Patrick Tuck and Varun Viswanath have been editors on Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi's Reservation Dogs since Season 2. The show, now in its third and final season, has continuously pushed the boundaries of storytelling for TV and kept its focus on Indigenous teens growing up in Oklahoma.

As showrunner, Harjo (Seminole and Muscogee) trusts Tuck and Viswanath to help him craft those complicated storylines, including the highly impactful Season 3 episode, "Deer Lady," which weaves past and present with the tale of an abusive boarding school and Bear's (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Oji-Cree First Nations) journey back to Oklahoma.

We spoke to these talented editors via Zoom about working with Harjo, being on a show with so many different tonal shifts, and the difficult edit of "Deer Lady."

Reservation Dogs | Season 3 Official Trailer |

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: I'd love to get to know more about each of you and how you got into TV editing.

Patrick Tuck: My parents bought me a mini DV camera when I was in middle school, and my friends and I would make silly videos. I was the only one who wanted to put them together. Then, in college, I was teaching myself how to use editing software and After Effects and stuff like that, while every other student wanted to work on the production side of things. I liked tinkering around with software and computers and stuff. When I graduated, I moved down to LA and had a couple of friends help me get a job at a post-production house called Rock Paper Scissors, where I assistant-edited for several years, doing documentaries, commercial work, and cutting short films and music videos after hours, just trying to get experience and meet more people, get more collaborators.

Eventually, the TV door opened, and I jumped for it and worked on the first season of Dave, then worked on Mo with Netflix. Then, Pat VandenBussche, who had produced on Dave Season 1, was hired to work on Reservation Dogs Season 2. I was already a huge fan of the show. In fact, after watching the hunting episode, [I] messaged Viswanath on Instagram because I liked the editing so much.

I asked Pat to throw my name in the hat, and he did. I hopped on a Zoom call with Sterlin for an interview, and I think it lasted 10 minutes. He told me that he hates doing Zoom interviews. It's hard to tell if someone's good at editing by just talking to them. It's kind of impossible. So he just asked if I liked the show, which was easy because I absolutely loved the first season. I told him what I liked about it, I told him how much I loved the natural pacing and how it could flip between telling a joke to Willie Jack [Paulina Alexis] crying with her father in the middle of the woods.

The interview ended with him saying, "Well, you seem like a normal guy. Fuck it, let's go for it," which I think sounds flippant, but I think it says a lot about Sterlin and how trusting he is in people, and also willing to roll with the punches and see how it works out, because if it didn't work out, he would've found somebody else. But it did work out, and Seasons 2 and 3 were some of my favorite memories of working on a television show. It's been an incredible time.

Varun Viswanath: Tuck, you're selling yourself short. Little Dicky pulled you out of video editing and demanded that you cut Dave for him.

Tuck: Yeah, at Rock Paper Scissors, I was an assistant editor. Like I said, I was cutting music videos on the side, and I got this opportunity where someone recommended me to do a short live-action intro for a Little Dicky music video, which is the music video "Earth." I begged the producers to let me use one of the edit bays so that I would look super legit when he came in and everything. And they did, they were super happy to do it. He came in and really loved my first cut and was just like, "Do you cut TV shows?" I very vaguely said, "Yeah, we cut TV shows here." I had never obviously cut a TV show, but ... He knew. I thought I was being vague or something. I said, "If you bring your TV show here, I have to cut it." He responded with, "I'm asking 'cause I want you to work on my TV show." Miracle moment. So yeah, that's how the door opened for me, for sure.

The cast of 'Reservation Dogs' walking'Reservation Dogs'Credit: Shane Brown/FX

Viswanath: I was born and raised in Bangalore in India. I stayed there until I was in high school. I was just drawn to stage shows when I was young. I was never the person who was like, "I want to be on stage." My thing was always if I saw a performer, I was like, "Oh, let me set the stage for you. Let me fill the seats for you." That was always my instinct, and I loved that. I feel like that is still the thrust of a lot of my motivation to be in entertainment.

That continued on in college. I'd moved to Singapore for college, and in college, I got in with a theater group. Then we all graduated and had regular jobs, but we still had that itch to tell stories and entertain audiences. So I picked up DV cameras. We're like, "Okay, we're going to make short films on the weekends." And, much like Patrick, I was the only one who was tech-curious enough to figure out how to put the right computer cards in and capture the footage. It wasn't until I put clips on a timeline and started playing around with it that I was like, "Oh, this is the specific thing that I really love doing," in manipulating the little details of storytelling and how an audience gets the story.

