If you love to laugh (and, I do) then you are already a fan of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” created by Robin Thede. I am a fan, so when the opportunity presented itself to connect with the talented group of award-winning editors, Stephanie Filo, Taylor Mason, Bradinn French, and Robyn Wilson, I stepped to the proverbial plate and made it happen.
Let’s roll it back and get the facts straight. First, Filo, Mason, French, and Wilson are the first all-African-American editing team to be nominated for an Emmy Award, and to add the cherry to the top of the proverbial desert, they all had the opportunity to bring season 3 of the sketch show to life throughout the post-production process.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” main cast of acclaimed actors include Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black, and Skye Townsend. The show is one of the first sketch comedy series written, produced by, and starring African-American women, and last year editor Stephanie Filo made history by winning an Emmy for her work on season 2, part of the first-ever all-women-of-color editing team to win an Emmy.
This series heavily relies on its comedic impact to keep the audience entertained, scenes flowing, and post-production moving along. The writing for A Black Lady Sketch Show involves a lot of improv but is also very fast-paced and quick-witted which is something the team wanted to reflect in their editing. Their biggest goal was to sprinkle in as many of those off-the-cuff moments as possible while still keeping the intention of the scene the same. In addition, sound plays a huge factor in the comedic timing of the show as well, so the editors focused on going through each cue to make sure it perfectly fit into the timing of that specific scene.
On top of editing all three seasons of “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Filo, Mason, French, and Wilson have also worked on various acclaimed projects like “Total Divas,” “American Horror Story,” and “Dune” and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Here’s what Stephanie Filo, Taylor Mason, Bradinn French, and Robyn Wilson had to share about their work on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show created by Robin Thede.
L.A. SENTINEL: What an editor does vs what people think an editor does.
ROBYN WILSON: Folks don’t think we do anything. They think the director dreams it up, the actors show up, the camera guy shoots it and then it magically appears on TV. We’re like the Post Office. No one knows what’s actually happening in there. What we really are, is the second Director of the film. No one in Hollywood wants us to have that power. But when the footage is wild because of a million different reasons; actors, director, script, weather, and Editors take whatever gets into our editing systems and we craft the story. I’ve seen footage that went from a D-level horror turned into a Grade A comedy. One sketch I was given in A Black Lady Sketch Show was threatened with being cut. I rattled that one tiny pea in my brain around until I found something I thought would work to save it. I’m really proud of what that Sketch became.
TAYLOR MASON: I’ve heard some interesting takes on what people think an editor does. A cousin of mine said that she thought “editors remove bad actors from movies”. A good friend once told me she thought “editors create all the transitions between scenes”. I’ve even heard someone say (with too much confidence) that “an editor’s job is to tell the director where to put shots”. But what I generally hear most of the time is the infamous “you take out all the bad stuff, right?” While some of this isn’t wrong, it’s still pretty far from right.
We [editors] are responsible for assembling the stories you watch in theaters and on your television screens using footage shot by a director and an entire production crew. The position requires an ability to tell stories by manipulating the order, time, position, and performance of said footage on the screen. This includes using dialogue, sound design, and score to help realize those choices. The gestalt of it all is so much more complex than most people think (ie. cousin). Editing is my favorite way to tell stories. It’s technically, creatively, and most times, emotionally challenging but man it feels amazing when it’s done well!
BRADINN FRENCH: What people think an editor does: is cut out the bad parts. But what we actually do is cut out the good parts too. No, I actually just saw a thread about this on Twitter and thought that it was put really succinctly: of the very few people who even have a relative clue what an editor does, they tend to think we are responsible for removing things—what you don’t see—from the original footage. In reality, we’re responsible for what you do see. We don’t remove, we add. We aren’t simply a technical position that takes the creative vision of a filmmaker and whittles it down to something manageable…we are part of the creative filmmaking process and are filmmakers ourselves. Often we are called the second set of writers or the second director. Often we call ourselves that to feel better. We receive countless hours of raw footage and sculpt it into the story that you experience—it’s not just what you see and what you sometimes strategically don’t see that might be revealed to you later on; it’s also what you hear, it’s what you feel emotional, it’s that tension that makes you grip your seat, that release that makes you cry out.
We are responsible for taking the vision of what the writers and the directors wanted a scene, a shot, an entire movie or show to convey, and then making it a tangible reality for a viewer. That perfect swell in sync with those gorgeous shots of two characters who finally see each other again that made you cry, that was the editor crafting that moment. The way you felt physically exhausted from holding your breath while that character fought through a maze underwater just to reach the surface at the very last minute—that was the editor. That jump scare you hate. That was the director. Unless you liked it, and then it was the editor. But most importantly, the viewer shouldn’t even realize we are at work doing these things. The best edits are often invisible to a viewer. Seamless. You shouldn’t even feel like you’re watching material that we crafted to make you feel the way you feel, you just feel it and get lost in it. That’s when we’ve done our job. Outside of the industry, it’s a credit-less job, but that’s also the goal.
STEPHANIE FILO: I believe a lot of times, people think that an editor basically just “takes out the bad bits” of footage (i.e. the footage between takes, bad acting, etc), and then the finished product is seamlessly there. I’ve also worked on some projects where people treat you like you are a button pusher. Both of those ideas couldn’t be more wrong – Editors basically craft the final rewrite of the script. Our job isn’t to simply press a few buttons here and there, but it’s actually to translate the tone and intention of a script to what you see visually on the screen. If it’s an unscripted project, to find the story out of hours of footage and put that together into a cohesive final product. We are responsible for the pacing you feel on screen, conveying various emotional beats, and building out the story sonically as well as through sound design and music (more often than not, Editors build out full temp sound and score on projects which are later used as a tonal guide by sound designers and composers). Editing is a super collaborative job, so we also spend a lot of time discussing scenes and stories, ways to make moments land and feel impactful, and ways to build out the overall project.
LAS: What’s your favorite TV scene edit? What genius inspired you?
RW: I think my edits are a lot of times inspired by a kind of feeling or instinct for a certain rhythm. There are different rhythms to the way different people naturally speak, and different ways you feel the flow of motion in an action sequence. Sometimes, it’s what your eye expects to see next, or what you see and hear, or don’t, that you can play with and manipulate. In Ashy Sunday, since it’s such a journey the main character goes on, it was important to only flow with where she was at any given time. There’s a moment when you swing around her, right before The Lady in Red shows up, but there were also different takes that weren’t as dynamic. But there was just a nice, natural curve (or, curveball.) happening, and that’s the moment when we switch to the new dominant character in the sketch. I mean, The Bad Bitch of Darkness has us dragged to her table after that.
TM: I know there are amazing sequences in television that are profound and thought-provoking. I should probably choose something from The Sopranos, Better Call Saul, or Succession but my heart beats for one scene on television, and that’s the fire drill scene from The Office. I watch it often because it’s like a microcosm of the whole series just wrapped in fake fire and chaos. I would love to cut a smorgasbord scene like this at some point. It’s hysterical and I watch it any time I need cheering up. One of the series directors, Producers, and editor, David Rogers, is definitely an inspiration. I love horror but I’m also a comedy fiend and his work inspires many of the decisions I make in comedy today. I’m a huge fan of Barry Alexander Brown’s work and try to channel his unique voice whenever I’m stuck, creatively. Terilyn Shropshire, ACE, and Kelly Dixon, ACE are awe-inspiring and I’m grateful to them for forging such an important path for Black women.
BF: If we’re talking about my favorite TV edit I’ve ever seen….how could I even pick? What’s your favorite guitar solo ever? I guess that’s probably easy for a lot of people. I think two of my all-time favorite shows are The Wire and Breaking Bad, and it’s no surprise that those are also fantastically edited. I’ve done some deep dives with Kelley Dixon who won an Emmy for editing Breaking Bad about some of her scenes and montages. “The Prison Montage” from Breaking Bad is definitely an all-timer for me. There is not a single frame of wasted real estate there, every frame of every shot leads to perfect execution of the next one while telling a really intricate story that is on a complex timer of sorts, yet depicted so seamlessly. Better Call Saul has some freaking amazing montages as well. Since I’m talking about montages, which are some of the most difficult edits to pull off, The Wire has some of the best season-ending montages I’ve ever experienced. The one from Season 4 in particular that reveals how each of the child characters has fallen into familiar roles—heartbreakingly so at times, absolutely brilliant. Most recently, I’ve been so impressed by the editing on The Bear, especially the frenetic feeling in the kitchen. It’s chaotic, I have no idea what working in a kitchen is like, and at the same time, I am able to follow in the chaos because the editors have managed to capture an emotional truth outside of the breakneck pace and the inside lingo….I feel what these characters feel in that environment and that’s a hell of an accomplishment in those types of scenes.
If we’re talking about my favorite edit I’ve ever done? Whatever the last edit I made is. I get super hyped on every cut, no lie. Editing is 100% the most fun part of filmmaking to me. When people say movie magic, the magic stage happens during the edit. That’s no dismissal of all the other magic that happens on and off set, every single person involved in making a movie or a show has to be performing their own magic to make something great, but we get to execute The Prestige. So every edit is my favorite edit. Well, every edit until I get notes on the edit, and that’s when I think I must be trash. So every edit before another soul ever sees it. Final answer.
SF: This may be an unexpected answer (and yes I know it’s very over the top), but a scene that I’ve watched about a million times is the epic Thanksgiving scene from Season 3 Episode 11 of the original Gossip Girl. There is SO much happening in this 3 and half minute scene and it takes you on several rollercoasters throughout. It’s actually an editing marvel to me because it has the entire cast in it, a single vocal music cue that is sustained through the entire scene, about a dozen reveals, multiple fights, awkward humor, and it builds to a really dramatic conclusion. To break that down, any scene with multiple people in it, especially a giant ensemble cast, is a challenge to edit not only continuity-wise but also in navigating the amounts of screen time, consistent performances, eyelines, and character tension throughout, all while trying to make a coherent scene shine.
The sustained cue is impressive because, even though it is continued for 3 and a half minutes, it ebbs and flows with each plot reveal and doesn’t get lost. Each reveal and fight is surprising and fresh, which is hard to execute editing-wise, and the little awkward humor beats actually help with the scene’s uneasiness. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is a VERY overly dramatic scene, but to be able to pull it off editing-wise is impressive, and the way that the editor was able to pack in multiple storylines cohesively and without losing the audience’s attention is something I find inspiring. Interestingly enough, this scene does what a lot of our scenes in ABLSS need to do – it’s an ensemble cast, each sketch is jam-packed with jokes that need to hit every single time, music acts as its own character in a sense, and each reveal has to hit, every single time.
LAS: If you could edit a classic TV show– what would it be and what’s your spin?
RW: I mean, how far back are we going? The Wire? The Sopranos? I love Lucy? There was an episode of The Wire where the entire dialogue of a scene was centered on a single expletive. That is still one of my favorite scenes. The “Look at the flowers, Lizzy.” scene from The Walking Dead is just brutal. I’m not sure I have a spin necessarily on any shows, new or old. I could just say I’d want to be on the teams to work on things like Breaking Bad, Deadwood, and Westworld. There was a show called Carnivale that came out years ago that was wild. I would have loved to be on that Post Team. It doesn’t really matter what the show is, or which genre it’s labeled. I want to help share a story that pulls at heartstrings, fills you with fear or dread, or makes you cackle with laughter. Whatever show is doing that, I wanna be there
TM: If I could edit a classic tv show, it would have to be Twin Peaks. I love surrealism and anything meta, reflexive, or just plain weird with a message. Honestly, there’s nothing I would spin outside of adding some Black characters to the mix. We’re just as capable of killing sweet and unsuspecting protagonists as the next.
BF: I mean I would kill to have gotten the opportunity to edit on The Wire, but if we really want to reach in the bag…I think it would be a blast to edit on some of the shows I used to be glued to as a kid—Murder, She Wrote. I’ve always had a thing for unraveling mysteries, so to be there with Jessica Fletcher in the whodunit of the week. Please! And give me Quantum Leap too. I mean how much fun would either of those be? I’m kind of picking shows out of a hat here. But it would be interesting to bring a little bit of 21st-century intensity to an early 90s show. Give Murder, She Wrote a little bit of that Mare of Easttown edge. Quantum Leap with technological and psychological ramifications from Black Mirror. I mean, those shows were just as much about the lighthearted fun as they were the sometimes heavy, but it could be interesting to insert some of those more contemporary touches on them and really get my name up on the hate message boards about how Hollywood is destroying everything good from the old days.
SF: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this question. If I could edit a classic TV show with a different spin, I think I’d edit Three’s Company into a horror series. It’s a borderline horror series already if you think about it. Their landlord, Mr. Roper, just comes into their apartment freely whenever he wants to, judging them. He won’t let Jack live in the apartment with two women until they all convince him that Jack is gay. Although we, the audience, know the secret, Mr. Roper doesn’t and spends the entire series mocking Jack. If that show doesn’t already have the makings of a horror series with a social impact spin, I don’t know what does.