Secrets of Editing a Perfect Murder Mystery in Hulu's 'Death And Other Details'

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In our latest interview, we delve into the creative process with Franzis Müller, the talented editor behind the captivating episodes 103 and 106 of Hulu's latest sensation, "Death And Other Details," featuring the renowned Mandy Patinkin. Viewers are drawn into a labyrinth of intrigue, with Imogene Scott at the epicenter—a woman ensnared in a gripping locked room murder mystery. To exonerate herself, she begrudgingly teams up with Rufus Cotesworth, hailed as the world's preeminent detective. In her editorial mastery, Franzis seamlessly melds her passion for murder mysteries with her extensive editing portfolio, which includes acclaimed titles like "American Horror Story," "Pose," "American Crime Story," and "Shadow and Bone."

Her adept handling of the multifaceted narrative, orchestrating the intricate web of characters against the backdrop of concurrent investigations by Interpol and our dynamic duo, Imogen and Rufus, is nothing short of mesmerizing. Join us as Franzis unveils the artistry behind orchestrating the pulse-pounding pace, deftly maneuvering sequences, and orchestrating the perfect balance between suspense and revelation, ensuring each moment leaves audiences on the edge of their seats.

PH: How did you approach the editing process to maintain the tension and intrigue throughout episodes 103 and 106, especially considering the complex interplay between the multiple investigations happening simultaneously?

Franzis Müller: I began by focusing on the scenes on a micro level, ensuring that each investigation or conflict between characters worked individually and that no clues were left out. Since there were multiple characters to navigate, each with their secrets and motives, it was essential to consider how their actions in each scene would affect them and those around them. From there, it became about finding the balance in the rhythm and pace so we didn't lose the audience along the way. I took a step back to see how the scenes interacted with each other, ensuring a flow between them, not only in pace and rhythm but also in the characters' emotional arcs throughout the episode. 

PH: In episode 103, viewers were introduced to crucial new suspects and clues in the locked room murder mystery. Can you share how you balanced revealing these elements while still keeping the audience guessing?

Franzis Müller: From a script level, the show did a fantastic job of planting enough clues without giving away too much, and there are suspects, in particular, whose story arc is intentionally scattered throughout to keep the audience guessing. For episode 3, where we are in the early stages of the investigation, and everyone on the ship is very much a suspect, my focus turned to finding the right pace in the edit so we could lead the audience to pivotal moments. That meant being conscious of when to let certain moments breathe, when to introduce certain shots, and when to push the pace to build tension within the scene. 

Eriksen's interrogation scene of Jules is a good example of how we needed to build tension in order to reveal new information. At this point in the show, we believe Jules didn't kill Keith Trabitsky because he had spent the night with Imogene; we make a point to flashback to remind the audience of this. Eriksen is not convinced, so it is essential to build the tension between these two characters at this moment to motivate Eriksen's behavior toward the end of the episode. We did this by carefully increasing the pace of the cutting pattern and gradually transitioning into tighter shots. When they later search the crew's quarters, new information is uncovered, and our trust in Jules's character is no longer solid.

Throughout the episodes, we do place some visual hints that help to connect certain characters with each other. However, these clues work on a micro level, and the full reveal often comes in later episodes. For example, with Leila, we see her having breakfast with Anna. Leila kisses Anna before heading to the pool. While leaving, Imogene notices a pen holding her hair. It is not a detail that carries much weight at that moment. However, we spent enough time on it to ensure the audience could track it without getting confused. When it's revealed that the pen is used to open a secret door, the audience can connect the dots because the clue has already been planted. Mandy Patinkin's character has a great line in the show; "Details Matter." That became my motto on this show.

PH: Episode 106 seemed to unravel several twists and turns, leading to a pivotal moment in the investigation. How did you manage the pacing to ensure that these revelations felt both surprising and satisfying for the audience?

Franzis Müller: My aim was to guide the audience to the moments when new information was revealed during all the chaos. We did this by pushing the pace when necessary and allowing for moments of calmness so the audience could refocus and be ready for the next revelation. I found navigating the confrontational scenes in episode 106 the most interesting. There were a few instances where characters had to face each other, like when Imogene and Rufus confront Sunil, Teddy confronts her sister Winnie, and Imogene and Anna exchange hurtful words. 

Let's take the scene between Anna and Imogene, for example. Imogene knows the secret about Anna's family business: how their use of carcinogenic chemicals hurts people. Viktor Sams blackmails the Colliers and, as a warning, kills Imogene's mom. As both women reveal their cards, we see the pace of the scene increase; they don't talk over each other at first; they are testing the waters. But then, there's a turn in the scene; the rhythm changes, and they almost overlap each other until the intensity explodes and Anna delivers the final blow to Imogene. It's a subtle shift in pace as the scene evolves, but it helps portray the fracture in the relationship between the two friends.

PH: The dynamic between Imogene Scott and Rufus Cotesworth is central to the series. How did you approach editing their interactions in episodes 103 and 106 to emphasize the evolution of their relationship?

Franzis Müller: Imogene and Rufus have a complex relationship built on a foundation of mistrust. Rufus, after all, failed to find her mother’s killer, so why should she trust him again? As they delve deeper into the investigation, Imogene gains more confidence in her investigative skills and her trust in Rufus. This balance of trust became important in navigating their relationship within the edit. They are vulnerable, which allows us to explore how far we can push the emotional arc.

