Editing Netflix’s Cosmic, Chaotic “3 Body Problem”

The 3 Body Problem editing team of editor Michael Ruscio, ACE and assistant editor Josh Carley collaborated for the first time to take on arguably the biggest episode of the Netflix adaptation of the Chinese sci-fi novel. Helmed by former Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Wiess, 3 Body Problem masterfully blends multiple genres, including action, fantasy, and psychological thriller.

Summary for 3 Body Problem

The wheels of 3 Body Problem are set in motion when Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who sees her father beaten to death during a struggle session in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, is conscripted by the military. Due to her scientific background, she is sent to a secret military base in a remote region. Her decision at the base to respond to contact from an alien planet implicates a group of scientists in the present day, forcing them to confront humanity’s greatest threat.

In our discussion with the 3 Body Problem editing team of Michael Ruscio, ACE and Josh Carley, we talk about:

  • Doubling down on dialogue to deliver the action
  • Slicing through the VFX work
  • Taking a different angle on the same scene
  • Sound advice for assistants
  • Transcontinental cutting rooms

Listen while you read…

Editing 3 Body Problem

Matt Feury: Michael, if my research is worth anything, you have a connection to veteran TV director Minkie Spiro, who also directed the “Judgment Day” episode of 3 Body Problem. Tell me about your history with her and if and how it factored into you working on 3 Body Problem

Michael Ruscio, ACE: Minkie and I worked together on a pilot called Crash & Burn for Hulu, and it was pretty amazing. It followed a group of young kids at different ages and there was a shooting that happened in a school. Hulu was very high in the project, but this was shortly after one of the many mass shootings we have in the States, so it didn’t go. Minkie and I loved working with each other. It was so great. So, I went off to work in Prague, and then we connected again on another show for Netflix, Pieces of Her. Minkie directed all those episodes. There were two editors, but we were closely involved with each other. Mickey and I got along like a house on fire and then went our separate ways.

For a while, I was doing other things, and then I talked to Hameed Shaukat to wish him a happy birthday. At the very end, he said, “We’re having a huge “Battle of the Bastards”-style episode for 3 Body Problem. The editors are in the U.K., but we need to bring on somebody to do this massive episode. Would you be interested?” As it turned out, Minkie was the director, and Alex Woo, who I knew from True Blood, was one of the producers alongside David Benioff and Dan Weiss. So those planets aligned, and Minkie was able to put in a good word for me in the U.K., as did Alex, and they brought me on. 

We were a team that came together pretty fast. They talked about it and it took a couple of weeks to get everything together. Then I thought, “Whoa, okay. Massive episode. I’m out of rotation with all my people.” So I put out some feelers, and one of the roads led me to Josh, who has an excellent reputation from working with Gwyn Shovelski. I also knew Scott Turner, who Josh had worked with as well. And you were in New Orleans, right? 

Josh Carley: Yeah, I had just finished a show called The Old Man. My family is from Louisiana, so my wife and kids were down there visiting family. The plan was that I was going to join them when I was done. So, I finished The Old Man and got on a plane to go home. I didn’t have anything lined up, so I had that age-old fear of, “What’s the next gig?” Then I got a text that said, “3 Body Problem is an immediate need of an assistant.”

I replied with, “Sure, here’s my resume” but I was thinking, “Never in a million years. They’ll never call me, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring.” I had no idea all of this was going on in the background. I put in my resume on Thursday and Friday afternoon, Michael called me. He said, “Hey, you want to do this thing?” I said, “Wow, yes, let’s do it!” So I flew back on Sunday and by Monday they were installing the equipment. 

3 Body Problem assistant editor Josh Carley. 
3 Body Problem assistant editor Josh Carley. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: The was project was in a U.K. form because they had done some previs there. We had that. Then Josh needed to import that from the U.K. to LA. That was an interesting transition because we had to hit the ground running, but we needed to get the project in our groove. We had to find a groove together quickly. 

We weren’t in an office, we were working from our respective homes. Josh had just come back and I was in my swanky garage, a converted office, needing to power down immediately. Josh needed to find a way to instantly understand where I was with settings and how to work things, and he needed to make this project compatible with our flow. 

MF: How did you do that, Josh? That’s a lot to unpack. Michael summed it up pretty simply: Josh had to get this project assimilated. What went into that? 

Josh Carley: I had seen some versions of the first three episodes. Knowing what the show was and how they were approaching things helped a lot. Their LA assistant, Derek Desmond, had inherited some of the London stuff and he tried to get it operational. When they installed the system, I got on and did everything. We were asking Michael, “How do you like things?” and we settled on, “This is the way we got it, so this is how we’re going to do it.” We had to adapt to what we had versus what we could do. There was some rough preliminary cutting but, Michael, you started from scratch, right? 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: I started from scratch. There were a few things there from the previs, like Piccadilly Circus. They had shot something there without Eiza Gonzalez, the actress. It was a visual of the place with a double, because they had a very limited schedule, and that was a cherished location. Then the actors got Covid, so it needed to happen. 

One other time they came back and did a bluescreen version of that., so we ended up having three versions of Piccadilly Circus. The fortunate thing was that Minkie and I had a shorthand. We could dialog back and forth, but it’s an eight or nine-hour time difference. And because Josh was such a literate television audience, he was able to hone in on those early episodes. We could talk and figure out, “How does this fall in line?” And it started to.

Josh Carley: I think the fact that you already knew Minkie informed a lot of the process. When Michael started cutting the scenes, there was a lot of figuring it out. Certain scenes in our episode were straightforward and others were not. But knowing Minkie and how she shoots helped us get through the first cut in a way that might have otherwise been chaotic.

I also think a big part of it was figuring out where the heck they were on a lot of the previs. Our episode had conceptual visual effects and some big scenes. It was all about, “What do we have? What can we start working with?” It was a matter of getting that into the AVID, seeing what was there, and getting in touch with the VFX. We needed to see the idea, the plan, and try to get on page one with them. This was not a show where anyone could go rogue. It had to be a hand-in-hand relationship to make sure everything went smoothly. We had to get on the same page and make sure we were all heading in the same direction. 

MF: I’ve heard editors pay a lot of nice compliments to their assistants. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term ‘literate’ applied to one, not to assume that most are illiterate.

Josh Carley: My mom will be so happy to hear that.

MF: I’d love to flesh that out and learn how it applied to 3 Body Problem. You said that it was an advantage because he was so literate. I’m thinking in terms of references to things, but how did that play out? 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: The way we work together is that I would put together my first cut of a scene and then give it to Josh. Then Josh would do sound effects and sometimes music paths. We shared the music, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting with the sound design and the music design. I would show him the scene and then we would talk about it. I just wanted his honest opinion. This is how I’ve been able to keep people in the loop during Covid and the working-from-home times. I understand their input. They’re the first audience. 

Josh was very honest with me. He would say, “This doesn’t make sense. This plays well. I don’t know where they’re coming from here. We should tighten this up. Let’s see what happens here after I do the sound effects.” Then I get a break for a few days and get it back from Josh after he’s done his magic pass. I get to look at it again with fresh eyes and say, “Oh, right. Maybe there’s another way into the scene.” Or perhaps when I have a scene that’s next to it, I realize, “These are the same transitions in both scenes. We can’t have a dolly shot two times in a row.” 

Josh was able to understand film language as well. He knew if a shot was good or not. That back-and-forth just became valuable to me. I could trust someone who could tell me the truth about what wasn’t working. And Josh doesn’t compliment easily. He’s a little bit reserved, so I know he’s not bullshitting me.

