Emmy-winning Euphoria Editors Share their Most Impactful Moments of Season 2

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

The Emmy-winning editing team behind Euphoria, consists of Julio C. Perez IV, ACE; Laura Zempel; Nikola Boyanov; and Aaron I. Butler, ACE. 

Together the team shaped two of the most impactful episodes this season, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird and The Theater and its Double. With Rue’s devastating breakdown and Lexi’s opportunity to share her inner voice with the world, the editors conveyed each episode’s unique feel while keeping the heart and core of each character at the center stage. 

In an exclusive interview, we take a deep dive on how they shaped Euphoria’s maximalist, cinematic, dramatic, and impassioned style. 

PH: Hello! Can you provide a bit of your professional background? Can you share some of the projects you've worked on?

Julio C. Perez: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked as an AE on reality shows, small, then larger scale. I moved on to editing reality/clip shows, then editing independent feature films, docs and fiction. One of my major collaborators is writer/director David Robert Mitchell, so I have cut his films thus far, including It Follows and Under the Silver Lake. I also did some docs, Dior and I and Havana Motor Club, and a film with director Chad Hartigan called This is Martin Bonner. I met Sam Levinson when I was hired to do a polish/recut on Assassination Nation. We keep doing things together.

Laura Zempel: I started my career as an intern with American Cinema Editors after I graduated from film school at Chapman University. From there, I worked as an assistant editor for about 6 years until I began editing full-time on HBO’s Room 104. Euphoria was my second real editing job, and I am so grateful they took a chance on me. In addition to Seasons 1 & 2 of Euphoria, I’ve also edited Dispatches from Elsewhere for AMC and Josephine Decker’s The Sky is Everywhere for Apple and A24.

Aaron I. Butler: I began working in documentary at the Saul Zaentz film center while attending UC Berkeley as an undergrad. Eventually, I moved to LA and worked with VH1 and MTV, including Laguna Beach. Then I met the team who created the HBO show Taxicab Confessions and edited the final season of that show. With that same team, I produced and edited the HBO feature doc American Winter, for which I got my first Emmy and Eddie nominations for. Then I got my first scripted feature, the Sundance film I Am Michael, executive produced by Gus Van Sant. Then I bounced back and forth between scripted features and doc features for a few years, including the HBO Sundance doc Cries From Syria, for which I was nominated for two Emmys and an Eddie, and Out of Iraq for which I won my first Emmy. I then cut the TIFF film JT LeRoy starring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, followed by the IMAX film Jesus is King by Kanye West. Then I got my first scripted TV series, Euphoria, which we all won the Emmy for!

Nikola Boyanov: I started out as an assistant editor on shows such as The OA and The Sinner. The first feature I assisted on was Under The Silver Lake for Julio, and we have been working together ever since. We worked with Sam Levinson on Assassination Nation and then went on to do Euphoria and Malcolm & Marie with him.

PH: Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

Julio C. Perez: People's faces, magic shows, Pablo Neruda, all music that I love and hate, but mainly cinema (with a capital C)...from masterpieces to super trash.

Laura Zempel: Music is definitely my biggest source of inspiration. I obsessively create playlists and am constantly trying to discover new artists. I think music (and music videos) are always the first to push boundaries, and in hindsight, I realized watching MTV’s Making The Video is what made me want to be an editor in the first place.

Aaron I. Butler: I get a lot of inspiration from fellow editors. I love how close the editing community is, and watching my friend's work and then chatting about their process afterward is always so enlightening. We all have such different creative approaches and perspectives, and there's always more to learn from each other. And I get so inspired by my husband Mark Hartzell, ACE, who is also an editor!

Nikola Boyanov: I love watching movies. We’re fortunate to have access to nearly any movie ever made at our fingertips, and it’s amazing to discover some absolute gems. Watching a good movie fuels my passion for getting to do what I do.

PH: How did you become involved with Euphoria?

Julio C. Perez: While I was doing the recut on Assassination Nation, Sam asked me if I'd be interested in working on an HBO series. I said yes.

Laura Zempel: There was some overlap between the Room 104 crew and the Euphoria team. At the Room 104 wrap party, I heard a “teen show for HBO” was looking for editors. I’m obsessed with teenage coming-of-age stories, and I love working for HBO, so I hounded everyone I knew to get my resume in the mix. Thankfully Julio, who serves as our supervising editor, called to set up an interview at a nearby coffee shop. I remember we talked for two hours after I commented on the Mazzy Star song playing on the radio. We mostly talked about music and philosophy, and from there, he must have put in a good word to the powers that be, and I got the job. At the time I was interviewing, I had only read the script, but after I got hired, I was able to watch the pilot and thought to myself, “Dear god, this show is amazing. I better not screw it up!”  

