Four unique editors make up the extremely talented team who brought their expertise to the award-winning comedy, A Black Lady Sketch Show. The show recently had the third season premiere in April 2022, showcasing each of these individuals’ top-tier work. Stephanie Filo, S. Robyn Wilson, Taylor Mason and Bradinn French each have their own prolific editing careers bringing their shared talent to A Black lady Sketch Show.
Both Taylor Mason and Bradinn French have worked on award-winning and highly acclaimed projects. Mason worked on intense dramas such as Pose, and the epic Oscar-nominated film, Dune. French’s editing resume includes the ever-popular American Horror Story and Dark Girls.
Stephanie Filo carries the distinction of being a two-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winner for her work on previous seasons of A Black Lady Sketch Show. Editor S. Robyn Wilson has worked extensively in film and television, with the television series Blindspotting being a highlight.
In an emailed conversation with Awards Focus, the celebrated group discussed how they worked together, the keys to a successful collaboration, and their favorite sketches.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about your approach editing A Black Lady Sketch Show?
Taylor Mason: I usually approached each sketch with a specific film or television reference in mind. Robin Thede and our Director, Bridget Stokes, were very intentional about tone and often included editorial directives in the script. They also provided a running list of references for us to watch for inspiration which was definitely helpful to have handy as dailies rolled in.
S. Robyn Wilson: Each Sketch is its own unique entity. Robin Thede and the writers of ABLSS come up with such wild and unique characters. We have a grid made up of clips that give a hint towards the genre, or style of each Sketch. For Ashy Sunday, the reference clip was from the 2000 Rom Com, Bedazzled. That’s why Ashy feels like a bit of a journey with our main character’s search for lotion ending with her crossing paths with the Bad Bitch of Darkness.
Bradinn French: One of the biggest challenges of this show for me is that these aren’t straight comedy sketches in a generic setting, they are each like a short film that is both comedy and whatever genre they are referencing.
There are sketches that are big action setpieces, there are horror sketches, there are espionage sketches, science fiction sketches, you name it. And as editors, we were really tasked with properly setting these sketches in these worlds and genres. So for each sketch, we were doing a lot of homework on references in style, pacing, music, narrative reveals, anything that a viewer would subconsciously be able to recognize as being authentic to that genre.
You could cut a sketch on Monday that has a completely different style and rhythm than one you’re cutting Thursday, and with each sketch you’re starting over from scratch. And then most importantly, our job is still getting maximum comedy not just in the performances, but also in our choices as editors. There’s a lot of really precise planning on execution, but also a lot of experimentation on what is working for comedy and what is working for genre, and then marrying them together.
Stephanie Filo: The interesting thing about this show is that there is no one single tone. Each season, we are essentially editing 45 different films, in different styles, genres, and tones. One day you might be editing a full horror film sketch, and the next day you are walking into a romantic comedy. Since every sketch is so different, our approaches to the sketches are always different. Usually if I know I’m going to be editing a specific style, the night before I’ll try to watch something that falls into that style. I find that watching and refreshing my memory on what types of edits are made/what type of sound is used/how music is treated within a specific genre helps me to find the base level of the sketch, and then from there it is a lot easier to lean into how to make comedic moments within that genre land.
AF: How do you work together and keep a cohesive style for the series?
Taylor Mason: We often provided feedback on cuts as soon as they were assembled and, on occasion, the four of us would jump on Evercast to watch each other’s work. We’d discuss the challenges we ran into as well as any solutions we came up with, but more importantly, we were able to see everyone’s reactions in real-time. Those sessions always ended with laughs which was a good indication that our sketches were heading in the right direction. It was basically a very productive show-and-tell.
S. Robyn Wilson: Even with the tone of each Sketch being its own unique experience, the goal is to have the maximum amount of laughs per Sketch. There’s a balance of jokes to the story that keeps everything moving so the audience will follow. What’s fantastic about this show is that we all get to be the first audience members for everyone’s work. Steph, Bradinn and Taylor all know funny when they see it, or if the story is tipped too far, one side or the other.
