Hi reddit!

My name is Philip Harrison, and I am editor on Mr. Robot. I am honored to be working on this fantastic show, and also to have been recently recognized by my peers, receiving an American Cinema Editors (A.C.E.) Eddie Award nomination for my work on season 2, episode 6, “eps2.4 m4ster-s1ave.aes”.

In the past, I have worked as an editor on Sundance Film Festival award winning Die Mommie, Die!, the Emmy winning HBO Documentary Vito, Fox Television’s Glee, and The WB’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

You can follow me on twitter by clicking here.

I'd like to focus this AMA on the craft of editing Mr. Robot, rather than discussing story, fan theories or plot twists. Definitely excited to discuss how editing supports the story and Sam Esmail's vision. Hope that works with all of you!

Also, please be aware that due to the nature of our discussion there may be some spoilers!

I will be answering your questions starting at 12:00pm PT/3:00pm ET!

Proof - check out my proof tweets here and here!

Ask Me (Almost) Anything!

**EDIT: Hey guys, Thanks so much for all your questions. It's been a pleasure. I will try and come back to the page and follow up on some more questions. Thanks for all your love and support of the show. Thanks again!!

Comments: 128 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

plowkiller14 karma

Hello Philip! I'm an aspiring student editor myself and I've been doing it as a hobby (and now a job) since I was 14 and Mr. Robot is my absolute favorite show on TV right now. So this is pretty much my dream AMA. Anyway, on to the questions.

Spoilers for season 2

  1. Did the Word Up Wednesday episode throw any curve-balls for you? I could see being limited to the stationary 3-camera setup and that style of show really making someone think more about how they're cutting.

  2. What program do you use for the show and and what do you prefer?

  3. Was there ever a favorite scene of yours to edit?

Also not a question but I just want to say the "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" scene was one of my personal favorite scenes on television last year because of it's great cutting. Can't wait for Season 3.

Philip_Harrison21 karma

Great to talk to another editor!

  1. There weren't any giant curveballs. I grew up with these kind of sitcoms that were the inspiration so I understood the tone. Also, while working on Glee, we did a smaller scene in this same sitcom style as an homage to Friends. The main effect we were going for was the contrast between the emotional undertone and content within the sitcom style I tried to play things straight and use the most grounded performances. We didn't want the characters winking at the camera. The humor would come out through the sitcom style and Rami Malek's grounded performance would sell the emotion.

  2. I use AVID which I prefer for editing narrative shows. I've also cut documentaries on Final Cut 7 which I felt was best for that.

  3. The adderall scene from episode 2 was a favorite. The sitcom and also the emotional scene between Mr Robot and young Elliot at the end of eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes

mchiabotto9 karma

Hey, Philip! Is there any huge difference between the editing process in Glee and Mr. Robot? I mean, the tone of the series is completely different, so it got me wondering about your approach when it comes to creating a nice flow for fun or dramatic scenes.

Philip_Harrison23 karma

Yes, the shows are very different in tone. On Glee we used a a very snappy style, cutting dialogue right on the cut. And there's also a different presentational style with the musical elements. Also on Glee we always wanted things to be absolutely clear and in the moment.

It took me time to adjust to working on Mr Robot. Sam asked me to slow down the rhythm and trust the story. On this show, things hang and the story payoffs are a slower burn. I had to learn to trust this more cinematic approach. Sam has created such a fascinating world and the actors/characters are so great that it really works.

liamquane8 karma

Hi Mr.Harrison! Congratuwelldone on your success! Can I ask, what is the best thing a director can do for you? Thanks! :~)

Philip_Harrison10 karma

Well, on this show Sam does a great job of getting a variety of material to work with. He also has a a very strong understanding of how footage functions to tell a story. I think this underlying understanding of how things function is one of the strongest skills you can have as a director. I was amazed at Sam last season directing all the episodes. He had to come up with so many different approaches to keep thing interesting and to sell all the story and character beats. He gives us many incredible options to work with in the cutting room.

lawlessSyntax8 karma

Something about Mr. Robot that has always blown me away is that everything, editing wise, seems intentional. From dat framing to blocking and nuanced pacing, every single detail seems hand tailored- especially after a second viewing. With that said, it seems like I (and many members of /r/mrrobot) have a tendency to analyze everything. "That cup on the table, it has been in the last three shots, but has moved approximately 4 inches... Elliot confirmed dead."

How much, percentage wise, would you say is 'intentional', and how much is just left up to chance. Are you and Sam Esmail meticulously engineering every tiny detail, down to the hypothetical cup on the table? If so, are there little 'intentional' nuances that you think were overlooked by the audience so far?

Philip_Harrison5 karma

Sam has a very intentional approach to filmmaking. My approach is to internalize that direction so that every element has a reason to be in the show. We make repeated passes of every episode to be sure that this standard is met.

By the end of editing, my objectivity is usually shot! It's always gratifying to read audience responses to see how well they picked up on what we are going for. Reading twitter during the airing of the sitcom episode was a thrill. I loved how the audience responded to our out of the box approach!

lost_tsol5 karma

Hey Philip,

I'm of the opinion that there are substantially more Easter Eggs embedded into every element of the show than what most people would consider possible to achieve, and I'd say your work goes a long ways towards making that ambitious goal achievable.

With that in mind:

Would you say you feel a greater sense of responsibility and have a taller task as the editor of Mr. Robot, in contrast to other shows, in that there is a more thorough and meticulous method of filmmaking taking place that requires more attention to detail, particularly when it comes to Sam's propensity to spotlight details in what would normally be negative space? Do you find that there is more to keep track of and be cognizant of in terms of what qualifies a specific take as being 'ideal'?

Thanks for your time and keep up the great work, I look forward to working with you some day :)

Philip_Harrison5 karma

There is definitely a lot of detail that goes into these shows. As an editor I am on board with Sam's vision of making MR Robot a cinematic experience. This takes a lot of time as we go through passes to get the story right, add music and sound fx. It is a highly meticulous process. There's also that added layer of getting all the tech right. I was hired for my storytelling skills- not my background in computer hacking. Our tech advisor, Kor Adana, works with me in the cutting room to make sure all of those details are accurate as the fans expect.

Let me also call out our Mr Robot editorial team. I am just one part of a very collaborative group. On Season 2, editor Franklin Peterson returned from season 1. He cut this year's premier and finale and is a guiding force for me. We were joined by John Petaja, who had worked previously on American Horror Story. These guys are an inspiration on a daily basis. I'm constantly looking at what they've done on there episodes to help me raise the creative bar on my episodes.

liamquane5 karma

Can you describe yiur time as a sound designer? I dread doing the sound for ny short now, it's all that's left. Lol

Philip_Harrison6 karma

I love the process of adding sound to a show- it adds a sensory element that really hooks you into the reality of the scenes. So on season 2, myself and my assistant editor Gordon Holmes did full sound passes so that we can screen the show with Sam Esmail as if it were a completed episode. You might be surprised how much sound we add to sweeten the production sound. When we've locked picture, we turn the shows over to our amazing sound supervisor, Kevin Buchholtz, who takes the sound elements to a whole new level. When we go into the mix with all of his work, it's like you're seeing the show anew.

throwjack5 karma

What is your favorite kind of fish?

How long are editor work days? night guy or morning kind of guy?

Philip_Harrison10 karma

Any fish with Keith David's voice. For the longest time we had my assistant editor's voice in and then Kor Adana, our tech producer's voice. When we finally got Keith's VO it was magic.

A standard day is 12 hours. Often we'll work longer. I'm a night person. Cranky in the morning!

DerpLord1003 karma

Who is your favorite character (aside from Rami) on Mr. Robot? Favorite minor character?

Philip_Harrison6 karma

I love the addition of Dom(Grace Gummer) to season 2. She is a combination of badass and vulnerability that I love.

liamquane3 karma

What was it like working on American Psycho? Any temptation to do too much crazy??? :~P

Philip_Harrison3 karma

American Psycho was great. I learned a lot from Director Mary Harron and Editor Andrew Marcus. I think there is a lot of trial and error around how stylized you make a performance. Again, my inclination is to start from a very grounded place and then build from there. Screenings always help in gauging if you've gone to far! I was thrilled to cut Tyrell Wellick scenes in season one that were influenced by the style of American Psycho.

lost_tsol3 karma

I've found that during the editing process there are inevitably some eureka moments where you shuffle certain elements around and BOOM, everything suddenly works perfectly and it's clear there's no better cut. Can you think of a Mr. Robot sequence or episode in which you had one of these moments, in which it took some time and experimentation but the unexpected results were incredibly rewarding?

