Survival of the Thickest Netflix’s hilarious new comedy series was released on the streaming service in July 2023. What’s on Netflix recently had the opportunity to interview John Rafanelli a talented editor to work on Michelle Buteau’s new comedy.
Survival of the Thickest is a brand new Netflix Original and A24 comedy series from American stand-up comedian Michelle Buteau who wrote, starred, and produced the series. She was also the co-showrunner of the series alongside Danielle Sanchez-Writzel. The talented cast of the series includes Taylor Sele, Tasha Smith, Tone Bell, and Anthony Michael Lopez, whose performances are elevated by the works of editors John Rafanelli, and Craig Cobb.
Prior to working on Survival of the Thickest, John Rafanelli worked on Darren Star’s extremely popular romantic comedy Netflix Original series Emily in Paris. He has also worked on shows such as Showtime’s Flatbush Misdemeanors, Hulu’s The Detour and Difficult People, Netflix’s Chris Rock: Tamborine, and Wesley Wang’s Nothing, Except Everything.
How did you first become involved with Survival of the Thickest?
Post COVID everyone was working from home, so I started working from my basement. Legit basement out on Long Island. Pipes above my head, terrible lighting… etc. I interviewed for a show Flatbush Misdemeanors with Producer Willy Friedman, Associate Producer Judson Schwartz, and Post Production Supervisor Lauren Bernstein. We had a great chat and they nicknamed me “Basement John.” They hired me and I worked on that show and developed a good relationship with them all.
Fast forward 7 months and all three of them recommended me for Survival of the Thickest. My first interaction with Michelle and Danielle over Zoom was “Oh this is “Basement John.” That broke the ice on my interview and I’m convinced that being in a dark basement got me the job. I mean dark edit bay or dark edit basement. What’s the difference?
What’s your favorite part of the editing process?
For me, I love the collaboration and the jigsaw puzzle of it all. I love crafting my editor’s cut. This is the first pass before working with a Director. I have lots of fun crafting the first version of an episode. Often I try making things outside the box with an edit. Sometimes it stays and sometimes it changes. But I really do enjoy the process of crafting an episode on my own, trying everything simple and extreme.
Then I get to work with the Director, and we adjust everything, we keep some things and change other things. New Insight is provided to me, the thought process and goal of what was being done on set, or in the writing. So we dig in deep and create our best story.
From there it goes to the showrunners/creators. The process is repeated. Dig in deep, and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Eventually, we try all three versions of the edit, and using the best of all worlds create the best episode we can together. I love all of that. We’re all on the same team, trying to make the best show that we can!
With only a limited amount of time per episode, what are the hardest decisions you have to make as the editor to squeeze hours of footage into a limited run time?
Ouch, tough question. I’m always down to turn a scene into a montage or reformat a scene if it makes the story work (cutting lines or speeding up the pacing). But I hate having to kill a scene.
For me that’s the hardest decision, oftentimes the scenes getting killed are great scenes, scenes that are funny, or emotional and work but simply don’t fit in the big picture arch of a season. We always try to keep them and pace up other scenes to make everything move faster, but there is only a certain amount of pacing up you can do until a scene doesn’t work.
So sometimes you need to bite the bullet and pull a great scene. It’s often because it doesn’t play into the big picture of the season but it usually makes me sad.
Your colleague Craig Cobb is listed as the editor of four other episodes of Survival of the Thickest. Is there any collaboration between editors working on the same series?
Yes! The best shows work when everyone is collaborating together. And Craig is an awesome person to collaborate with and work with.
Early on, especially on a season 1 show, we talk about who the characters are, what their quirks are, and how they should be portrayed. Craig edited the first two episodes and did such a fantastic job. He was great in helping the show and I develop who the characters are, and we had conversations about all of our characters.
There are other things we talk about like establishing locations, the look of gfx, sound for locations, the sound and music transitions of the season, etc.
Plus it’s also important for us to watch each other’s episodes to know what happens before and after.
As an editor, how much influence do you have on the final cut? What is the extent of the collaboration between yourself, and the directors and producers?
It all depends on the project. On a show like Survival of the Thickest, a decent amount. Michelle, Danielle, and the directors really did care about making the best show possible. They had the best idea wins mentality. No egos involved!
I would present my first pass “The Editors Cut” to the director, on this show I worked with “The Kims” as I called them. Two episodes with Kim Nguyen, and two episodes with Kimmy Gatewood, and they were both fantastic! We would shape everything, and they would look at my ideas, some would stay and some would change, as it should. And we would spend a lot of time looking at performances, and they would often ask for my opinion about how a line is read, or if we can cut any lines, and together we presented the best option to Michelle and Danielle.
And it was the exact same thing there, we would shape it thinking of the big picture of the whole season, and review performances and cuts, and they both were always mindful of what I thought of different things.
A good show runs when everyone is out to make the best season possible, ego-free and that’s what Survival of the Thickest was.
To date, Survival of the Thickest is the second Netflix project you have worked on, are there any more projects with the streaming service you have lined up for in the near future?
Currently, I have no projects lined up with Netflix, but would love to again. I’ve had such wonderful experiences on Survival of The Thickest and Emily in Paris with the Netflix team, and crafting such fun wonderful stories that I would jump at another opportunity to work with Netflix again.
We would like to thank John for his time and ask subscribers to tune in and watch his work on the excellent new comedy series Survival of the Thickest.