I really enjoyed that, and it snowballed. Within a few years, we had eight shorts and two super indie features. I was like, "Okay, this is what I want to be doing, this is what I want to be pursuing." I applied to film school, and I got into AFI's editing program. I, sight unseen, packed up my bags and moved across the world to film school and to try and make a career out of it. I went to AFI, it was a two-year program, made tons of friends, and worked with tons of different directors. I was like, "Okay, I can do this. It's not just these few friends that I can work with." I could actually use my skills with a wider group of people.

A lot of my early jobs that I got were alumni recommendations. I assisted on documentaries, I assisted on reality TV shows. I cut at a YouTube channel for a long time and picked up a lot of different shorts and commercials on the side. None of them were particularly high-profile, but feel like I was just trying to figure out, "OK, where's the ladder that I want to climb within the expanse of the industry?"

Again, through friends and alumni recommendations, I got on a TV comedy. That was completely new to me. I'd done dark comedy before and lots of drama, but as soon as I saw, "Oh, wow, I can make unwritten jokes, and it's all of that is in editing." I really enjoyed that, and I enjoyed the banter with other editors on, "How can you make this joke better? What works in it, and what doesn't work in it? And what piece of what thing did you use from what improv to make this better?" I found those conversations so fascinating, and I just wanted to keep doing that.

So I continued to be an assistant editor for a while on TV comedies, and a lot of Comedy Central shows. During this time, I fell in with Yana Gorskaya and Dane McMaster. They now edit What We Do in the Shadows, but I worked with them on a few seasons of TV before that. They gave me the opportunity to cut.

On Shadows, I started as an assistant editor on the pilot, but over the first two seasons, I got editing credits. When Reservation Dogs started, there was an overlapping team. There were a few producers who were the same. It's all in the Taika Waititi umbrella, so that gave us all an in to work on Reservation Dogs.

The Deer Lady standing outside in 'Reservation Dogs'Reservation Dogs'Credit: Shane Brown/FX

NFS: You touched on it, Patrick, about the tone of the show and how it does jump between drama and fantasy and comedy. I'd just love to know how you handle that as editors.

Tuck: Well, I think in terms of handling it, I would say it's more just fun. You know what I mean? It's not even something to handle. For me at least, it's like, "Oh, a different skill to learn, a different genre to experiment with, a different muscle to flex sort of thing." You get to really figure out how you do that thing. Like you said, fantasy. How do I do fantasy, and how does that fit into how this show should do it?

There are these, I want to say the word "boundaries," of how to do certain things. But it's more like guidelines, and then you get to decide where you break those rules and where you don't, where it makes sense to follow them. It's cool to work on a show like this where every creative on it is so familiar with film and television and storytelling in general that you get to exercise all those different muscles of editing.

Viswanath: Yeah, when I think of the most important life skill that I try to develop for myself and I value is versatility. I think the show really lets you really flex that versatility. The show lends itself well to these different tonal shifts because, in the beginning, it sets itself up as a coming-of-age with a bunch of teenagers. We've seen this format before where it's like, oh, most of the time you spend in high school, and it's about who's going out with who and who's not. There are plenty of shows that have done it well.

But right from Episode 2 onwards, Reservation Dogs very specifically says, "That's not the route we're going. We're going to introduce you to all these other characters. All these other characters view the world in a slightly different way. They have a common place where they come from, but they view it in different ways, they've had different experiences and different traumas."

By letting us go into a subset of characters or a specific new character, it naturally opens up that tonal kind of door. You can say, "OK, I'm going into this hallway. Which way do I want to go? Which tones do I want to mix?" I think it really is that in the outlining and writing of the show and the characters, the transitions between tones aren't as hard for us editorially to manage, especially because they get rooted in different characters. The first time we had any thriller-y, slightly horror aspects, that's when we introduced the Deer Lady for the first time.

So you're like, "Oh, this is a new character who gets to have their tone and have their presence, which doesn't have to fit in with the dry comedy amongst teenagers that we set up two episodes before." It really has been a pleasure. But it is a challenge in the sense. You still want to feel like it's rooted in the world. So even in episodes like that where it's a horror, like Tuck, you did a whole crazy drug trip episode last time, in the conversations between people, you find the anchor of like, "Oh, the conversations between these two people here feels very much part of the show, but the events that they're doing it in between can be really zany and out of left field for the show."

So I think the show roots itself in characters and conversations, but then the events and happenings can really explore tone. That's how the show does it, and that's what helps us. We find those touch points to be like, "Okay, this little conversation, that little interaction is where we root it back to the show."

Reservation Dogs | Deer Lady Saves the Day - Season 1 Ep.5 Highlight |

NFS: You mentioned "Deer Lady," and I did want to bring up that specifically because it is such a powerful episode. What were the challenges of doing that edit with the alternate timelines?