Philip_Harrison7 karma

When you are in the groove, editing can be such a pleasurable process. Sometimes I think i edit to relive that moment you are describing. You're going through making all the little subtle changes and things are coming to life and suddenly you stumble on an idea.

I remember deciding to use the POV shot of the camera in the suicide scene in the season 1 finale. Suddenly, You felt the audience tuning in , this great unblinking eye. It was great to show it to Sam and see he loved it too!

lost_tsol2 karma

It's definitely euphoric when it happens.

And as for that POV, that camera reminded me so much of HAL from 2001. I'm sure that's no accident.

Philip_Harrison1 karma

Yes, that got us really excited too. And that was the reason I wore the Hal T-shirt in my annoucement of this AMA.

tyrellalderson3 karma

Hi Phillip! It's 6:30am where I live, but I had to get up because I was so excited for this AMA! I'm a young director/filmmaker/editor and I love Mr. Robot and Glee (two of my favourite tv shows - Mr. Robot is such an inspiration when it comes to editing). Congratulations on the award! My questions are:

What techniques do you use in editing to set the mood/evoke feeling in different scenes?

When you get the footage, how is it given to you? (is there a Data Wrangler or someone to sort it all out or do you have to?)

edit: removed a few questions that had already been answered

Philip_Harrison8 karma

Thanks so much for being part of the AMA! I love that you're excited about editing at such a young age!

There are endless approaches to editing a scene. I'm grateful that I've worked on enough projects over the years to have had to figure out how to deal with different types of scenes and moods. On MR Robot, I try to edit the scene in a grounded way so that I am sure that a scene and the character motivations make sense. Then I go back and make additional passes where I might add music and sound effects. I can also change the mood by making the cuts tighter or looser. Using closeups instead of long shots can have a very different effect depending on what you're going for. I would advise you to watch as much film as you can to internalize all the different possibilities and then experiment yourself as much as you can.

Kade_Runner3 karma

Hi, how did you first get into editing? And what do you think was the kicker for you landing the spot for editor of Mr. Robot?

Philip_Harrison3 karma

I did editing of my own little super 8 projects as a kid and was always interested how editing works. My first jobs out of film school were in production which seemed very far from the storytelling part. So i gravitated to editing where the real storytelling is done. An early break was working on Ang Lee's Ride With The Devil where I learned a lot about how a film is put together.

I was referred for Mr Robot by editor Adam Penn who I knew from working on Glee/Ryan Murphy. He is also the fantastic writer of eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes. Anyway, Adam vouched for me with Sam, and my overall editorial experienced coupled with my love for the style and subject matter probably helped get me the job.

stoovantru2 karma

I see that you edited the episode "eps2.7_init_5.fve", which I absolute love the moments where the image blinks between Elliot and Mr. Robot while they are talking to Cisco and Darlene, suggesting a shift on the personalities.

My question is: how much creative work can you put on a high budget production like Mr Robot? On ads and indie projects the editor kind of becomes a post-production writer/problem solver. On Mr Robot do you end up following the screenplay religiously because the production has it all figured out or does the editor have the freedom to suggest things to be added to the episode? Scenes like the one i mentioned above can be suggested by the editor as well?

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Philip_Harrison3 karma

Thanks, I loved creating those moments. It was great to put the audience in a situation where they had to grasp how Elliot and MR Robot could be in a room at the same time!

The screenplays for MR Robot are very well honed and written. That being said, every film/program needs adjustments to create the final effect. This is especially true on a show that relies on the manipulation of information and character point of view. My initial cuts are very much following the script. Then I work with Sam to restructure so that the viewer is most held in the reality of the story.

standig_wordgang2 karma

Does Sam Esmail ever come into the cutting room in order to make sure that a certain scene is cut a certain way? I've always seen editing as one tool of many in a director's (showrunner in this case?) kit to tell the story.

