Last of Us editor Timothy Good on Ellie's kiss and the heartbreaking details you missed
Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on screen. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.
Next up, we're speaking to The Last of Us editor Timothy Good, ACE.
Timothy Good tells us that The Last of Us "has been the most enriching project" in his whole life, and that's probably true for a lot of people watching back home as well.
Queer representation on a mainstream scale has rarely been handled as beautifully as it was in the show's third episode with Bill and Frank's love story. Fast forward four weeks and now The Last of Us is here to make you cry all over again with Ellie's tragic backstory in episode seven.
The show has hinted at Riley before, and gamers will already know what's coming, but even then, seeing the Left Behind arc – and that kiss – brought to life on screen is right up there with Bill's beloved strawberries.
I’ve worked nonstop and with intense effort using everything I’ve ever learned and everything I am in the last 18 months and tonight, #HBO is throwing a Premiere for this thing. #TheLastOfUs #EditorPride #TLOU Coming to your screens this Sunday at 9pm on HBO and HBO MAX. pic.twitter.com/n5oW7Ybekc
— Timothy Good, ACE 🇸🇪🏳️🌈🇺🇦 (@timothygood) January 10, 2023
In the wake of all this enriching and much-needed representation, Digital Spy broke down some of the show's biggest queer moments with editor Timothy Good, who revealed some heartbreaking details that even the most diligent of LGBTQ+ fans might have missed.
Episode three has been the biggest talking point of the show so far. Did you expect Bill and Frank's story to resonate as much as it did with viewers?
That's actually the first episode I did. Everyone stared at me and they all said, "Don't f**k it up". [Laughs] Because it's a beautiful script. I mean, I can't even describe to you when I read it. I was shaking.
I knew that Peter Hoar was going to be directing it. We tangentially worked with on The Umbrella Academy. So I said, "He has the perfect touch because I love It's a Sin". And when they revealed the cast, I was just like, "Okay, now, like I'm holding up the world".
I felt a really big responsibility and when it came down to it, I just wanted to make sure that it told a story, not of being normal necessarily, but of being the same. But at the same time, I wanted to show that queer people have had to have a secret sort of language to make sure that we're safe, to make sure that we're in company that's going to be okay, to test the waters.
All of those things were really important to me, to make sure that they were visible to people like us, because I wanted it to be like, "Look, that's us right there". That's what we do. We ask little questions. We look a certain way. We check people's reactions. All these little things that you might do that normally might not be known to other people.
What are your thoughts on the negative backlash that episode received from some quarters?
For me, at least, I loved the negative response. It made me very happy because it means it really struck a nerve and it really affected people. And it means that they were kind of going, "Oh, shit. We've got to do something about this because this could work. This could really show people that it's okay."
In a weird way, that negative response brings more attention to it and more people will look at it.
The episode has been dissected a lot by fans already, but are there any small details you'd like to highlight that might have been missed by casual viewers?
I'm really surprised at how much people picked up on. The first scene where they're at the dinner table and the last scene at the dinner table, they're very much echo scenes and they were designed that way. And of course, everyone has noticed that at the beginning, they were at opposite ends of the table, and by the end, they were next to each other, but one of my favourite little details is when Bill puts the plate down.
In the first scene, he sort of spins it exactly the right way. He goes away for a second and then Frank looks at the food and spins the plate back. Bill sees that, and he's like, "Why would you do that?"
In the echo scene later, one of the things that I picked up on that the actors did was that they do the exact same thing. As Bill's leaving, Frank slowly turns the plate again. That's just always his way. But the first time was sort of like a rote thing. He just did it. The second time was a very gentle sort of gesture. And I really liked to see those two things connected.
The other detail from that sequence that I really loved doing was in the very first sequence, Frank looked over at the mantel and the mantel was covered in dust. He runs a finger across it. In the second echo scene later, he doesn't go there, but I held very much on a shot of Frank looking at the mantel, and then smiling at the mantel.
Because the mantel is now filled with not just dust and old photographs, but it has beautiful flowers and all these lovely touches. It showed what his purpose was. "I was here to make things beautiful. And I feel that my purpose here was to take care of this place."
