<I>A Black Lady Sketch Show</I>: The Emmy-nominated editing team shares insight
Issue: July/August 2021

A Black Lady Sketch Show: The Emmy-nominated editing team shares insight

A Black Lady Sketch Show is an American television sketch comedy show created by Robin Thede for HBO. The show consists of comedic sketches performed by a main cast of Black women comedians. The show debuted in August of 2019, and its episodes run approximatley 30 minutes in length. The show has been renewed for a third season.

A Black Lady Sketch Show is nominated for a number of Emmys, including “Outstanding Writing For A Variety Series”, “Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series”  (Yvette Nicole Brown and Issa Rae), and “Outstanding Variety Sketch Series”. The show is also nominated for “Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Programming” (Daysha Broadway, supervising editor; Stephanie Filo, editor; Jessica Hernández, editor).

Here, the editorial team shares insight into the show’s post production as well as the excitement of being nominated for an Emmy.

What is it like being nominated for the work that you have done on A Black Lady Sketch Show?

Jessica Hernández: “It's been a whirlwind of excitement! The cherry on top was finding out that we are a historic nomination. Three women of color nominated together makes this extremely special.”

Daysha Broadway: “It feels really great! Robin, Lauren and I spent a ton of hours in the edit during Season 1, trying to build what the show would be and how it would feel. I think the show has really found its stride in Season 2 and I’m so grateful to be recognized by our peers. It’s also a very special honor to be nominated with two brilliant Black and Latinx women editors. I don’t think there’s ever been an editing team like us nominated, so it’s a great feeling.”

Stephanie Filo: “It’s a dream come true to be nominated alongside these two incredibly-talented women. To be recognized for our work on a project that I love so much makes it even sweeter! I think I’m still shaking, to be honest.”

Photo: Daysha Broadway

How did you get involved in working on this show?

Jessica: “One of the main reasons I decided to work on A Black Lady Sketch Show was that I was a fan of both the show and comedy in general. I thought it would be nice to work on something happy amidst the pandemic.”

Daysha: “I actually found out right as I was driving away from the interview! I met with Robin, Lauren and Dime Davis, and was really happy to hear they wanted me to work on the show. I really liked the team and I knew it was going to be something special and wanted to be part of it. I had recently done a project for Netflix with Bijan Shams, who cut all of Chapelle Show, and he was watching my edits and teaching me the ropes. So I used a lot of the knowledge he gave me in approaching ABLSS.”

Stephanie: “I interviewed for this show all the way back in 2019 right after Season 1 aired, and I got the call that I booked the gig as I was about to board a plane overseas to see my family. If the call had come even a little bit later I would have had no idea for over a month. It felt like such divine timing, and I remember just being so humbled and thrilled that I got the job. I loved Season 1! COVID hit and delayed the production significantly, and it wasn’t until a year and a half later that this season would actually air, and I don’t think my excitement ever dwindled down in that time. It’s rare that a project would keep someone excited for such a long period of time, but on this project I’m just as excited now as I was when I first met Robin Thede and Lauren Ashley Smith back in 2019. That’s a testament to how special it is.”

Photo: Jessica Hernández

Can you talk about your editing set up? 

Jessica: “I edit on Avid Media Composer and often use Boris FX.”

Daysha: “For ABLSS we used Avid Media Composer with Sapphire and Boris plug-ins, Izotope plug-ins for audio clean up and effects. Because we were working from home, we also used a system that let us remote into computers that were in other offices so that we were all sharing projects on the same server.”

Stephanie: “On A Black Lady Sketch Show, we edited on Avid Media Composer, using Boris FX plug-ins (Sapphire, Continuum), and Izotope plug-ins for audio cleanup. Since we were working remotely, we logged into our systems using RGS, and we conducted all of our screenings and notes sessions on Evercast. Slack was also a great collaboration tool during the process.”

Photo: Stephanie Filo

How do you get started with editing episodes, and how do you find the right takes to fit into the scene?

Jessica: “Watching the dailies and marking my favorite takes is how I begin my process. I tend to lay all the jokes into my assembly and then pull back from there.”

