Paul Trejo, 1993 at Paramount, early digital editing
Having worked on television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (Fox, 1990-2000), Twin Peaks, On the Air (ABC, 1992), Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, 2013-present) and Black Sails (Starz, 2014-present), Paul Trejo (b. 1953) is an experienced editor. Trejo has vacillated between different kinds of productions (from Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild  to Lexi Alexander’s Green Street Hooligans ), and he has worked in different fields and branches of the industry. From sound to editing.
Editing is often described as an invisible art form. Nevertheless, Twin Peaks fans should notice and recall the name Paul Trejo, inasmuch as he has edited nine episodes from the show. I had a lengthy and very enlightening conversation with Trejo, focusing on editing as an art form, commercial television and shifting directorial styles. We debated principles of editing in a broad and general sense and we took a closer look at specific transitions and match-dissolves in Twin Peaks.
AH: How did you get to an editor on Twin Peaks?
PT: I worked for many years in New York, and back in the eighties New York was a very small community. I worked in documentary and commercials, but it was a small community. There were some amazing editors who were very influential in my life. Because it was such a small community, you would take whatever job you could get. You couldn’t be choosy. One day you could be doing Foley, another day you could be doing something else. I kind of vacillated between different films, such as Scarface and Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, where I worked on sound. Sound, to me, is almost as important as pictures. Dede Allen invented the technique called leading the cut with sound. She probably did that in the fifties. Going back to Eraserhead, David worked with Alan Splet, who was an incredible sound editor. David has a very good ear, a good sense of sound. Sometimes these things would be discussed when we did these things called ‘spotting the sound’, when we looked at the scenes with the sound editor. Other times we would talk about it during the dubbing phase, and David was a part of the dubbing phase.
AH: In his book, The Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch has described film editing as an invisible or often unnoticed art. What is your view on and approach to editing?
PT: I have read Walter’s book, years ago. He’s an acquaintance of mine. I’ve worked with Coppola, and he has worked with Walter many times. Walter is a very learned person. To say that editing is the invisible art to some extent is correct. The history of editing certainly was invisible. It was done be people in dark rooms. But over the course of time, the people in the industry, at least to some degree, have acknowledged the editors. As an editor, it is truly incumbent on you to serve the vision of the creator or director and not to egotistically apply your own style. Now, that can be qualified because some directors like the style of certain editors whether it is fast-paced or slow-paced, and they will choose to work with the editors whose style they like. I like to go into a project and be invisible. If it’s a fast-paced show, I can do that, and if it’s a slow-paced show like Twin Peaks, I can do that as well, without doing it in a conspicuous way. I don’t want it to be conspicuous. If you go out from a cinema and say, “Wasn’t that beautifully edited?”, then I think it’s not well edited. Whereas you can easily notice beautiful pictures and an interesting sound design, editing is more of an invisible art. Take a film like Boyhood. It was so subtly, beautifully and seamlessly put together.
AH: It is interesting that you mention a film like Boyhood. I have always thought of Annie Hall as an overlooked example of great editing, inasmuch as it was meant to be an ‘ensemble piece’ shifting between different protagonists. In the editing room, they changed the story. At the Academy Awards, however, the film was recognized mainly for its script, even if the final film is quite different from the original script.
PT: Yes, I guess you could say that editing is the final chance for the director and the editor to re-write.
After discussing the art and principles of editing in general, we turned our attention to more specific episodes, sequences and scenes from Twin Peaks. Specifically, we debated how the editing would reflect the shifting directorial styles of the different episode directors, and we conversed about the use of stock footage and ‘transitional shots’. Also, we came to talk about commercial breaks – or how to get around or potentially utilize those breaks – and we looked more thoroughly at a few dissolves and match-cuts from the show.
AH: You edited nine different episodes of Twin Peaks by many different directors (such as Mark Frost, Tim Hunter, Caleb Deschanel, Duwayne Dunham and Diane Keaton). Could you see a clear difference in terms of style from director to director? If so, how? And were there different concerns for each episode?
PT: The thing is that these are all really talented directors, without exception, and they all got what David and Mark wanted to do. David was exceptional as a television producer. I guess you would call him a showrunner by today’s parlance. He let different directors come in and do each their own one-hour movie, using their own sensibility, but still retaining the general style and tone of the show. In fact, he would encourage them to stay and to see the editing and color grading processes. That was pretty extraordinary.
Caleb is a world-class photographer. Tim Hunter is a lover of film noir, and he would often do what we called dodging the camera, making skewed camera angles. Lesli had experience from Japanese Kabuki theatre, and she was amazing with actors, and Diane was unique. She was always looking for off-kilter angles and shots. She is an extraordinary person, and she is interested in architecture and fine art, which is evident in her episode of Twin Peaks where we have some interesting shots of chess pieces that seem enormous because of the angle.
