Seemingly energized after two consecutive weekends comprising three nights of Emmy Awards, the Television Academy, rather than rest, proceeded to launch into a series of “Prime/Cuts” events featuring past award winners and nominees in various disciplines talking about their work, and in many cases, how they wound up going from new-to-L.A. hopefuls to masters of their crafts.
On one recent fall afternoon — we’d love to add “crisp,”, but it was simply hot — we found ourselves at one such Prime/Cuts panel (the forward slash seems important as a kind of semiotic reminder of the cutting and joining that editors do) on the Academy’s grounds in North Hollywood.
Moderated by Shawn Ryan, Creator of The Shield and the upcoming Netflix series The Night Agent, the panel was made up of Michael Lynn Deis, a winner for RuPaul’s Drag Race, and nominee for its All Stars edition; Julio C. Perez IV, ACE, a recent winner for Euphoria; Pam Marshall, a nominee for the multi-camera sitcom Call Me Kat, though with a background in non-narrative specials editing; Melissa McCoy, ACE, a two-time nominee for Ted Lasso; and Bill DeRonde, a multiple winner in non-fiction TV editing, and recent hoister of celebratory butterbeer as a nominee for Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts.
In addition to how they got their initial breaks and transitioned between genres, the panelists also discussed the theme of collaboration, emphasizing that no one had really gotten to that stage (literally and figuratively) by themselves.
Perez underscored this about his own winning episode, “The Theater and Its Double,” emphasizing the contributions of his fellow winning cutters Laura Zempel, Nikola Boyanov, and Aaron I. Butler. He credited Zempel, for example, with coming up with a Francis Lai music cue from A Man and A Woman, which further underscored the episode’s meta commentaries and self-awareness of life as a kind of theater, and our public personae a type of “performance” (all signaled with its borrowed surrealist Antonin Artaud title).
Part of the process of creating the show, he noted, was in finding “little moments, accidents, that are unscriptable.”
Marshall, on the other hand, talked about how showbiz hours often led to having “missed so many life events,” recalling one long session where her daughter, and her boyfriend, came in one midnight with a birthday cake, presumably during the two-year Covid stretch where she was editing at home. When they saw each other again in the morning, she was still editing. She mentioned the benefits of having summers off, and the gratitude that “I get to do this” for her livelihood.
But as she asked herself after that birthday cake night became dawn, “would I want my child to go into it?”
Michael Lynn Deis knew that she wanted to go into it from an early age, not only having started out editing wedding videos as a teen, but echoing Charles Bukowski’s sentiments in Barfly when she said “I don’t like people all that much — it’s where I belong, in a dark room.”
But she was quick to acknowledge getting to her particular dark room with the help of others, including a film school professor who crash-coursed her on how to use Avid, when an early job offer to work as a first assistant came her way. She also mentioned family who shared their joy in her Hollywood journey, such as her grandparents, though “who knew [they’d] be watching drag queens?”
And even if the goal of a budding editor’s journey is to wind up in one of those “dark rooms,” putting stories together (for her part, Deis says that in Reality TV, editors “are also writers,” ferreting out narrative threads), DeRonde notes that finding work — and the job after that — is “100 percent ‘relationship.’ You want them to be afraid to not work with you.”
You also want to remain open to changes as they happen. Or as McCoy says, “always know you can learn something, from somebody. Always be willing to learn.”
For DeRonde, that was realizing that what he thought would originally be “a clip show” for Harry Potter became something much more emotional, as the franchise’s cast and crew — and particularly, the actors who’d grown up together (and in front of us) — reunited for the first time, in some cases, in years.
For McCoy, whose nominated Lasso episode incorporated ESPN-like “live studio” talking head segments of the UK’s Soccer Saturday show, that meant editing between footage shot with Soccer Saturday’s own cameras and the ones used on Lasso, as well as adding VFX — like edge-of-frame CGI shoulders in close-ups — to “mimic the transitions from studio to field” within the episode.
“There were no comments from the crew,” she added. “But the job goes well when nobody notices.”
Or noticing without noticing, jibing with something Perez said earlier in the afternoon. He recalled some advice from Pamela Malouf, ACE, earlier in his career “The difference between a great editor and a good editor is two frames.”
Two frames, and an openness to keep learning.
Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”