Back to School
TV & film editing wisdom from Emmy and Peabody Award-winning social rights champion, Stephanie Filo
Edit: Since we last spoke to Stephanie, she’s won an Emmy for Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Programming, A Black Lady Sketch Show! Congratulations Stephanie! 🥳
Image credit: Stephanie Filo
What makes a TV show, film or documentary captivating? It could be a compelling plot paired with the perfect cast, or a historical tribute with an incredible orchestral score. But many often overlook the precise edits, digital effects and color grading that can completely transform the final product. Enter Stephanie Filo: master TV/film editor and producer with over a decade of experience editing scripted and unscripted content. As a follow up to Boris FX’s Ask the Artist interview, we got the chance to pick Stephanie’s brain about all things post-production, inspiration and advice for those looking to break into the industry. Check out our full interview below. ⬇️
We know from your interview with Boris FX that you work on a Wacom Cintiq Pro and use Avid Media Composer, Continuum, Sapphire and Mocha Pro. Tell us how the Cintiq Pro helps your workflow and what you love most about using it with that software.
I often build a lot of temp VFX on projects that I am working on, and I can be really particular about sound work, and the Cintiq Pro helps to optimize my workflow in both of those areas. Having a mirrored display that you can essentially draw on makes it so much easier to really fine-tune effects. Painting out items or creating split screens is much easier because you can zoom way into it and essentially draw shapes and create more believable blurs. It’s really nice to be able to pull up items like Sapphire Effect Builder or Mocha Pro right in front of me on my tablet where I can zoom way in and out and play with all of the different functions. The EK Remote and the touch display options that come with the Cintiq Pro add extra ease, because they allow you to map your different keyboard functions which really speeds up my workflow as well.
What’s a day in the life of a TV/film editor and producer like?
On a typical day, I turn on my system and open up Avid to watch through footage. At this point, I will usually sub out moments or selects that I think might be useful in telling the story I’m trying to tell. On some projects like A Black Lady Sketch Show, those moments might be improv or ad-libbed moments that I really want to try to sprinkle into my cut. If it’s a documentary project like Separated or Supervillain, the moments might be sound bites or nuanced moments in verité footage that I feel need to be incorporated into the story. Sometimes my selects might be reaction shots or ideas, but I always feel like it is good to go into an edit with these elements in mind. Once I’ve pulled my selects, I get to work cutting together the piece. On a typical day I also try to check in with other editors on the project if there are any, and when it’s applicable I try to have someone take a look at what I’ve cut for feedback and collaboration purposes.
How and when did you come to feel that you were successful in your creative career?
To be honest, I don’t know if anyone ever sits and thinks ‘OK, I’m successful now,’ and honestly I think one of the things I love the most about editing is that you constantly keep learning and growing. On every project I try to learn something new and figure out new techniques or additional ways to collaborate with my teammates.
Did you have to overcome any obstacles throughout your career?
I think the biggest obstacle as a black female editor has been trying to prove to every project and at every juncture that I belong there. On more than one occasion I’ve been an editor on a show and people will tell me their lunch order thinking I’m the PA, or producers will try to explain to me how to do my own job. On one of the first shows I edited, another one of the editors actually said to my face that ‘a black woman could never edit this show.’ I spent months working as hard and as long as possible to deliver the best cuts I could, and at one point that same editor was let go and I became the lead editor on the show. I guess he was wrong! Unfortunately, these obstacles are a reality for a lot of if not most editors of color. I’ve started to see the tides changing recently which has been so inspiring and I can’t wait to see the world of post continue to diversify with new talented faces!
How much of your own life is reflected in your work?
I think that as editors, we put our hearts and souls into our work. There’s a meme of a guy grinning at his computer and it says something like ‘This is how Editors look when they search for happy reaction shots,’ and I think that sums up how we tend to have ourselves reflected in our work and vice-versa. I always like to be as researched and prepared as possible before starting a project, but I think it’s also important to look at how we relate to a project, what real life people we might know who remind us of the characters on screen or what real life experience we personally have that might translate to the way a scene is told or the lens we approach it from. As a result of doing this, your heart gets pulled into the story you’re trying to tell. Sometimes you can look at something and know immediately who edited it and I think that’s a testament to this particular aspect of editing.
Looking back, how has Wacom been a part of your journey?
The first Wacom tablet that I ever used was way back when I was assistant editing/online editing. At first, I was just trying to look as cool as my boss who had one, but once I tried it and got the hang of using it, I realized I would never go back. Originally it sort of served as a mouse replacement for me, until I realized how detailed it allows you to be. For Online Editing and Assistant Editing, you could really get specific with color correction and retouching. As I transitioned into editing, I realized that it allows you to be super detail-oriented with your timeline, VFX and sound. I upgraded from a basic model to the Intuos Pro which had mappable buttons. Being able to map my keyboard shortcuts to the different tablet buttons helped me to become faster, and now with the Cintiq Pro and the EK Remote, it gives another extra layer of functionality. I put my timeline in the display which allows me to zoom way in and make really precise edits and effects, and I also place my sound mixer in the window which lets me get up close and personal with my sound design, audio effects and levels.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Coffee, Cheez-its, and Sweet Tarts. Also, obviously my Wacom tablet and my Hello Kitty keyboard.
Who is your biggest source of inspiration?
My dad is my life’s biggest inspiration. He’s lived so many different lives — he’s a lawyer who’s also a professional jazz musician who’s toured the world, who’s worked with the UN and the International Criminal Court, he’s lived in practically every country and knows so much about so many people and things, and he’s so modest about all of it that you would never know unless you asked him. Aside from that just making him such an interesting person, I feel like I have modeled a lot of my life after him because that’s what I grew up seeing — having a varied life with as much perspective as possible. Tying that into editing, having a varied background gives me windows into different aspects of storytelling or perhaps a wider perspective sometimes when it comes down to putting that on the screen.
If you could become a character from any project you’ve worked on, which one would you choose and why?
This is a hard question! I think I would combine a couple – I would mix the excitement and confidence of the Ally character in A Black Lady Sketch Show with the overall badassery and no-nonsense attitude of Vivien from Acts of Crime.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your industry?
Always try for every opportunity you see — it might feel out of reach, but what if it’s not? Also, don’t be afraid to be yourself! There are so many qualities that make you unique as a person, and the more you lean into that the closer you will be to where you want to go!
About Stephanie Filo
Stephanie Filo is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning TV/film editor and activist with over a decade of experience editing and producing both scripted and unscripted content. She is based in Los Angeles, CA and Sierra Leone, West Africa, and also serves on the board for Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone, a social impact and feminist-based organization for Sierra Leonean girls aged 11-16. She is one of the co-founders of End Ebola Now, an organization created in 2014 to spread accurate information and awareness about the Ebola Virus and its impact through artistic community activism.