Sink or Swim in Hollywood:Editor William Boodell & Sharknado
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Kylee Peña : Sink or Swim in Hollywood:Editor William Boodell & Sharknado
Editor William (Bill) Boodell began his professional editorial career with Sharknado, a movie that has certain...connotations. I mean, it's a tornado of sharks, know what I mean? But talk to Bill for five minutes and you discover a film connoisseur with a near-concerning catalog of directors, editors, and filmmaking theory in his head, an up-and-coming editor with a unique post-film path to Hollywood.
Making it in LA (or anywhere in the industry) can be difficult and frustrating. As Bill told me, "Filmmaking isn't like any other profession. It's not like a banker, lawyer, or doctor. They can just go to school for what they want to do, and they'll have a decent chance that there's going to be some kind of job for them at some point. As a filmmaker, it doesn't happen that way a lot of the time. There is no one path. No one way to do it. You don't know when your chance is going to come or how it'll come. You don't even know IF it's going to come. To be honest, you cannot wait for it to come. You must make it happen. How you do that is a matter of your own personal circumstances and creativity."
From his non-linear path to taking risks in the industry and his tender care on SyFy's surprise hit B-movie, there's a lot that can be learned about graciously making it in Hollywood from a guy like Bill – including how to keep your enthusiasm for your work safely intact in the face of hard work and long hours.
Bill with prop shark at The Asylum. Photo by John Gulager.
Creative COW: How did you get interested in post-production?
Bill Boodell: I started shooting some super 8 when I was 8. I'm crazy about filmmaking and movies. I'm crazy about storytelling and literature. I love storytelling in a general sense, so love the art and the act of creating, whether a story is being told and ideas are being communicated through paintings, music architecture or whatever it is. In particular, I love literature and motion pictures. That's how I got started.
Editing always fascinated me. As Kubrick said, [editing is] uniquely cinematic. Cinematography can stem from photography, set design can stem from theater, interior decorating and architecture and all those things. Acting obviously is from theater, and screenwriting comes from literature and playwriting... But editing, forging meaning from images and sound moving together in time, is completely unique to motion pictures – there's no other medium that ever did that before.
I was fascinated with editing in a lot of different ways, and I knew that if I learned editing, I would have a large part of what it is to be a true filmmaker as part of my arsenal. Not that I would ever have editing completely down, you know, as each part of filmmaking is endlessly fascinating and endlessly enigmatic, and you can explore it forever. But editing is great in that it unifies so many parts of filmmaking and then you get to learn from everybody else.
How did you transition this love of film into a career?
I knew that I loved films, but I didn't know that I wanted to make films. That didn't occur to me yet, as a serious thing. I was living with my father thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, he really wanted me to...but then, I went to live with my mother. One day, I still remember her saying, "you know, you could be whatever you want to be."
It was like a switch turned in my brain and a bomb went off. I said, "I know exactly what I want to be..." and ever since then, it's been all about filmmaking. That was when I was a teenager in high school. I started reading a lot about films and filmmakers, even older ones like Orson Welles or Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, John Ford and John Huston. All those fascinating characters.
Still from the 1918 film Out West, directed by Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle and starring Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Al St. John.
When I went to school, I was studying communications first and then I decided that I was going to study English literature, so as to not immediately narrow my focus. I think a lot of people go straight into film and it's not necessarily the wrong choice, but for me I thought people narrowed down really fast, yet don't have anything to say or learn about storytelling.
To me, the technical aspects are the easiest ones, whereas storytelling is the tricky part – and you can see that in the glut of films that are made that don't have good storytelling techniques.
When I talk about story, I don't just mean a narrative a-b-c-d-e-f-g kind of story... I am also referring to the general communication of ideas and emotions. I also mean someone like David Lynch. HE is a storyteller and very thorough master filmmaker and artist. His stories are completely confounding sometimes but they're not told in a way that's narrative, necessarily – they're not narratively logical, but they're emotionally logical. They are also instinctually logical. There are few directors that can punch down to the core. If you let Lynch get to you, he can really get to you. You will feel truth in what he does. Those are the kinds of people that I've been trying to learn from. I'll think, "How is this person getting to me?"
