I’m Brad Phelan and over the past year I’ve been cutting together episodes of the series Justice By Any Means. The show is produced by Jupiter Entertainment for TVOne Network and we have recently wrapped the second season. I’ve worked on several true crime docs in the past but this show is definitely one of the most intense shows I’ve ever worked on.
Justice By Any Means is a documentary series about ordinary people who stand up for victims of horrific crimes that go unsolved by detectives. They go above and beyond in their relentless search for retribution – putting their lives on hold, organizing searches, and often times investigating alongside police.
In one episode I edited, a mother and daughter go missing and family members drop everything to find them. After a year long search, they eventually discover their loved ones’ remains buried in a remote shallow grave. In another episode, a mother and her children are held captive and abused for years. It’s up to her to devise their escape and make their way to freedom.
The episodes are told through interviews, narration, host stand-ups, archive material, and around twenty scenes of scripted recreation. For this particular show, I start the edit process by pacing out the interviews and narration to music, giving each story beat its own tone. This serves as a blueprint on how I will put together the recreation scenes. The sound design for each episode is pretty elaborate and I’m constantly adding more to it as I go. I probably spend about as much time assembling sound effects and music to scenes as I do cutting picture. In working with so many layers, Avid’s asymmetric trimming ability has become my best friend.
The field team shoots each scene in a high frame rate, which gives us editors a lot of room to play with speed and emphasize certain beats. Scenes of violence are cut together very frenetically with the use of speed ramps to slam into action hits. Scenes of despair are slowed down to accent the emotion and add weight to the events. We’re also pretty heavy handed with visual effects – using a variety of Boris FX, light leaks, and bold color grading. Each episode has its own set of challenges, but I always feel like I have a ton of tools at my disposal to tell the story effectively and creatively.
These episodes are absolutely some of the most brutal and heartbreaking stories I’ve put together. However, it’s inspirational to me that people are able to overcome trauma and turn their pain into determination for vengeance, becoming heroes on behalf of the victims. It’s been really great to connect my passion for storytelling to powerful stories that matter.
Shout outs to my fellow editors Jamison Stalsworth, Dustin Park, and Steve Pomerantz for their outstanding work on this series as well.