The Sherlock video that Nerdwriter created a few days ago comes to mind when trying to explain what I mean: https://youtu.be/bfFgnJoLiQE

Thanks! And, of course, amazing work. Love Mr. Robot and the ways you all put it together.

Philip_Harrison3 karma

Sam spends a lot of time in the cutting room. He loves the editing process and is the guiding hand of how we put the episodes together.

jmax99192 karma

Hi Mr Harrison! How old were you when you started editing, and what college did you attend and your major?

Philip_Harrison3 karma

I started editing with little Kodak Super8 press tapes when I was a teenager. I went to the great SUNY Purchase Film School.

FriedCheese11 karma

What was your favorite childhood films and TV shows?

Philip_Harrison2 karma

Honestly, I grew up in the Lucas and Spielberg era and loved all there films. When I made Super 8 films, I was trying to emulate what they were doing with editing. When I got older, I fell in love with Hitchcock, Kubrick and Cronenberg.

not-stephen1 karma

How is it decided which editor edits each episode since you guys seem to alternate?

Philip_Harrison1 karma

Like on most shows, we're on a consistent rotation. This allows us to have breathing room between having to deliver our episodes.

lost_tsol1 karma

How much of the overarching plot of the show has Sam shared with you in order to deepen your understanding of the subject matter? Do you prefer to know arcs and plot points of the entire season or would you say you prefer a more self-contained approach to each episode?

Philip_Harrison2 karma

Sam doesn't share beyond the current season. In season 1 we got the scripts as each episode was going into production which was fun as we got to learn where things were going just a little bit at a time. This allowed us to speculate and wonder what was going to happen next.

In season 2, all of the episodes would be shot at once so they were all written ahead of production on the season. So we read them all at once. This gave us a little more of a heads up about elements we might need to set up for future episodes. In general though, we can focus on our individual episodes as little self contained films.

Personally, I prefer knowing just a bit at a time so I can enjoy the playing out of the story in a manner closer to how the audience does.

LastGenMilo1 karma

Are you Phillip Glass?

Philip_Harrison1 karma


BVB26001 karma

Hey Phil! can i call you Phil? cool. Anyway, Here's my question, What is your favorite part about working on a show as mindfucky as this? As a viewer sometimes I have to give myself a few minutes to really let everything sink in after an episode.

Philip_Harrison2 karma

Yes, I love all the mindfuckery on the show as well. And I love how the show is sort of dissecting the underpinnings of our society as it goes along on it's crazy ride. My favorite thing about working on the show is all creative moments I get to contribute to- as you know, it's endless. One of my favorites this season was the adderall sequence in episode 3- what a pleasure that was to cut as I got lost in my creative groove.

All that being said, It's the characters and how they are portrayed with such vulnerability and emotion that is the most satisfying part of the show. It's not the most discussed element but without the show's emphasis on character based storytelling, It would be a hollow shell. One of the most gratifying scenes for me to cut this season was the car flashback scene between MR Robot and young Elliot where Mr Robot reveals his backstory. It's heartbreaking and real and what the show is really about.

Applecorn55551 karma

What was your first job ever? And first job in entertainment?

Philip_Harrison2 karma

My first job ever (aside from selling wrapping paper door to door and being a paperboy) was being a busboy at Walgreens restaurant(when Walgreens restaurant) in the Turfland Mall in Lexington, KY. I remember the manager at the time shared my love of Alf and got me an Alf calendar once for Christmas.

My first real job in entertainment was as the parking coordinator for The Wedding Banquet, one of Ang Lee's early independent films he made with Good Machine production company in NYC. I had interned for them while still in film school. Good Machine gave me a few of my first jobs in pictures.

RustyEclipse1 karma

Hi Philip! Thank you for doing this AMA! I'm an aspiring filmmaker (director/editor)

I was wondering... do you have your say on the scene "order" or, in the case of Mr. Robot, does Sam Esmail decide of that? (I'm not a native speaker, I'm sorry, I have a hard time explaining) As, are you just given footage and you can do whatever you want with it or does the creator of the show give you directions?

