The Crown is a Netflix series about England’s royal family from creator Peter Morgan, which tackles the drama and power struggles that have gone on behind the scenes for decades and, more realistically, centuries. Editor Morten Højbjerg sat in a dark room for long periods to cut together the shocking and controversial seventh episode of season four.
The Crown’s fourth season premiered on Netflix in November, delivering another stellar set of episodes praised by audiences and critics alike. Season four covers the family from 1979 to the early 90s, which means topics such as the rise and untimely death of Princess Diana are pivotal moments. Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret features in episode seven, “The Hereditary Principle,” which reveals another royal secret that must stay hidden.
PopAxiom and Morten spoke about becoming an editor, choosing between Helena Bonham Carter’s takes, and editing The Crown episode seven.
He Looks, He Sees, He Reacts
It’s common that people’s origin story in the filmmaking business usually starts with falling in love with film at an early age. From there, it’s a dream waiting to be fulfilled. For Morten, that’s far from his reality. “I’m a country boy,” he laughs then continues, “I’m from the countryside. In my family and upbringing, there was no creative intent or film industry anywhere around. I grew up thinking I was going to be a veterinarian.”
For a long time, Morten admits, “I didn’t even know what editing was or even thought about what it took to make a film.”
“I moved to Copenhagen,” he says, “and by a weird coincidence, I got a job as a runner at a production company. It was back in the day when editing was physical on actual film.”
The company Morten was working for “bought a state-of-the-art machine, the AVID. It was one of the first machines in Denmark. But nobody knew how to use it. It was a brand new technology.”
“I became incredibly fascinated by this machine that let you cut video on a computer,” Morten reveals, “It was mind-blowing.”
Morten’s fascination with the AVID lead to “digging into it by reading the manual. I started cutting little things. Before I knew it, I was cutting commercials for Playstation and car commercials.”
By this point, already a working editor, Morten “applied for film school to learn the theories behind what I was doing.”
After four years at the National Film School Morten, “never looked back.”
“You can cut from a super-wide shot where you can barely see the characters. They’re just tiny moving objects in the back of the frame. And then you cut to a close-up shot, continuing the movement, and your brain knows that this is that person.”
About The Crown
The Crown is an acclaimed show with three seasons of top-quality storytelling under its belt. “When you come in on something like this, that’s such a massive show, and there’s three entire series before it you’re expected to know the show. You have to understand the universe and contribute to that.”
Morten’s work on The Crown featured a lighthouse in the form of a person. “Show-runner Peter Morgan, who is also the writer of most of the episodes, it’s his child. He’s a lighthouse. If you have questions, thoughts, comments, or you’re just in doubt, you can always ask him. He will know. He is The Crown.”
The Crown’s an evolving beast that’s painstakingly taking viewers on a dramatic ride with the royal family. It’s dense and detailed. “It’s incredibly useful,” Morten adds, talking about Peter and his intimate knowledge of the show. “It gives the whole thing a singular feel.”
“Every episode is sort of treated as an independent piece of work,” Morten says, “There’s never a time when an editor works on more than one episode in a season. We live with our episode. I worked on my episode for six months. You’re very much encouraged to treat each episode like a feature film.”
The Crown is a big production that can often make the cogs in the wheel feel small. “You’re part of this big wheel that’s spinning, but you’re also making a special piece.”
Prior to working on The Crown, Morten edited four episodes for the Amazon series Hanna based on the action film from 2011. “From project to project, it takes a bit of time before you completely land in the universe. Coming from Hanna, which is this complete other kind of thing, you jump into this Royal Family thing, and it couldn’t be more different.”
To some, it might sound jarring, but to editors, it’s part of the fun. “But it’s always like that somehow, which is one of the fascinating things about the work. You get to submerge yourself in so many different universes, and then you’re there for a few months, maybe a year. Then you leap out of it and into something else. It’s inspiring. Of course, it’s completely schizophrenic, but I feel fine.”
Helena Bonham Carter, as Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth and the family gut-puncher who likes to call BS, features heavily in “The Hereditary Principle.” Morten has to decide which version of a scene a legend like Carter is better. “Having to choose between cuts is almost impossible. There’s nothing you want to cut out.”
“The first cut is usually much longer,” Morten admits. “They shoot so much, and there’s so much to work with. But you gotta take that chisel and hammer out the sculpture.”
It’s not so strange that “The first cut is bulky,” Morten reveals, “because you want to keep some choices open. You keep it in as long as possible until it has to go because the episode is just too long. If you trim it down to maximum efficiency from the get-go, you risk losing a lot of subtle things.”
“The Hereditary Principle” is a significant episode of season four in a series where every episode feels significant. “It was such a pleasure to be a part of The Crown. Editing scenes, together with those incredible performances, was a wonderful experience. Whether it’s spaceships or bank robberies, it’s always about the character.”
“Sometimes you watch a film, and it brings you back a great feeling, and it’s so surprising. It takes over. It’s so fantastic,” Morten says.
Morten says he’d love to do “something like Joker. It’s one of my favorite films of recent times. I want to do something that has that kind of intensity and authority. Brilliant storytelling. Joaquin Phoenix was just fantastic.”
The life of any filmmaker is never a dull moment. What’s next for Morten? “I’m working on a film in Iceland at the moment. It’s dark and very windy. Apart from that, it’s great. It’s a film based on a real-life incident in the early 20th century about two explorers who get stuck on the ice.”
Did you watch The Crown on Netflix?
Thanks to Morten Højbjerg and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.
Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!