“I love editing because if you’re doing it properly, no one knows you exist,” Jamie Martin tells Refinery29 one August morning over coffee (and a Zoom call). Here’s the rub: We’re talking because she’s recently been nominated for an Emmy for outstanding picture editing for a structured or competition reality program for her work on RuPaul's Drag Race, which confirms that she — an editor — does in fact exist.
You may have heard names like Thelma Schoonmaker’s because the Oscar-winner has famously edited every Martin Scorsese film; however, woman editors don’t become household names. Part of that is because most editors — including those everywhere on the gender spectrum — aren’t household names. It’s a behind-the-scenes job; not the gig you get if you want to be on the cover of a magazine (unless that magazine is CinemaEditor). It’s also a job that is, like everything else in Hollywood, in a field that hasn’t historically employed many women, nor is it easy for women to enter the field. According to research released in 2019 by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 21% of editors working in television were women. Additionally, per a Celluloid Ceiling report that same year, only 23% of editors of that year’s top-grossing films were women. And these numbers are hard to change in an industry where most of the people with hiring power are also men looking to hire people they’ve already worked with.
But the other reason you can’t name many women editors is that they’re busy doing their jobs, and doing them well. “Someone put that shot there. Someone made that cue, someone made you have that pause and emotional thought,” Martin explains. “If you're doing your job correctly, no one’s like, ‘What? That shot shouldn’t have been there,’ or, ‘That didn't make any sense.” That, in her estimation, is the real reason you don’t see average viewers referencing editors by name.
She can explain away her behind-the-scenes role as much as she wants, but please meet Jamie Martin, the lead editor on the Emmy-nominated reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race and on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars.
Martin has been working in the world of unscripted television editing for years, but says she only truly felt she’d made it once she was awarded an Emmy for her work on Drag Race in 2017. After growing up in Paso Robles, California, the daughter of a stay-at-home mother and Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin (no, not that Steve Martin), she set off to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. And while many editors might tell you their original goal was to direct, Martin had her heart set on editing from the moment she worked on a video project in high school.
On our show specifically, we really try to maintain the integrity of the queens’ stories. We're not actively trying to manipulate.
Jamie Martin, Editor on RuPaul's Drag Race
“That was the first time I was aware of what editing was and how much control you had over what people saw and their perspective. I'd sit down at noon, and I'd be there until two or three in the morning. That’s the first time I ever experienced that total lapse of time, and that's when I knew,” she tells me. The idea that her choices — about the right music, rhythm, and footage to use — affected how the audience felt was thrilling.
Her first gig in the business, as is usually the case, didn’t quite match that excitement. She worked on a show called UFO Hunters, which ran from 2008 to 2009 and followed a team of men who, well, hunted for clues in mysteries surrounding unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. The one benefit of working on a show like that, however, was that it was easy to make cuts — the “experts” often included outlandish theories in their voiceovers. “[One cast member] is saying, ‘It could have been an alien in the supermarket changing the lights!’ or something. And it's like, no, it couldn't have been. That type of stuff didn't make it.”
After working on that show, Martin made her way to RuPaul Charles’ World Of Wonder production company, joining the Drag Race editing team in 2014. It’s there she eventually worked her way to that Emmy and a role leading the team.
These accolades don’t come with name recognition, but working on a high-profile show like Drag Race means Martin’s work, and her team, come under just as much scrutiny as Charles and the Drag Race queens do. Reality TV fandoms and viewers have gotten wise to the fact that a lot of footage ends up on the cutting room floor, and that there are people responsible for all the cutting. It’s not exactly new to see a reality star claim that their perceived behaviour is the result of editing. Hannah Brown did it when she starred on The Bachelorette, seemingly every Real Housewives star has done it (look at the search results for “Real Housewives star blames editing”), and Drag Race star Phi Phi O’Hara (aka Jaremi Carey) famously blamed editing for his appearance as the so-called villain on season 8 of the series. After years of the blame game, fans have followed suit. And while Martin and her team are never called out by name, editor shade is all over Reddit.
Martin encourages her team not to look at r/RuPaulsDragRace, mostly for their own sanity. “We have some people in our team who really watch the Reddit threads,” she says. “Sometimes people really do pick up on things and sometimes people just think they know how editing works.” She’s got a point. In most Reddit threads, like this one that points out “patterns” that Drag Race editors stick to every season (and, admittedly, makes some good points about the series’ patterns overall), the term “editors” seems to be more of a catch-all for producers, the story team, and the editors. Well, now that we’re out here naming names, Martin has some clarifications to issue.
“On our show specifically, we really try to maintain the integrity of the queens’ stories,” she says. “We're not actively trying to manipulate. I think that's the thing that people online think we're doing. We're not manipulating what was said, it just might happen in a different amount of time because we can't show eight hours of footage. It's not that we're trying to put someone under the bus. Everyone on this team deeply cares for all of the queens and we want to have their stories told, how they were told.”
Martin knows where the editor-facing blame comes from. As a viewer, she says she’s seen reality shows that don’t appear to have the same editing integrity that she and her team do — without naming names, of course. But there are some shows she just can’t watch.
“Sometimes when I watch shows that I don't feel are as well-produced as our show, it feels not as real, not as truthful. But I can see the production side of it more than the editing because we get what we get, what we got on set. But I feel like sometimes, some other shows have not been able to highlight their casts’ true personalities,” she says, with the caveat that being the mother of a toddler doesn’t afford her a ton of reality TV time.
Martin recently learned to mix her home life with the reality TV world recently though, because unlike many Hollywood professionals whose on-set jobs disappeared, her work actually intensified when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sets and production offices. RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12 had filmed everything but the reunion and grand finale before California’s Safer At Home order, which meant Martin could just bring the editing job home. But then came the task of making a day-long reunion via Zoom with Charles and the entire cast of queens, who were scattered across the U.S., into a usable hour-long episode of prime time television. Per usual, the team only had about a week to turn the whole thing around.
“We didn’t know what any of the graphics were going to look like. We had all this footage coming in from these girls across the country who I'm sure were like, ‘What are we doing? You want me to film this in my house?’ But they created so many amazing things that we were like, How do we use all of these amazing visuals? How do we create something new that we've never done before?”
Martin and her team did figure it out, and while numerous other shows aired their own virtual reunions, Drag Race’s managed to keep the high energy that fans have come to expect — even though all the queens were at home on their couches. There was no shortage of drama — the story team, not to be confused with the editors, made sure of that.
So the finale episodes of the season aired, Drag Race was nominated for 10 different 2020 Emmys, including one in Martin’s outstanding picture editing category, and then came the lull. Right now, unfortunately, Hollywood is still suffering the effects of the pandemic shutdown. Luckily, editors have a job that can easily be done from home, provided that footage has been captured and it’s not under strict security measures, like superhero movies that often cannot be edited on other devices for fear of leaks. Martin says the real struggle right now is for anyone who’d just wrapped a job and was looking for a new one — with no new content being filmed, studios and networks aren’t yet looking to hire editors, which is a gig-based contract job for many people. And while she says she’s enjoying the break with her toddler right now, Martin is one of the lucky ones. The next seasons of Drag Race and All-Stars have been greenlit so she knows she’ll be back in action... eventually.
But until the show is back, she’s got a few parting words for anyone who’s already sharpening their “blame the editors” refrains: “I worked on reality shows that were not as great as this one, and I know that there is a lot of what you're talking about. But on our show, we're trying to maintain the heart of these girls in every way we possibly can, because that's what we all love about this.”