Bradinn French: We were entirely remote so a lot of Evercast sessions! And a lot of talking with each other on Slack. We were pretty diligent about sharing work and communicating with each other, and we became a very cohesive unit as we worked through the season sharing a lot of on and off-screen laughs, which I think really helps to glue our team and our work together.
Stephanie Filo: After we each edit a sketch, we usually show it to each other for thoughts and feedback before we send it off to our director (Bridget Stokes) or to Robin Thede. On a base level, using Evercast is a good way to gauge people’s reactions because you can see them in real time. If someone doesn’t laugh or glances away during a moment that should be funny, I know that that’s a joke I should keep fine-tuning. We have also all worked in a variety of styles over the years, so having fresh eyes on each others’ work is really helpful – we all have different approaches to things like music, sound, reaction shots or timing so giving each other feedback early on is a way for us all to make our sketches as jam-packed and funny as we possibly can!
AF: What was the key to your success in your collaboration and communication with the showrunner? How did you work together?
Taylor Mason: Working with a showrunner who is excited about post is key. Robin often expressed how post-production was her favorite part of the process and how much she looked forward to that component. Her energy was very contagious and made some long nights fly by. She was also just keenly aware of how the edit could make or break a sketch and spent a lot of time with us on Evercast, occasionally jumping between two rooms to note sketches until they were all in great shape. There were a lot of moving parts which required that everyone stay in communication but the overall workflow was made seamless by our amazing Post Producer, Gwyn Martin-Morris.
S. Robyn Wilson: The greatest part is being able to get Robin Thede to laugh. Especially where she might not expect to. But this is her show, she’s lived with the scripts for almost a year before shooting begins. Normally, she’s watching every take and acted in most of the Sketches. She’s seen all the footage. So catching her out with an unexpected cut or heightening things with sound effects so that she can’t help but laugh is an amazing feeling.
Bradinn French: Robin Thede is a champion of post, and really had a hand that guided us through the entire process starting from our interviews, to the tone meetings, and right on through the cuts. Because we all contributed sketches to nearly every episode, Robin would bring us all together for a watchdown, and we’d really get to all experience the episodes for the first time together and then dig into what was working and what could be improved. And everybody in there had to contribute, we never had sessions where we would just be the autopilot on somebody else’s ship, everybody’s opinions and perspectives were encouraged and fostered. It’s one of the most collaborative processes I’ve been involved with in my entire career, and that’s really credit to Robin and the team she put together.
Stephanie Filo: I think that we are successful in post because Robin Thede is someone who really champions her Editors and loves the collaboration process. We never feel unheard in the cutting room, and that’s a wonderful feeling as an editor. She always likes it when we make our very first cuts (our ‘Editor Cuts’) the most polished and funny that we can make them on our own, so that by the time we are sitting and working in a room together, there’s room for a conversation and more room to collaborate – we discuss what made certain moments funny to us individually, what moments were funny on set that should be sprinkled in, and a lot of times the editors will build ‘alts’ or different versions of certain jokes that we can look at and discuss. All of that leads to sketches that I think all of us are so collectively proud of, and it really unites all of us as a team.
AF: Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you in your early years to pursue this craft, and what was your first job or break in entertainment?
S. Robyn Wilson: I grew up in the Bay Area, which speaks for itself in terms of legendary filmmakers, actors and locations. I graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Film. A professor mentioned, kind of in passing, that I should look into Editing. At the time, I didn’t really take it to heart. But maybe I did, since I’ve remembered it all these years later. When I was deciding on a Masters Degree at the American Film Institute, I switched from Directing to Editing where I was able to be mentored by several amazing Editors. I got my first scripted show, Nashville, through a Teacher at AFI.
Taylor Mason: I was a bit of a late-bloomer in the editing world. It wasn’t until my junior year at Howard University that I learned about editing as a craft and possible career path. At the time, I was majoring in Journalism & Political Science and my coursework involved a lot of sourcing local news stories to shoot and package. I found that editing news pieces together was the most exciting aspect of those assignments. It was then that I knew I needed to pivot.
