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Hail Satan? Aaron Wickenden, ACE on Cutting the Controversial Doc

Director Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? opens with a sequence of events from a small scale rally: a few people gathered on the steps of a Florida government building, a handful of protesters and media, and a man with horns creating fire from thin air as he thanks Governor Rick Scott for signing a bill into law that would allow prayer in public schools – ”if you open the door for God, you open the door for Satan!” Even the title card – Hail Satan…? - is questioning if any of this is, like, for real. That sets the tone for a wild ride that follows, which traces the massive growth of The Satanic Temple worldwide, from minor pranks to nationwide news and bullet-proof vests.

And no, it’s really not at all what you think it is.

The Satanic Temple is a movement that began almost as an attention-grabbing joke, occasionally taking things a bit far. But the film explores the Temple’s transition into a structured organization seeking to make people ask questions about religious freedom in the United States. While they use Satanic imagery to stir things up, their self-described mission is encouraging benevolence and empathy toward all people. Their argument is simple: the United States was built by people fleeing religious persecution, so it’s hypocritical of people to persecute non-Christian religions.

The execution of this is less simple. Aside from regular lobbying and organized participation in local government, The Satanic Temple often relies upon theatrics and satire to get its point across. A recent example was a request to place a winged statue of Baphomet next to the Ten Commandments monument at the Arkansas State Capitol building. If we truly have religious freedom in this country, then many different religious images should be welcome together on government property, right? Or maybe we should have none at all on our government property?

The conversations that ensue from these carefully crafted initiatives (which also sometimes completely fail) create hilarious imagery, amusingly conflicting images of what “Satanists” can look like, and a much deeper conversation on what it means to be an American Patriot.

And yeah, it makes for a great documentary.

Baphomet in Hail Satan? (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

Similar to the Satanic Temple, Hail Satan? rides a careful line between humor and the serious issues of religious polarization in the United States in a narrative co-edited by Emmy-nominated editor Aaron Wickenden, ACE. Aaron began his film career in Chicago after attending school for photography, initially modeling his aspirations toward being a director after Stanley Kubrick’s path. While Kubrick had started out as a photographer for Look Magazine, the company Aaron ended up at – Kartemquin Films – weren’t looking for photographers. Instead, a considerably less glamorous night position of subtitling a seven hour mini-series was available, and Aaron took it. The relationships built through this initial early opportunity, particularly with director Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame), led to a ten year working relationship leading Aaron to cut At the Death House Door and The Interrupters.

Since then, Aaron has edited an array of popular documentaries including a favorite of Sundance audiences last year Won’t You Be My Neighbor, an uplifting tear-jerker about Mr. Rogers, and Netflix’s They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, about a comeback attempt staged by director Orson Welles as he tries to finish his final film The Other Side of the Wind. Aaron co-edited Hail Satan? with editor Amy Foote, and I talked to him about his involvement and approach to crafting the story shortly after the film’s 2019 Sundance premiere.

Aaron Wickenden, ACE

Creative COW: What was your path to joining the film?

Aaron Wickenden: Between the start of my career and when [director Penny Lane] had reached out to me, I made a film called Almost There. And I went with my directing partner to the IFP Labs in New York as we were trying to fundraise. And at the time, Penny was fundraising and trying to secure distribution for her film Our Nixon. We met each other and hung out a little bit and really hit it off. And then we’d see each other periodically over the years at film festivals. But Penny kind of reached out to me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in working with her on a project.

And I’d really loved Penny’s work on Nuts, it had won the best editing award at Sundance. And I knew that whatever she was working on would have so much humor and vitality to it. She used vitality, subversiveness, things that I was really excited about, that I’m attracted to when I look for projects.

She sent me the demos for a couple of projects that she had in development and one was ‘Hail Satan?’. And I remember watching this 20-minute demo and then excitedly showing it to my wife and being like I think this is the next film I want to work on. From the get-go the demo showed how much fun the film was going to be, how surprising it was going to be, and the level of intelligence and emotional intimacy that the film was going to have.

I got on the phone with Penny and her producer Gabriel [Sedgwick] and one of the most striking things was how much fun they were having and how much they were laughing. And I just remember getting off that phone call and just feeling so excited that there might be this possibility to work together because there was so much joy in the process of making this film and exploring those topics.

My schedule was pretty booked up for a while. I was finishing Won’t You Be My Neighbor and then right after that I had a commitment to do another film with the same director called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. And so I wasn’t immediately available to do Hail Satan and Amy Foote – who’s an amazing editor and cut a film called The Work which is one of my favourite documentary films in recent years – was hired to come in and start cutting the film. The idea was that Amy and I would work simultaneously for the bulk of the edit.

Director Penny Lane (Courtesy Sundance Institute

What was the nature of the working relationship between Amy and Penny and you? Were you working separately on different parts of the story all the time, or was it highly collaborative?

Every independent documentary that I’ve worked on has been extremely collaborative, and this was no exception. The one thing that was unique about this was that I was working from a home office in Chicago and the rest of the team was working from an office in Brooklyn. And so the way that we made that work is on a project level, Amy, Penny and I all had identical hard drives with the same media, and that made it possible for us to share Premiere sequences and have them open up seamlessly and be able to view each other’s material without having to do exports all the time.

So that was wonderful. But then when we did have exports, we would put them up on And that’s a really wonderful tool because it allows you to leave notes directly on a frame. Penny is such a wonderful director because she invites a dialog about the creative process. And so, each of us would go in and we would have debates, and we would give each other a hard time, and we would fight for our ideas. And Penny allowed for that creative exchange to take place. Everyone’s ideas were respected.

What was the process of figuring out exactly how to piece together these different threads? There’s a lot of jumping different locations, several different main characters, and different initiatives within the Temple. What approach did you take to figuring out the best way to weave these together?

From the time I started, we knew that the whole film was going to take the viewer on a journey from the original gesture of the Satanic Temple, which was that it was a couple of friends who got together with this idea for assuming the identity of a Satanic group as a way to make a statement for religious freedom. And at the beginning there was a lot of humor to it, and there were people involved who didn’t necessarily consider themselves Satanists. But by the end of the film there was the fact that we showed they had become a world-wide minority religion. And so the journey of the film essentially was from a humorous prank to something incredibly serious.

Along the way they would have to grapple with how they defined what Satanism was, or re-defined what Satanism was. And also how as an organization, as they were growing, they also had to deal with codifying the idea of their organization and struggled with controlling it. I think that once we knew generally where we wanted to start and where we wanted to wind up, that gave us a great framework for building the film.

Oftentimes I like to think about editing and putting together these really complex films as almost like you’re building a puzzle. A puzzle with a thousand pieces. If you were to put together a jigsaw puzzle, you look and you build the corner pieces first, because it’s clear those are the key moments. And then you build the edges, and then you build in.

And so, I use a similar method on the films that I edit. I try to identify with the director ahead of time: what do we know is absolutely going to be in the film? What are the tent-pole scenes? We build those and then we build into and out of them. And that method proved to be pretty useful in terms of not getting lost. The interviews Penny would do were sometimes hours long, six hours long for a single sitting and so much of what people had to say was incredibly interesting. And you could have made many movies with that material. So, knowing the story and always coming back to ‘What is the thread?’, ‘What is the story we’re trying to tell?’, allowed us to stay on track and make this film for Sundance.

Penny Lane with producer Gabriel Sedgwick and Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves at the 2019 Sundance Premiere (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

Did you have to work to maintain that sort of humorous tone that runs throughout, or was that just inherent in the subject matter? Or was it easy to slip into a sort of tone that was a little too serious?

The humorous quality in Penny’s demo is what attracted me to doing the film in the first place. I think the Satanic Temple is incredibly provocative. But part of that provocation is through their actions and sense of humor. That quality was pretty baked into them – Penny and the subjects were incredibly well suited for each other. If you’ve seen any of her previous films, humor is an inherent technique that she draws upon in her storytelling. The humor in the film wasn’t a struggle for us to arrive to, it absolutely was inherent in every gesture that the Satanic Temple was doing.

If there was any struggle, it was how to fit in all of the incredible actions that they did. One of my favorites is their “Snaketivity”. They built a nativity for the Satanic Temple but they want it displayed in Detroit alongside a Christian nativity. But the Satanic Temple had a giant snake and they called it ‘Snaketivity’. And so, things like that are just so funny, but underneath the humor is a real deep political point, pushing people to reconsider their notions of religious freedom and the possibility of religious polarity in this country.

Were there any aspects of Adobe Premiere that really helped you in the documentary space in making this happen so quickly?

Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that was extremely useful with Premiere is that they have this proxy toggle feature. The film was shot in 4K. And all of our master footage was converted into 1080p Apple ProRes proxies. With Premiere all you have to do is push a button on your timeline and it will immediately flip between the 4K and the proxy.