Aaron I. Butler: When the 2nd season of Euphoria came along, an editing spot opened up, and my agent at Gersh got me an interview with Julio, the Supervising Editor who does all the hiring. Our interview lasted 2.5 hours. We had an instant connection on so many levels and had similar backgrounds in documentary and indie film work, and I got the job!

Nikola Boyanov: I started out as Julio’s assistant editor on the pilot and season 1. I received an additional editor credit on the season 1 finale, after which Julio pushed for me to become a co-editor on the special episodes and season 2. I’m extremely thankful to Julio for his mentorship over the years and for giving me the chance to cut on Euphoria with this brilliant team of editors.

PH: Can you describe your creative approach to editing Stand Still Like the Hummingbird and The Theater and its Double episodes

Julio C. Perez: I read the script deeply, understand the characters, look at the raw material (footage), select the Mesmer-magnetic moments, meld them together in a way that feels at once inevitable and surprising, and move on to the next scene.

Laura Zempel: Well, The Theater and Its Double was a real treat because it’s the first time the show handed narration over to a character other than Rue. Lexi is the character I personally identify with the most, and I was excited to make creative choices that started with asking myself, “What would Lexi Howard do?” Lexi is an earnest, do-gooder theater kid, so every choice in her play is based on what she would choose. (Would Lexi play Debussy, followed by Captain and Tennille? Absolutely!) Because the play is rooted in Lexi’s perception, we played with blurring the lines between imagination and reality. We had to convey how Lexi sees herself and her friends and how her friends react to seeing themselves through her eyes. Because we were playing with dream logic through multiple storylines, we relied heavily on French new wave & old film scores to give the episode shape and structure. The score gave the episode a dream-like quality while still grounding us with Lexi. 

Aaron I. Butler: Sam's direction to us when we were editing Stand Still Like the Hummingbird was that the only thing that mattered was emotion. The dialogue wasn't important, and having perfect camera moves wasn't important. In fact, he wanted the episode to have a more rough feeling to it. He encouraged us to choose the more imperfect shots, the shots with more energy and more grit, to reflect what was happening with Rue. We let her emotions in the episode guide the editing.

PH: Can you share the team's collaborative approach? How long was the entire editing process? 

Julio C. Perez: We each become a primary point person on an episode. I’m there to answer questions and concerns, then watch some cuts, give notes, watch more cuts, give more notes. We talk a lot about our characters, what their actions mean in any given circumstance, and sometimes we hammer out some finer points of rhythm, performance, and structure.

Laura Zempel: Without question, this is the most collaborative editorial team I’ve ever been a part of. The Theater and its Double was an all-hands-on-deck situation because it came late in the season when we were all working on other episodes. Nik and I saw the dailies start to pile up and decided to divide and conquer. Nik took the scenes with Custer, Faye, and Fezco and essentially cut them as a long linear sequence to make the tension as palpable as possible. I started with the footage of the play, and Julio cut the massive “Holding out for a Hero” sequence at the end. Aaron tackled the cheerleading sequence that leads into the Maddy & Cassie flashbacks. I think that’s why I love this particular episode so much. I can watch it and see each of our unique flavors mixed together, which really elevates the episode as a whole. We aren’t precious with who cuts what. Our only goal is to make the best season of television possible, and we use every tool in our individual toolboxes to work towards that goal. 

Aaron I. Butler: The editing took around 9 months total for the 8 episodes. It was a very collaborative process. Julio is the Supervising Editor and is Sam Levinson's creative proxy, so we always start by showing the first cuts of our scenes to him to get notes and feedback, and we get the scenes to a good place. Then the scenes go right to Sam, who will watch them individually before they are sequenced into an episode. He'll often be inspired by what we did in the edit and will use that information going forward to make changes to the writing and shooting of the show. We also help each other out with our episodes. Laura was what we like to call the "shepherd" of The Theater and its Double episode, but all of the other editors contributed scenes and helped out where we could. We also love to watch our episodes with each other to get feedback too.

Nikola Boyanov: The entire process was about 8-9 months. It was a huge time crunch to make our air dates, but because of how well the entire post team, assistant editors, sound, music, and VFX worked together, we pulled it off. We had a rolling mix with our sound team from early on that allowed us to develop the sound design and mix while we were still cutting the episodes. Labrinth, our composer, was next door and would send us his music with stems so that we could manipulate it in fine detail within our timelines. Julio, our supervising editor, oversaw the whole operation and would give notes on cuts, and when they were ready, we would send them to Sam while he was still shooting. It was a highly collaborative, ever-evolving process which allowed us to make our air dates and maintain the level of creativity Euphoria is known for.

