Tag Archives: Emmy Awards

The Emmy-nominated sound editing team’s process on HBO’s Vice Principals

By Jennifer Walden

HBO’s comedy series Vice Principals — starring Danny McBride and Walton Goggins as two rival vice principals of North Jackson High School — really went wild for the Season 2 finale. Since the school’s mascot is a tiger, they hired an actual tiger for graduation day, which wreaked havoc inside the school. (The tiger was part real and part VFX, but you’d never know thanks to the convincing visuals and sound.)

The tiger wasn’t the only source of mayhem. There was gunfire and hostages, a car crash and someone locked in a cage — all in the name of comedy.

George Haddad

Through all the bedlam, it was vital to have clean and clear dialogue. The show’s comedy comes from the jokes that are often ad-libbed and subtle.

Here, Warner Bros. Sound supervising sound editor George Haddad, MPSE, and dialogue/ADR editor Karyn Foster talk about what went into the Emmy-nominated sound editing on the Vice Principals Season 2 finale, “The Union Of The Wizard & The Warrior.”

Of all the episodes in Season 2, why did you choose “The Union of the Wizard & The Warrior” for award consideration?
George Haddad: Personally, this was the funniest episode — whether that’s good for sound or not. They just let loose on this one. For a comedy, it had so many great opportunities for sound effects, walla, loop group, etc. It was the perfect match for award consideration. Even the picture editor said beforehand that this could be the one. Of course, we don’t pay too much attention to its award-potential; we focus on the sound first. But, sure enough, as we went through it, we all agreed that this could be it.

Karyn Foster: This episode was pretty dang large, with the tiger and the chaos that the tiger causes.

In terms of sound, what was your favorite moment in this episode? Why?
Haddad: It was during the middle of the show when the tiger got loose from the cage and created havoc. It’s always great for sound when an animal gets loose. And it was particularly fun because of the great actors involved. This had comedy written all over it. You know no one is going to die, just because the nature of the show. (Actually, the tiger did eat the animal handler, but he kind of deserved it.)

Karyn Foster

I had a lot of fun with the tiger and we definitely cheated reality there. That was a good sound design sequence. We added a lot of kids screaming and adults screaming. The reaction of the teachers was even more scared than the students, so it was funny. It was a perfect storm for sound effects and dialogue.

Foster: My favorite scene was when Lee [Goggins] is on the ground after the tiger mauls his hand and he’s trying to get Neal [McBride] to say, “I love you.” That scene was hysterical.

What was your approach to the tiger sounds?
Haddad: We didn’t have production sound for the tiger, as the handler on-set kept a close watch on the real animal. Then in the VFX, we have the tiger jumping, scratching with its paws, roaring…

I looked into realistic tiger sounds, and they’re not the type of animal you’d think would roar or snarl — sounds we are used to having for a lion. We took some creative license and blended sounds together to make the tiger a little more ferocious, but not too scary. Because, again, it’s a comedy so we needed to find the right balance.

What was the most challenging scene for sound?
Haddad: The entire cast was in this episode, during the graduation ceremony. So you had 500 students and a dozen of the lead cast members. That was pretty full, in terms of sound. We had to make it feel like everyone is panicking at the same time while focusing on the tiger. We had to keep the tension going, but it couldn’t be scary. We had to keep the tone of the comedy going. That’s where the balance was tricky and the mixers did a great job with all the material we gave them. I think they found the right tone for the episode.

Foster: For dialogue, the most challenging scene was when they are in the cafeteria with the tiger. That was a little tough because there are a lot of people talking and there were overlapping lines. Also, it was shot in a practical location, so there was room reflection on the production dialogue.

A comedy series is all about getting a laugh. How do you use sound to enhance the comedy in this series?
Haddad: We take the lead off of Danny McBride. Whatever his character is doing, we’re not going to try to go over the top just because he and his co-stars are brilliant at it. But, we want to add to the comedy. We don’t go cartoonish. We try to keep the sounds in reality but add a little bit of a twist on top of what the characters are already doing so brilliantly on the screen.

Quite frankly, they do most of the work for us and we just sweeten what is going on in the scene. We stay away from any of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon sound effects. It’s not that kind of comedy, but at the same time we will throw a little bit of slapstick in there — whether it’s a character falling or slipping or it’s a gun going off. For the gunshots, I’ll have the bullet ricochet and hit a tree just to add to the comedy that’s already there.

A comedy series is all about the dialogue and the jokes. What are some things you do to help the dialogue come through?
Haddad: The production dialogue was clean overall, and the producers don’t want to change any of the performances, even if a line is a bit noisy. The mixers did a great job in making sure that clarity was king for dialogue. Every single word and every single joke was heard perfectly. Comedy is all about timing.

We were fortunate because we get clean dialogue and we found the right balance of all the students screaming and the sounds of panicking when the tiger created havoc. We wanted to make sure that Danny and his co-stars were heard loud and clear because the comedy starts with them. Vice Principals is a great and natural sounding show for dialogue.

Foster: Vice Principals was a pleasure to work on because the dialogue was in good shape. The editing on this episode wasn’t difficult. The lines went together pretty evenly.

We basically work with what we’ve been given. It’s all been chosen for us and our job is to make it sound smooth. There’s very minimal ADR on the show.

In terms of clarification, we make sure that any lines that really need to be heard are completely separate, so when it gets to the mix stage the mixer can push that line through without having to push everything else.

As far as timing, we don’t make any changes. That’s a big fat no-no for us. The picture editor and showrunners have already decided what they want and where, and we don’t mess with that.

There were a large number of actors present for the graduation ceremony. Was the production sound mixer able to record those people in that environment? Or, was that sound covered in loop?
Haddad: There are so many people in the scene. and that can be challenging to do solely in loop group. We did multiple passes with the actors we had in loop. We also had the excellent sound library here at Warner Bros. Sound. I also captured recordings at my kids’ high school. So we had a lot of resource material to pull from and we were able to build out that scene nicely. What we see on-camera, with the number of students and adults, we were able to represent that through sound.

As for recording at my kids’ high school, I got permission from the principal but, of course, my kids were embarrassed to have their dad at school with his sound equipment. So I tried to stay covert. The microphones were placed up high, in inconspicuous places. I didn’t ask any students to do anything. We were like chameleons — we came and set up our equipment and hit record. I had Røde microphones because they were easy to mount on the wall and easy to hide. One was a Røde VideoMic and the other was their NTG1 microphone. I used a Roland R-26 recorder because it’s portable and I love the quality. It’s great for exterior sounds too because you don’t get a lot of hiss.