We were all editing on fairly old systems as far as computer tech goes. All of us were editing off of iMacs, like 2014-era iMacs. Having the proxy feature allowed us to cut with the footage, and then we knew from visual tests we had done that we could push into the footage 200% and not lose any visual quality. We could edit more playfully and seamlessly just by pushing in.

But when you’re cutting with a proxy they became incredibly blurry and when we submitted to Sundance or had a test meeting, we didn’t want to show like something really distracting like that. So all we had to do was flip the switch. It would go to 4K, you would export, and it was beautiful.

Official trailer for Hail Satan?

You’ve cut a lot of documentaries, including some very recent popular Sundance stuff, and then Netflix docs. How do you find the style for each one?

I think one of the things I do when I’m like watching the material from the beginning of my involvement with the project is I just watch it to see what resonates with me. What lights me up, what’s funny, what’s moving? And I try to stay fairly open to that when I’m first evaluating the material. Keep a real openness. The footage could be used in any type of way. Just because it was conceived in one way, it can be re-focused and extracted for a variety of purposes.

I try to keep track of my initial vibes that I had from the material. And then I start to think about the grouping of ideas and concepts and usually that comes in direct collaboration with the director. You start having these idea clusters come together. The movie eventually gets to a place where it starts to tell you what it wants. The decisions you make start to have these echoes and ramifications throughout the entire edit. You can start to feel whether something makes sense to the totality of the film.

I think if I’ve done my job well, the film has a sense of cohesion that is ingrained, that starts from the material and comes out of it. A symbiotic process, it’s a reflection of the content rather than imposing too heavily on the content.

What advice do you have for people that are interested in cutting documentaries and want to get more into that themselves?

I benefited tremendously in my career from finding incredible organisations, such as Kartemquin. It was a company that I had sought out because I loved the films they made. I was very lucky to be able to get an internship with them. In particular there was a film Kartemquin made in 1968 called Inquiring Nuns and it’s basically a film where two nuns walk around the streets of Chicago, interviewing people and asking them if they’re happy. And it’s scored with Philip Glass’s music and it’s really one of my favorite films.

I think one of the pieces of advice I give to people is to not just look at film in a general sense. Like, oh I want to work in film, I’ll find a job somewhere in film. But to really try to identify: what do you love? Who are your idols? Try to seek those people out and see if there’s any opportunities near then or adjacent to them. Don’t worry about skipping ahead so fast to cutting.

Another thing that helped me tremendously early on was I attempted, and failed, to make my own feature documentary film. But in the process I taught myself a lot about the filmmaking craft and about editing. And it gave me enough experience so that then when I went to do the internship at Kartemquin, I was prepared and could speak the same language as the editors were using in the edit room.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 3, 2019 at 9:03:07 pm

Editor Phyllis Housen on Shaping Sundance Jury Prize Winning Drama 'Clemency'

Death row drama Clemency debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival (winning the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize) and explores themes of the prison industrial complex through the eyes of warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) as the emotional weight of state executions begins to take its toll on her. Directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the film has created a renewed conversation around capital punishment, and editor Phyllis Housen worked alongside Chukwu to bring impact and realism to the story.

New York-based editor Phyllis Housen first fell in love with movies at a young age and had that love reinforced by a high school teacher who taught film history instead of English class. Her first love to spring from this experience was toward writing about film theory, which naturally evolved into editing, including both chapters of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill saga, among many others.

“I was an English Lit major and a drummer,, and I think those two things – storytelling and rhythm – came together and made me an editor.”

I talked to Phyllis on the challenges of working with difficult material contrasted with the joy of collaborating with someone who loved going to work.

Creative COW: How did you get involved with Clemency and what drew you to a story about a female prison warden?

Phyllis Housen: The script is what was so great. My agent got me in touch with the producer Bronwyn Cornelius, and she and I met and had a great meeting. And she said ‘you have to meet the director, you guys are going to be great.’ We met and hit it off! But the script was so well-written and interesting and textured. And the pace of it was really interesting, It’s not a quickly paced film. You really get to feel the daily life in a prison, and that was part of what Chinonye was going for, to help the audience sort of feel what that day to day tedium is like.

What aspects of cutting this film were the most challenging?

There are a couple of lethal injection scenes that are pretty challenging – not only to create, but to watch. And so you might imagine the chaos that ensues when a lethal injection doesn’t go as planned. That scene was particularly challenging. It was a lot of moving parts but we put it together and it’s pretty impactful.

Chinonye did such a great job in getting what she wanted that it wasn’t as challenging as one might think. We really clicked. I understood her vision, and we found the movie. While it’s such a difficult film and a dark world to be in, we actually found a lot of joy in creating the movie every day. We loved coming into work, we loved working together, and I think that regardless of what the subject matter is on the screen, when you have that kind of chemistry in the cutting room, it shows up on the screen later.

What was your working relationship with Chinonye like, and how did you figure that out together?

She wanted to talk to me one more time before she hired me, basically to tell me how bossy she was. And I said I’m okay with bossy. Bossy is good in the cutting room – it means you know what you want, which is the best thing. We both showed up every day and we worked really hard. And you know what happens after a little while between an editor and a director is you sort of become two brains ingesting the same information and the same imagery. And my hands are working, but we’re both so focused on getting the film made. We both go into this flow space and get the movie made. I think we were both excited. We had our joy. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but we really enjoyed the work.

Two women working together and working with a female director, it doesn’t happen very often. A lot of times, directors look at my resume and what pops out at them is the fact that I worked on the Kill Bill movies. And I tend to work with a lot of 30-year-old guys. It was really refreshing to work with a female director, and hopefully that will happen a lot more in the future.

Director Chinonye Chukwu

When I was looking at the film’s crew list and who else worked on it, I was really excited to see director, editor, composer, a lot of women in head roles telling a story with a female protagonist in a situation where you wouldn’t traditionally think a woman would be in that role.

Exactly. Bronwyn did a great job producing this. It’s important to everybody now, to try and get women to be department heads and to be telling their story. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about what new jobs exist and what’s out there, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about editing TV series, and many of them are mandating female directors. I think it’s really interesting. And look, you’ll find some are better than others of course, but everyone’s starting to get a shot at it. I think that that’s really, really important.

When you were working on this movie you said some of the subject matter was difficult. Have you ever worked on a movie where the actual subject matter was hard to cope with, and how do you protect yourself from being too affected by that?

I think through the Kill Bill aspect, I get a lot of violent scripts. And I’ve had to cut scenes where people are really beating the crap out of each other. And it’s interesting – when I’m doing it it’s a work product. You just want to make it seem as real as you can and put the pieces together to create the impact. What I found with one particular film I cut, I invited my family to come to a screening and they couldn’t watch it. They were like ‘how can you create this violence?’ It’s interesting, I didn’t think about that, that it would impact them that way. So when you’re working, you really work with the material to try and make it as believable as you can if that’s what it’s demanding.

I don’t know if it’s compartmentalizing, but you sort of have to in order to create it. I will say one thing about Clemency that I found really interesting: there was a scene, a very, very impactful scene, that there was really not a dry eye in the house when the scene was playing out. But when we were putting it together, I was creating emotion, I wasn’t feeling it. But if anyone else would come in the room and we’d watch the scene and I’d hear them, then I would feel the emotion. And I thought that was really interesting that you could move away from the work enough to be an actual audience member. I found it particularly interesting and surprising.

Clemency. (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

During your long career you were an assistant editor during a time when that role was quite different compared to today. How do you think that role has changed, and what do assistants need today?

I have so many thoughts about that. I was so lucky to have come up when I did, when we were cutting on film. It was a much more labor-intensive job. The main thing I feel that has changed so much is that we would be five or six or eight people in a cutting room, and people had work. And now, we’re lucky to get one assistant. I think it’s too bad in terms of the industry hiring people, but also I was so lucky to learn how to edit from editors.

Whereas now, you barely have the time. Your assistant works in a different room. Y’know you yell things: ‘Can you find me this bin, blah, blah, blah?’. And then they’ll put it in a folder on your desktop without even coming into your room. Whereas, back in the old days, when I always say dinosaurs still roamed the earth, as an assistant I would have to stand there holding the actual shot – the film – in my hand in preparation for when the editor was going to cut it into the piece.

You were an integral part of the workings of making the film. You would actually see what they did at every step. I think we’ve lost something in that, in terms of mentorship. A legacy has gone away. I try, I do the best I can. I’ll give an assistant a scene to cut and then we’ll talk about it. Because I had editors who let me do that, and that’s the way you learn.

