Editing in American Horror Story

First, let me be upfront in saying I’m totally in love with Ryan Murphy’s newest show “American Horror Story” which airs on Wednesday nights on FX. Like, I love love it. That kind of love. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen that I love it.

I was a huge fan of his show Nip/Tuck from the beginning. I started watching Nip/Tuck when I was probably 16/17 years old, I’m not completely sure, but it was definitely at a time when I was really starting to uncover my own sensibilities as an editor. Nip/tuck was a HUGE influence on my editing style. I believe largely because of what I was exposed to in that show, I grew more comfortable with nonlinear and unconventional storytelling and reveals as well as not backing away from harsh, in your face edits. Throughout your education as a video producer, you’re taught to hide all edits most of the time. Many older editors lament the “mtv generation” of editors who cut 1000 times per minute. Because of this show, I’ve figured out how to meet in the middle – how to be an invisible editor and how to be an aggressive editor, and when to pull out which weapons.

Like Nip/tuck, American Horror Story has an aggressive storytelling and editing style. I’m really interested to hear from the editors about the stylistic choices they made for the show, because I think some audiences often see a jump cut and automatically think it’s shoddy work without considering how it fits into the context. I’ve never really been much much of a horror fan or expert at all, but American Horror Story seems like it utilizes a lot of the conventions that are mainstays in the horror editing genre. The jump cut, as well as lack of matching action, lapses in time, etc, along with the amazing cinematography (dutch angles, dolly shots, ECUs, closeups centered in the frame, etc) combine to create some sweet modern horror.

Spoilers ahead for episode one!

In one scene, the main character is jogging outside of LA through his neighborhood and wooded area. He realizes he’s being followed. During this scene, there are a ton of jump cuts, especially when he’s jogging across a bridge and just realizing he’s being followed. I loved the jump cuts and quick cuts here because it gives a distinct since of something being very wrong. Instead of overdone POV shots of a chase, or closeups of eyes or all the overdone stuff, the editors go back to another convention and make one shot into 3 or 4 cuts. It gives an overwhelming feeling of anxiety that you feel through the character as he’s realizing someone is behind him. The editing of the chase through the woods is masterful. It’s fast and jumpy, but never confusing. The screen direction is always paid attention to, and you always know who is on your screen at any given time. When the action of the scene ends, you aren’t left wondering how they got to that point, it was always clear.

I love the subtle use of jump cuts and the occasional lack of matching actions. It’s so subtle that it serves to continue to create a feeling of uneasiness. It’s often such a small thing that makes a huge difference.

Overall, this show has really excited me as an editor. It makes me so happy to see shows willing to take risks and do something a little different. I look forward to seeing more from American Horror Story, and watching the creep show unfold.