After school, what were your first jobs in the industry?
I was trying to figure out how to get into the industry while I was in Chicago. I worked at a video store called Facets Multimedia, where people like Richard Linklater and John Sayles would rent movies in the mail because we had all these really obscure films that nobody else had, like out of print VHS tapes and stuff. I was crazy about Hal Ashby because I saw The Last Detail and thought it was brilliant. I wanted to see his first film, The Landlord, which out of print at the time on VHS and wasn't available on DVD. I looked it up in our system and I saw it had been checked out years earlier and never returned. I looked at who it was – Martin Scorsese! He was probably like "Well, it's out of print. I'm keeping it!"
I worked internships and jobs that I thought were related to film so that I could learn because I didn't have a lot of money and couldn't afford film school. Eventually I got a job at Towers Productions, and it was my first actual work in the industry, taking a job as a Tape Op. I learned a little bit about Avid there and started helping out quite a bit in the Online room. Then I moved onto MPI Media Group, a Theatrical and DVD production and distribution company which owned rights to movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and old Sherlock Holmes episodes with Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett where I was a Producer/Editor, then I Assistant Edited at a big post-production house that cut commercials – and I even taught at CAN-TV, the local public access station in Chicago. After that, I moved [to LA] and didn't know anyone, except for one cousin. I worked all kinds of retail and service industry jobs just trying to keep myself afloat while I looked around for post production work.
You moved to LA because that's where the work was? That sounds like it was pretty challenging.
That's right. It's what you have to do – sometimes people would rather wait to move until they have the job, but I just knew I needed to be there. It's harder to get the jobs in LA if you aren't here, and I liked this city and was ready for a change in my life. For six months I was here without a car, so that was kind of interesting. Public transportation around here on buses isn't that bad, although the train system is quite limited.
Finding a place that was affordable and safe for one was challenging. Even now that I've been here years, it's usually a challenge to get outside of your comfort zone and socialize with new poeple because it's so easy to go from one isolated situation to another in LA. Meeting people in and outside the industry has been challenging.
William Boodell and friend. Photo credit (here and in title graphic): Lydelle Jackson.
What has been your strategy for meeting people now that you've been in LA a while?
A lot of the people I know are from work. I think when my relationships have really flourished is when I'm working as a filmmaker. I'm meeting other people who are like me, who think about filmmaking and stories all the time. They're "my people" – so that's how my relationships have flourished. Getting into the right kind of work and doing what I'm passionate about has led me to meet great, wonderful, caring people.
There's great people in other industries as well, but it's just that it's very familial when you're all kind of struggling – you're all living paycheck to paycheck or don't have money to go do what people would normally do on a weekend. So you go do something cheaper or go to each other's house and watch a movie together. We have common dreams. We can all get together and make something. That's how it is developing for me.
Do what you're passionate about and you'll find other people who are passionate about it as well. You will understand each other. I am most interested in people who create passionately. I find a lot of times here, there are a lot of people who aren't doing what they're passionate about. Maybe they're making a lot of money and raising a family, and they're happy on some level, and maybe that's okay for them. I just know that I can't do that. I won't do it. I must listen to that thing inside all of us that tells us how to fly, even if I'm making no money. In the end, at least I am doing what I love, what I am meant to do.
You mentioned you've done a lot of retail work in LA, especially at first. When you were working these jobs, did you ever have a particularly bad day at work where you thought, "why did I ever come here?"
No, not really. I wasn't under any illusion that it would be easy. When you come out here, you're playing with the 'big boys' – there's a lot of talented, connected people. There's a lot of jobs, but there's a lot of competition for them. When did you ever hear about an artist who didn't struggle? Anybody that just comes out here and expects to be successful right away doing exactly what they want may be disillusioned. Not only is it improbable, but that idea is kind of boring.