Viswanath: "Deer Lady" is such a beast, both as a character and as an episode to cut. It definitely is the most substantial editing work that I have ever done in my career, and it's going to take a very long time for it to be beat. I think the challenges on the "Deer Lady" episode were on multiple levels.

On the first level itself, the story is harrowing. The footage of the fictional recreation of that was just so hard to watch, and I can't even imagine how hard it must've been for people to go through that. When I was doing the editor's cut, it took so much longer to work on it because after watching every take, I'd walk away for 20 minutes.

It took a real long time to get desensitized to the level where you can make the minute decisions like, "Take one of him getting hit in the face is better than take three." To even get there took a while. I [am] really appreciative of the entire team—Patrick [VandenBussche], our post producer, Chris [Castillo], our post supervisor, the composer Mato Wayuhi, the sound supervisor Patrick Hogan, and Danis [Goulet], the director on the episode, and Sterlin, our showrunner, for giving us the time to work on it even though it messed up the schedules of the later episodes. We really took a long time to cut to even get through the harrowing content of the episode.

Then, the second layer was structural. As the script was written, it was written in four big chunks, like here's a bunch of flashbacks, here's a bunch of present, here's a bunch of flashbacks, and here's a bunch of present.

Putting that together, the first time in an editor's cut, we put it together as it was scripted, and showed it to the director, but I immediately had pitches of, "We need to move these around to have a stronger emotional thread between what's happening in the present, what we're choosing to show in the past. We're going to get out of the chronological nature of the flashback of first this happened and that happened, and it has to feel a bit more experiential or stylized a little bit. And it doesn't have to follow the path of she went to the school, this happened and that happened and that happened."

Again, took a really long time on the director's cut, way longer than a half-hour show schedule would ever allow anybody. I thought we'd submitted a pretty compelling director's cut, meaning, "OK, this is great." We've spread out the flashbacks some more. We've moved the chronology of them. We've combined a few scenes into one instead of one big one. Cut out chunks of dialogue. In our show, we definitely slightly overwrite the "life advice" piece of the dialogue. Then in editing, we find the what is the most concise, effective amount of life advice that's being passed on from usually an older generation to a younger generation.

We did a lot of that. When Sterlin got his hands on it, he was like, "OK, I think this can be pushed even more." He said, "Oh, I feel like we need to really root ourselves in the idea that Deer Lady's feeling trauma in these flashbacks. It is affecting her physically, emotionally, and it's unsettling her in the present."

That's about the time when I had a planned two weeks off in the middle of the show, and I handed it over to Patrick while I went away. Then, he took on the last few rounds of restructuring with Sterlin.

A group of girls eating in 'Reservation Dogs''Reservation Dogs'Shane Brown/FX

Tuck: When it was passed over to me, the bones were so good of this episode and clearly had been refined really well. Sterlin said, "Yeah, give it a watch. Just let me know your general thoughts, and then we'll dive in." I loved the cut, but I found that it was very methodical... It felt like once we get to the point where Deer Lady is about to murder the, let's say ...

NFS: Kidnapper?

Tuck: Yeah, let's call him a kidnapper. When she's at his house and he's an old man, we were finding that it felt, not unmotivated because, obviously, the evidence was there to support why this is happening, but it felt like as an audience member, it just took too long to get to that point.

We dove in, and Sterlin had given me the direction of, "Let's make this like Kill Bill, like she's on a mission, she's on her way to do something when she gets interrupted by the Bear situation and her own memories." That's what these flashbacks were happening.

At the same time, I don't know if he stumbled across it or if someone sent him this artist. Her name is Mali Obomsawin, and there are a bunch of cues of hers in the "Deer Lady" episode. He sent me a Spotify link to her latest album and said, "This is really interesting stuff. I wonder if it could work for 'Deer Lady.'"

I was super inspired by that and was just like, "I think she can run the episode, basically." There's a jazzy vibe to it that feels like you're on a mission, but also there's a sadness to her music, and there's a mourning. It felt perfect tonally for the episode.

The episode opens with one of her tracks, and after doing that and showing that to Sterlin, he was like, "Yeah, this is definitely the way we should go." He reached out to her and got some unreleased tracks, and one of those tracks was "There, There," which is the track that plays after she exits the house, which just plays so beautifully as you can see her emotion changing. And played so beautifully by ... Kaniehtiio Horn. You can see the range of her emotions and how she's letting go of this thing in her past to move forward, which is ultimately the point of the episode: to let go but not forget either. And the song just pairs so perfectly with it and takes us off into the end of the episode.

We had that cut, and it was feeling good, and we're like, "Yeah, this is great." I think Viswanath just came back from vacation or a trip. ... He came back, and I said, "Yeah, watch the cut. I think we're going to lock it this week, but, obviously, we need your thoughts."

