1st Qtr, 2020
1st Qtr, 2020
The goal of the ACE Internship Program is to open a door to Hollywood for recent college graduates who want to pursue a career in editing. All of the interns in the last 10 years are now either working as assistant editors or have already moved up to editors. Chaired by program alums Carsten Kurpanek and Tyler Nelson, the program involves spending time in editing rooms and touring post-production facilities while being mentored by experienced ACE editors.
The most recent interns are Serena Allegro, a grad of Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and Marco Andres Gonzalez, an alum of Boston University. The four-week program gave them their first look into the professional post-production scene across both scripted and unscripted work.
Boston born and raised, Allegro finished college with a B.A. in Cinema and History and planned to work at a nonprofit for a year before pursuing editing. “I applied to the internship with no expectations,” she says. “To my surprise, I was selected as a finalist. I decided to move to L.A. and shift everything I had expected for my future up a year.”
Allegro visited the cutting rooms at HBO comedy series Insecure and the feature Clifford the Big Red Dog. She explains, “During my first week, I was lucky enough to go through a lot of the technical work of an assistant editor – everything from dailies to temp VFX. I was also allowed to sit in on a tone meeting.
This gave me a deeper appreciation for the vast number of artists who work on a single project. “The second week was so much fun,” she continues. “It was incredible to see how much a family the post team becomes. They kept reminding me that when you work long hours in small quarters, it’s hard not to become close.”
At Shed Media she gained insight into cutting a reality show and a deeper appreciation for the need to stay extremely organized. “When there are two assistant editors for over 40 editors, there is no choice but to keep on top of everything.
It was so different from the previous three weeks. They could be working on four shows at once at any point in the process. I was so in awe of each assistant editor’s speed and passion for the work they do.”
Gonzalez from Chino Hills, Calif., graduated with a B.S. in Film and Television and attended some ACE events as a student where he first learned about the internship. “During my first week, in editorial for Jumanji: The Next Level, I learned about the workflow of features from Chris Jackson, an extremely skilled first assistant editor,” he explains. “He is a master of temp VFX. This skill was my biggest takeaway from the week. I had never seen them done before, and after seeing their importance I knew it was a vital skill.
“During my television week, I was fortunate to have shadowed another highly skilled and experienced [editor/assistant editor], J.D. Sievertson, ACE. The show was in dailies, so he showed me the workflow of receiving and organizing them. J.D. offered me so much fantastic advice throughout the week, all of which I wish I could share. However, the best lesson was to always be ready and willing to adapt to your editor’s requests. This was important as we organized dailies, and vital to keep in mind throughout any show.”
Gonzalez gained his first exposure to the world of reality in the cutting rooms of The Floor is Lava. “I could not have asked for a better opportunity. The team was incredible.
Being a reality assistant editor requires one to be technically skilled and extremely organized. In addition, they need to be able to keep calm through the busier times. Technically, I learned the important skill of grouping. Organization-wise, I was able to note how their Avid projects were structured. They were clearly formulated and allowed for an easy workflow.”
Gonzalez continues, “If there was one piece of advice that was consistently given by all of the people I met, it was to always stay positive. Being positive has a multitude of positive impacts. It makes work easier, it makes tense environments calmer. It is also important for getting a job. People want to hire people they’ll enjoy working with, and having a positive attitude definitely helps one’s chances!”
Having finished a Post PA job on the feature, Antebellum, edited by his internship mentor, John Axelrad, ACE, Gonzalez is looking to begin his career as an assistant editor. Allegro is now looking for an assistant editor position to start her career. “I take away from my experience that everything is possible if you are willing to put in the work,” she says. “In an industry where so much is based on relationships, I understand the importance of being someone everyone wants to be around.
It is not easy to reach your dreams, but if it’s what you love, all the work and long nights will be worth it.”
Both interns express their thanks for being part of this program and vow to continue to volunteer at every ACE event they can. Kurpanek and Nelson both express deep appreciation to ACE and the previous directors of the ACE Internship Program, Lori Jane Coleman, ACE, and Diana Friedberg, ACE, for entrusting them with it.
They also wish to thank everyone on the ACE Internship Program committee. ACE sends its gratitude to Adobe, which sponsors this vital program. “Our program provides information and networking opportunities that guide participants through the milestones of their budding careers – getting into the union, finding jobs as a union assistant editor in features and television, maintaining a career and hopefully moving up to editor,” says Kurpanek.
“A great side effect for ACE and its members is that the program creates a pool of talented, hard-working and knowledgeable assistant editors that they can hire.”
4th Qtr, 2019
Feb. 1, 2019. A cool Friday L.A. evening. The Beverly Hilton is packed to the rafters with the editing community, breaking out their black ties and cocktail dresses to partake in the annual Eddie Awards. It’s standard L.A. awards show stuff: photographers snapping the famous, hosts cracking jokes, those films and shows you like being listed on a big screen.
D’Arcy Carden is on stage, reading out the winner of Best Edited Drama Series for Commercial Television: Gary Dollner, ACE, for Killing Eve. But this award is a little different. What’s notable here is that Killing Eve is the first drama series Dollner has ever cut. “Myself and my agent made a concerted effort to move into drama about 8-10 years ago,” explains Dollner. “But I always heard the same thing: ‘You’ve got a proven comedy track record, but we’re not sure you can cut drama.’”
