How Editors Bring a "Musical Rhythm" to 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel-Publicity Still-H 2019
Nicole Rivelli/Amazon

The editors aimed to bring a "musical rhythm" to the dialogue on Amazon's Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, says Kate Sanford, who is Emmy-nominated for editing on the “Simone” episode, while her fellow editor Tim Streeto is nominated for the “We're Going to the Catskills!” episode. Here, the pair talked about working on the Amy Sherman-Palladino-created series.

What is the overall approach to editing the series?

SANFORD: They want it to feel very musical, even if music isn’t playing. It needs to feel like there is a musical rhythm to the dialogue in the sort of ping-ponging back and forth. We have a lot of phone calls, and that’s a lot of really fun opportunities to bounce back and forth between two characters. We take our cue from the way that it’s shot and performed. We just keep hammering away until it finds that perfect Maisel form.

Could you elaborate on that point using as an example the dinner sequence from the 'Simone" episode, during which you cut back and forth between Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle) and her father Abe (Tony Shalhoub).

SANFORD: That was a pretty hard sequence. They shot that with A and B camera on each character. Depending on who’s looking at whom, I’ll be swapping out cameras to make sure that the looks are correct, the eyelines are correct, but we definitely wanted to keep it grounded in some kind of emotional reality even though it gets very heightened and crazy. I think that’s also the challenge, to keep it feeling real and feeling true. Obviously, it’s a comedy, but there’s a lot of drama, and I think the comedy comes out of people’s emotions getting overblown, and misunderstandings, and things like that.

Also in that sequence, you generally stayed on the actor that was speaking; you didn’t do a lot of long reaction shots.

SANFORD: I think that is a style of the show. I think we do less off-camera dialogue than on most. I think [Dan Palladino] and Amy like to keep the rhythm fast paced and sharp, and that often means cutting to them when they begin speaking, and staying on them for most of their dialogue. ... Another thing we have to do is decide where those overlaps are going to come, and also keeping in mind that really it’s about Midge. She’s the protagonist and the anchor in the story, so even though Abe is having his drama, Rose is having her drama, and the three of them are there, it’s really about how Midge is experiencing her parents being in Paris, so I cut it so that everyone has their lines on camera, and then go back and say, "OK, where do I want to make it more subjective so that we’re going to stay more on Midge?" Another example [from that episode] is the phone call between Midge and [her estranged huband] Joel (Michael Zegen). I started out with every line being on camera. And then I took a step back and said, this is really about Midge and her experience. If you watch it, it's not perfectly weighted on both sides, it has to be weighted more for Midge, and how she’s feeling about what he’s saying to her.

Tim, would you pick an example of handling dialogue from the “Catskills” episode?

STREETO: When Midge comes in to the orientation, there’s a brief moment where she sees an old friend, and everyone discovers that she’s divorced. There’s a lot of gossip happening. The tricky part of pacing out something is that you don’t want it to feel too cutty, and I think that when you stay on who’s speaking, that can help alleviate that somewhat.

[At other times] we play things in wider shots, our team stages these really beautiful one-ers, and master shots, and so we try to use coverage minimally in some instances, but to keep the pace up we often have to get in there. The entire orientation scene [had] a lot of coverage. There were several scenes playing out. There was what was going on onstage with the staff singing, there was a call and response with the audience, and then Midge and Joel were having a side conversation. During all of that, the entire audience is clapping and stomping their feet, and keeping all those balls in the air was tricky. 

And then there was the shot during which Midge and her family move into their cottage and you just held the wide shot of the house and all of the dialogue takes place through the windows.

STREETO: It was just the one shot, and they really rehearsed it. They really got the beats down, and I feel like they did about 12 or 15 takes with it. But then we did a lot with the sound design because a lot of the time people are off-camera. We moved dialogue around. Dan directed that episode, and once he saw it put together, we added a few bits and pieces there that helped fill it all out. It was a very bold choice to play that whole thing like that.

Interview edited for length and clarity.