MF: In the short time I’ve known him, I get that sense. You called this episode the “Battle of the Bastards” episode, which is on point because that is a famous episode of Game of Thrones. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were the showrunners for Thrones and 3 Body Problem. What about those guys? Did you have much interaction with them? Did you get any sense about what they were going for?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: They gave me access in the very beginning. I needed to meet with them on Zoom so that we could all talk. I presented myself as an editor that never says die. If there’s another way into it or if the value isn’t happening in a scene, I’ll always drill down on it and take it to the mat. That is a desirable claim and it’s hard to live up to.

That appealed to them and, as it turned out, was essential to completing this episode. Later on, we ended up adopting several other episodes too. But just to hone in on episode five, “Judgment Day”, there were many times when there was so much rethinking. Benioff and Weiss do their versions with the alphabet, so they’d be on Producer’s Cut X number one of five, and there would be a whole alphabet before that. They were all pretty much the same scenes, although there was additional photography and rethinking, which is another part of the conversation. I would say they took my claim about being able to drill down to the bank.

Josh Carley: That was one of my great experiences of the show. When you’re on cut X, you’ve looked at a scene however many times, you’ve looked at every frame of the footage. Michael would tell me. “Don’t worry, there are still some tricks we can pull out.” And every time he’d do a different pass of the scene, I thought, “Wow.” 

It was incredible to watch someone work footage the way he did. No one ever could have told me that scene ten on cut X would look like that, but now it does. That was one of my favorite parts of working with Michael and being on the shows. I got to watch how much you can work the footage and how much you can build a scene. There wasn’t a single shot in our episode that Michael didn’t pour himself into. He watched, thought about, and combed over everything. It was incredible to watch the show and know how much work Michael and the guys put into it. 

MF: Michael, I believe you said you were out of sync with your people. Could we elaborate on that? What does it mean to be out of sync with your people? 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: Let me clarify what I meant. Before 3 Body I was working with Adoma Ananeh-Firempong on Pieces of Her. She was my assistant and she was great. Adoma was able to move up and she was cutting a movie when 3 Body Problem came along. So what I meant was that I was out of rotation with the assistant that I had been working with. I was fresh to find someone new to collaborate with. 

MF: Okay. I thought you were referencing what order stuff was shot in and working with the other editors. I’m glad I asked, and since I did ask, how did you collaborate with the other editors?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: Anna Hauger was here in LA. For a while, we had offices near where David, Dan, and Alex were, and that was in Hollywood. So we were able to have lunch together and talk about scenes and whatnot. And then I had a relationship with Katie Weiland and Simon Smith, who were in the U.K. Katie and I had a big handoff at the very beginning. It was initially her episode, and we talked a lot about that. We were able to talk about the guys. Simon was new to them as well. Simon and I didn’t have a lot of interaction until the end. I would say that, because of the locale, it became about Josh and I more than anybody else. I think that was the brain trust, if you will. That was the editorial fulcrum for episode five. 

Josh Carley: It was interesting for us because there were two editorial teams in London, but the assistant were working on a separate NEXIS system than we were. So Michael and I had episode five and Anna and Derek had episode six. But they also had all the other episodes over there, so it was an effort to keep us all in sync. We developed a method with London where they would send us their projects and we’d let them know which was the offline media, and they’d do the same.

We were constantly trying to keep up to date with the other cuts, making sure everything was online. That way, even though there was an eight-hour time difference, we would always have the episodes to watch. If nothing else, we could at least see where they were going with it and what they were doing. But episode five was a special kind of monster to work on. 

MF: When I told people I was going to be talking to you guys, they said, “That’s such a complicated show! There are so many characters and so much stuff to manage. You have to let me know how they did it.” To which I say, “Just listen to the podcast.”

It’s funny that this series is called 3 Body Problem because it feels like it has three genres too. Depending on which episode you watch, it feels like a psychological thriller, especially for the first couple of episodes. Then episodes three and four feel like sci-fi/fantasy with the virtual reality sequences. But when you get to episode five, “Judgment Day”, it becomes almost an action movie. There are big set pieces wrapped inside these elaborate setups. I often ask editors to talk about the challenge of developing and maintaining a tone on a show, but this show feels like it has a shifting tone. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: It does, and I think that that was the thinking. “Judgement Day” was, in a way, a standalone episode that was going to be a departure and closure at the same time. They were able to pull some things from the first book into this episode, so it’s almost like a finale in some ways. And then the series sort of resets with episode six. It becomes something else for episodes six, seven, and eight. So I think tonally “Judgement Day” is kind of like a little movie.

