Editing: HBO's <I>A Black Lady Sketch Show</I>
Issue: March/April 2022

Editing: HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show

HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show is a narrative series created by executive producer/writer/star Robin Thede. In addition to Thede, the show has a core cast of black women that include Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis, Laci Mosley and Skye Townsend. Like Seasons 1 & 2, Season 3 is comprised of six episodes. Recently, the editorial team of Steph Filo, Robyn Wilson, Taylor Mason and Bradinn French shared insight into their experience working on the show.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves. How did you all come together and meet to work on A Black Lady Sketch Show? 

Steph Filo: “I was a huge fan of Season 1, and a good friend, Daysha Broadway, edited on it and passed my name along to Robin Thede when Season 2 got picked up, and she was looking for an editor to join the team. I went into the interview and we really hit it off, and shortly afterwards I found out I booked the job. Season 2 was such a wonderful experience so I was extra excited to come into Season 3 when I found out that Bradinn and Taylor (who I’ve worked with on prior projects) and Robyn were going to be joining the post team!”

Robyn Wilson: “I’d been a fan of the show since Season 1. So when I got the chance to interview with Robin Thede, mostly I fangirled. I felt like the entire interview was just us socializing. When I got the show, I found out that my friend Taylor was on the show as well. Steph — being the vet from Season 2 — she really made it easy to dive right into the work. And Bradinn, whose work I was already a fan of, was completely supportive.”

Taylor Mason: “I've been in the industry for about 12 years, starting my career as an assistant editor out of AFI. Fortunately, I got the chance to work on a variety of projects in both the television and film space, and was lucky enough to cross paths with some very talented editors, including this amazing ABLSS team! We were hired on Season 3 individually, but the transition was seamless, having already worked with one another on past projects.”

Bradinn French: “I had previously worked with both Daysha Broadway and Steph Filo on several other projects when we were all working in documentaries, and I was a huge fan of what Daysha had done in Season 1, and what Steph and Daysha were doing together in Season 2.  Steph and Daysha — ever the wonderful people they are — spoke with Robin Thede and her team about interviewing with me, and in Season 3, they allowed me the honor of joining this amazing team where we all just had instant chemistry together.”

What’s your dynamic like as a team? Did you divide and conquer when it came to editing for A Black Lady Sketch Show or tackle each aspect together? 

Steph Filo: “Most of the sketches are first-come-first-serve as the footage comes in. We have a grid that lists off each sketch, and as we finish one we will put our name on the next one that is coming in that we can grab. There’s a few that were continuations of storylines from last season that I tackled this time around (‘Interstitials,’ ‘Res-herrection’ and ‘Dr. Hadassah’) since I was returning, but otherwise it’s basically a free game.”

Robyn Wilson: “All the sketches were up for grabs. There’s such a diverse range of genres to pick from. But the best is that if you could get a cut together that made the other three editors laugh, you knew it was going to go over great with Robin.”

Taylor Mason: “The dynamic was pretty collaborative. We each cut sketches as they became available and there was the occasional sketch that would be assigned based on our personal editing styles. For instance, everyone was such a fan of Filo's work on Season 2's ‘Last Sup-her’ that there was no question she would be cutting this season's ‘Res-her-ection,’ which is one of my absolute favorites this year! Season 3's Funeral Ball fell into my lap in part because of my work on Pose the previous year. It was so much fun to approach that genre through a comedic lens this go-round.”

Bradinn French: “I think one of the most critical aspects of this team is how well we collaborated with one another to get the best out of the material. I would send drafts of cuts to Steph all the time and get her feedback on where things were working and where I could make adjustments to really make sketches sing. And we would all do that with each other, pretty much every sketch. We would meet over Evercast or Zoom as often as we all could, and screen material between each other, and it helped form this cohesion both in our work and in our group dynamic. And I can certainly say this is among one of the tightest-knit teams I’ve been a part of, and I think that really shows in the work we did together. I’ve certainly been on teams where you don’t see each other’s work until an episode airs and communication is limited to specific conversations and interactions, but the way this team worked together and communicated with one another was really special, and I think we each valued it.”