We spent a couple hours recording and we were lucky enough to get material to use in the show. I just wanted to catch the natural sound of the school. There are 2,700 students, so it’s an unusually high student population and we were able to capture that. We got lucky when kids walked by laughing or screaming or running to the next class. That was really useful material.

Foster: There was production crowd recorded. For most of the episodes when they had pep rallies and events, there was production crowd recorded. They took the time to record some specific takes. When you’re shooting group on the stage, you’re limited to the number of people you have. You have to do multiple takes to try and mimic that many people.

Can you talk about the tools you couldn’t have done without?
Haddad: This show has a natural sound, so we didn’t use pitch shifting or reverb or other processing like we’d use on a show like Gotham, where we do character vocal treatments.

Foster: I would have to say iZotope RX 6. That tool for a dialogue editor is one that you can’t live without. There were some challenging scenes on Vice Principals, and the production sound mixer Christof Gebert did a really good job of getting the mics in there. The iso-mics were really clean, and that’s unusual these days. The dialogue on the show was pleasant to work on because of that.

What makes this show challenging in terms of dialogue is that it’s a comedy, so there’s a lot of ad-libbing. With ad-libbing, there’s no other takes to choose from. So if there’s a big clunk on a line, you have to make that work. With RX 6, you can minimize the clunk on a line or get rid of it. If those lines are ad-libs, they don’t want to have to loop those. The ad-libbing makes the show great but it also makes the dialogue editing a bit more complicated.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share on Vice Principals?
Haddad: We had a big crew because the show was so busy. I was lucky to get some of the best here at Warner Bros. Sound. They helped to make the show sound great, and we’re all very proud of it. We appreciate our peers selecting Vice Principals for Emmy nomination. That to us was a great feeling, to have all of our hard work pay off with an Emmy nomination.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.

Crafting sound for Emmy-winning Atlanta

By Jennifer Walden

FX Network’s dramedy series Atlanta, which recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour)tells the story of three friends from, well, Atlanta — a local rapper named Paper Boi whose star is on the rise (although the universe seems to be holding him down), his cousin/manager Earn and their head-in-the-clouds friend Darius.

Trevor Gates

Told through vignettes, each episode shows their lives from different perspectives instead of through a running narrative. This provides endless possibilities for creativity. One episode flows through different rooms at a swanky New Year’s party at Drake’s house; another ventures deep into the creepy woods where real animals (not party animals) make things tense.

It’s a playground for sound each week, and MPSE-award-winning supervising sound editor Trevor Gates of Formosa Group and his sound editorial team on Season 2 (aka, Robbin’ Season) got their 2018 Emmy based on the work they did on Episode 6 “Teddy Perkins,” in which Darius goes to pick up a piano from the home of an eccentric recluse but finds there’s more to the transaction than he bargained for.

Here, Gates discusses the episode’s precise use of sound and how the quiet environment was meticulously crafted to reinforce the tension in the story and to add to the awkwardness of the interactions between Darius and Teddy.

There’s very little music in “Teddy Perkins.” The soundtrack is mainly different ambiences and practical effects and Foley. Since the backgrounds play such an important role, can you tell me about the creation of these different ambiences?
Overall, Atlanta doesn’t really have a score. Music is pretty minimal and the only music that you hear is mainly source music — music coming from radios, cell phones or laptops. I think it’s an interesting creative choice by producers Hiro Murai and Donald Glover. In cases like the “Teddy Perkins” episode, we have to be careful with the sounds we choose because we don’t have a big score to hide behind. We have to be articulate with those ambient sounds and with the production dialogue.

Going into “Teddy Perkins,” Hiro (who directed the episode) and I talked about his goals for the sound. We wanted a quiet soundscape and for the house to feel cold and open. So, when we were crafting the sounds that most audience members will perceive as silence or quietness, we had very specific choices to make. We had to craft this moody air inside the house. We had to craft a few sounds for the outside world too because the house is located in a rural area.

There are a few birds but nothing overt, so that it’s not intrusive to the relationship between Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) and Teddy (Donald Glover). We had to be very careful in articulating our sound choices, to hold that quietness that was void of any music while also supporting the creepy, weird, tense dialogue between the two.

Inside the Perkins residence, the first ambience felt cold and almost oppressive. How did you create that tone?
That rumbly, oppressive air was the cold tone we were going for. It wasn’t a layer of tones; it was actually just one sound that I manipulated to be the exact frequency that I wanted for that space. There was a vastness and a claustrophobia to that space, although that sounds contradictory. That cold tone was kind of the hero sound of this episode. It was just one sound, articulately crafted, and supported by sounds from the environment.

There’s a tonal shift from the entryway into the parlor, where Darius and Teddy sit down to discuss the piano (and Teddy is eating that huge, weird egg). In there we have the sound of a clock ticking. I really enjoy using clocks. I like the meter that clocks add to a room.

In Ouija: Origin of Evil, we used the sound of a clock to hold the pace of some scenes. I slowed the clock down to just a tad over a second, and it really makes you lean in to the scene and hold what you perceive as silence. I took a page from that book for Atlanta. As you leave the cold air of the entryway, you enter into this room with a clock ticking and Teddy and Darius are sitting there looking at each other awkwardly over this weird/gross ostrich egg. The sound isn’t distracting or obtrusive; it just makes you lean into the awkwardness.

It was important for us to get the mix for the episode right, to get the right level for the ambiences and tones, so that they are present but not distracting. It had to feel natural. It’s our responsibility to craft things that show the audience what we want them to see, and at the same time we have to suspend their disbelief. That’s what we do as filmmakers; we present the sonic spaces and visual images that traverse that fine line between creativity and realism.

That cold tone plays a more prominent role near the end of the episode, during the murder-suicide scene. It builds the tension until right before Benny pulls the trigger. But there’s another element too there, a musical stinger. Why did you choose to use music at that moment?
What’s important about this season of Atlanta is that Hiro and Donald have a real talent for surrounding themselves with exceptional people — from the picture department to the sound department to the music department and everyone on-set. Through the season it was apparent that this team of exceptional people functioned with extreme togetherness. We had a homogeny about us. It was a bunch of really creative and smart people getting together in a room, creating something amazing.

We had a music department and although there isn’t much music and score, every once in a while we would break a rule that we set for ourselves on Season 2. The picture editor will be in the room with the music department and Hiro, and we’ll all make decisions together. That musical stinger wasn’t my idea exactly; it was a collective decision to use a stinger to drive the moment, to have it build and release at a specific time. I can’t attribute that sound to me only, but to this exceptional team on the show. We would bounce creative ideas off of each other and make decisions as a collective.

