MONDO EXTRAS

Shades of grey

by Sars April 12, 2006
RJ Cutler Interview

RJ Cutler is the producer of FX's original series Black. White., and has also produced the documentary series American High, 30 Days, and Flip That House. Last week, he answered some of our questions about casting, Rose's confession, and what he wanted for the show.

Sars: I have to say, I was surprised at how quickly I got sucked into the show -- did you know that it was going to be something good, something that you were proud of, pretty early on? Or was there any point where you were thinking, "Oh God, this is a big mistake, this is a dud"?

RJ Cutler: The truth is, you kind of think all of that all the time. So the answer to your question is "yes."

[laughs] Okay.

This was a difficult show to edit, and took a very very very long time, and figuring out…my principle goal editorially, in addition to telling stories that were as compelling and engaging as possible -- so, call that "good storytelling" -- was also to give voice to each of the subjects, each of the main subjects. It was very important to me that, for instance, in the first episode, Bruno and Brian were really given full voice to their points of view, and the balance of that is very delicate, so that definitely took a lot of time, and also, it's always the case in non-fiction storytelling, building stories, you're always trying different things, and it is itself a very delicate process that can take a long time. But I will say that the very first time I looked at the sequence in which the two families got into makeup and saw each other for the first time in makeup, I was very very excited, I was very excited.

I think that's where you got me, actually, is that Carmen was kind of like, "Wow. … No." And that reaction seemed very unvarnished from her.

Yep. Good.

Were you getting a lot of feedback from the story editors? Were there just cringe moments in the editing room?

Well, we talk a lot here; that's the way that I kind of run the shop -- conversations, discussion, stories, we tell each other stories all the time, and it starts in the field…

My fundamental belief, and this something that I learned, first day, the first film that I worked on, which was The War Room, and it's extended through everything I've done, is that in this kind of storytelling, in non-fiction storytelling, the most important thing, in a way, that can happen is the conversation that goes on at the end of the day in the bar, in terms of the direction of a show. Directing, I always say, is what happens in the bar at the end of the day. You get together with your crew, and while you've been observing all day long, you get the opportunity to tell each other stories about what you saw, what you heard, what you talked about, where you think things are going. And as my work has gone in the direction of doing these larger-scale projects, with many crews and a larger team, I've tried to maintain that by having people at the end of every day, every field team writes down, writes their story; we emulate that conversation at the bar, and we send each other emails, and we talk about things, and it happens every single day. And then once a week, we get together the story team and I get together and they also write a document that compiles what they've been looking at all week long, so there's this kind of constant storytelling dialogue about things that have happened, and when you get into post-production we all sit around and talk for days on end about how we think the stories will break out, and then it gets to the point where, you know, it gets into the edit bay and the editors are doing their thing, and dialogue takes place in there because I'm looking at footage that they're cutting and we talk about that, so the process, it's not really kind of like somebody comes running in with a "oh my God, you've gotta see this," it's more of a kind of constant process of talking about different things, things that are working, things that aren't working, questions we have, things that we think we might be looking for.

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Shades of grey

by Sars April 12, 2006
RJ Cutler Interview

RJ Cutler is the producer of FX's original series Black. White., and has also produced the documentary series American High, 30 Days, and Flip That House. Last week, he answered some of our questions about casting, Rose's confession, and what he wanted for the show.

Sars: I have to say, I was surprised at how quickly I got sucked into the show -- did you know that it was going to be something good, something that you were proud of, pretty early on? Or was there any point where you were thinking, "Oh God, this is a big mistake, this is a dud"?

RJ Cutler: The truth is, you kind of think all of that all the time. So the answer to your question is "yes."

[laughs] Okay.

This was a difficult show to edit, and took a very very very long time, and figuring out…my principle goal editorially, in addition to telling stories that were as compelling and engaging as possible -- so, call that "good storytelling" -- was also to give voice to each of the subjects, each of the main subjects. It was very important to me that, for instance, in the first episode, Bruno and Brian were really given full voice to their points of view, and the balance of that is very delicate, so that definitely took a lot of time, and also, it's always the case in non-fiction storytelling, building stories, you're always trying different things, and it is itself a very delicate process that can take a long time. But I will say that the very first time I looked at the sequence in which the two families got into makeup and saw each other for the first time in makeup, I was very very excited, I was very excited.

I think that's where you got me, actually, is that Carmen was kind of like, "Wow. … No." And that reaction seemed very unvarnished from her.

Yep. Good.

Were you getting a lot of feedback from the story editors? Were there just cringe moments in the editing room?

Well, we talk a lot here; that's the way that I kind of run the shop -- conversations, discussion, stories, we tell each other stories all the time, and it starts in the field…

My fundamental belief, and this something that I learned, first day, the first film that I worked on, which was The War Room, and it's extended through everything I've done, is that in this kind of storytelling, in non-fiction storytelling, the most important thing, in a way, that can happen is the conversation that goes on at the end of the day in the bar, in terms of the direction of a show. Directing, I always say, is what happens in the bar at the end of the day. You get together with your crew, and while you've been observing all day long, you get the opportunity to tell each other stories about what you saw, what you heard, what you talked about, where you think things are going. And as my work has gone in the direction of doing these larger-scale projects, with many crews and a larger team, I've tried to maintain that by having people at the end of every day, every field team writes down, writes their story; we emulate that conversation at the bar, and we send each other emails, and we talk about things, and it happens every single day. And then once a week, we get together the story team and I get together and they also write a document that compiles what they've been looking at all week long, so there's this kind of constant storytelling dialogue about things that have happened, and when you get into post-production we all sit around and talk for days on end about how we think the stories will break out, and then it gets to the point where, you know, it gets into the edit bay and the editors are doing their thing, and dialogue takes place in there because I'm looking at footage that they're cutting and we talk about that, so the process, it's not really kind of like somebody comes running in with a "oh my God, you've gotta see this," it's more of a kind of constant process of talking about different things, things that are working, things that aren't working, questions we have, things that we think we might be looking for.

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