A Newbie Looks at EditFest LA
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Hillary Lewis : A Newbie Looks at EditFest LA
Editor’s Note: The Blue Collar Post Collective is a 501c3 non-profit organization that seeks to support emerging talent in all areas of post production. BCPC does this through free meet-ups and events, and a financial aid program called the Professional Development Accessibility Program (PDAP). Applications were accepted from individuals meeting income and employment requirements to provide one member flight, accommodation, and a ticket to EditFest LA. A BCPC committee chose Hillary Lewis, a short-form editor three years into her career in Indianapolis, to receive this aid in order to open up geographically limited opportunities to those who would not be able to take part in them otherwise.
Oh. my. God. They picked me….Holy crap! They PICKED me!! I couldn’t believe it. Sitting there staring at the email a thousand thoughts went through my head. I pictured myself among legendary editors in a beautiful city I’ve never been to on the Disney Studios lot...of all places!!
It was surreal and immediately made me anxious. Could I accept this? Did I deserve it? Could I do this all by myself? The answer, of course, was yes to all the above….how could I say no? So I took a deep breath, spiffed up my website and LinkedIn, and packed my bags.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. My worst fear was stepping into, what I had heard to be, the LA lion’s den. A room full of competitive, out-of-this-world talented people who had no reason to take me seriously. Who had been exposed to more tech, more content, and more workflows than I had ever been exposed to in Indiana.
Being an editor from the midwest with a background in short-form commercial work and no film/TV (scripted or unscripted) experience, I would have nothing in common with that world...or so I thought. I admit I fell into one of the biggest misconceptions about LA, that it’s a dog-eat-dog world. And while that may be the case in other industries in LA (I have no idea), I’m happy to say my experience with the post-production industry and BCPC was far from it. Let me tell you why.
Even before leaving for LA, Blue Collar Post Collective’s team was incredibly accommodating. They scheduled my flight, hotel room, conference ticket (as a guest of the incredible film historian Bobbie O’Steen), and introduced me to an array of people to ensure my trip started out on the right foot. Right away I knew their team was extremely organized and passionate about their mission, and I would be well taken care of.
I arrived at Bob Hope airport early on Friday morning and walked out of the plane onto the tarmac like a celebrity... my Snapchat was lit. (Exiting a plane without a gangway isn’t a common occurrence where I’ve flown.)
I arrived at Portofino Inn in Burbank shortly after landing, and from there, on the recommendation of Kylee Peña (BCPC’s President and my point of contact in LA), I immediately walked over to Frank’s Coffee Shop (attached to the lobby of the Inn).
Frank’s is a classic American diner and has been featured in several movies/TV shows in the past. Larry Crowne, Parks and Rec, CSI, etc. Nothing overly special about the establishment itself besides the cinematic history but if you’re a local in LA it’s worth the stop-in! Great classic breakfast, good classic coffee.
After my historical breakfast I headed down to Hollywood for a day full of shadowing, graciously scheduled for me by Kylee Peña.
Viacom was my first stop shadowing Assistant Editor Noah Diamond doing a ton of digital and episodic content for Spike TV and Comedy Central. Viacom also owns MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, CMT, etc., and had recently moved to their current location in January. The facility was modern and tech-savvy, with motorized desks and a plethora of editing bays.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning their workflow for social media and digital content. From shooting certain content in-house as horizontal AND vertical 4K video to re-purposing all content for every social media platform’s dimensions (9:16 Snapchat, 16:9 Youtube, 1:1 Instagram etc.) This workflow resonated the most with me because of similarities that are used in my current job while creating short-form video. I enjoyed seeing Viacom taking their workflows to the next level!
I then took a short trek to shadow Kylee, Workflow Supervisor at The SIM Group, Bling Digital being her place of work -- and one of the MANY divisions under the SIM Group umbrella (I couldn’t name them all if I tried ;) ).
I was given short tours in the production/camera rental department, workflow dailies department, and offline/online editing departments. The building workflow was very efficient. You could try out cameras and equipment downstairs in the rental department, set up a test shot, send your test footage upstairs to the editing department, play with stylizing and color until your shots looked just right, and then take your final choice equipment out to shoot. I was pleased to meet both offline, online, and workflow dailies editors, and got a taste of each of their jobs as well.
