<I>Insecure</I> editor Mark Sadlek on cutting the series finale
Issue: January/February 2022

Insecure editor Mark Sadlek on cutting the series finale

Mark Sadlek is a producer and editor on HBO Max’s Insecure. The show was created by Issa Rae and follows Issa as she navigates her experience as a modern-day Black woman, along with her best friend Molly. The show just wrapped up its fifth and final season on December 26th.

Sadlek has been part of the show’s production from its very beginning, and has edited each season premiere and finale, including the pilot and recent series finale. Here, he shares his experience working on the show and its final scene.

How did you get involved with Insecure?

“I had just finished editing Parks and Recreation, and my agent sent me the script for Insecure. I was instantly intrigued because there were extremely well written, everyday, three-dimensional characters from a part of LA under represented in TV and film. I met with creator Issa Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny, and just wanted to make sure they understood the passion I had to help tell these great stories. Prentice had just finished Brooklyn 99 with Mike Schur and was able to use Mike as a reference for me. I got the call soon after from Issa and Prentice that I was hired.”

What was your editing process and setup?

“I start my edit process by reading the full script a few times and then each scene a few additional times before breaking down the story goals, POV and subtext for each character. I then cut each scene for performance, pace and cutting pattern, and then go back and refine the scene, creating alternate versions of other viable options to screen with the director and EPs later. Once all of the scenes are cut, I put them together for a complete episode and then refine the pacing, performance and pattern based on the episode as a whole. Then I place my initial music choices and go back through the episode again to refine and possibly beat those music choices and edits until time runs out for my editor’s cut. It’s always the last cut, not the final cut.”

What are the advantages of cutting the premieres and finales?

“I think cutting every premiere and finale for Insecure gave me insight into each character’s story and emotional journey at the beginning of the season that, in turn, informed my performance and edit choices throughout the season. I knew what moments needed more emphasis and time, where to reveal more emotion and where to cut time for story points that weren’t as important. All of that information then informed how to bring the characters and story across the finish line in the finale. Additionally, spending so much time in the finale inspired ideas for how to evolve the series in the edit for the following season with editors Nena Erb and Daysha Broadway, who then also brought ideas to the table.”

Can you reflect on cutting the show’s final scene?

“For me, the most important scene at the end of the final episode was Issa helping Molly with her wedding dress after Molly’s wedding. In this scene, a very emotional Molly turns to Issa and thanks her for always being there for her in the past and then explains why. Essentially it’s the final goodbye to the previous version of Molly and Issa’s friendship.

“Initially, I thought I had limited time for this scene before my first pass, so I cut a version a little shorter than I would have wanted. After seeing the first pass, the EPs let me know that we had more time, so I went back and cut the scene three or four more times, adding time and reactions with every pass until it started to feel too long and clunky. I then came back to the previous version that felt the most affecting, and that became the final version. I’m sure Insecure fans would have wanted that scene to continue for another five minutes, but eventually, everything has to come to an end.

“We were so fortunate to have the luxury of additional time in the finale to end all of these stories in the right way.”

What were some of the challenges you faced while working on the series?

“The biggest challenge for me was finding the style template for this new series while cutting the pilot. In the first episode we needed to lock down the right performances for each new character, how to balance the comedy and drama, the right music, the first mirror montage of many, the first fantasy sequence of many, and how to use our LA B-roll to create another character in the series. Like all pilots, it became a process of trial and error from my initial edit through Melina Matsoukas’ director's cut to Issa and Prentice’s producer’s cut and HBO’s final cut. 

“For example, the first string out of Issa’s mirror montage was 45 minutes long, and that was initially cut down to 15 minutes of really funny moments that was then painfully trimmed down to a two-minute version for the editor’s cut. In the end, cutting the pilot was a meritocracy and the best idea ruled until the final cut was greenlit for the series. It was a long road getting there, but it turned out great in the end.

“I’m grateful to have been even a small part in the making of this amazing series. These are universal stories of flawed characters making mistakes, owning those mistakes and growing from them. Like all narratives, it’s about believing in yourself. 

“If you haven’t seen Insecure yet, I highly suggest starting a binge watch tonight.”