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How 'Arrested Development' editor Kabir Akhtar solved the 'Season 4' puzzle (Q&A)

Screenshot via Netflix
Netflix/Arrested Development teaser poster
Netflix/Arrested Development teaser poster
Netflix/Arrested Development teaser poster
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - MAY 04: (L-R) Actors David Cross, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Walter, Jason Bateman and Portia de Rossi attend The Netflix Original Series "Arrested Development" Press Conference at Sheraton Universal on May 4, 2013 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Netflix)
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Netflix
Arrested Development, Season 4: promotion

"Family Love Michael," reads the banner in our hearts — "Arrested Development" will be unmaking a huge mistake on May 26 when the years-canceled, once-network television series debuts a brand new Season 4, in its entirety, on Netflix.

Promotion has been effective in the weeks leading up to the release. From the traveling banana stand to a premiere at the Chinese Theatre, the return of "Arrested Development" has its fan base in a froth and newcomers joining Netflix faster than you can say, "hop-ons."

RELATED: Emmys 2013: 'House of Cards' makes history, 'Arrested Development' earns multiple nominations (video, poll)

"Arrested Development" lead editor, Kabir Akhtar, sat down with KPCC to talk about building the ultimate puzzle. 

"It's really cool to see the public react to every new piece of information that's released — people are excited, and that's exciting," said Akhtar, a director and Emmy-nominated editor with an extensive background in television and a family lineage that includes generations of storytellers and poets.

No spoiler alert is necessary — all specifics and surprises are legally off the table until the May 26 release. You are safe to read this interview.

What was the biggest challenge in editing the new season?

Because the whole season was shot in pieces, none of the episodes were completely shot until they all were. So, while on most shows you finish one episode before starting on the next, here we were working on many of them at once, as sometimes we would move scenes to different episodes where they fit better both story-wise and pacing-wise.

So basically you were cutting all 15 episodes at once.

Pretty much. But not alone. We had a great team of three editors during production, and down the stretch three additional editors joined to help us get it all done.

What did you do to keep track of all the references and jokes and overlapping storylines?

The chronology of the season is so complex. This isn't just a very detailed show, it's 15 detailed shows that all had to dovetail together, not just in terms of common footage, but in terms of storytelling and comedy.  

Plus there was a tremendous sense of responsibility to make the show as great as it could be, and everyone's dedication was really something special.

That NPR gag guide and the other joke tracker would have been handy, but it didn't exist. 

Did you make your own? 

No. Things changed all the time. There were rewrites almost every day, and things were being cut and added.

So how did you keep track of all the new jokes and running gags?

I remembered them in my head. 


I had to!

Well, you've always enjoyed a good puzzle.* 

I love puzzles. I've done puzzles my entire life and this is just a giant puzzle.

Did anyone else have the mental spreadsheet of puzzle pieces during the process? 

Mitch [Hurwitz, series creator] of course had the whole puzzle in his head, and it was our job to get it into our heads, too. Our co-producer Joey Slamon was an invaluable member of the team, as she had been around from the start of writing, so she also knew how everything fit together, and when in time certain events would take place.

I heard that each episode focuses on a central character. Can you elaborate? Was that a special challenge?

There are some things that happen that we see from several different characters' point of view, and those moments take on different significance for everybody as they happen.  

I was constantly making sure that our puzzle pieces fit together; if we see Gob in the background of a scene, and then later in his episode we see that moment again, it was vital to make sure that any dialogue or action from that first scene matched the next time around.  

There's one scene that we see different parts of from everybody's point of view, and while we don't hear the same dialogue each time, I tried to make sure we had enough overlap that someone online could recut the whole thing into chronological order.

Thank you for your precision. The Internet would not stand for sloppy joke management.

I thought about that. I left in dialogue and subtle hinges so scenes could reconnect. I didn't want the Internet to be mad at me. 

You said things were added during the editing process — were there reshoots?

There were a few extra things shot as we were finishing post, to help tell the story more clearly.  We made sure they fit in seamlessly, so obviously it won't look like we got one random extra shot of a Bluth months after the fact.  It's true that these Hollywood shows are so incredibly detailed.

How did you add things?

We added things in three ways —

  1. New Ron Howard voiceover was added to connect stuff and to make sure the right things were clear, and sometimes to make sure the right things were not clear. 
  2. Rearranging scenes.
  3. New dialogue for the actors, which was recorded in postproduction and then played while their backs are turned. This type of ADR [additional dialogue recording] is pretty common across many shows and movies, and again sometimes helped to sharpen the storytelling. 

Is the new season edited in a similar way to the rest of the series?

It feels like the same show. 

Is it hard to match an existing style? How did you do it?

It was like taking the grammar of the existing series and adding new vocabulary to the same language. 

I definitely studied the style of the first three seasons before starting, but once we were off and running, thanks to the writing and direction, this season naturally started to feel like the same show in post as well.  

It was important that the show felt the same, from big questions of pacing and style, down to small details like using the same fonts and sizes of split screens.

How long did it take to complete the whole season?

From August to December we were getting raw footage everyday. All in, post production took about nine months.

Is there talk of a Season 5?

I haven't heard anything official either way, but who knows!

Are you as excited as we are?

I catch myself in everyday situations wanting to reference jokes that nobody knows yet. It's a funny position to be in.

*Lisa Brenner and Kabir Akhtar have been friends since 1977. Photos of them at Ms. Brenner's Bat Mitzvah are off the record.