Positivity: Editor Jesse Averna on Evolving Your Career
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Positivity: Editor Jesse Averna on Evolving Your Career
Editor Jesse Averna is the quintessential lifelong film lover, starting in eighth grade when he got his hands on a camcorder. After spending high school working late into the night on video projects (VHS to VHS of course) and talking teachers into accepting videos instead of papers, he began to work toward a career in post production. His path eventually led him to New York where he is currently starting his sixth season as an editor on Sesame Street, work that has earned him four Emmys plus a recent nomination for a fifth. Influenced by science fiction and fantasy stories like Star Wars and The Never Ending Story, Jesse's goals always included some time spent being a director -- a goal that he's been able to fulfill with his recent directorial experience on the web series Monica's Mixing Bowl, as well as a personal project he's had in development for over five years.
A recent inductee into ACE as an affiliate member, Jesse is also an instructor at his alma mater School of Visual Arts, a leader in the post production community, and a believer in community and open sharing in post production. Through hard work, networking and a positive attitude toward filmmaking, he's been able to take hold of his path and direct it toward his own interests -- which include making media that pays homage to the films that originally inspired him.
Creative COW: When did you begin to take on director roles? Is it something you always wanted to do?
Jesse Averna: I've been directing for a bit now, but nothing on the scale of Monica's Mixing Bowl. It was my first gig as a DGA member. Because of my career as an editor, which I love, I've had the luxury of only choosing to direct material I believe in. I'm still very green and have a lot to learn, but directing is an absolute pleasure.
Directing has always been a goal. My ideal situation would be some kind of split year between editing and directing. I am passionate about editing and don't intend to replace it, but what I love about editing is a lot the same things that I love about directing.The level of immersion into a project is much deeper as a director though, and thus much more gratifying. I want to be a part of making great TV and film. The fact that I get to function and make a career in either role is humbling and more than I could dream of.
How do you think an editor makes a good director? Do you think you approach your work differently than other directors?
I do think there is an advantage when bringing the editor's mindset and viewpoint to the director's chair. As an editor, you are constantly looking for good cut points, rhythm, pacing, tone, tension, and shaping performance so it can be the best it can be. The same is true in the role of director. Undoubtedly there is an art and craft to both editing and directing and to equal them wouldn't be correct. But I do believe it is the same storytelling muscle group being worked in both functions. How do we best tell this story? What do we show and not show? Who and what is this scene about? How does this scene fit into the larger story?
Monica Willey, Jesse Averna, John Tartaglia (Photo by Larry Hamilton/Blue Photography)
How does someone go about getting behind the camera after they've edited so much? What was your path?
Ask. If you want to do something, first and foremost ASK.
I believe it is about trust. If, as the editor on a project, directors, producers, or performers see that you can not only help tell their story, but also help make their story 'better', then they are more likely to trust you in the director's chair on a later project. Keep working out those storytelling muscles, but also remember that it is their vision to tell. You must always service the director. It is his or her ownership. As the editor, part of the trust you earn is in your ability to understand and build that relationship. It's not our place to act as the director, but to see his or her vision through and to aid in telling the best story possible.
Have their been any challenges you had to overcome when transitioning to being a director?
There is one mind-shift that took me a little bit. As an editor, you are seeing what you have and choosing the best of it, or making the most out of what you have. As the director, you can ask for another take or a different read. There are times that I had to remind myself that I don't have to settle for something if it's not what I'm hoping for. It seems so obvious, but it took me a second to remember that I can always ask for a change or another take instead of settling for 'that will do.' I had to realize that the best way I can respect the performers is to get the best performances and not settle. Again, a little embarrassing to admit as it seems so obvious, but it took me bit. Don't fix it in post, Jesse, get it now.
Who and what are your main influences as a filmmaker?
The filmmakers that dominated my youth, and honestly my present, were Burton, Lucas, Spielberg, Zemeckis, Donner, Columbus. No surprises there, I'm sure.
Jesse Averna, Monica Willey (Photo by Larry Hamilton/Blue Photography)
I definitely had a period where the work from Jonze, Gondry and Cunningham became an obsession. I miss seeing experimental music videos. Yes, they exist, but the work of these guys not only changed the medium but still hasn't been touched, in my opinion. I have lots of favorites, but I can think of three films that were life changing when I saw them. Return of the Jedi began my love of sci-fi and practical effects. I continue to watch it once a year, if not more, and every time I walk away excited and energized. This is the film world I want to make! I know I am not unique in saying that, but what a perfect blend of everything I love. Tim Burton's Batman was the first film that made me want to make movies and TV. To see a two dimensional comic character become a living breathing person -- it blew my mind. It still does in a lot of ways. When I saw Fight Club, I was already editing as a profession and knew that was the path I was headed on, but this film hit me at the exact right time in my life. Its editing and creative post work absolutely cemented my passion for post production.