PH: These are arguably two of the most impactful episodes of the season. How do you evoke that drama and cinematic style the show is known for? 

Julio C. Perez: Sam is a great writer who happens to also be a talented and inspired director, so that helps, haha.  Marcel is a brilliant cinematographer and a brilliant team all around. Then we dig in, intentionally, deeply into what the material WANTS to mean, even if it isn’t speaking directly to us at first. We understand our characters, we understand the trajectory of our narrative, and we understand that we don’t actually understand much at all until the work reaches its creative intent, its dramatic crescendo. Follow intuition first, then let intellect assess what you have later, then tenderly attack the material anew.

Laura Zempel: That’s nice to hear! Well, first of all, we are very lucky to have Sam directing and Marcell Rév as our cinematographer. Not to mention our incredible cast and crew, who outdo themselves every day. The footage we start with is second to none. In the editorial, we have to focus on the micro - how each individual scene feels, as well as the macro - how those scenes fit into the episode as a whole. It’s a constant balance. We avoid doing “cool for cool’s sake.” But at the same time, we want the show to feel fresh and unpredictable. The music and rhythm of the show are essential, knowing when to move through a scene quickly and when to linger and let emotions land. We always push each other to try an unexpected piece of music or hold on to a character’s reaction when normally you’d cut to whoever is speaking. Although we are thought of as a hyper-stylized show, I’m most proud of the scenes where the restrained editing heightens the emotion and allows the audience to connect with a character. 

Aaron I. Butler: These two episodes are so different, and yet they are both so Euphoria. I think each episode of the season took on a life of its own, with its own creative point of view and its own sense of style. The editing process is very organic and collaborative, and we let the scenes and episodes evolve in the direction that feels right. Even within one episode, the style and feeling can dramatically shift. In Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, there are scenes that feel like documentaries, there's a wild action foot chase sequence, there's comedy, there's drama, and there's a sequence at the end that almost feels like a horror film. So we let each scene and each episode evolve in a way that feels right for the characters and the story.

PH: Did you have a sequence that was most impactful to you? Why? 

Julio C. Perez: In 205, it’s the desperate manipulation of Rue to get the drugs because of the emotional complexity and the tonal intricacy of the scene (great work by Aaron). In 207, it’s when Lexi enters a prolonged reverie about her observational character because of the stunning sequencing of the images and the music that plays there, which also happened to be the music that unlocked the entire musical palette of the episode (great work by Laura​)​

Laura Zempel: Lexi’s montage that starts with “I feel like I’ve lived most of my life in my imagination” is the core of episode 207 for me. It’s the first time she speaks directly to the audience through her voiceover, and I knew we had to convey her emotional state in that moment to carry us through the rest of the episode. It’s also the sequence where we landed on the French new wave soundscape. I showed the sequence to Julio for the first time with Francis Lais’ Vivre Pour Vivre as a temp. I wasn’t sure if he would like it, but it was the most authentic Lexi cue I could find, and it ended up feeling so right we used it as a baseline to score the entire episode. I built a playlist over three hours long full of Italian and French film scores, with help from our music supervisor Jen Malone, to shape the episode and make every scene feel as though it were connected to Lexi. 

Aaron I. Butler: The opening sequence of Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, when Rue's family does an intervention on her, was very impactful to me. My parents both struggled with addiction when I was growing up, so I experienced firsthand what it was like to have a family member struggle with drugs and the emotional effects it has on everyone. At one moment in the sequence, Rue is pounding on the door to Gia's room. There was a moment in my own life when we had a restraining order against my mom, and she came to the front door and was banging on it, asking us to let her in, so I could really relate. I relieved my experiences with my family and felt those emotions again, and I let that guide me when choosing the takes in the scene. If the performance made my heart hurt, then I knew it was honest and that the audience would feel it too.

Nikola Boyanov: There’s a ton of beautiful and moving work in The Theater and Its Double, an episode on which the entire team collaborated. I’m especially fond of the sequence where Fezco gets ready for Lexi’s play but is then visited by Custer. It’s one that feels like a slow burn because Laura intercut it with Lexi’s play. We see Lexi looking at the empty seat she had saved for Fezco. Meanwhile, each time we cut back to Fezco, there’s a new wrinkle forming. It’s truly heartbreaking because we have been rooting for the Fez-Lex relationship all season, and now we start to see hints that things are not going to end well in Fezco’s world. I enjoy the suspense and dread this sequence brings, and we can tell it’s not gonna lead to a happy ending, but we saved that for the final episode.

PH: What challenges did you encounter, and how did you approach those? 