What does it mean to you to be a part of such a diverse editing team? 

Robyn Wilson: “On a show like this, I think it’s about how we service the material. When I was just a fan of the show, I recognized my own stories in the sketches, which is why it resonated with me. Working with this amazing editing team, it’s all about how to bring out the best in the sketch.”
Taylor Mason: “It means a great deal to be a part of a diverse editing team. The collaboration was effortless and it was so nice to focus our energy on creating authentic content that reflected our shared experiences.”

Steph Filo: “Post production is a world that is generally very white male-driven, and on a lot of projects, a post team may only have one person who doesn’t fit that mold. That adds pressure because sometimes it feels like you’re the representative for your entire demographic. On those types of projects, it often feels like your voice or perspective isn’t taken seriously, or your ideas may be ignored. So, to work on a show that celebrates every single one of our diverse voices and allows us to be ourselves while telling so many different nuanced stories is a really special feeling. I haven’t worked on a project like this before, but I hope to see many more that celebrate diversity like this one does in the future!”

Bradinn French: “Honestly, it’s a blessing. There are so many offices and companies across the industry where people don’t value diversity beyond a token level, and I’ve been in many situations where having more than two or three editors of color is looked at with either some degree of suspicion over motives, or looked at as a novelty. I’ve even heard it questioned why it would be important to have a team of black voices on a project telling predominantly black stories, and yet it’s rarely thought about when edit teams are entirely made of white editors because that’s mostly been the default. That’s not to say one group is unable to tell the stories of another, but perspective matters and representation matters. I think in the last couple years, that paradigm has started shifting, and I think what we’ll find is that the wealth of new perspectives and new storytellers greatly benefits our industry and benefits what we’re putting out for a very diverse audience. You can already see that happening now on television and in movies and other content, and it’s resulted in some really fantastic new ideas and voices, and it’s amazing working on editing teams where you’re getting that as well.”

How were you able to utilize everyone’s strengths to bring A Black Lady Sketch Show to life? 

Steph Filo: “This is a fantastic team. I think that the thing that keeps all of our sketches strong is the fact that we share our work amongst each other for feedback and ideas. From our first editor’s cut through our notes process, I feel like we’re all kind of talking about different changes and ideas. Sometimes we’ll pass sketches amongst each other to try different takes on music or sound, so it’s a very collaborative and fun process.”

Robyn Wilson: They’re all powerhouse editors. All three of them. What makes them awesome is how generous they all are. So showing cuts, I could get feedback for a VFX style, or a sound effect choice or music bin that would make the cuts really sing. And I’m doing the same for them. Everybody is there to help shape these incredible episodes. And to make Robin laugh.

Taylor Mason: “I mentioned earlier that some sketches were assigned by cutting style, but in most cases, we just relied on one another to really provide honest feedback. There are sketches that resonate with each of us differently and being able to see how each person responds to a particular sketch is extremely helpful. In hindsight, I tended to laugh at just about everything, so not sure how helpful I actually was — sorry team) — but it was still so fun to get to participate in each other’s artistic processes.”

Were there scenes that were more challenging to edit than others? 

Steph Filo: “The hardest scene for me to edit this season is called ‘What Up I’m Three’ — Robin Thede plays a ‘very’ adult-looking three-year-old with a ‘lot’ of improv from all of the characters, and so there was a lot of back and forth in finding the right tone for the sketch. Ultimately, after working through various ideas with Robin, the comedy of this scene lies in the fact that she’s very clearly not three years old, so we injected a ton of extra instances of her character saying ‘What Up I’m Three’ throughout the sketch. I believe in the script it only happens twice, and now she says it about a dozen times throughout. And it really helped to amp up the absurdity of the moment. It became one of my favorite sketches this season because it’s just so silly.”

