Australian director Craig Gillespie creates an energy in his images that brings the emotional undercurrent of his characters to life. He invites you into their space to wash in their feelings without saying too much. It’s the result of close collaboration with key department heads, a dynamic that editor Tatiana Riegel was first introduced to on 2007’s “Lars and the Real Girl.” “Craig is remarkably collaborative and secure in his own feelings and ideas to not insist upon them but he allows people to interpret them where he can then say yes or no,” she told IndieWire.
Riegel said their efforts have blossomed over the course of projects like “I, Tonya” (for which she earned an Oscar nomination), “Cruella,” “The United States of Tara” in part, because even though they “are very different people, the yin and yang of it works pretty well.” Gillespie has grown fond of how effortlessly the editor navigates outside the box. “We did our first assembly of ‘Lars’ and there was an interview scene between Ryan [Gosling] and Patricia Clarkson [who plays a therapist] that I thought was too long,” he said. “Tatiana said, ‘Maybe it’s in the wrong place.’ So we pulled out the scene cards and rearranged the whole second half of the film and that scene never got shorter. Since then, we’ve never settled on the structure of the script and we’ll always think about moving something around or tightening.
The simpatico relationship gives Riegel the “courage to try things” she might otherwise be conservative about with someone new, a trust that continued into the first trio of episodes of “Pam & Tommy,” Hulu’s limited series about how the infamous Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape found its way onto the web.
Creator Robert Siegel based “Pam & Tommy” on a 2014 Rolling Stone article that details how the “Baywatch” star and Mötley Crüe drummer first met, and the “karma” that led to their private life being exposed. After stripping away the public persona and glamor of these two famous icons – portrayed convincingly well by Lily James and Sebastian Stan — “Pam & Tommy” depicts a couple unequivocally supporting each other while falling deeper in love — until it collapses.
“The tone was incredibly clear to me and that’s something I always look for when searching for something to work on,” Gillespie said. “If I can visualize it while I’m reading [the script], half the job is done.”
The playful nature is established when we first meet Tommy walking through his Malibu home, doling out orders to two contractors, Lonnie (Larry Brown) and Rand (Seth Rogen) — the latter of whom will later steal the safe containing the explicit footage of Lee and Anderson’s honeymoon. The sequence is twofold: It shows Tommy as someone who can be intimidating while providing comic relief, as it’s revealed he’s walking around in an animal-print thong. Gillespie planned the tracking shot along with cinematographer Paula Huidobro to allow the actor to move freely in the space. “It was a very deliberate thing to design the scene almost as a oner,” he said. “We choreographed it with Sebastian to give him free range to try and play things in his performance.”
It’s the type of scene that allows Riegel to sink her teeth into the footage. “My style is to work with the material. I get motivated by it and can begin to see what needs to happen. If you’re moving the camera with pace that’s what you have to lean into but some of the more emotional scenes in the show are the ones that I really loved.”
One of those touching moments takes place during the second episode, “I Love You, Tommy:” In bed, the couple ask questions about each other as the 1956 musical “The King and I” plays in the background. When the film reaches “Getting to Know You,” Pam sings along for a stunned Tommy, who eventually joins in as they dance around the room. “It’s so not what you’d expect these two people to be doing, and yet, it’s heart-warming and emotional and sweet and loving,” Riegel said. “They’re two people trying to connect,” Gillespie added. “We tried to find that chemistry where they feed off each other and the enthusiasm they have for each other while shooting that scene.”
The second episode is also chock-full of chaos, including several wild nights in Cancun where Tommy ends up talking to his penis and convinces himself he’s in love with Pam. “As crazy as the episode gets, I really was critical to get the connection and humanity between them,” Gillespie said. “On the page it was a little bit foreboding when people are paying drunk or high, you sort of get a little disassociated at times, but we really wanted to have that chemistry between them. Lily and Sebastian were amazing at finding that.”
One of the first scenes the director rehearsed with actors is when Tommy initially meets Pam and follows her out to her car after leaving a nightclub in that second episode. “We went out in a driveway and tried to figure out how to make it more playful,” Gillespie said. “Sebastian came up with the idea where Tommy jumps into the backseat and then jumps out to run around to Pam sitting in the front. It has this childlike energy that worked. I felt they nailed that chemistry between the two.”
Gillespie said he and Riegel work well together because they are both “incredibly tough on the final edit”: “We enjoy the time we have doing these bolder shifts editorially, and if it doesn’t work, it might spur a little idea that leads to something else.” We are very much in sync and very in tune on a music level as well.” Riegel said, “It’s a real luxury to have this shorthand in communication. I can try something, and if it fails miserably, there’s nothing to be worried about. It gives me the freedom to bring so much more to a project. It’s a real collaboration that builds off of each other’s ideas that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”