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The art of editing and Chernobyl episode 5: A Thread
After Dyatlov and Bryukhanov leave the meeting in Bryukhanov's office, Nikolai Fomin lingers, sizing it up.
A thing flashbacks often struggle with is putting the audience, who knows the outcome, into the head space of the characters. This bit here, this extra 30 seconds, drive home where these characters are at.
Fomin doesn't just think things will be fine, he's convinced they'll be outstanding. He's already planning for his promotion.
It twists the knife on the tragedy we have already watched unfold and does so with a single shot and zero words.
Jared Harris has this nervous smile that twitches all the way back to his jaw, an amazing bit of facial acting, the kind of thing that's gold to an editor.
It's maybe eight frames long but is such a stellar detail that they've anchored it, held the shot on Legasov long enough that that you have time to absorb the frame, relax, and can catch it when it happens.
We don't often talk about the relationship between actors and editors because it often seems like there is none. If they ever meet it's probably at the premier. but it is, nevertheless, an often-wordless long-distance collaboration.
As Shcherbina delivers his testimony (and throughout most of the trial) they use the audio to set the atmosphere, replicating the subtle ring of feedback as his voice raises and lowers, an emotional reminder that all these words are filtered through systems
The flow from Shcherbina's explanation of the test to Khomyuk laying the foundation of the accident to the flashback is a masterful flow of both information and emotion, and the amazing thing is the show gets away with just telling you what it is doing.
Disaster stories tend to focus in on the singular human experience over the big details because if the details get too big they become sterile, so you get hasty "in English please" explanations to set the stakes and get on to the drama.
Chernobyl has not only not shied away from the details, it has built a path to show the explicit relationship between those details and the humans who are up against them.
It is specifically *because* of the details that this line, "at midnight there is a shift change", drops like a bomb.
All the stuff in the control room does such a good job at teaching the audience the subtle reality of what the people working the systems are actually, physically dealing with.

This isn't consumer hardware. This isn't an iPhone. It's a nuclear reactor.
There isn't a magic "make thing do stuff" button. There's a dozen buttons that move parts that do things that make other things do things that change something else.
There is no magic camera that looks into the core of the reactor and shows you what's going on. There's inputs and outputs, and you alter the inputs and infer the interaction by the change in the outputs.
In practical terms: six people standing around watching a number on the wall, their best window into the heart of an atomic reaction.
It's not editing at all, but this guy who scuttles in, hunched over, to move the mic, then scuttles out, is such a pristine detail.
One of the tensest scenes I've seen in ages. Again, the reason it works so well is the effort put into teaching the audience not just the stakes but the details of those stakes in a way that allows them to understand who knows what based on small references.
Akimov knows more than Toptunov, but only just enough to know what he doesn't know, know that this is bad news. Dyatlov either doesn't know or doesn't care, but probably both.
Brief aside back to the audio in the trial, based on some of the other analog grunge in the show I wouldn't be surprised if the soundscape of that room were significantly practical, with a sound system and speakers live on set.
and just like that several people had already pointed me towards this tweet, so apparently the mics were, in fact, practical.
Sorry I didn't have anymore notes. I got caught up in just watching the episode.

I think part of it is I'm still digesting the morals that the show closes out on.
A small list of details that were no doubt cut/truncated for budget and to keep things focused and 5 episodes long but I wish had been included: (cont)
The sarcophagus - the original massive concrete/steel containment building assembled over the reactor building. Parts of this (the miners) were included, but general construction was omitted. It was simultaneously an engineering marvel and a massive fiasco.
Discovering the Elephant's Foot - a 2 metre wide lump of solidified radioactive lava that melted through the floor into the basement below the reactor. The show lightly exaggerated the radiation levels on the roofs, but this thing was exactly that deadly.
There's a few places where they collapsed details like that, such as the helicopter that collided with a crane. It did happen, but it was several months later in October rather than the first drop in April.
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