When the digital world came in, it certainly created a lot more time, but it created a lot more time for a lot more work, more versioning. When we were cutting film, the film would tell you when it was ready to be done. It would start breaking down, it would start tearing here and there, it would be, like, okay – we’re done. But it’s the versioning that happens with digital. You could keep cutting until forever. And sometimes that’s what people want to do.

As this film was cut in Premiere, were there aspects of the software that helped you get past the technology and dive deeper into the story?

I love Premiere. I am a huge, huge fan, and I came out of the Final Cut Pro world. And I held on to Final Cut 7 as long as I could, until the software couldn’t handle the media any more. It just kept breaking down and crashing, and I did not switch to Final Cut X, I was very much on the unhappy side of that.

But what happened, which people weren’t realizing at the time, is because of the split between Final Cut 7 users and Final Cut X, Adobe kinda grabbed the ball and ran through the middle. And they created software that I find it so intuitive. And so I love what it looks like, I love how it works. If there’s something you don’t know how to do, you can poke it and prod it and figure out what it is you need to do.

And in terms of the story, of getting to the story through the software, I just think of its ease. If you don’t have to stop all the time and ask someone ‘how do I do that’, or go on YouTube, which is what most people do, it just becomes a part of my hands.

The ‘other guys’, I find that to be really rigid software. If you don’t know how to do something in that software, you really can’t figure it out, you’ve got to stop and either ask someone for a trick or a tip, or go on YouTube. That’s been my experience.

I read that you worked in Paris for the first few years of your career and you also went to London. Do you think that having a global education and experience makes you a better storyteller? Is the global nature of stories changing?

Absolutely. I went to grad school in London and I had a choice of going to California. I took my semester abroad in LA. I went to USC for a semester, took a lot of classes, and I was lucky enough to have a fine arts advisor who helped me put all those classes through the Arts and English department. It was great so I could get credits for taking film classes.

I travel a lot. I’m a huge, huge fan. When I finish a film, usually the first thing I do is throw a dart at a globe, basically. Where haven’t I been? Where do I want to go? I love to travel. It opens up your mind to different kinds of stories. You’re also storytelling a lot when you travel, especially on your own. There’s a lot of trying to figure out how to communicate. I don’t really know how to speak Icelandic, so you have to figure it out.

I have another interesting story about language and the globalization of storytelling. And it was with this film called Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, which came from a young adult novel. My friend who was directing this film sent me an email, and he basically buried the lede. He said ‘You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, it’s crazy, if you don’t do it I’m going to have to do it myself. But will you edit a movie in Japanese?’

And I just said I don’t know if I can. [I asked him to bring me] to Japan. I go to the movies everywhere I go, so, I took myself to the movies and I went to two films without subtitles. I sat in the dark and I watched the movies and I understood them – what was going on, the emotion – and after that I said ‘I can cut a movie in Japanese.’

So ultimately, I got a Japanese assistant. She sat next to me and I kept just hitting her shoulder saying, ‘What does that mean? What does that mean? What does that mean?’ And she helped me not cut in the middle of words and sentences. But you could feel where you wanted to go to a close-up. You could feel in the storytelling what was required. I needed a little help language-wise, but I think filmmaking is storytelling on such an intuitive level that it’s not necessarily about language.

You’re no stranger to going to festivals. What are you looking forward to most at Sundance this time?

I am excited that this is really the first time I’ve gone as the editor of a film. I’ve gone many times as a hanger-on, I’ve gone as an assistant, and I also have just been to Park City to ski because it’s a great place to go when it’s not the festival. I keep thinking of the hot chocolate at the Stein Eriksen.

I am excited to go and be with this film. I just think this film is going to get a lot of attention. It’s a really impactful film. As I said, it’s moody, it’s not a happy movie. But it’s poignant and it really makes you think. It doesn’t direct you in any way, it’s the kind of movie that you go out afterwards and talk about your opinions over a cup of coffee.

And they’re big issues. They’re big, important issues about the prison industrial complex, about the death penalty and the value of life and death. And they’re important issues to discuss. This film looks at them in a very grown up and intelligent way. And Chinonye, she really had a vision for this. It was on the page and it’s on the screen. And I think we’re going to hear a lot more from her, that’s for sure.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 2, 2019 at 8:24:17 pm

Light From Light: Editor Courtney Ware on Returning to Sundance

Editor/Director Courtney Ware got her start in the industry as a PA, quickly working her way up to producer before her 21st birthday. After her directorial debut on Sunny in the Dark, she realized a pivot away from producing and into storytelling was in her future, and she got started on being an editor in between directing jobs. The first film to bring her to Sundance was Never Goin’ Back, and she’s back at the festival this year with Light From Light.

And she’s made all these career strides from Dallas, Texas, in a tight-knit local filmmaking community.

“The cool thing about Dallas is that everyone gets to work on each other’s projects. People that I’ve hired in the past, I get to work with them and help them bring their projects to board. We’re a pretty cool close-knit family over here in Dallas. We like working together.”

I talked to Courtney about her return to Sundance as an editor on Light From Light.

Director/Editor Courtney Ware

Creative COW: I saw that Light From Light is part of the Next category at Sundance. Why was it placed in that category? What makes it different?

Courtney Ware: The film is really contemplative. It’s something that is really quiet and understated, but we have incredibly nuanced performances from Marin Ireland and Jim Gaffigan. I think it’s in the Next category because Marin plays a character who is a paranormal investigator, but the film is by no means a horror film or a ghost story type film. It is really a dramatic film about these characters, and so I think the cool thing about the films that are in Next is that they seem to always subvert genre or do something really interesting that I haven’t seen before. I think this film does exactly that. It’s a drama that happens to have a ghost investigator in it, but it is not a horror film, which I think is really interesting.

As an editor, what was the challenging part of cutting this film? Was there a particularly challenging scene?

While cutting Never Goin’ Back, our goal was find the funniest take. How quickly can we get through to all of these jokes, because the pacing was really fast. With [Light from Light] everything’s so much more subtle that we were really, really specific in our take choices. We would have just a slightly different line read, and that would of course ripple through the entire film. And so that was challenging to maneuver through these small dramatic changes, and see how drastically these small changes would change the performance, change the feeling, change the tone.

We have a 12 minute scene and within that 12-minute scene is a 2 minute closeup on Marin Ireland where we never cut away. When you have these incredible actors, it’s easy to make bold choices. It was a scene that I was most nervous about and then as we went through it, it ended up turning into my favourite scenee. It was just a really cool way to get the editing out of the way and just let sort of the story unfold.

Light From Light (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

Speaking of sort of getting the editing out of the way, what was your process using Adobe Premiere? Had you been using it before, and did it help you get to the story stuff instead of the technical stuff?

I’ve been using Premiere for – ooh I should count one day. I can’t remember when I switched over! It was whenever Final Cut X came out [ed note: June 2011] and I’ve just been so happy ever since. This is my third feature film I’ve cut in Premiere. I talk about the intangibles whenever I talk about software. I really like the brain-space of how Premiere is laid out, how it just works. It makes a lot of sense to me and my brain. I’ve worked in many, many other editing softwares and those other softwares don’t quite make sense to me on a really basic level.

I’ve really enjoyed working in Premiere, it’s definitely become a requirement. I’ve gotten a couple of other inquiries about editing and using other programs but it’s not a good idea. I’ve definitely been able to work really quickly. Something that’s really interesting about this film is that I cut on set. So I was ten feet away from filming on my laptop, with hard drives and all that, and was literally cutting everything there. And so having a program that could so easily work and be reliable in such a mobile situation, there’s just no other way to do it for me.

What was it like cutting on set? Were you cutting from the original camera files on set or making dailies as well?

Our DP had a few LUTs that she was choosing between, so it actually synced everything and transcoded into dailies that have the LUT applied. And then I would import that into Premiere and be cutting. I was anywhere from a full day to half a day behind, so it was really, really fast. The whole process took very little time for me to actually get into the scene.

[Cutting on set] was something we tried out on Never Goin’ Back, sort of a proof of concept, and it really worked. It’s great because I can be aware of what’s going on. Paul [Harrill] is the type of director that likes to get a lot of variations on the scenes. Depending on what the actors were giving him he might change the script around. So being there it was great, because I knew exactly what I was getting, and knew which direction Paul was leaning.

Being able to give real time-ish feedback and to be able to say ‘hey, y’know, I think we need to push further or hold back a little, I think you’ve gone too far’. Stuff like that on an indie film level saves a ton of time and saves us from having to do re-shoots. Plus, I just really like being on set.

Being a director yourself and also an editor, how do you switch between those two ways of thinking? How does that affect your relationship collaborating with a director when you are the editor?

