Interview: Marc Wiltshire Discusses Editing ‘Wu-Tang: An American Saga’

Recently, editor Marc Wiltshire spoke to Awards Radar about his work on Wu-Tang: An American Saga. The conversation can be seen below.

Episode 308 is such a unique piece of television. What was the process behind it, and how was working with RZA as a director?

When I started working on Wu-Tang: An American Saga, I decorated my desk with a limited edition instrumentals LP of GZA’s Liquid Swords. It was a daily reminder of how lucky I was to work in the Wu-niverse. At the time, I didn’t know which storylines I would tackle in my episodes. It wasn’t until several months into the gig that I discovered my third and final episode of the season (episode 308) was entitled Liquid Swords, and it would be inspired by that very album I had on my desk! 

The RZA kept the story a secret for months while writing the screenplay, and it marked his first episode as writer/director on the series. When I read it, I got it right away. It had amazing references to Hip Hop pioneers, 90s music videos, and nods to cinematic influences, including The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Shogun Assassin, Mad Max, The Warriors, West Side Story, and classic Kung Fu movies. During our first meeting over Zoom, RZA told me: “Forget everything you know about editing a TV show. That’s not what we’re doing here. This is Kurosawa. This is cinema. We’re gonna take our time with this one.” I kept this in mind as I assembled the first cut, and even then, when he saw it, RZA said to make it longer and let the footage breathe. He wanted to see everything and then shape it. So it was truly like editing a film rather than a TV show. We held shots for longer than we would typically do for television. In that respect, it was very liberating because we didn’t fight our instincts to hit a runtime; we could let the story tell us how long it should be.

Working with RZA was a fantastic collaboration. He has a clear and distinct vision and knows how to communicate it. We would have brief phone calls to discuss fundamental ideas behind certain scenes or beats, ensuring the emotional tone was landing. For the most part, I was left to my own devices to put it together, and that was incredibly rewarding because I had a lot of control over which takes to use and how we would establish the visual language of the “film.” We decided early on to embrace the pop cultural references, so we used Star Wars-style wipes and added familiar sound effects and music cues that pay homage to all of our references throughout the episode. We worked really well together, crafting the emotional scenes and discovering new ways of telling the story as we chipped away at it. 

The episode also includes so many easter eggs and pop culture references. Which one was your favorite? And how do you decide what will be referenced at a particular moment?

There’s the obvious reference to Shogun Assassin, AKA Lone Wolf and Cub,of which the dialogue was sampled and used as the opening to the 1995 album Liquid Swords. We mimic the image of the samurai and young boy in the wheelchair, and we even use the dialogue sampled for the beginning of the 4th Chamber battle sequence, just like in the album. I loved the nod to The Warriors in the abandoned amusement park. What an incredible find from our production team! Star Wars references are abundant in this episode. I added a line of dialogue at the top of the episode that pays homage to Princess Leia. We hear a distorted voice say, “Genius, help us. We need you. You’re our only hope.” I was always thinking of ways to tip the hat towards our references, and that one just felt perfect to set the tone for what we were about to embark on. 

My favorite contribution is during the Coney Island scene when the guys are searching for Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and they come across a gang of women named Roma’s Bitches (R&B). RZA asked me to find a sexy R&B song for this scene. As the women arrive, Masta Killah thinks he sees a mirage, so I thought about a song that would go with that idea. A most perfect song popped into my brain: Mariah Carey’s Fantasy. The music video featured Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the lyrics felt perfect for the moment. RZA loved it, and it stayed in the cut. 

Both Wu-Tang: An American Saga and Bel-Air rely on music. What is your approach to editing music, and how do you utilize it to enhance the story? 

Wu-Tang’s Liquid Swords (episode 308) is a musical journey requiring a different storytelling approach than most TV shows. There are five music videos in that episode alone! Putting those sequences together is entirely different from editing a dialogue scene. We group all of the takes for the performance of a song and sync it all up to the music so that we can change shots on the fly. We’re still telling a story during these sequences, so we would try to utilize certain lyrics as punctuation marks for certain actions and lean into the notion that these words are literal liquid swords attacking their victims. It’s a process that goes through several passes and finesse. 

RZA’s intent for the “film” was to have the album’s songs score the scenes. Rather than using the original instrumentals, RZA re-recorded new orchestral arrangements for all of the songs on Liquid Swords, which we used to score each scene. RZA had specific ideas for which songs would go where, so we used STEMS from the cues to shape the emotional beats throughout a scene. I had never worked with a director who is also a composer, so we worked diligently to honor his creation.

Bel-Air is its own kind of music show. Needle drops can score a scene or play as a source on the stereo, and we’re very intentional about how the song is being used for a moment. Morgan Cooper (Bel-Air Creator) has a refined ear for youth culture, and what they are listening to, so he weighed in heavily on which artists each character would be into. Morgan was our guiding light to finding which songs worked best for a character’s emotional journey. My favorite episode to work on was the family reunion because we got to place so many wonderful Soul & Funk needle drops in every scene, and even got to use Montel Jordan’s This Is How We Do It during our flag football game which was the perfect needle drop for that story and a fun scene to cut.

Can you provide an example of a scene from each project that was rewarding to put together?

The Liquid Swords episode culminates in an epic battle sequence scored by the song 4th Chamber. The sequence itself is an homage to the music video for that song. We recreated the video, almost shot for shot. That was an absolute blast to piece together. We used the orchestrated re-recording as the score leading up to the battle, then the sample from Shogun Assassin comes in, and the beat drops on the explosion. It’s one of my favorite scenes that I’ve ever cut.

In Bel-Air’s season two finale, there’s a powerful speech at the episode’s climax. It required juggling a lot of characters as they communicated mostly in looks, so a lot of information needed to be told visually. I enjoyed shaping this scene with our showrunner Carla Banks Waddles as we found the right balance of all the storylines we were tracking. Watching our teammates react to the scene during screenings was very rewarding to watch.


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Written by Betty Ginette

Oscar Sunday is my personal Super Bowl.

I cover behind the camera artisans, and love to hear about filmmaking magic behind the scenes.

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