It's during those really mundane paycheck-to-paycheck jobs that you find out who you are and learn about other people. I still remember stories about customers that I can use in films I'm going to make. When I was working at a Starbucks, there was a very prominent actor who was in a film that I adore about a man who refuses to be broken despite his awful circumstances. He came in and for some reason he thought I was giving him tap water to drink... I wasn't. He was acting rather strangely about it – and this was the giant on screen who had represented such a high ideal of humanity! It was so odd to see that side of him; but isn't that all of us to some degree? He was human, too. All those characters you meet in the real world, famous or not, all of those really life vignettes – that's what is going to influence your work later. That's what is going to get you in touch with life.
I think that sometimes with successful filmmakers, a lot of their work eventually becomes less interesting because they lose touch with life in the real world, the world of the "everyman." They're not close to what it's like to have to really struggle or be challenged by life. So no, I don't regret it. In fact, it felt like I was earning something.
And eventually you were working on films for The Asylum. How did that come together?
My first job in the business in LA was as a Post PA on a TV show that lead to more post gigs, and then I did some small assistant editing gigs – then I stopped for awhile. I was writing screenplays, having a hard time finding more assistant editing work, and I wanted to get a job where I could focus on writing while working and pay my bills. Post production was very time-intensive. When you're working 12 to 18 hour days, it's hard to find time in there to write. I thought maybe I could get an office job in the entertainment industry and then do my writing in the evenings.
But those jobs also turned out to be very demanding in terms of time. They were driving me crazy. I would endlessly listen to film podcasts while working, and all I could think about was filmmaking. I knew that I needed to get back into editing stat, even if it meant not sleeping, in order to be able to work on movies and write in my "off" times. I would probably be able to write more in fact if I was editing because I was very dispirited working at those office jobs and missing filmmaking terribly. God, the Universe, the Earth Mother, whatever you believe in... was telling me to get to it. Two weeks after sending out an earnest letter to The Asylum looking for work, I was working on my first movie there as an assistant editor.
For about six months, I worked on a bunch of films as the assistant editor and then on one of my last films as assistant, I started to actually cut on because they needed help. Then I was offered Cleaver Family Reunion. I took the first rough cut that editor Chris Conlee had done, and worked at cutting and refining it down with the director, going through notes from the producers. Eventually Chris joined us again. So I became co-editor on that. I worked on it for about two months. (Asylum movies have short editing schedules.) Chris helped me get the job on Cleaver since I assisted him on Hansel and Gretel, which Chris edited and was also directed by Anthony Ferrante. That's what led to me being offered Sharknado with director Anthony Ferrante. It was all because of Chris Conlee.
Cleaver was a good movie to start on, for a number of reasons. It was with Chris, who's a great editor and a great guy. He'd already done the first cut, so then when I went in to work on it, it was already in good shape. It was actually funny. It had characters that were developed and even had a story. It was a real pleasure to work on. It was a straight comedy, live action, no visual effects. I even got to shoot some Second Unit on it. It turned out pretty well, and I'm proud of it. I was lucky and happy I had Chris as a mentor to guide me. Among the Additional Editors, Chris, being Anthony's usual Editor, also most helped me shape the final form of Sharknado. I'm grateful that he's been so generous to me and greatly appreciate him as a mentor.
Were you worried about taking on your first feature? That's a big deal for an editor.
Not really. I already had a good sense of what it was like to put together a feature and to cut it together pretty quickly. I was then and am still learning and honing my skills, and I was probably a little nervous but I wasn't feeling terribly scared or anything. I tried to watch and listen to the footage, that's how I approached the filmmaking. Michelangelo once said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." and "Beauty is the purgation of superfluities." In a sense, he's saying "I didn't create the statue. It was always there. All I did was reveal it." I sound so pretentious right now but I think that's true of ALL art. There's a voice inside all of us that tells us what something wants to be, no matter what it is.
