A Black Lady Sketch Show

During this year’s Eddie Awards, the team of Stephanie Filo, ACE, Bradinn French, Taylor Joy Mason and S. Robyn Wilson – an all African American team reflecting series creator Robin Thede’s commitment to diversity – collected the trophy for HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. Also for that Season 3 episode, “Save My Edges, I’m a Donor,” the team won a 2022 Emmy, the second consecutive for the series.

“Robin Thede really loves having editors from different backgrounds, just because each sketch is so different,” says Filo, who was raised in the U.S. and Sierra Leone and started her career in documentaries. “One day you might have a rom-com sketch, and, one day, you might have a terrifying horror sketch that you have to make funny. We all come from these different avenues, and I think she really values that. It’s a chance to keep your editing tool kit as strong as possible, just to be able to think on the fly.”

Filo boarded the series in Season 2, when friend and fellow editor Daysha Broadway, ACE, recommended her to Thede. “I got this email: ‘Do you want to come in for an interview?’” Filo recollects. “Yes! Can I just bring you coffee? It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to be involved with this show. I met with
Robin – we got along really well.” Filo used the experiences of her previous jobs in the new position, though it was an old adage which she followed as an editor. “I think you cut with your gut,” she reveals, “but I think that you develop different tool sets as you go. It’s really about making sure you’re telling a story as authentically as you can. Robin needs it to be fast, loud and dense.”

Every day in the Black Lady Sketch Show cutting room is collaborative and unique. “Some days it might be finding a specific genre and trying to figure out a way to turn itmon its head,” Filo explains. “It’s a cool chance to explore. For example, if you’re cutting a horror movie, you would use sound design that would make one feel like this is a horror movie. On top of that, if you’re cutting a horror sketch, you also have to think about how you can take those elements and try to make that also funny. Comedy is so much of eliciting amreaction – it’s that element of surprise.”

 With Thede as the series’ creator, showrunner and contributing writer, she oversees every detail, so that, by the time a sketch arrives in an editing room, it is already fine-tuned. “She has this amazing writer’s room – an all Black lady writer’s room – which I feel is unheard of in this business,” says Filo.

“They spend months and months every season, coming up with these different sketches, and then they film it as scripted for a few takes, and then they’ll spend the rest of the time improvising. That’s not always talked about on our show, how great our cast is at improv. The script itself is hilarious – then you pepper in all these extra moments from set.”

In addition to the improvisational nature of the sketches, typically half a dozen per episode, Filo says the directive from Thede was effectively “‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you  present me the funniest thing to you, and then we’ll build from there.’ It’s really exciting because she gives you this creative freedom to make people laugh. That’s something, editorially, we all strive to do. One day, I might say, ‘This improv moment, I’m going to add because I think this will surprise Robin.’ It’s an exciting workflow in that sense.”

Typically, during production on the show, a director will shoot a sketch per day, while some sketches might take less than a full day if there is not as much improvisation undertaken. “Usually, there’s a pretty decent amount of takes and different setups to try to get us everything we need,” Filo remarks.

Each season is divided into two blocks of shooting, each about 20 days. Thede does not reveal the episode order, fostering even more creative opportunities for the editors. With three to four editors each season, as the sketches are being shot, the editors are cutting the sketches individually, all the way through the editor’s cut of that sketch. “We’ll do our director notes of the sketch, our producer’s cut notes of the sketch, and then, once we’ve gotten through all of our notes on the individual sketches, that’s when we sit down with Robin and look at what all the sketches are, and figure out what the episode order is,” says Filo.

“You get all of these sketches throughout filming, and then at the end, right before you send it to HBO, is when we figure out what the episode order should be,” she continues. “Robin has it down to a science. It forces us to be extra collaborative amongst our whole post team; you’re able to look at it as a clean slate every day or every couple of days as you’re working. It’s a chance for Robin to see our editor’s cut as polished as possible.”

A Black Lady Sketch Show does not always employ a traditional music composer or a sound team, instead relying on the picture editors to make critical contributions to the sound of the show. “We have a great sound designer and sound mixer that, once we finish the episodes and lock them, sweeten everything for us,” relates Filo. “Most of the sound design that you hear is what’s been in our cuts. It’s really stuff that we build in the edit – 40-50% of our time is spent finding the right sound and building out the right music. Sometimes, there’s sketches where the only way this will work is with this song, so we have a great music supervisor that we work with to clear that stuff.

What we pass off as editors is close to what airs.” Filo emphasizes that Thede has actively assembled a cast and crew with many people of color, primarily women, a decided anomaly in Hollywood. “Robin has always been really passionate about having people – who reflect the make up of the show – working on the show,” Filo says. “In comedy, a lot of times, what you see is kind of a stereotypical version of what a  Black woman is. Robin is very passionate about showing that’s not the case. By having diverse people on camera, but people behind-the-scenes as well, she’s able to show that there are so many different types of Black women, of women of color, of people of diverse backgrounds, who are capable of doing these jobs. She has Black women in all departments, which is something you never see on a set. But we’re here; we exist.

Sometimes that opportunity doesn’t exist, as far as editing goes. “There’s a power and a shorthand in having a team that really understands the material and the characters,” she continues. “Being able to tell stories authentically is so critical, especially in post, because we’re the last rewrite of any script. I hope that Robin’s example is something that people can follow.”

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