The cast of teenagers in 'Reservation Dogs''Reservation Dogs'Shane Brown/FX

Viswanath: There was that fishing conversation ... that comes toward the end in the flashback, when Koda (Michael Podemski-Bedard) says, "Oh, do you know what I was thinking of doing? I want to go fishing." There's a little moment of levity between them of we're finding friendship and companionship in this really messed-up situation that we're in. In many ways, it is, to me, like the bones of a strong community come from there, of having gone through something terrible together but being bonded in your experience and the support that you gave each other.

And Danis, the director, had found it hard to find a place for that scene somewhere. It was always written as the conversation's happening right before Koda gets dragged away, "Here's something hopeful, and then we're going to crash it down," which works as a narrative structure. But in the brief structures that it went through, somehow we never could find a place for it.

That's when I had the idea: I think we should end the episode with this as a flashback because we have thrown out the chronology of flashbacks many cuts ago. So what if we end with that scene, and then it gives us an even better reason to cut to Koda's gravestone? And so Patrick cut that in.

Then when we watched it back, I remember, on the sound spot, Sterlin was like, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if there were fishing poles sticking out of her truck in the last shot?" Then we were like, "Let's go to VFX. Let's put some fishing poles on that truck in the last shot." Not a lot of people notice it, but the ones who do, they're like, "Oh my God, there's a fishing pole. She was going fishing in memory of Koda."

I felt like it really helped us earn the shot of his gravestone so much more and keep the episode again about Deer Lady and her memory of Koda, and that was the central theme. So that was my last pitch, which was enthusiastically taken. Now we have an episode.

Tuck: And on top of that, it's also like a farewell to Deer Lady in that sense of before that scene was there, it was like she's mysteriously driving into the woods, and whether to be seen again, we're unsure. Originally, in that scene with Koda at the late-night talks, what we were finding was we were going back and forth too much of the bedside chats, and it felt like we were repeating emotional beats a little bit. We had compacted some of those scenes so that we could get through those sections easier. But as soon as we put it on the end, it became a farewell to Deer Lady. You know where she's going, you know why she's going, and she's dealt with her past. That's, I think, extremely powerful. So it was a great pitch by Viswanath and worked out beautifully.

Viswanath: Yeah. It was the first time Patrick and I worked on something together. I thought it went really, really well. It was really lovely to do that. I've had experience co-editing a lot before because, on the teams that I came up with on What We Do in the Shadows and the shows that I worked on before, we all worked on everything. Everybody worked on everything. We all watched editor's cuts together, assemblies together, split up notes by you take the first third, you take the second third, you take the last.

Then, at the end of the season, you divvy up credits, being like, "OK, I think you guys did more work on those two, so you get credit on that, you get credit on that." But it felt like the whole season came from a single editorial voice or a unified editorial voice. I got a taste of that again, working with Tuck on "Deer Lady."

We also did a little bit of that on the finale that we're working on network notes on right now. So yeah, that was an added bonus for me to work with another editor on an episode.

Tuck: Yeah, totally.

'Reservation Dogs''Reservation Dogs'Shane Brown/FX

NFS: Any other advice?

Viswanath: In terms of advice, and since we've spent so much time talking about "Deer Lady," I actually used this episode at a class that I teach at AFI to talk about rewriting and editing, and to see the evolution of the cut from an editor's cut to a final cut.

I would say my takeaway from that whole process is to tell editors: don't feel restricted by a script or by what was shot and how it was originally intended. If you think beyond those boundaries, if you allow yourself to think beyond those boundaries, you have so many ways of truly making a narrative so much better if you just think about how you can restructure and rewrite in editing because it is really incredibly powerful. And this episode is a testament to it.

Tuck: I think if I were to give any advice, it would be similar to Viswanath's in that when you're editing, your goal shouldn't be to piece the puzzle together. To me, what an editor's job is is to present ideas that haven't been presented in the script or while they were shooting. They're ideas that are inspired by those things. They're inspired by the performances, the cinematography, and everything that goes into it.

But I think the editors are the first audience members. You have to understand that when you're putting scenes together in order to understand how it's making you feel, to know how it's making someone else feel. When I'm editing, I'm just constantly thinking about, "Oh, I need to look away from the timeline, and I need to actually focus on watching the show and understanding how it's making me feel to know where those pacing changes are needed or emotional beats need to be added or taken away even."

On top of that, the editor's job is also to be a creative partner to the showrunners and directors to discuss every aspect of the show, not just the editing. What's been really great about this show is that it's super collaborative, and I've never felt like my opinion wasn't valued. It's always felt like any opinion I've put forth has been really accepted. That has a lot to do with the microcosm of a community that Sterlin has set up with this cast and crew where it's very communal, it's very collaborative and welcoming all at the same time.