When we’re talking about reality TV shows, “the editing” and “the editors” are phrases that come up frequently: in my writing, certainly, but even in casual conversation. It’s part of the process that is complicated, creatively and technically, and it’s also responsible for how we receive a show.
Of the three Emmys that Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye won last year, one was for editing: the process of turning the Fab Five’s time with someone into less than an hour of television.
Matt Miller, Ryan Taylor, and Joe DeShano are three of those Emmy-winning editors, and all three are nominated this year (along with Carlos Gamarra, Iain Tibbles, and Tony Zajkowski). They’ll find out if they won this weekend, when 97 Emmys are distributed during the two-night Creative Arts Emmy award ceremonies.
Matt, Ryan, and Joe have also all been with the Netflix version of the show since its beginning, and I interviewed them earlier this week about their work.
It turns out that, like the Fab Five, the editors work both individually and as a team to create Queer Eye episodes.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” Matt told me. “But we definitely had our own episodes that we took point on. As I think everybody knows, the schedules on TV shows these days are pretty crazy and fast-paced. One editor will lead an episode overall to see it through most of the way.”
Ryan said that “each episode will have a dedicated story producer,” and in general, there are teams of two—a story producer and editor—who work together. He said it “is nice to get a rhythm with someone, to have shorthand,” and explained how that works: “We have story producers going through all the footage, going through the interview bites, crafting a story, and then when they pass it off to the editor, then we start to work together and go: What do we need here? What can we do? How can we make this better?”
Joe called this “a collaborative process,” and said that “the story producer and usually the lead editor that’s working on an episode will work very closely together, and at times will be in the edit together.” Their goal, he added, is “bringing out the most authentic story.”
Matt said that the editors get “a very, very rough kind of sketch” and end up “turning it into an actual building, or an actual house.”
“There’s a fair amount of us going into each other’s edits and showing each other things: What do you think of this, what do you think of that?” he added. “I would say more so on Queer Eye than I’ve experienced on other shows—even to the extent that when other editors, friends of mine, came onto the show to work, they commented that it happens.”
Matt thinks one reason why it’s so “very collaborative” has to do with the “topical issues that [Queer Eye] deals with, and you want to make sure you’re handling a lot of the material right. It’s delicate stuff and sometimes you need another set of eyes and ears.”
Condensing hours of the Fab Five’s work into minutes of TV
Queer Eye’s production team can film 40 to 80 hours of footage for one episode, Matt estimated.
He said that largely “depends on how long they spent with the hero,” which is Queer Eye’s term for the star of the episode—the person who’s getting the makeover. “I think that’s where the magic comes from: not missing those moments of authenticity.”
“There is a lot of content to go through, and that’s honestly the biggest challenge,” Joe told me. “They shoot a lot. You don’t get those authentic real moments just by showing up for 10 minutes.”
Editors have about a month to turn that raw footage into a rough cut, which takes about 30 days. Episodes take, on average, about six weeks to edit.
That time, Joe explained, “depends on the episode,” and whether it’s one where the “story is a little more straightforward” or complex. He said that “going through the footage and making sure that you’re representing the hero in [their] most truest, authentic self—that’s really the most important thing.”
The show is now in its fourth season, and the edit is spending more time with the show’s five stars. “The later seasons, the Fab Five have gotten a little more personal, and have been able to share more of their stories and reflecting more about their connections with the heroes,” Joe said.
Queer Eye is nominated in the “structured reality” categories, for both in the technical editing category and for the show itself. That means that it has a format that it follows episode to episode, rather than just following structure. Shark Tank is structured or formatted; The Real Housewives is not.
But while there’s a structure that each episode follows, Queer Eye actually somewhere in between, according to its editors.
“We talk about this at length about the theory of Queer Eye, and how it works,” Joe said. “It’s kind of a hybrid: it’s a formatted show, but like Matt said earlier, it’s shot like a docuseries.”
That means “there is a skeleton, like a base structure that we’re going to build to. But each episode is tailored for the hero, so what we do and how we edit for a specific episode will vary based upon who the hero is. That includes the music, the style of editing, the pacing, sound effects,” he said. “Some episodes might be more comedic, while others might be more emotional or serious. So that changes the pacing.”
What’s included in Queer Eye’s edit
“It’s a makeover show,” Joe said. “There’s going to be, of course, Bobby Berk’s amazing transformations that everybody loves—including us!—that’s going to be in there. The Tan shopping moment; Jonathan doing their hair; Karamo’s conversations about whatever the hero happens to be dealing with.”
Having those familiar beats also means making sure the show doesn’t get too familiar. Ryan said, “We’ve all worked on the show from season one, and the challenge is trying to keep something feeling fresh and new.”
He gave an example: In the early days, the editors would have all of the Fab Five talk in the house after the reveal. But later, they realized: “We’ve already heard some of this stuff, and there really isn’t something new, and I’d like to have a little more time in a conversation earlier in the show so maybe Anthony speaks a little more in his field trip and a little less in the house.”
That comes down to one question: “Is this essential here, or can we get rid of it?” Ryan said. Matt added, “The audience has seen some of this before. Maybe we don’t need to include all of this.”
