Editor JoAnne Yarrow Discusses Only Murders in the Building

Executive producer Selena Gomez’s Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, has just been renewed for a second season on Hulu. ComingSoon spoke with one of the show’s editors, JoAnne Yarrow, to discuss her work on this amazing project.

JoAnne immersed herself in Hollywood’s fast-paced film industry as an assistant editor for hit television shows like G.I.
Joe: The Rise of Cobra starring Channing Tatum, Snow White and The Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco. JoAnne’s dedication and drive pushed her to become editor of the ABC series American Crime under the mentorship of Academy Award-winning writer/director John Ridley. During its three-season run, American Crime was nominated for seventeen Emmys and five Golden Globes.

JoAnne went on to work on the highly acclaimed OWN series Queen Sugar, and audience favorite, Claws on TNT. JoAnne was nominated for an HPA Award for her work on Vida (STARZ), directed by Tanya Saracho. JoAnne is a member of American Cinema Editors and the Television Academy and continues to advance her editing skills with each project. JoAnne explains her editing philosophy as “there are no rules, telling a compelling story is always my number one goal. To have people connect with the material. To move people.”

RELATED: Only Murders in the Building Renewed For a Second Season at Hulu

Jeff Ames: What made you decide to pursue a career in film/TV editing?

JoAnne Yarrow: I was a Speech Pathology major in college. I had taken film classes for fun but never thought I could make it my career. It felt like a really lofty goal to even get into RTF and UT Austin, where I was attending. But I had a sort of breaking point when I walked into a classroom and saw it was a sea of women. It really struck me and made me feel like maybe I wasn’t challenging myself enough. I came home from class and impulsively dropped all my Speech Pathology classes and applied to RTF. I, fortunately, got in, and it was the beginning of trusting my instincts. My love for film grew from making films. I was an avid tv consumer growing up, but it was really in making short films that my passion grew for it. I’m a process girl through and through. Editing was something that fell into my lap because no one really wanted to do it, and quite honestly, the first positions divvied out like Director and DP had gone to the guys in our class. A lot has changed since then, but I’m grateful Editing found its way to me. I discovered what a rich storytelling tool it is and how much you really get to craft what the final project looks and feels like.

How does one learn to become a film/TV editor – like, where do you even begin studying for such an intricate art form?

As I discovered my enthusiasm for editing, I took classes in school for it, but beyond that, I volunteered to cut any project I could get my hands on. I firmly believe that practice makes perfect, and you never stop learning. You can easily teach yourself the software, so it’s a matter of just trying. You can study films and dissect what makes them work. It’s an intuitive art form, so although you can study it in a collegiate atmosphere, I think you can still be a good editor by trying it on your own and practicing. You’ll be able to tell if something is or isn’t working based on other people’s responses to it. If you’re new to the city, get a PA job working with editors. Mentoring is all part of the culture, and people are happy to pass along their knowledge.

How did you break into the industry?

I had hit up every post house I could get the contact info for. I moved here two days before September 11, 2001, and the industry was in the middle of a writers’ strike. I had a very hard time finding work. It took me nine months before I even had a bite. Eventually, one person called me back and offered to help. He sent my resume out to any entry-level position that came his way.

One day, I got a call about a Post PA job on a reboot of The Twilight Zone. I came home from my coffee shop job at 8 O’clock and hesitated to send them my resume, assuming it was too late. But I went ahead and sent it, figuring they’d have it in the morning. Instead, they called me immediately and told me to come in for an interview. I jumped in the car and was interviewing with them by 9 o’clock. By 10 o’clock, I had the job. It was my biggest break.

Do you have a particular editing style, or does it vary from project to project? (I’ve spoken with editors who say they like to cut quick, while others like to add extra frames to all their films/TV shows to breathe.)

It really varies from project to project. I think you have to feel it out. You have a sense of what it will be by the script, but you really are reacting to the dailies and how the story wants to be told. I probably have tendencies of some sort, but I’m not conscious of them. For me, it’s always about being of service to the story, the characters in it, and helping the whole piece flow as best it can.

Is there an editor you studied or molded your craft after?

