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The Walking Dead Editor Got His Start at Nueva

For the past six years, Nueva alum Dan Liu ’96 has been an editor for the award-winning AMC television show The Walking Dead. Dan got his start by editing the concept trailer for Da Vinci's Demons with an editor of The Walking Dead, who then brought Dan on as his assistant editor for Season 2. He has been a full editor for several seasons now.

“What is fun about The Walking Dead is that it reinvents itself every eight episodes, even to the point where the style of editing will have noticeable differences,” said Dan.

The medium of visual storytelling has always intrigued him. “Editing initially appealed to me because editors help dictate the shots and the pacing of the show or movie,” said Dan. “I enjoy getting to see everything come together and getting to contribute to the story that the team set out to tell.”

Editing plays a critical role in visual storytelling and can influence the narrative in both large and small ways.

“Sometimes we rearrange the order of moments in a scene, or multiple scenes, if it can improve the story,” Dan explained. “Editing also dictates what the viewer focuses on. How long do we hold on somebody's expression? What does it mean that they made that face after they said their line? Do we need to see that expression, or should we cut to something else? All of this can change the story and how one sees the story.”

For any given episode, Dan’s creative process begins before shooting even starts. He first reads through the script and attends the meetings to sync with the creative direction for that episode. After the first day of shooting, Dan receives the footage and starts piecing the scenes together.

“I start by watching all the angles and performances as we get them and then start putting it together in a way I feel would do the script justice,” Dan said. “After that, my assistant editor and I do a first pass at music and sound effects, enough so that we can present to directors and producers.”

After receiving all the footage for one episode, Dan has three to four days to piece it all together and present his version of the cut. He then works with the episode’s director for another four days before taking notes from the producer and the studio. The episode is then locked and sent off to music, sound, color, and visual effects.

“To me, editing is like sculpting,” explained Dan. “You start with a general mold and you chip away at it to get the finer details. The more time I get with the footage, the more I discover.”

Storytelling was a significant part of Dan’s years at Nueva. Some of his favorite memories of Nueva are playing roles in Hamlet, a post-apocalyptic Macbeth, and the musical 1776. He also treasures the many hours he spent outside on camping trips, playing on the rope swings, exploring the bamboo forest, and building forts.

“I feel what Nueva really helped emphasize more than any other school I've attended since is problem-solving,” said Dan. “In filmmaking, quick problem-solving on set or off set is what sets people apart. I got to where I am largely because of the way of thinking that Nueva helped foster in me since elementary school.”

The Walking Dead first aired on television only seven years ago, but human societies have been telling stories for millennia.

“We love stories because of our ability to empathize with others in any given situation,” explained Dan. “We learn about different possible ways of life through narratives and can immerse ourselves in that world. Sometimes we come out of that world with knowledge that enriches our own lives. Visual storytelling can often bridge what some people find harder to relate to from words alone.”

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