“Better Call Saul” – An Interview With Editor Kelley Dixon
Editor Kelley Dixon helps create empathy for Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) in “Better Call Saul”. photo credit: American Movie Classics (AMC)
By: Marjorie Galas
The “Breaking Bad” editorial team knew the show’s weasel-y lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) would return in a spin-off before the fifth season concluded. They just didn’t know how or when.
“I was on a job and doing really well, but the work would conflict with ‘Better Call Saul.’ I didn’t want to disappoint them. It was a hard decision to make,” said Kelley Dixon, a “Breaking Bad” Emmy winning editor (and three time nominee).
Prior to reuniting with Vince Gilligan and many other “Bad” crew members, Dixon was happily working with “The Walking Dead.” Amongst the episodes she edited was season four’s “Live Bait” – where The Governor (David Morrissey), a character fans loathed, re-entered the storyline. Purposely choosing to not read beyond that episode, she focused on infusing humanity into the character.
“I didn’t want to do the script a disservice, I had the chance to create empathy with The Governor and didn’t want preconceived notions of what he does beyond that point to get in the way,” said Dixon. “I learned long ago you don’t have to love the characters or love what they do, but you have to embrace them, to be objective not subjective, to get the best performance.”
Aware of Gilligan’s visual and narrative style, Dixon was excited to see the direction “Better Call Saul” would take. Although she knew “Better Call Saul” was to be a prequel, eventually leading to the corrupt yet highly fashionable lawyer Odenkirk nailed in such delicious smarminess, Dixon was surprised to see the man behind Saul Goodman, and the deliberate pacing that fully exposes an eager lawyer trying to earn his keep.
“Jimmy McGill is nowhere near Saul Goodman,” said Dixon. “We know what he becomes; we just don’t know how he gets there. People have come to empathize with Jimmy in a way they never did with Saul.”
Created by “Breaking Bad” mastermind Vince Gilligan and former “Breaking Bad” writer Peter Gould, “Better Call Saul” utilizes a story telling style where time is spent holding on solitary characters and engaging smart use of wide shots that simultaneously highlight the series unique Albuquerque landscapes while adding emotional weight to the scenes. As with “Breaking Bad”, the “Better Call Saul” team embrace time, allowing the characters to slowly evolve and reveal themselves. Reunited with editor Skip Macdonald (also an Emmy winner and three time nominee for “Breaking Bad”), the two share lunches and discuss the characters but rarely describe their process for dealing with their respective episodes.
“All TV is like that, there are generally a couple of different editors on a show. The episodes all have cohesion,” said Dixon. “The exception (in “Better Call Saul”) is when there are logistics, a scene or something specific that will reoccur. I’ll want to see how he did that work.”
Dixon credits the “Better Call Saul” show writers in providing extremely descriptive scripts with detailed outlines that inform the editing. While the writers and episode directors present solid guidelines, the editors are encouraged to incorporate creative exploration that will enhance mood, tone and storyline. For example, in episode two, McGill witnesses an act of extreme brutality. Distraught, he visits a bar where he starts to unwind by flirting with a woman. Nearly relaxed, his concentration is diverted to a patron who’s repeatedly breaking crunchy breadsticks. Gilligan suggested removing the dialogue between McGill and the women and replacing it with the exaggerated sounds of the snapped breadsticks. Dixon reconfigured the timing throughout the scene to emphasize the sound. The end result heightened McGill’s anxiety.
“Vince really liked the idea,” said Dixon. “We made some beat changes and it worked.”
While Dixon’s creative editing skills have enhanced a number of scenes and montages in “Better Call Saul”, she never takes the ability to modify a scene for granted. A segment in episode “Five-O” (airing March 10th) features a scene where a main character is sitting alone reminiscing about a particular event. Dixon recognized reconfiguring the scene would enhance its emotional impact. While the director favored her decision, she asked to speak to the writer about the pending change.
“I talked to the writer because it was important for me to show I did not want to take any liberties with his writing or intent,” said Dixon. “The creativity of all our writers is so unbelievable, and it’s one of the big reasons why I’m here. We are really a family. ”
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