Editor Nena Erb discusses putting together two very different comedies–Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Insecure.
Emmy winning editor Nena Erb knows how to put together a great comedy. She’s worked on The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend since its third season, and capturing its heightened, wacky tone can’t be an easy task. Each week the team behind the musical comedy managed to perform intelligent and quirky songs, but the editing room is where they truly sing. You can’t have a clear and concise musical number without great editing.
Erb put together one number, “Trapped In a Car With Someone You Don’t Want to Be Trapped In a Car With,” that impressed me because she was able to convey exhaustive frustration from 3 different perspectives. It almost made me want to take a road trip with someone I’m not friends with. Almost.
Erb was always a fan of Issa Rae’s Insecure, so joining its third season was something that really thrilled her. One of the best episodes of Insecure this season was “Obsessed-Like” where Issa stalks a man who ghosted her. It’s a really fun coincidence that she worked on that episode and Crazy Ex since both shows have such different tones and perspectives of modern dating.
You can’t tell a great story without strong editing, and Erb is working some of the best shows centered on women.
You have done a lot of shows that focus on women. Is that a conscious decision?
It is. I made a decision early on that I wanted to work on shows that I would watch. There is a lot of programming out there that I wasn’t identifying with. When Crazy Ex came along, I had never followed a boy across the country, but I could relate to a girl falling madly in love and throwing everything away for a guy. And the musical numbers were fun, and then I found out there were two female show runners. I loved their taste, and I was so thrilled when it came to work on it. With Insecure, it really has a real personal connection. When my family emigrated here, we settled in Ladera Heights and I went to school in Inglewood, which is sort of the area that’s featured and highlighted. When I heard that, I decided to take a look. That part of LA is largely ignored, and no one wants to portray that in a positive light. Issa is showing that area in a really beautiful way, and her stories are so refreshing and new and the writings is incredible. I was actively pursuing to be a part of that show.
The third season is your first season, yes?
And I feel like that show just keeps getting better and better.
Thank you so much!
Is there a skill to editing the musical scenes in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that’s different than editing just a dialogue scene between Issa and Molly on Insecure?
It definitely requires a different skill. I had experience cutting music and some dance numbers. That came in handy. It’s funny because I used to lament my piano lessons as a kid. That really helped! Having a musical rhythm is important, but it’s not just about showing the great choreography. Don’t get me wrong, the choreography is amazing, but you have to make sure that since the musical numbers take place in Rebecca’s fantasy world, you have to establish that you’re going into this space. Then we have to make sure all the jokes land. The way she writes her jokes is just genius. We want to make sure that comes across and it doesn’t get lost.
I do think you do a really good of making sure everything is clear. That’s why so many people love the show so much. One of my favorite sequences of the final season is from “I See You” where you had to juggle 3 different car rides. Can you tell us about how you managed that?
I think we can all relate to being stuck in a car with someone who we can’t stand and they won’t stop talking. At the same time, it was important to get each struggle through. Each person had a reason to be stuck in that car. We wanted to make sure we got the annoyances across. Intercutting between the different cars and deciding when to leave and when to come back was kind of tricky. A lot of the conflict and jokes were figured out in the writing process but sometimes we’d get some stellar improvised lines that had to be incorporated in the episode. We wanted to keep a lot of Josh Chan’s improvisation in the car because it was phenomenal and hilarious. In order to do that, we had to make room by losing other dialog or moments while making sure all the characters and their stories were still being serviced the best way possible. That was a real balancing act between all 3 cars.
The first season has “JAP Battle” and we get a sequel of sorts in the episode, “I Need to Find My Frenemy.” Did you go back to that song to see how that was edited in the first season?
Yes. That was one of my favorite numbers, so I was really excited to reprise that. Iknew they wanted to have the same kind of look and feel so I took some of the film burns and roll outs and we added some film grains so it’d look similar. Of course, it was a different director and Josh, Paula, and Darryl weren’t behind Rebecca and Audra didn’t have the lawyers from her law firm behind them so visually it wasn’t an exact copy of the original. Of course, it was a different director so it’d look different. It’s different because there’s no one behind them this time.
Yeah there’s no crew backing them up.
Yes, exactly. There is a little less of a battle, but it’s more coming to terms with each other. Patching up the relationship, I guess. We had to make sure the energy of a battle was there and the make sure compliments are performed the intensity of an insult and in a comedic way.
The first episode you did this season has a bunch of different styles of music. You have “Don’t Have a Lawyer” which has that great 80’s energy, but “Our Twisted Fate” has some really great cheesy cuts that make it look like an epic music video. Plus, you know, it’s two pretzels singing…
I did not expect that, but it was great. The visual effects team makes it all look so real.
I mean, I got hungry just watching it.
Yeah, and the way they put the hair and everything on it to look real.
Jumping over to Insecure, you mentioned that you pursued that. How did it live up to your expectations?
Yeah, there was a lot of pressure. I love the show and I’ve rematches it a million times to get the tone right for the editing. I wanted to make sure that the tone of the performances were spot on. In season 3 there are some really interesting storylines because Issa discovers a new love interest with Nathan. I wanted to make sure you get the chemistry and how it’s developing because he kind of ghosts her later in the season. That was a fun episode as well, because we wanted to follow her obsession from start to the height of her mania.
When Issa is giving Nathan the walk around tour of LA, it really feels relaxed and it feels so breathable. The long shots that don’t have a lot of cutting made you feel the ease of their relationship.
I’m so glad that came across. I purposely did as little cutting as possible. When I watched the dailies, I thought that they had natural chemistry. An idea I had was that I wanted the viewer to feel like they were on the walk with them, and I also wanted to show all the little neighborhoods they went to because that’s where I grew up. Comedy was designed by pacing and that was a big risk to not cut.
I did have to ask myself if I was developing feelings for Nathan as this episode went on…
So it’s your fault for letting me fall for someone who ended up ghosting Issa. These two shows are very different. Do you have to approach it from a story point of view or the editing from a very clear style?
The two series have already established their style, so I think , as an editor, going from show to show, I have to adapt very quickly. I approach it purely from a story standpoint. You have to look at the arc of the episode and the arc of the series. So even though there’s an established style, I try to put a little of myself in the framework of the story.
I’m so impressed with television editors because you get to come in for a few episodes, but then you leave. You have to flip that switch so quickly.
I think it keeps me fresh. I like the challenge—I love it. Right now I’m on anew series that’s an anthology so each episode is different and that’s exciting.
You have a few projects lined up after Insecure and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
The anthology series is from Apple. I think there are 8 episodes and they are completely different based on a series of essays from different immigrants and their experiences. Each episode is based on a collection of essays from immigrants and their experiences. I can’t say too much more about it.
And you have a pilot from Jessica Gao?
I was going on a lot of meetings from pilot season, and a lot of them were great. When I got Jessica’s script, it was like reading hilarious written documentation of things my family did. The pilot is about Janet, a Chinese American woman who man who is trying to set healthy boundaries for her family. Her parents are very exhausting—very crazy in a lovable way. When I read it, I thought that a half hour comedy about a Chinese American family doesn’t come along very often. There was no way I was going to pass that up. Yes, there’s Fresh Off the Boat, but that was years ago ant they have their turn. I thought that I could relate to this so much more. This is my turn.
Insecure is streaming on HBOGo and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available on Netflix.