Emmy Award-winning film and TV editor Jon Philpot is perhaps best known for his work on three seasons of Broad City and as a result has become Ilana Glazer’s go-to editor, most recently working on her new film False Positive (A24) premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Glazer and her Broad City collaborator John Lee (who also directed) wrote the film which also stars Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol, and Zainab Jab in a thriller about a couple whose relationship hits the rocks after they visit a fertility specialist, resulting in sinister events occurring.
Philpot continues to showcase his talent and versatility on a wide variety of projects. Some of his other credits include Search Party, Wonder Showzen, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. In 2015, Philpot won a Daytime Emmy for single camera editing on the PBS show, The Mind of a Chef. More recent projects include his editing work on the Tina Fey executive produced Peacock series Girls5Eva and Comedy Central’s Akwafina Is Nora from Queens.
In this interview Jon offers loads of stories and industry insight such as transitioning from TV to film, why he considers editing just a part of the collaborative process, and finding just the right fart sound for Awkwafina.
Jason: Hello Jon. So how did you got involved in such a cool profession?
Jon Philpot: When I was a little kid, I wanted to be like a disc jockey. I’d make tapes from recording songs off the radio doing my own intros. Then I got a job at a laboratory in the speech communications department at the University of Georgia. Part of the day I was putting experiments together on tape to tape editing machines, and I thought ‘this is super cool.’ And then I got an internship at a record label that put out early minimalism and the biggest artist that they put out was Tony Conrad. I liked art and music and I learned a tremendous amount about structural filmmaking and also minimalism and experimental music. Slowly I worked my way up, then moved to New York and started freelancing. I wanted to follow where the art was, like Tony Conrad and that whole Velvet Underground scene. I came to New York and was thrown into the world of pop culture.
Jason: I can imagine it was quite the culture shift coming from Georgia to New York.
Jon Philpot: It’s been 21 years now. I consider this place home although I’m a bit beat down after this last year (laughs).
Jason: Yeah, we all are. Were you inspired by a single editor in particular?
Jon Philpot: I was inspired not by one editor but filmmakers. I’m not saying that I don’t pay attention to editors. When I read the book by Walter Murch (legendary sound designer/editor of THX 1138 and Apocalypse Now) titled The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film I was like, ‘okay.’ I mean, Star Wars has great editing but I pay attention to filmmaking and filmmakers. When I read the Murch book, that made me feel a little more sane about my position in that he focused on sound. I’m a musician so I think about sound a lot in the edit.
Jason: What examples of filmmaking and filmmakers spoke to you?
Jon Philpot: To pinpoint filmmakers that pushed me along it would be The Coen brothers especially with Raising Arizona with the tempo. And then art stuff like Michael Snow’s Wavelength which is just one shot zooming in. I liked the films by Nicolas Roeg, Atom Egoyan, and David Cronenberg. The Brood is one of my favorite movies ever. I don’t look at these films so much for great editing. It’s more I look at it for the superb storytelling and I know that editing is a big part of that. I’m inspired more by the big picture than say, the one person.
Jason: I interviewed Howard Shore a few months back who is Cronenberg’s main composer and it’s exactly as you said where it’s all the elements combined to create an overall product. Were you mentored by anyone?
Jon Philpot: I’ve had a lot of mentors. When I was in Atlanta, the post house I worked at was run by a local filmmaker, Bill Orisich. Bill makes art films, and he was a part of me learning how to tell stories graphically and how to take the smallest of something and turn it into more than the tiny little thing. A good friend of mine, David Claire, who has been by my side pushing me along, he’s been a very informative part ‘Hey, try this, try that.’ And then moving into the sphere of folks that I’m in tune with and work with day to day, like with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on Broad City, or John Lee, and Vernon Chatman. John directed the film that I just most recently did False Positive. He’s pushed me in my life. He’s introduced me to many people and has a huge film vocabulary and a keen eye for what makes something good. Another enormous influence has been working with the Search Party folks, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers, they’re approach to comedy is unlike anything but not just comedy but filmmaking, and tempo and mood. Working with them is a joy because they’re such talented writers and know where they’re coming from.
Jason: Can you explain the main difference between editing for TV and film?
Jon Philpot: The tempo of working on television is much faster. You’re defined by your air date so you’re chasing that and you don’t get a lot of opportunities to rework it. And you have other editors to bounce ideas off of. It’s a camaraderie and I love you can flip through it and get to different things. Working on a film is slower and you’re by yourself with the director and you go through the footage, and you can scramble it any which way. You can change how the motion of how a film is perceived. You have to watch all the takes. Then there’s screening it. Watching an entire season of the show and you’re like, ‘Okay, does that all work?’ So there’s mental processing elements, and the puzzle pieces are just that much more dynamic. Making both is rewarding but in different ways.
Jason: Obviously there’s a difference between how things are edited today, digitally, I guess from when you came into it?