It’s cool because I think they all intertwine. Being a director makes me a better editor and vice versa. I can lend my opinion on stuff like tone. It’s helpful for when it’s the end of the day and we’re running out of daylight, and we have the AD’s shot list but we have time to get maybe two more shots, it’s handy for me to be able to say for the edit we need at least this. I can be that voice that is an outside perspective. And when the director is maybe trying to focus on how to get the day, or how to continue to direct his actors, it’s all helpful. And I think that’s why I gravitated towards editing so much, because they are so intermixed.

Courtney on the set of Sunny in the Dark (Miah Oren Photography)

What do you think is the most important skill that a storyteller can have today and bring to a film?

I think being able to convey a thought is really important. Storytellers are all about communicating and being able to communicate through technology. I laugh a lot because filmmakers live in this intangible – we’re not painting something that you can then look at or touch, we’re creating zeros and ones in this intangible magic of movie magic. And so being able to technically take that magic and turn it into something that you can communicate and connect with your audience is really important. What that skill actually is, I’m not sure. But I think being able to communicate and use the tools that we’ve been given, I think that’s helpful, important.

What would you say to somebody that’s like ‘oh you’re in Dallas, you should come to LA or you should come to New York instead because then you could do so much more on a coast’?

I mean, I stay pretty busy. For me it’s about the people and who you can work with. You can make some really great connections and friendships wherever you are. I’m not really interested in moving away from here. I can make a movie really easily in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I can do it with people that I enjoy working with. It’s just different. I don’t know how else to say it.

I think it’s important to find your people. I’ve started working on projects because people recommended me or I got connected through friends of mine, or friends of friends. If you can find those people that make you a better filmmaker and start making stuff with them, then you slowly start meeting more people and working on new or different projects. It’s about finding those people that will push you to make you better. And those people are everywhere. Especially now that, because our world is so connected.

Courtney at the Sundance premiere of Never Goin’ Back in 2018

What are you excited about doing or seeing at Sundance this year?

It’s funny because the first year you go, everything’s so new and you don’t know what to expect and you’re trying to find that balance between how many films you can watch versus how much sleep do you need. I’m the type of person that really likes to know what to expect, so the fact that I know what to expect for this year makes me that much more excited to go. I love watching movies at 9 o’clock in the morning with a bunch of other strangers and then just randomly walking around in the snow. That’s also something I’m really excited about, because here in Texas we just don’t get snow.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 27, 2019 at 3:48:32 am

Cutting Honey Boy: Mónica Salazar on Editing The Sundance Hit

One of the most anticipated films at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival (according to Indiewire and MTV, among others), Honey Boy is a semi-autobiographical story penned by actor Shia LaBeouf that spans a decade in the life of a child actor. It’s also the first feature film cut by editor Mónica Salazar, a Mexican immigrant whose story starts with a VCR in Monterrey and a dream to one day land at Pixar.

Editor Mónica Salazar in Park City

After starting her bachelors degree in communication in Mexico, Mónica followed her aspiration toward animation to a school she found online. It seemed like a good step toward Pixar, but she’d really never heard of it before: the University of Southern California. She transferred to USC and entered as an international student.

“My first day there I thought they made a mistake.”

Surrounded by US-based friends and peers with vast backgrounds in filmmaking and resumes already full of awards, Mónica worked hard to prove herself and build her confidence. From her early days editing tape-to-tape as a kid, she knew post production was her future. She quickly branded herself as an editor and worked for both the Avid Tech Lab and sound department at USC.

Mónica working on a project at USC.

Landing an internship out of school, Mónica was thrown into the “boot camp” of entry-level post production and continued to work toward the Pixar internship she coveted. Each application and denial got her a little bit closer, and she even landed an interview on the third try. But her friend got the position – and she was rejected again.

“I was very happy for her. But everything that I had been working for didn’t pan out, it was just very awkward and sad. I think I was a little bit depressed about it.”

On the heels of her final Pixar rejection, the company Mónica had been interning for decided to hire her as an assistant editor for Doug Crise, an editor she had long admired.

And after that, he kept hiring her. She became a Post PA on Gold. Then an assistant editor on Zoe and The Beach Bum. A mentorship was born, and it was mutually beneficial.

“As we were finishing The Beach Bum, he said that there was this movie called Honey Boy that he wanted to put me up for. That’s how I ended up cutting my first feature – because the editor that I started with three years ago trusted me with this opportunity.”

Editing student films at USC.

Mónica’s humble nature discounts her incredible hard work: as she’s in the United States on a talent-based visa, she has never stopped editing even while she’s been assisting (she has 19 editing credits on IMDB since 2012). Her story is one of generous and necessary mentorship, of luck and opportunity converging, but also one of brilliant strategy and ambition. Mónica figured out what she wanted from her career and has been asking for it at every opportunity.

And she’s continued to lift up those around her during her professional ascension. She commonly recommends young professionals for roles and offers her guidance and mentorship. She’s VP of Blue Collar Post Collective in Los Angeles, a non-profit that supports emerging talent in post production. And during this interview, she kept reminding me that she was a co-editor on Honey Boy (sharing editorial credit with Dominic LaPerriere) and that the film was an intense collaboration with Dominic and director Alma Har’el.

Mónica cutting Honey Boy with her trusty hot sauce.

Honey Boy debuts this week in Park City, Utah. I talked to Mónica about her experience on the film, how she dealt with the editorial challenges, and how mentorship and strategy built her editorial career.

Ed. note: Some of the rave coverage of Honey Boy following its premiere, in Variety ("premieres to a standing ovation"), Deadline ("the power to move audiences"), ("a cinematic act of courage"), and The Film Experience ("extremely compelling and affecting").

Creative COW: What was your working relationship like with director Alma Har’el through the assembly and director’s cut?

Mónica Salazar: Throughout the assembly, Alma was deep in the trenches of production. I did send her a couple of scenes while she was on set, we talked, and I visited set one day. We talked a little bit on the phone about the scenes and her intention with them. But once we started the director’s cut, that’s when we both were in it deep. Every single day, we went through every single scene. Alma comes from a background of editing herself, so it’s very understandable that she wanted to see every single take. And she just wanted to go back and re-visit every scene.

Director Alma Har’el (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

It was very early on that we both knew that the movie was not going to be told linearly. We both were exploring the right moment to cut to the future and the past, or the present and the past. And we were constantly working towards that and what was the right timing, what was the best frame for this film. And it was on the very last day of the director’s cut that we watched our playback, looked at each other and said we need a different structure. Very last day of director’s cut! It was hilarious because we just turned to each other and it was like, yeah, we gotta start with the other character, we gotta start with the present or the future and then go back in time. We said ‘we’re crazy. We’re about to deliver this!’ But we needed to change it.

It wasn’t that the movie needed to be fixed, it was that we wanted characters to be [in the film] until the end. We were gifted with so many good performances. The movie was working, but we realized we could make it even better. We could go one step further. The entire time you’re in the past [in the timeline of the film], it was just so beautiful and so serene. To tell the story the way it was originally intended, linearly, we would be missing that and those characters for half the film. We were given something so good that we realized we cannot just stop halfway through and not look back.

Mónica, assistant Shannon, and Dominic on Honey Boy

After director’s cut, that’s when Dominic came along. If we wanted to make our Sundance submission deadline, there was no way this could have happened without the three of us working as a great team. We turned into a really good collaborative team because we were literally creating a new cut of this film every three days. It was so much work, but it was so gratifying every time that we took a step, and took a step back, and re-visited the continuity wall. We would just like take a step back and say ‘okay this is not working, okay this is working.’

Each time, something new worked until there was one cut when all three of us watching the movie said ‘this is going to be great.’ And that’s how my relationship developed and then went on. We were just constantly bouncing ideas off each other.

So the process for finding the right structure was very much just moving pieces around and seeing how it played together, and then shuffling them up more?

Yes. But it was great. We did so many unexpected things – things that were not meant to be told. At least in the original conception, they were not meant to be cross-cut. They ended up cross-cutting very beautifully. I had had this happen in short films but since this was my first feature as an editor, it was a completely new challenge.

It sounds kind of daunting for a first feature to be really working the material quite that much. Did you find it was daunting, or were you really just in your element right away?

There’s always a daunting element to it but at the same time, it was exciting. And sometimes it was like ‘Oh my God, what am I doing’. But I think the more we started to realize things were working, it just felt better and better and better. There was one time, before Dominic came along, Alma and I were joking, ‘oh we’re escaping, we’re escaping the country’. We’re like ‘we’re leaving and that’s it’. But it was fun, it was very fun. There was something very nice and very validating when we got to Sundance. We were like ‘OK, we didn’t f--- this up.’

Honey Boy (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

The overall editorial challenge was finding the right structure from all the great pieces that you had, but was there a particular scene that was especially challenging to cut?

