Why working on UNHhhh is anything but a drag
Since its debut in 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race has inspired a series of binge-worthy spinoffs, including UNHhhh, the popular YouTube series hosted by former contestants Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Now in its fifth season, the show has amassed a large and loyal fan base who tune in regularly for a dose of this duo’s shocking banter about nothing – and everything.
Produced by World of Wonder Productions, the show is simple in structure: Mattel and Zamolodchikova sit on stools in front of a green screen and have no-holds-barred discussions on topics ranging from weight and wealth to pets and personal hygiene. It’s then up to Ron Hill and Jeff Maccubbin to make these already-hilarious discussions even funnier.
“We’re editors, but there’s more to our jobs than just editing,” says Hill. “We also have to be part-comedian and part-nerd, which is what gives UNHhhh its unapologetic, rough-around-the-edges feel.”
Right time and place gave editors a chance to shine
Hill and Maccubbin come by these personas naturally. Hill left his small-town home in New Hampshire to attend college in Los Angeles, where his love for computers and technology flourished. He channeled this passion into his first job as an assistant editor on the night shift at World of Wonder and worked his way up. When fellow UNHhhh editor Christopher Smith went on vacation, Hill was asked to step in—and the two collaborated on early episodes from that point on.
Maccubbin, meanwhile, completed his undergraduate degree in painting in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, followed by a master’s degree in film at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He then made his way to Los Angeles, where he worked as a stand-up comedian and freelancer while never taking his eye off his ultimate goal – getting to edit a show like UNHhhh. As luck would have it, he knew someone working on the show, and they needed another editor with the perfectly unique mix of technical expertise and humor. The rest is history.
“It’s my favorite thing to work on,” says Maccubbin. “Whenever we work on anything else, we’re always just trying to get back to the show.”
Image Source: World of Wonder attribution.
Keeping it simple but real
Once or twice a month, Mattel and Zamolodchikova will sit in front of the green screen at World of Wonder’s office to discuss four episodes-worth of featured topics. Hill and Maccubbin then take the raw footage and start editing using Adobe Premiere Pro.
The duo splits the editing duties by literally dividing each episode in half. After the string out is done, they both start working on the text, music, and effects that accompany Mattel and Zamolodchikova’s jokes, which help fuel Hill and Maccubbin’s own creativity. They run their visual responses to the jokes by one another as well as share practical tips. It’s this collaboration – along with some friendly competition – that gives the show its unique look and feel.
Image source: World of Wonder
“UNHhhh has always been stronger because it has two editors on it who, ultimately, are doing it to make each other laugh,” says Hill. “And in the next show, we try to do something crazier than last time.”
It takes about a day to complete the string out, and then about a day to edit two-minutes-worth of the show. In total, they need about a week to complete an episode, and both editors rely on Photoshop and After Effects to help create the show’s one-of-a-kind style.
“When people look to do things in Premiere Pro or After Effects, their goal is to achieve the highest quality, but for us, if it looks too good then it loses its edge and stops being funny,” explains Maccubbin. “It actually takes more work to achieve a less-polished, more-authentic finish.”
Editing prowess adds to the shock value
Hill and Maccubbin approach their editing very differently. Maccubbin starts with the audio, then pulls assets from Photoshop and uses After Effects for the text and effects. Hill, on the other hand, starts with the visuals. He also uses markers to help him visualize the timeline – whereas Maccubbin relies on his audio as a prompt for where to insert effects.
Image source: World of Wonder
“Editing has gotten more complex over the years, but we’ve gotten faster, so we can take more time to try new things,” says Hill. “And although we have different styles, nobody can tell the difference.”
The choice between using Premiere Pro or After Effects for comping comes down to which one will be faster. For shots that only require two seconds of tracking, doing it in Premiere Pro is the answer. But both choose After Effects for scenes requiring more detailed rotoscoping, like when Hill and Maccubbin are creating full worlds out of many layers of multiple still images that Mattel and Zamolodchikova move through.
When each new episode of UNHhhh airs, it’s as much of a surprise to the talent as it is to the audience. Because Mattel and Zamolodchikova film their segments months in advance, they don’t always remember what they said. And sometimes, they’re a little shocked with what they’ve just revealed to the world. But that’s what makes the series so good.
“These ladies are so funny to begin with, and our role is to make them even funnier,” says Hill. “It’s an amazing job to have.”
Watch the second half of the Tips & Tricks Tuesday interview with Hill and Maccubbin and get access to Valentina’s tutorial guide.