“How I Met Your Father” is currently in the middle of its second season, and the show follows Sophie and her tight-knight group of friends as they figure out what they want in life and love in the modern world. Russel’s approach to editing this highly-anticipated series was simple—“find the funny.” The show’s editing style is fast-paced and, in keeping with its predecessor, How I Met Your Mother, jumps back and forth between temporal elements in the story.
Recently, I got to speak with the show’s editor, Russell Griffin, ACE, about his work on season two of “How I Met Your Father”. Russell was also the sole editor on Netflix’s Family Reunion, editing 45 episodes in total. He also directed episodes in both season two and season three and finds that his work as an editor has greatly informed his work as a director. Past credits include Pretty Smart and Raven’s Home. Additionally, he is a member of the editing honor society, American Cinema Editors, as well as the Television Academy, in which he is currently serving on the Picture Editors Peer Group Executive Committee.
Could you give us a bit of an introduction to yourself and what shows you have worked on?
Absolutely. Nice to join you, Roger. I appreciate you having me. Yeah, I worked on most recently How I Met Your Father as the primary editor, and before that I’ve done everything from kids shows like Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn to the reboot of Mad About you to Family Reunion. Mostly, I specialize in multi-cam sitcoms, which is what you think of in terms of the traditional sitcom, with the audience lit in front of you viewing, and goes all the way back to I Love Lucy.
What does your job as an editor involve?
Sure. So as the editor, I’m the primary person who takes all of the footage that we get from the stage and assembles it in the form that you see in the final version. So when we break it down in terms of what the script is, we go on set, the director and the actors, everybody creates the footage, they bring it back to me. I look and see what angle we want to use, which takes we want to use, which performances we like. I assemble it all together, put the music, do the transitions, and then start working with the director, the producers, and the studio and the network. So from beginning to end, I’m the one who assembles it all together.
How long does it take for you to edit an episode?
From a start to finish, maybe about eight days total, but that’s starting from the beginning and sometimes those days are spread out over a longer period because you’re working on multiple episodes and then you have to work with the director, then the writers and the producers, and then eventually the studio and the network.
Did you go back and re-watch some of “How I Met Your Mother” to get an idea of how it looked? Or did you want to do something completely fresh and different?
Well, this was something that, yeah, you definitely want to be familiar with what the universe is in terms of the “How I Met Your Mother” universe, and then How I Met Your Father stands on its own, but it’s part of that same universe. And I wasn’t on Season One. A friend of mine named Sue Federman was the editor for Season One, and I came on Season Two, so I definitely wanted to fit within what they’ve already constructed, but everything evolves and even from Season One to Season Two, you’ll see an evolution of how the show shapes and how it does its own pace and its own rhythm and its own storytelling.
How different is it making “How I Met Your Father” to a show like “Raven’s Home”?
Yeah, I mean, in the end it’s all still about performances and pacing and everything, but yes, you’re right, Raven’s Home is a little bit more broad in terms of the comedic moments. You have a little bit more of a kid approach to it. Whereas on “How I Met Your Father”, you’re dealing with a little bit more higher end sophistication in terms of comedic moments. You’re not dealing necessarily with pratfalls or visual gags. You’re dealing with character moments and those kind of things that drive the story forward. So that’s something that you want to do in the editing is make sure that that paces and keeps up with your audience.
How does it compare making a streaming show to a linear network with sort of ads? How does that affect your role?
It’s very little different with the exception of the time. If you’re dealing with a linear network, you have to hit a certain amount of time so it fits within their time slot and you have their commercial breaks. Whereas on a streaming network, you’re able to do what you want. You really can have the story fit within the timeframe of that particular story. So if it goes a little bit longer or a little bit shorter, it doesn’t really matter. They can always still stream it at that length. You want to hit a certain time just because that’s the way it feels, but we’ve worked on shows that are generally longer and then some shows that are generally shorter. Whereas the linear network, they’re all the same time roughly.
What was the biggest challenge to working on “How I Met Your Father”?
The biggest challenge on “How I Met Your Father” was choosing the best takes because they’re all fantastic. I mean, these actors are so on it, with Hilary and Chris and everybody is just really, really professional and good. You look at Suraj’s takes and you’re like, “I can’t figure out which one’s better because they’re all fantastic.” Francia’s doing some amazing stuff. Tom as well. I mean, it’s really just an embarrassment of riches. So that’s the toughest part is like, “Okay, where do you start?” On some shows you go, “Okay, those takes are all bad,” but these, these are all good, and so how do you figure out the best from the great.
What other dream projects would you’d like to work with Disney on?
I would love to continue the “How I Met Your Father” universe because it’s so well done and such a beloved property that people really enjoy it. So I’d love to continue on that in terms of a dream project. And then they do such good work throughout, I’m sure there’ll be something else that they have that I would love to join.
Have you got any tips for anyone that wants to become an editor?
Yeah, absolutely. I did the traditional film school route, so I did my undergraduate degree and then went and got a Master’s degree in filmmaking, and that’s something that I recommend to anybody. But also if you really want to get into editing, just get into any kind of show. You definitely need to live in Los Angeles or New York. You have to live in a production entity where you can get on some of these shows and just start learning once you’re in it. You don’t even have to get into the editorial department, get in the post-production department, be a PA, do something, and start editing on your own. You can do the same tools that we use here in the office. You can download Avid Media Composer. One is a free version that people can use, and it’s the same software that we use. So just get out there, practice, learn, and once you’re into the business in some way, you’ll make your way into the editing chair.
The first season, along with the first half of the second season of “How I Met Your Father”, are available to stream now on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ in many countries, including Canada and Australia.