Russell Griffin Talks Editing “How I Met Your Father”

Russell Griffin. Photo courtesy Lisa Shaughnessy
Russell Griffin. Photo courtesy Lisa Shaughnessy /

Russell Griffin has made a name for himself as an editor. His role in How I Met Your Father has allowed audiences to witness the best performances from the cast as well as find the right timing to land the joke. Being an editor means finding the best takes and crafting the story the writers and directors wish to tell.

The job involves knowing how to tie in the story not just to an individual episode but to prepare the seeds for the overall season. Russell Griffin discusses the importance of his role and how it has allowed him to spread into other areas of creation, such as directing.

Culturess: What does it mean to you to “find the funny?”

Russell Griffin: “Find the funny” really is whatever I can do to help the story in terms of what the writers are trying to get at, what the actors were trying to get at, try to emphasize what the best performances I can do, which takes, which angles. Anything that helps find the humor in it and try to get to what the story is trying to tell. That’s what I think an editor does best. That’s what I think everybody tries to do, from the writing to the acting to the directing to the editing. Everybody’s trying to find the story in sitcoms or trying to find the funny.

Culturess: Did you watch How I Met Your Mother’s editing style for inspiration?

Russell Griffin: Yeah, I was a big fan of How I Met Your Mother. When this opportunity of How I Met Your Father came about, I jumped at the chance. I think that How I Met Your Mother kinda set that universe. A good friend of mine, Sue Federman, edited most of those episodes, and she edited season one of How I Met Your Father, so to take that baton and move it into season two of How I Met Your Father, I definitely built on what she did and built on what the story changes to.

Culturess: Are there any episodes of How I Met Your Father where editing is more difficult?

Russell Griffin: Editing is very difficult on How I Met Your Father, mostly because every performance is fantastic. Our cast is so good that the hard part is finding the better takes. They’re all great. But it’s like, which one out of those fantastic takes are you gonna use? I mean, Hilary nails it on every one, and you’re like, ‘Okay, which one is good for Chris? Oh, they’re both good.’ Tien is fantastic. Francia, Suraj, Tom, all of these people are really, really good, so the hardest part is trying to find the best out of all of that.

Culturess: In addition to editing, you have also been in the director’s chair for Family Reunion. What is the difference in your approach for each role?

Russell Griffin: Well, I think it’s the same. I think if you are in the director’s chair or the editor’s chair your goal is still the same. You’re trying to get the story and the performances and the timing and the emotion to the audience. So if you’re directing the actors you’re trying to help them achieve the same thing. You’re trying to get the angles with the cameras. You’re trying to get the pacing down.

Everything you’re doing, whether it’s sitting in the director’s chair or sitting in the editing chair, is moving toward the same goal, so yeah, you’re putting on different hats. You’re on the stage when you’re down there directing. You’re working with the actors. You’re helping them hone the craft. But, when you’re sitting in the editing chair, you’re saying, okay, out of everything that we’ve got on stage, how do we best translate that to the final version of the episode?

Culturess: How has being an editor affected how you direct?

Russell Griffin: There’s an adage they say that editors make the best directors, and I think it’s true because you get to see and you have to craft out of everything that you’ve gotten on stage what it is in the final episode. So, you know that certain problems or certain advantages that you know you’re gonna need in the editing you get when you’re directing. So you understand you’re kind of thinking three or four moves ahead.

So you’re saying, yeah, this is a great section, but how am I gonna transition to the next section in the final episode? How am I gonna take what this scene is doing and move it to the next scene? How does that play to the final scene? So as you are an editor you are thinking about that. When you’re directing, if you’re also thinking about editing, and all the great directors do that, you are a step ahead. You are trying to think, okay, how is this gonna be for the entire episode?

Culturess: What is the most important part of editing an episode of a television show?

Russell Griffin: The most important part is to understand what the narrative is. Understand what the point of the episode is, what the episode is trying to do, and to make sure that gets woven throughout the scenes and throughout the entire arc of the episode. It’s trying to take what the creators and the writers have done and translate that over the entire episode and, in the case of a series, over the entire season and over the entire series.

Culturess: Does your editing style differ depending on the show you are working on?

Russell Griffin: A little bit. I mean, it’s all about timing and about emotion. But if you’re doing a kid’s sitcom then you’re much more about pratfalls and sight gags, and if you’re dealing with more of an adult sitcom like How I Met Your Father, then you’re really dealing with emotions or romance. You’re still dealing with comedic timing, but you’re also having to balance the narrative much more than you would in a kid’s sitcom. But it still all comes down to trying to communicate what the story is through the editing.

Culturess: What is your biggest challenge as an editor?

Russell Griffin: The biggest challenge, like I said, on this particular show, is trying to find which great performances to choose. But, overall, as an editor, I guess the biggest challenge would have to be making sure you understand what the story is and make sure that you’re working with the writers and communicate that through the entire episode.

Culturess: What does being a member of American Cinema Editors mean to you?

Russell Griffin: It means a great deal to me. The American Cinema Editors is an honorary society for editors, and getting able to join that, get accepted into that is quite an achievement for me. It’s something I’ve always seen in terms of my mentors and the people that I admire in the craft, and being able to be a part of that is very special to me. It says that I’m achieving what I’m wanting to achieve in terms of editing, and I’m getting to that certain level where other people say, hey, welcome to the club; we’re all doing the same thing. To be amongst those peers and to be able to talk about editing at a certain level is very nice.

Culturess: Are there any moments in your career thus far that you are most proud of?

Russell Griffin: Well, there’s a lot of different things. Certainly directing since I grew up wanting to direct like James Burrows or Pam Fryman, and now that I’m directing on the same stages as Cheers and things like that, that’s certainly a pride moment for me. But just getting a chance to help tell these stories and be on a show like How I Met Your Father is quite special as well.

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