Writer/director/editor Vera Drew was recently given the opportunity to lend her “dark, weird, and kitschy” editing style to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America. The satirical comedy series from Showtime follows various Cohen characters as he speaks with individuals about culture and the current political climate. The series is nominated for three Emmys, including Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Program, which marks Drew’s first nomination. 

Drew’s diverse background in filmmaking has allowed her to thrive as an editor, director, and writer. Her skills in each medium informs the others, which makes her a well-rounded and sought-after talent. She was able to rise quickly in the business while working with Tim and Eric’s Abso Lutely Productions, and has continued to work on projects such as The Eric Andre Show, Check It Out with Steve Brule, and other offbeat Adult Swim comedies.

/Film had the opportunity to speak with Drew about her first Emmy nomination as well as her recent decision to publicly come out as trans. Drew opens up about how coming out affected her already-established place in the industry, and why it only made her work more authentic. From her her enticing horror ideas to exciting upcoming projects, here’s a glimpse at Vera Drew’s past, present, and future in Hollywood…

First and foremost, congrats! How does it feel to receive your first Emmy nomination?

Thank you! I was actually coming out of anesthesia after a chondrolaryngoplasty when I first found out I was nominated, so for the first day or so I figured I had dreamt it. I think it only really hit me the other day when I was trying on gowns for the ceremony. I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was little, so of course I have made countless imaginary acceptance speeches in my head over the years, but I never ?really? thought I’d be nominated for something so it’s a real honor.

How did you get into editing, and how would you describe your style?

My first professional editing gig was as a line editor on a Roman Coppola movie. After that I climbed the post production ladder at Tim and Eric’s Abso Lutely Productions and that’s really where I honed my skills as an editor. The editors that come out of that company are some of the best in the industry. It also stylistically lined up with where a lot of my creative sensibilities were coming from – my biggest influences have always been David Lynch and Kenneth Anger. I really thrive when I get to work on something that is dark, weird, and kitschy.

What was your experience on Who Is America like? Did it differ from your previous editing projects?

Editing on Who Is America was a dream that I never even knew I had. Sacha Baron Cohen was a hero of mine so I could never even fathom that I would have the opportunity to work with him someday. When director Dan Longino brought me onto the show, I said yes immediately. It was the quickest professional decision I have ever made. Working on the show wasn’t very different from any other job I have had as far as overall approach goes because between my experience on Check It Out with Steve Brule and The Eric Andre Show, I had already edited a number of reality-based comedy shows that put a fictional character in the middle of a real situation. I approach editing a reality-based comedy like Who Is America the same way I approach writing. With this type of content, so much of the writing and directing happens in post-production – it’s similar to writing in that we are stringing together loose narrative threads, similar to what you do in a documentary. The directing that happens in the edit bay really comes down to elevating performances between an over-the-top character and real people.

You’ve been doing a lot of writing and directing lately- Are those your preferred areas? Do you approach writing and directing in a similar way to editing?

I recently wrote and directed four new shows for Tim and Eric’s online TV network, Channel 5. Those shows included a doc-series called I Love David hosted by puppeteer/UFO abductee David Liebe Hart; a dystopian sci-fi game show called Tim and Eric Quiz; Our Bodies which was really only an excuse to have Tim and Eric sit down with a real MD to talk about morning wood and diarrhea; and a grotesque and experimental anthology series called Scum that is basically Everything is Terrible meets Liquid Television. All of these shows are available on demand at adultswim.com

My skill as an editor informs my writing and directing, similar to how my writing and directing skills inform my editing style. The perfect example of this is I Love David. David is immensely talented but he’s rather unpolished as a host and has a unique brain – he’ll go on long rants about alien species and tell non sequiturs about how Robin Williams was his best friend in the ‘70s. When we were shooting, I was working off of a very loose outline that he and I put together, but I knew that so much of the process was going to be grabbing ingredients we needed to tell the story in post – a shot of him buying water eels for the fifth time in one month here or a line about his ancestors The Wright Brothers there. When directing and writing a complicated, meandering talk show like that, I am keeping everything I know about editing in the back of my head the entire time. No matter how much I’m able to write and direct, I’ll always be an editor. I’ve been very fortunate to edit on shows that I would actually watch even if I wasn’t working on them and I can only hope that continues!

You recently came out as trans- Has your experiences within the industry changed since then?

Since coming out, my place in the industry has changed in some ways and in many ways, it hasn’t. I am very fortunate that I was already established in the industry prior to coming out, and fortunately most of the people I have worked with and enjoy working with are LGBTQ+ allies and realized that I wasn’t becoming a different person…I was simply becoming more me. The biggest change, to be frank, is that I’m way better at my job now. Embracing myself – the real authentic me that I had kept in a closet of shame for 30 years – has made me a better communicator, collaborator, and artist in general. I definitely see how my privilege has lessened slightly – the world has a long way to go as far as how we treat queer people – but overall, I feel so fortunate that I get to work in environments where I can be myself.

How do you feel about the current trans representation in media? Are you interested in telling LGBTQ stores?

I never could have imagined seeing a show like Pose on television – it’s absolutely brilliant and I feel like it has really helped the industry take great strides in trans representation. I definitely feel like we have a long way to go though. I would love to see more trans stories that aren’t specifically about the transition. So much of our media representation is only about the before-and-after of it all. I’m not only interested in telling LGBTQ+ stories, I feel that that is the next chapter of my career. I want to continue playing in the genres I like to play in – horror, sci-fi, dark comedy – and using the tools I’ve collected as a writer/director/editor over the years, but I also want to make a conscious shift toward showing interesting and multi-dimensional representations of my queer sisters, brothers, and gender non-conforming siblings. 

If you could partner up with anyone creatively, who would it be? What would be your role in this dream partnership?

I want to start collaborating with other creatives that identify as queer or trans. I would love to direct a music video for trans artists like Kim Petras, Sophie, or Black Dresses. I am also really inspired by the work of Natalie Wynn (aka Contrapoints on YouTube) and I always felt like our aesthetics would pair really well together. Ever since I saw The Matrix as a kid, I’ve also looked up to Lana and Lilly Wachowski. Working with them in any capacity would be an absolute dream come true.

Most of your history is with comedy. Are you interested in working in other genres? 

I love having the chance to work on something that makes people laugh, but I never really thought of myself as working specifically in comedy. The shows I have worked on, whether it’s Who Is America or Scum, directly confront horror, both real and imagined. In the latter case I was making a wildly terrifying found footage anthology and in the case of the former we took a hard look at the hellscape that is our current political system. I want to start making a more direct shift toward horror, sci-fi, and psycho drama, particularly if it’s a queer narrative of some sort. My dream is to make a Carpenter-esque horror film about gender dysphoria. 

What projects do you have in the works? 

I am currently writing and producing a brand new show that I am very excited about but can’t quite talk about yet – soon hopefully. Beyond that, I just helped put together Tim and Eric’s Channel 5 – all of the shows that I made for that can be found at adultswim.com.

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You can learn more about Vera Drew at her website and can follow her on Twitter.

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