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Cutting Cary Fukunaga’s Mind-Bending ‘Maniac’ Without Getting Lost in Fantasy

The biggest editorial challenge of the Netflix black comedy series was honing in on the emotional realism of Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill).

"Maniac"

“Maniac”

Netflix

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For editor Tim Streeto, the trippy “Maniac” was a far cry from his other series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Not just tonally, of course, with Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill) going on mind-bending and genre-bending adventures, but also because Patrick Somerville’s Netflix series was conceived as a long movie, with Cary Fukunaga (“Bond 25”) directing all 10 episodes (varying in length from 26 to 47 minutes).

“I asked Cary how stylistically he imagined these different episodes,” said Streeto, who had never worked with the director before. “Would there be a consistency visually to them or would he shoot them differently, like the Hitchcock caper in black-and-white [‘Exactly Like You’]? He said, no, he really wanted a consistency to them in terms of cinema grammar.

“They also had to feel like dreams through editing, through sound design, through music,” Streeto added. “Plus, they cross-boarded the entire series with Cary directing all of them and I had never done that before. The first day they shot Annie in the noodle shot from Episodes 2 and 10. We were getting pieces of the entire series over the course of five months. And I shared editing with Pete Beaudreau.”

Maniac

“Maniac”

Michele K. Short / Netflix

But with Annie and Owen experiencing a variety of genres and fantasies as imaginary characters, there was a certain amount of creative world building that needed to be established, particularly since the real world of “Maniac” was a bizarre alternate reality of New York. “It reminded me of films that I love, like ‘Brazil’ or ‘Buckaroo Banzai,’ where it’s absurd but the characters are taking it seriously,” Streeto said. “Patrick zeroed in on that really well and there were a lot of cool science-fiction elements to it, like we had the friend proxy and the poop-bots.

“But we had to set it up so that the audience understood what they were and then get into the drug trial, which was a whole separate issue. And I think that, despite the absurdist elements, had some very real drama that’s played out. Annie is dealing with real grief [about her sister] and is a real drug addict. And Owen is an untreated schizophrenic with a difficult family. Finding the tone of it was daunting.”

But grounding it in an emotional reality in the first episode (“The Chosen One!”) was just as daunting. After principal photography wrapped, they realized it was lost in fantasy, so they shot some new scenes and added a monologue montage of cosmic exposition. “The original idea was Annie was going to be a mysterious character and by introducing her as a more concrete person at the beginning, we found that was more effective for where the story ultimately lands, connecting the two of them,” Streeto said. “If you take Annie out of those early scenes, you don’t really know if this is a hallucination.”

Maniac

Julia Garner and Emma Stone in “Maniac”

Michele K. Short / Netflix

The other major editorial decision was combining Episodes 7 (“Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill”) and 8 (“The Lake of the Clouds”), again, having to do with keeping Annie and Owen together as much as possible. “Originally they were discreet episodes,” the editor said. “Owen became a gangster in Episode 7, the [mobster] family with the braids and tattoos. And then 8 was the elves with Annie and Ellie [her deceased sister, played by Julia Garner]. What we found when we were cutting was the strength of the show was when they were together. And separating them at that point wasn’t effective. It was much better to intercut the two. We had to figure out all new transitions and holding it together by streamlining the stories.”

Episode 9 (“Utangatta”), for which Streeto has been Emmy-submitted, featured the wildest plot, in which Owen plays an Icelandic UN agent accused of murdering an Extraterrestrial, causing a global crisis, and Annie coming to his rescue as a sleeper agent. “That one was tricky because of the deep emotional moment when Annie finally says goodbye to Ellie,” he said. “It’s done in this maelstrom of the computer [GRTA] breaking down and this crazy NATO Cold War scene.

“It was hard just intercutting with them in the chairs, to figure it out musically, to have it be a real moment where Annie realizes that she has to let go and that’s the closure she needs…the guilt and the sense of loss is tremendous. It was a carefully calibrated moment to try to preserve amidst Owen running around with his wig and that crazy accent.”

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