One of the changes that was made later in the game was the very opening scene with Wade and Raj when they were on the deck. That scene was shot for another episode, put into yet another episode, moved into still another episode, and then we got the scene. It made sense as a framework for Wade to say, “I’m commissioning you for a very important project. It’s much more important than anything else you’re doing.” It gave Raj some stature and it made Wade seem like a man pulling the strings. And it gave us that frame because initially there was a scene that was taken out that started the episode. It was a direct pick-up from episode four, where they have the raid. In that scene, Wade was going through the history of the Do Not Answer signal, filling in the story for a panel of people.

That started a series of interesting rewrites. This is a little bit of a sidebar, but they rewrote Wade’s lines in that scene, talking to this panel. I ended up being the off-camera Wade, talking spitfire-fast to get these words in behind his back. They also discovered that we had a facility for temp ADR, which was extremely evident with the Sophon sequence. That went through so many alterations. Josh’s wife Jamie became the temp Sophon voice with Josh directing her on how to be a sophon. We put those temp words in because it went through so many different rewrites.

MF: You said sidebar, but I think that leads perfectly into what I wanted to ask you next. Your episode features probably the biggest VFX spectacle in the series. But the first nine or ten setups are all two-character, dialog-driven scenes with a lot of information. After you get through all of that, the wheels are in motion for not only a big action sequence at the Panama Canal but for the rest of the series. Michael, you talked about the nature of it all. Can you elaborate on how you reworked all of that setup? Were you consciously thinking, “I’ve got to do a lot of setup, a lot of dialog, and then all hell breaks loose”?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: I’m glad that you asked that question because so much of setting up the sandbox is building the wooden perimeter, which is what all of those scenes are. They are two-character scenes and you have to keep those taut, like where Ye and Clarence are sitting in that interrogation room. They’re both in their circles of the ring. There’s no place to hide. You have them and a shot through the video camera lens. That’s all you have.

One of the trickier things about our episode was keeping it tight and tense. The scene of Auggie and Jin in the safe house must have gone through twenty different permutations. That was one of the most difficult scenes to edit in the whole episode, bizarre as that sounds. They took out lines, we had to move things around, there had to be a certain blocking where she comes from the window to the table and sits in the chair. And within all of that, you have to make sure everything is still staying true to their relationship. 

How much tone can you have in terms of humor? What is the relationship showing? How do you deliver that and keep it suspenseful? And how do you balance it editorially when you have that many off-camera lines? You have to maintain balance so it’s not jarring when an ADR line comes out of nowhere. How do you make off-camera ADR feel natural? You have to style the scene so that people are listening. A lot of those scenes are just shots of someone listening to another character. Is there a flow that comes naturally and keeps the audience on that tightrope?

We moved one interesting thing up. Initially, the scene with Evans on the boat with Felix came later in the episode. But then we decided to edit it so that after Clarence talks about Judgment Day, we cut to the Judgment Day, which is the name of Evans’s ship. I think that helped us say, “There’s going to be meat here, hold onto the rib. We’re going to tease you, but it will come back.” We moved it up for that reason. 

Josh Carley: Once you get to a certain point, it’s like you’ve gone up the roller coaster and you’re going down for the ride. Michael knew how to keep those scenes moving. Those scenes were building relationships and tension. It was great watching Michael work the scenes until they would just go. And Dan, Dave, and Alex were not precious with anything. So any time Michael would talk to them or make recommendations, they were always open to lifting and moving things around. We were always tightening the show into what you see now.

MF: In the interrogation scene, the net result was two close-ups, two over-the-shoulder shots, one low angle facing Ye, and a wide profile two-shot. But we never get a low-angle shot of Clarence. But later on, when we come back again, there’s a high-angle shot of Clarence. I don’t know if they gave you more to choose from there, but you went with a low-angle shot of Ye and a high-angle of Clarence. What’s the psychology there? What drives the cutting in a scene like that? Is it the performances, the tone, the rhythm, or all the above?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: All the above. It’s interesting because the showrunners wanted to combine those two scenes, but there was a costume difference, so there was no way to do it. They were two different scenes and they had to be separated. They couldn’t merge because of practical reasons. So, I withheld certain shots for the second scene. I wanted the second scene to feel like its own entity. The first scene felt a little bit looser and then it got tighter when Clarence started drilling into Ye in the second scene. What you withhold editorially when you’re limited is critical because you’re saying, “I know this is all I have. I need to parse it out so that it feels like its own thing.” 

MF: If we’re going to talk about this being the big spectacle episode of the series, we should talk about the spectacle. As an editing team, you’re at the mercy of the footage you get. You had a big action set piece with visual effects in your episode and also a lot of dialog-driven scenes. Did you tackle the set piece first because of how technical it was? Or did you save it for last to accommodate the pacing changes that happened when you reworked those dialog scenes?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: Initially we started working on the Judgment Day scene because we were integrating live action with the concept and the geography of the inside the boat. We needed to figure out who could get sliced first and how it all happened. But essentially, I’m keeping up with the camera. Whatever they’re shooting is what I’ll be doing first. I try to stay with the camera as much as I can. That means I might do scene eighty-three and then the next scene might be scene three. So I’ll get that together, and when I finally get scene eighty-four, I’ll go back and think about how those scenes work together. 

The previs can be cut in and used as a template, but sometimes when it’s replaced with live action shots, you’ll think, “Oh, that looked good in the previs, but it’s a little different now. Can we get the same result with different shots or angles, or even a whole different concept?” 

MF: Josh, hearing you talk about how meticulous and detail-oriented Michael is, I don’t assume there was a lot of downtime. But was there a difference in the support you gave him when you were working on the dialog scenes versus the Judgment Day sequence? Was there a lot more work to do for the visual effects set piece, or was it the same in the end? 

Josh Carley: Usually there is more involved in the big VFX sequences. But there was one scene of Will and Saul on a beach. They were sitting in front of an ocean, so the audio was not ideal. That took a lot of work to clean up to make sure everyone could hear it. So there are a lot of scenes like that. When you’re in an interrogation room, it’s limited anyway, so sound-wise I make sure to just focus on the dialog. But I love dialog scenes because I love sound. I love getting to finesse and play with those scenes. The big scenes like the Judgment Day scene are where I get to have fun.

I always give everything back to Michael and make sure that he’s good with what I’m doing, especially when we have previs. The previs on this show was amazing. It was very detailed. We were always trying to stay on top of it. But previs can only tell you so much. Michael and I wanted to make sure that we were elevating the audio emotionally to make it feel as big and awesome as we were hoping it would be. 

We spent a lot of time there and a lot of time getting revisions in the previs, especially towards the end of shooting. The creators were re-conceptualizing some things, and we had to keep up. I had to make sure the sound was good, that it sounded consistent, and that we were still delivering the whole package through to the end.

MF: You guys are good. You hit on every question I have before I ask them. I’m going to say, “Tell me about the challenges of doing sound design on beach scenes.” You already said, “Boy, that’s a pain in the ass.”

Josh Carley: It was. At first, we were just adjusting the volume and doing some EQ work. But then they finally got us the RX De-noiser. That was a lifesaver. 

MF: But you also have a cadence and a continuity to the waves. That affects the editing, I think. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: Yeah. That was another scene that moved around. It’s the one-off movie scene of the episode. Through Josh’s initial sound design, we found a way to get those waves to have an “aqua continuity”. Being at sea gave it a sonic reason to be there and Josh helped fill in those gaps, to give it a place.

MF: Let’s explore the turnover process for the ship-slicing sequence. How many iterations did that go through and how did you organize that in the timeline? Do you like to hang on to stuff, or do you like to flatten things and work with only the most recent elements?

Josh Carley: When you have a sequence like that, there’s a certain amount of chaos that you have to embrace. It’s just going to be a mess on the timeline. You have to learn to love and embrace that. But a huge part of such a big sequence is making sure you’re simpatico with VFX. We were in constant communication with VFX, getting previs, and making sure everything was up-to-date. We tried to minimize surprises. I had to make sure Michael had the tools and assets he needed to construct the scene the way he saw fit. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: We would have weekly reviews with VFX to stay in sync with them. But an interesting side note about that sequence is that, initially, Auggie, Wade, and Raj were in a different location. They were initially in this little hut disguised with thatches of leaves and whatnot, watching the crash from a vantage point. 

Then we decided to have them be in a more remote location. That helped us create a sonic environment where there was a horror show on the ground and those characters were in the ivory tower looking at it through monitors. That weirdly humanizes it because you see it from afar and think, “Oh, that’s fine to see” and then the cut says, “No, watch this.” Then we’re on the ship and it feels very visceral.

Josh Carley: When Michael did his first pass inside the trailer, I used some of the audio, mixed it down, and played it from the speakers. We sent it to the guys and they said, “No, it needs to be dead quiet whenever we cut to the inside of the trailer.” We said, “Okay…” and as soon as we did it, we thought, “That’s incredible!” especially when it ends and the ship’s falling to pieces. It’s just a massive explosion of noise and destruction. Then you cut to the trailer and it’s so silent. Michael did a wonderful job balancing the two to maximize that effect. But early on there was this idea that as soon as we go into the trailer, you hear none of it. I think it works so well. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: It was also tricky to use the monitors to tell the story, especially how the poles came up. That was something we had to stay in line with, making sure that VFX was up to the latest story point. That was a two-way street where we would redesign things in editorial and still be working with old comps or old previs. Then we had to say, “Poles lock into place” over a shot of the poles midway down because we didn’t have that shot. We had to do the leading in a lot of places with chyrons, so we were being led and doing the leading at various times during the process. 

MF: Michael, you used the word visceral to describe the Judgement Day scene. I noticed there was a lot of focus on children in that sequence. Tell me about that focus on the kids. Was it just to make it that much more visceral, to steal your word again?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: It’s what you know is going to happen, but you never see it. We never chop a kid, but we have a little pre-sequence while everyone is waiting around. We see the cafeteria and the little girl, then we see Felix sitting at the monitor, and then Evans. It’s all somewhat ominous. They don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know they’re on that boat. 

You see the kids playing basketball and you see that one kid up against the fence. We know what is going to happen to him, but we don’t show any of that. There’s a human price tag attached to getting this hard drive. It’s a radical approach to procuring something as opposed to having a spy infiltrate the ship or whatever else that could have happened. It’s devastating. I think seeing the children is great. It’s sort of like those paper dolls being sliced, which is just chilling. That tells you everything that you need to know about the fate of those kids.

MF: We talked about the visceral nature of that scene. Somehow, at the same time, a little more comedy is introduced. This show isn’t a laugh riot, but the character Wade gets some good lines in here and there. Right before that sequence begins, Wade is talking to Auggie about Raj. He says, “I don’t trust him. Double-check his work.” Later on, he says to Raj, “I don’t trust Auggie. Triple-check her work.” So he’s kind of a comedic foil. It seems like you’re adding comedy as the stakes go up. Tell me about how you balance comedy and drama.

Michael Ruscio, ACE: That’s character-based. Clarence says some funny things too. He has this tequila joke that he makes with Auggie. It’s a borderline dad joke. Wade is much more character-based. Even just something as wry as, “Congratulations, Doctor Salazar” is kind of funny when she’s in tears, just broken apart by what her creation has wrought. I think a lot of it has to come from the character in a piece like this. If we tried to cut for comedy, the show would reject it. The show itself will tell you, “No, we’re not having that cutting pattern. That might work in a different show, but it doesn’t work here.” But if it’s driven by a natural personality, the show will accept it. But it will reject it if it doesn’t play tonally within the series.

MF: Editors will often say, “I have my assistant do a lot of the sound work.” Josh, you already talked about this a little bit. We discussed the visuals for the Judgement Day sequence, but the sound design plays an important part as well. You’re slicing through human beings. You’re slicing through a giant ship. Tell me about that process. 

Josh Carley: I enjoy the big things, but more than anything you have to seat the sound design in the emotion of the scene. I have to think, “What is Michael going for?” At first, it was all about hinting at the chaos that was to come. It would have been inappropriate to start by loading all the sounds in at the top. So I had to go with what Michael did, which was to slowly build up to it. We’re going to hint at it, and then we’re going to just see the one teacher. Then working with that, we know, “Okay, this is where we step on the gas.”

I had to build it out slowly and try to enhance the work Michael has done. But when the backpacks were falling off the walls, the scene had to build up to chaos, screaming, smashing, and breaking. There’s an element of interpretation in representing what the slicing would look like, adding some gore for texture, building up to the explosions and the violence. In the end, we tried to emphasize how big this massive oil tanker was. We had to emphasize how it was being obliterated and then cutting to the inside of the control room in total silence.

I think cutting from those loud, booming scenes to just silence and observation did a lot of the emotional work. But my goal was to look at what Michael was doing, talk to Michael, try to get a sense of what he was going for, and then build into that. I tried not to step on the gas too much with the sound effects. I was trying to build along with the ride that Michael had cut for the scene. 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: And Josh’s imagination would come back to me and I’d say, “This character is ducking or falling, so I don’t need those last ten frames. That person is toast.” Josh was informing the cut through the sonic gifts that he would present to me. Those gifts helped me say, “Okay, this could be tighter” or “I need to open this up more.” Because what’s it going to sound like when a person gets chopped as opposed to when they duck under a lamp? 

Josh Carley: There was a lot of ducking in the early footage before we started seeing what it looked like.

MF: I like to end interviews with a bit about what you might have learned from working on this project. For each of you, what did you take away from working on 3 Body Problem?

Michael Ruscio, ACE: For me, it’s the elasticity of relationships. You can work on a scene for hours, days, and months at a time and find different values in it. It’s the same with people. When you work with showrunners for a long time, you can understand where they are coming from and find a sense of humor with them. And with Josh, having this back-and-forth informed our working pattern so we could play off each other. The longer we worked together, the better our shorthand became. Having relationships is what it’s about for me.

Josh Carley: Oh, I have to follow that? When I put in my resume, I thought, “I don’t think they’re going to call me.” Then they did and I got to work with Michael. When you work on a show like this, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. There are lots of moving parts. But on a show like this, I was able to take a step back and realize how cool the show was. I thought, “How amazing are the people you’re working with and that you got the opportunity to get to work with Michael?”

It’s just about learning to say, “Okay, a lot is going on. Maybe there’s a lot of stress. But look what we’re doing. Look at the project we get to work on. Look at this piece of art that we’re making and look at the people you’re getting to make it with.” There are numerous times I pinch myself and think, “No, this is it. You’re not going to wake up. You’re here, you’re with Michael, you’re doing this. We’re chopping people. It’s a thing.” Working on this show was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Being able to do it for as long as I was with them was truly incredible.

MF: I don’t know, Josh, I think you’ve followed Michael up pretty well there. 

Josh Carley: You want to take another shot at it, Michael? 

Michael Ruscio, ACE: No, I’m not following that. That was awesome.

Matt Feury

Matt Feury is host and producer of The Rough Cut podcast, as well as the Sr. Director, Market Solutions – Video & Post for Avid.