With credits on American Vandal, The Last O.G., Broad City, and Awkwafina’s Nora From Queens, Jessica Brunetto is well-versed in captured nuanced comedy in her cuts.  

Awards Focus spoke to Brunetto about her work on Hacks, highlighting the genius of Jean Smart.

Awards Focus: So how did you find out about your Emmy nomination? Can you walk us through what’s going on in your creative life?

Jessica Brunetto: I found out about my nomination through a text from my fellow nominee (and Hacks editor) Susan Vaill. I thought Susan was texting about Hacks being nominated for Best Comedy Series, or Jean’s nomination, but she was like “No, all three of us editors were nominated too!”

I was blown away, just a milestone year with the Emmy nomination and Sisters, my short film, premiering at SXSW.

AF: When you’re working with performances from Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder, I imagine there’s a lot of versatility in each take. Can share some insight into your editing process for them?

Brunetto: When you’re editing actors, what you’re looking for is for their chemistry and also the takes with that spark or electric… where the material comes alive.

With Jean and Hannah, that electric dynamic was there from day one and it gave me a ton of great footage to choose from. Editing became about honing in on authentic performances that fit the scenes and embodied their characters’ personas.

AF: Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite moments on the show, and share your experience on the pilot?  

Brunetto: One of the most memorable parts of editing the Hacks pilot is the interview scene with Deborah (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder). At this point, the storylines finally collided and oddly, both women have been deemed irrelevant by the world.

As they start the sit-down interview they think they don’t need one another. As we build to the ending we reveal that the opposite is true.

Deborah needs Ava because she is the first person in a long time who will challenge her for performing the same old material, making her realize she’s lost her edge.

Ava needs Deborah to help her get thicker skin in order to navigate the never ending obstacles female comedians face. Jean Smart does an incredible job with her character’s turn going from being completely unimpressed with Ava to being aroused by the idea of having another comedian around she can go toe-to-toe with to help her get her fire back.

In editing this scene I really wanted to make sure the audience felt Deborah Vance coming alive again in the presence of Ava, unlike any other character we’ve seen her interact with in the pilot. By the end of the episode, Deborah and Ava’s partnership has them on the road to redemption, which is the setup for the rest of the series.

AF: Given that the show is a dramedy with an incredibly versatile lead, how did it effect how you approached editing it? Can you talk about balancing the jokes and the emotional elements?

Brunetto: First and foremost my approach to editing Hacks was to focus on accomplishing the showrunners’ and director’s vision. I gravitate towards projects that straddle more than one genre, and stories with a lot of heart that are juxtaposed with a lot of laughter.

Hacks was all of these things and then some. During the edit is where you perfect the tone of the series… through the actors’ performances — specifically, using grounded takes that felt authentic.

Mixing that with the right music, sound design and finding the best rhythm to the scenes is the key to unlocking the most compelling balance between the dramatic and comedic moments.

AF: How does one set the tone for the show through the edit?

Brunetto: Editing the Hacks pilot, like any pilot, is a lot of trial and error. I had many conversations with the showrunners of what they hoped and wanted the show to be, but at the end of the day I believe the footage tells you what it wants to be.

I spent a lot of time hunting for gems and after a while, it becomes clearer and clearer which pieces shine the brightest. As hilarious as some moments can be, it was important to remember that the characters and their performances were best when they felt organic and real.

Finding the right tone for the Hacks pilot was about what serves the characters above all else.

AF: What other projects are you working on? 

Brunetto: Well, I wrote and directed a short, Sisters, which premiered at SXSW and starred Sarah Burns and Mary Holland. It’s now being developed as a feature film and I’m thrilled to tell the larger version of that story.

Editing wise, I’m elated to be working on the reboot of A League of Their Own and be reunited with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson. Working on the show is literally my childhood dream come true and I’m so excited to be part of the team.