When I watch something, I listen to the actors and I also listen to the photography, to the production design, to the movement in the frame, to what the director is doing... I listen to the sounds and dialogue captured and but also the rhythms of the footage. It's very intuitive for me. I take it piece by piece, frame by frame.
Was there any hesitation on your part about going to work for a company that's known for basically turning out movies very quickly, or was that part of the draw?
That was part of the draw. I'm a huge fan of Roger Corman movies. I have studied and read articles and books about him, seen and listened to interviews. I pursued early films of people I admire who worked for him like Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jon Davison, James Cameron... the list goes on and on. His greatest legacy is recognizing talent and passion and then giving it a chance. As long as you had a certain amount of nudity and violence, as long as you could keep the frame lively and interesting, and as long as you added a slight social message, he would often give you a chance and let you do what you wanted to a significant degree.
A lot of these people didn't go to formal film school. Jonathan Demme was a publicist, and Corman gave him a chance. Demme later went on to make movies I love like Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, and Silence of the Lambs. He's a wonderful, talented filmmaker. Corman gave these people a chance, and the tools to create, then gave them the distribution to have their work actually go out and be seen. So I thought The Asylum was kind of a modern day version of New World Pictures. They make a lot of movies and it would be a good experience. You will learn a lot and quickly because they make a lot of movies quickly. Sink or swim.
I threw myself at them, and they let me in. They make more movies a year than any major studio. They now even have a TV show now that they're making for the SyFy Channel. I admire the heck out of them. They gave me a chance and I was able to learn there, to cut a few movies so far, and maybe do more for them. I look at my hard work on Sharknado and its success as a thank you for that chance. I'm very grateful to them.
SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE -- Pictured: Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard -- (Photo by: Syfy)
So between all the films you worked on, you were offered Sharknado as your second feature. How did you feel about getting into a movie that was so wacky?
Sharknado was a movie that had an extraordinary amount of problems. Every Asylum movie has problems, because they're made very quickly with little money. But Sharknado was particularly ambitious, as it was trying to be bigger than usual. It was also trying to do something wacky. Anthony was demanding and ambitious that we try to make it something more special than the other movies that you see on SyFy. A lot of those creature feature movies that you can watch on SyFy or home videos are boring. They're just plain boring. I was adamant that we make something fun.
I don't watch movies purposefully to laugh at them, that's not interesting to me. It's too easy. I do like watching 'bad' movies, but I like watching 'bad' movies that have something good in them. An amazing performance, perhaps the story isn't so well written or maybe it's cliche or the dialogue is rough; but there's somebody in the movie that has an interesting look doing a really great performance. Or maybe the acting is bad but the script is good, so the lines are read incorrectly. The actors are not getting it, and they're killing the rhythm of the script. The line reads are all wrong, but the magic is still there – you can see it. Things like that.
You can learn from bad movies, from breaking them down and seeing what works and what doesn't. Why people do things a certain way, why they don't. I try to judge a movie on it's own terms. What is this movie trying to achieve? If it achieves what it's trying to do, and it has some ambition....because some movies are made with no ambition. All they want to do is make their money, and so they just give you something like spectacle, violence or nudity without story or character – that's not that interesting. But if a movie is trying to be a good movie about a talking octopus, I want to see that movie! I will watch a talking octopus movie made by a talented, passionate filmmaker.
Also what's great about these genre B-movies is that they often take chances that big movies cannot. Big movies have to appeal to a really wide audience just to be able to recoup their costs, especially with marketing. They take very few chances because they can't afford to. Whereas, a movie you make for $125,000, you can take some chances sometimes. A lot of those Roger Corman movies that I love are ones that took chances and depicted things that weren't in mainstream films.
