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Emmy Winner Brian Kates: Editing ‘Mrs. Maisel’ Through a Jewish Lens


Emmy Winner Brian Kates: Editing ‘Mrs. Maisel’ Through a Jewish Lens

Gerri Miller

Beloved by critics and viewers since it premiered on Amazon in November 2017, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a show about a 1950s housewife-turned-standup comic, exceeded expectations, garnering Emmy nods in 14 categories. Editor Brian Kates was honored for his work on the pilot episode, shot in late 2016.

“I thought there was a good chance we would get something, but 14 was a wonderful surprise,” Kates told the Journal. “I love the show. Every episode is a gem. It’s a cotton candy fantasy that’s also realistic emotionally and important as a beacon of feminism. It’s hilarious but incredibly moving at times.  How [creator] Amy Sherman-Palladino manages to keep all those balls in the air is an amazing feat,” he said. “There’s nothing like it on TV.”

Kates was sold on the show when he read the script. “The first page says ‘Jewish wedding,’ with references to the Holocaust and kosher food, the Borscht Belt and Philip Roth,” he said. “I saw that these were smart people who knew the history of Jewish representation and had a unique lens on the Ashkenazi Jewish experience and life in New York. It’s the Upper West Side but the downtown life as well. Midge goes from one milieu to another on the Jewish cultural spectrum.”

Kates added the show is also about Jewish femininity.  “It explodes stereotypes about marriage, appearance, the way a homemaker is supposed to look and act in 1958 and what it would take to be a female comedian at a time when it was rare.”  Additionally, he pointed out, “Midge’s mother is not a stereotypical Jewish mother. She’s really elegant and refined.”

Growing up in Teaneck, N.J., an “Ashkenazi mix” of Jewish ancestry from Ukraine, Poland and Russia, Kates was raised in a kosher home, attended Sunday school and synagogue and celebrated his bar mitzvah in Israel, where he’s returned several times since. “I feel very invested in Middle East politics and history, Israel specifically,” he said.

A film major at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Kates minored in Judaic studies, taking classes in comparative religion and the history of Jerusalem. He remains dedicated to keeping Jewish knowledge “alive and growing, which he says “makes me look for projects that have a Jewish point of view that is real, that isn’t a stereotype or a watered down version of what some people think a Jew is.”

Kates always wanted to make films, but unlike the majority of his NYU classmates, who aspired to be writers-directors, Kates is an introvert and felt better suited to shaping a film in post-production on his own. “What I didn’t know then was [editing] is a very communal job because it’s all about communication with the director,” he said. “I had to learn to collaborate.”

Kates, whose other credits, including “Bessie,” “Lackawanna Blues” and “The Butler” and is now working on “Homunculus,” a ten-part musical podcast written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, had a specific set of challenges on “Mrs. Maisel.”

“A lot of the show is story-boarded and shot in a very specific way, with beautiful long takes. The standup scenes are not that and were the most challenging to edit,” he said. “There were many takes and many options, shot with multiple cameras from many angles. Rachel [Brosnahan who plays the title role] gave each one a different flavor.”

When the New York-based Kates is in Los Angeles working on a project, he attends services at Beth Chayim Chadashim, which has a primarily LBGTQ congregation. “I love the rabbi, Lisa Edwards. I really enjoyed the services there,” he said. “It’s nice to know I have a place to go in L.A.”

A previous Emmy winner for “Taking Chance” in 2009, he found the hoopla of the awards “incredibly nerve-wracking. Editors aren’t used to being in the spotlight. We do our work invisibly and quietly,” he said. “But it will be fun. Hollywood knows how to have a party.”

That first Emmy served as a hat rack for years, “But my husband said it was too important to cover up,” Kates said. He married in “a big, gay Jewish wedding” in which both grooms smashed the glass and circled each other seven times.

Kates took home his second Emmy at the Creative Arts ceremony on Sept. 8. “I was thrilled to reunite with our ‘Mrs. Maisel’ crew in LA and celebrate all of our hard work Saturday night,” he said afterward. “It’s sweet to feel so embraced here.”

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