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 third episode from the second (“The Man Behind the Glass”), for example, we have a number of cross-dissolves and lengthy shots, and there are shots of trees and the traffic light blowing in the wind. How would you describe the tempo of Twin Peaks, and does it differ (in general) from the pace of mainstream films and TV? What is the reason for this relatively slow-paced editing style and the different dissolves?
PT: Because it was so long ago, people’s attention span was a lot difference. Today we are bombarded with images, and people’s attention span is much shorter as a result. 25 years ago, it wasn’t just Twin Peaks, but many shows that had a slower pace. But Twin Peaks was unique because Mark and David had a very clear vision. They wanted to have a slow pace. There was never a concern about losing the audience or even pandering to the audience or second-guessing what the audience wanted. It was really a unique vision. When I saw the pilot, it looked completely original, and I knew immediately that this was a show that I wanted to do. It was slow, it took its time and let things breathe.
We had some stock footage. Maybe David had a second unit shooting trees, traffic lights and these kinds of transitional devices, which was much more interesting than cutting from A to B. It sort of gave a contemplative feel.
AH: Twin Peaks was aired on ABC, a commercial network using commercial breaks. As an editor, do you think about the commercial breaks, i.e. how to work around or perhaps even utilize those breaks?
PT: I’ve worked in both commercial and non-commercial television. Obviously, it is much more satisfying to work in non-commercial television because you don’t have to break the narrative. I don’t remember that kind of concern on Twin Peaks, but those iconic images of traffic lights and trees blowing in the wind are somewhat more welcoming to take you out of a car commercial. We had those images – the traffic light, the blowing threes – as our go-to library. Still, we didn’t want to overuse them, and they are never used gratuitously.
AH: There is a very interesting sequence from the last episode of the second season (directed by Mark Frost), where Dr. Jacoby goes to meet “Laura” (or Maddy) at Sparkwood and 21. There is also a very interesting transition from this sequence to the sequence at The One-Eyed Jacks, where we match-dissolve between Jacoby’s eye and the roulette. How would you describe this sequence in terms of editing?
PT: I remember pretty vividly that I was thinking about the film Psycho where Hitchcock, because he couldn’t get the actress to keep her eye open long enough, shot a still of her eye. He, then, did a slow dissolve between the eye and water going down the drain. I was thinking about that, when I created the transition from Jacoby’s eye to the roulette at The One-Eyed Jacks.
The use of dissolves has been David Lynch’s style for a long time, going back to Blue Velvet. It’s interesting because dissolves, in our business, go in and out of fashion. Today it isn’t fashionable to use dissolves. There’s that old corny expression, “If you can’t solve it, dissolve,” but that’s to belittle the kind of style that Lynch does. In his films, the use of dissolves is not gratuitous. It helps determine the tempo and mood of the film.
AH: There is one really interesting cut in the episode directed by Diane Keaton. If you remember, we have Pete as a chess guide at The RR Diner. Cooper says that he is happy that Pete will help him and that “great players are either few or far.” As Cooper says that line, he places a chess piece on the board, just as we cut to the floor of the diner (a floor that looks similar to a chess board). Was this your idea or Diane Keaton’s idea? And what was the idea?
PT: I can’t recall who came up with the idea. One of the things that I look for is transitions between scenes, whether it’s traffic lights, pines blowing in trees or something else. The idea of transitioning from the chessboard to a floor that has checkerboard pattern seemed natural. Looking at it today, I’m thinking whether I would have done it differently.
AH: In the final episode of season one, an episode which was directed by Mark Frost, there is a shift in tempo or pacing. It seems slightly more intensified. Do you agree that there is a visible shift in tempo and editing style towards the end of the first season, and, if so, how would you describe or explain that shift?
PT: There was a lot going on that night when we was concluding the first season, and we had to pack a lot of stuff in there, so it was more fast-paced and less contemplative than the rest of the show, perhaps, but I don’t think that it was too much.
AH: Twin Peaks has often been described as one of the most important and influential TV series of all time. Do you think that it helped change television (drama), and, if so, how did it change the standards of TV? And which other shows would you point to as influential?
PT: I keep hearing that from a lot of people. I think it got people thinking out of the box, and I think that the boundaries of TV got changed. Twin Peaks kind of hit everybody like a cyclone. It was so unusual – a small man speaking backwards etc. – but in many ways it started the second golden age of television. And here we are today at a time where cable television is far more interesting than traditional network television. And it goes without saying that shows like True Detective, Mad Men and Breaking Bad owe a lot to Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks was a show that we shot on film in the aspect-ratio 4:3. I was very happy and lucky to be a part of it.
A match-dissolve from Twin Peaks which is reminiscent of a classic scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Here we see it in the original TV version and the restored Blu-ray version: