Fargo and The Leftovers editor Henk Van Eeghen on how he started out and major TV series workflows
Hank Van Eeghen has cut some of the best-loved TV shows out there are the moment, editing episodes of Fargo, The Leftovers and Lost. The Dutch editor was awarded a Primetime Emmy for cutting Lost episode 'The End' and now enjoys an ACE Eddie award nomination for Fargo episode 'Aporia'. Henk talks to Mandy News about how he started out, moving to LA, the differences in cutting a variety of different TV series and what editors can do to get noticed.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the industry.
I’m Henk Van Eeghen. I was born and raised in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Despite the fact that my parents did not believe that film would actually be a career and forced me to go into civil engineering. I managed to make a little moving about at civil engineering. That got me out of everything. Eventually I moved to America to have more opportunities.
I fell into editing by chance because it was some way that I could survive here in America. As you probably heard from other people, the first few years in America as a newcomer are very, very hard. To survive, you scramble to do whatever is possible. Editing kind of came easy to me. That’s where I continued.
How did you come to the actual process of editing? What made you know that it was something that you could do?
This is one of those funny odd stories. In Amsterdam, after escaping civil engineering, I worked for a photographer who would also do commercials. The editor that would edit the commercials in-house had a lot of problems and he would sleep them off on the couch. At nighttime I would sneak in like an elf and do his work for him.
In the morning, he would drowsily wake up on the couch and make some adjustments and present it as his work. That’s how I got my start. I was a secret editor’s assistant.
How did you come to edit a show like Fargo?
That’s a long journey. When I came to America I didn’t actually know anybody here or have any family here or anything like that. I was kind of on my own. I thought I would interview people for Dutch magazines to see if I could get a job somewhere.
I managed to get a job on a movie called Heat and Sunlight in 1987. That was an interesting project because it was shot on video and it was linear editing. I had started on some movies in the Netherlands, with moderate success, so Heat and Sunlight all of a sudden gave me a boost that I very much needed here in America. It was very low budget but it won the Sundance Film Festival, so all of a sudden I was off to a start here.
I mostly did Movies of The Week for television, and a lot of little independent movies but most of them disappeared or never got finished – the struggles of independent movies. I did about 20 movies a week for television, and in between I worked on a little series that nobody thought was going to go anywhere called Beverly Hills, 90210. We were hired at half price by Spelling to try it out. We didn’t think it would go much further than three episodes. How wrong everybody was.
I did that for two years and that allowed me to get into the union and establish myself in Los Angeles. That was the big step into the American TV world for me. When the miniseries started to dry up, I moved on to some series, including Lost. I was the jump-in person who would fix things. Because I was more comfortable with a longer format, I would work on the finales of Lost, starting with season 3.
Once I did Lost, I worked on a whole set of series that you can probably find on IMDb, like Fringe and No Ordinary Family, Once Upon a Time, Rectify – the series about the man who spent 20 years on death row and was released. I worked on 12 Monkeys for a couple of episodes, Berlin Station…
The Leftovers is the most I worked on one series. That was probably my favourite editing experience. I was kind of bummed out that it didn’t get more nominations, win more awards or get a little bit of recognition. We put massive amounts of time and effort into getting those shows to be as good as they could be. Then I moved on to Fargo, and right now I’m on Patriot, which is an Amazon series. Very very interesting. It’s one of the more unusual shows on television.
On Fargo, with one of your episodes nominated for an ACE Eddie award this year, what’s the process of editing? How long do you have to edit a show and how closely do you work with the director or the show runners?
On Fargo the episodes kind of ramped up. The episode that got me the most attention, the Emmy nomination and now the ACE nomination, is called ‘Aporia’. That episode was done very, very quickly, directed by Keith Gordon. Him and I have worked together on several series and are good friends. He trusts me 100% and I’m always very happy with his material. It’s a very easy collaboration.
What happens is they shoot for two or three weeks. During that time I will put together a cut. At the end of the shoot, the director will come in, in this case Keith, and spend a few days with me. Depending on the director’s time and schedule, it’ll be anywhere between two and four days. With Keith, he doesn’t change the editing per se but he does make sure that he likes all the performances in there.
In this case we had to move very fast, so I worked for a few hours with Noah Hawley the show runner, and off it went to the network to get their response. Then you wait for notes from them and you implement some of them, and some of them you don’t. That was that. It all went very, very fast for that episode.
Are you working from set or working remotely elsewhere and receiving dailies?
I work remotely. 90% of the time I work in Los Angeles, because now the internet is so fast, and everything is working so well. For instance, now on Patriot they’re shooting all this material in Paris, and by the time they’re finished shooting and uploading all the material, I will already get it before the end of the day. So I could actually start editing on the scenes at the same time as they’ve shot it, so to speak, due to the time difference. It goes very fast.
Also, because of the cameras that have developed so much in the last few years, people tend to keep their cameras running and have multiple cameras running. On some shows you get four hours of dailies that you have to work through that day, because the next day is another four hours so you can’t be behind. It’s a drive that happens and you get into that mode.