Jon Philpot: I’ve not had a lot of experience doing analog cutting, I did a little of analog cutting when I worked on Pootie Tang (2001) which was a film I was brought on to punch up and I ended up doing the main title sequence and it was a fun, wild ride. My entryway into the whole thing was tape-to-tape, and that was like a real challenge. That was short-lived because I was only in college. And then I went straight into nonlinear and I was into that. With nonlinear stuff you can go through and take frames and chop things together to make it look like you can make the most hypnotic, psycho looking thing. I would take on the challenge of that. I look back at old films with fast cutting like Mad Max and I say ‘that’s amazing that they could do that.’
Jason: Now the filmmaking masters are working in digital. There’s probably a few still working on film but not that many. Can you talk about how you developed a professional filmic relationship with Ilana Glazer?
Jon Philpot: They brought me on to Broad City during Season 3. I worked on MTV shows with edgy, fast motion cuts and we did a bit of that on Broad City. I worked with Abbi and Ilana for a season and we got along great. They’re so much fun to work with. And then in Seasons 4 and 5, I wound up editing the episodes Ilana directed, so we developed a great working relationship. I got a wonderful sense of her rhythm. She’s like a drummer, very into rhythm—the rhythm of speaking, the rhythm of cutting, the rhythm of how something feels is a big part of her existence She’s decisive. She knows what she wants. Abbi does too. They’re both great.
Jason: It was their confidence in your talent which led to editing False Positive, written by Ilana and John. What was that transition from TV to film like for you?
Jon Philpot: John Lee helped me in a big way to transition from being a person editing television to getting to added a feature film and that’s not an easy thing but I’ve had it on my radar to take that jump editing a television show to editing a film. There’s a barrier, and it’s the way it is. You get that little of luck and you wind up being able to do that thing I’ve been chasing after for a long time. I’m thrilled that Ilana and John trusted me enough to cut to this picture.
Jason: Is it is it usual for performers to get to know editors?
Jon Philpot: I can’t speak for everybody but somehow I’ve been fortunate enough to work with talent that are also show runners like Ilana. John Lee and Vernon Chatman, they’re also the voices for the characters on Wonder Showzen and also Alison Levy. So I’ve become good friends with all of them. More recently, I’m just just wrapping up working on Awkwafina is Nora from Queens and Nora is a big part of that show. She watches cuts and gives notes and has great ideas on how to make the show funnier.
Jason: I understand your very first conversation with Nora was an unusual but memorable one which set the tone of your working collaboration.
Jon Philpot: My first conversation with Nora was where she called me up to talk about some fart
She described how she wants it to be musical and just like that we got into the details about this and it was one of those moments where I was like, ‘this is a wonderful job that my first phone call with Nora is about a fart sound effect.’
Jason: I wish we could stay on this topic for the rest of the interview (both laugh). I’m switching gears from that now. How was it transitioning from comedy to to a more serious intense project such as False Positive?
Jon Philpot: It’s cool because my heart has always been more on the artful side. I love comedy and hope to work in it forever and ever, but I think that there’s like a certain benefit—in particular, False Positive which is a satire, right? Having an edge in the world of comedy and knowing how a punchline works or how to boost one up I think works to my benefit. I knew how to service a joke so I think that helped. Dramatic stuff is hard but there are certain similarities. In comedy you want to build up tension and conflict in the scene. I think that since this was a satire and doing its own thing it felt pretty good. I do enjoy things I find interesting. You can only grow from that.
Jason: Do you think Broad City fans are going to be surprised when they see the team behind that show in this serious thriller?
Jon Philpot: Maybe some of them will be, but I think they’ll also be excited. I feel Ilana has a very intelligent fan base that can handle what she’s putting out there. She’s one to jump in the fire. She’s tough like that. And I feel like the people that are on board with her are ‘yeah, alright, let’s let’s try this.’
Jason: Do you have any advice for editors or to editors who are just starting out?
Jon Philpot: My advice is to try hard. Take whatever comes your way, gain people’s trust and you can make a community and then you’ll even find people can grow together and make things that you all love and want to work on.
Jason: What do you have coming up?
Jon Philpot: False Positive just got into Tribeca which is pretty exciting. That premiere is going to be on the 17th of June with the virtual one on the 18th. Then I’m wrapping up Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens and then I’m going to start up on Season 5 of Search Party. It’s good getting back into it. I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to work. One gig that I had over the pandemic was working on Girls5Eva, which is a Peacock show where I got to work with Tina Fey, Robert Carlock and Meredith Scardino. That was cool working with those folks. When the pandemic began, I thought I was doomed. When this whole thing dropped, I was like ‘we’re done. We got to move out of here. I’m never going to work again.’ And then I got to work with these big-hitters.
Jason: I appreciate your time. Thanks for speaking to us.
Jon Philpot : Thanks so much and watch False Positive on Hulu.