That little little tiny detail may go unnoticed, but to me, it was very important to hold on Frank, having that moment internally. That's the brilliance of Murray Bartlett. He remembers what he did, so he's looking at it and he's having this sort of private moment.
My job as the editor is to decode that and say, okay, "I know what he's doing and I think it's valuable". It's a subtle little nuance that allows those characters to have this sort of connectivity that I think has worked so well.
Jumping forward to episode seven, this is one that queer gamers have been looking forward to for a very long time. Can you talk us through how you and your assistant editor helped bring Ellie's love story to life?
I said to myself, maybe at this point, it's important for us to talk about the fact that this is a story of queer love between two women. My assistant editor, Emily Mendez, is a lesbian woman and I've been mentoring her for years. She actually knows this game really well and the Left Behind portion is her favourite part bar none.
So I said to Craig [Mazin], "You remember the scene in episode three where Joel and Ellie are in the car at the very end? Well, Emily did that, because I wanted her to have an opportunity to showcase what she could do. Remember the scene where she finds the gun in the little cabinet? She did that too". And he goes, "Oh, she's amazing".
So what if, on this episode, to take some of the weight off of me, she can be a co-editor on this episode? Number one, it'll help us get through it. And number two, I think that it would be really important for the episode to have that kind of voice of someone who understands this.
I was perfectly aware at that point that there were these Wonders of the Mall, and I said I want to give her at least two Wonders at the Mall. Most importantly, I wanted to give her the costume dance and the kiss because I don't believe I can do them as well as she can.
No matter what, I think she's gonna see it in a way that I can't see it. And I think that'll be important for the story. I think it'll be important for the audience and I just think it'll be good for everyone.
Craig looked at me and was just like, "Yeah, do it, and if it doesn't work out, you'll just have to stay later on". So I was gambling on not just myself, but on [Emily]. I knew that she could do this. I wasn't concerned. And so, from that perspective, we were able to work together. We were able to work quickly and very efficiently. I believe that episode works so beautifully because it has both of our stamps on it from our individual experiences.
Why is it so important to bring these individual experiences to queer storytelling in particular?
I don't know that teen experience of it at all. Honestly, my teenage years were not that connected. So in terms of just me personally, I was like, "I'm not going to understand this teenage love in a way that you're going to", because Emily said, "I totally feel this".
But I also feel like there's just something about being able to see the moments that stick out within the film that has been shot. You get all these dailies of film, many, many hours of dailies. The editor's job is to basically look at each one of them, and each editor is going to have a different opinion of what's important.
I think Emily understands the tentativeness of the kiss moment very well. My favourite moment that Emily did was that she held on Ellie after she kisses Riley, and then you don't get to see Riley at all. Then it's that nervous anticipation of: "Did I just f**k this whole thing up? Did I just completely destroy the one good thing in my life by doing this?"
Emily holds on her as opposed to cutting to Riley and then cutting back to her. She held on her the whole entire time, which is sort of forcing the audience to endure that moment with her which connects the audience with Ellie's experience that moment.
Emily did something special there that another editor might not have done. Another editor might have said, "Oh, I need to see what Riley is doing so that I can understand why Ellie's feeling this way", and Emily was like, "No, I want to be right there. I want to feel that nervousness with her. I want to feel that that horrible anticipation", and then only cut back to Riley when her eyes lift up and she smiles and it's revealed that everything is okay.
And not just okay, but beautiful.
This flashback plays such a huge role in episode seven, and other flashbacks are also really important to the story as a whole. Can you explain the challenge of incorporating these sequences into the main narrative from an editing point of view?
Flashbacks are always interesting to me in terms of how you access them, how you get into them. In episode seven, it was interesting because I kept saying, "Maybe we need to say when this is? Does the audience need to know what year this is, where they are?" And the answer was always no, because the mystery of it is more interesting. If the audience is piecing it together, then it might be more intriguing.
We know that Ellie went to FEDRA school. So when you're seeing "FEDRA" on the back of her sweater, we're telling the story in a very subtle and visual way. So getting into that was a little bit more like closing one chapter and then opening a new one versus having a small smooth transition. This was about literally closing the door, almost.
The Last of Us airs on HBO in the US, and on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW in the UK.
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