How “Stranger Things” Editor Dean Zimmerman Cut Eddie’s Epic Guitar Solo & That Wild Season 4 Finale
“Divide and conquer while keeping our heads above water was how we approached episode nine,” says editor Dean Zimmerman, who has been on the juggernaut Netflix series Stranger Things since the beginning. Season four sees its beloved characters continue their fight against Vecna, a mind-controlling arch-villain wreaking havoc on the town of Hawkins.
It was the biggest, boldest season of the series yet, and Zimmerman was a key component in keeping the epic finale as tight as a snare drum. Zimmerman, along with editors Katherine Naranjo and Casey Cichocki, took on the challenge of putting together the harrowing finale that clocks in at over two hours, the longest episode of Stranger Things to date.
Zimmerman tells The Credits it was “a massive team effort,” and for him, a “once in a lifetime experience.” “This show has been such an incredible part of my career, and I am so grateful that I get to be a small part of it.”
Here, the editor details what went into creating the epic finale.
The Season 4 finale is essentially a feature-length film. How did the editing team start tackling the challenge?
“The Piggyback” was a very daunting script. I attacked it with the help of Katherine Naranjo and Casey Cichocki, who helped edit that episode. Because of how we had to shoot it, we were cutting as the scenes came in. Once we had it all built, we went back through and did our tightening passes, making sure the pace, story, and character arcs were as they needed to be. We were also very pressed to get the visual effects underway first, so all the moments that required digital work were the first ones we attacked, purely based on delivering the episode on time. It definitely was one of our biggest challenges in the series, but the end result was very rewarding and a huge success.
Speaking of VFX, the episode has around 1200 shots. When you’re waiting for finished effects, how do you approach the emotional beats and arc of the story?
You hit the nail on the head. Without the previs/temps and the help of our amazing visual effects team, we wouldn’t have been able to shape our characters’ performances the way we needed to. Working hand-in-hand with all departments – visual effects, music, and sound – is vital in being able to deliver the quality the Duffer Brothers require and what audiences deserve. Without the team that we surrounded ourselves with, we would’ve never made the incredibly ambitious schedule we were under.
One plot point is the salt bath sequence where Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) can travel into memories. What was the approach to make those moments clear?
The Duffers write such incredible scripts that laid the foundation for the story to unfold and be understood even in an inception moment. I think the scene that truly highlights how amazing they are at storytelling because it doesn’t feel like exposition when they’re at the gas station. Eleven explains how she’s going to go into the sensory deprivation tank and piggyback on a memory by drawing it out for the guys on the dirty car window…that was such a brilliant way of explaining it to the audience, and, it was completely character appropriate.
As the episode continues, our heroes work together to help take down Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). One of those moments is when Eddie (Joseph Quinn) delivers an epic guitar solo to Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Can you talk about its creation?
This is one of my favorite questions to answer because it’s one of the most gratifying sequences I’ve ever had the privilege to work on. Growing up, listening to Metallica as a young man, Master of Puppets was always a staple. Being able to cut a music video within the body of Stranger Things was a dream come true. The dream quickly turned into one of the most challenging obsessions of my career. Musicals are always a bit of an editing challenge with the choreography, hitting certain moments within the song, balancing the pace, and determining the sustainability of a particular act.
How’d you pull it off?
The way the Duffers wrote Metallica into Stranger Things had very specific beats to hit not only from a song perspective but from a story as well. Putting together a sequence of that magnitude with computer-generated characters, such as our demo bats, became particularly challenging from the visual effect side because they had to work within a box that I determined based on nothing. They would be given the length of a shot and asked to fit animation within that length. The determining factor of that was me pretending I was a bat flying from a rooftop overhead in my mind as I edited to determine the length.
What had to be done sonically to make the guitar scene work?
The integration of sound music and visual effects had to be in perfect harmony for that sequence to turn out the way it did. Relying on our music editor Dave Klotz, who masterfully helped push and pull the music in directions that were needed to hit specific story bits that were scripted. The visual effects team had to work within parameters that were framed accurately and locked to specific beats, which was not only one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced but also the most gratifying when we completely nailed it.
How long did that take?
That sequence was put together over several days and then finalized several months later once we received all the visual effects. That monumental feat was achieved by the perfect unison of all of us working towards making the most epic rock video ever to be put on screen, in my humble opinion.
Another part of the story was the simmering connection between Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keery). What types of performances are you looking for to bring those moments to screen?
Everything I cut is based purely on grounded performance. I truly believe when you can cut a performance that is organic and grounded, you can tap into an audience’s emotions. Steve and Nancy have always been one of my favorite duets to cut because of the tension between them both. They make such an amazing couple, and to never have that intersection cross in these past seasons – I feel it has only made their friendship stronger. The little moments of emotional reconnection surrounded by complete chaos are one of their unique superpowers. As a fan, first and foremost, of Stranger Things, I’m excited to see what the result will be for this particular storyline.
Jim Hopper (David Harbour) has a fantastic hero moment facing a Demogorgon. How did you want to approach that larger-than-life sequence?
That Braveheart moment of Hopper yielding that sword and taking down the Demogorgon was scripted from the start. What we did in the edit was much more inner cutting between the rest of the battles that were going on. Hopper is the patriarch of Stranger Things, and nothing is more deserving than giving him a four-foot sword and having him decapitate the enemy. Would you want it any other way?
During the climactic fight between Vecna and Eleven, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) saves Eleven by confessing his love to her. How did you want to approach the two sides of that fight?
The way we approached Mike and Eleven always comes from a place of hopeless romanticism. Everyone wants to be loved and needs to be loved, and we all have that burning desire to hear it and have it expressed. We wanted both to feel such desperation that they’re forced to say the things that are sometimes very difficult for people to say. That’s how we approached Mike and Eleven’s performances.
It’s very moving.
I’ve always been known to wear my heart on my sleeve, and with performance-driven drama, I tend to flex that muscle more than most people would. For me, being a hopeless romantic myself, I wanted both of them to feel the same anguish and strength when things are bad, and you need encouragement. For me, a simple three words can give you the ability to move mountains. That’s how I approached the scene. Mike saying, “I love you,” reminded Eleven that she has the strength to move mountains.
Stranger Things is available to stream on Netflix.
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Featured image: STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven and Jamie Campbell Bower as Vecna in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022