What do you use to cut on when you’re editing?
Is that your choice or something that you change from project to project?
I will insist on working on Avid, just because I’m the most comfortable with it. There was a little time that Final Cut Pro was moving into the market and some people would do shows on it. I’ve never been a fan of it, or I’ve not been flexible enough to be able to transition into it, so I was stuck with Avid.
Before that of course, Lightworks… We’ve gone through all the systems.
What do you think of the developments that have been made to editing programs in the last few years?
I think they’re quite fantastic. Now, when I’m editing, I look at an image basically in pieces, which is something that is completely different from 15 years ago. It’s partly because I can change out sections of the screen, I can change out an expression on somebody’s face, you can put something there or take something away, enlarge it. There’s so much we can do nowadays. The flexibility and the speed at which we do things are quite amazing.
I miss the old days where you would know every image that was shot that day. That’s how I started out, always knowing exactly every frame. I could pick up a frame off the floor and I would know where that came from. But with shooting four hours a day and having to keep up, you often don’t know exactly what everything is. You just can’t.
Sometimes it also gets a little bit sloppy in the shooting department because they’ll think we can fix it in post, which we can, we’re much better at that. We can change performances, we can do so much with sound as well, sliding sounds in people’s mouths by slowing it down or changing the pitch. That wasn’t possible even five years ago.
The development is quite amazing but the interesting thing about Patriot is that Steve Conrad shoots very precise and very planned images, with as little editing as possible, which is a new thing for me. On Fargo we were already playing with that, and you can see it also in features that there’s a little bit of a shift towards that. La La Land, that was very carefully planned material.
It’s fun to experience that, because some of the work that’s now also being done is just putting up five cameras and running everything and hoping that the editor will make something nice out of it, which is the far extreme on the other side.
This planned material is a fascinating thing for me, that’s why I transitioned from Fargo. Especially with director Keith Gordon, he plans his images very carefully, and now with Patriot, Steve Conrad also plans his images very carefully. All of a sudden the job becomes different and very interesting to me.
From this style of capturing as little footage as possible, like The Leftovers, how was the approach to editing on that different?
The Leftovers is a different kind of show. I’ve worked with Damon Lindelof on Lost and we’ve become quite close. He loves the editing room, so he will come in and spend days and days in the editing room, and just go through material and look at different angles and think about different things. It’s a very, very creative process and fun to work on, but because he likes to do that, the directors tend to shoot to give him all kinds of options.
So they’re more inclined to shoot four hours of dailies and give him all kinds of options than for instance, Steven Conrad, who already knows what he wants because he’s the creator and the director of the show. He gives you a much more narrow approach because he’s going to be the one in the room. With Damon Lindelof it’s a different process because we search in the room for different options.
It must be quite interesting to be able to work in these different ways within the same process, with different approaches.
Some people love to plan it very carefully upfront and give you very limited material and some people love to have a ton of material and then experiment at the end of the process.
Do you have a preference for working in either one of those processes?
Not really, I like the variation. If you look at my IMDb you probably notice that I’ve worked on a ton of different shows, different styles. Part of that is that I would rather do three or four episodes on one show and then move on, because I kind of go, "Ok I get what this is, I liked it, I had a good time, let me try something else," – to always keep fresh and interested.
That’s my approach to looking for interesting productions to work on.
Speaking about being fresh and new, what else is next for you? What’s coming out this year and beyond?
Patriot is already on Amazon and I’m working on the second part of their miniseries. That’s coming out. Then Waco is coming out, that was fun to work on because I came in at the end. It was very gratifying. There’s a Movie of The Week coming out next week or in two weeks. It’s a lifetime movie but it was an interesting project to work on – somebody who prevented a school shooting.
Sometimes it’s interesting to switch from a series and then go back to a Movie of The Week or an independent movie, because in a series there is a more group editing setup. With these Movies of The Week I often would just work with an assistant just to have some people organising it as well, an associate producer or something like that. It’s a very small group that you work with. You’re very much on your own which sometimes is nice as well. It’s a switch.
As you say, the variation of doing the different things must be quite fun.
That’s it. Try to keep it as varied as possible so that you keep sharp and interested. I would do more documentaries if that came up, because I’ve always enjoyed doing those. That’s my approach.
Other people have other approaches and other choices, but for me, to stay interested I always like to look for something that’s a little different and different than what I’ve been doing, a different group of people. Every time, I just look for something new that piques my interest.
That makes perfect sense. Do you have any advice to anyone who wants to become an editor or graduate from being an assistant editor, or just get into the film industry as a whole?
My approach to the work has been, I assumed that I wasn’t smarter than other people, and I assumed that I wasn’t more talented than other people, so the only thing I could control is to make sure that I worked harder than other people. That’s what I’ve stuck with, and that helped me become an editor at a time when it was difficult to make the switch from assistant editing to editor.
I see it in assistants that I work with. The ones that will stay late and re-cut their own scene version of something that’s already cut or work on a project that they do on the side, the people who put more effort and time into it tend to make the jump to editor.