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HomeCraftsEditingEmmy Nominees: Ms. Marvel Editors Nona Khodai and Sabrina Plisco Introduce an...

Emmy Nominees: Ms. Marvel Editors Nona Khodai and Sabrina Plisco Introduce an Authentic New Protagonist for the MCU


Iman Vellani in Mrs. Marvel (Credit: Disney)

There are many Marvel Cinematic Universe shows that have been put out over the past decade, and some take cues more than others from preexisting characters who have been launched in popular films. That was not the case with Ms. Marvel, which competes in the limited series categories at the Emmys and earned several nominations, including one for editors Nona Khodai, ACE and Sabrina Plisco, ACE.

Below the Line spoke with Khodai and Plisco about the opportunity to share this Muslim character with the world for the first time ahead of the upcoming The Marvels film, and how they each connected to the idea of her being a new kind of lead for Marvel. They discussed the role of visual effects and the challenges of filming and then utilizing whatever footage they had during COVID.

They also reflected back on two projects from earlier in their respective careers, Alcatraz and Boomtown, and how this was different from their own experiences prior to this show interacting with Marvel: Khodai’s work on WandaVision and Plisco’s role as editor for the first Doctor Strange movie.

Mrs. Marvel
Nona Khodai (Credit: Mark Edwards)

Below The Line: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for Ms. Marvel!

Sabrina Plisco: Thank you. Bit of a surprise since it seems like so long ago.

BTL: Well I know you both have a little bit of MCU experience with WandaVision and Doctor Strange. What did you know about the character of Ms. Marvel before coming onto the show? 

Plisco: I didn’t know very much until a friend of mine who was going to work on it said I should check it out. It’s a new character, and I happen to like origin stories, so I was intrigued. My schedule just allowed for the timing of it to work out for me to start it.

I didn’t know anything about the character beforehand, so of course I was pleasantly surprised, surprised to hear and learn about a young brand-new character being added into the MCU. I loved that she was just a normal young person that I think a lot of young people could relate to. That’s what intrigued me about the project and I think that’s still what I love about the project. She and her family are just a loving, wonderful family and a role model for all of us to strive for to have with our own families, with love and support.

Nona Khodai: I’m the same. I didn’t know about the character. When I was working on WandaVision, I had gotten a call from our post exec, John Goldsmith, about this show coming about, but I was still working on WandaVision, so I came in a little later just because we were finishing that up. It was great because it’s a Muslim character, and I was raised Muslim. I had a lot of connections to the character and the struggle she went through, so I feel like I related to it and kind of was that character in a weird way. I don’t have super powers, clearly.

Plisco: Oh, yes, you do.

Khodai: Being raised in that community and environment, I’m not Pakistani, but it’s very similar cultural things. I’m Iranian and we have a very similar culture with family and how the parents are so involved. It’s the same thing with my family. We’re very family oriented. I had a real connection when I started on the show to that. That’s why we were so passionate about making it as good as possible, because this is the first character in a community that is quite marginalized. We want to make sure that we do the show right. We were all very passionate about making that happen.

Plisco: One of the things that they did, which I thought was really interesting, I don’t think I’ve had this happen, is that they recruited, for our test screenings, a Muslim audience, just so that we would get the feedback of whether we were getting the tone of it and the details of her story and her family dynamic accurate. It was pretty cool to have that happen and to see their reaction and have it be so positive, and I think we were really proud of that because we were striving for that.

Sabrina Plisco

BTL: It feels, I think, very different in some ways from the rest of the MCU. But the first episode, there’s something fun where we actually get to see a version of the MCU when she goes to a convention. What was it like tying that in and finding the right tone and balance for all of that when you’re launching this new character? 

Plisco: Well, I think that’s why she fits in this world, because she’s a young character where that was her love and obsession, to want to be part of it. It’s a story within a story. I think that’s the link of how she became part of the MCU, because of her passion for it.

Obviously, it was intended that way, but it was also super fun to see her be so excited about being in that world. The sets for that scene were pretty wild and crazy and amazing. It was pretty fun to be a part of that because we were living that with her, because they shot that towards the end of that first episode. We all grew with her until we got to that that scene where they shot it.

Khodai: All of us are fans, possibly, of the MCU. We were making fun of the audience, I think, a little bit, and the fanboys in that scene. It’s like a smaller Comic Con. But superheroes are real. We did this on The Boys too, which we interjected the real world with this superhero life that we’re creating. It’s fun to see how normal it is, but also not, in this new world. In the other MCU shows, you don’t really see people as fans, necessarily. This is the first time you see a fan becoming a superhero.

Plisco: It’s very meta, right?

Khodai: It is very meta. I think it’s fun and it’s good to poke fun at yourself sometimes.

Plisco: Yeah, maybe that’s why she was so relatable, because we didn’t take it so seriously. We were just doing the deep dive into her fandom of that world.

BTL: Was there a lot that changed during the editing process from the original script? 

Plisco: Well, there always is with a Marvel show, but it’s a lot of experimentation more than anything, just to try to make sure we’re telling the best version of the story as possible. It definitely went in some circles, but luckily I think it came back down to the grounded nature of her family. Her becoming a superhero within her family unit, that part stuck.

Khodai: And her friends and making sure that they were real, well-rounded characters. I think we worked really hard at some point trying to make the friends and her and the parents feel more grounded and all that stuff. If you do too much over the top, it becomes goofy. There is a real balance of making sure that it’s fun, but also there’s heart. That was probably the most challenging part of the show, because Iman’s fantastic. She can do a lot of range. She can be grounded, and then the next take, she can be bigger and broad. We had a lot to work with, and so finding that balance was a challenge in places. I think we found a really good tone for it and kept that throughout the season.