Daysha: “We don’t build the episodes until all of the sketches are cut and the producers have done note passes on them. So the three of us start out by grabbing sketches as the dailies come in and then moving on to the next. When I grab a sketch, I watch everything. Every take and every moment because a lot of times there are gems that weren’t scripted or little looks from a cast member that can help elevate a sketch. I get to know the characters and choose takes based on that. For example, we had Kim Coles in a sketch called, ‘Hear Me Out’ in which she plays a bank teller. Gabrielle, Skye and Ashley come in to rob the bank but for Kim, this is all routine, she gets robbed all the time. So it was about choosing the most unbothered takes from her performances that were also the funniest. Everyone else in the sketch is on red alert and Kim is at like a five.”

Stephanie: “We actually edit and complete all of our sketches and interstitial scenes and notes before we assemble full episodes, so generally sketches are edited on a first-come, first-serve basis for the three of us. When we finish our cut of a sketch, we jump onto the next available sketch. When I sit down in front of a new sketch, I generally watch all of the footage and pull all of my favorite moments that I wanted to make sure got in there — improv, reaction shots, or my favorite takes. Then, I’d sit down to put it together. Sometimes you assemble the full thing with your favorite moments and realize the energy is different on certain takes and you might need to swap something out, so it’s sort of a balancing act to make sure the moments all fit together smoothly. Ultimately, the goal is to pack as many jokes in as possible while also making sure the edits stay smooth and consistent.”

You are working with Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis, to name a few. How do you adapt to their acting styles to get the most out of each scene?

Jessica: “The cast has such great chemistry that I can't claim it's difficult to adapt to their individual acting styles. They work very well together, I'm lucky to have the opportunity to pick the best takes and craft the pace and tone, but I don't have to worry about performances with these ladies!”

Daysha: “Our cast is so amazing. They all bring something different to each sketch, so it’s really about building on their strengths and letting their talent speak for itself in a lot of cases. For example, Robin and Skye really get lost in the characters they play, so you kind of just let their moments breathe. Ashley is my go-to for reaction shots and a run of adlibs at the end of a sketch. Gabrielle is so versatile. She’ll give you everything you need a few different ways in each take. And Laci brought a lot of physical comedy this season, so that was really fun to play with.”

Stephanie: “The whole cast is so talented at their craft, and have a great chemistry on-screen to be able to work with, which makes it so much fun on our end. Each sketch brings different aspects of our cast’s talents to the forefront, so the goal for me was always to try to find moments that showcased what their character in each sketch is bringing to us. I think of projects as their own living organisms sometimes. The footage kind of tells you what it wants to be. Since there is so much improv and physical comedy in the sketches, a lot of times my process would include adding in as many funny moments as possible going back to tweak things and make the continuity work from there. In the sketches that I cut, showcasing each of our actresses’ strengths really punched up the sketches and also made for more memorable moments and quotable lines overall.”

What is your biggest takeaway from working this show and has it changed the way you’ll approach projects in the future?

Jessica: “Since we made this during the height of the pandemic, my biggest takeaway is that it's possible to put out great content under very difficult circumstances.”

Daysha: “I learn a lot with each project and with ABLSS, being able to cut so many different genres has helped me be able to switch gears more easily. I feel like I have a good handle on how I like to cut comedic moments and what will work.”

Stephanie: “We jump from sketch to sketch on this show and usually they are vastly different in tone, genre and style, so I think that working on this show is a great tuner and refresher for all of our varied skill sets. It’s definitely something that brings out all of the toolkits you’ve stored over the years and pushes you to apply different techniques you wouldn’t have thought of previously to tell a story. Being able to do this at such a quick pace really keeps you as fast and equipped as possible to problem solve, and I think that keeps us sharp on other projects as well.”

What are some projects that you have coming up, and can our audience follow you online? 

Jessica: “There are two projects I have in the pipeline. Ava DuVernay's Colin in Black & White, about Colin Kapernick's formative years, will be coming out later this fall. And I'm currently working on another HBO series, Adam McKay's Untitled Lakers Project, due out March 2022.”
Website: jesshernandezeditor.com 
Twitter: @jessfilms
IG: @thatgirljess88

Daysha: “I’ll be working on a project this fall that I can’t talk too much about, but I am very excited! It blends my favorite genres together: fantasy and comedy, so I’m looking forward to getting started on that.”
IG: @daybroadway 

Stephanie: “I’m currently working on a project called Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which will be out on Netflix. It takes a different approach to the story and is packed with some great performances. I can’t wait for you to see it!”