In episode 103, we see how they are both in a race against time to ensure Eriksen doesn’t suspect Imogene. Their interactions are quick; there’s a mentor-mentee feel to them as they exchange their findings. Toward the end of the episode, there’s a bump in the relationship when Rufus tells her that her constant desire to connect everything to her mother’s death may have caused her to miss some important clues. The pace here changes; we let his words sink in, which refocuses Imogene. As we move through episode 106 and the pieces become more transparent to Imogene, Rufus takes a step back. He’s almost nurturing. Playing with their reactions here felt important; how they reacted toward each other was something to be aware of. So when the true origin of Rufus’ success is revealed as a lie, it lands as another blow to Imogene. 

PH: Given your experience working on various acclaimed series, how did you bring your unique editing style to Death And Other Details to enhance its narrative and visual storytelling?

Franzis Müller: I believe that one of my strengths as an editor lies in my ability to adapt and mold my style to the show I am working on. There are, of course, elements of my workflow that I bring with me, and I have been able to gain a versatile skillset by working on a variety of shows. But ultimately, my fascination with characters, their development within the scene, and the overall arc of the story is something I focus on throughout every project. I am a fan of exploring and pushing performances in the edit to elicit a response from the audience. 

PH: Can you discuss any specific scenes or sequences from episodes 103 and 106 that posed unique challenges during the editing process, and how you overcame them to maintain the flow of the story?

Franzis Müller: In episode 103, it would have to be the shift in Imogene and Rufus' relationship when Rufus tells Imogene her obsession to connect every clue to her mother's murder, which has potentially led her to miss more significant clues. The break between these two was not clicking as we moved through the cut, so we returned to the drawing board to find the right performances.

More than a challenge, it was an excellent example of the power of collaboration in the editing room and the importance of looking at scenes with fresh eyes. With the changes in performance and the added montage, we found a balance in the character's vulnerability to help the audience sympathize with them.

For episode 106, it would be the reveal of Sunil's involvement with Viktor Sams. This was a sequence with a lot of moving parts. We jumped from Sunil's telling of the story to anchoring the story back through Imogene and Rufus' questions. Again, more than a challenge, this scene was a great example of being flexible within the edit and approaching the scenes in different ways. We wanted to avoid confusing the audience, as much information was being shared with them. Therefore, Rufus and Imogene served as bookmarks, bringing us back to the present and helping the audience refocus.

PH: The show's setting plays a significant role in creating atmosphere and tension. How did you use editing techniques to enhance the sense of place and mood in episodes 103 and 106?

Franzis Müller: Having a brilliant team of collaborators and being able to pull from outstanding visual elements helped immensely in creating atmosphere and tension within the edit. For example, our production designers did an incredible job creating the set pieces. Such detailed and elaborate sets made me conscious of how we explored the space and when certain shots were used as we moved through the episodes. In episode 103, there was much more focus on establishing the characters within the space using wides, particularly if it was a space we had not seen before. In episode 106, there is less of that. More interactions are happening in mediums and close-ups, which helped build more tension. Even though we have a spacious ship, we can create a sense that the walls are closing in on our characters. As conflicts form and tension arises, there are fewer places for our characters to escape.

PH: As an editor, how do you approach incorporating feedback from the show's creators and directors while still maintaining your creative vision for the episodes?

Franzis Müller: Much of our work involves interpreting the script and the director and showrunner's vision, so I am always excited for the next stages of the editing process when I get to collaborate. Working with other creatives is important to refine and enhance the overall vision. Although it can be tough to let go of certain ideas, I believe collaboration is key to unlocking the full potential of a project. During this process, I aim to remain open-minded and receptive to feedback. I will always keep in mind that our primary focus is to serve the story and develop the characters within it.

PH: Episode 106 appears to delve deeper into the backgrounds of certain characters, shedding new light on their motivations. How did you ensure that these character-driven moments were seamlessly woven into the larger narrative arc of the series?

Franzis Müller: We had to make sure that we didn't rush those moments. Even though external factors were moving the story forward, it was important that those moments felt authentic. Therefore, the pace of the scene was crucial. We focused on giving more time for those moments to unfold, allowing not only the person confessing to have a moment to say their piece but also to see how the news affected those around them. This helped to showcase the character's vulnerability and ensured that the emotional impact paid off in the other scenes.

Let's take the reveal of Sunil's involvement with Viktor Sams as an example. There were different layers to that whole sequence; we have the interactions between Rufus, Imogene, and Sunil as he's confessing, plus the flashbacks to Sunil's past, and the connecting tissue between them, which in this case is Imogene being present in the flashback itself. Yangzom Brauen and Magni Ágústsson, the director and cinematographer for episode 106, created transitions for us to go in and out of scenes in editorial, but also covered the scenes in a way that I could play with the cutting pattern in the edit, so I wasn't tied to a particular space when lines were delivered. This allowed us to create a rhythm that kept the confession moving. Then, when we let those moments breathe, there was more weight to the reveal and how it, in turn, affected the characters emotionally. 

PH: With the series building towards its conclusion, can you offer any hints or insights into what viewers can expect from the remaining episodes, particularly in terms of editing and storytelling techniques?

Franzis Müller: Without giving anything away… The wall seems to be closing in on everyone aboard this ship, so expect more truths to come out. Everyone on this cruise has something to hide, so how far would they go to hide those secrets? I would also remind viewers that the “truth is in the details,” so keep your eyes open to that. 

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