After graduating, I dove head first into film studies at the American Film Institute Conservatory and connected with so many talented filmmakers. One of ABLSS’ very own Producers, Deniese Davis, who, outside of making major moves in the industry, is an Alumna who recommended me for my first editing gig on BET’s Twenties. The first job I had out of school was an internship on a feature called Gone with Alumna, Kayla Emter (now famed Editor of Hustlers) whose mentorship helped me navigate the industry. And now I have the privilege of working with Alumna and fellow sketch show editor Robyn Wilson.
Bradinn French: I always had an interest in putting videos together when I was young, and my first experiences with editing were going out shooting on a camcorder and then stacking VHS decks on top of each other and doing a bootleg reel-to-reel edit. By high school I taught myself how to use Sony Vegas, and in college I taught myself Final Cut Pro before I figured out my school had a film program, which I immediately dropped my previous major to join. I didn’t realize how much the editing part of filmmaking was my passion until I found myself sitting in the student edit bays at all hours of the night–I worked in the building so they let me lock up after myself–and I’d just get lost in footage and the whole world would open up for me. My first editing job was doing The Real World New Orleans 2, which I jumped into through a combination of lucky timing, persistence, and some people who thought I was ready for it before I took some of the more traditional steps.
Stephanie Filo: When I was in middle school, I watched the movie Se7en and I fell in love with the opening title sequence. I was really fascinated by the fact that they were able to tell a whole story visually, without even using dialogue. From there, I started playing with our home movie camera and VHS tapes to try to tell stories in this way, without consciously realizing that it was ‘Editing’ that I was doing, or even that this was a career path that I could follow. After I graduated from college, I moved out to Los Angeles knowing that I wanted to be involved in TV or Film in some capacity, but I didn’t know anybody. I knocked on every door I could find until I eventually landed a job as a night Assistant Editor for a French documentary, and I fell in love with the process. I had an epiphany that this was similar to what I had been doing with my VHS tapes so many years ago, and I pursued it. After a couple of years of assisting, I got my first editing job on a documentary about Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s 2000 Year Old Man sketch, which was such an amazing experience that I knew I had to keep doing this, and I’ve been at it since!
AF: What is one film, show or production that inspired your work on ABLSS?
S. Robyn Wilson: The show itself initially inspired me. I think especially “Bad Bitch Support Group”, which was where I started and became a fan. However, because each Sketch is so unique, you have to have knowledge of a great deal of Film, TV and even Social Media information to keep up with the style of ABLSS.
Taylor Mason: It’s hard to say because ABLSS is one-of-a-kind. I think there were scenes from films and tv shows that I referred to when cutting genre-specific sketches, but similar to Robyn, I really relied on the tones that were established in seasons 1 and 2. I love that there is still nothing quite like ABLSS on air but do hope that this show paves the way for more narratives about Black women.
Bradinn French: I grew up watching In Living Color so I went back and revisited a lot of those shows before I started. Totally different type of show, but I think great sketch comedy is, in part, rooted in the performances being real, and fun, and leaving it all out there. You get some of the best stuff when you’re not playing it safe or coloring inside the lines, so I tried to take that with me into ABLSS.
Stephanie Filo: I wouldn’t say one show or film in particular inspired the work that we do on this show because every sketch is extremely different in genre and tone. Robin Thede and our director Bridget Stokes have a spreadsheet of different movie and TV references that they used when prepping for the different sketches, so I kind of use that spreadsheet as a style bible for the show. Sometimes the reference might be a Wes Anderson movie, sometimes it might be Saw, sometimes it might be Sleepless in Seattle. It really varies from day to day. Because of that, this show really keeps us on your toes by forcing each of us to think outside of the box in the ways that we approach comedy.
AF: What were each of your favorite sketches?
S. Robyn Wilson: My number 1 Sketch is Ashy Sunday, followed closely by Spell Ya Later.
Taylor Mason: I loved every iteration of “Product Purge”. I thought Bradinn did a fantastic job capturing the insanity of those Purge anthologies. Never have I felt more seen in a sketch, as I have a few drawers currently filled to the brim with hair care products gone unreturned.
