August 10, 2023

Editors will often demonstrate an understanding of music in their work. Liza Cardinale, ACE, danced her way through high school and felt that she had a head start when joining the second season of Apple TV+’s exuberant homage to musicals, Schmigadoon!

“I went to a Fame-style performing arts high school and used to dance ballet and modern every day with a bit of tap too,” she says. “Now I’m more of a dance appreciator but I feel like I understand dance from the inside. I know the smell of a rehearsal studio, I know how strict the teachers are, and I’ve such a deep appreciation for how much effort dancers put into their craft. Nothing gives me as much joy as editing a musical number.”

Those credentials alone were probably enough for showrunner Cinco Paul to team her with returning editor Matthew Freund (The Good Place). Cardinale (Dead to Me) replaced Season 1 editor Ali Greer, ACE who had a scheduling conflict with HBO comedy drama Barry.

“I reached out to Ali and asked how she liked working on Schmigadoon! and she said it was her dream job and wassorry not to be  going back,” Cardinale says. “I knew I’d love musical comedy but I also need to know that I’ll enjoy the  people I am working with and Ali absolutely assured me of that so I was all in.”

Created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the second six episode run of Schmigadoon! features songs written by Paul (Emmy winner for outstanding original music and lyrics for the Season 1 pilot) in the style of classic stage and screen musicals. Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key are two New York doctors who decide to return to what they anticipate will be the exciting and comforting Golden Age of 1940s/50s musicals they found in Schmigadoon. Instead, they find themselves two decades on and in the darker, seedier world of Schmicago. The ensemble cast also includes Tituss Burgess, Dove Cameron, Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming and the directors are Alice Mathias and Robert Luketic.

“I had cut a musical episode of [ABC sitcom] The Neighbors so I understood how to organize a musical for cutting and was prepared for dealing with the layer of complexity a musical component adds to regular scene cutting,” Cardinale says. “Singing is more like a magical mystery to me so when someone like Kristin Chenoweth hits those high notes I am in such awe of what they’re doing but I don’t understand it in the way I understand dance.” But hiring an editor with prior musical experience did not seem to be Paul’s priority so much as finding someone with enthusiasm for the genre.

“This show is based on enthusiasm for the musicals,” says Cardinale. “Every moment, every detail, every piece of costume and set design and choreography is a love letter to a musical that you may or may not have heard of or recognize. You’d have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every stage show that’s been on Broadway or the West End to catch all the references but Cinco has that and funnels it all into the show. Best of all, you don’t have to know all the references. You can sit back and enjoy the Schmigadoon! ride.” Musical theatre parodies and ‘Easter eggs’ either overt or ‘quick and you’ll miss them’ include Cabaret, Chicago,

A Chorus Line, Annie, Hair, Oliver!, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Sweeney Todd and Company. “I knew that most of the characters and the vibe would be different moving into the ‘60s and ‘70s era of musicals,” she says.

He adds that for Season 1, Paul and Sonnenfeld wanted to emulate the cutting style from the Golden Age of musicals. “Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, Carousel and Oklahoma were all referenced for the song and dance numbers. Although my experience editing comedies has wired me to pace scenes up, this homage translated to fewer cuts within the musical numbers.

“I had a feeling that there would be less of a proscenium and theatrical type of staging and more cuts.” Cutting Season 1, Freund soon realized that if they cut things too fast, the comedic choreography would be compromised. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, he notes, “had designed these beautiful, elaborate shots and we were fortunate to have an incredible cast that could perform such complex, rigorous numbers.”

Season 2, he says, “drew influence from the modern. and experimental era of musicals which incorporated more camera movement and a cutting style that emphasized faster, rhythmic editing. Cinco encouraged us to watch Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity and Cabaret as well as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Using these films as references, this season we were able to build more momentum within the numbers by punctuating Christopher Gattelli’s brilliant choreography with inserts and quick cutaways to reactions.”

When joining the show Cardinale says that Freund offered her the choice of odds or evens in terms of which episodes to cut. “Matthew was quite the gentleman about this but it was lovely to have the choice. It’s a common way of dividing a series up so that no one is finishing back-to-back episodes and it helps spread out the schedule.

“I read every single script and really wanted to do the finale so I chose Episodes 2, 4 and 6. Plus, it made sense that Matthew should cut the first one as continuity from Season 1 and establish how things are different or similar going forward.”

While choreographer Christopher Gattelli worked out the dance moves, often creating videos in rehearsals to help map out the best angle for particular moves, by the time the dailies got to the edit room the editors had free reign to shape it how they wanted.

“The number on which I had to do the most work was the medley of songs that ends the season finale,” Cardinale says, noting that this includes a reprise of “Welcome to Schmicago” and “Something Real” segueing into “Happy Beginning” interspersed with the narrator, played by Burgess.

“I’d have to loop in a bit of instrumental here or cut out a phrase of instrumental there to make sure the singers could jump in at the right time. Then maybe I’d get a note from Cinco to take out a line of the narrator’s dialogue. It became a house of cards of getting it to work again musically.

“I’m musical but not a musician so if I didn’t hit the spot exactly Cinco would tell me just to add a breath here so that musically it still made sense and stays in perfect rhythm. He didn’t want to fudge any musical edits. He wanted it to play perfectly.” She adds, “You want everything in a musical number to be visually on beat. You never want to let a beautiful flourish of music pass by without something important going on on-screen – otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity.”

While the shoot took place in Vancouver the editors worked from home. “They block-shot the entire series so we never knew what we were going to get but it was never an avalanche on each of our shoulders,” says Cardinale. “The dailies process was a luxury for a TV show. The material we got was so joyful and actually quite easy to put together.”

She and Freund watched each other’s cuts before turning them in for director or showrunner comment. “Because I also work on What We Do in the Shadows (FX) which is a very communal editing process, I brought a bit of that to Schigmadoon!” Cardinale says. “Matthew was only too willing to agree. Not only is it good to keep an eye on what we are doing so that our episodes flow together well and the characters’ emotions are aligning but it can also help if each of us can call out if we need to place more emphasis on something because it pays off later.”

Days when they’d receive musical numbers required most work in terms of prep. Cardinale explains that assistant Harlan Doolittle was a big help. “I like to have a supergroup of dailies with everything for one song synced up,” she explains. “Harlan would create a master timeline and just stack up every take and angle so I could quickly see my options. Even if there are 10 takes of different setups they will all be synced to the same point in the song so that I can look at it in the multicam picture view. It helps you make a quick decision about a piece of choreography.”

It was the first time that they had worked together. Cardinale hired her because of Doolittle’s shared love for musicals and her background as a tap dancer. “There was a tap section of the ‘Good Enough to Eat’ number where Harlan painstakingly put in all the Foley herself. She’s fantastic at sound design and very enthusiastic which is what I love.” Assisting Freund was Chris Lorusso, “who did everything from prepping dailies, scripting in Avid, scene assemblies, initial sound design as well as being an excellent sounding board for my editor’s cuts,” she says.

A highlight from this season for Freund was editing Jane Krakowski’s rendition of “Bells and Whistles” in Episode 3. “Her character is an attorney who uses every trick in the book to prove Key’s character’s innocence,” she relates. “This ranges from sensually descending from the courtroom ceiling on a trapeze to tap dancing, playing a saxophone, swinging upside down while throwing glitter, singing ridiculously fast, and rollerskating on one foot while blindfolded before landing in the splits. Normally this scene would be a challenge to cut because I’d have to seamlessly blend a stunt performer’s take with the actor’s footage. In this case, I was completely spoiled since Jane did all her own stunts and dancing. I had so much fun and freedom because every take was flawless.”

Cardinale herself says she loved working on the sequence for the song and dance number “Talk To Daddy” in Episode 4. This emulates “The Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity with elements from Bob Fosse’s iconic “Rich Man’s Frug” choreography. “When I got that footage in and heard the song for the first time I was overcome with the joy and excitement of it, the bright colors and how much visual variety there was. It was so fun.” Footage for this sequence included shots of dancers in slow motion performing acrobatic flips. “I’d no idea what I was supposed to do with this, but after I assembled it I noticed these little percussive elements in the music and thought we could highlight that beat with the acrobatics. I felt proud that I found places for that footage to go even though there was no master plan. It just added to the general dynamism of the dance.”

Cardinale adds, “The visuals with the music flowed so naturally and easily. On a personal level there was a feeling of arrival – that this is what I was born to do – to edit a musical.

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