For me, [Sharknado] was an attempt to take something silly yet very ambitious for the resources it had, and try to turn it into something fun. Something people could sit down and crack a smile at, maybe laugh. Look at each other and say, "Did you see that? Did that just happen!?" It's a little punk of a movie. Not a lot of money was put into it, not a lot of time was put into it, but a lot of effort was put into it. I had three days off in three months! Many long days. It was a grind, and we did a lot of reshooting in order to build it up to what Anthony thought it could be. I tried to give him notes of things I thought that could be added, and it was a lot of work to make a movie that didn't make a lot of sense at all, yet had some fun moments.
William (who goes by Bill) and director Anthony Ferrante during the editing of Sharknado. Photo credit: Anders Hoffmann.
But then Sharknado went mainstream too. Did you have any idea that would happen?
For some reason I thought, "Maybe this could do well with a certain audience" – people like me, people who also enjoy b-movies or real "film" people because you can see the cracks and the seams. To me, that's interesting when I watch a movie like that where the imperfections are noticeable. I find that fascinating, and maybe filmmakers and film fans who are interested in film in that way, like I am, would be interested. I thought maybe that would be a little cult movie. It'll have something different than what was often on SyFy Channel.
Now, I had no idea that it would become what it became. None. I had no idea it would go so mainstream, or even that children would like this movie. It has people getting their arms lopped off, sharks eating people, and people chainsawing out of a shark... which I love, but I've heard stories of little kids, like eight year olds, running around chanting, "Sharknado! Sharknado!!" and I'm thinking to myself, "Did these kids actually watch Sharknado?" It's kind of incredible.
Your second feature is now unexpectedly a part of pop culture. What has post-Sharknado life been like for you?
It's been great because I had no idea it would be as successful as it was. Anywhere I go I can say I worked on Sharknado, and there's a good chance that they've heard of it. Maybe that's because I'm in LA, but I've had people from all over the world who've contacted me and know about the film. It's weird, when somebody calls you or messages from another country, and they're like "You edited Sharknado?" Even people in the States, people from my childhood or people from college, everybody seems to have heard of this movie. Before that, I could tell people all the titles I assisted edited on, yet they wouldn't know a single one. If they thought they knew one, it was only because they confused it with the one we mock-busted.
A scene from SHARKNADO. (Photo by: Syfy). The original airdate was Thursday, July 11, 2013 on Syfy. © NBC Universal, Inc.
The great thing about Sharknado is I wrote dialogue on that movie. I made up visual effects shots. We had to change many elements to make the movie work. It was crazy, but a great learning experience. To actually now have a movie that I helped create, even though it's completely ridiculous and has all the flaws that it has, to have it be something that people know about, enjoy, that puts a grin on their face... They're laughing at it a lot of times, which is totally fine, but they're also giddy with its absurdity, too, which I love. They get a real kick out of it, and that's really cool.
I remember I'd been working with a guy for awhile on shoots, and he came up to me after a few times of working together and asked "Did you work on Sharknado? I love that movie!" His eyes lit up like a little kid, you know – and when you touch somebody in that way, it's special. Even one person. It really gets to you! That's a really good feeling.
Now I have gotten onto the Editor's Guild roster which is a big step for editors, and I'm eligible and ready to do union work. I'm excited because I'm doing different kinds of projects, including shooting as well as editing and assistant editing. I've been editing small projects, doing two Sharknado music videos and have been directing, photographing and editing EPK (Electronic Press Kit) pieces, which is excellent practice and a great way to get out of the editing room for a spell.
And I've been sort of drawing on the wisdom of successful, much more experienced editors and also taking classes and trying to figure out what my next moves are. I'm working on a feature with an old friend, Phillip J Bartell, who's a very talented editor who edited Dear White People. He needed an assistant, and it's just been a blast. I love working with him. I'm looking for an ambitious indie film to cut, something with teeth (and I don't mean shark teeth.)
So as a consequence of the turn-around for these kinds of movies, the lines get blurred and you can take initiative and have more authorship?