Philip_Harrison3 karma

It is a very collaborative process. I am given the footage and on my own try to create a completed episode that follows the script and Sam's intentions. Then Sam comes into the editing room and together we work to hone the final episode. On a complex show like this, this means we make many passes of the cut with big and subtle changes until we complete our locked cut!

liamquane1 karma

What is your editing process like? Do you plab methodically or just jump straight in? :~)

Philip_Harrison1 karma

My first responsibility as an editor, especially on a show with so many heightened elements, is to ground the proceedings in logical storytelling and character motivations. I methodically work my way through the footage to make sure I have this foundation. Then I start to make passes where I add music and sound effects and flavor.

BeautifulTunes691 karma

What got you into editing initially?

Philip_Harrison1 karma

I went to the movies and loved them! My parents had a little Super 8 camera which I started using to make very simple clay animations. All through my teenage years, I was always working on some film idea and editing them on Super8 was part of that. After college, I started in production doing locations in NYC, which was incredible but seemed far away from making movies- the storytelling part that I had grown to love. So I reached out to producers I had met on some of the production jobs I had been doing. At first I got internships in editing rooms, that led to apprentice editing and then assistant editing. I worked as an assistant editor on independent films for 10 years before I decided to push myself to edit full time.

theimpost1 karma

Hi Philip,

Over the past few years I've written/edited my own shorts, so I have the most beginner of beginner handling on Premiere Pro and Final Cut. I've also recently started taking a video editing course from a local college. Questions:

  1. How valuable do you think it is to go to school for editing, versus being self-taught?

  2. Are there any "easy" (or at least, foolproof) tricks to make what you're editing look more professional? Things like making sure the audio synch is absolutely correct, etc.

Philip_Harrison3 karma

Training can be a huge asset- In the proper environment(good teachers and material to work with) you can learn in a much more condensed time what could take years to learn on the job. Sometimes I wish I had gone onto graduate school where the editorial training can be much more detailed. That being said, film school can also not replace on the job learning. It wasn't until I was working and had to deliver that I really internalized what I had learned in film school. I had to really go deep and grapple with footage until it did what I intended. I'm also really happy that I cut documentaries where the story is really written in the cutting room. By cutting docs I learned a lot about how to present material so that it works as a story. It isn't just about laying out the pieces- there are storytelling archetypes that everyone understands and as an editor, you are always looking for ways to present within that archetype. For instance, the opening of a door with a person behind it. Everyone understands this, almost in a primal way, as an entrance, as a beginning, a curtain opening, a launch! The list of this type of thing goes on and on.

It's hard to say if there is any foolproof technique but one thing I keep in mind is always cut for a reason! Even if the cut is a little rough, if there is a reason for the cut, the audience will usually go along. If you just cut to cut, the cut will bump even if it's smooth.

Also, if you can, try to cut on motion. This leads the eye into smoothing out the cut.

BTW, if you haven't read it already, go get Walter Murch's book In The Blink of an Eye. It's an invaluable book for understanding editorial storytelling.

Name_Checker_Outer1 karma

Was it hard to actually have to watch shows like Glee in order to edit them?

Philip_Harrison3 karma

Wow, that's a tough question to get! The thing is, on every episode of Glee down to the very last one, the directors and crew came up with incredibly creative/innovative ways to tell the stories. Although subjectively, not every episode may have been to the liking of the audience, as an editor, I found every episode to be an exciting creative challenge. What a great film school editing Glee was- Over the course of my three years there, I got to experience a vast amount of directorial/editorial challenges. That may not be the first thing an audience notices(by design, I'm working so the audience doesn't notice my editorial slight of hand) but I found it a pleasure to present the material in a way that best sold the stories that were told.

Matir1 karma

Does the show's effort to portray realistic hacking add any special challenges to editing? As a working information security professional, I know how boring watching someone hack can be in real life, and it's amazing how Mr. Robot tries to get it right without boring the audience.

Philip_Harrison2 karma

Yes, it is tricky. Often when the footage for a hacking scene comes in, It's hard for me to figure out what's going on! The writers and production strive to show the most realistic possible hacks so often this involves a lot of minute coding steps. Our tech producer, Kor Adana, is instrumental for explaining what all the code means and how it fits into the action of the scene. It takes time break down the screen footage and insert it into the proper order. Once the material is edited into a logical sequence, there is then a back and forth- As an editor, I'm striving to tell the story in the most efficient manner and with the most possible tension. On the other side is the desire to portray the realistic hacks the audience expects. The producers and I make multiple passes through the cuts to find compromises so that both objectives are fulfilled.

liamquane1 karma

What was it like touring the festival scene?

