This post was written byJohn Rafanelli.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on Survival of the Thickest. It was my first time working with Michelle Buteau and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel. It allowed me to be creatively free as well as challenging me artistically, and emotionally. (The perfect trifecta.)

I had just finished working on Flatbush Misdemeanors and formed a great working relationship with Willy Friedman, Judson Schwartz, and Lauren Bernstein. Judson called me up to tell me about a new project with Michelle Buteau at Netflix that they recommended me for.

For me, this was a surreal experience. I was already a fan of her stand-up specials and her work on various TV shows and movies. This was her first opportunity to be the lead of a show and present her own comedic voice. An opportunity that was long overdue! My first thought was,Could they really pick me?”

Survival Of The Thickest | Official Trailer |

Judson sent me the pilot script. It was fresh, edgy, and funny. I loved it! I loved the main characters, the emotions, and the environment they were trying to build. Frankly, I wanted more.

As a fan, I was a little nervous to go to the interview. I was waiting and anticipating the awkwardness (by my own accord). Within 30 seconds of the interview, Michelle and Danielle welcomed me. They created a carefree environment where we were able to talk and laugh. Lucky for me, I was given the opportunity and sent the rest of the scripts.

In the next few days, I read the remaining scripts. I fell even more in love with the series. I was expecting a comedy. And it was funny… very funny, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but it also had heart, and a message/purpose. Michelle was telling heartfelt stories of personal struggles while also allowing people to laugh and feel all sorts of emotions. It was something I wanted to be a part of. Fortunately for me, I was able to lend a hand in telling the untold struggles of real people. The tears and laughter of it all!

Creating My First Cut

Fast forward to a few weeks later when I go into the editorial process. I started to get my first round of dailies. As I always do, I watch every takedown once and absorb everything. Then, I watch it a second time and start to craft my first cut.

For my first cut, I’ll try everything, from what should be seen to what I want to see. Sometimes what I want is crazy and experimental but I’ll try it and present it to the director. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. But my main philosophy as an editor is to try everything. From extreme to simple.

On SOTT this was a pleasant challenge, often because of Michelle’s talent to improvise any line or moment on the spot. I remember one scene. The director (Kim) called out to Michelle and said, (paraphrasing) “On this next take can we improvise this line?”. Michelle responded, “That’s not a line that can be improvised”. Kim called back, “OK”. They settled for a beat and “Action” was called. Michelle did the scene and then improvised 5-6 different takes of that line. I laughed louder at each attempt.

Anyway, I dug in deep. I watched the footage, the performances, the laughter, and the sadness, and created my first draft to present to the director. Then, I nervously wait. It’s always nervous to wait for the first round of notes from anyone. Eventually, they come…

Revising the Edit

John Rafanelli editing 'Survival of the Thickest'

John Rafanelli editing 'Survival of the Thickest'

Courtesy of John Rafanelli

We dig in deeper. The director and I reviewed the episode. Now it’s time to try their ideas! We dig in deep trying every outcome of pacing, performance, story, joke, etc. Sometimes my original edit idea stays, other times it changes. It’s part of the process that I welcome. After we try everything we hand it off to the Showrunners.

At this stage, it’s rinse and repeat with Michelle and Danielle. We would try every possibility and avenue. I would present my ideas and the Director’s. We discuss and re-edit every moment, and review it all until we create the best episode we believe in.

It doesn’t always happen but on SOTT it did, and it made me happy. While reviewing episodes, and scenes Michelle or Danielle would say, “I have a crazy idea, can we try this.”

My response was always, “Yes!!!”

After all, what better way to make a show than to try everything? And, to be honest, to see the creators have that same gitty interest and excitement in trying every avenue... is… Well, it’s invigorating.

John Rafanelli standing infront of a 'Survival of the Thickest' sign

John Rafanelli

Courtesy of John Rafanelli

So long story short, I was inspired by the message and story of the show. As well as the lessons it taught me. SOTT helped me to grow as a person. I remember one time we were dealing with a character whose line was, “I don’t want any wiggle room." I picked the most angry take I could find, thinking this was appropriate. Michelle came into the editing room and said, “No, it’s not an angry moment. It’s a moment for them to be proud of their struggle and who they became.”

Personally, this was an “oh shit” moment for me.

I learned something new about the struggle of a different perspective. Michelle was very conscious of all these emotions and decisions throughout the series. And just when she captured you in a serious, heartfelt moment the show punched into a funny joke. Real-life everyday drama and laughter are told through underrepresented communities. The subject matter we need to normalize. It’s all of the main reasons why I loved working on SOTT.

In editorial, I’ll try anything, and always welcome new perspectives, and it's always great to get creatives that want to do the same while staying true to their original vision, and message. All with the same goal, working together to make the best possible show we can, for all to watch.​

This post was written by John Rafanelli.

John Rafanelli is an established television and film editor with over a decade of industry experience. His most recent project, Netflix and A24’s Survival of the Thickest is a tongue-in-cheek comedy centering on actress and comedian Michelle Buteau as she struggles to rebuild her life after a nasty breakup and flailing career. John’s editing prowess elevates the performances of the star-studded cast, which includes Taylor Sele, Tasha Smith, Tone Bell, and Anthony Michael Lopez.

Over the course of his career as an editor, John has made a name for himself as a reliable and multifaceted collaborator. He is especially known in the ensemble comedy space, working on hit series like Netflix’s Emily in Paris, starring Lily Collins and created by Darren Star, as well as Showtime's Flatbush Misdemeanors, starring Kevin Iso and Dan Perlman. John is also celebrated for his work on Freeform's Younger, another Darren Star collaboration, starring Sutton Foster and Hillary Duff. Other past credits include work on Hulu's The Detour and Difficult People, Netflix's Chris Rock: Tamborine, and Wesley Wang's nothing, except everything.

A New York native, John got his degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He has ascended as an editor and sought-after creative collaborator, who prides himself on a precise approach and creating a comforting space that enables him to execute the vision of his director and showrunner collaborators.