‘ER’ Cutting Yields Editing Emmy

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With butterflies churning in his stomach, editor Kevin Casey walked down the aisle of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium last Aug. 26 to receive the Creative Arts Emmy for "Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Series." Kevin was being honored for cutting what has been hailed as the most dramatic episode of last season’s "ER" series, the one named "All in the Family," which aired on Feb. 17, 2000. He had previously been nominated for a statuette each of the 4 years he had worked on the show, and began his acceptance speech by joking, "This is my first win out of four times up. If I could do that for the Dodgers I’d be making $3 million a year."

When we spoke in September, Kevin was in his edit bay on the Warner Bros. lot working on the episode of "ER" called "Flight of Fancy," slated to air Nov. 9. He’s had an enviously successful career, having worked steadily over the past 12 years on only four shows. Back in 1978 Kevin qualified for his Local 776 Editors Union card as an apprentice film editor on Chuck Norris’s action flick, "Good Guys Wear Black." The usually varietal succession of jobs in several positions followed until in 1986 another editor, Steve Rosenblum – an Oscar nominee for "Glory" and "Braveheart" – helped him get onto MGM’s "thirtysomething" as an assistant editor on the now-defunct Ediflex system. By the show’s third season Kevin had moved into an editor’s seat.

When "thirtysomething" ended in 1991, Kevin was hired onto Lorimar’s "Home Front," a 1-hour drama shot at Warner Bros. It only lasted 2 years, but Kevin was able to jump into the fourth season of "Sisters" at Warner, working on an Avid Media Composer, and stayed with the show for its final 3 years. By that time the line producer of "Home Front," Chris Chulack, was working on a highly successful hospital drama called "ER" developed by Michael Chrichton and John Wells. Kevin lobbied him to head up the third team of editors for its third season.


Kevin tells us they usually have 8 days to shoot each episode on 35mm film. Like most shows today, "ER" is edited for a 4:3 aperture, but they shoot it to protect for 16:9 repurposing in the future.

"We screen the previous day’s dailies with all the producers at 12:30 on a 32-inch TV set in a conference room," Kevin begins. "Some days we only have 30 minutes of footage; other times it can be over 2 hours. My invaluable assistant editor, Judy Guerrero, digitizes the footage into our Avid, starting at 8:30 in the morning and I try to edit all the sequences we’ve been given to keep pace with the production. On a mature show like this we usually keep a pretty civilized schedule, although the demands of our airdates keep us moving right along."

After the 8th day, Kevin is given a couple of days to finish his editor’s cut of the episode. "Each of the editors on ‘ER’ have their own style," Kevin reflects. "But if I have a general approach it is to show the audience what they want to see, but show it to them just before they know they want to see it."


Then the director contractually gets 4 days to review Kevin’s work and provide his input. On the Emmy-winning episode, "All in the Family," the director was Jonathan Kaplan, with whom Kevin feels he has an especially creative rapport.

"The directors are usually pretty happy with my version, but they all have their own point of view. We go back and forth, and as long as I win occasionally I’m pretty happy. Then I screen the show in the conference room for all the various levels of producers. A general talk session led by the executive producer follows, during which we all get a chance to air our opinions. The fact that everyone’s input is appreciated is one reason I’ve loved working on ‘ER’ for so long."

Kevin’s creativity in the edit bay was especially apparent in the final version of the "All in the Family" episode. As the second installment of a two-part story, its plot is simple but emotionally wrenching.

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In the opening tease, the relaxed enjoyment of a Valentine’s Day party is shattered when Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) discovers Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and ex-medical student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) in an examination room, viciously stabbed and bleeding profusely. From the previous episode, the audience knows the mayhem was caused by a schizophrenic mental patient, Paul Sobricki (David Krumholtz). But for the hospital staff, the concentration of their chaotic struggles for the rest of the show centers on saving Dr. Carter’s and Lucy’s lives.

Kevin gives a lot of credit to the script’s writer, Jack Orman, as well as the director, Kaplan, for setting up "a terrifically dramatic design, with Dr. Carter being worked on in one operating room and Lucy under the knife in the other. We were able to cut between the two gurneys to help build the tension as the doctors proceeded with the surgery."


The pace is spellbinding, and the action is downright gory. But Kevin’s editing acumen shone forth in several scenes. The scene that had especially grabbed my attention, and the first one Kevin pointed out, came toward the end of Act III. Lucy has gone into defibrillation and Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) and Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) are desperately trying to get her heart re-started.

"The director had wanted this to all play in one shot with the camera circling around the operating table," Kevin explains, "but I didn’t like any of the ‘oners’ as a complete take. By editing when objects like a saline pouch wipe across the screen, I was able to cut between different shots four times to keep the feeling of the swirling camera going while highlighting the actors’ best performances. Director Kaplan said he couldn’t quite remember shooting it that way until I explained the edits I had inserted, and he thought it was terrific."

The result of those edits produced a scene that is almost too intense to watch. But perhaps the greatest example of Kevin’s contribution to the "All in the Family" episode comes at the end of the show. Despite the best efforts of Dr. Romano and Dr. Weaver, Lucy has died. Dr. Weaver moves to cover Lucy’s face with a cloth.

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"The nurses could do that," says Romano.

"Yeah, I know," replies Weaver, and lovingly pulls the sheet over Lucy’s eyes.

The credits that ran after the dramatic fade to black looked mighty blurry for most of the millions of fans of this top-rated production.

That wasn’t the way it was in the original script. Writer Orman had envisioned a poignant tableau of the two doctors slowly going around the room tidying things up in an understandable attempt to assimilate the impact of the tragedy by dealing with details. But the great strength of a good editor comes from the objectivity he or she can bring to viewing the footage.

As Kevin recalls, "When I saw the dailies and saw that shot with the sheet, I knew that had to be the last shot of the story. I made that suggestion during the screening session, and the producers told me to give it a try. Eventually, that’s how the show ended."


The show is only starting for Kevin. In addition to winning the Emmy for his editing, he is slated to direct an episode of "ER" in November that will air next January 11. "I’m sure I will still be an editor, although I’m looking forward to seeing how directing feels. It’s a tribute to the people I am working with that they give people like me a chance to explore new outlets. But I’m not quitting my day job."