BWW Interview: Emmy-Nominated Editor Vera Drew Talks 'Who Is America?' and Launching Adult Swim's Channel 5
Emmy-nominated editor, Vera Drew, discusses how she became an editor, her work on Sacha Baron Cohen's "Who Is America?" and launching Adult Swim's Channel 5. Check out what she had to say!
How did you get into filmmaking, and more specifically editing?
I've wanted to write and direct ever since I was six years old and saw Back to the Future, but my first job in the industry was when I was the line editor on Roman Coppola's A Glimpse Inside the Mind with Charles Swan III. Over the course of pre-production, I helped put together animatics based on Roman's shot list. He liked my work so much that I was eventually hired as a line editor on the movie. That's when I fell in love with editing - it helped that it was on a pretty cool set...I got to meet Bill Murray on that job and for a comedy-nerd from the Midwest, it was like I died and went to showbiz heaven. That's when I realized how editing is almost like the final draft of the script. From there, I got an internship at Tim and Eric's Absolutely Productions and climbed the post-production ladder. The skillset that I have gotten as an editor this last decade has made me a strong writer/director.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for your work on Sacha Baron Cohen's "Who Is America?" How did you get involved with that show?
I was initially brought on to "Who Is America" by the show's director Dan Longino. We had worked really well together on a Netflix comedy special for Joe Mande. When he approached me about the project, it was an immediate yes - Sacha Baron Cohen has been my comedic hero since high school. Growing up as a closeted trans kid from the Midwest, Bruno was one of the first LGBTQ characters I saw on TV that genuinely made me laugh. Sacha played him with such hilarious realism. During a time where gay marriage wasn't legal, it meant a lot to me to see a queer character make bigots look foolish. Getting the chance to work with Sacha was a dream come true.
What was it like working with Sacha Baron Cohen and other creatives like Tim and Eric of Abso Lutely Productions?
I really enjoy working on dark, subversive comedy that directly confronts both real and imagined horrors and is shot out in the real world, which is how I would describe both a show like "Who Is America" and the work I have done with Tim and Eric. The difference is that Sacha's show was my first stab at political satire. This is such a dark and absurd time in our country, and it was cathartic to work on a show that had such a strong point of view with no qualms about exposing hypocrisy. Working with Sacha made me feel like I was being constructive with the frustration I have with this current administration.
What is your editing process like? How much time do you get to work on each show/episode?
With reality based comedy, so much of the writing and directing happens in post-production. It's about elevating performances between a fictional character and a real person as well as stringing together narrative threads that we are pulling from real life interactions. On a show like "Kraft Punk's Political Party," where they essentially shot three panels and a few days worth of documentary footage in DC, I spent a week or two in the edit bay on my own putting together my editors cut. After that, I worked with director Eric Notarnicola and showrunner Dan Curry for a few weeks to incorporate their vision and get it down to time. The show had a rough outline as a script, but it was based entirely around real life interactions so a lot of the writing happened in that initial editors cut, which is why I ended up getting a writing credit when all was said and done.
How much creative freedom do you get when cutting the episodes? Is it pretty clearly lined out or do you get to experiment and see what works?
In a lot of ways, editors like me are really just writer/directors who use editing software. The perfect example is with "I Love David," a show I directed and produced at Abso Lutely. The bulk of a show like that is essentially "written" during post production. Since the host David Liebe Hart is a raw performer that we unleash into the real world, a lot of the shooting is grabbing "ingredients" we need to tell the story - a line about his time in the navy here or a shot of him wolfing down German sausage there. In post is where the editors Heather Capps, Jonathan Kramer, and I pieced the narrative together.
Do you have a favorite editing program (Avid/Premiere/Resolve)?
I strongly prefer to use Adobe Premiere. My editing often includes a lot of VFX and motion graphics work that requires After Effects so it makes sense for me to always be working inside Adobe-world. Premiere is also put together in a way that makes sense for my type of creative brain.
What are the challenges that come with editing comedy versus drama or any other genre?
I never really think of myself as working in one particular genre. In fact, I would say that most of the comedy I work on, I'm approaching it from the angle of horror/psycho drama. One of the shows I directed and wrote for Channel 5 is this show "Tim and Eric Quiz." On paper it's your straight forward game show with actual Tim and Eric fans competing against each other, but I crafted this whole backstory where it takes place far, far in the future in a sci-fi dystopia where Tim and Eric are long since dead and all their friends and collaborators exist in mutilated forms, like James Quall with his robotic spider legs. It creates something that is not only funny, but also pretty dark and weird.
You helped launch the Adult Swim streaming network, Channel 5. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I recently helped put together Tim and Eric's new online TV network Channel 5. In addition to coming up with the overall aesthetic for the network and putting together over 100 original bumpers and interstitials, I also wrote, directed and executive produced four original web series, including a doc-series starring public access legend David Liebe Hart called "I Love David, "Tim and Eric Quiz" which is a dystopian sci-fi game show with a ton of insane 3D animation, a grotesquely surreal and experimental anthology series called "Scum," and "Our Bodies" - a show that is simply Tim and Eric talking to a real doctor about bodily functions and sex. All of the shows are available on demand on adultswim.com
Is there someone you'd love to work with that you haven't yet?
It would be my dream to work with badass, talented transwomen like the Wachowskis or Janet Mock. I feel like they also represent the spectrum of stories I want to tell - from sci-fi high strangeness to beautiful emotional stories that embolden queer visibility. The Wachowskis have been crafting amazingly weird and empowering queer narratives for decades and they do it in an allegorical way that is really special. I remember seeing the Matrix as a kid and knowing that there was more to me and my life than what other people forced upon me. To me, Neo's journey is unequivocally a narrative for the transgender experience.
Do you have any advice for editors, or filmmakers in general, trying to break into the industry?
I think patience has been the biggest lesson for me since I began working in the industry. In America we are so focused on the idea of young excellence to the point that I thought I was going to be a Mozart, overnight success story by my early twenties. The truth is, finding your footing in this industry takes time - you have to meet the right people, make mistakes and find your voice. You need to have a healthy mix of ambitious drive to reach your goals and the zen calm of knowing you are right where you need to be at any given moment.
Keep up with Vera's latest projects by following her on Twitter at @VeraDrew22 and checking out her website www.VeraDrew.com
IMAGE COURTESY OF VERA DREW