The effects in the murder-suicide scene do a great job of tension building. For example, when Teddy leans in on Darius, there’s that great, long floor creak.
Yeah, that was a good creak. It was important for us, throughout this episode, to make specific sound choices in many different areas. There are other episodes in the season that have a lot more sound than this episode, like “Woods,” where Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is getting chased through the woods after he was robbed. Or “Alligator Man,” with the shootout in the cold open. But that wasn’t the case with “Teddy Perkins.”

On this one, we had to make specific choices, like when Teddy leans over and there’s that long, slow creak. We tried to encompass the pace of the scene in one very specific sound, like the sound of the shackles being tightened onto Darius or the movement of the shotgun.

There’s another scene when Darius goes down into the basement, and he’s traveling through this area that he hasn’t been in before. We decided to create a world where he would hear sounds traveling through the space. He walks past a fan and then a water heater kicks on and there is some water gurgling through pipes and the clinking sound of the water heater cooling down. Then we hear Benny’s wheelchair squeak. For me, it’s about finding that one perfect sound that makes that moment. That’s hard to do because it’s not a composition of many sounds. You have one choice to make, and that’s what is going to make that moment special. It’s exciting to find that one sound. Sometimes you go through many choices until you find the right one.

There were great diegetic effects, like Darius spinning the globe, and the sound of the piano going onto the elevator, and the floor needle and the buttons and dings. Did those come from Foley? Custom recordings? Library sounds?
I had a great Foley team on this entire season, led by Foley supervisor Geordy Sincavage. The sounds like the globe spinning came from the Foley team, so that was all custom recorded. The elevator needle moving down was a custom recording from Foley. All of the shackles and handcuffs and gun movements were from Foley.

The piano moving onto the elevator was something that we created from a combination of library effects and Foley sounds. I had sound effects editor David Barbee helping me out on this episode. He gave me some library sounds for the piano and I went in and gave it a little extra love. I accentuated the movement of the piano strings. It was like piano string vocalizations as Darius is moving the piano into the elevator and it goes over the little bumps. I wanted to play up the movements that would add some realism to that moment.

Creating a precise soundtrack is harder than creating a big action soundtrack. Well, there are different sets of challenges for both, but it’s all about being able to tell a story by subtraction. When there’s too much going on, people can feel the details if you start taking things away. “Teddy Perkins” is the case of having an extremely precise soundtrack, and that was successful thanks to the work of the Foley team, my effects editor, and the dialogue editor.

The dialogue editor Jason Dotts is the unsung hero in this because we had to be so careful with the production dialogue track. When you have a big set — this old, creaky house and lots of equipment and crew noise — you have to remove all the extraneous noise that can take you out of the tension between Darius and Teddy. Jason had to go in with a fine-tooth comb and do surgery on the production dialogue just to remove every single small sound in order to get the track super quiet. That production track had to be razor-sharp and presented with extreme care. Then, with extreme care, we had to build the ambiences around it and add great Foley sounds for all the little nuances. Then we had to bake the cake together and have a great mix, a very articulate balance of sounds.

When we were all done, I remember Hiro saying to us that we realized his dream 100%. He alluded to the fact that this was an important episode going into it. I feel like I am a man of my craft and my fingerprint is very important to me, so I am always mindful of how I show my craft to the world. I will always take extreme care and go the extra mile no matter what, but it felt good to have something that was important to Hiro have such a great outcome for our team. The world responded. There were lots of Emmy nominations this year for Atlanta and that was an incredible thing.

Did you have a favorite scene for sound? Why?
It was cool to have something that we needed to craft and present in its entirety. We had to build a motif and there had to be consistency within that motif. It was awesome to build the episode as a whole. Some scenes were a bit different, like down in the basement. That had a different vibe. Then there were fun scenes like moving the piano onto the elevator. Some scenes had production challenges, like the scene with the film projector. Hiro had to shoot that scene with the projector running and that created a lot of extra noise on the production dialogue. So that was challenging from a dialogue editing standpoint and a mix standpoint.

Another challenging scene was when Darius and Teddy are in the “Father Room” of the museum. That was shot early on in the process and Donald wasn’t quite happy with his voice performance in that scene. Overall, Atlanta uses very minimal ADR because we feel that re-recorded performances can really take the magic out of a scene, but Donald wanted to redo that whole scene, and it came out great. It felt natural and I don’t think people realize that Donald’s voice was re-recorded in its entirety for that scene. That was a fun ADR session.

Donald came into the studio and once he got into the recording booth and got into the Teddy Perkins voice he didn’t get out of it until we were completely finished. So as Hiro and Donald are interacting about ideas on the performance, Donald stayed in the Teddy voice completely. He didn’t get out of it for three hours. That was an interesting experience to see Donald’s face as himself and hear Teddy’s voice.

Where there any audio tools that you couldn’t have lived without on this episode?
Not necessarily. This was an organic build and the tools that we used in this were really basic. We used some library sounds and recorded some custom sounds. We just wanted to make sure that we could make this as real and organic as possible. Our tool was to pick the best organic sounds that we could, whether we used source recordings or new recordings.

Of all the episodes in Season 2 of Atlanta, why did you choose “Teddy Perkins” for Emmy consideration?
Each episode had its different challenges. There were lots of different ways to tell the stories since each episode is different. I think that is something that is magical about Atlanta. Some of the episodes that stood out from a sound standpoint were Episode 1 “Alligator Man” with the shootout, and Episode 8 “Woods.” I had considered submitting “Woods” because it’s so surreal once Paper Boi gets into the woods. We created this submergence of sound, like the woods were alive. We took it to another level with the wildlife and used specific wildlife sounds to draw some feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia.

Even an episode like “Champagne Papi,” which seems like one of the most basic from a sound editorial perspective, was actually quite varied. They’re going between different rooms at a party and we had to build spaces of people that felt different but the same in each room. It had to feel like a real space with lots of people, and the different spaces had to feel like it belonged at the same party.

But when it came down to it, I feel like “Teddy Perkins” was special because there wasn’t music to hide behind. We had to do specific and articulate work, and make sharp choices. So it’s not the episode with the most sound but it’s the episode that has the most articulate sound. And we are very proud of how it turned out.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.

Showrunner/EP Robert Carlock talks Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

By Iain Blair

When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt first premiered back in 2015, the sitcom seemed quite shocking — and not just because NBC sold it off to Netflix so quickly. While at the streaming service, it has been a big hit with audiences and critics alike, racking up dozens of industry awards and nominations, including 18 Primetime Emmy nominations.

Robert Carlock

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the sunny comedy with a dark premise stars Ellie Kemper as the title character. She moves to New York City after being rescued from an underground bunker where she and three other women were held captive for 15 years by a doomsday cult leader (Jon Hamm).

Alone in the Big Apple, and armed only with her unbreakable sense of optimism, Kimmy soon forges a new life that includes her colorful landlady Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), her struggling actor roommate (Tituss Burgess) and her socialite employer (Jane Krakowski). The strong cast also boasts recurring talent and A-list guests, such as Tina Fey, Martin Short, Fred Armisen, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris and Lisa Kudrow.

Last year Netflix renewed the show for a final season, with the first six episodes premiering in May 2018.

I recently spoke with Carlock about making the show, the Emmys and the planned movie version.

When Kimmy Schmidt first came out, its premise seemed bizarre and shocking — a young woman who was kidnapped, abused and held captive in an underground bunker. But looking back today, it seems ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right. At the time we felt strongly it was a way to get people talking about things and issues they didn’t necessarily want to talk about, such as how women are really treated in this society. And with the #MeToo movement it’s more timely than ever. Tina would say, “It keeps happening, it’s in the news all the time, and at this level,” and it’s really sad that it’s true. The last two seasons we’ve been dealing more and more with issues like this, and now people really are talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. But we have the added burden of also trying to make it funny.

Is Season 4 definitely the final one?
I think so, and the second half will stream sometime early next year. In the meantime, we’re talking about the movie deal that Netflix wants and what that will entail. We kind of thought about it as, “Let’s give our characters endings since there’s still so much to talk about,” but you also have to bear in mind the topicality of it all in a year or so. So it gave us the luxury of being able to finish the show in a way that felt right, and Season 5 — the second half of Season 4 — will satisfy fans, I think. We’re also very happy that Netflix is so enthusiastic about doing it this way.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, and I love it better than not being in charge. The beauty of TV is that, unlike in movies, and for a variety of reasons, writers get to be in charge. I love the fact that when you’re a showrunner, you get to learn so much about everything, including all the post production. You work with all these really skilled artisans and get to oversee the entire process from start to finish, including picking out what shade of blue the dress should be (laughs). It’s much better than watching other people make all the key decisions.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
The big one is trying to think outside of the writer’s room. You have all that ambition on the page, but then you have to deal with the reality of actually shooting it and making it work. It’s a lot easier to type it than execute it. Then you have to be really objective about what’s working and what isn’t, because you fall in love with what you write. So you have to realize, “Maybe this needs a little insert, or more jokes here to get the point across,” and you have to put that producer hat on — and that can be really tricky. It’s a challenge for sure, but we’ve also been fortunate in having a great crew that’s been with us a while, so there’s that shorthand, and things move quickly on the set and we get a lot done.

Where do you shoot and post?
We do the shooting at the Broadway Stages in Brooklyn, and have all the editing setup there as well. Then we have Tina’s production offices at Columbus Circle, and we do all the sound at Sync Sound in midtown Manhattan.

Do you like the post process?
I love post and the whole process of seeing a script come alive as you edit.  You find ways of telling the story that you maybe didn’t expect.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the big creative challenges of a single-camera show — which ultimately also gives you so many more tools in writing, shooting and editing — is that you don’t get to see rehearsals. So one of the reasons our episodes are going into post and often coming out of post so stuffed with story and jokes is that we don’t get so many opportunities to see exactly what’s making the scene tick. We’re hitting the story, hitting the jokes and hitting the characters too many times, and  a lot of the challenge is scraping all those away. Our episodes come in around the mid-30s often, and we think they live and play best around 26 or 27 minutes. That’s where I think the sweet spot is. So you can feel, “Oh, I love that joke,” but the hard reality is that the scene plays so much better without it.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
I think it’s so important in comedy, and it can totally change the feel of a scene. Jeff Richmond — Tina’s husband and one of our producers — does all the music. He’s also fantastic in the edit. So if I’m not available or Tina isn’t, then he or Sam Means, another producer, can take our edit notes and interpret them. We’ll type up 15 pages on a Director’s Cut, and then we hone the show until it’s a lock for the network, and we go through it all frame by frame.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
Increasingly now, with all the noise and static out there, and so many other good shows, it’s really important. I think it helps cut through the clutter. When you’re working hard on a show like this, with your head down all the time, you don’t really know where you stand sometimes. So to be nominated by your peers means a lot. (Laughs) I wish it didn’t, but we’re small-minded people who only really care about other people’s opinions.

What’s the latest on talk about a movie? Will it be a theatrical release or just Netflix, or both?
That’s a great question. Who knows? We’re in the middle of trying to figure out the budget. I imagined it would be just streaming, but maybe it will be theatrical as well. One thing’s for sure. We won’t be one of those TV shows that gets a whole new cast for the movie version. Lightning struck with our first cast, and we’re not looking to replace anyone.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I can only speak for us, but we like shows where there’s a lot of diversity and different voices, and sometimes we step in a bear trap we didn’t even know was there because we’re trying to write for so many different voices. For us, it just makes sense to embrace diversity, but it’s such a complicated and thorny issue. I’m just glad we’re talking about it more now. It’s what interests us. When Tina and I first sat down to write this, we didn’t want to do something salacious and exploitive. We were thinking about a really startling way to get people talking about gender and class. It’s been a fun challenge.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Kari Skogland — Emmy-nominated director of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Iain Blair

From day one, the stark images of pure white bonnets and blood-red cloaks in The Handmaid’s Tale have come to symbolize one thing — the oppression of women. The Hulu hit series has also come to symbolize that rare moment in pop culture where difficult subject matter and massive artistic ambition cross over into impressive ratings.

In fact, the show — based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian and prescient 1985 novel of the same name — just received 20 Emmy nominations, including eight acting noms and a second nod for best drama series. It reportedly doubled its audience for the Season 2 premiere (as compared to the first season), after becoming the first show from a streaming service to win best drama at the 2017 Emmys.

Many of the most searing episodes, including “Night,” the finale to Season 1, and “Other Women” in Season 2, were directed by the award-winning Kari Skogland. As CEO of Mad Rabbit, which launched in 2016, Skogland produces one-hour dramas for the international market while she continues her work as a director on The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming pilot for Starz’s The Rook. Skogland was included in the 2018 Emmy nominations with recognition of her directing work on the Season 2 episode “After.”

A prolific female director of TV and film, Skogland’s television credits include episodes for the premiere season of Condor (Audience), and such shows as The Borgias and Penny Dreadful (Showtime), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), The Killing, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead (AMC), Under the Dome (CBS), Vikings (History Channel), Power-Starring 50 Cent (Starz), The Americans (FX) and House of Cards and The Punisher (Netflix). Skogland also directed Sons of Liberty (History), a six-part event miniseries for which she won the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) award for Best Director of a Television Miniseries.

As a feature film writer, director and producer, Skogland’s film Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for another six awards, including Best Film.  Additionally, Skogland was recognized by the DGC as Best Director. Her previous film as director, writer and producer was The Stone Angel, starring Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Page. It was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer by WGC as well as Best Screenplay and Best Actress. It also won a Best Film award from the DGC.

I recently spoke with Skogland — the only female nominated in the best directing drama category at this year’s Emmys — about the show, her workflow and mentoring other women.

Why do you think the show’s caught the public’s imagination so much?
I think it’s rooted in many things, one of them being a cautionary tale. Another would be these compelling performances that engage you in the story in an emotional context and a narrative that has the possibility of actually coming true, especially given what we’re seeing on the news all the time now. It’s a weird perfect storm where today’s political climate and this show sort of merge.

I recently read something where Margaret Atwood, who wrote it over 30 years ago, says that everything has happened. It was fiction, but it has happened somewhere in the world since she wrote it, and it’s happening today. So I think the authenticity of the characters and the performances, even more than the events, is what really drives it even further into being so incredibly watchable.

Every character is so complex.
Exactly. You love to hate Serena Joy, but then there are moments where you really feel for her in ways you can’t predict. So your emotional barometer is going up and down.

Fair to say that Atwood’s book and its themes seem more timely than ever?
Definitely. Not only is it very timely now, but it was probably very timely when it first came out too, which makes it even more interesting when you think about progress. Are we really on a treadmill? Have we really moved the political needle at all? It doesn’t seem that different from when she wrote it, when Reagan and the rise of conservatism in America were making headlines.

Have you started Season 3?
Not yet. It’ll probably start filming in September. They’ve asked me to come back, but they don’t have a schedule yet.

Kari Skogland on set

What are the big challenges of directing this show?
First of all, you have to be very aware of all of it. When I did the Season 1 finale, I had to watch everything very carefully up until that point so I could continue the emotional story. It was the same thing for Season 2. They’re very challenging performance pieces for everyone, and you have to maintain that sense of continuity and trust. You have to really plan for the season’s arc for each character, and someone like Lizzie [Moss] is so collaborative. But it’s also this path of discovery, where you want to capture the inspiration of the moment.

Where do you post?
We shoot in Toronto and do all the post at Take 5 Productions there. I’ve known and worked with them for years — they’ve won so many awards for their great work. They do all the editing and finishing.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and with a show like this it’s where you can combine the plan you went into post with, along with those happy accidents and inspired moments, and see the scene or episode come alive in ways you didn’t expect. I always think of it as a way to re-direct the episode. Post is always full of surprises.

Talk about editing. Didn’t you start off as an editor?
Yes, and I am really involved in the edit. I always want to have two options in post. I don’t want to be handcuffed by any decisions made on the set. I need to be able to re-sculpt the footage and rediscover stuff as we go.

You have a big cast, and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the things I really like to avoid is what I call “ping-pong” editing, and doing lazy coverage of a scene where it’s so predictable — there’s the closeup, there’s the wide shot, there’s another closeup!  I always want coverage that actually eliminates edits. The goal is to not interrupt the flow by jumping all over the place. With that in mind, I try and shoot with the idea of “the elegant accident,” and that means you sometimes shoot a lot of extra footage so you can find the gold and the gems as you re-sculpt in post. It’s like documentary filmmaking in that sense, and those gems happen in the oddest of moments.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music.
The show’s creator, Bruce Miller, is very really instrumental in all that, but we’re all involved too. For episode eight, Joe Fiennes came up with the idea of a record player, and then we built this whole storyline around the record player. The wonderful thing about Bruce’s writing and his aesthetic is that it’s so spare, so it leaves such great opportunities for performance. The actors can convey a lot without any words.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
It’s incredibly important! When your peers nominate you it’s a real nod from industry professionals, and it indicates tremendous appreciation.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I’ve been advocating for women for years, and the truth is, nothing’s really changed that much. There’s been so much talk recently, and it was the same thing 20 years ago. One female director had a big hit with Wonder Woman, but real change will only come when half the superhero movies are directed by women.

What advice would you give young women who would like to direct and run shows like this?
Not only can you do it — just do it! Obviously, it’s hard and there are many sacrifices you have to make, but don’t take “no” for an answer.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Creator Justin Simien talks Netflix’s Dear White People

By Iain Blair

The TV graveyard is bursting at the seams with failed adaptations of hit movies. But there are rare exceptions, such as Netflix’s acclaimed hit comedy Dear White People, which creator Justin Simien adapted from his 2014 indie movie of the same name. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. Simien went on to also win Best First Screenplay and a nomination for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Justin Simien (Photo by Rick Proctor).

Now a series on Netflix and enjoying its second season (it was just picked up for its third!), this college dramedy is set at Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League college, where racial tensions bubble just below the surface. It stars a large, charismatic ensemble cast (most of whom appeared in the film) that includes Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Marque Richardson and Giancarlo Esposito (as the narrator), dealing with such timely and timeless issues as racism, inclusion, social injustice, politics, abortion, body image, cultural bias, political correctness (or lack thereof), activism and, of course, romance in the millennial age.

Through an absurdist lens, Dear White People uses sharp, quick-fire dialogue, biting irony, self-deprecation and brutal honesty to hold up a mirror to some of the problems plaguing society today. It also makes the medicine go down easy by leading with big laughs.

The show is also a master class in how to successfully make that tricky transition from the big to small screen, and tellingly it has retained a coveted and rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for both seasons (take note, Emmy voters!).

I recently spoke with Simien about making the show, the changing TV landscape, the Emmys and his next movie.

The TV landscape is full of the corpses of failed movie adaptations. How did you avoid that fate when you adapted your film for TV?
(Laughs) You’re so right. Movies often don’t translate very well to TV, but I felt my film was in the great tradition of multi-protagonist ensemble films I love so much. I also felt that in the confines of 90 minutes or so, you can never really truly get into the hearts of all the characters. By the end, the audience wanted more from them, so it lent itself to the longer format. And I felt it would be much more interesting than the typical show if we [borrowed] a bit of that cinematic tradition — like films by Robert Altman and Spike Lee — where you really get a strong point-of-view and multiple stories are carefully woven together, and then apply it to TV.

It seems that in many ways, the film’s concerns and issues work even better in an extended TV series. What were the big themes you wanted to explore?
As with the film, it’s really a conversation about identity and self, and the roles that you play in society. We all do it in order to navigate society, but for people of color, those identities have been chosen for them, so it often takes us a lot longer to get to the heart of who we really are and what the self is. We’re taught from a very early age to always be aware that you’re different, and that people see you differently. We deal with all that through comedy and satire. It has a lot on its mind.

Where do you shoot?
All in LA. Most of the interiors are done at Tamarack Studios in Sun Valley, and then we shoot our exteriors at UCLA and at a former school in Alhambra.

Do you direct a lot of the episodes?
I direct some. I did three in the first season, and four in the second, but since I run the show along with Yvette Lee Bowser, I’m just too busy to direct them all. So I handpick other directors who come in, such as Barry Jenkins, Charlie McDowell, Tina Mabry and others. But they don’t come into this world to paint by numbers. It’s more a case of them riffing off of what I did, like a jazz musician. It’s a very cohesive and collaborative process, and I’m very involved in all the episodes.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, but to be honest I like directing and writing more. The storytelling is the part of the gig that I’m in it for. But it is satisfying to run the larger operation and work closely with all these fantastic writers, directors and actors, and creating this environment where they can all do their best work.

Where do you post?
All at Tamarack, and it’s very convenient since it’s important for me to be able to bounce between the set and the edit bay on each episode. We did all the sound at Warners, and the DI at Universal with colorist Scott Gregory.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because it’s where you figure out if what you shot really works, and it’s your last chance to write the show. It’s the final rewrite, and a chance to fix the things that don’t work, so it’s scary and challenging. Post is also where you get to see the arc of the whole season and see all the episodes as like a five-hour movie. It’s where I get to apply all my final ideas. When I’m writing the show, we’re in a process of discovery, and it’s not until post that you really get a sense of how the beginning fits with the end, and that what you’re trying to say is there and working.

Justin Simien

Can you talk about the editing? You have several editors on the show, yes?
We use two editors per season. Phil Bartell, who cut the film for me, is always one of them. Steve Edwards was the other one on Season 1, and Omar Hassan-Reep was on Season 2. Post schedules are so jammed in TV that using two editors helps speed it all up. We allot a certain amount of time for each episode, so I can spend time with it. Same with the director and the editor.

You have a big cast and a lot of storylines. What are the big editing challenges?
The big one is that none of the show is turnkey. Directors don’t paint by numbers and the scripts are not written to any kind of format or formula — other than we stay with one point of view at a time. So that means that editing each episode is like editing its own mini-movie. One episode is film noir, another’s about mushrooms and hallucinations, so each one requires different styles, techniques, and different approaches work for different points of view. Each time we have to reinvent the wheel.

VFX play a big role in some episodes. Can you talk about working on them?
There’s far more than normal for a show like this, and mostly because social media is such an integral part of the characters’ lives. So we really try and use all that in a cinematic way and give you the feeling of what they’re going through instead of just cutting to the cell phone or computer every time. We really work hard to integrate all that.

Ingenuity does all the overlay VFX and it can take a while to figure it all out and get it right.

Unlike movies, sound in television has arguably always played second fiddle to the images, but this has a great score by Kris Bowers and great sound design. Please talk about the importance of sound and music to you.
Sound in movies has always gotten more attention, but TV’s changing and getting more cinematic. Music is so important to me, and I make sure the score isn’t just filler or interstitial — it has to be able to operate independently of the visuals, like it does with the movies of my favorite filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick. It’s not just supplemental, and Kris is brilliant — just as adept at jazz as classical — and we have recurring themes and motifs and thematic hooks, and it’s very multi-layered.

How important are the Emmys to a show like this?
Very. We live in a world where there’s so much to watch now, and I don’t think there’s anything like it out there. But it can take effort to get people to watch and give the show and the characters a shot. So the Emmys can really help shine a light.

What’s next?
I’ll be directing my second film, which I wrote and is titled Bad Hair. It’s a horror satire that’s set in the late ‘80s about an ambitious young woman who wants to be a DJ but who doesn’t have the right look, so she gets a weave that may or may not have a mind of its own. I’m casting right now and hope to start shooting this summer.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Broadway Video’s Sue Pelino and team win Emmy

Sue Pelino and the sound mixing team at New York City’s Broadway Video have won the Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series Or Special for their work on the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony that aired on HBO in April. Pelino served as re-recording mixer on the project.

Says Pelino, who is VP of audio post production at Broadway Video, “Our goal in preparing the televised package was to capture the true essence of the night. We wanted viewers to experience the energy and feel as if they were sitting in the tenth row of the Barclays Center. It’s a remarkable feeling to know that we have achieved that goal.”

Pelino is already the proud owner of two Emmy awards and has nine nominations under her belt. Her career as an audio post production engineer rests on her early years playing guitar in rock bands and recording original songs in her home studio.

Additional members of the winning sound team for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony — produced by HBO entertainment in association with Playtone, Line by Line Productions, Alex Coletti Productions and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation — include Al Centrella, John Harris, Dave Natale, Jay Vicari, Erik Von Ranson and Simon Welch.

Editor Josh Beal on Netflix’s ‘Bloodline’

By Randi Altman

Looks are deceiving, and that familiar saying is at the heart of Netflix’s dramatic series Bloodline. The show focuses on the Rayburns, a respected family that runs a popular and long-standing beachfront hotel in the Florida Keys.

On the surface, they are pillars of the community and a perfect family, but when you dig below the surface they are a mess — long-standing family secrets, a black sheep with a criminal record, drug use, alcoholism. It’s all there.

Josh

Josh Beal at his stand-up desk.

So, if you are into intrigue, drug cartels, paranoia, gorgeous scenery and damn-good acting (Kyle Chandler was just nominated for a Lead Actor Emmy for his role as John, and Ben Mendelsohn got a nod for Supporting Actor for his role as Danny), the show’s first two seasons are available now for streaming.

Josh Beal joined the editing team of Bloodline around Episode 7 of Season 1 as the show’s only LA-based editor. The other three were in New York — Aaron Kuhn, Deborah Moran and Naomi Geraghty — working with East Coast-based show producers Daniel Zelman and Todd Kessler. Beal, at the time based at the Sony lot in Culver City, worked closely with producer Glenn Kessler, who was headquartered in Los Angeles.

Coming into Season 2, Glenn Kessler was the one who was going to be driving the episodes through editorial, so they moved the whole thing to LA. While Beal hesitates to be called the show’s main editor, he was the first one on and did cut the majority of episodes for Season 2, which is shot on a Sony F55 camera in 4K by DP Jaime Reynoso.

I reached out to editing veteran Beal, who uses the Avid Media Composer, to find out more about his process and the show’s workflow.

How many episodes would you say you cut for the second season?
I’m credited with four, but Bloodline is a unique show in that all of the editors — Lynne Willingham, Louise Innes, Sue Blainey and Michelle Tesoro — may end up working to some extent on episodes where they don’t get final credit. I’m credited as the primary editor on the second season’s last episode, but the other editors helped me out with it. That’s usually due to issues surrounding scheduling and the workload.

When did you start getting footage?
We received footage as soon as they started shooting. If they were shooting today I would be getting footage tomorrow morning, and it would just go like that through the production.

Camera files were uploaded to Sony’s 24p Dailies Lab from the shoot in Florida. The Avid media was then copied to a portable hard drive and delivered to our assistant editors each morning by our post assistant. Our assistant editors would then load the media onto our Avid ISIS and prep scenes for the editors.

Can you talk us through your workflow?
It followed a pretty typical workflow for episodic television. I would try to stay close to camera with the dailies and cut scenes as they were shot. Then I had a couple of days to put together my cut of the episode, which I would present to the director. The director would then get four days for the director’s cut, which would then be shown to producers. The producers then shared their cut with Sony and Netflix.

Often, in my case, the distinction between what was director cut and producer cut would start to break down because the majority of the episodes that I worked on for Season 2 were directed by one of the producers, with the exception of one. The typical division between those phases of the edit ceased to really apply and it all sort of became a long director’s cut, which was actually really great creatively to have that continuity.

The direction and feel of the show was established during season one. Can you talk about that?
One of the defining characteristics of the mood in Bloodline is a voyeuristic feel to the way a scene might be covered, and therefore the way a scene would be put together.

Sometimes there are behind-the-bushes kind of a shots that might pop up of in the middle of the scene in a way that is a little atypical. It gives the viewer a sense that they are always being watched, which is especially applicable thematically for Season 2. It heightens the sense of paranoia and unease. So editing-wise, it’s about finding a way to use that material and maximize that feeling while at the same time keeping the audience in the character’s perspective, keeping them in the scene.

As Season 2 progresses, John Rayburn’s world starts falling apart — you could feel his desperation. How did you handle that from an editing perspective?
At that stage, it’s trying to stay rooted in a character’s perspective and leaning into it and finding performance. Any decisions that you are making in terms of shot selection begin and end in large part with performance.

For example, with Kyle Chandler (John), I thought he was doing incredible work. Sometimes it was just about getting out of his way; it’s about watching the performance and trying to make that work first. It’s not so much a visual thing.

You edited the show on Media Composer. Do you use the script tool to help pick different takes?
I did for the first season, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable with that tool. I did something else to help me with me with the sorts of problems that ScriptSync is intended to solve.

Can you talk about that a bit?
One of the challenges with it is you’ll have exceptionally long dialogue scenes. For example, two people sitting in an interrogation room speaking to one another. That kind of scene offers very few visual cues as to where you are within the text of the scene, and this is often what an editor might be going off of when looking for a specific line. If you want to audition line readings, especially when you are working with the producer in the room, you are frequently going off of these visual cues, but you don’t have many when it’s just people at a table.

My solution was every time someone spoke in the script, I’d put a number next to that chunk of dialogue. If a character’s name was mentioned for dialogue within the script it got a number. Then I would put a locator in my clip at that point — “L01, L02, L03 — all the way through the script. Then I would throw all the clips into a KEM roll in the Avid and sort that by the marker name in the marker window. I can also make notes as to whether or not I like a given reading over another. I can just see it listed in my description of it.

In fact, KZK (producers Glenn, Daniel and Todd) do something that I don’t often run into on other shows. They will write alternative lines into the script, and they’ll shoot it both ways. Then the decision gets made later as to which way it’s going to go in editorial.

Season 2 has a ton of flashback sequences. Did you have to tackle that in a different way?
One of the things that I appreciate about the way that flashbacks are handled on Bloodline is that they don’t talk down to the audience. We aren’t throwing some sepia tone effect on the flashbacks. There aren’t any flashy visual transitions in and out of the flashbacks. We are assuming that the audience will know pretty quickly where they are at within the timeline based on context.

In watching Bloodline, it almost seems sweat and alcohol play characters on the show.
Yes, it’s deeply threaded throughout the world created for the show. The sweat, I suspect, is simply unavoidable when it comes to shooting in the Keys. It is an element, however, that really helps sell the sense of place. It feels real because it is. It’s part of the atmosphere and is also something that perfectly dovetails into John and his siblings’ growing feelings of stress and dread.

The drinking was something that came up in conversation with producers and directors when we were chatting in the cutting room. All reports I heard are that indeed there’s a real drinking culture down there.  It’s just another detail I think that adds to the strong sense of place the show excels at presenting.

Is there a particular scene that stands out to you as more challenging than others?
In Season 2, there is an episode where (Rayburn siblings) Kevin and Meg were being interrogated again by (police officer) Marco. They are very long scenes, just back and forth between Kevin and Marco and then between Meg and Marco.

The audience thinks that Kevin is going to blow it and that Meg has her shit together, but she is the one that steps in it and puts everything at risk. I really liked those sequences, but they are hard to cut because it’s just two people in a room talking and yet the scenes had to have a shape. They had to twist and turn based on subtleties of performance. I often find those to be among the more challenging scenes because they can begin in a very unruly state and it’ll take time to carve them out just right.

When Glenn first saw those scenes he wanted to put a slightly different emphasis and rhythm to some of the performance — a slightly different intent to come across in the interaction between the characters. These were scenes that we worked on and modified quite a bit for the better as we went along.

Do you have a general philosophy about editing?
I guess my philosophy is not to get lost in the weeds, and try to keep perspective on the story. Try to always keep the big picture in mind, because there is all the minutia of editing. How can I get this cut to match? Or, how can I cut out this section that I’m being asked to remove without making the whole thing seem clunky? That type of thing is important but it can’t be the only way you look at the cut.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new show starring Pierce Brosnan based on a novel called The Son. It’ll air on AMC next year. It’s like a great American history lesson that follows a South Texas family over the course of multiple generations. It begins with the story of the family patriarch who builds a financial empire first in the cattle industry and later in oil. The storyline goes all the way up to the present.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to emphasize how collaborative Bloodline was. Lynne and Louise and the other editors on the show are phenomenally talented. I was honored to be among them. I learned a lot working with them. That collaboration, for me, is one of the high points of working on the series. I’ve worked on shows where I hardly ever talked to the other editors, but we got to talk shop and bounce ideas off each other a bit. That was a really fun part of the show for me.

Kabir Akhtar: Editing The CW series ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

By Randi Altman

When Kabir Akhtar, ACE, who cut season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, got the itch to start editing, he didn’t even know that what he was doing was actually editing… he was just having some fun. In high school, Akhtar would use his computer, multiple tape decks and stereos to record and mix different songs, creating mash-ups, remixes and even musical voicemail messages. An editor was born!