I look up to every editor I worked for. I am lucky to say I had the privilege of working with some incredibly gifted ones. I like to think that a little bit of each of them rubbed off on me. Hank Corwin, Conrad Buff, Sandra Adair, David Rennie – just to name a few. From Hank, I learned to really think for myself. To be brave and fearless in what you do. To never stop being curious and to experiment. Conrad has this incredible ease about him. He has such grace in the cutting room, in his edits, and as a human being. Sandra was the only female editor I worked for. I admire her work but also what she has been able to accomplish in a male-dominated field. She was happy to throw me work after we worked together, and I appreciated that mentoring aspect of pushing me forward. The same goes for David Rennie. He allowed me to play around with scenes very early in my career when I was a PA.

What was the most challenging project you’ve worked on thus far?

They all have their unique challenges. This is a wonderful job, but it isn’t easy! Right now, I’m on an Apple TV show called Five Days at Memorial. It is larger in scope than what I’ve worked on in the past, and that part is exciting. But there are a lot of moving parts, and because it’s based on a true story, it feels like there’s extra pressure to do it justice.

RELATED: Krysten Ritter Joins Elizabeth Olsen in HBO Max’s Love and Death Miniseries

What drew you to Only Murders in the Building?

I love mysteries. I love Steve Martin and Martin Short. It was a no-brainer. When I read the pilot script, it filled me with so much joy. I laughed out loud a lot in reading the scripts, and it was truly a gift to be able to work on a show in 2021 that could bring laughter into my day-to-day life.

You’re working in tandem with two other editors on this project — Matthew Barbato, Julie Monroe. Before editing begins, did the three of you discuss how you wanted to approach this project, or was it an “every person for themselves” type of situation?

Julie Monroe cut the first episode. Matthew was hired before me, but we ended up switching episodes, so I was second up. I spoke to Julie to get her guidance, but she honestly just gave me her blessing to do my thing. She’s incredibly talented and secure in her abilities, and she immediately trusted me. It was absolutely wonderful working with her and Matthew. As we continued through the season, we would consult each other with any shared obstacles or challenges. Still, many of the episodes lent themselves to their own identity anyway, so it allowed us to cut the show as we saw fit.

The series features two legendary comedians — the great Steve Martin and Martin Short — supplying their own unique brand of comedy to the true crime genre. I imagine there were numerous takes, lots of improvising, and whatnot … as an editor, how do you shape an actor’s performance — if that makes sense — amidst so many different options?

When I first started, I have to admit I was questioning if my decisions were the best options. Ultimately, Matthew gave me some great advice, “Make it funny to you.” So that’s what I did. Editing is subjective and comedy even more so, so I trusted myself, and in the end, there were talented directors and producers who would chime in if they wanted something else. With legends like Martin and Short, you take their lead.

Were there any opportunities to step outside your comfort zone on this particular project? Please elaborate.

This was the first time I got to work so closely with a composer. Siddhartha Khosla wrote our brilliant score. I was really nervous to be showing him early assembly cuts at first. Eventually, I got used to it, and now it will be hard to go back to anything else. I liked being forced to show my work to someone who sees editors’ work all the time. I liked spotting the scene with him and having those discussions early on in the process. It really helped the show feel cohesive by having the score locked in so early.

What was something you learned on this project that you can transfer to future projects?

I think it taught me how much I really enjoy cutting comedy. I love the idea of being given the opportunity of working in all types of genres and really honing in on the tone and timing of each one. It’s all practice and builds out your toolbox of different skill sets. It makes you more well-rounded.

Any additional thoughts?

Despite this being a simple-looking show, we did have the extra layer of it being shot on a stage, and we had hundreds of green screens in the apartment windows. I also had one full episode that was in cars with green screens and driving plates. We changed the structure of that episode over and over, so I would have to composite the shots with different driving plates with each iteration. It was not at all perfect, but I got really good at being speedy at making those adjustments. It was half headache, half fun.

Do you have any upcoming projects you could share with us?

I mentioned before, I’m on Five Days at Memorial. It’s based on a book by Sheri Fink about five harrowing days during and after Hurricane Katrina at a hospital in New Orleans. We were supposed to be shooting there as Ida hit on Katrina’s anniversary, and it was surreal. It’s a special, deeply moving series. Only Murders in the Building made you laugh, but this one will make you cry.

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