Malinda Guerra’s Journey to Four-Time Emmy-Nominated TV Editor
Posted on: Aug 29, 2023
Four-time Emmy-nominated editor Malinda Zehner Guerra is celebrated for shaping a variety of visual stories across television and film. Most recently, Malinda received an Emmy-nomination for her work on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, working alongside an all-female editing team. Nominated for Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Programming on the episode, “My Love Language Is Words Of Defamation,” Malinda added to her previous three Emmy nominations for her editing work on VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, A&E’s Born This Way, and Discovery’s Naked & Afraid XL.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. I know it’s your fourth one, so very impressive. How does it feel?
Thank you. It’s great. I mean, I think any time you get nominated it’s a little overwhelming, especially because it’s your peer group and it’s always nice to have people appreciate the work that you do. But I feel like this one is really special. It’s my first scripted show, a big scripted show, and I’ve been a fan of A Black Lady Sketch Show since Season 1.
I’ve had several friends on multiple seasons. I watched to support them all along, but I’ve just found it so funny and I love seeing the kind of, like women don’t get a lot of front and center in comedy and to be the focus. It feels really special for this one because I think it is something so unique.
I read that you got to be on-set for one of the sketches. Can you tell me what that was like?
Yes, I got to be on-set for [a sketch called] “Save the Last Twerk.” It’s kind of like [the movie] Save the Last Dance. It was so fun. It was in a tiny little dance studio with all the backup dancers and they’re just so hilarious. I think there were 10 shoot days left in the season, and one of the guys who’d been in the show the whole time didn’t recognize one of our actresses, Skye Townsend, at all when she walked on because she was dressed up like a guy and she had a grill in and spoke in a different voice. That cracked me up, that it’s like he sees her every day and thought this was an extra like, “Hey, where are you supposed to be, sir?” I was like, “It’s Skye!”
You have a strong background in editing unscripted. How did that help you when it came to editing for a variety show?
I think with that, with unscripted, so much of that is mining through what was filmed to really craft the story. I think that skill really comes into play, especially in comedy when you have a lot of improv. They would do one or two takes as scripted and then maybe two or three takes kind of just a fun run. The writers are also on-set. They’ll be coming up with alternative jokes, different punchlines.
Sometimes they would just start riffing. It’s stuff like that that I think working in unscripted when you’re really sometimes having to piece things together or find reactions, those little moments to flesh out what the story becomes. Knowing how to really find the pieces to make those improvs and ad-libs work really helps, just being able to kind of adapt things in a way that you have to do in unscripted and especially with comedy.
It’s like improv editing.
Yeah, for sure. You ask yourself, how do I make this work? I think that’s a big question you have to ask yourself when you’re editing a comedy, especially when you have great improv pieces you want to fit in.
What was one of your favorite sketches that you got to piece together from this season?
It’s hard to pick just one. I think the overall kind of one that everybody fell in love with was our “Fresh to Death” sketch, which was our murder podcast one. Robin Thede played a murder podcast VO lady and she has that soft voice and then just the harsh bang to these insane commercials and you’re like, you know that’s how it [really] happens. I think that one was so fun. I also loved “The Bold and the Cubicle” sketch. It was so fun to be able to edit that over-dramatic acting. Gabrielle Dennis was just so funny [in that one].
I love that it’s an all-female cast and an all-female editing team.
Yes. We had an all-female editing team. It’s nice because [we all] understand what it is like to be a lady in this industry. Everybody’s voice was heard and that made it fun. It was also great because I’ve worked with Stephanie Filo and Taylor Manson off and on through the years, but not all three of us together like that.
That was really fun. It helps so much because you do feel like you’re all in it together and it’s a team and everybody knows that our goal is to get this across the line and make it the best thing possible. We are a team and no matter what problem we’re up against, everybody’s trying to work together to come up with the best solution.
How did you get started in editing?
I started in the business as an actor. I was kind of like, “What else can I do?” after a few years. I started taking classes that were a little bit more focused on broadcast and hosting, and in that they taught us Final Cut in Avid. I had done a little editing in college with my film studies minor, but nothing major. I was like, “Oh, wait, I could kind of do this. This is fun.” And then I had a friend who needed an assistant. He was doing commercials for the gas company. I was like, “Oh yeah, this is fun.”
You get Type-A: neat and organized, but then you also get the storytelling aspect. That’s why I initially wanted to be an actor. I love storytelling. I was a huge reader. I wanted to share stories and be different characters. So editing for me, it’s like I get to be in that character. When I’m watching the dailies, I get to experience that actor’s emotion. Then I had a friend who was on an unscripted show and they brought me on as a night assist. I was like, this is a perfect kind of merger and you don’t have to go on auditions and you can work a lot more than when you are an actor.
It’s a little more stable, and the rejection is not as personal.
Right. It’s a little more just behind the scenes, but you’re still a part of bringing the story together. You get to help tell it by choosing the cuts and the takes and which camera angles.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an editor or maybe is an early-stage editor?
I think to be open to opportunities, especially at the beginning. Knowing where you want to go I think is important. Do you want to cut comedy TV? Do you want to cut features? That sort of thing. Know where your goal is. At the same time, while you’re getting there, don’t block yourself up from other opportunities or experiences.
You may know you want to be in scripted and definitely that is a good focus, but if maybe you get an offer for a music video that’s something short or a documentary, learn as much as you can, have as many tricks in your bag because you never know when you’re going to need that in any aspect of editing. Figure out how you can piece those things together to serve you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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