The filmmaker I am most excited about at the moment is Guillermo del Toro. Everything this man makes, speaks to that kid in me that fell in love with cinema. It also speaks to the filmmaker in me that longs to see the type of creative, quality, and quirky creatures, monsters, and worlds that he brings to life. On top of that, every interview with del Toro is endlessly inspiring. He is a humble genius.
You've now won four Emmys for your work on Sesame Street. What was it like to win the first one, and what makes Emmy-caliber work in your opinion?
Jesse wins his 5th Emmy for Sesame Street
It was exhilarating and nerve racking. I felt honored, but it also felt like a punch in the gut to do the absolute best job I can on whatever I touch. I know every member of the team has done the same leading up to me. I think [Emmy-caliber work is] work that goes beyond just being entertaining. Meaning, it connects with an audience in a special way that goes beyond simple passive viewing. Maybe that sounds too dramatic.
Can you tell me about becoming an American Cinema Editor affiliate? Has ACE always been a goal for you?
Being a member of the American Cinema Editors has always been a goal. They are unquestionably THE group of the most talented and important voices from the editor's chair. To be associated with them in any way is a great honor. Active Membership is my ultimate goal.
A lot of your current work is kid-oriented or family-friendly. Why is this important to you?
A couple reasons: I want to be a part of creating material that does more than just entertain, but has purpose and actual value. Sesame in particular teaches kids how to grow smarter, stronger and kinder. I also think that kids are a wonderful audience. There is a magic and a wonder. And I love making material I can watch with my daughter. Honestly, the content that has stuck with me the most is what I watched as a kid: Star Wars, Goonies, Back to the Future, Never Ending Story, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, Beetlejuice. Plus, I get to work with monsters all day. That's hard to top.
And how do you balance all these projects with a young child at home?
When I'm home and she is awake, the phone is off and away. I give her and my wife 100% of me. Once everyone has gone to sleep, though, I head back to the computer to get more work done. It is a balance. I think it's all in your point of view, though. I don't feel burdened by my kiddo or my projects. I feel lucky.
You teach some classes at the college you graduated from. Why is this sort of thing a priority for you?
Jesse also teaches at SVA
Very key people in my life gave me their time, their expertise, and their wisdom. Without it, I wouldn't know what the heck I'm doing or have had the opportunities I have. I feel like there is somewhat of a lack of a mentor system in the post world now. Mainly because of the nature of how a lot of post is done. Editors are getting opportunities to cut from their home or they are jumping the assistant route. I'm so fortunate to have had mentors. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel like teaching is one small way I can give back what I've received. Plus it's a lot of fun.
What do you think is the most important thing for a student in your class to take away from their college experience?
My hope is that a student will get a taste of the process and expectations on an editor. The courses I have taught have all been technical, not theory, so I can't step too far away from teaching the software. I do think that knowing how to use the application is crucial to success, comfort and speed, but the art and talent of editing is software agnostic. That being said, know that NLE better than you know anything and see a world of creativity open.
You co-run #PostChat on Twitter -- why is community so important in our industry?
#Postchat is a weekly Twitter-based chat that comes to life once a year in Vegas at NAB
I started #PostChat with the intention of connecting post pros together, pure and simple. Our business can be a lone-wolf type of career. #PostChat gives the opportunity to ask advice, get answers to tech issues, and chat with an industry leader for an uninterrupted hour. We've had the chance to monetize #PostChat several times now and I've always turned it down. It should never be a money maker. Once that happens, you get an agenda. #PostChat is run by volunteers who are passionate about the post world and the creative professionals within it. No agenda. What was the question? Oh, importance. I believe community is key. Editors are an amazing breed. We actually want to help each other. There is a communal sense that if you know more, then we all know more. We need each other. It's dangerous to go alone, take #PostChat.
Cutting positive entertainment, directing, teaching, being a community leader: how does this all come together to represent you? Is your legacy important?
I want to live a grateful life full of creative people and rewarding projects. I'm so darn lucky to get to make a living doing a job I love. I have so much I want to do. And only so many weekends of my daughters' childhood left.
Be sure to follow Jesse on Twitter @dr0id. You can also find him on Twitter @postchat, #postchat, and on Postchat.net. "The On Going Reel of Jesse Verna" and his generally awesome tumblr is iCut Film.
Title graphic: Jesse Averna with Pepper (Haley Jenkins), Cherry (Lindsey Z Briggs), Colby (Andy Hayward) (Photo by Larry Hamilton/Blue Photography)
The Emmy® name is the trademarked property of The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences ("Television Academy") and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences ("National Academy")