Sunday, January 21, 2018
  • Tuesday, May. 23, 2017
"The Crown" Fits Editor Pia Di Ciaula
Pia Di Ciaula
Collaborating with Netflix series creator Peter Morgan, director/EP Stephen Daldry proves creatively fulfilling 
  • LOS ANGELES
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For editor Pia Di Ciaula, the prospects of working on The Crown (Netflix) were alluring on several fronts, including the story itself and the chance to collaborate with series creator/showrunner/writer Peter Morgan and director/EP Stephen Daldry. Morgan is a two-time Academy Award nominee--in 2007 for The Queen (Best Original Screenplay) and in 2009 for Frost/Nixon (Best Adapted Screenplay). Daldry has three Best Director Oscar nominations--for Billy Elliot in 2001, The Hours in 2003, and The Reader in 2009.

As for the story that captivated Di Ciaula, The Crown--based on Morgan’s lauded play, “The Audience”--chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II (portrayed by Claire Foy) from the 1940s to modern times. The series begins with an inside look at the early reign of the queen, who assumed the throne at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI. As the decades pass, personal intrigue, romance, and political rivalries are revealed that played a major role in events that shaped the latter part of the 20th century. 

Having seen “The Audience,” Di Ciaula said, “I knew The Crown would be special. Then I read a few scripts and I was hooked.”

Still, Di Ciaula almost didn’t ascend to The Crown due to scheduling conflicts. “I knew that working with Stephen Daldry and Peter Morgan would be a tremendous opportunity but I was editing Hugh Hudson’s film Altamira when the first call came through so I wasn’t available,” she recalled.  “When I got the second call, I was cutting Terence Davies’ film A Quiet Passion so I was still unavailable.  A few months later, Stephen offered me the show without an interview.  This intrigued me but I was attached to edit Paddy Considine’s film Journeyman.   I had cut Tyrannosaur [which won assorted honors, including Best British Independent Film, a BAFTA Film Award, and Sundance’s Directing Award] so nothing was going to prevent me from working with Paddy again. Luckily, Journeyman got delayed so it all worked out perfectly.”

Also approaching perfection was an open-minded approach that helped set The Crown apart, said Di Ciaula who cut three episodes--one in the first season (episode #2), and a pair in season two. She related that working with Morgan and Daldry “was brilliant not only because they are geniuses but they are also very open and collaborative. When I began assembling The Crown, I felt that there was a beat missing between the King’s duet with Princess Margaret and his death the following morning because the transition was too abrupt. I suggested shooting a scene of the King watching Elizabeth on TV.  I did a mock-up of the scene with cards describing the actions, added archive voiceover and put shots of the real Elizabeth in a TV monitor. I even added temporary music to help sell the idea. Stephen loved it but he asked the research department to investigate what really happened that night. I was touched when I learned that the King actually asked about Elizabeth’s progress on the Commonwealth tour so it solidified the justification for the scene. For me, it was about making a final father/daughter connection to reinforce the catastrophic impact his death would have on Elizabeth. But of course, the masterful Stephen put his stamp on it by using a tracking shot, getting an emotional performance and having the King smoke a cigarette!”

The big-picture challenges of The Crown, continued Di Ciaula, were: “How do we tell an emotional story without being sentimental?  How do we show emotion without tears?  How do we show intensity from afar?  Stephen loves withholding the resolution so after the King dies, Elizabeth is the last person to learn the news.  He even added a scene of her jeep breaking down to prolong this sequence.  Stephen decided to shoot Philip and Elizabeth in wide shots when she learns the news so that the audience can empathize with the new Queen without feeling manipulated.  And of course, Claire and Matt [Smith] played the scene beautifully.  One of my favorite sequences is when they leave Sagana Lodge, and the Maasai tribe arrive to pay their respects.  When I received these rushes, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  The shots were stunning, the costumes and make-up were superb, and it was lit with a perfect sunset and a diagonal flare.  It’s one of many examples illustrating the high caliber of talent from every department on The Crown.”  

Then there’s the perennial logistical challenge of time for an editor. Di Ciaula noted the quandary of “trimming my 82-minute assembly down to 55 minutes without destroying the essence of the show.  The longest dialogue scene was five minutes between Sir Tommy Lascelles and Group Captain Townsend.  I love this scene because it feels like you’re on a roller coaster ride.  You think you’re going in one direction and suddenly Peter and Stephen take you in another.  Two-thirds into the scene, Lascelles is annoyed with Townsend and gets distracted by church bells so it was my opportunity to cross the line,  change the rhythm whilst pausing with Lascelles before he reveals his knowledge of Townsend’s affair with Princess Margaret.  I trimmed two minutes out which made it economical but not better.  I was asked to reinstate my first assembly which was flattering but was also a lesson in restraint.  Peter’s dialogue is so beautifully written and has such a poetic rhythm that sometimes you just can’t tamper with it.”

In that regard, Netflix played a key role. “Netflix allowed us to make this drama with huge scale whilst paying attention to small details,” shared Di Ciaula. “The long format meant we could delve deeper into the characters and their journeys.  Netflix gives the audience control on how they choose to devour production so binge-watchers were considered.  Working with Stephen Daldry, Peter Morgan, [executive producers] Andy Harries and Suzanne Mackie on a Netflix/Left Bank Pictures show has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career!”  

Part of that reward entailed lessons derived from the experience. “I have learned a great deal from Stephen Daldry,” noted Di Ciaula. “He likes inter-cutting scenes to make them more dynamic, checks eye trace, delays the climax to build tension, gets terrific performances, and there’s humor, surprises and a magical quality to his material.  The duet with the King and Princess Margaret begins as a close, intimate scene and then we reveal the room full of guests which besides being a lovely surprise, it also intensifies the emotion.  He has taught me to lighten the mood before diving into darkness, and that going against your instincts can also be thrilling.  Stephen inspires me to make more visual and emotional associations and since we have a wonderful symbiotic relationship, we can encourage each other to go further.”  

This is the second installment of a 15-part series of feature stories that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation, Visual effects and production design. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies on September 9 and 10, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 17.

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