Octavia Spencer in “Truth Be Told”. Photo courtesy of Apple.

Weaving Memories Into a Murder Mystery

Editor Doc Crotzer and showrunner Nichelle Tramble Spellman assembled an unconventional narrative for ‘Truth Be Told.’ By Bob Verini

Octavia Spencer in “Truth Be Told”. Photo courtesy of Apple.

“Truth Be Told,” Apple TV+’s new thriller series, presented a puzzle that its editor/consulting producer Doc Crotzer and executive producer Nichelle Tramble Spellman had to solve together.

“Truth” has podcaster Poppy Parnell (Octavia Spencer) reopening a 20-year-old murder case, not as a linear crime narrative but in a collage of impressions she collects to transmit to listeners.

“By design, the flashbacks are fragmented,” Crotzer explains. “The visuals work like memories…. There are flashbacks, not just to events as they happened, but to different characters’ points of view on how they happened.”

The desire to have the audience right at Poppy’s side every step of the way — an analog to the vast appeal of podcast listening, Spellman believes — led to innumerable possibilities for ordering and rearranging sequences. She recalls “scenes written and shot for episode 1 ended up in episode 8.”

Crotzer speaks emotionally of reviewing footage as it arrives: “You have to stay open to see things that weren’t planned….It’s sort of this living, breathing thing.”

“Doc is wonderful,” Spellman states flatly, remembering her initial promise that if he could explain why he felt something wasn’t working, it was on the table to change. “Once he saw that I trusted him, everything started to fall into place.”

Crotzer returns the compliment, deeming Spellman “such a collaborative showrunner….Very open to new ideas. And even going a step further, because of her attitude and openness, it encourages you as a creative to want to think outside the box.”

He was excited about “finding the show in the edit,” but that approach requires a decisive showrunner who, as he says, “has very clear ideas of what the show is, and communicates them.”

Octavia Spencer in “Truth Be Told”. Photo courtesy of Apple.
“I actually don’t leave the character until they say it’s a wrap. So what I loved — and what helped me to sleep at night — is that Poppy really and truly was inherently about finding out the truth. And possibly righting a wrong. There are a lot of wonderful set pieces, plot things that play out, that I was able to sort of set aside because I know that she was trying to find out the truth … And I loved it, it was always exciting.”
Octavia Spencer
executive producer and star
“Truth Be told”

On “Truth,” that communication began early, when the editors were invited into production confabs and “tone meetings” breaking down each scene’s intent and mood. “It helped them keep the emotional trajectory consistent,” she says, “Not having them isolated was super-helpful. We were all moving in the same direction.”

Moving as one is essential for a complex project with multiple storylines and shuffled chronology. On set or in post, Spellman notes, “you don’t want five different points of view on what we’re trying to accomplish.”

“I really did try to give everybody the freedom to find what it is they were excited about,” Spellman admits. “I realized halfway through the process that people got more excited if they weren’t just painting by numbers, and they got to try something new.”

Something new was needed, she recalls, when episode 7 was bogged down by lengthy but necessary interview scenes. One night Crotzer and producing director Mikkel Norgaard surprised her with a brand new edit.” They had strung together all this great footage, but we don’t actually hear anyone talk.” After she wrote a new voiceover to accompany the sequence, “we got to see it as you would imagine it listening to a podcast…. It was such an elegant solution.”

And that illustrates, as Spellman sees it, the art of collaboration. “You’ve got great directors, great editors. You just want to let people do their thing.”

“Truth Be Told” premieres Dec. 6 on AppleTV+.