Pandemic Post-Production: Cutting S2 of Amazon’s “Hanna”

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

For those outside of the post-production industry, it may be difficult to understand just how much work goes into editing series, especially working with VFX. Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, editors continually set the tone of projects with intentional workflows.

TV and film editor Morten Højbjerg about his work on Amazon Prime’s Hanna. The highly anticipated second season released last Friday, for which Morten edited episodes one and five. 

Hanna follows the journey of an extraordinary young girl raised in the forest, as she evades the relentless pursuit of an off-book CIA agent and tries to unearth the truth behind who she is. 

Morten can discuss the techniques he used to highlight a strong and powerful female lead, how he mixed a coming-of-age drama with thriller elements, and the sonic-based strategy he uses to curb the challenges of cutting unfinished VFX sequences. He can also discuss the extra responsibility of cutting a pilot (as he did on Hanna S1) and the pressure of setting the perfect tone and pace of an entire series, his ability to craft a story through editing, and much more.

PH: What has your day-to-day looked like the past few months? 

I have been editing the Crown series 4 from home. We were really lucky. The shoot ended just a few days before the whole lockdown happened. So I’ve basically just been FaceTiming and zooming a lot with my amazing director Jessica Hobbs and Peter Morgan who created the show. If this had happened 10 years ago, without all of the benefits of modern tech, I don’t know what we would have done.  


PH:How has COVID changed the way you work?


Obviously it has changed everything. For now at least. 

There is this joke where two pictures of an editor are put up next to each other, one before Covid and one after, and they are exactly the same. Both in total isolation.

But I actually don’t find that to be true. The power of being around colleagues can’t be exaggerated. It’s great to get a second opinion on things. I am a firm believer in the benefits of the end result when you keep an open mind to input and advice from others. 


PH: How did you get into editing?  


It was a complete coincidence. In my late teens I was drifting around a bit. Not really knowing what I wanted to do with life. I’m from a small village in Denmark and didn’t know anyone remotely involved in film growing up, so I didn’t consider it as a path. 

Somehow I was hired as a runner in a production company and that’s where I was introduced to editing. 

It blew my mind. I knew immediately that it was for me and I’ve never had another job since. I remember being totally puzzled that someone would actually pay me to do it because it was so much fun and didn’t feel like a real job at all. I still feel like that more than 20 years on. 


PH: Can you talk about how you got involved with Hanna? 


Like most other projects it all starts with your agent. 

After the initial process of interviews and things, it’s really up to the personal relationships you build. I think it has a lot to do with building trust and getting to a point of understanding each other. Film language is so subjective. There aren't a lot of actual rights and wrongs. Sometimes you meet people like the creator David Farr and executive producer Tom Coen, where you just immediately get the feeling that we're talking about the same thing. 


PH: What has the editing process been like for this series?


I started editing as they started shooting. Being away in some really remote places for long parts of the shoot, I would rely on the conversations we had before. 

I would pretty much have a first assembly when shooting was done and that’s when we would dig in and try to push the material in the direction we wanted it. A really brilliant aspect of this particular process was that we already had music to start with. We were fortunate enough to have Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow on board as composers for both series and they had already come up with different sounds, rough sketches and themes before the edit even started. That was a brilliant situation to be in. 


PH: How did you set the tone and pace? 


The pace is very much dictated by the Hanna character, by her way of moving and speaking. 

One of my earliest mentors told me that the most important responsibility of an editor is to not bore the audience. There is some truth to that, even if it’s a bit blunt to put it like that. 

It’s simply about making the audience want to see the next shot. It’s about keeping things long enough for things to land, but short enough to not make people restless. I tend to use my own emotional response a lot while editing. 


PH: Describe your favorite scene/edit.


It’s not easy to choose. But there is a sequence taking place in the London Underground that I’m really proud of. It is shot in the actual underground, which was a huge challenge. It’s not easy to shut down multiple train lines in order to shoot, so it was a race against time to get enough coverage. I think we managed though and I’m really proud of the result.  



PH: What were some of the challenges you faced editing?


It’s always pretty surreal to cut VFX sequences with a lot of the elements missing. You need to really use your imagination. It must be even more surreal for the actors though. Reacting to stuff that isn’t actually there in the moment. But Esme is great like that. She seems to just throw herself into every challenge headfirst. I’m really impressed by her. She’s in almost every frame of this entire show, and always with a ferocious energy. It’s been a real pleasure to work with her. And she gave me a lot of great performances to work with. 


PH: You cut the pilot for season one as well. What was it like taking on that responsibility? 


I guess the trick is to not think about it like that and just do as you would normally do. Of course the pilot episode will always be a rather intense experience. It’s where years of preparation finally culminates and we all get to see what it is we’ve been working towards. All eyes are on the pilot, but that’s also what makes it so rewarding. When you manage to deliver something that maybe even exceeds everyone’s expectations.  


PH: What are some of your favorite examples of storytelling through editing? 


What really made an impact on me recently was Todd Phillip’s Joker. It’s just amazing how they managed to grab you in an almost physical way and keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the whole thing. 

It’s brilliant how they mixed comedy and something resembling psychological horror. So many scenes you don’t know if you want to laugh or cry, so you end up doing both. To me that’s just a sublime example of storytelling through editing. Really letting me into this character’s universe like that. 


PH: What do you have coming up (if you can talk about it!) 


I can’t really talk about it. Also, everything is up in the air right now obviously. But if things turn out as they were supposed to originally, there is going to be some really cool things coming out. 


PH: What's one thing about editing that most people wouldn't know? 


It’s probably how much stuff we get away with without anyone noticing. If the story is solid and you have the audience, it’s just incredible. I’ve tried switching scenes around so that the main character is suddenly wearing a completely different colour shirt in the middle of everything. But if people are really engaged in the story only very few of them notices these things. 

A lot of script mistakes are actually on purpose in the way that we are aware of them. We are just hoping no one will notice because something else in the shot really works. And nine out of ten times we get away with it. 

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