Yes. There were a couple. I don’t want to give too much away about the ending. But given that we were now in a new structure, we needed to work some things around. And it was a fun puzzle to put together. Because suddenly it had to include things that were not intended to be included there.

What did you learn about being an editor on your first feature that was surprising to you, that you didn’t already know about being an editor on other things?

I learned so many things. This is going to sound cliché, but trusting the process is a big one. And just patience. You have to fail in order to succeed. You have to try twenty other versions before you find the right one, and that was a great thing.

I also learned that I really enjoy the collaboration, having a co-editor. It’s something I had done in school before and I really loved it. But it was just great to go into the mix room and go to another fellow editor and be like ‘what do you think about this?’ And then both of us were bouncing ideas off each other and trying new things, and it was beautiful.

There was a moment where I was reading over a break while I was still cutting. I was reading Walter Murch’s book In a Blink of an Eye. And one of the things that he said is a movie is its own when the editor disappears.

This sounds very pretentious right now – but there was a moment when reading that book, when I was in the middle of it, he talked about having co-editors. I was really excited to collaborate with another editor. And there were moments when we turned to each other and we were like ‘did you do that, or did I do that?’ And it was like ‘I don’t know, but it works!’ We worked off each other very well and all three of us made the movie better by working together. It was fun.

Humble beginnings behind the camera, eventually leading to Sundance.

A lot of the well-known editors today were assisting in a time when assisting was a much, much different job – or maybe they never assisted at all. Now we’re firmly in the generation of editors that have been assistants for quite a while, like you were. How do you think having that background changes who you are as an editor, and how you got to this point?

The biggest challenge that we have now is that the assistant is not in the room with the editor. A lot of big editors now were assistants in movies where they were in the room. The assistant was prepping the film and taking scenes while the editor was there with the director. And that doesn’t really happen for us anymore.

I think that what was different for me was that my editor was very welcoming, and he let me be in the room and he let me talk movies and story with him. And that definitely made me a better editor because I learned from him and he allowed me to be in his room. Sometimes the assistant literally has no time to be in the room because of all the tasks they have to complete. And I think that is unfortunate.

I think that it’s more challenging now for assistants to get that hands on experience. And I think it’s important to find an editor that is willing to take you under their wing.

Mentorship between you and editor Doug Crise has been a huge part of your journey. What’s your dynamic in this kind of relationship? How can mentorship be effective?

And ever since [our first project together] Doug kept hiring me. First a post PA, and then as his first assistant on union features. And I just kept working with him. I developed this relationship in which he trusts my input and we work very well together.

I Post PA’d on a bigger Union feature called Gold with Doug. He was very supportive and he would let me sit in his edit room and watch him cut in the mornings before the director arrived. I would be sitting there and just watch him assemble scenes. I’d be like ‘oh, what about this?’ Or ‘I really like this.’ Or he would ask for my feedback – as a post PA!

One of the big things that I keep telling everyone is if someone asks for your opinion, be ready to have an opinion, and be honest. Don’t always say that you like things just because you’re trying to be good. Have an opinion, and be ready to back it up. And I think that’s what formed into a really good relationship between him and me.

After Gold, I went and got my union hours, and then I came back as a union assistant for him. And the same thing kept happening. He’s like ‘come in, I want you to see this’, and I would like this, or I would not like something, and we would talk about it. We would have a very collaborative nature – and there’s always a respect of well, obviously he’s the editor, and I’m just like making suggestions. Sort of like talking story points, talking emotion. I think that’s what really matured our relationship as creatives.

Mónica gives back to the community through mentorship and leading Blue Collar Post Collective LA, including their monthly meet-ups.

As you edit more, will you make mentorship a priority for your assistants?

I hope so. It also varies from project to project. If the assistant is on with dailies you can invite them to come in, or you can just go get them to watch early assemblies of the cut. Usually the person who helps me is an assistant, and in this case it was Meaghan Wilbur and Shannon Lynch. They were both great because they would be my fresh pair of eyes to watch a cut before I sent it out to the director.

So many times I would also show the scenes to Doug. It’s always about building that relationship. Once the director comes in it’s a little harder because your whole time is spent with the director. But then, I did enjoy being like ‘oh, come and take a look at this’, or ‘look at what we did today’. And we would talk about how things are progressing.

I think it’s also very important that the assistant is vocal about wanting to cut if they want to cut. I think it’s also important that the assistant proves that they have a good sense of storytelling in cutting scenes or in discussions with your editor. The first time that Doug gave me a scene to cut, he said ‘okay I see what you did, but I’m not going to take it.’ And then as our relationship developed and evolved, he later would said ‘Oh, I really like this. Here are some notes.’

And then he saw that I could take notes and he said ‘welcome to the Harmony Korine movie.’ And he put in a scene. And obviously as he was working with the directors some things change, but it was a slow process of ‘here, cut this scene’ and ‘I see what you did. I don’t like it, I prefer what I did’. And it’s all valid.

When you’re sitting and watching a scene alone or with the director, how do you know when it’s worked? How do you know when you’ve got it?

To take a line from [ACE editor, USC professor, and author] Norman Hollyn, when I’m leaning forward. I was ingrained that in school. It’s hard to keep a fresh perspective, but sometimes you just feel it. I remember clearly the day that we watched one particular version of the film and we were emotional. We knew this is definitely going to work.

What is it like to be an immigrant in this country, trying to work in a creative industry where it’s so difficult to find jobs? People that have always lived here have to prove themselves, but for you, you have to prove it even more, right? You have to build a portfolio and do more work.

I have to hustle three times more to some extent. At least that was my feeling at the very, very, very beginning. I’m here on a talent-based visa, so I have to constantly be cutting. If I’m assisting, I still have to be cutting too. There’s all these other projects that I’m committed to that I’m cutting because I need to build my editing portfolio. It does mean extra work. But at the same time, I also see it as an advantage because I’m going to see things differently just by nature. I’m going to see everything through a different perspective. Whether I like it or not, it’s just how I am. I have a different background than a lot of people.

And what is it like now to be going to Sundance?

It’s crazy. I wasn’t even planning on going. Now I get to go while my first feature that I co-edited is opening as part of the US Dramatic competition, and it’s getting all this buzz. It’s kind of surreal. I couldn’t have written like a better story myself.

I’m nervous to put all of our hard work out there. It’s going to be out in the world. And so I’m nervous and excited at the same time.

What advice do you have for people that are trying to move up the ladder through post production and into assisting and editing?

Make sure that you’re taking the jobs that are going to take you to where you want to be. Sometimes we get focused on just doing jobs, and we don’t really think about where those gigs are going to be taking us. And I think it’s very valid to be calculated about your career because it’s yours.

Don’t give up, and understand that everyone has different timing for everything. Social media right now makes everyone feel like everyone else is succeeding and you’re not. But that’s just curated success. Everything happens for a reason. I didn’t get my dream internship, and after that I met the editor that would become like a great mentor and friend that put me up to literally be where I am. Everything happens for a reason.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 24, 2019 at 11:19:31 pm

Attend NAB Show for Free with BCPC - No, For Real

If you've followed me a while on the internets, you know that NAB Show (my first, in 2012, for which I wrote quite a recap) was a turning point in my career. I was able to get out of my bubble (Indiana), meet the people I knew only online or by reputation from books, and start to build a name for myself on a much larger stage. I learned a tremendous amount I put to use right away. But maybe most of all, my small-town mentality began to fade away and I could see myself in The Industry. Without attending, my career wouldn't be where it is today.

And I would not have been able to attend if I hadn't convinced my boss to send me. It was a miracle because he wasn't exactly invested in my professional development. But after three years of paying me something like $12/hr, I think he felt it would placate me. (It did: I used my networking and skills to leverage into a new job and network, which eventually brought me to Hollywood.)

I was lucky in my timing and my privilege. Although women are not widely represented in the industry, I still broke through. I had supportive parents I could fall back on while in college so I could do internships and land this unicorn of a job in the 2008 financial crisis. I worked hard to be useful enough to send to a conference at the whim of my boss, but many didn't even get the opportunity to perform. So many underrepresented people in our industry are underrepresented because they lacked some level of financial support. While my hill to climb was steep, many others are even more treacherous and never get close to the top.

My first NAB Show

At NAB Show, the definition of underrepresented is pretty wide: young people, people of color, LGTBQA people, people with disabilities, rural people, people who identify as women, non-binary, or another gender, and even experienced people who have been forced out of the industry due to ageism. BCPC's Professional Development Accessibility Program seeks to meet the needs of these people: emerging (or re-emerging) talent who can't afford to attend career-changing events like NAB alone and don't have the support of an employer, partner, or other source of financial support. And we're expanding the program from 3 attendees to up to ten this year.

