Roderick Deogrades, Lara Johnston, And Stephen Roque On Cutting The Chilling Chapelwaite

Epix’s foreboding new series Chapelwaite, based on the 1978 Stephen King short story “Jerusalem’s Lot”, recently premiered on August 22nd. The series, set in the 1850s, follows recently-widowed Captain Charles Boone (Adrien Brody) and his children as they return to the small town of Preacher’s Corners, Maine, where a dark family history haunts them.

We spoke with the team of Picture Editors behind the series, Roderick Deogrades, Lara Johnston, and Stephen Roque, about editing horror films and television, developing mood and atmosphere, their collaborations with the post-production team, and more. 

Is your workflow different when editing horror versus other genres?

Roderick Deogrades: My workflow pretty much stays the same, no matter the genre. In the end, it’s always about creating the most believable performances and story moments so that the experience the audience is having is as true as possible. For all the horror moments to work, it’s important that everything around it feels grounded and real. This only adds to making all the horror aspects of the story as effective as possible. In the end, this really is about a father trying to protect his family. So it’s important for that to resonate emotionally so everything that transpires has the stakes it needs to be a successful horror story.

How did you use editing to develop the mood for this very atmospheric story?

Lara Johnston: I think pacing, like in all editing, was instrumental in developing the mood in Chapelwaite.  When I read the first script there was a real feeling of dread and impending doom in the writing, and that was something we discussed when I interviewed for the show,  with the showrunner (Donald De Line) and the writers (Jason and Peter Filardi). That was something they were really hoping to create.  I think the aim was always to enhance that feeling, and always look for that in the performances, the camera work, the sound, and the music,  and try to support that with the editing.

How do you use editing to heighten suspense and scares in a horror production?

LJ: In horror, as in many genres, tension and pacing are so important. How long you hold a shot, when and how you reveal information to the audience.  Holding just a little bit longer on a shot can make the viewer feel a little uneasy, but holding too long can make them bored, so it’s all about finding that balance. I had never worked in horror before and because production was delayed due to the pandemic, I spent a lot of time watching horror in the months between getting the job and starting it. You really want the audience to viscerally feel the story, so figuring out how to achieve that is the aim.

Stephen Roque: If I was trying to set up a scare, I would determine the best shot order to help build suspense. My instinct at first was to draw out these moments as much as possible but there were definitely times when this approach signalled a scare was coming. Pacing is key with these moments so I had to experiment with timing so that things felt unpredictable.

RD: And every instance is different from the next. So sometimes, it is a matter of experimenting with how long shots and moments are held to create the desired effect. But what is also important is the use of sound. The editorial team spent a lot of time developing and experimenting with key sounds in the series— from the disconcerting chirps of the whippoorwills to the creepy sounds Charles Boone hears behind the walls. We made sure to involve our sound team (Adam Stein, Ryan Allam, Nelson Ferreira) early on to help design these elements so that we are using these signature sounds as early as possible, testing them out during the many cuts before we lock every episode. Involving our composer, Mark Korven, early on also helped us develop the sonic soundscape we needed during the edit to heighten every suspenseful and scary moment.

Chapelwaite is based on a short story written by Stephen King in 1978 entitled “Jerusalem’s Lot.” Did the source material influence any of your creative decisions?

SR: I read “Jerusalem’s Lot” before I began work on the show but the source material didn’t impact how I approached the series. When I work on a project, I let the scripts, dailies, and any conversations I have with the director and showrunners dictate my editorial approach to the material.

RD: The short story is considerably different from Chapelwaite. The show expands on the world of the short, with the addition of more characters and story beats. What I feel we were very aware of was the tone of the original story. The sense of mystery and foreboding evil that is lurking, hidden in the shadows. We tried to maintain this idea, to not give anything away for as long as possible and, at times, even misdirecting the audience on what this lurking evil is. In the end, we reveal more than what the original short story does. And we hope it is more terrifying than anyone expects.

LJ: It was interesting that they modernized and introduced some elements that aren’t in the story.  For instance, the character of Rebecca Morgan, played by Emily Hampshire, does not exist in the book.  She brings 19th-century feminism to Preacher’s Corners (where the story is set) and I think things like that make the story richer.  

DGC Ontario Picture Editors Stephen Roque, Lara Johnston and Roderick Deogrades, on their way to get COVID tests while working on Chapelwaite
DGC Ontario Picture Editors Stephen Roque, Lara Johnston and Roderick Deogrades, on their way to get COVID tests while working on Chapelwaite

Could you describe what your collaborative process was like with the rest of the post-production team?

SR: When assembling scenes, I find it helpful to share my work with the other editors and assistants on the show to elicit feedback and help determine what’s working in regards to performance, pacing, story. Lara, Rod, and I would also share our full episode assemblies with each other and then discuss areas that could be improved. As we progressed through the various stages of the edit, I could always rely on Lara and Rod for valuable feedback.

Dawn Stoliar, Michael England, and Arielle Skolnick were our assistant editors and were invaluable during the course of the series. They provided all the support we needed, from cutting in music and sound effects to keeping track of and temping our numerous visual effects shots. We couldn’t have done the show without them.

LJ: We had a GREAT and very collaborative post-production team. The story has lots of twists and turns, and the Boones have a dark and twisted familial back story, so keeping an eye on that at all times, from episode to episode as a group was important – Rod is a story hawk!  

Nick Ianellli and Take 5 gave us great post-production support.  As with all departments, there are a lot of extra logistics with the safety measures and remote working and the post team – Ryan Bruner, Mandy Ley and our post PA Federico Jara always were on top of that – in addition to everything else they normally do.  

We were working out of Technicolor for most of the time, under Covid protocols so we minimized in-person contact, but it really helps collaboration to be able to pop into another person’s room and show or talk about something. Working with the producers and directors was all done remotely, which works really well, although it was great to be working in side-by-side offices with the other editors – there is nothing like being able to quickly show and scene and pick it apart with someone else who understands the material.

RD: One of my favourite things about working on series television is the opportunity to collaborate with the other editors. Each editor is given their own episodes to edit. But to have the eyes and ears of my fellow editors, Stephen and Lara— bouncing off ideas, showing cuts, talking about the story and character— only makes my work that much better. To be able to talk to each other about what is and isn’t working and coming up with solutions on how to make the entire show stronger is an amazing environment to be in. Then, collaborating with the rest of our post-production team, from the picture assistants to the composer, to our VFX department and sound team, only elevates the material into something we can all be very proud of. The best idea always wins. And it isn’t difficult getting great ideas when working with such talented people.

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