Bradinn French: I have a whole top 5/top 10 list, but Dr. Haddassah: Career Day and Fatal Distraction were the two that had me struggling to breathe consistently.
Stephanie Filo: I have so many favorites from this season it’s hard to narrow down! “Product Purge” is such an epic season-opener that Bradinn did such an amazing job cutting. “I Feel Your Paint” showcases a side of Skye Townsend that nobody ever expected to see, and Taylor really made that sketch sing! Robyn had me constantly cracking up with her cut of “Ashy Sunday”. Also two of my favorites that I got to cut this season were “Dr. Hadassah: Career Day” and “What Up I’m Three”, because they’re so over-the-top as well.
What challenges did you face on ABLSS and how did you overcome them?
S. Robyn Wilson: I think it’s always about having enough time. But it’s also about managing your time. Sometimes the cut comes together easily, and at other times I know I need to work with the footage a lot longer to get the story where it needs to be. It’s finding the right balance to serve the footage while keeping an eye on the clock.
Taylor Mason: The biggest challenge for me was having to cut down some of my favorite jokes. There were fantastic improv moments from the cast that we just couldn’t keep because of time constraints. It’s hard to lose jokes that you’re so married to but luckily a lot of those were saved for outtakes at the end of each episode.
Bradinn French: Besides the short film aspect I mentioned, which I think was the biggest challenge, it’s very challenging to make comedy remotely. We all did our best in Evercast sessions, but there’s an energy in a room you get watching things together that you can’t feel behind a camera. And collaboration is so much harder when you’re not next door to one another. Now that said, I don’t miss sitting in traffic on the way to an office to sit in a room by myself for 10-12 hours a day, but I think we all did feel the absence of the shared screening environment where you can get a sense of where people are genuinely reacting and how a room feels when the lights go up. But I think that’s also part of what made our team so close, because we regularly talked to one another every day like we were there together and it created a very magic team environment that was probably as close as you could get.
Stephanie Filo: I think the biggest challenge on this show is keeping your mind sharp and your editing toolkit sharper so that you can jump from genre to genre at a moment’s notice. One day you might be cutting a rom com, and the next you are thrown into a high-impact wrestling match. It’s unpredictable, but that’s what makes cutting this show so exciting, and I think that being able to work and work well through that particular challenge speaks to the strengths of this editing team – we’ve all worked in a variety of genres and it gives us very large toolkits to pull from!
AF: With Emmy voting starting just around the corner, what would awards recognition for ABLSS mean to you?
S. Robyn Wilson: Another paved mile of the road towards the Robin Thede Supremacy. Which is what I’m here for.
Taylor Mason: It would be amazing for an editorial to be recognized for the second year in a row. We worked hard to push this season even further for the audience while maintaining the quality of work created in seasons 1 and 2. To be recognized would affirm this and cement the fact that there is a need for Black stories to be told across all genres.
Bradinn French: This is an amazing team that really pushed every boundary in the chair and out of the chair, and we pushed each other to make this show work on multiple levels of comedy and multiple levels of filmmaking to appeal to a sketch comedy lover and to a horror buff and to an action junkie. And even hopefully to someone who isn’t into comedy. Each one of these team members really poured themselves into elevating this season and I’m really proud of the work we put out into the world To be recognized for it by our peers would truly be an honor, and to give Robin Thede the recognition she deserves for what she’s done on both sides of the camera would be a privilege.
Stephanie Filo: This is a show that I am beyond proud of, and working on it with a cast and crew like this is the icing on the cake. Our job every season is to do more, and be bigger and better than the last. Ultimately we are in competition with ourselves, to continue to grow and do more and more every time, and I genuinely think that this season is a display of that. There isn’t a show like this that has ever existed, and receiving any recognition for that would hopefully serve as a reminder that telling diverse and authentic stories is not only important, but imperative in our TV landscape.