Full time post production workers in the US that make less than the median income where they live are likely to have some trouble making the next leap in their careers. It's hard to say yes to opportunities that would enrich your work life and help you build connections to climb the ladder when your finances limit your choices. That's why BCPC created this program and has a team of volunteers to administer it.

PDAP is the central program of BCPC. We pay for selected lower-income post production professionals to attend important industry events, conferences and trade shows that would otherwise be inaccessible due to cost. Since Fall 2016, we've sent a dozen post people from Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Indiana to events like NAB Show, EditFest LA, Sight Sound and Story, and SMPTE Tech Conference.

2018 NAB PDAP recipients Brittany Joyner, Hannah Walker, and Natalie Setoute with editor Alan Bell ACE

We're now accepting applications to attend NAB Show in Vegas – again, for up to ten individuals. We book the airfare, hotel, monorail, and the conference pass. You go Sunday April 14 to Wednesday April 17. We provide the basic itinerary, some guidelines, and arrange a few meetings for you based on your interests. The rest is up to you.

NAB is a huge trade show with so much to do, you can't possibly experience it all: you can see or view recaps and experiences from past attendees including Nolan, Hannah, and Brittany:

Here's a secret: often when we open applications for specific events, we don't get that many applicants because people assume someone else is in more need than they are -- and that is really silly. Let US decide who not only has the greatest need, but would make the best use of the opportunity for their own career path. If you don't make the cut for NAB, we keep you in mind for other things.

And yeah, it's actually free. No, it's not too good to be true. We aren't predatory. You aren't selling your soul. We don't even make you write or record a recap – though we encourage it, because press is good!

Filmmaker Hannah Walker prepping for day one of NAB in 2018

We just want to do the right thing because we've been in situations where we've missed out. Katie Hinsen, our co-founder and former co-president, came up with the program after a member, who was an intern at a big New York post house, had a technical paper accepted to a major conference but was unable to attend because of its inherent costs. With travel, accommodation and conference passes, many people who don't have the support of their employer, aren't seen as "decision makers", or don't have the money to spend, are excluded from opportunities that could be incredibly valuable to them.

For the young man who wasn't able to present his paper, he might have missed out on a huge break in his career. Furthermore, the conference attendees missed out on seeing more of the true diversity that exists in our industry. Katie was so upset that this happened, she vowed to find a way to make sure it never happens again. So PDAP was born, and continues to grow thanks to community and industry support from companies like Flanders Scientific, Goldcrest Post, and the COW.

Check out the rules and apply now on our website!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 14, 2019 at 7:24:06 pm nab show

Finding a Place in LA's Post Industry: Emerging Editor Kelsey Myers

Note: This blog was written by Kelsey Myers, one of two recipients to be sent by Blue Collar Post Collective to ACE EditFest LA, an annual celebration of the craft of editing hosted at Disney by the American Cinema Editors. Blue Collar Post Collective's Professional Development Accessibility Program identifies lower income emerging talent in post production and provides them an opportunity to attend important industry events where they can build their education and professional network to take the next step in their careers. It's important for emerging talent to be present in these spaces to remind everyone they belong there too. PDAP also provides an opportunity for the full-time working professionals who volunteer for BCPC to utilize their network to introduce emerging talent to people they should know in their field for one-on-one conversations.

BCPC owes a huge thanks to ACE for providing entry to their event, the volunteer committee that helps us pair candidates with the best opportunities for them, Mary DeChambres ACE, Pi Ware, and Light Iron for donating mentorship time, and the donors to BCPC whose funds go almost entirely toward this program.

Kelsey Myers is a recent graduate of Point Park University's Cinema Program. She started out working as a freelancer around Pittsburgh, PA. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles after making the move cross country in September. After shadowing in the industry and learning about the world of post-production, she recently landed her first job as an Assistant Editor.

When I started college, I remember hearing about EditFest from my professor Cara Friez. She would tell me how great of an event it is and how one day I should make it a priority to attend myself. When I saw the Facebook postings on the Blue Collar Post Collective page to apply to attend EditFest, I knew I had to give it a shot. I had been planning to move to Los Angeles in September with a cross-country road trip from Pittsburgh, PA. The event was taking place on August 25th, so I knew this would be a great way to learn from industry professionals and make more connections before I made the final move a few weeks later. I filled out the application and sent it in. Not too soon after I received the news that I was selected to attend! Everything in the process was extremely simple. They set up the flight, hotel, event ticket, along with the itinerary of places to be and people to meet. All I had to do was show up on time!

Kelsey Myers

Before all of this, I had made a trip out to Los Angeles during my senior year and attended the Blue Collar Post Collective Meet-up. This is where I met Kylee Peña, who has been a major help with making the transition. The day I flew out for EditFest, I was set to attend the BCPC meet-up once again. I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces while getting to know more members. Their meetups are always extremely inviting. You know that you are part of a larger community who are all passionate and working towards their dreams. They strive to help young professionals get connected. This time around, the best part was speaking to people my age who are starting out in the industry just like me. Some had just made the move to LA and others were just in town for the event. The one thing we all had in common was our love for both post and this career path we are all entering. After leaving the meetup, I became even more eager for EditFest the next day.

Kelsey with Kara Paar, the other EditFest PDAP recipient in 2018.

The event takes place on Walt Disney Studios lot, so as you can imagine when I pulled up it felt like a dream. Growing up watching Disney movies and now standing on the lot where the stories were created was surreal. During check-in, there was time to grab a coffee and mingle with the attendees and panelists.

I was a finalist for the ACE Internship this year, so it was a great chance to meet people involved in the program. Carsten Kurpanek is one of the heads of the Internship program and I was able to introduce myself to him. Several of the other finalists were also there, so I was able to meet them before I made the move. When the interview came around a month later I already knew familiar faces that would be there and it was all thanks to this event.

Everyone began to gather inside for the first panel, “Small Screen, Big Picture”: Peter Beyt ACE, Jacques Gravett ACE, Tim Porter, ACE, & Meaghan Wilbur. They had a ton of great insight into the world of post in television. One thing that stuck with me was the idea of whatever makes you laugh initially, stays, an observation contributed by Meaghan as a comedy editor. It’s hard after getting deep into a project to find something funny after watching it over and over again. It’s important to see the footage as you originally reacted to it.

Another major topic was how the change in television becoming more cinematic and accessible creates a rise in content being produced. TV is bigger than ever now. This requires schedules to be shortened and the assistant editor’s role to grow with more work than ever before. In the end, this takes away from the assistant’s ability to learn from seeing the sequence completely evolve as they described. If you have the chance to sit in on and editor cutting or cut yourself, never turn it down. It shows your drive to one day edit and, hopefully in the schedule of an AE, the ability to dedicate yourself to learning the craft.

“Small Screen, Big Picture” featuring Peter Beyt ACE, Jacques Gravett ACE, Tim Porter, ACE, & Meaghan Wilbur

“The Extended Cut” panel was exactly what I needed during the beginning stages of my career. Zack Arnold ACE, Lillian Benson ACE, Carol Littleton ACE, & Andrew Seklir ACE, spoke on how to survive and thrive in editorial. They brought up topics that are harder to talk about and that usually aren’t shared in the daily workspace. They described how we are an extension of the machine so you can’t get yourself intertwined with it. If you are healthy, you’ll concentrate and do better work. You’ll make more spontaneous and creative choices. They stressed how important it is to establish your daily habits early on. These habits will carry through the rest of your career. Make it a priority to get up and go for a walk in the morning. If you can, don’t take lunch in your cutting room. Get outside because sitting will stunt your brain and movement is the key to creativity.

One of the films that impacted me the most in the past year had been I, Tonya. When they announced that Tatiana Riegel was going to be one of the speakers, I couldn’t believe it. Her work has been memorable for me over the years. The Way Way Back came out when I was graduating high school and had decided to attend film school. Then I, Tonya released my last year of college, assuring to me that this is the career path I want to pursue. Films like hers are what drive me and my passion for editing. Listening to her speak was captivating and she had great insight to share.

Tatiana S. Riegel ACE at EditFest

When Tatiana described her editing decisions behind scenes, it gave me a better understanding of her thought process. She explained how it’s very courageous for editors to hold on characters and use limited coverage. At one point she mentioned how she explains editing to her peers who don’t quite understand her job. Tatiana compared it to sitting at a dining table and who your eyes follow. Where do you cut to in order to get the full story? This really put into perspective why we all cut, simply to tell stories no matter how complex. She also spoke about how important it is to live below your means so you have the freedom to navigate your career choices.