Philip_Harrison1 karma

I didn't personally attend any MR Robot festival screenings. But I have found festival screenings for previous projects a great pleasure. By the end of a project, I have usually lost all subjectivity and it's hard to see a film as a larger narrative whole- I just see the cuts and worry if things are working. When you hear any audience respond at a festival, It's like seeing the work anew. I especially love it when the audience has a response to something I hadn't even considered.

EricSusch1 karma

Hey Phil! In most TV shows the opening titles are obviously an awkward afterthought, but the title sequences in Mr. Robot are spot on rhythmically, spatially, and in many cases actually increase drama instead of causing an interruption. Obviously the planning for some of the titles goes back to the script as I'm sure is the case for the reveal of the electronic shop in season one. (Masterpiece!) Are the title sequences that carefully planned in the script for all the episodes? What's the editing process on Mr. Robot regarding titles sequences?

Philip_Harrison1 karma

In most cases, Sam has a preplanned idea of what he wants the opening title card to be. The only episode I can remember that wasn't completely preplanned was the season 1 final. Sam knew he wanted the title over some bit of news footage of the anarchy created by the 5/9 Hack but he didn't have an exact image picked. I cut together the news footage from stock footage that was delivered to the cutting room. Sam agree with the image I picked with protestors and an image of fire and how it looked with the red of the MR Robot title. That's the shot we went with.

SpeakWithThePen1 karma

What are some experiences where your expertise as the editor trumped the initial stylistic choices of the director, or from how the director envisioned the raw principle photography to be cut?

Philip_Harrison10 karma

Sam is always encouraging us to find creative approaches to the material. A couple examples of creative ideas I came up with in the cutting room are:

In season 1, when Elliot is going through withdrawal; we wanted to increase the intensity of these scenes. I experimented and found that adding a strobe effect with intermittent jump cuts seemed to amplify the experience.

In season 2, during the adderall sequence, Sam had intended a shot Of Elliot walking across the frame to have a streaming effect like you might find on a computer screen saver. I tried a different approach using several different takes of the shot where Rami Malek was giving different performances. By split screening the shots, we now see a spectrum of Elliot's in different moods streaming across. Sam loved the effect and it stayed in the cut.

Tiruwa1 karma

Hello Philip. How long time do you use to edit one episode of Mr. Robot. Are you editing alone? or is it a whole team. Is it well payed?

Philip_Harrison2 karma

For the first season, we had dailies for 7-8 days, spent 4 days with the episode director, and then would spend 1-2 weeks with our producer, Sam Esmail, depending on his availability.

For the 2nd season, things got trickier as Sam Esmail was directing every episode. To facilitate this, we did block shooting where 3-4 episodes were shot at the same time over the course of about month period. In some cases, scenes from an early episode weren't filmed until later blocks. The upshot to all this is we had more time to edit, but it took longer to get all the footage for an episode. Also, since Sam was in production, it was harder to get Sam in the cutting room for the longer blocks of time we needed him for. So overall, instead of taking 3-4 weeks to complete and episode, it took us about 2 months per episode. By which time, we were getting very close to our air dates- you had some very wide eyed editors plugging away!

In general on episodic television, aach individual episode is assigned to an editor and they work alone on their episode.

gholmesfilms1 karma

Have you ever had salad from Urban Rustic in greenpoint Brooklyn? Also are there real robots in the show or is it all just a big sham?

Philip_Harrison1 karma

Yes, scriptsync is helpful. Thanks for that great question.

Red-Panda1 karma

How much content do you see edited out, that you wish could have stayed in? Conversely.. any good stuff the viewers never got to see?

edit: Thanks for coming by!

Philip_Harrison3 karma

As an editor, I am most interested in making the overall episode work. So if a scene isn't contributing to what we are going for, it has to go. That being said, we've cut plenty of scenes from MR Robot that I loved and wished the world could have seen. As they say, you have to kill your babies!