Mrs. Marvel
Iman Vellani in Mrs. Marvel (Credit: Disney)

BTL: Especially with the later episodes of the season, did working with a lot of heavy visual effects dramatically change what you’re doing?

Khodai: It can limit you, I would say, if you need to change something. Sometimes you cannot. Say you have a first pass and it’s gone through the visual effects pipeline. There’s not a lot you can actually change at some points. Sometimes they will allow you to, just because they’ll have money set aside for maybe some changes, but sometimes, I think especially for that last episode, it pretty much stayed what it was, because the effects were already in process and I didn’t need a lot.

I think we needed to just truncate because of budget more so than anything, and so we ended up taking out stuff, which ultimately makes it leaner and better in ways. Every effects-heavy show goes through that. It’s just part of the process. It’s almost better to bulk up your shots so that later you can minimize, because you know you’re going to have to at some point. Am I wrong, Sabrina?

Plisco: No. I think, especially because in in the Marvel world, there are so many visual effects in each show, you have to start early or you’ll never make your schedule. So you start early and you start fat, and then you lean it up as you go. In the end, visual effects are just a tool, so in our first passes, we try to go for the heart and the core of the scene. The visual effects are a tool. We just have to use those tools wisely and take a stab at things early to get things going and then, like Nona said, you have a little limitation later.

Obviously, we’ve been doing this a long time, so you have a good guess until you’re thrown left-field and you try to make a scene something completely different than it was intended. Then all bets are off. But yeah, I think the beginning of this series was the toughest trying to find the tone and the nature of the groundedness of the characters. The latter parts of the show kind of fell into place, I think, especially the end one, because we had settled the first part of it.

The other obstacle in this is that it was during COVID, and Nona got stuck on her episode where they couldn’t shoot because COVID shut down the country that we were shooting in. We were shooting through COVID, and with Marvel, they did everything by the book and tried to be as safe as possible. But it’s still an outside variable that you can’t control and did end up biting us a little bit in the end.

Khodai: Yeah, we didn’t have a vaccine yet at that point, and we were in the middle of Delta, I think, when we got shut down at one point. It was tough.

Plisco: Yeah, quite a few obstacles to overcome on this one.

Khodai: Especially with the Partition, with all the extras that we had. We did just a few reshoots later and we only had two days and some of the extras weren’t quite the right look that we needed. It was bonkers. I remember I was on set for that, and it was a long day of shooting.

Plisco: Yeah, because they didn’t go back to Thailand for the reshoots. They had to find extras in Atlanta that looked like the beautiful sets and locations.

Khodai: In the cold, and it’s supposed to be hot, so they’re all wearing nothing. We were freezing. I felt so bad for the actors that were wearing nothing. It was wild.

Plisco: The magic of moviemaking, right?

Mrs. Marvel
Iman Vellani in Mrs. Marvel (Credit: Disney)

BTL: Well, I also was looking through your credits and I noticed for each of you a show that I really enjoy, which I think are not too well-remembered because they were both pretty short-lived: Alcatraz and Boomtown. 

Plisco: Oh my god.

BTL: I see the expressions on your faces – do these series occupy any space in your memories?

Plisco: Boomtown, yes. It does, in fact. I just saw a posting from my director-producer friend that the group of them from that show were out picketing together, which is kind of ironic. But yeah, that was quite a long time ago and it was a fun show. I was actually doing two shows at once at that moment. I was doing Sky Captain the World of Tomorrow.

BTL: I see that movie poster right behind you.

Plisco: Yes. Jon Avnet was the EP of both, and he’s like, well, if I can do both, you can do both. So, I was doing two. Boomtown was super fun, and I just did a couple episodes of that, but I do remember it well and it was fun and short-lived. The world of small screen has completely changed since then.

Khodai: Alcatraz I remember very well because I had worked on Pushing Daisies as an assistant in the same offices. It’s a specific space and it was funny that we were in the same offices. But Alcatraz was really fun. We had really good editors on that show. It was a Bad Robot show and I had just worked on Super 8 and Mission Impossible 4. I did a lot of movies, TV movies, and TV as an assistant. I had really wanted to get bumped up. It was my chance to do it, and I had assisted a long time. There was a newer editor who got bumped up, he’s not actually editing anymore, David Eisenberg, and it was his first show and I assisted him. I

t was good because we were the same age and he had just gotten his bump, and it was good to have a strong assistant to help someone who’s just gotten bumped up so that you can help them out. It was really fun. We had Andy Seklir, who’s a big, big editor. He’s done Westworld and Battlestar Galactica. So it was a really great crew. Vikash Patel, who’s done Ozark and David’s done Watchmen. Everyone’s done such great work since being on that show. It was such a fun group of people to be around. We had Michael Giacchino do our music. I remember going to Alcatraz Island for the premiere. That was a really special show because we all got to go to Alcatraz. We all flew up there for the premiere.

Plisco: That’s pretty amazing. That’s awesome.

Khodai: We have pictures still. I have pictures of being on the island at night. It was so creepy. It was so fun, though. Got to meet all the actors. That’s funny you mentioned that, because it was one of the more memorable shows I assisted on, just because the crew was so wonderful. I’m sad it was short-lived, unfortunately. It was a weird time, I think. The transition to streaming was during that time. 

All episodes of Ms. Marvel are available to stream via Disney+.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer has been the editor of and since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, TIFF, Tribeca, and SXSW, and was on a series of road trips across the United States with his wife, Arielle, before they moved to Los Angeles. He is a contributing writer for Above the Line, Awards Radar, AwardsWatch, Below the Line News,, The Film Experience, Film Factual, and Gold Derby.
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