The final panel, “The Lean Forward Movement” spoke with past ACE Internship alumni, Mark Hartzell, Joi McMillion ACE, Shoshanah Tanzer, and Julia Wong ACE. This was a really helpful section for me since I was a finalist for the internship this year. It allowed me to gain insight on how much being part of the ACE community can help starting out in a career. But also assured me that it isn’t anything without hard work and dedication. Whether you are an intern or not, the results really come down to what you choose to do with your time. You are the one in charge of your career. Be competent, be nice, learn the craft, stay connected and your career will blossom.

At the end of the event, they have an after party where you can talk to the panelists and other attendees. It allows everyone the opportunity to talk to professionals about their work and how they got started themselves. Standing around looking over everyone you discover how small the world of editing is. Names get shifted around and one person knows the next person. Since EditFest, I’ve been able to stay in touch with everyone I met as I made my move to LA. Now living here, I see many of them as familiar faces in this big city.

Other BCPC attendees at EditFest 2018.

My biggest take away from this event is that this industry really is what you put into it. No one’s going to just hand you this career path. If you make friends and show your love for editing, you can make it. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that you can’t build a network from your hometown or because you are still in school. What it truly comes down to is motivation, effort, and showing your passion for post-production. People are willing to meet with you, but you have to take the first steps. Do your research and reach out to professionals, editors and assistants, who are working the jobs you one day want to be doing. Make a trip to the city you want to work in and ask to meet for coffee or lunch. Don’t be upset if they say no or that they are too busy right now. Stay in contact with them. This will show your interest. Soak up all of their advice and insight. In the world of post there are so many nice people and they remember starting out in the industry themselves. I hope to one day be in their position sitting down with young aspiring filmmakers for a cup of coffee and tell them these stories.

Kelsey at the Grand Canyon during her drive to LA.

I wasn’t planning on moving to LA until December. However, all of the opportunities I’ve had up to this point it emphasized how much I needed to make the move earlier to get started. Now I’m living in Los Angeles with the ability to apply to jobs, reach out to people for coffee, and attend meetups in the area. It’s hard to see working in post as a reality when you live across the country. Take a trip, make the move, talk to professionals, make friends, and you’ll see all the possibilities.

Thank you to everyone I met at EditFest, American Cinema Editors, and the Blue Collar Post Collective. Thanks to the PDAP program I was able to make attending EditFest a reality for myself. At the start of my career, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. This group made it all possible and will continue to do so for those who make the effort. So what are you waiting for? Go apply!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 26, 2018 at 6:28:48 pm

Women are tired and I'm watching them leave post production

July 2018 edit: It's been about a year since I originally wrote this, and it's sparked endless conversations about paper cuts and microaggressions in the post production industry, and even a session with the Diversity Steering Committee at the Motion Picture Edito... last fall. This isn't a problem that's going away anytime soon, but when we talk about it we normalize it. We make it okay to be fed up and frustrated, and we make it essential to find each other and vent it out. I've updated this post a little bit with things I've learned since, and I hope it helps people to understand what women, especially non-white women, are facing in media industries.

For years I've been citing research about women leaving the post production industry in droves once they hit the glass ceiling and have had enough. A lot of people say women leave at this point because they're just not that interested in pursuing it any further or they wish to raise kids and start a family.

Their presence at this point isn't questioned or missed. Half the crowd says "what are you talking about, I work with tons of women" and the other half says "well, what can you do? Women just want to leave."

I'm on the verge of being 32. In what I've experienced of my thirties so far, I have met more women in my age bracket than ever who have changed careers or are seeking to make a change. And this change isn't prompted by unrest or a desire to try new things.

No way. These women? They're tired.

For years I've been citing research and anecdotes from people an arm's length away at least. Now I'm talking about my peers and seeing it happen first hand.

These women have spent the entirety of their twenties and then some trying to prove themselves like anyone does, but they've had to do it even harder. And once they proved themselves they had to KEEP proving themselves. (Yes, men also have to prove themselves. But not because the assumption is that they are naive and non-technical.)

They have had to work to command respect and be treated like peers and not subordinates.

They have had to remind the men (and women) around them that they aren't children but rather experienced professionals.

They've had to have uncomfortable conversations about their family planning strategies or future plans with bosses in order to shake any assumptions away that could destroy their careers.

They've had to constantly balance between being too ambitious or not wanting it hard enough.

They've had to find a way to be strong without being bossy.

They get stuck in assistant editor and coordinator and junior roles while their male peers are promoted more rapidly.

They're paid less for their work and given fewer benefits.

And they're supposed to be grateful for these opportunities.

Women show up at networking events and get hit on, so they have to think hard about what they're wearing and have a plan to leave when a stranger goes too far.

They get over-talked and interrupted during meetings, so they must strategize or force their hand and risk an issue with their tone.

Their opinions aren't taken seriously, so they must carefully craft and design every argument ahead of time.

They're infantilized by their coworkers and must find a way to demonstrate their experience and skills without insulting or threatening anyone.

Their experiences are put down by other women who have bought into the gender bias that pits women against each other.

And on top of all this, they've had to learn and grow as professionals in our industry, constantly meeting new people, finding more opportunities, and gaining new skills. On top of the normal stuff anyone has to do to make it in this industry, women have a whole separate agenda to focus on.

And it's not like we really want to do that. I would love to never speak about diversity ever again. I'd love to just focus on my tech work and build my skills and go home and play video games. But I can't stop talking about diversity until it's resolved.

I know what you're thinking. This industry is hard. Navigating your career is hard. Before you think these women can't cut it, think about this: if you're able to scale a mountain much quicker and easier than a person wearing 50 pound weights on their feet, would you say you're better or more worth of being at the summit than they are?

Because women pursue careers in post and technology with weights on their feet.

Let me give you an example of a simple interaction in your day that exhausts me. If you're a man, maybe you come up to me in the workplace to speak to me and place your hand on my back, a little lower than I would ever expect. You think nothing of it, and you return to your work. In the moment between when your hand touches and leaves my back, I enter a spiral of strategic decision-making: is he going to slide it down? What if he does? Should I ask him not to touch me? If I ask him that, will he think I'm overly sensitive and emotional? Will he tell my mostly male coworkers I over-react to simple things? Will they remember it, even subconsciously, when it's time for me to be promoted? Will I miss out on a key step upward in the company if that happens? Will I stunt my career growth externally? Will I be unable to meet my professional and financial life goals because of it? If I don't say something, am I being complicit in a rape culture? What if it keeps happening and sends a message? What do I do?

Maybe you think this is overly dramatic, but it's vital to every woman to think about the consequences of every interaction on the work life tight rope. And yes, it's incredibly exhausting for women.

And now these women are so tired and I'm watching them leave. They wouldn't leave if they weren't so spent. They would stay and use their incredible skills to tell the stories that need to be told with so many important perspectives.

This is the excessive emotional labor we put on women, which has been well-documented as a major stressor that wears women down. Tack on dealing with an industry with long days, egos, and tight deadlines, and it's a small wonder so many of us make it at all. And women's groups are no better: if technical women are the focus of any organization, it's usually as a requirement to apologize and make up for their own invisibility. Groups that support women in film and women in media really only support certain subsets of privilege women in high level roles, and place the emotional labor on already exhausted women to represent themselves.

Some dissent in the comments on the original posting of this blog mentioned that women being handed the biological task of having babies is just the way it is, and it means a lot more of them are going to leave their careers behind because they have other responsibilities.

It's true that many women do choose to leave employment to raise children. I think that's great. I think men and women both should have that choice presented to them. However, there is no path back into the industry for women who choose to do this. There are women who spent six years raising a son or daughter and wish to go back to work, but no employer will entertain the thought of hiring someone with a gap in employment, regardless of why or how much work they did to keep themselves up to date with their tools.

There is also the matter that there are women who will not choose to have children. You can't assume anything from anyone. Your management contingency plan for hiring women should be to treat them fairly, pay them equally, and restructure your workplace so they can thrive regardless of their choices.

But I can't shake this idea of shrugging off child birth as a simple fact of biology handed to women. There are so many women in this industry who have children and want to return to work within a year. A lot of them can't find a way to make it work, physically or emotionally, and leave. "Ah well," the employers say, "we can't help what responsibilities nature gave them."

We can grow human organs in dishes. We can replace lost arms and legs. We can perform transplants of nearly anything anymore. We can transfuse blood. We can perform c-sections. Biotechnology has never been more advanced -- and you're telling me we can't find a solution to helping mothers stay in their jobs when they choose to stay?

We all need to fight harder to make our workplaces more inclusive and welcoming. We need to do gender bias training. We have to aggressively seek out women to hire and provide a path for ascending within the industry. We need supportive organizations that are truly inclusive and focused.

Because if we don't have these diverse people working in an industry that is evolving and changing so rapidly, we're going to miss out on vital innovations that would allow it to be a sustainable business in the future.

