Focus On – Philippa Rowlands ASE on “Redesign my Brain”
Juggling the science program needs of presenting the mechanics of tasks, the specialists, and Todd Samson how did you keep the humanity?
It’s that tightrope we all walk in conveying information clearly & concisely, while still keeping it entertaining. With Todd’s involvement the audience expectation was to see the cool, witty guy they know & love from The Gruen Transfer. (Not to mention what T-shirt he wore each day.) Todd is a terrific communicator and had a great rapport with all the cast, but particularly with our neuroplasticity guru, Dr Michael Merzenich. The instant I saw their naturally warm and funny banter, it was clear we had to preserve what would be a vital key to the show’s success. It was also important to show Todd’s apprehension & vulnerability in his ‘human guinea pig’ role – and implicitly encourage the audience that if Todd could do it, they could too. Which ultimately was the mission statement of the series.
Much of the edit was done while the crew was away – how did you keep the communication flowing?
Paul Scott (director) and I have worked many times together over the last 10 years, so we have a lot of trust in each other. Paul would email me detailed breakdowns so I would know the science I’d have to hit for each sequence. He then gave me fairly free rein to approach a scene however I liked, as long as it fulfilled the brief. It was also an advantage to be able to ask for the occasional pickup. For example, where Todd learns the technique for memorising a deck of cards, I found the info was too complicated to convey just using the actuality of the coaching. So I scribbled a script for an extra simplified piece-to-camera from Todd, which we would later enhance with VFX. I sent a Quicktime of a basic mock-up of the piece over to set and voilà! They were able to shoot it within the day.
You are credited as narration writer. How did this develop as the cut progressed?
It was clear that the cutting style, music & narration all had to be imbued with Todd’s character. I didn’t originally intend to write the narration, but as I was shaping each scene it was just easier to do it as I went along. It quickly became a joy. Often I would take something Todd had said in actuality (that I might otherwise have had to drop) and tweak it to use in v/o. Mostly it was written from scratch, or I’d ask Todd how he might phrase a certain idea, but I became used to writing in (my idea of) his vernacular. He let me get away with it **most** of the time…!
Composer Michael Allen was involved from the edit phase - how did this affect the edit?
Michael had a terrific selection of tracks that he sent us at the outset that captured the show‘s spirit perfectly, which was a wonderful starting point. I’d also lay up other guide tracks on cuts and send Michael QTs to work from. We both really enjoyed the collaboration - bouncing scenes back and forth, because each discipline would naturally end up informing the other and then enriching the scenes as a whole. Of course, Michael did have the added challenge of having to interpret my dodgy musical terminology (he was oddly unfamiliar with the term, “hoo-hoo synth”). By the time we pic-locked, the episodes had already been fully scored.
What was your favourite experience of the series?
Cutting the World Memory Championships. It was a goldmine of eccentric characters and rich visual imagery. Both Todd and Toby Ralph (DOP) were in their element when interacting with the contestants. Of course there was the added drama of Todd competing in the Card Memorization, which was enormous fun. Sometimes cutting a scene feels like pulling teeth; other scenes feel like they fall together effortlessly. This one just made my heart sing.