I consider myself lucky to be exposed to both companies in the short time I was there, and was encouraged by how much more I understood than I originally thought I would. Coming from a job where the editors are expected to be a complete one-man-band, we ingest, we cut, we color, we create graphics, we add effects, we export deliverables.
Comparatively LA seems to thrive on having one specific set of skills at an expert level. It was refreshing to see you don’t have to execute everything from beginning to end in LA. (PS - the view from SIM Group’s break room was amazing!)
Today was the day!
I woke up excited and ready to go. The thought of being on Disney Studios property was enough to make me a giddy mess. Let alone the fact I would shortly be in company of legendary editors and fantastic locals. Thankfully one of BCPC’s members, Matt Latham, volunteered to pick me up from my hotel and lead the way to registration.
At registration, everyone received nametag lanyards, Editfest itinerary booklets, and other info on workshops etc. You could buy cheap raffle tickets to win prizes like Media Composer for one year, certain Adobe products for one year, movies/shows on DVDs signed by the editor who created them, etc. which were raffled on breaks throughout the day. And which, unfortunately, I did not win. Sad face. For those who couldn’t quite justify the ticket price of the conference, there’s a small chance you could win back the value of the ticket and MORE by winning a prize. You never know! (But I’m generally an optimist about these things.)
After coffee and mingling with BCPC members I met the night before, we were beckoned up a flight of stairs and into the beautiful Disney Digital Studios Main Theater. Plush red velvet chairs sloping majestically down toward a line of director chairs.
It. was. magnificent.
(Please excuse my dramatic admiration of everything Disney in this blog. For those of you who don’t know me, I am a Disney kid. Born and raised. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been to Disney World in my life. I even worked in the parks in Orlando for a semester in college. I’m a diehard fangirl…. FOR. LIFE.)
Before the Women Making the Cut panel kicked off, we were treated to Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve demo of their new software version 14. As I watched I was reminded of shadowing the workflow dailies department at Bling Digital the previous day. They described new fixes to issues in the previous version. Some of which I had heard the editor complain about the day before! A direct fix to her problems!
Reminding me that staying current with tech can be crucial to keeping a job in post-production. I’ve run into this multiple times in my career and have always been committed to being a forever learner and adapt to new tech as it comes out.
WOMEN MAKING THE CUT
The first panel, Women Making the Cut, discussed their personal journeys as women through the industry. They also each picked a scene they had edited in the past and explained the trials behind each cut.
Here is a list of what each ACE editor played a scene from… Lillian Benson - Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, Lisa Churgin - Dead Man Walking, Edie Ichioka - Murch, Virginia Katz - Gods and Monsters, Lynzee Klingman - Matilda, and Terilyn A. Shropshire - Love & Basketball.
Hearing how most of them got their start by “filing trims” for free was slightly amusing to think about. I will probably never know how it felt to cut and splice actual film, and if I ever do I’m sure I would botch the process. I’ve been spoiled by NLEs and can’t imagine how difficult editing film linearly would be.
Also being a woman in this industry, I found this panel to be the most interesting and insightful as I directly related to a lot of the stories and setbacks these women had in their careers.
The Breaking Boundaries segment featured panelists who were involved with “game-changing” movies.
Among the most notable, Robert Leighton, known for This is Spinal Tap, an ad lib docu-style film pushing the envelope in improvisation, and Stephen Rivkin, ACE, known for Avatar, in which the actor’s performances were recorded, cut, and afterwards displayed in a virtual world to decide ideal camera shots and angles. Jacqueline Cambas, ACE showed a scene from her musical feature Zoot Suit, and Paul Rubell, ACE showed a scene from his movie Blade.
INSIDE THE CUTTING ROOM WITH BOBBIE O'STEEN
I thoroughly enjoyed the “Conversation with Richard Chew, ACE” with moderator Bobbie O’Steen. Known for his work on Francis Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), and many other classics. Richard and Bobbie had great conversation on his journey as an editor.
There was a lot of content in this segment as Richard shared about 4 examples of his previous work and why they were challenging edits. The two that stood out the most was a train sex scene in Risky Business and the assassination scene in Bobby. The first was problem-solving the moment of orgasm with a transition to the next scene. The second was incorporating historical footage of Robert Kennedy’s assassination with fictional footage shot to enhance the story, while overlaying audio of the speech Kennedy gave days before his death.
