Ramy brings a fresh perspective through the lens of a first-generation Muslim-American

Ramy (award-nominated TV show) editor Joanna Naugle shares editing tips and tricks and walks through one of her favorite scenes on the hit show

Photo from Hulu

Nominated for multiple Emmy and Critics Choice Awards, the acclaimed series Ramy follows a first generation Egyptian-American man as he tackles heavy themes of self-discovery, faith, commitment, and compassion within and outside of his community. The show combines comedy and drama to take the audience on Ramy’s spiritual journey while he struggles between the values of his Muslim community and life as a millennial living in the moment.

Senior Post lead editor and co-owner Joanna Naugle breaks down a key scene for us in the behind-the-scenes video below, and discusses her work on Ramy, the transition to a remote workflow halfway through post-production, and balancing the unique tones to achieve the overall creative vision for the show’s second season.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

I first experimented with editing by using in-camera techniques on my home video camera growing up and then using iMovie for school projects in high school. However, I really fell in love with editing while attending Tisch School of the Arts and taking a class where we shot on film and then cut it together on a Steenbeck. This was an incredibly formative experience for me, and literally cutting and taping together pieces of film made me realize how crucial editing was to the storytelling experience and made me want to specialize in this part of the filmmaking process. In 2012, I met Josh Senior and later became a co-owner of Senior Post. Everything I’ve cut at our post house, whether it be a feature film, television show, comedy special, music video, commercial or documentary, has been using Adobe Premiere Pro.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

I’m lucky that we had really talented and organized assistant editors on Ramy, and so by the time the projects came to me, all the footage was synced and organized by scene. There were always two cameras shooting (sometimes three) so the multi-cam function was crucial for keeping things organized. I also had the assistant editors create line by lines for each scene, putting each take for each line in a sequence so I could easily watch them all back-to-back and choose the best option for the scene. Those line by lines proved to be supremely helpful in the long run, especially when Ramy wanted to see line readings when we were working remotely. I could just export those sequences and send to him to review quickly.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

I have a couple of favorite moments from this season, but I had the most fun cutting episode #4, where Ramy and Zainab go to Prince Bin Khaled’s estate to ask for money. There were so many absurd moments (the breast milk, Mia Khalifa, the parrot) and we really tried to create a foreboding and bizarre atmosphere while they were at this strange location. The archery scene was especially fun to build out. I really wanted to emphasize the twist halfway through the scene, where we think Ramy has succeeded but then Bin Khaled turns the tables on him. We had to find that right balance between making sure the stakes felt real while still finding moments of humor throughout that scene. And then of course the episode ends with a surprising proposition from Sheikh Ali, and making that moment feel sincere and vulnerable was important for sticking the landing.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

Going into quarantine halfway through editing the season was definitely challenging to say the least! But luckily our post producer, Josh Senior, and our post supervisor, Andrew Rowley, figured out a contingency plan quickly — we copied all the transcoded media onto hard drives and sent one home with each of our editors, assistant editors, and online editors. Then we were easily able to share projects remotely by simply reconnecting to the media on each of our drives. Anytime someone added a new asset, we had to all be sure we labeled it the same way and downloaded it to our respective hard drives. Another challenge was editing a show that has a huge component in a language I do not speak. Salah Anwar, our wonderful assistant editor, was hugely helpful with that. In Arabic-heavy scenes, he would go through in advance and create subtitles to give me and the other editor, Matthew Booras, context. He would also use markers to call out takes in Arabic that were especially funny, which allowed us to create the best possible versions of the scenes.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you choose them?

I used Premiere Pro to edit Ramy. The multi-cam function is incredibly helpful for our show since we’re shooting with multiple cameras. I was hesitant to use it at first on Season 1 because I was worried it would be too complicated, but it was really easy to set up. Without it, it would have made watching dailies two or three times as long. I also used markers way more often on this project than before, since we didn’t have the luxury of being in the same room as our assistant editors during project handoffs. These markers served as a shorthand for reminders or details about the project that we didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. When sending projects back and forth, we also frequently used the command that allows you to export a sequence as its own Premiere Pro Project. This made the files much smaller and more streamlined, and required less relinking and uploading time between different users.

What do you like about Premiere Pro, and/or any of the other tools you used?

My favorite thing about Premiere Pro is that it’s so easy to get started. You can just add media and go, which is what makes it great for editing so many different types and sizes of projects. It’s also great to be able to integrate the other Adobe programs so easily, like After Effects and Photoshop. Having files auto-update across the programs saves a lot of time and energy. I’m also a huge fan of the new title tool; it keeps the project so much cleaner to not have individual files in bins for each corresponding piece of text.

What’s your favorite hidden gem/ workflow hack in Adobe Creative Cloud?

One of my favorite features of Premiere Pro is the ability to customize label colors. I’m an incredibly visual person and so while working on episodes, I label each scene a different color. This makes it super easy to know exactly where one scene starts and the next finishes, and I can easily zoom out and see how much of the run time each scene takes up proportionally. If my sequence doesn’t look clean and organized, I can’t concentrate on making creative choices so keeping things color coded and simplified is key for my productivity. Also changing the “Nudge Selection Up” and “Nudge Selection Down” commands to one of my key shortcuts totally changed my workflow. I use that command constantly and only needing one keystroke makes me much more efficient as an editor.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Thelma Schoonmaker is definitely an editing hero of mine. I remember seeing her win the Oscar for editing “The Departed” and it was just as I was getting ready to attend film school and I thought, “maybe I could be her one day.” She made my wildest dreams seem possible and I really admire the longtime collaboration between her and Martin Scorsese. The Coen Brothers are also a huge creative inspiration for me; they are so skilled at seamlessly shifting between genres within their films to create a totally unique experience. “Fargo” is my all-time favorite film, and I’m definitely drawn to similar projects that blur the line between comedy and drama, just like “Ramy” does.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

I’ve had some amazing creative collaborations in my career and some that didn’t pan out the way I had hoped, and when that happens it can be easy to beat yourself up or obsess over what you did wrong during the process. It took some time, but I’ve learned not to take these things personally — there will be people who you communicate really well with and you’ll feel like equal creative partners working and creating together. And there will be other people who are incredibly talented and creative, but they just don’t know how to convey their ideas or engage with you as an editor in order to accomplish their vision. There has to be a level of trust between the director and editor in order for that collaboration to be most effective and fruitful. So, the most important thing you can do starting out as an editor is to work with as many different directors and collaborators as possible, so you can find the people who are the best creative match for you and build that trust with them while working together. I’m lucky to count Ramy as one of those successful collaborators for me, and he strikes a great balance between having a singular and focused creative vision while still leaving room for input and suggestions from me and the rest of the team.

Share a photo of where you work.

What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

It’s been an adjustment working from home the past few months but the best part is sharing the space with my fiancé, Michael Litwak. He is a writer/director and so it’s really great to be able to bounce ideas off each other whenever we’re at a creative roadblock. I’ve also gotten very used to working in sweatpants and slippers… it’s going to be tough going back to wearing jeans and real shoes every day.

Ramy is available to stream on Hulu.