a Film Editor
Many people have written to me and asked me how I became
a film editor, so I decided to write a little bit of my story
here. (Who am I kidding, this is more like a short novel
length ha ha) To read more about my childhood influences
that lead me to pursue editing, you can visit my About
The Film Editor page.
My first step to becoming an editor was getting a degree
in Film Studies from the University of California at Irvine
(U.C.I) The curriculum was largely theory and history,
but I also was able to take a few production courses.
I took courses in the history of film and television, screenwriting,
video production, French Cinema, German Cinema, Japanese Cinema,
Film Theory, Avant Garde Cinema and more. I did not
get the opportunity to edit much during my college years,
but I tried to edit whatever I could. I will always
remember two of the best compliments I received in college
that kept me inspired to be an editor. The first was
from the head of the Film Studies program, who told me that
an essay I had written was being passed around the faculty
and they had encouraged me to submit it to a film magazine.
The second compliment came after a viewing of my first "reel"
in a video production course. The professor and the
room were silent after the screening, and for a moment I was
terrified, until the professor said "Clearly, Janelle has
a knack for editing," and the room exploded in applause.
It was the first time I had really screened my work and it
felt good to know that the audience was blown away!
During school I completed editing several short films and
projects, and also produced, directed and edited a documentary
short on a spray can artist.
PAYING MY DUES IN THE FILM BIZ:
After graduation, I moved up to the Los Angeles area and
started looking for work at all of the major studios.
A friend of mine had been working for some temp agencies whose
clients are mostly studios and production companies, and she
recommended that I try getting a job at a studio through a
temp agency. So I registered with several of the agencies
and started temping immediately. I worked for several
entertainment related companies such as CAA, United Artists,
and FOX as a temp (mostly secretarial work). One of
my first temp jobs was in the Studio Parking Pass and Studio
Tour office at 20th Century Fox. Luckily for me, after
temping there for a few weeks, they told me that they were
looking for a permanent hire and would like me to stay on
and start training to be a tour guide for the V.I.P Tours
of the Studio. This was NOT my dream job, but I knew
that being on the studio lot, getting to know people
all over the lot by giving the tours, and answering phone
calls from anyone and everyone who needed parking passes would
be my ticket in to making the contacts I needed to find work
in post production. I fielded calls from actors, producers,
directors, editors, and studio execs. Because I was
a studio tour guide for VIP guests, I had access to tour most
of the sets and stages of the feature films and television
shows that were shooting on the lot. I was also able
to visit the scoring stages during music scoring sessions,
the ADR stages where they would be recording dialogue for
The Simpsons, and foley stages where artists were creating
foley sound for features and tv. Best of all, I was
able to tour through most of the editing rooms on the lot.
PUTTING THE WORD OUT:
While working at FOX, I started to put the word out to anyone
that would listen that I was extremely interested in editing
and eager to learn everything I could about it. I familiarized
myself with all of the productions that were cutting on the
lot, who the editors were, and who their assistants were.
When these people would call in for parking passes, I would
often ask them questions about the editing process and ask
if I could come and visit them or watch them work. There
have been a handful of people who have really influenced me,
whether they realized it or not, and I will try to mention
them throughout this article. The first two were Dan
Valverde and Lori
Coleman. Dan was working as Lori's assistant editor
on the TV show Picket Fences, which was being cut at FOX.
They allowed me to sit in and watch over their shoulders,
both as Lori edited and as Dan assisted. I borrowed
their AVID manual and read it cover to cover so that I fully
understood the software that they were using. I tried
to be a sponge and absorb everything that I could. I
was also able to visit the film editing room of the feature
Robin Hood: Men In Tights, where Gina
Lombardo and Cynthia
Thornton introduced me to my first film coding machine
and showed me what a real live film cutting room looked like!
I visited the editing room of Little Rascals, where Michael
Matzdorff showed me the Lightworks system (and I quickly
decided that I was an AVID girl). Finally, I had the
chance to visit Don
Zimmerman's editing room for a film called The Scout.
I got to peek over all of these people's shoulders and I wanted
nothing more than to be in their shoes.
MY FIRST BREAK:
A coworker from my Tour Guide office had left Fox and gone
on to work for a production company as an assistant accountant.
