Jonathan P. Shaw (far left) at a panel discussion concerning Twin Peaks.
A seasoned editor, Jonathan P. Shaw was an assistant editor on Blue Velvet (1986) before becoming a central part of the Twin Peaks team. On Twin Peaks, Shaw edited 10 episodes, and later he has continued his work as an editor on television series like Blind Justice (ABC, 2005) and Raising the Bar (TNT, 2008-2009), both created by the acclaimed showrunner Steven Bochco. In 2015, Jonathan P. Shaw served as an editor on the documentary feature Finding Noah, and while he was working on that film, he managed to take off some time to talk with me about Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and the art of editing in film and television.
AH: You edited ten episodes of Twin Peaks by many different directors (such as David Lynch, Duwayne Dunham, Lesli Linka Glatter, Uli Edel, Caleb Deschanel and Stephen Gyllenhaal). Could you see a clear difference in terms of style from director to director?
JPS: Each director was brought in to give something unique to Twin Peaks. They all got the vision, but they all had something they wanted to bring to it. Everyone was different, but this one was a unison group because everyone got the vision. Also, the different directors were all feature film directors, and that’s why Twin Peaks had a ‘feature sensibility’ to it.
AH: Do you remember the Tibetan rock throwing scene where Dale Cooper is trying to solve a puzzle connected to an entry from Laura Palmer’s diary (“Nervous about meeting ‘J’ tonight”)? Before Cooper throws a rock, Harry S. Truman is asked to mention the character on the blackboard and his or her relation to Laura, and then we intercut images of those characters. How would you describe the editing and content of that scene?
JPS: That was so early on, in the beginning of the show. We still had to find out who Cooper was, and you had to learn about Harry. In that sense, it was a pivotal scene. Cooper brought everyone in, and they were all introduced, and you got an idea of Cooper’s craziness and his brilliance. By the way, there was coverage, but Kyle MacLachlan actually hit the bottle in that scene…
AH: In Episode 2 (“Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”), there are two very interesting scenes/sequences: The first one is Dale Cooper’s dream sequence, and the second one is the scene in which Leland dances with Laura’s photo to the sound of Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Could you say a few words on that scene (with Leland)?
JPS: We shot it with a spinning camera, using autofocus. David so understands how he would like it to be shot. Some directors make a lot of coverage, but David Lynch knows how he wants it to be. I can’t recall any specific directions from David, and there wasn’t a lot of other coverage. It became so easy because we didn’t have to solve any problems. We only had to make something good even better.
Part of it is that when you come into the scene, you know that Leland is unravelling, but you don’t know how much he is unravelling. It starts out almost comical, zany and crazy, but then it changes. It goes from almost funny to very serious. The camera is spinning around, as Leland is spinning out of control. In the beginning, you are on the outside, but then you get inside of it. You get a close-up of Ray, and as Angelo’s music is introduced, it becomes sad and tragic. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride… The beauty of Twin Peaks is David’s ability to create humor in the midst of sadness and horror. It doesn’t keep you in the basement.
AH: In many of the different episodes, it seems as if we have a slow-paced editing style, and often we cross-dissolve between two shots. In the episode called “Cooper’s Dream,” which is directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, for example, we have a relatively lengthy sequence where Doc Hayward and the police crew go to check out Jacques’ cabin in the woods. According to Glatter, the pacing was unusually slow, and the scripts were only 34-36 pages. Was there a different pacing in Twin Peaks, and how did you try to establish that particular kind of mood?
JPS: I was the assistant editor on Blue Velvet, so I already knew David pretty well. So when I came into Twin Peaks, I was familiar with his pacing which is unique to his brand. A lot of it was also informed by Angelo’s music, and we knew that. All the directors, who came in, knew Angelo’s music and David’s sensibility.
The pacing with the beautiful music and photography gave it a small-town feel.
AH: You have edited the episode “Path to the Black Lodge,” which was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, and I absolutely love the ending of that episode, where we have a montage of different shots (at The Roadhouse, the Sheriff’s Department and the hospital, trees blowing in the wind). Here, it seems as if the camera movements and montage editing give the sequence an eerie mood, not unlike the lengthy takes and slow camera movements in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Was that your intention?
JPS: By that time in the show, the editors knew what Twin Peaks was. We as editors also got what it was. Once everyone got the vibe of the show, it became a kind of language. As editors, we just started to live inside that world, so things came easy. Just like great jazz music. You get the vibe and just start riffing. So, when I sat down with Stephen – and he’s a great director of photography – we would talk about it. It was his idea, and after I had cut it together, I showed it to him.
As far as the editing went, it was the language of the show.
AH: In episode 2.8 (“Drive with a Dead Girl”), there is a wonderful sequence, where Sheriff Truman and Agent Dale Cooper are driving in Truman’s police car. We cut between them talking and Leland driving in his car (with Maddy in his trunk) swinging between the two lanes and singing “The Surrey with a Fringe on Top.” How would you say that the editing and the singing work here, and would it be fair to say that this sequence takes the viewer for a ride, shifting between a lighthearted comic tone to a more serious or even morbid tone at the end of the sequence?
JPS: A lot of that was on the page… Ray at that time was having fun playing Leland, and Caleb, because he’s a seasoned DP and a great director, was riffing on the general themes of the show… Everybody was like playing the same song. The intercutting was important, but it was also important not to get over the top. Like that other scene with “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” the character is kind of whacky…
AH: Twin Peaks has often been described as one of the most important and influential TV series of all time. Do you think that Twin Peaks has had an impact on modern-day television drama? If so, how?
JPS: With Twin Peaks we would all sit and watch it because it was such a communal thing. It was a watercooler phenomenon. I was getting calls from people wanting me to tell them who killed Laura Palmer.
Right now there are many great shows. Shows like True Detective and Breaking Bad, and I really feel that we started the whole thing with Twin Peaks. Nobody had seen anything like that before, and we have to give a lot of credit to ABC. People like Bob Iger were willing to take a chance. David will always have an audience – he has a strong, rabid fanbase – but we have to give some credit to ABC as well.
The “Pennsylvania 6-5000” scene from Twin Peaks, as mentioned by Jonathan P. Shaw: