Editing: HBO's <I>Insecure</I>
Issue: July/August 2020

Editing: HBO's Insecure

LOS ANGELES — HBO’s Insecure returned for its fourth season in mid-April. The show stars Issa Rae as Issa Dee, who struggles to navigate the professional and personal terrain of Los Angeles, along with her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji). Other regulars include Jay Ellis, Natasha Rothwell, Amanda Seales, Kendrick Sampson and Alexander Hodge. In addition to her on-screen role, Rae is also the series’ co-creator.

Season 4 received multiple Emmy nominations in Comedy Series categories, including those for Casting, Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Series, and Single-Camera Picture Editing. The program was also recognized with nominations for Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour) and Music Supervision. 

Editor Nena Erb, ACE (pictured, above), was drawn to the show upon seeing its pilot, and made an effort to get involved in its post production, ultimately coming on-board for Season 3.

“The show was really special in terms of the location that it's set in,” says Erb. “The story, which is focused around Molly and Issa - two best friends trying to navigate their way around LA - is something that I relate to just because I've been there…It was the kind of show that highlighted so many areas in South LA, and it was such a unique location for them to feature. You don't see it a lot. And I identify with that because it's where my family and I immigrated to when we first came to the US, so those neighborhoods always had a really special place in my heart…When I saw it, the pilot, I was like, ‘Wow! This is kind of interesting. South LA's a character in this episode? Let's see what happens next. Season 1 just hooked me. And I was like, ‘OK, if they ever need an editor, I’ve got to figure out what to get in there.’”

Erb was already committed to CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when Season 2 of Insecure came around, but when they called her for Season 3, she jumped at the chance to work on the show.

“I went and had a meeting, and I am so glad they chose me,” she recalls.

Season 4 is comprised of 10 half-hour episodes (earlier seasons spanned eight episodes), and it was Episode 9 — “Low-Key Trying”, directed by Kerry Washington — that was submitted for Emmy consideration.

“That episode, for me anyway, was special because of having to balance comedy and drama at the same time,” says Erb of Episode 9. “And I felt like Kerry Washington did such an amazing job with all the performances. It felt different when I was working on it. When I was watching dailies, I remember getting super choked up at the end, and I don't get emotional when I watch dailies. I try to be very, very objective…I think I had more of an emotional connection with the material of that episode.”

Insecure is shot using an Arri Alexa Mini, and Erb edits on an Avid, working at DNx36 resolution.

“I wouldn't says it was high-rez, but it wasn’t compressed that much,” she says of the files. “That's what we were working with during lockdown to finish up Season 4.”

As previously mentioned, South LA locations appear often, helping to reinforce the show’s setting. Many times they are used for transitions, where imagery of signature locales are underscored with contemporary music. Being a half-hour show, space is tight, but Erb says she will make an effort to work those transition segments in.

“A lot of times we don't have the running time - the space to do that,” she explains. “So for this particular episode, I really fought to protect those transitions, because I felt they are so important.”

She says those who watch closely will also notice a “two” theme, be it with doors or twins. The symbolism is designed to echo the friendship between Issa and Molly.

Erb is able to draw from a vast library of curated music, put together by music supervisor Kier Lehman, who is nominated for an Emmy as well. 

“When I'm cutting, I kind of think about the vibe,” says Erb. “After editing the entire episode, I'll start digging into the music library. (Kier Lehman) sends us like close to 1,000 songs [that are] curated for each season, and we just have to sift through it. Sometimes we find it really quickly. Sometimes it takes a while. Other times I am not able to find what I think works. I always reach out to Kier…and ask him, ‘Hey, do we have a song that does this or [has] this vibe?’ And he usually sends some amazing, amazing songs.”

Final revisions can vary from episode to episode, but for Episode 9, there weren’t many.
“After I spoke with Kerry, she kind of looked at me and said, ’It’s like you got into my head.’ So that went really well. We had to played around with the opening montage the most, because it could be so many different versions.”

The director’s cut then goes to the producers for final approval.