Dystopian drama, The Last of Us, from writer/creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann was polished and brought to the fore by editors Timothy Good ACE, and Emily Mendez, who talk us through some of the crucial scenes.

[Timothy Good, ACE will discuss the edit at the BFE Virtual Glass of Wine event on Wednesday 19th July. See the bottom of this article to find out how to attend]

Based on the PlayStation game of the same name, the plot of HBO’s The Last of Us follows hard-bitten survivor Joel (Pedro Pascal) who must guide spirited 14 year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsay) through an America brought to ruin by a mutant strain of Cordyceps fungus that infects, controls, and then destroys human beings. The nine-part series has seven directors, with Good and Mendez taking on most of the editing. Their engagement with the project is obvious when you talk to them.

“When we were working on the show, I would find myself going home and just feeling the emotions from the day,” says Mendez. “Tim and I truly love the show. We put everything we have into it.”

Marking time

“Craig Mazin is an incredible writer, so a lot of the intention was built into the scripts themselves,” says Good. “[Over 18 months] we had long schedules and a lot of footage to put together. We were given a long leash up front to create the version of the episode that we felt was correct.

“Emily and I have this wonderful process where we watch every single take because you don’t know where the gold is,” he continues. “We add markers to every piece of film that we are drawn to. Your first impression is critical. Each colour marker has a different value. For example, we have the ‘Magenta marker’, for when it’s such an essential, amazing piece of footage. Later, I can see a catalogue of the highlights of every moment in every take.”

A Cyan marker is used to highlight audio aspects. “There’s a scene where Ellie is looking at sheep and she makes a baaing noise at them,” says Mendez. “That was only on one take, but I’d marked it, because these little details build character.

“The Last of Us was one of my favourite games, I played it years before,” she continues. “I was still pulling that knowledge while working on it. When little things came up during our editors’ cut stage, I would mention to Tim that it felt like the game, or it might be a good thing to incorporate.”

After cutting the show on Avid, the editors would work with each director on their cut, before it moved to Mazin. With subsequent reshoots sometimes coming months later, the editors might be juggling seven episodes at the same time.

“Luckily, we had two editors to help us, Mark Hartzell and Cindy Naldo, who did two episodes, one at the beginning and one near the end,” Good says. “Those two episodes are fantastic, incredible television, we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Cast of thousands

Despite the show being set in a vicious hellscape, Mazin didn’t want to show violence as a spectacle, but rather seeing how characters experience that violence. This might have posed problems for a huge battle in Kansas City, which Good sees as his most complicated sequence. “It was a mountain of material,” he recalls. “I created selects reels for every shot, every angle, and then I would create super selects of each select reel, all so that I could understand what was available to me.

“Once I put it all together, Craig and I decided that the best way to showcase action is through character. Looking at it that way, it’s basically a two person scene – Joel and Ellie. We had Ellie’s point of view of her own safety and Joel’s point of view of Ellie; every single thing hinged on that interaction. Once it was distilled to that element, it became easy to cut – in a strange way – because it was literally a two-person scene with a thousand extras.”

Silence is golden

There’s a lot left unsaid in this series; several significant cuts feature silent looks and pregnant pauses that add a lot of meaning.

Referring to this use of ‘negative space’, Good says: “It allows the audience to connect with the emotion of a character because they’re not concentrating on the dialogue at the same time. You’re able to study the face of the character that has said something or is reacting to something; you’re not simultaneously processing something else.”

Episode 3, ‘Long, Long Time’, features a few prime examples. Directed by Peter Hoar, it’s taken up for the most part by the relationship between prepper/survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) and wandering survivor Frank (Murray Bartlett).

Bill and Frank’s initial lunch together couldn’t be edited in such a way that they talk over each other, because as Good says, “number one, they don’t know each other. Number two, they’re suspicious of each other. And number three, Frank’s suspecting that this guy’s really in the closet, and he is wondering how to figure this out.”

“I love editing for people who are making decisions, because I think the audience then connects with the emotion of that character,” he continues. “After pauses, and even after someone says a line, I love to hold on them. I’m constantly sensing the energy of the performer. How long I hold on them is based on how long that energy stays at maximum, and how I feel the audience should be interpreting that pause.”

Lonely hearts

“We really pay attention to what’s going on in the scene,” says Mendez. “And we’re cutting to support what’s happening in the script.”

This is most obvious when portraying the complex character of Ellie. Her only friend in the Boston Quarantine Zone is fellow orphan Riley (Storm Reid), who she loses before encountering a possible father figure in Joel. Her sense of isolation and longing for connection is expertly highlighted by the editors throughout.

“Emily and I play with the characters’ point of view all the time,” says Good. “A lot of the time, we keep Ellie isolated in the frame to focus on her, almost as a separate individual character. We’d create separation visually and sonically to create irregular rhythms with Ellie and Joel; she’s really open to conversing with him and he’s just not.”

“We were always trying to build our scenes in a way that gives a little more emotion, a little more impact, while supporting the script,” agrees Mendez.

In Episode 7, ‘Left Behind’, Ellie’s sense of isolation is very poignant in a scene in a Halloween store.

“Ellie finally agrees to let Riley go, but she’s sad at losing her best friend,” explains Mendez. “There’s a moment where Riley stands up and goes underneath the counter to grab some Halloween masks. We had coverage of what she was doing, but we also had coverage of Ellie, reflecting on this moment: her best friend is leaving. In the cut we stay with Ellie, and we don’t cut away until Riley interrupts her self-reflection, by throwing a wolf mask at Ellie, suddenly entering the frame.”

Infectious laughter

“I love finding little beats between characters that aren’t scripted,” says Good. “Sometimes they enhance and inform, just because they’re spontaneous. But after I cut the scene, I would always refer to the script to make sure there was nothing I missed in terms of the intention.

“For example, at the end of Episode Three, Bill and Frank are having their last dinner and when they realise that they’re going to die together, Frank started laughing. It was not scripted. It was almost as if they were celebrating – they’d made a life on their own terms, and they’re going to die together. It only happened on Frank’s side, so I had to cheat on Bill’s side and find a moment where he was chuckling to connect those two together and make it a shared moment. So those are the things I look for, to present to Craig and say, here’s something that I feel will enhance the incredible script that you’ve already written.”

“Our goal is always to get the story to its truest place,” says Mendez. “I think our connection to the material is a huge part of that.  It still feels fresh to me in a way because I’m so connected to it.”

“I can watch scenes to this day, and I still feel the same emotion,” agrees Good. “Our job was to make sure that we were decoding what was happening on the screen, in a way that would not just match the script, and sometimes exceed the script, but always be true to the material that we have been given.”

This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Televisual Magazine

Timothy Good, ACE will discuss the edit at the BFE Virtual Glass of Wine event on Wednesday 19th July, 8pm – 9pm BST. BFE members can attend by way of a dedicated zoom while non-members are invited to join the Virtual Glass of Wine by registering at


This is a free public event so please share the Eventbrite with your friends

Jon Creamer

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