He called me up one day saying he had remembered how much
I wanted to get into editing, and said that there was an assistant
editor job available on a movie that Jon Voight was producing.
It was extremely low budget and I would not be getting paid
much, but I knew I had to get a film on my resume. I
was able to switch my hours at FOX so that after a full workday
as a tour guide, at 5PM I would head straight to the editing
room and work until roughly midnight, and also worked full
days on Saturdays. Needless to say, I was exhausted
but learning all that I could. This was my first experience
at coding picture workprint and audio mag stock. I was
also learning how to sync dailies and the fine art of "re-conning"
(reconstituting picture and sound trims into their original
dailies rolls) The post production supervisor for the
film was Jack
Tucker , who encouraged me to join the Motion
Picture Editor's Guild (Editing Union) and helped me to
get my paperwork together to do so. Thanks to the big
Northridge quake, our editing rooms were shut down indefinately
and the post schedule came to a schreeching halt. My
first big break was over in a matter of months, but thankfully
I still had my "day" job as a studio tour guide.
MY FIRST APPRENTICE EDITOR GIG:
After losing my first film assistant job, I was back on
the job hunt with full force. Now I had a few more editing
connections, my union membership paperwork, and actual "cutting
room experience". I again started putting the word out
to all of the people I knew on the FOX studio lot and tried
interviewing for post production assistant and runner jobs,
as well as executive assistant jobs around the lot.
I kept hearing the same things, either I was overqualified
to be a P.A., or I was underqualified to assist the executives
(I guess I was terrible at answering phones!). At the
time I felt as if I could not catch a break, but in hindsight,
I am grateful for each and every one of those "No's".
After a few months of looking for jobs outside of editorial,
fate stepped in and I landed my first full time feature film
apprentice job. I had mentioned to the NYPD Blue
stage security guard whom I had befriended on my daily tours
that I wanted to be an editor, and he insisted that I call
one of the editors on the show, Farrel
Levy. Almost simultaneously, a friend of mine who
was the assistant production coordinator on the same show,
McGuire, said that I should meet one of their assistant
Brakey. I went and met with Farrel, and had arranged
to meet Rob the same day as their editing rooms were next
door to each other. Farrel said that I should also meet
the editor that Rob was assisting, Lawrence
Jordan , because she had heard that they were leaving
to work on a New Line Cinema feature and that they needed
an apprentice. All the pieces fell into place, I interviewed
with Larry and Rob, and landed my first job as an apprentice
editor. I was ecstatic and although the job was a very
low budget non-union film, I would still be making more money
than I had been at Fox.
THE ASSISTANT EDITOR YEARS:
After completing my first feature with Rob and Larry as the
apprentice film editor, I was then promoted to "second assistant
editor" on the next film which Larry was cutting. I
was primarily a film assistant but tried to learn everything
I could about the AVID as well from "my boys". Larry
and Rob then left the film to go onto another project and
I was promoted to "first assistant editor".
When the film was complete, I was offered a "fill in" job
as an assistant editor on a TV Series because the original
assistant had to leave town for a while. The editor,
Dixon , then hired me on his next Movie of the Week (MOW),
which was a union show, so I finally officially joined the
union and started getting a nice paycheck. I was Paul's first
assistant editor for 5 TV movies over the span of a year.
I would practice cutting scenes on the AVID in my downtime
(which I didn't have much of) and Paul would give me notes
and talk to me about my cutting choices. I also did
a lot of sound effects (SFX) cutting for temp tracks and became
much more familiar with editing on the AVID.
I then went on to work on a big budget union feature assisting
on film with Larry and Rob again, to help them during an audience
preview screening crunch time. 80 hour and 7 day work weeks
was very familiar to me during these years, and I was very
thankful for the union rules of overtime pay and 6th and 7th
After several more first assistant editor jobs on various
features, a few pilots and a commercial, I started working
on a Disney feature, Whispers: An Elephant's Tale, with Editor
Olwage . The film was supposed to be a three month
gig and it turned into a two and half year job! This
film had over 250 visual effects, so I learned how to order
opticals and pick color wedges like a pro. I also got
to practice recording and cutting temp dialogue, as our script
was always being re-written.
TO EDIT OR TO ASSIST?
After the two+ year stint at Disney, I was back on the job
search and was hired by a Director who was looking for an
editor to cut a trailer/ EPK reel of the feature he had just
shot. There was no pay, but the director offered meals
and the experience and credit was important for me.
The trailer would be used as a showpiece to garner interest
and funding for the completion of the film. (The film had
not even been cut yet, so I would be building the reel from
scratch!) I spent over a month cutting the trailer (using
an AVID that had been "donated" to us for evening use) and
by the time it was complete, the director was used to working
with me and asked me if I would come on to cut the entire
film. I was going to be taking a huge cut in pay as
most of the budget was deferred (ie. rarely do editors ever
recoup any deferred pay), but this was a chance for me to
have a solo editing credit on an independent feature, and
I jumped at the opportunity. I had seen some of the
scenes and read the script and I thought it would be a great
project. I completed the editing of the film in about
four months, and was back on the job hunt again. I got
a lead on a night editor job on a couple of BET series, which
I did until the seasons ended, and then was back looking for
I still did not have enough editing credits under my belt
to get a union editing job right away, so I decided to look
for work as an additional editor or associate editor.
Klevin , an editor that I had kept in touch with for years,
was about to lose her current assistant, so she brought me
on to her next film, with the promise that she would give
me scenes to cut and try to get me additional editing credit.
I worked with her on two features as her additional editor
& first assistant editor, and was able to cut a lot of
scenes as well as sit in with her as she was cutting.
She would give me notes on my scenes and I would make the
appropriate changes, and she also spent a lot of time talking
to me about why she made the editorial choices that she did.
Sloane is an expert when it comes to selecting music for her
films, and we had a blast finding the right songs for our
films; she taught me a lot about how important music selection
is for a film.
Sloane moved to New York and I was again looking for work
as an assistant/additional editor. After a few short
term "crunch-time" gigs (working on a David Lynch commercial,
film assisting on a Kevin Smith movie, editing a zero-budget
feature), I went on as and additional editor with Luis
Colina on an MOW, on which I was able to also do a lot
of cutting and work closely with the director and producers.
I then received a call that someone had referred me to interview
for the first assistant editor job on The Chronicles of Narnia.
I went on to work on this film for a year, entirely in pre-production
working with the editor, Sim
Evan-Jones and cutting animatics/storyboards with him.
I learned everything there was to know about cutting storyboards
and animatics, and was able to travel to New Zealand!
I was given the title "animatics editor" by the
director and producer, but found out that when the lawyers
were going over the final film credits, that my title was
changed because the film had "gone union. Because I had
never been paid as an editor, they could not give me editor
credit. I found that with many union studio shows, studios
are hesitant to give "additional editor" credit as it means
by law they have to pay editor union wages. This was
the catalyst that started me looking again for a full time
LIVING MY DREAM OF BEING A FULLY PAID EDITOR:
When I returned to the states, I worked on a few more shows
as a first assistant editor but was also cutting a lot on
each project, and I was determined to be cutting full time.
After being refered by several friends to the series producer
of Dog Whisperer, I was finally able to realize my dream of
being a fully paid and fully credited editor! I absolutely
fell in love with the show and the crew and cut three seasons
of the series. I also had a chance to edit Trading Spouses
between seasons of Dog Whisperer. After the fourth season
of Dog Whisperer, I went on to cut seasons four and five of
the hit E! channel show, The Girls Next Door. The road to
becoming an editor was a long and hard one, but I wouldn't
trade any of it. I am looking forward to editing more
features and dramatic television series and know that the
road ahead will be filled with great projects and great people!
Thanks to the people mentioned above, along with several
other amazing editor friends / influences along the way (Patrick
Don Vito , Steve
Centracchio , Gregg
Featherman , Kate
McGowan , Mary
Szanto and more) I was able to make my way into a career
that I love, and learn so much from each person about all
aspects of editing...technical, storytelling, emotional, music
and sound effects editing, cutting room "politics", how to
work with directors, producers and executives, manage films
and shows from start to finish, basically work with all aspects
of finishing a film from pre-production to color timing and
negative cutting. I can absolutely say that I love what I
do for a living!