A Life Unscripted

Samantha Diamond develops her own career storyline as a television reality show editor

Jeanne Nagle | On the Job | June 12, 2022

When a character in your favorite television drama sheds a single tear, that’s acting. When that moment is shown from different angles, cross-cut with reaction shots and underscored by a tender piece of piano music, that’s editing.

And when a contestant in an unscripted, or “reality,” program cries backstage after his tower of Legos has toppled to the floor, interspersed with clips of competitors’ aghast reactions to the incident —including one who admits she wants to cry herself—that’s the Emmy-nominated work of Point alumna Samantha (Brusky) Diamond ’01. Specifically, it was her handiwork that dramatized a pivotal moment on a season-one episode of the Fox show “Lego Masters.” 

Over the years Diamond has earned her well-deserved reputation as a go-to independent television editor. In addition to “Lego Masters,” she has worked on a slate of popular reality shows that includes “American Idol,” “The Masked Singer” and the juggernaut of food competition entertainment operating under the MasterChef banner.

The job entails a lot of creative input as well as technical mastery. Editors are responsible for “every cut made, music and sound effects,” she explains. “So a show like LEGO, we get to have a lot of fun creating the worlds for which the builders build. Making those Lego builds come to life, with sound effects and music, is a lot of fun.”

Apparently it can be rewarding in other ways as well. Such was the case when “Lego Masters” producers submitted the “Mega City Block” episode of their show for Emmy consideration in 2020. A win would have been awesome, but Diamond confirms that, as they say in Hollywood, it was a tremendous honor just to be nominated, primarily because nominees are selected by one’s peers. 

In addition to the stellar work done by Diamond and her fellow editors, it has been suggested that there might be another reason why the nominated episode got the nod from voters, namely the aforementioned “topple.”

“Of course!” she confirms. “Who doesn’t love the drama? There is no person alive who hasn’t been horrified as a creation that they spent time on falls to the ground. It’s so awful, and so human!”  

Early on, Diamond experienced a little drama of her own that threatened to, if not topple, then at least divert her career ambitions. A theatre and communications major at UWSP, she had visions of working as a broadcast journalist when she accepted an internship at PBS affiliate WGBH in Boston the summer before her senior year. Based on assurances that a job would be waiting for her, she moved to Boston after graduation. Unfortunately, her move coincided with a time of upheaval across the nation.

“The Twin Towers had just fallen in New York,” she says, “and most media stations were laying people off, not hiring new, untrained employees. So despite me having moved to Boston, I no longer had a job waiting for me.”

Rather than moving back home and starting over, Diamond landed a job teaching theater in a local elementary school. Once the school year was over, she signed on for a year of community service with Americorps in Sacramento, California. The location of her volunteer stint convinced her she was well-suited to West Coast living, so she moved to LA. She lived in a studio apartment with a young man she had met in the Americorps program, who would later become her husband, and another friend.

To help pay her portion of the bills, Diamond got a job as a post production assistant at a production company in Huntington Beach, labeling tapes and doing remedial tasks for a minimal salary. She says that being in that environment awakened her interest in editing.

“I started poking my nose into some of the editor’s bays and asked if I could watch, and asked a lot of questions,” she says. “Luckily for me, I had a few people who enjoyed taking me under their wings.”

From there she segued into an assistant editor position, working her way up to becoming a full editor in eight months. The experience was invaluable—which was a good thing because, she later discovered, she was still working for peanuts. The company had never bumped her salary to be commensurate with her new job roles and duties.

After leaving that job, Diamond decided to shop her newly acquired skills around as an independent editor, which meant contracting with companies on a show-by-show basis. She has been working steadily ever since.

“As an independent contractor, I get called to work on a show a few times a month. … Sometimes you need to ‘Tetris’ your schedule to make sure your end dates line up with the next gig’s starting dates.”

Since the pandemic, a typical workday starts with Diamond and others on a project’s production team holding a Zoom meeting to go over the day’s agenda. She receives a stringout, which is editing-speak for an entire episode’s worth of recorded material, typically taken from multi-camera shoots, and compiled in chronological order. Then she gets down to business in her home editing bay/office.

Diamond finds cherry-picking the best moments from scads of footage, all the while paying attention to cohesive and riveting storytelling within a proscribed timeframe, satisfying and challenging. She finds it easier to work backwards—within an episode or even a complete season, where possible—in order to know what material will best suit the season’s storyline without accidentally going astray, which could necessitate massaging or redoing edited segments.

“Because it is our job to sway the audience to feel a certain way about each character, we need to edit them in certain ways,” she says. “But if the pyro doesn’t go off in the correct place, someone trips and falls, someone gets tongue tied, they forgot to have someone say something —it all gets ‘fixed’ in post. There is pressure, especially if what they are asking is too far out of what is possible, but more than anything it’s just part of the job.”

A television editor’s reputation is built episode by episode, show by show. In this case, the MasterChef franchise went a long way toward Diamond earning her bones in the unscripted world. She has worked on several seasons of “MasterChef,” beginning with its first season in 2010, through season 7 in 2016, as well as seasons one through five of spinoff “MasterChef Junior.” (Adding to her connection with MasterChef lead Gordon Ramsay, she also edited a single season each of Ramsay’s “Hotel Hell” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”)

Obviously, the association with Ramsay and producer Endemol Shine was a long and fruitful one. Yet eventually the siren song of other shows beckoned.

“I loved my time at ‘MasterChef,’” Diamond says. “But with all things, you start to burn out—no pun intended—working on the same show endlessly. At a certain point, I no longer felt I was pushing myself as an editor, and needed to try other shows. There are only so many times you can edit the drama of cutting into a steak, hoping for ‘perfection.’ Also, in this business you never want to get too comfortable because you can become complacent and stop learning new things.”

Diamond says she also wanted to keep her client network healthy and growing by working on shows from different production companies.

“This business is all about your network and your name. People talk, and everyone knows everyone,” she says. “I am offered a lot of work, on a regular basis. So when I think about taking a job, I want to make sure the execs I work with are easy to work with, and I enjoy them as people.”

When it came to knowing and enjoying showrunners, the call to work on Endemol Shine’s “Lego Masters” fit the bill. “There was a good crew of people attached to the project, and Will Arnett is a dream host. He made me laugh every day,” says Diamond. “Too bad most of the stuff I was laughing at never made air!”

If she hadn’t become a television editor, Diamond says she might very well have decided to stick with teaching. “As much as I enjoy editing, there is something very isolating about it. I sometimes miss physically being around people. And I don’t mean go into an office, because I was always alone in my bay in an office as well. I like hearing other people’s stories and seeing people grow. And it’s a big added bonus if I have anything to do with those things.”

Instead of hearing student stories and watching them grow, Diamond has opted to share and shape the stories of unscripted television show contestants, and watch as they evolve with each success and failure.

“Plus, anything can truly happen,” she says of the action on these types of shows. “Pressure cookers blow up, people can start choking, Lego bricks will topple and unbelievably hysterical jokes are made. The adage is true: You can’t make this [stuff] up! Which is why unscripted television is not going anywhere.”

And neither, apparently, is editor Diamond.

 

Photo credits:
Samantha Diamond
LegoMasters/Endemol Shine
MasterChef/Endemol Shine

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