But even worse, we're going to keep destroying passionate women who work hard to stake their claim in our industry. And no matter what that means for your business bottom line, it's plain wrong.


Further reading from me on this topic:

Sexism in Post

Open Letter to Companies Exhibiting at NAB

Sexism in Post podcast interview

Sexism in VFX podcast interview

Ten Questions on Gender Issues in Post

Gender Equality in Post Production

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 6, 2018 at 10:17:34 pm women, post production, inclusion

An Emerging Editor's First Trip to New York: Sight, Sound, and Story Recap

Note: This blog was written by Brandon Marchionda, one of two recipients to be sent by Blue Collar Post Collective to New York City and Manhattan Edit Workshop's "Sight, Sound, and Story" educational event which highlights the life and work of top editors working in the industry today. Blue Collar Post Collective's Professional Development Accessibility Program identifies lower income emerging talent in post production and provides them an opportunity to attend important industry events where they can build their education and professional network to take the next step in their careers. It's important for emerging talent to be present in these spaces to remind everyone they belong there too. PDAP also provides an opportunity for the full-time working professionals who volunteer for BCPC to utilize their network to introduce emerging talent to people they should know in their field for one-on-one conversations.

BCPC owes a huge thanks to Manhattan Edit Workshop for providing entry to their event, the volunteer committee that helps us pair candidates with the best opportunities for them, Evan Schiff, Felix Cabrera, Rob G. Wilson, and the donors to BCPC whose funds go almost entirely toward this program.

Brandon is a recent graduate of Point Park University's Cinema Program. He's currently working full-time as a freelance editor in the Pittsburgh area while he saves up for the big move to LA next month. His education in Pennsylvania granted him the opportunity to learn the major tools and storytelling techniques, and programs like PDAP will help him make his landing in Los Angeles just a little bit softer. The rest of this entry is his recap.

Brandon Marchionda

The Blue Collar Post Collective Professional Development Accessibility Program is something I think everyone should consider applying for, especially when just starting out. I remember seeing the applications open for Sight, Sound and Story and thinking to myself that I would never get it. But then I kept seeing the posts about it and I did some research on the upcoming event. I said “Why not? The worst that could happen is I don’t get it.” So I applied through the form, which was the easiest application to fill out, and I waited. Not expecting to hear anything, I didn’t even bother to check my spam folder or anything until I received a message from a member of BCPC through Facebook Messenger about getting an email from the Collective. Immediately I lit up. “Did I get it? There’s no way.” I find the email and I read it. I got it.

Then BCPC literally took care of everything. More than I could have ever expected. I was set up with flights, a hotel, car service to and from the airports, and a ticket to the event.

I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania currently (before the big move to LA in about a month or so) and it’s not too much trouble for me to get to NY and attend the event in theory. But with this program, I was able to save that money I would’ve spent going and put it towards that move. This program changes how you view these events from a “maybe” to a “I’m going."

Thanks to BCPC, I also I had the opportunity to meet great people and visit some awesome places.

Brandon's first time in NYC.

First, I met with Evan Schiff, editor of John Wick 3, to see the workflow of the film at its early stages. Just meeting and talking with Evan was one of the best conversations I have ever had. Seeing a feature film right in front of me made me realize none of this is out of reach. It’s entirely possible to become that feature film or television editor I’ve always dreamed of being.

Second, I met with Rob G. Wilson, assistant editor on Mr. Robot, who told me about his beginnings and the work he’s currently doing. He spoke of how he got there and it’s crazy to me that it’s simple as long as you try, work hard, and just be nice. He also introduced me to Kevin Tent, editor of The Descendants and Election, who gave such good advice and told some incredible stories.

Editor Kevin Tent ACE with BCPC board member Bobbie O'Steen

Then I went to Lost Planet for an editorial facility tour hosted by Felix Cabrera who gave me an insight to the entirety of what a post facility does. There’s a group here in Pittsburgh that does a lot of what they do, but not on the same scale. It’s incredible seeing the work they do and hearing the stories of some of the projects that have come through there.

Finally, I attended Sight, Sound and Story. This event was my first post production panel. Hearing the editors speak about their work was truly inspiring. No one on the panels looked like they hated it or were even annoyed with it. It was people speaking about the role they were most passionate about and it left me with a smile and this feeling of how much I can’t wait to get to edit, even though it means working my way up for years.

Sight, Sound, and Story

At Sight, Sound and Story, so much information is thrown at you. But it's like your favorite dessert and you can't get sick of it. You just keep listening and taking notes, hoping that one day you can be up on the panel giving advice and telling your stories. I never wanted it to end and it made me want to make my way to as many panels as I can in the future. I learned that no matter what you do, you keep cutting. You just have to try and always be cutting something, to get better at what you do and faster at it.

Listening to a panel of editors and how they edit was eye-opening because you think it's some secret, magic that only they know but a lot of what was said was exactly what I do when I edit. It makes it feel so much more real and obtainable. You also learn what you should and shouldn't do. For example, if you're working in reality television and would like to be in narrative of any kind, you need to get out as soon as you can. Now, I've heard this before but hearing it from someone from the industry really solidifies it for me. This type of event just tells you what it's like in the edit room and makes you feel like this is the best career path you could be going down and pumps you up.

Every first trip to NYC includes a stop in Times Square

This program is something I couldn’t believe existed until I got on the flight to go to New York. It’s just incredible the amount of care this group has for other people, and I cannot wait until the day when I can contribute back to the group and allow others to do similar great things that I got to do. I want to be someone that can make it to majority of the meet ups each month and help out as much as I can. I want to be the person everyone has been to me, and that’s something I will never stop reaching for.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 14, 2018 at 3:54:53 pm

Adobe Explains the Laurel vs. Yanny Phenomenon

Yesterday I left the internet alone for about an entire hour to watch some quality Netflix streaming, and when I returned I had no idea what anyone was talking about or why they were on the verge of wrestling each other to the ground over a couple people named Yanny and Laurel.

Then I listened and developed my own opinions. And god help any of you that try and change my mind.

Thankfully Adobe's evangelist of all good things audible, visual and Creative Cloud Jason Levine has come to the rescue using Adobe Audition's Spectral Display Frequency to help explain WTF is up with this thing.

Courtesy: Jason Levine, Adobe

It turns out how you listen to this, the speed at which you hear it, and your own experience in life (destroying your hearing at rock shows and such) has an effect on what you hear! Jason explains with visuals, EQ, and other good Adobe Audition tools in this live stream.

As Jason expertly quotes from Harry Nilsson: you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear. And this is the wholesome content I need on my internet right now.

Attend Sight, Sound, and Story in NYC for Free

If you're a full time post production worker in the US that makes less than the median income where you live, you might have some trouble making the next leap in your career. It's hard to say yes to opportunities that would enrich your work life and help you build connections to climb the ladder when your finances limit your choices. That's why Blue Collar Post Collective created the Professional Development Accessibility Program (PDAP).

PDAP is the central program of BCPC. We pay for selected low-income post production professionals to attend important industry events, conferences and trade shows that would otherwise be inaccessible due to cost. Since Fall 2016, we've sent post people from Texas, California, New York, and Indiana to events like NAB Show, EditFest LA, and SMPTE Tech Conference.

Through Friday, May 11th, we're accepting applications from people who want to attend Sight, Sound, and Story in New York City. Travel and accommodation is provided by PDAP as needed, with entry donated by Manhattan Edit Workshop.

This year's Sight, Sound, and Story Post Production Summer Event will feature editors across documentary, television and film. And PDAP recipients from outside New York will be provided additional opportunities for tours and connections as available, thanks to the vast BCPC community. Recipients provide a blog or Q&A after the event, which is cool because you get your own press!

Here's a secret: often when we open applications for specific events, we don't get that many applicants because people assume someone else is in more need than they are -- and that is really silly. Let US decide who not only has the greatest need, but would make the best use of the opportunity for their own career path.

Yeah, it's actually free. No, it's not too good to be true. We aren't predatory. We just want to do the right thing because we've been in situations where we've missed out. Katie Hinsen, our co-founder and former co-president, came up with the program after a member, who was an intern at a major New York post house, had a technical paper accepted to a major conference but was unable to attend because of its inherent costs. With travel, accommodation and conference passes, many people who don't have the support of their employer, aren't seen as "decision makers", or don't have the money to spend, are excluded from opportunities that could be incredibly valuable to them.

For the young man who wasn't able to present his paper, he might have missed out on a huge break in his career. Furthermore, the conference attendees missed out on seeing more of the true diversity that exists in our industry. Katie was so upset that this happened, she vowed to find a way to make sure it never happens again. So I started the PDAP program.

Check out the rules and apply now on our website!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on May 7, 2018 at 4:08:03 am pap, bcc, free, opportunity

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