Robyn Wilson: “One of the sketches I worked on has a recurring character. When it came to shooting the sketch, they didn’t get as much footage as they would have liked. Robin was really loath to cut the sketch entirely, so it needed to be creatively re-imagined. I ended up using footage from a previous season as a tie in. Once that happened, the sketch truly came to life.”

Taylor Mason: “’Track Girl Magic’ was a bit more challenging, only because I couldn’t stop laughing at Robin Thede playing Coach Butler! Each take was hilarious and it was difficult to choose a favorite. I desperately wanted to include it all. Having to leave some gems on the cutting-room floor was tough, but definitely a good problem to have. I'm so thankful for the outtakes.”

Bradinn French: “Every sketch had its own challenges because every sketch is like a short film, with its own world-building and language and genre. And as an editor, you really have to hone in on being authentic to where that sketch lives and making it work in that world, but also making it as funny as possible. I think, for me, one of the most difficult sketches was ‘Snitches Get Cross-Stitches,’ because not only was it the first sketch I cut on the show, but there were so many different dynamics to it. It’s about these women who take all their cues from inspirational quote artwork, but it’s this mixture of midwestern kitschiness, really sharp observational comedy and horror in equal parts. And then there’s an entire twist that sends the entire thing into a new level of hilarious ridiculousness. I really found myself having to experiment with the sound and music and the different rhythms in the sketch to land the right beats in the right places, and I relied a lot on the other editors to let me know where it was working and where it wasn’t landing.”

What editing tools did you use for this season? Do you use any preferred plug-ins?

Steph Filo: “We have been working remotely since Season 2, and we’ve used systems from Remote Picture Labs both times. We cut on Avid, and also used Boris FX, Sapphire and Izotope RX plug-ins heavily. Music is like a character unto itself on this show, and so a lot of focus is put into how we approach music in each sketch as well — music that matches the tone but is also capable of shifting as twists happen in the sketches, as well as playing with music stops and starts to amp up the comedy. This season there’s also a portion of our end of the world interstitial throughline that needed to be an auto tuned voice, and for that, Bradinn was able to run Robin Thede’s voice through a program on his system at home to give it that affected Lady T-Pain vibe.”

Robyn Wilson: “We cut on Avid remotely. Remote Picture Labs are great, BTW. My SFX plug-in goto was Vari-Fi, which slows sounds down, or speeds them up. On ‘Ashy Sunday’ though, I used a touch of reverb to make the Bad Bitch of Darkness sound more demonic.”

Taylor Mason: “I probably used the cymbal roll sound effect more on this show than I have on all my work combined. It's one of my favorite go-to SFX that really helps to emphasize a punchline. I'll have to resist the urge to use it so much on other shows.”

Bradinn French: “I personally got a ton of mileage out of Avid’s AudioSuite plug-ins. We employed a lot of Vari-Fi for comedy. I also do a lot of EQ-ing and D-Verbing to create atmosphere for screenings, even if they end up being re-produced in the mix.  Izotope as well, both RX, but I also used an Izotope tool for separating vocals from music for diegetic needle drops. And I’m always a huge fan of Boris FX in both BCC and Sapphire plug-ins, which certainly got a workout for in-house VFX work.”  

What’s next for each of you? Do any of you have projects coming up that you’re allowed to talk about? 

Steph Filo: “Last year, Taylor and I worked on a limited series called Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and I’m excited for that to come out on Netflix soon. More recently, I’ve been working on History of the World Part 2, which is a follow up to Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1 film — that will also be out this year on Hulu. I also have a feature coming down the pipeline later this year!”

Taylor Mason: “I have a few projects in progress that will be coming out later this year. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which Stephanie and I worked on, will be coming to Netflix, and a Freeform comedy based on comedian Phoebe Robinson's book, ‘Everything's Trash’ that I'm very excited about. I'm also gearing up for some feature work in the fall!”

Bradinn French: “I am currently working on a limited series for Hulu — Washington Black. I also worked on a documentary out now called Ferguson Rises, which explores the immediate and long-term fall out of the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson in 2014. It recently won an award at Tribeca Film Festival and is currently on PBS.”