But as writers, contestants on Project Runway, and other creative people know, editing can be beneficial.
“As much as it might hurt to cut something out that you really don’t want to cut out, in my experience, it’s pretty rare that you end up missing it once you cut it out,” Matt said. “You generally feel like the episode is better.”
Because the show has the makeover format, with attention spent on hair, clothing, and furniture, the show has been criticized for its focus on materialism.
And even one member of the Fab Five commented about the balance in the edits. This summer, Karamo Brown told Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya,
“In season one and two, they were still balancing how to do in the edit from my point of view. I would have these heartfelt conversations, but [the viewer] didn’t really understand, in my opinion, that, Oh, his role is to fix the inside. Because you know, everything else is external. You cut someone’s hair, you change their clothes, you see their diet, you see the house. Mine was a little bit more ambiguous. But as the fans of the show responded, they were like, “No no no, we want more of what Karamo’s giving! I realized every time he comes onscreen I start crying.”
[The producers] leaned into it for season three, and I’m really proud of season four.”
I asked the editors about this—wondering out loud if, from an editing perspective, there’s more of an emphasis on materialism and stuff because that’s what’s easier to capture visually. Emotional change is much more challenging to capture on film, never mind in an edited story.
“One of the hardest parts of the show is figuring out which stories we are going to tell,” Ryan said. “We have such rich footage. What can we put on the show and tell in a clear, succinct way in 45 minutes that’s interesting and that makes sense? I feel like one of the biggest problems is, you look at the hero and go, They have so many interesting stories. Which ones can we digest easily, and which moments will sing in a certain way?”
Including too much story means that, sometimes, “it just gets a little bit muddied.” So, the editors cut things out.
“It’s disappointing that some of those things don’t make it, but I feel like, at the end of the day, what we choose to go in [episodes] is the [moments] that are the best and will help the audience connect with the hero the most,” he added.
The difference that editing for a Netflix show makes
Since the show is on Netflix, there’s more flexibility with its length, but that doesn’t mean there’s unlimited time. “It’s not like on network television where we have a TRT [total running time] where we have to hit to the frame, but it’s around a certain time that Netflix likes to have it,” Matt said. “They like us to have it between 42 and 50 minutes, essentially.”
Joe said that “Netflix knows what they’re doing. They’re at the top of the game. They know what works,” and he said that, compared to some broadcast or cable shows, the process of creating episodes is “like night and day. With shows that air on cable or network, you have teases, you have pods in between (if some of them still do that), things that are coming up—all those extra things that you have to allot time for within the show, and that takes away from content. We’re able to just jump in and it’s a whole piece. We don’t have to worry about commercial breaks. You’re in it; you’re moving on to that next moment. I just absolutely love it.”
“Collaborating with Netflix is honestly—it is incredible,” Joe said. “Working with Jenn Levy and her team, it’s awesome. The way they give notes; it’s not a mandate, it’s more like a collaborative process.”
“Notes” refers to the process of getting feedback from executives—which was hilariously parodied by a reality TV story producer, because it can often be comically bad. But it can also be useful and help make a show better.
“I feel like Netflix is always asking us to dig deeper,” Ryan said. They’re always pushing: What else can we learn? Can we push the emotion?”
The editors take that feedback and see what they can tweak in order to respond to Netflix executives’ feedback. “Our executive producer Jen Lane always says, Small changes, big solutions. Nothing we get from Netflix is a mandate, it’s an idea about how to push us,” Ryan said.
Matt said there’s “get from Netflix a lot is just a general excitement that I would get in the notes about the show. … Maybe certain network shows, you don’t always get that.”
But the three Queer Eye editors I interviewed emphasized that the care and concern for the show is reflected from Netflix executives all the way to people who work in the office.
“The Queer Eye team, from the field to post and everyone involved in post-production and in administration, everything—it’s like a family,” Joe said. “I’d like people to know that the cast and the crew, they feel the same way. It’s not every day you get to work on something that’s so positive and has such a great study of the human condition.”
“From the very beginning, we’ve all just cared so much about making this show—not screwing it up, you know?” Matt added. “Being a reboot of the original, there was a lot of fear. Reboots so often flop, and it’s easy to mess up a reboot, and we just didn’t want to mess it up. And we cared about the material and we cared about doing it right. Hopefully—I think we did do it right, and I think we did it right because we all cared so much and cared about each other. It’s just been a really awesome experience.”
Joe told a story about episode four of season one, “To Gay or Not Too Gay,” which featured a man named AJ who Netflix said was “the self-proclaimed ‘Straightest Gay Guy in Atlanta'”, and the Fab Five helped him “come out to his stepmother and make peace with his past.”
“I remember seeing a tweet response to Jonathan and the Queer Eye account of a young man say that watching the AJ episode … gave him the confidence to come out to his dad,” Joe said.
He paused. “Every time I tell people this story, I get a little emotional about it. It meant a lot to me, as someone who is gay myself, grew up in Michigan, and did not have a lot of representation. To know that we’re putting something else that’s helping people, that’s something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m truly grateful for having that opportunity.”