Brand New Cherry Flavor is the kind of show you need to experience for yourself. I don’t think I could do its bonkers tone and story justice just by explaining the plot. This limited series will test you by taking comedy and horror and blending it together in a revenge tale like no other. It’s a story about creative ownership, lecherous Hollywood directors, and, you know, a witch who wants you to vomit up kittens. In order for this series to work, editor and producer Greg O’Bryant knew that they had to focus on the real struggles of these characters to ground the story.
A show like Brand New Cherry Flavor could fall apart very easily. The tones could compete and the over-the-top actions of the characters could turn audiences off, but the show is daringly confident. Rosa Salazar’s Lisa and Eric Lange’s Lou hate each other’s guts, but the script doesn’t keep them apart. They interact nearly every day even though they want to take each other down. O’Bryant knew the show had to have a pull in order to work.
“What was most intimidating about Brand New Cherry Flavor was keeping the mythology straight. How do we anchor these big, bold ideas to these characters’ experiences at large? We want it to be crazy and sprawling and unexpected and inventive, but you want it to be emotional as well. I want to make sure that these things are affecting the characters in a real way. Using those tools at our disposal to maintain that consistency was very scary. How are we going to make cat puking not just a sight gag.”
There is a true Gregg Araki vibe threaded throughout Brand New Cherry Flavor–these characters are living on the edge with almost nothing to pull them back. Since it takes place in the 1990s, I was curious if O’Bryant looked at any particular editing styles of the time for his team’s inspiration.
“That’s a good question. Editing is always evolving within genres. There are fashionable and unfashionable things. I don’t we were emulating a particular editing style, but we used this tool called LiveGrain which makes it look more like film and gives it more texture. We looked at Natural Born Killers and True Romance and a couple other films of that era to steal pieces of that look. What we most wanted to crib was an attitude as opposed to miming it. We wanted to take the spirit and apply it to this series. Music is a big part of it too. You want to see the characters in a slightly different way if you want the time period work. I wanted Lisa to sneer whenever. It was such a big time for punk and there is so much of that sneering ethos that we wanted to incorporate as much as possible.”
In episode five, we finally get to see what part of Lisa’s Eye impresses everyone so much. Siena Werber’s Mary has never seen herself on camera before, and she is hesitant to check out a cut of Lisa’s short. At the same time, Lisa is being hunted down by Lou’s goons. O’Bryant and his team decided to mash the two sequences together to create a compelling connection between these two women. It’s almost as though they are aware of each other’s presence.
“It was a really hard thing to edit. To find the balance of when we are with Mary and when we are with Lisa was a big deal. Matt Sobel did a great job of finding the right amount of violence with Lisa and we also have zombie Jonathan at the end of the hallway. My assistant editor, Steph Perez, co-edited that episode with me and that little sequence was something she worked really hard on. A lot of those match cuts were moments she found like when Lisa gets punched and you see Lisa flinch. You’re telling a lot of stories there at the same time. Nick [Antosca] and Lenore [Zion] were adamant in using “Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour” by Os Mutantes and once you pick music that is that dissonant with the images, it tells you the tone that you’re going for as an editor. It’s not violence for the sake of violence and this show can hold up that style. We wanted to see what was in the movie that was so gross that everyone has been hinting at. We want to be with Mary while she is experiencing that. We want to be with Lisa during this brutal fight. You have all these stakes stacked up at the same time and it’s a matter of doing it over and over again. That’s not a sequence you will find in a day or two.”
O’Bryant went on to mention that the mash-up of scenes wasn’t initially planned.
“It wasn’t scripted to be intercut and that was something we figured out later. Watching the Lisa scene without anything cut between it didn’t feel fair or right. When you put Mary in there–who is something Lisa owes a lot of debt to–it feels more earned. It was like Mary was envisioning payback for what Lisa did to her.”
Finding the right balance between hilarity and ‘fuck you grunge’ was something that O’Bryant immediately loved. It goes back to how the performances can shape the tone of a project but also how good editing is essential.
“The misanthropic tone–which is my favorite thing about the show–is mined from the book. I personally think it’s the most misanthropic show ever to be on television, and that’s found in the writing but also the acting. You believe that Lisa and Lou want to kill each other and it’s a ruse for them. Finding that as an editor, you find that in the performances. They need to feel like real humans and this cast all came to play. Rosa Salazar is beyond fearless. You start with that and go backwards. When you know what each person wants in the scene you kind of draw it out that way. How do you find cute or cheeky or a little dark? In the diner scene, you have these hard cuts of Jules on fire at the pool.”
Editing in horror can sometimes get a bad reputation. Some people think it’s just all about jump scares or faking out the audience, but editing can make or break a horror film. The same can be said about comedy. A performance can be top-notch but if the editing is poor, it changes the audience’s perception of the actions of the characters.
“With the way that Nick and Lenore approach horror, it has to be psychological and objective through the characters. The scares in a Scream or The Conjuring are more objective from a bird’s eye view whereas we are working an angle with Lou and Lisa. In terms of it being an underappreciated arms of our art, I think they are. Comedy and horror are the two hardest to do, and suspense of any kind–no matter the genre–is the backbone of editing. How to get an audience to want anything and subvert or fulfill that expectation is key. If you can master that, you can apply it to any form. People think with comedy, you find the funniest bits and you’re done. It’s all about timing.”
Like most projects developed over the last three years, the pandemic screwed everything up. O’Bryant informed me just how much work the creative team had left when their production shut down. The quarantine was a way to able to nail down the tone and vibe of the show.
“They had another week in Vancouver to shoot and they had a two week splinter unit planned in Los Angeles while they filmed the exteriors with the actors. No episodes were complete. When we shut down, Netflix allowed Nick, Lenore and I to keep working and we were able to dig into the show and plan on what they could film. Some things had to be changed like you couldn’t have two actors in a car if it was closed hence all the convertibles. A lot of things had to be switched out, refitted, and changed and then we had to figure out how to accommodate these ideas. With that time, we could figure out the show. By the time we had to rethink everything, we hadn’t found it yet. Netflix let us go for a little bit-all remote and in separate houses-and there was a glimmer of an upside to this. It let us nail down the tone and be able to present the show as it is now”
Brand New Cherry Flavor is streaming now on Netflix.