in history a little bit — the pace of that movie is very, very different than anything in the past 20 or 30 years. I think film and TV, as an art form, evolves from a pacing standpoint. I don’t think it’s specific to the genre, at least not for me. I don’t think of it that way. The footage comes in — what is the pace and the rhythm that it is telling me to provide? I am open to that being whatever it needs to be for the scene that is in front of me, whether it’s Yellowstone or Lioness, which is a modern story about the military. I don’t try to take the footage or put it into a predetermined rhythm or a template that we have for Yellowstone.”

What kind of resolution are you working at and delivering?

“I work at DNxHD 36, which is like the low end of the Avid codec, but it works well for us. We shoot a ton of footage, so just from a storage standpoint... The show shoots at 4K, we’re like 3.8, I think, so I have latitude to punch in if I need to, to get rid of crew or a camera or boom, obviously, here and there. I don’t know what it delivers at or what it broadcasts at because I am spoiled by some phenomenally thorough and talented people, who keep me shielded (laughs).”

Is there a scene or episode in Season 5 that you would call attention to?

“Sure! Episode 1 of Season 5 has a lot of really fun, cool stuff going for it in my mind. It opens on just Kevin’s face — John Dutton — and you don’t know where he is or what’s happening. There are some people in the room, and you realize, ‘Holy hell! He has been elected governor.’ Then he’s got to go out and give a speech. I thought that was a really-interesting way to start the season — just slowly pulling out and trying to figure out what’s going on in his mind. That was a lot of fun to put together. 

“His swearing-in ceremony. This is one of those places where I talk about experimenting with sound. What I did in the offline is, just as the people are talking, and there’s a girl singing the National Anthem, I just sucked the sound away where there’s almost nothing, and he’s just looking around, trying to process what he has done to his life. Seeing these faces...and we just stop hearing any sound. Then you start hearing this little bell in the distance — Father Time, as it were. 

“That episode also has a really-fun action sequence with Kayce trying to find some horse thieves, and then a standoff with the Canadian Mounted Police. That is just a straight-up action sequence. It was really fun to put together. We had a picture helicopter and a chase helicopter — a bunch of cameras. I love that stuff. Yellowstone has some really wonderful action pieces in it. Every season we get a couple big ones, and then the show ends.”

Back to your editing set up. You mentioned they shoot a lot of footage. Do you have the footage locally, or are you working in a cloud scenario? 

“We do it every which way. In my home studio here, we use Jump. And we have a post house in Toluca Lake that has all of our computers and servers, and all of our footage. It’s a very secure environment, so I have nothing here. When I travel, there is no choice but to use encrypted drives. There is no other way to do it because these areas that we shoot in are so remote, you cannot access your footage on the internet and have it be functional in any meaningful way. When I’m going to travel, we have 10TB drives that are enough. I can actually hold an entire season of the footage. When I’m traveling to work with Taylor, it’s for a specific episode or two, and we can certainly get enough for that — maybe one drive for one show, one drive for another show.” 

Talk a bit more about your home set-up?

“We work with Pivotal Post. They’ve been our partner for years. Pivotal has all of our stuff. We have access to their incredible technicians. They come out and set up the system that I work on every day. But there’s no local storage here. I pay for a more expensive internet. It’s actually a fiber line. You have to do a few things tech wise to make it functional here, but it works really, really well 98 percent of the time.”

What are you working on now?

“(Yellowstone) Season 5 is done. We’ve aired that. We did 1923, Season 1. That has aired. Right now I’m working on Lioness, which is Zoe Saldana and Nicole Kidman. It’s Taylor’s next big show that’s coming out in July. We will start making 1923, Part 2, very soon. And Yellowstone, Season 5, Part 2, very soon as well. For me, my year is consistently filled just working for Taylor on his various shows.”

What do you think of the success Yellowstone is seeing?

“It’s a show that happens to be popular, but we didn’t know that going in. You do your best work. Be the best person to work with. You (may) accidentally meet someone who’s going to put you in a position to work on whatever it is. That all happened to me. I’m a very lucky person who works hard. And there are thousands of people like me…There’s a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.”