More Than One Path to Success: Senior Editor Mae Manning
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : More Than One Path to Success: Senior Editor Mae Manning
In our modern age of video production, we talk a lot about things like “accessible tools” and the “democratization of software” and “the death of the post house”. A lot of the discussion from the old guard is oriented around a spiral of unrest turning to panic: if the tools are cheap and easy to obtain and all these resources are available to just anyone, the work is devalued and vaporizes and I’m irrelevant and video post production as we know it is OVER!
Not everyone (or most of anyone) is so unwilling to adapt to this bright, scary new world. But the chatter is usually dominated by those who insist the sky is falling. Maybe because those who are evolving just fine are still gainfully unemployed in this actually-not-terrifying world of subscription-based software and affordable, powerful laptops.
But what about the flip side? What has this meant for the emerging talent who are old enough to have grown up at least in part in the democratized land of post production software and have their first (or second) jobs? For many men and women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, the access to digital video outside a $100,000 edit suite began to open up during the years of our life when we were eager, curious, and bombarded with questions about our future.
This slowly expanding access to everything from Final Cut Studio to FCPX mixed with the growth of high speed internet access in every corner of the world meant people like me, a 16 year old nerd from central Indiana, could shoot, edit and share videos inspired by films that moved me whenever I wanted. And I wasn’t alone.
Atlanta-based editor Megan “Mae” Manning is another of those 16 year old post production nerds from the early 21st century. Always a fan of film, she knew she wanted to work in the industry but never really knew which department she’d end up in. She couldn’t put a finger on what exactly it was about a film that could make her heart beat faster or evoke tears, but she liked it.
Then one day Mae saw the trailer for the movie 300, and it hit her: it was the editing. She pieced it all together: the transitions, the perfect moments, and the perfectly landed beat on a movie’s soundtrack. From that day, she became a huge fan of the film’s editor William Hoy and was drawn to the stylized editing of the film -- and beyond. “That day, I knew I wanted to be an editor -- and that I would be really good at it.”
Through the remainder of her high school career, Mae taught herself everything she could about editing by make music videos, cutting footage from movies and television shows she enjoyed and putting them to music. She had big plans for graduation: pursue editing to the fullest by attending film school, find a great internship, and climb the post production ladder from there. Everything was planned and figured out, waiting to be executed.
Except life is complicated. Mae got pregnant soon after graduation and decided to abandon her plans for her career because the industry seemed like an unwelcome place for a young, single mother. It felt too competitive for such an arrangement with not enough time for her to dedicate to film school, let alone to the actual work it takes to create a career.
Mae took up bartending, but she never stopped making the videos she’d been creating by remixing TV and film to music. She continued to post them on YouTube for feedback from the community while she worked her day job just because she enjoyed editing so much.
“After four years of doing that, I was approached by the producer of a start-up production company in the area and I was interviewed to be the full time in-house editor for their content. Regardless of my lack of training and experience, they hired me and I immediately started cutting a 12 episode web series that’s won a few awards and has been nominated for best editing!”
Mae continues to work for that company as their lead editor two years later, creating corporate and industrial training videos, promotional videos, sketch comedy, short films, and everything else that gets thrown her way. For a self-taught editor with an intense passion for storytelling, this role has been a huge learning experience for her – and she’s never stopped succeeding at it. Mae’s story is an inspiration for anyone that thinks there is only one path to success in the industry.
Creative COW: It seems like it's becoming more and more common for people to be "discovered" on a site like YouTube. Did you do anything special to put yourself out there, or was uploading your work enough to be found?
Mae Manning: I really didn't do anything special to get noticed. I just uploaded my videos and shared the link with family and friends, hardly ever promoted my channel at all. YouTube and Vimeo are excellent resources for getting yourself out there and having your work seen by others!
Tell me about a challenging project you recently worked on — why was it so challenging, and how did it end up?
Dice Lords (a web series) was probably the most challenging yet most rewarding project I’ve not just recently worked on, but EVER worked on. It was challenging because it is very VFX heavy and this was the first time I would be working with a VFX editor, so I didn’t know how to properly schedule the post-production workflow and a lot of our deadlines went overdue.
The outcome of the experience is the project I am most proud to have my name on and a much more extensive knowledge of the post-production workflow.
How do you keep up to date with the latest technical changes?
Social networking groups for post production are an ENORMOUS help with any problems I run into or questions I have, and I’m also a huge fan of Lynda.com and YouTube tutorials. But honestly it’s really hard to keep up with everything - I don’t just mean software updates and new features, I also mean keeping track of how many programs and applications there are out there designed to help you in post like Trello, Wipster, Screenlight, VidMob, Workflow, Slack, etc.
I’m constantly trying to find the perfect digital application that makes my workflow easier and more organized but it is really getting overwhelming.
I’ve seen you involved with #postchat on Twitter (a hashtag that represents a community of active users) and trying to rally a community of people in person in your area. Why is this important to you?
The post-production community is extremely important to me. Not only because of all the information and help I receive from its members, but because as an editor who is self-taught and thrown head first into the career, it’s important to know that the decisions I make and the steps I take daily are the right ones.
I never had a mentor or someone to show me the ways of post-production, so when I’m on a project and I develop the anxieties of “Am I doing this correctly? Would an educated/experienced editor do this? Do I even know what I’m talking about when it comes to codecs? Is this not exporting properly because of a software problem or is it a ‘me’ problem?” and I start doubting myself, it’s an absolute godsend to be able to check out the community online.
After reading or listening to other editor’s experiences and every day evaluations on the job, I realize - I am totally normal. Everything I am doing is the right thing to be doing. And the fact that I am progressing naturally makes me feel even more like editing is something I was meant to do.
