Interview: Tessa Verfuss Talks Editing ‘One Piece’ [Exclusive]

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It’s a great time to be a fan of Eiichiro Oda’s anime and manga masterpiece One Piece. Netflix’s eagerly awaited live-action adaptation releases on August 31, and the streaming giant has been releasing plenty of content to keep fans on the edge of their seats, from images and posters to featurettes.

Nerds & Beyond recently had the opportunity to talk with Tessa Verfuss, editor for the upcoming series.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: Hi, Tessa! Thank you for talking with us about One Piece. Were you at all familiar with the anime before you signed on to do the show?

Tessa Verfuss: Actually, no! There was a lot of buzz around Cape Town that there was this massive show coming in, it’s pretty much the biggest production that’s ever been done in South Africa. The president came to visit the set, that’s how big a deal it is for us. When you hear something that big is coming, obviously you’re gonna be interested whether or not you’re familiar with the IP. And then when I heard it’s pirates, I was like, “Oh, well I’ve done pirates on Black Sails!” Sword fights, that’s totally right up my alley, but this is a bit different from something like Black Sails — a different vibe.

There’s this strong fantasy element, and it’s not dark and twisty, it’s optimistic, joyful, funny, sincere — it’s so heartfelt, and everyone really loves that about One Piece. You couldn’t get much more different when it comes to pirate properties. That was exciting to hear.

Nerds & Beyond: Tonally it’s very different from previous projects that you’ve done — on a day-to-day basis, is that something that changes your process?

Tessa Verfuss: Yes, particularly when there’s something comedic happening because comic timing is so important to how you cut something.

It’s all in those reaction moments. You’re waiting for something to happen in terms of your timing, and you’re very conscious of how to pace anything that’s meant to be funny. With anime and an adaptation of that kind of property, it’s not trying to be serious or realistic. You can use the framing, the rhythm, the pacing to kind of make things a little bit larger than life, a little bit exaggerated. If you’re introducing someone, you get to give them those hero moments or villain moments; you can go to the extreme closeup and it doesn’t have to have this completely naturalistic feel that you would have in a different kind of show.

Nerds & Beyond: You previously were an assistant editor on Monster Hunter, which came from a video game. Is working on adaptations a little different to other shows? Are there aspects that might get hit on the cutting room floor on another production, but make it in an adaptation as a reference or nod for those original fans?

Tessa Verfuss: We are very conscious of it [being an adaptation]. One of our two showrunners, Matt Owens, has a really deep knowledge of the property. That was a huge help. And we also had stacks of manga in the corners of the production office that you could go and flip through, and I watched some of the anime during my research.

You have to be aware of when the show is making the conscious decision to put an Easter egg in or is paying homage to something and make sure it’s in there. Sometimes it’s very subtle, sometimes not. It’s stuff that otherwise could potentially have ended up being glossed over, especially when it’s something that is fast paced overall. There’s a lot of action, things move quickly. We condensed a hell of a lot of story into a small amount of time, to get through as much as we can.

So having someone steering who can say, “Wait, no, there’s something important here,” is great. Our response is always, “Okay, cool. Let’s make sure that the fans get what they need and set things up for the future.”

Nerds & Beyond: Would you say you became a fan through the process of making the show?

Tessa Verfuss: I must say, if anything, it’s the show that we made that I’ve fallen in love with. We’ve got this cast who are so fantastic. Iñaki as Luffy, in particular, you just fall in love with him. Looking at the anime, he can be quite over the top. Especially early on, he’s borderline annoying with how brash his optimism is, and his enthusiasm for everything. And you think, “How can you do this with live action and make this a more realistic character that you would actually root for?”

And that’s where Iñaki just totally nailed it. You genuinely believe that this is a sincere, optimistic, lovable guy with real human emotion behind his motivations. It’s not just a goofy clown character. We’ve got clown characters, that’s a whole thing. But he feels real, and he feels like someone that you would actually want to have in your life — this optimistic cheerleader rooting for you and for the people he cares about.

Nerds & Beyond: It can be really underestimated sometimes how much the editing of a scene can change things, from what was acted out to what we see on the screen. How much footage do you get for a scene? Do you have a lot of options to work with generally?

Tessa Verfuss: Oh, yeah. Pretty much everything is covered with two cameras at the same time. You’ve however many takes, you’ve got choices of angles, choices of performance. In terms of getting those characters to really work you, you are looking through those takes, finding those moments, and choosing your angles. It’s so nice to have the options. I’ve worked on a number of lower budget, smaller scale things for the South African market, and you don’t get that. It’s such a pleasure to come into a show that’s got the money and time to really shoot things beautifully and thoroughly.

It’s playing with those angles. We’ve got these wide-angle lenses that are used throughout the show, and they make these really strong frames, which I’m hoping people feel is a bit more like a comic book style. They really help add weight to certain moments. It’s fun as an editor to be able to go, “Oh, I’ve got this great angle. When am I going to use it? What’s the right moment?”

Nerds & Beyond: Is there anything particular that you would like people to know about this version of One Piece?

Tessa Verfuss: I guess that the people working on it really, really, loved the process, loved the collaboration. We care about the IP. We did have Oda involved and guiding us, helping us make this the best show possible. The crew making this really, really care. I think that’s important, ’cause people get a little jaded about live action — they’re concerned about what an adaptation will be like. But the people on the show want it to be the best for people who love One Piece.

One Piece releases worldwide on August 31, 2023. For news, interviews, and updates on the show, don’t forget to check out Nerds & Beyond!

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