“It’s all about the land,” Editor Chad Galster tells IBC365 about working on Yellowstone and spin-off show 1883. Adrian Pennington reports.
For anyone unfamiliar with Yellowstone a shorthand would be Dallas meets Succession set amid scenic country and western. The formula has made the Paramount+ show the most popular scripted series on US television. Now in its fifth (and probably last) season, the franchise has spawned spin-offs including 1883 and 1923 each chronicling the settlement of land in Montana eventually owned by the Dutton family. It’s not too grand to call the show’s story arc a foundational myth of the United States of America.
“Yellowstone is a modern day western but the writing, the situations and the performances make it Shakespearean in a lot of ways,” said Editor Chad Galster ACE who has worked on virtually every episode with creator and showrunner Taylor Sheridan.
“There is a little bit of soap in there, a bit of melodrama from time to time,” Galster told IBC365, “but at the forefront of our thinking is the father and son relationship, the husband-and-wife drama, the public and private politics and, as with all these shows, it is all about the land.”
Amid shifting alliances, unsolved murders, open wounds, and hard-earned respect – the Dutton ranch is in constant conflict with those it borders – an expanding town, an Indian reservation, and America’s first national park.
“We show the land as often as we can. Beautiful wide shots transitioning between scenes act as this gentle reminder that this is what everybody wants, this is what they are willing to kill for and this is what is at stake for everyone. For me, that approach works for every show we do and certainly for Yellowstone.”
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Galster has notched up 32 editing credits on Yellowstone though he will also oversee the work of other editors on the show. Intimate knowledge of the character’s back story helps him cut.
Behind the Scenes: Yellowstone - History enriches storytelling
“One of the beauties of a long running TV show is the more it gets to reference itself from years ago. Just like life, you might remember an exchange you had a few years ago so when see that person again you are going to react, your body might tense up. We get to do that with our characters.
“It might just be a look that I will know to include because I remember this exchange that they had in Season 2. It’s not that we wouldn’t get there eventually no matter who was cutting the show, but the benefit of having been involved since Season one is knowing this history so these things come naturally to me. It’s fun for me and hopefully the audience as well when these little references to the past can be put in.”
It may be a reprise of music. In Episode 1 of S4, for example, when it becomes clear that Dutton’s daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) is going to take the young boy Carter away, Galster reused the score of a moment in Season 1 when young John Dutton finds Rip for the first time.
“I know this is just for the diehard fans but it is little references like that in the sound design or in the picture that enriches the show and all depends on knowledge of its history. I don’t feel I have to study [the show] to introduce these elements.”
Amid all the romantic rivalries and power games in Yellowstone there are moments of camaraderie, notably when country & western tunes play out around a campfire or ranch party. These musical interludes are “palette cleansers” said Galster to give the audience a chance to breath and reflect.
“It’s very easy to make music a crutch to signpost what an audience should be feeling so try to have the scene resolve dramatically. You know what is going to happen or what has happened with our and so these musical moments help transition you into the next scene. It resets you for a new experience, new dialogue, new characters. We’re commenting on something after it has occurred but hopefully not dragging you through the scene musically.”
The landscape of sweeping cattle ranch and lush mountain vistas are another big drawer for the audience. Galster can select aerial shots to comment on specific points in the story “perhaps a dark cloud can portend a character’s fate” or to transition between scenes.
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“We also use the soundscape of the b-roll such as of horses and cowboys in the distance to making you feel you are dropped into that environment.”
Behind the Scenes: Yellowstone - Going back to 1883
Set more than a hundred years before Yellowstone, 1883 tells the story of how the ancestors of the Dutton family set out into America’s untamed west to create what will one day become their namesake Montana homestead. The wagon train travels from Texas into the Great Plains, enduring desperation, death, and destruction on the way.
“We all have a general knowledge of the settlers and the move west to find land but I’d not seen a story in this level of detail,” said Galster, who cut six of the 10 episodes. “We viewed 1883 as a standalone series but part of the greater mythology of another generation of Duttons.”
Galster was with the crew during principal photography at the Fort Worth Stockyards where the first two episodes were staged and regularly visited Texas (where Sheridan is based) to show Sheridan work in progress.
“We had an airstream trailer with an Avid on set so I could do my work at home in LA and take those scenes to set and refine the cut with Sheridan. During Covid we learned you can all do a lot remotely but that there’s an in-person aspect to putting a show together that is just irreplaceable.
“If you’re having to hold every session on Zoom you just miss things in people’s body language, and tone, the way they breathe and way they react. You have to do that in person which is why I travel to Taylor.”
A background as an “amateur classical musician” gives Galster a natural affinity with working with music. In 1883 there are the sounds you’d expect, like horses, and some you don’t.
“We wanted to find ways to play against what you’d expect so, for example, we used silence a lot and ethereal sounds. It’s something we did in Yellowstone S4 as well, the last two episodes in particular. Entire sequences are treated in the sound design like a score with chords for low, middle and high setting. It’s a powerful storytelling tool.”
Behind the Scenes: Yellowstone - Working with Taylor Sheridan
Galster had a 20-year career as editor working principally on docs and reality shows before he met Sheridan.
Through a fellow editor on MTV reality show The Hills he was introduced to Sheridan who then called him up when extra help was required on the first season of Yellowstone.
“That was my move from reality to scripted,” Galster relates. “I went off to the Utah Studio in Park City where Yellowstone was being staged, met Taylor, and we hit it off as professionals and as people. I guess he liked my work because from there I became his finishing editor meaning I’d either cut episodes from scratch to completion or be there as help for the final version should another episode need it. I’ve worked exclusively for him ever since.”
Many editors enjoy good relationships with their directors; it helps all round if both parties share similar interests and creative ideas, but few seem quite as buddy-buddy as Galster and Sheridan.
“We know each other’s families and we just enjoy engaging each other as people and found a lot of success in the work we have done. He is very exciting to work for and a brilliant writer.”
Galster also cut as Sheridan’s 2021 feature thriller Those Who Those Wish Me Dead starring Angeline Jolie and half of Mayor of Kingstown and is currently working on Lioness another Sheridan-run Paramount+ series starring Nicole Kidman, Zoe Saldaña, and Morgan Freeman about undercover CIA agents attempting to bring down a terrorist organisation.
“The last couple years with Taylor have been pretty relentless. We’ve done some phenomenal work together that I’m very proud of and I wouldn’t trade it, but it means you have to be very present at home when you have that opportunity and to take advantage of the breaks.”
In Season 5 he said he is particularly proud of the first episode which opens on the face of John Dutton (Kevin Costner) and we learn that he has been elected as state governor.
“We don’t deal with the election process itself, we just drop the audience in to the aftermath – he is now governor so let’s see what that means to him and those around him.
“I love the inauguration scene when he is being sworn in. It is this ‘holy crap what I have I done to myself?’ moment. One thing I did in the offline editing which the sound department elevated was to just have all the sound slowly fade away. Dutton can just hardly believe what he is seeing and how he got there. When the judge asks him to ‘repeat after me’ he can’t do it at first since he is completely lost in this moment. All the sound goes away and you hear these little church bells. I am proud of that sequence. It feels the way I hoped it would feel.”
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