Franklin Peterson was a relative newbie to television editing in 2014. He’d surpassed the assistant-to- editor hurdle on indie films including “Safety Not Guaranteed” when he had the good fortune to cut director Sam Esmail’s feature debut, “Comet.” It was Peterson’s work on this film that inspired Esmail to reach out to the editor when he needed an editor to fill in during season one of his hacker-takes-over-the-world drama “Mr. Robot.”
After reading the pilot and seeing a cut, Peterson was hooked. He joined the team with the season already well in progress. Working in LA, he was given guidance and updates about the story threads being shot in NY. While the schedule was far more accelerated than a feature. Peterson found he still had ample time to apply creative editing styles to highlight Elliot Alderson’s (Rami Malek) unusual and often confused world-view.
“I loved getting time to experiment and play,” said Peterson. “Sam is open to outside-the-box ideas.”
Peterson and the “Mr. Robot” editing team had a heightened sense of creativity in season two, sparked largely in part by Esmail’s direction of each episode. Able to closely monitor the slightest detail, down to the makes of each characters phone, every scene was richly displaying the world Esmail envisioned. Despite his oversight on set, Peterson and the editing team were encouraged to continue to find the most creative way to tell the story in the edit suite, including the use of jump cuts, long to short takes, and other out-of-the-box means that would lend to exploring the personality of each character.
Unique to the experience of editing “Mr. Robot” was the ability to shuffle scenes around in an episode, sometimes even between episodes. The entire editing team would gather to sit and discuss set ups they were working on that offered mutual feedback for the unique experimentation Esmail encouraged. They also ensured, throughout their unique edits, that the characters retained a humanity, specifically Elliott, who’s unique way of seeing the world often verts against his humanity.
The unique eye tracking that comes with the extreme angles in “Mr. Robot” Peterson recalled using in “Comet”, however he was apprehensive about the extremely dark visuals in season two. Peterson credits DP Tod Campbell for carving out actors features with a handful of light, or finding the proper balance in the backlit shots.
“The art of it all fits, but there were always massive wide shots and plenty of extra coverage to work with,” recalled Peterson.
Sound design enhanced a major storyline reveal in the opener’s double episode. Peterson worked with sound team to underscore Elliott’s movements with rolling door and clinking of metal sounds, creating an off-balance sensation for the viewer while avoiding obvious reveals.
Most important in the unusual editing process was ensuring they responded to the needs and emotions of their characters. In a scene highlighting FBI agent Dominique DiPierro’s (Grace Gummer) loneliness and heartbreak, Peterson felt it was best to let her expressions linger without cutting into the scene.