After moving out to LA and paying his dues working on unscripted and music video shows, Akhtar went on to earn one Emmy nomination for editing the Billy Crystal opening sequence from the 2012 Academy Awards broadcast and another (along with frequent collaborator AJ Dickerson) for his work on Netflix’s Arrested Development in 2013.

With an editing resume that now also includes New Girl, The Daily Show and Behind the Music, Akhtar took on directing (the pilot episode of the MTV series 8th & Ocean, Unsolved Mysteries, the Billy Crystal/Melissa McCarthy opening for the 2012 Oscars, and the TV Diaries pilot for Fox) and garnered an associate producer title on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This Penn graduate, who went on to film school at the University of Miami, knew all along that he wanted to work in scripted television. “I moved out here to get involved in narrative filmmaking and storytelling, and I felt very strongly that until I got a job doing that, I wasn’t going to stay at another job very long.”

Akhtar also knew he didn’t want to do the same job for years at a time. He was young and wanted to have different experiences that allowed him to meet different people. “I think I intentionally avoided having a steady gig for a very long time because as I moved from one job to another, I continued to build a network of contacts and people that I liked working with. I got more experience and more credits, which I think served me well in those early years. Others like the financial security that comes with having a steady job. I know my path is not for everybody.”

Akhtar still works freelance, too. In fact, while on hiatus from The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he cut the pilot for Speechless for ABC, which just got picked up.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Akhtar and find out more about what led him to this quirky TV series, which is a one-hour musical comedy.

When did you get involved on the show, and what’s your workflow like?
I edited the pilot, which was a half-hour show, in the fall of 2014. We thought we made a great show, but Showtime passed. The good news was it was shopped around to other networks and got a pick-up at The CW. They turned it into a one-hour show, which was such a unique thing because nobody was making a one-hour musical comedy.

You have cut traditional half-hour comedies in the past, how was this different?
When the show became a one-hour, it gave us the opportunity to do more dramatic storytelling in addition to the comedy. In half-hours, you’re moving really fast to try to tell a story and land jokes, but with a one-hour you have time to dig into supporting characters’ stories and have more built-out emotional scenes. We can take the time to land emotions instead of just being in a race to get X number of jokes out every minute.

How does that affect the way that you edit? Do you let a reaction go a little bit longer? Do you let a joke sit longer?
The thing that helps the most is that our writers don’t overwrite the show. My first cut will usually only be a few minutes over, and at the end we’re rarely stuck with a show that’s more than a minute over, which is great. It’s the worst when you get a show down to the end, to a deadline, and you’re still 30 seconds over and you have to take out a joke that everybody likes.

Doing Arrested Development for Netflix, we didn’t have those parameters. With a network show, you have to deliver a show exactly to time, but for Netflix (like some cable networks), we didn’t have to hit a specific runtime per episode, so we never had to lose a joke or a story point “for time.”

Kabir Akhtar and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom the day after she won her Golden Globe.

How much footage do you have for one episode?
For each one-hour episode, we shoot seven days. That includes two or three musical numbers, which are essentially music videos. Like all scripted shows, we have one day of editing for every day of footage that comes in, plus another two or three days to get a first cut together (but with us it’s typically been two).

Because we’re a one-hour show, the directors come in after my first cut, and they get four days. We work with our producers, and then we go to the studio, then to the network, then we lock the show.

What about cutting the musical numbers?
I switched to a standing desk a few years ago, and that makes it a lot easier to cut music, because I will inevitably end up dancing along as I’m cutting. I’m convinced that it helps. I started my career cutting so much music, so I’ve always loved doing it. To have the opportunity to be cutting musical numbers, comedy scenes and some dramatic scenes for one show is so much fun.

Would you like to share your philosophy of editing?
Attitude-wise, it’s about protecting the show, I really believe that’s job one.

What about technically?
I have a workflow that I believe is different than most editors. I think many editors do a first cut of each scene as it comes in. Then, at the end of dailies, they glue the show together. I am not good at that at all.

What’s your process?
When I get a scene, my assistant editor Kyla Plewes and I will work with the Script Windows in Avid Media Composer — it allows you to very quickly pick through takes and performances, and it’s opened up the amount of options you have in the limited time that you have. I’ll go through a scene left to right and start to frame it out to get it shaped right. As I’m going through, I feel like I’m too close to it. My eyes are right up against every detail in the frame, like continuity issues and the smallest nuances of performance.

I’ll start with a clean take for line one and then have a different take for the second line, and then I’ll realize it didn’t work so I’ll try that first take again and try another take for that second line — I’m intentionally making mistakes over and over to stay open to finding something great by riffing, and I just keep making copies in a sequence. I don’t delete any of the stuff I’m doing, I keep making a giant mess, like putting all the Legos together, except I have a copy of each Lego. Eventually, I find pieces that click together a way that feels right and work my way across the whole scene that way.

When I get to the end, I’ve figured out the connective tissue and I have many copies of all of the individual pieces, but I’ve no idea how they go together. I have piles of connected Legos, alt versions of selected takes, but not a finished sequence. Again, because I feel I’m too close to it, having just done it, I put it away and start the next scene. Then I come back to it at the end of dailies, about a week later, and it all makes perfect sense… the pieces that want to be in the show flow and stand out immediately. By then I’ve seen all the footage for the whole show and I can gauge accurately how best to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Can you talk about assistant editors and how they fit into the mix?
When you have a good AE, it’s really important to give them opportunities to get better at cutting or at working with people. I don’t know how you’re going to learn otherwise. I think everyone is looking for someone above us to give us an opportunity. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes working on a show when you’ve got a great assistant. I think I had years of working on shows with no AEs at all.

Our lead assistant editor on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kyla, works on the side editing online content, which I think is the way to go these days in terms of growing your editing skills.

If you want to keep learning your craft you have to find things to edit, right?
Yeah, I went the path of editing, editing, editing, editing. The only two jobs I’ve ever had are editing and directing. Going the AE route, you might get an episode to edit on a show that you’ve been working on. But that can also be tough, because the people you’re working for still see you as an assistant editor. It can be difficult to change people’s perceptions of you if you’re staying at one job for a long time. Also, if that’s your first editing credit, it can be a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room to fail without consequences.

I feel pretty fortunate that my first jobs were lower profile projects. I certainly made large mistakes, like delivering a show out of phase once. But I was working for such a small company, luckily I didn’t get fired.

You have to make mistakes to learn as you go, I imagine?
You work your way up to these bigger things. It’s bad to deliver a show out of phase, but it’s way worse to do that if your first one of those is on a big multi-million-dollar episode. Everybody fails; you have to fail to grow. I’m still doing both — but hopefully more growing than failing.

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Main Image: Kabir Akhtar and Rachel Bloom after hearing about her Golden Globe nomination for her performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.