Chris Colton and I are trying to bring back #PostChat on Wednesdays and I’m hopefully going to start creating video tutorials for the Premiere Gal YouTube channel. Lots of fun things to be a part of!
Mae on set
Where do you find networking opportunities?
I listen to a lot of podcasts that are based on filmmaking in the Atlanta area, so I hear about a lot of networking opportunities on episodes. I'm also a member of multiple Facebook groups for local filmmakers here in Atlanta and there's always someone scheduling a meet-up. Film Bar Mondays, The New Mavericks, EDBI, Ladies' Night - and that's just to name a few. There's always one going on.
You work an in-house position. How do you manage your outside time for other freelance work? What is important to consider when taking on side jobs?
The most important things to consider are that your in-house position comes first, ALWAYS. If your in-house position has you slammed right now, they come first regardless the freelance project that presents itself.
The second is for you to know your own worth. If I’m presented with a freelance project that gets me really excited and will be worthwhile, I’ll take it on if it’s worth the time I’m going to dedicate to it after hours. I ask myself, “Is this really something you want to lose sleep over?” And if it is - I’ll make it work.
Last year, I took on any project that presented itself - now I see my time as more valuable and have set standards for the extra stuff.
Some people say it can be easy to "settle in" to a staff position since you aren't constantly on the hunt for work. How do you keep yourself fresh and on your toes?
I think I keep myself on my toes by still hunting for freelance work even while I’m in a staff position. I make sure that I don’t get too comfortable by reminding myself every now and then that the hunt for work is very real out there -- and no position, not even my own, is safe forever.
Mae with the crew from Dice Lords
How do you keep the culture of over-work that is rampant in post production in check — or do you feel like you do? Do you think it’s important to prioritize yourself over your work?
Honestly? I don’t keep it in check.
I absolutely think it’s important to prioritize yourself over work, but it is just too easy to get lost in an edit and the next thing you know is that you haven’t left your editing bay in 12 hours. Over time I’ve gotten more of a hold on my over-working and I’ve made it a point to go home every night and try to sleep - but I haven’t gotten a REAL hold on it, I’m still learning what my limits are.
I think it's really cool you had someone reach out to you based on your work. One of the biggest challenges for women in this industry is gender-biased assumptions, one of them being that when they have children, they'll leave the workforce. For you, this was apparently not an issue to your company. What do you think employers can learn about hiring from this situation?
I certainly hope employers are able to look at my exact situation and take away from it that the Hollywood gender bias is absolute crap. I mean I am one of the hardest working people you will ever meet, I will work long hours like you would not BELIEVE for projects and I kick ass at what I do.
It's a shame that being a woman, especially being a mother is seen more of as a sign of weakness than one of strength in this industry. The best I can do is to just keep killing it with my editing, set a great example for my daughter and continue on as proof that some of the hardest working people in this industry are women.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing editors in the industry today? What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for post production?
I think the biggest challenge for editors in the industry today is that the post-production budget is almost always overlooked in pre-production, causing major problems once the production is wrapped.
Another challenge we are facing is also, in my opinion, the most exciting thing on the horizon for post-production: technology. As technology keeps advancing, it is finding ways to make our jobs easier by performing hard or tedious tasks for us.
But what it’s also doing is possibly eliminating that work and job entirely. Did you know there is an IBM system now that is capable of pulling selects for editors as opposed to assistant editors doing it? I know the job is safe as long as creativity continues to be non-existent in artificial technology, but it’s still a scary thought.
Mae on the set of Dice Lords
What’s your favorite movie or television show and why? Do you feel like there’s something different in the way you watch and enjoy these things as a professional editor?
One of my favorite movies is Jaws. It’s one of my favorites not only because it’s one of the best edited movies of all time, but mainly because it is the prime example of making the best out of a bad situation when it comes to filmmaking. Despite its problems during production, Spielberg was able to bring together every incredible element from the cinematography to the talent to make one of the most terrifying movies to date.
If I had not starting working in film, I don’t think I would have noticed that. There is definitely something different in the way I view and enjoy films now, I appreciate different departments a lot more, like production design. I never looked twice at art direction and production design until I was on set once and saw how much the art department had control over.
Who is an editor you admire and would like to meet one day?
William Hoy. I would openly weep if I ever met William Hoy. He can do no wrong in my eyes, that man is a freaking TALENT. I have sought out and watched everything he’s done and love all of it. He’s the editor who made me realize I love editing.
What’s your long term future goal in this industry, and what are you doing to reach that?
My long term goal is to eventually go full time freelance as a narrative feature film editor. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to cut a feature film (yet), I am still working very hard at networking and making connections in the industry as well as building up my resume as much as possible in multiple genres so that when the chance comes, I’ll be the obvious choice for the film.
What’s your best advice for someone brand new to this industry? What do you wish you had known when you were first getting started?
I wish I had mentored under someone when I first started. I know the things I teach myself and I know the things I can find online, but there is so much more concerning “industry standard” and the proper post-production workflow that I don’t feel confident in knowing on my own.
Another very important thing to do in this industry is to network. Holy cow networking is the secret. I can say I probably wouldn’t have done 85% of the jobs I have done if it wasn’t for networking and meeting people.
Even if you’re brand new to the industry, you’ve just got to put yourself out there. Someone has a job for you.
And I can honestly say that it’s the fact that I never gave up editing as a hobby even after I gave up on it for a career that got me where I am now. If I just stopped completely, that producer would’ve never seen my videos and I would've never gotten this amazing job.
As cliché as it sounds, my best advice is to never give up and never stop doing what you want just because you feel limited.