Yeah. That's another great thing. I started adding ADR to fill holes and began adding one-liners, and coming up with ideas for VFX shots. Sometimes someone would give us a background plate for a tornado, and it was boring! 'This isn't anything. Let's put downtown LA here. Okay, boom!' That's what it was like. 'This isn't interesting enough, this isn't fun, I want to see stuff get destroyed. I want to see sharks land in the city!' That was fun, being able to have that much say in things, and for Anthony being the cool guy that he is, to encourage good ideas and continuously helping with his own good ideas, as well.
Your path into the industry has been very non-linear compared to how editors used to come up in the ranks. How do you think things are different for editors coming up in the post-film, digital era versus "back in the day"?
Technology is changing everything so rapidly. I love it when I hear an old filmmaker like John Carpenter say, "There are no excuses. You guys have these amazing tools for affordable prices to go out and make your own things. We didn't have that!" He's right. Yes, things are still too expensive for some people, but the democratization of filmmaking has increased greatly and rapidly and continues to accelerate.
Yes, different positions in filmmaking have changed. It's like now, on a lot of shows, you have one editor and one assistant – and that's it. Some really low-budget shows don't even have assistants. Things have gotten so convenient that a lot of people just hire an editor on some really small independent movies and then the editor has to take care of logging and capturing and syncing. And even that's changed too. A lot of the jobs such as syncing, logging and organizing media have gotten much easier. The process is much quicker using things like Pluraleyes, or a DIT might have pre-logged and pre-transcoded on set. So the Assistant is given many other assignments, many of which can be creative, which is great.
The rules have changed a lot. Things are getting faster. I don't necessarily want to say whether that's good or bad. It's all I know. It is what it is. This is the reality of 'right now.'
What advice do you have for other editors that are working on breaking into the industry or trying to get to another point in their career?
I was watching Something Wild last night with filmmaker friends. It's a movie about this guy who's taken on this wild ride with this girl who's completely different than he is – she's a free spirit, he's pretty square and very structured. She sees something rebellious in him and takes him out of his life, turns his world upside down for a few days, and they fall in love. They eventually run into her ex-boyfriend, who is a total menace and wants his girl back. When they are all three in a restaurant and things are getting tense, the ex says to our protagonist, "You got to ask yourself if you really want her." And that's what editors, all filmmakers really need to ask themselves about this craft, this art.
You got to ask yourself if you really want it. If you're really passionate about filmmaking. Figure that out, tap into the source of what you're driving you and makes you feel alive – whether you're passionate about making bread and you want to be a baker, or if you want to be a doctor and heal people in Africa or if you want to edit movies. There's a lot of competition and a lot of rejection. I don't see any point in anybody doing something in this life that they're not passionate about and that they're not completely invested in.
If you know it's your passion to be an editor, get invested! Throw yourself into it full force as soon and as often as you possibly can and learn as much as you can about every other aspect of filmmaking because it all relates to editing. They all relate to each other. It'll make you a better filmmaker. I don't know all the answers, but I do know for assistants that persistence is one of the key components to having any kind of staying power and success in the industry – more so than talent.
Talent is great. There's a lot of people with talent out here, but you have to have something more than talent. There's a lot of truly talented people who never made it out here, and I remember John Carpenter saying that he had classmates that were better filmmakers than he was, but for whatever reason, they just didn't get the chance and they gave up. You have to stick with it, and basically not take "no" for an answer. If you surround yourself with good people passionate about the same things, you are generous and help them out, you keep meeting people like that, you work hard and you don't quit, you dramatically escalate the chances that you will get to make movies. I don't really believe in luck. I believe in honing your skills, making mistakes and learning and noticing opportunities, especially ones that others do not.
If you want to edit, tap into that love and follow your heart, your dreams, and don't stray. Don't be discouraged. Are you in this for the work? Then do the work as well and as often as you can. Show people that you're passionate and that you mean it. It's infectious, people will pay attention. There are a lot of people in the business who aren't really in love with filmmaking. But there are people who really care about storytelling, are really passionate about communicating something special to people and those people are really alive.