I thought both of these editorial problems were solved cleverly and tastefully and they showed a) sometimes it’s better to choose an unconventional solution and b) the art of creating a truthful, emotional experience without dramatizing history.
THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT
The last panel of the day was moderated by Norman Hollyn with panelists Lynne Willingham, ACE, Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb. The panelists represented three “generations” of mentor/mentee relationships.
Lynne had worked with Kelley as an assistant editor and mentored her into the editor she is today. Then Kelley proceeded to choose Chris as an assistant editor mentoring him into an editor ever since. They shared stories of how these mentorships affected their careers and what they learned and passed down to the next mentee. All three have worked on the TV shows Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul because of the relationships they had with one another.
Finding jobs in LA has everything to do with the connections and friendships you have with other people. They stressed that those lasting relationships don’t happen overnight and if you treat everyone like a job instead of a person you won’t get far in your career.
A good quote from Chris, “Don’t be an ***hole.” I appreciated the blunt simplicity from all three panelists on this segment. Great insight into the world of mentorship.
THE AFTER PARTY
After the last panel, we mingled on Dopey Drive where Blackmagic Design provided excellent food, drinks, and dessert. The catering was fantastic. We had plenty of time to meet new people and talk to any of the panelists who spoke in the conference.
Although it was a whirlwind, I had a little bit of time to introduce myself to Bobbie O’Steen and Richard Chew, ACE. All the panelists are very in demand after the conference but they try to make an effort to talk to everyone they can.
As Bobbie’s guest for the conference she was very interested in me and asked a lot of questions about what I’m doing now and where I’d like to end up. Since I’m in a career exploratory mode right now, she recommended taking different assistant editing workshops that she, and others, offer in the case that I want to get my feet wet with AE work.
I met so many wonderful people throughout the day I can’t even count them all. Editors and Assistant Editors, scripted and unscripted, TV and film, short-form and long-form, commercial, reality….every facet of post was represented and I loved being able to ask everyone about each job. There was a huge BCPC presence there that I didn’t expect and it was comforting to be able to connect with someone solely on being a member of the group.
If you haven’t heard of Blue Collar Post Collective, check their website, and search them on Facebook and Twitter and get involved. It’s an incredible resource for advice, job postings, mentorship, conference funding and networking for LA, New York and opportunities all over the country. It’s a fantastic, welcoming group of people. You won’t find better ;)
THE LOT TOUR
If all of the above wasn’t enough, Disney also included a backlot tour of the studio's property. We went into several main buildings...conference rooms with Tron bike replicas, break rooms with life-sized stormtroopers, state-of-the-art screening theatres, and even the access tunnels underneath. Kinda spooky but really cool!
All in all, what a great experience! Jam-packed full of education, people, and getting to know my industry in LA. I would do it again in a heartbeat and I hope to visit LA again.
Reflecting back on the trip, LA isn’t as intimidating of an environment as I thought. I noticed a lot of similarities between my work and certain LA work and I’m confident in the editing skills I’ve gained over three short years in Indiana. I’m flooded with inspiration after this trip and honestly my career could go in many different directions ...I only have to choose.
If I ever decide to live in LA, as long as I’m committed to making friends and cultivating relationships, I’m certain I could make a career happen in post-production.
A majority of the “local” people I met over the weekend were from other parts of the country as well, and had moved to LA to make the jump into the industry. They were kind and welcoming to those around them because they know how it feels to be the odd-man-out, to be the out-of-town-er. None of their stories sounded easy, but I think, with everything else in life, there’s a level of sacrifice you have to be prepared to make. And if THEY made it happen without being an ***hole, then I can too. ;)
Big thanks to BCPC board members and members who donated to make my wonderful trip happen! This was invaluable to me and will be invaluable to others like me in the future, your work is truly important! Thank you to those with Editfest LA and American Cinema Editors, especially Bobbie O’Steen and Jenni McCormick for putting on an insightful conference that editors benefit from.
And thank you to all the BCPC members who included me and involved me while I was there! I hope we meet again!