Julio C. Perez: The airdates were frightening.  We worked a lot.

Laura Zempel: The biggest challenge with The Theater and its Double was honing in on Lexi’s nerves and anxiety surrounding the play. The phone call sequences between Fezco and Lexi were actually scripted as the prologue for episode 204 but didn’t fit due to run time. We looked at it again and repurposed it throughout the play because we found it helped us in two ways. One, it showed Lexi being vulnerable and articulated her anxiety surrounding Cassie and how the school would react to seeing her play. And two, it deepened the budding romance between Fezco and Lexi, which heightened the tension of whether or not Fezco was going to make it to the play. We were thrilled to find how well a scene intended for another episode could be repurposed and given new meaning within Lexi’s play. 

Aaron I. Butler: One of the most challenging scenes in Stand Still Like the Hummingbird was the car scene where Rue finds out she is being driven to rehab instead of the hospital. When we first cut it together, it was very long and felt somewhat repetitive with the scenes that took place in the house. But we needed the emotion in this scene to escalate to the point where Rue would want to jump out of the car and escape. So I came up with the idea that when the cameras are inside the car, you can hear the dialogue, but when the cameras cut to outside the car, you only hear the rushing of the wind and traffic noise. It allowed us to visually get all the emotion we needed without having to hear the specific dialogue, and it emphasized the feeling that Rue was like an animal trapped inside of this metal box, wanting to get out at all costs.

PH: As an editor, how did you get to keep the heart and core of each character through your editing choices? 

Julio C. Perez: By choosing takes and crafting performances that resonate with our understanding of the characters’ central identity and drive. Sometimes, inspired music choices can make what a character is experiencing on-screen vibrate through a viewer’s consciousness, melding invisibly with another mindset.

Laura Zempel: Character is my guiding light. An editor I worked for as an assistant told me, “as an editor, you have to fall in love with your characters.” And I’ve always found that to be true. Euphoria is full of very, very flawed characters, and yet our job is to get inside of their brains and make sense of their decisions. We then make zillions of teeny tiny decisions to help convey their decisions to the audience. I know if I don’t understand a character’s motivation, the audience won’t. So every choice I make, from the music to a reaction shot to a wide vs a closeup, is in service of building empathy between the audience and a character.

Aaron I. Butler: We fall in love with these characters, and we want to do them justice. I try to put myself into their shoes to feel the emotions that they're experiencing, and I tap into my own life experiences in order to choose the perfect takes that feel honest and true to the character.

Nikola Boyanov: I think often you’re putting yourself in the character’s shoes. I’ve been told that sometimes I make funny faces when I’m editing, so I suppose I’m channeling some of the characters through myself. When a scene starts to make me feel things, then that’s a good start. From there, you can dial in the emotional arc for that scene and how it fits into the overall story. Our show may be known for a lot of style and flashiness, but we really do put the characters first when editing.

PH: What have you learned (professionally and personally) about yourself as an editor over the years? 

Julio C. Perez: I’ve learned not to let conceptual abstractions get in the way of audacity and tenderness.

Laura Zempel: I’ve learned how much I genuinely love collaborating with other editors. I know editing is typically a solitary discipline, but the collaboration is what I love the most. Working alongside other talented editors really pushes me to think outside the box and try something new. I feel very safe experimenting  in the environment we created on Euphoria, and I wish more shows functioned this way because I think it elevates the finished product. 

Aaron I. Butler: I've learned that I'm a workaholic and a people pleaser and that those can be good things and bad things, hah. Creating boundaries in this business is hugely important because there are many people who will take advantage of you if you let them. Early in your career, it can be hard to say no and stand your ground, but if you're in a bad situation, it's usually best to quit. People will tell you that you'll never work in this town again, but it's not true! There will always be more opportunities. Everyone in this business gets fired at one point or another;it has happened to just about every editor I know, including Oscar-nominated ones. So one of the most important things I've learned is to recognize the red flags with people and projects so you can avoid toxic situations before you even get into them.

PH: Can you share any upcoming projects?

Julio C. Perez: I am currently working on Sam Levinson’s next ditty, The Idol.

Laura Zempel:  I have two projects in the pipeline that I’m very excited for people to see - Beef for Netflix which airs in the spring, and Lessons In Chemistry for Apple which I believe comes out later this year. 

Aaron I. Butler: Julio, Nik and I are currently editing Sam Levinson's new HBO show The Idol starring The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp.

Nikola Boyanov:  I’m currently working on HBO’s The Idol with Julio and Aaron. I’m super excited for that to come out!

ProductionHUB ProductionHUB Logo

Related Blog Posts


There are no comments on this blog post.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.