Awards Radar recently got the opportunity to chat with Mark Sadlek, one of the producers and editors on HBO Max’s Insecure. Mark has worked on the series from start to finish, including editing every season premiere and finale.
Insecure, created by Issa Rae, follows Issa as she navigates her experience as a modern-day Black woman with her best friend Molly. The show just wrapped up its fifth and final season on December 26th.
Below, we spoke to editor and producer Mark Sadlek. In this interview Sadlek dives into editing both the series premiere and finale, as well as what makes Insecure so special.
How did you get involved with Insecure?
I had just finished editing Parks and Recreation and my agent sent me the script for Insecure. I was instantly intrigued because there were extremely well written, everyday, three dimensional characters from a part of L.A. under represented in TV and film. I met with creator Issa Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny and just wanted to make sure they understood the passion I had to help tell these great stories. Prentice had just finished Brooklyn 99 with Mike Schur, so was able to use Mike as a reference for me. I got the call soon after from Issa and Prentice that I was hired.
What was it like getting to edit both the pilot and series finale of the show? Describe your editing process on both.
I’m so grateful to have been able to edit the Insecure beginning, ending and every premiere and finale in between. Seeing our amazing actors evolve along with our character’s emotional journeys and storylines was extremely informative in the edit for performance choices, edit pacing and cutting patterns.
I started the edit process the same way for both the pilot and series finale. I read the full script a few times for the episode and then each scene a few times before I started breaking down the story goals, POV and subtext for each character. I then cut each scene for performance, pace and cutting pattern. Once all of the scenes were cut I put them together for a complete episode and refined pacing, performance and pattern based on the episode as a whole. Then I placed my initial music choices and tried to beat those music and edit choices until time ran out for my editor’s cut. It’s always the last cut, not the final cut.
The Insecure pilot process was about finding the right performances, edit pacing, and balance between comedy, drama and music that would then become the template for the series. Editing the series finale was about bringing all of those character storylines and emotional journeys together in the most satisfying way.
For example, there’s a scene at the end of the series finale when Issa is helping Molly with her wedding dress after Molly’s wedding. A very emotional Molly turns to Issa and thanks her for always being there for her in the past. Because it was essentially a series ending goodbye for Issa and Molly, I was able to add as much air as needed to make this scene as affecting as possible. It was key to have that luxury of time to end all of these stories in the right way.
What role did music play in the editing?
Music was a huge part of Insecure. Issa said in the first season that whatever happens with Insecure the music is ultimately going to be dope. Our amazing music supervisor Kier Lehman gave us weekly music packages to choose from for our cuts. We then used that music to drive our comedy, heighten our drama and transition between the two. For example, we loved the vibe of Lavish by TT The Artist for our first mirror montage and tracks from artists like Jazmine Sullivan, SZA and Moses Sumney became the template for our dramatic moments. The game I also wanted to play in the edit was to find the song with the most transitions and emotional twists and turns to play through several scenes to cater to that specific emotional story. Ultimately Issa also had a very large presence for final music choices and would work with Kier, myself, the other editors Nena Erb, Daysha Broadway and our music editor Michael Brake to solidify any final music options. Finally, if we couldn’t find the right vibe from a needle drop track, our composer Raphael Saadiq would create one that would brilliantly bring a scene together.
How did you balance both the comedic and dramatic moments of the show while editing?
Our balance of comedy and drama was all found through pacing, reactions and music. We tried not to tip off the audience for the emotion of a scene until we were in that specific moment, and then we would pace up for comedy or slow it down for drama and emotion. We then highlighted that comedy or drama with music while again, being careful not to tip off what the audience should be feeling before it happens. It all becomes a tightrope walk to hopefully make it all work seamlessly together and feel organic and real.
What was the biggest challenge you faced working on the last season?
One of the biggest challenges for the final season was finding the right performance and music for the last time we would see a character or a location in the series. I probably spent twice the amount of time looking for that perfect final performance for a character or the right music to send that character or location into the sunset. I’m sure a lot of that extra time spent was because we just didn’t want to let it go and see the series end. Finding the final credit song for the series was also nearly impossible.
I know you were a producer on the show as well. Can you tell us more about your role as a producer on the show?
My producer role became an extension of what I was already doing as a lead editor for seasons three and four of the series. I continued to give notes in the edit, but now was able to use edit insight from the past four seasons to get more involved in episode production, while helping set new looks for our L.A. B-roll and continuing to evolve the series.
Anything else to add?
I’m grateful to have been even a small part in the making of this amazing series. These are universal stories of flawed characters making mistakes, owning those mistakes and growing from them. Like all narratives it’s about believing in yourself.
If you haven’t seen Insecure yet, I highly suggest starting a binge watch tonight.