Blog: Marvel's Eric Litman on His New Show, THE HOT ZONE: ANTHRAX – Broadway World

Just recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing editor Eric Litman about his newest series, The Hot Zone: Anthrax. Litman is best known for his work for Marvel on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Black Sails, Magnum P.I., and Charmed. Currently Eric is an editor on Star Trek: Picard, a continuation of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
BM: Tell me about yourself and your work for my readers.
EL: I am a working editor, based in Los Angeles with over 20 years of experience. I grew up outside Philadelphia, where I attended film school at Temple University. After college I worked in the commercial world on the east coast for a few years. Ultimately I decided to move to Los Angeles to attend The American Film Institute Conservatory to get my masters degree in editing. AFI was the only graduate school at the time with specific studies in post production, taught by working professionals. After AFI, I joined the Editor’s Guild and started working on union shows as an assistant editor. I was very fortunate to assist many experienced editors along the way and I was able to model my approach to editing based on what I learned from them. After a number of years assisting, I was hired to work on the pilot and the first season for Marvel’s first series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was based on characters from the first Avengers movie. I started on the pilot and ultimately was promoted to editor by the end of the first season. S.H.I.E.L.D. was the quintessential Hollywood experience. I worked alongside executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancheroen, Jeff Bell and Garry Brown for seven seasons. Production was shot on the stages at Culver Studios, where we also edited the show. We were a little family where everyone knew each other and because of the close proximity to production I was given a lot of access to all the directors and producers. If I ever needed something I could just walk down to set and ask for it. During my time on S.H.I.E.L.D. I had the privilege to cut many of the premieres and finales, including the final episode for the series. Every episode had lots of action, drama, comedy, tons of visual effects within the Marvel epic brand. I was very fortunate to have been able to work with many high profile Marvel properties, like “Ghostrider” played by Gabriel Luna, “Mockingbird” played by Adrianne Palicki, and “Agent Coulson” played by Clark Gregg while collaborating with some of the best in the business. I also just recently finished cutting the pilot plus an episode on the limited series, Hot Zone: Anthrax which is about the 2001 anthrax attacks. Starring Daniel Dae Kim and Tony Goldwyn, Hot Zone was executive produced by Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson alongside Ridley Scott, David Zucker and Jordan Sheehan from Scott Free Productions. Hot Zone: Anthrax was a very different experience than S.H.I.E.L.D. The pilot was directed by Daniel Percival in Canada during the pandemic. I was never in the same room with anyone, all my meetings were though Zoom or Evercast and I cut the pilot in my home office. This type of remote working allowed for me to have lots of access to the director or producers, I could give real time feedback as well as receive notes. If there was ever a question about something, we could jump into an Evercast session and review a scene, no matter where people were in the world. It was a very different way of collaborating that yielded great results.
BM: What do you love about being an editor?
EL: I love being a part of the process, collaborating with directors and producers and putting something together that I am really proud of. I love cutting big action scenes, making an actor look like a superhero. I also love the challenge of cutting two people in a room talking to each other and making that interesting. Every edit that I make or don’t make is a decision that will shape the performance or move the story in a specific direction. I love reading a script for the first time and can see the scenes in my head, and immediately start planning how I may want to shape the scene. However, I also love the challenge of taking scenes and reworking it with the director and producers, making it do something other than what it was intended for. It is extremely gratifying after some time has passed to be a viewer of your own work and thoroughly enjoy it.
BM: What’s been your favorite job that you’ve worked on?
EL: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hot Zone: Anthrax have been my favorite jobs so far in my career. I worked with so many different people for 7 seasons on S.H.I.E.L.D. You develop a very quick shorthand, collaboration becomes so easy when you develop relationships like that. S.H.I.E.L.D was such a great mix of characters that you cared for with very big epic sequences that needed to live up to the Marvel brand. I loved being a part of some of the bigger episodes, such as the premieres or finales. My time on S.H.I.E.L.D gave me some great opportunities to be a part of, like introducing Marvel characters into the show, such as “Ghostrider”. This version of “Ghostrider” was a different iteration than the previous version. Gabriel Luna gave a lot of options to shape his character, so figuring out who this character is was a very rewarding challenge. The same with Clark Gregg‘s “Agent Coulson”. Here is a character that was featured in the movies and had a huge fan following. However this character needed to grow over time while still retaining the essence of what made him “Agent Coulson”. Clark Gregg‘s character also died, was reborn, died again and became a Life Model Decoy over the course of seven seasons. So he and the show runners gave us lots of options to honor these very well established Marvel concepts. Hot Zone: Anthrax is a thriller about a very dark time in this country and it was very important to be factual. Hot Zone: Anthrax was centered on two characters and how their parallel journeys tell the story of that time. I worked very closely with Daniel Percival, Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson on the pilot, really honing in on these characters, making sure they ring true with their intentions. It was a lot of fun to be a part of the series at the ground level, establishing the tone and pace with the director and producers.
BM: What was the most memorable part of working on Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.?
EL: It’s hard to pinpoint the most memorable part of a seven season run. I shared so many wonderful experiences with my fellow editors, directors and producers. When that show ended, it was very hard to say goodbye as it was for everyone else on the crew. Cutting the “Ghostrider” premiere, which was directed by Billy Gierhart was a challenging yet great experience. Production was shooting nights, so there was a delay in getting the dailies into the avid. Production was also shooting on location, so they shot more than usual to ensure they got everything we needed. There were days when I would get anywhere between 8 to 12 hours of dailies, at variable speeds, so multiple assistant editors were used to prepare the dailies so I could stay up to camera. I had worked with Billy numerous times prior, and I knew his coverage was going to be very bold and dynamic and it’s now up to me to make sure I use it properly. There was also the added bonus that since we are now introducing a major Marvel property into the show that we have to treat the premiere really as a pilot. I worked closely with Billy as well as the executive producers to set the tone of that season. Like most shows on network tv, we were also up against an air date. I started cutting that premiere in July and the episode aired in September. It was definitely a sprint to the finish line, cutting the episode, setting the tone, working with vfx and then finishing the episode. Shortly before the episode aired, Marvel arraigned for a premiere at a local theater with the fans. It was such an amazing experience to see all your hard work on the big screen with a very excited group of fans cheering the show on. Also cutting the series finale was a great, yet emotional experience. Directed by Kevin Tancheroen, who I’ve also worked with numerous times, shoots very dynamic footage that serves the story. The final episode of the series needed to wrap up the season, the series and send the characters off into the sunset. It was important that we didn’t short change anyone’s story when wrapping it up. Being that this was the series finale, there was a lot of story to tell in a 42 minute episode and it was our challenge to cut what wasn’t necessary to tell our story while keeping the finale feeling epic. The finale aired during the summer of 2020, when everyone was stuck at home during the pandemic and the fans really showed their support online for the show. It’s a lot of fun to watch a show you work so hard on and follow the fans’ comments on twitter in real time.
BM: What’s your best advice for someone looking to become an editor?
EL: Every job yields an experience that you can learn from and use to help you perfect your craft. Not every show is the same, and not every director or producer works the same. It’s important to be flexible to the specific situation, and use your previous experiences to help you solve your current editorial challenge. It’s also important to know that editing is a language and as an editor it’s your responsibility to understand how to communicate that language. Like with anything, there are specific rules that have been established. Rules are made to be broken and you need to understand the “how” and “why” to break a rule and still communicate your point in a clear way.
BM: What inspired Hot Zone: Anthrax?
EL: I was familiar with Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, and David Zucker’s previous work, so when I got called to set up a meeting I knew the quality of the show would be very high. I remember the anthrax attacks very well, but I never really knew the story of what actually happened. Prior to our meeting I was sent the first three scripts and I was totally hooked. I felt “Agent Ryker” and “Bruce Ivins” were very fleshed out, dynamic three dimensional characters. There was a lot of science in the scripts, but there was also a great thriller being told in the manhunt trying to find who was behind these attacks. Every character rang true for me, which helped explain their motivations. After my first few meetings with Kelly, Brian and Daniel, I could tell they had great ideas for the show. They also stressed how collaborative they are, so I had a good sense my experience working with them would be a good one and I really hope I can do it again.
BM: Give me a short synopsis of Hot Zone: Anthrax.
EL: Hot Zone: Anthrax takes place in 2001, weeks after 9/11 when the United States was attacked again by terrorism. Letters containing anthrax were sent to unsuspecting victims in Florida, Washington D.C. and New York. The anonymous assault claimed five lives and caused panic throughout the U.S. Despite many false leads, a team of FBI agents and scientists slowly closed in on a shocking prime suspect. “The Hot Zone: Anthrax” is inspired by true events and follows parallel stories of FBI agent Matthew Ryker played by Daniel Dae Kim and Dr. Bruce Ivins played by Tony Goldwyn.
BM: I believe you were 23 when 9/11 happened. Where were you and what do you remember?
EL: I was working for a small commercial production company in Philadelphia at the time, and I was on my way into work. I remember listening to the radio and hearing that the twin towers had been hit by a plane. At first I thought what most did, that it was a horrible accident. But when the second plane hit, it was very clear what was happening. By the time I got to work, the first tower fell and it was shocking. The rest of the day we were glued to the tv watching the events unfold. When Covid first hit, it reminded me very much of 9/11 and the days that followed. So it was perfect timing when the series Hot Zone: Anthrax came my way. Everyone was watching the news, scared and trying to make sense of so many unknowns.
BM: And finally, what do you hope that someone watching Hot Zone: Anthrax takes away from it?
EL: There is a lot that the general public doesn’t know about this case, and I hope people walk away feeling like they learned more about these events. Daniel Dae Kim and Tony Goldwyn gave such amazing performances, and it’s a great ride to see where they both end up at the end of the six part limited series. Their performances, paired with a great thriller made for a terrific series that I hope everyone enjoys.
National Geographic’s limited series The Hot Zone: Anthrax is now available to stream on Hulu.
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