Editing for latenight taught Meaghan Wilbur about working under pressure.
“Conan,” where she was one of four editors, would tape at 4:30 Pacific and deliver for air at 11:00 Eastern time, three and a half hours later. No time for attention to wander or for distractions.
But she had a secret to help her through it: less coffee, more tea.
In a business that sometimes seem to run on espresso, that makes her stand out, but she feels coffee hurts her focus. The ritual of brewing loose-leaf forces her take healthy breaks and be social, which refreshes her for more editing.
In fact, tea breaks on “Conan” helped Wilbur and her fellow editors learn Adobe Premiere Pro.
“Editors work alone in dark rooms very often. And that’s great,” says Wilbur. “The flip side of that is on some shows you don’t get a lot of bonding with your fellow editors, and when you do, that’s when you start trading tips and tricks with each other.” When the show switched to Premiere Pro during a short hiatus, the quartet made a concerted effort to spend more time together and share what they’d learned. “One of the four of us would discover something and say ‘Guys, come over here,’ and we’d gather around and have a session. And I would usually make tea, and someone would bring snacks. It created a really nice atmosphere.”
Before “Conan,” Wilbur was a longtime editor for “Sesame Street,” but she has developed a specialty in comedy. Besides “Conan,” she edited HBO’s special “2 Dope Queens” and her next feature assignment is a comedy as well.
“2 Dope Queens” got Wilbur especially excited. She was already a fan of the podcast by Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson. She knew their sensibilities and their rhythm. Plus she considers herself a New Yorker. (“I’m technically from Boston, but we don’t talk about that,” she says with a laugh.), so it was a treat for her to return to Gotham.
“There’s nothing funnier than being in a room with two funny people riffing off each other and getting that live energy,” she says. “The goal of the edit was to keep that live feeling while hitting all of our broadcast specs, like it has to be a certain length.
“I love the puzzle-piece fitting aspect of editing,” she says. “You’re looking for that right shot, you’re looking for that right performance, you’re looking for that right moment to evoke something. You can build so much in the editing.
“In comedy it’s great because sometimes you can find these moments that get a bigger laugh than if they were played straight to camera.”
Wilbur has a background in theater and is attuned to keeping the spontaneity of a live show, starting with how she watches dailies. “The minutia matters. Everything is in the details. The little pauses people do, the little breaths. I prefer to leave it in if someone says an ‘um’ or an ‘ah,’ those are the moments that make it feel alive, that make it feel theatrical.”