A veteran of comedy, Dollner was nominated for an Eddie in 2016 for his work on Veep. But back in his native U.K., he has often been involved with comedy projects that carry real pathos, such as the multi-BAFTA® winning I’m Alan Partridge, and Ricky Gervais’ The Office movie David Brent: Life on the Road. Most recently he cut Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, the heartwrenchingly hilarious tale of a lonely woman trying to cope with tragedy. His work in bringing Fleabag’s characters’ trials to screen has earned him an Emmy® nomination.
“The feedback on social media was overwhelming,” recalls Dollner. “The show has real emotion, and people really connected with that. To label it as ‘just’ a comedy doesn’t do it justice.”
Working with Waller-Bridge and the Fleabag team is the reason Dollner finally managed to make the jump. “When they made Killing Eve, they brought me along, because we’d built a connection and a shorthand in the edit already. There was a trust there.”
So after the jump to ‘a drama’ did Dollner approach the edit in a different way? “No. Not at all. The challenge on Killing Eve was making an exciting drama and teasing out the humor in the script, whilst walking the line between the two.”
Some media outlets have labeled Fleabag a ‘dramedy,’ a relatively new term that was only coined six or seven years ago in an effort to describe shows that didn’t fit into the preconceived ideas of what either genre should be. Shows too funny to be just a drama, and too moving to be just a comedy.
But sitcoms have had a long-standing capacity to make us feel. What about the finale of M*A*S*H*? The episode is built around a therapy session for Alan Alda’s character Hawkeye, where he is forced to recall a repressed memory of a mother smothering her baby to death, after he admonishes her for not keeping it quiet. Or the ending of Friends, where we are left with the empty apartment as they leave for the final time? Or on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Will Smith’s moving outburst after being abandoned by his father: “How come he don’t want me, man?” Or Niles’ open heart surgery? Or Fry’s dog in Futurama loyally waiting for him to return?
And of course there are all the times drama made us laugh. The Sopranos episode where Chris and Paulie get lost in the woods. Or the pizza on the roof in Breaking Bad. Or anytime in Game of Thrones when the Hound says … that word he says. Or anytime Colombo dropped his ‘Just one more thing.’
In the modern TV landscape, with studios pushing the boundaries and creatives experimenting with how stories can be told, the lines between genres are blurring even further. Take Netflix’s Russian Doll. A rom-sci-fi-drama-horror-thriller-mystery-com. Or more simply labeled by the media under the newly coined ‘Groundhog Day’ genre. To balance the tone in such a piece takes genuine craft, so it comes as no surprise to learn that one of the two editors, Todd Downing, has three BAFTA nominations. What may be surprising is that they are all for Best Current Affairs.
“I had moved to London and got a job with a huge documentary company, and grew with them until I was doing stuff on North Korea, and ISIS, and all these really depressing serious things. But I still wanted to do funny,” Downing recollects.
“So I headed back to New York, and I got a call from someone I had worked with before to come and cut on Difficult People. He pitched me, and talked up my BAFTA nominations, and the network were like, ‘Why do you wanna hire this guy?’ But the showrunner stuck by me and wouldn’t budge.”
Did Downing feel a frustration at the network’s initial refusal to go with the showrunner’s wishes? “I’ve had that before, where people look someone up and see they cut ‘this,’ and people think that’s the only thing you can cut. And a lot of me believes that editing is editing. The rest is just style.
“I really love that I did all that British documentary stuff, because the storytelling on them is so hardcore, with things making sense and clarity. And people who do scripted think that people who do documentaries can’t do scripted. And, you know … [laughs] … scripted is easier.”
Being labeled, or pigeonholed, is a frustration that many editors have felt. Cut one film or show well, and you become the person who ‘does that thing.’ But this is a gross misunderstanding of our craft. That’s simply not how an editor thinks, or how an editor creates. We think in terms of story. We think in terms of viewer experience. We think in terms of entertainment. This is the way that editors have always been built. There is
a long history of great editors who master multiple genres.
Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE, cut the documentaries Woodstock and Street Scenes, then won the Oscar® for Raging Bull. Paul Hirsch, ACE, jumped from horror with Carrie, to action blockbusters with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, to comedy with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Arthur Schmidt, ACE, was nominated for the Oscar for the biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter, then won the Oscar for the
comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
More recently Tom Cross, ACE, spent years editing commercials, documentaries and reality TV before winning the Oscar for Whiplash. ‘Ah’ the naysayers will cry. ‘These are all film editors. What about TV?’ Well, let me paint you a picture… February 1, 2019. A cool Friday L.A. evening. The Beverly Hilton is packed to the rafters with the editing community, breaking out their black ties and cocktail dresses to partake in the annual Eddie Awards. Jennifer Lewis is on stage, reading out the winner of Best Edited Comedy Series for Non-Commercial Television: Kate Sanford, ACE, for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
What’s notable about this award is many will know her name from her work on dramas The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. “Early on I worked on dramatic films, but growing up I was drawn to comedy and musicals,” reveals Sanford. “My first big show was Sex and the City, which I got lucky with because at the time no one was making TV in New York. Getting that credit was instrumental in opening other doors for me.”
So surely with a season of the most talked about show in America under her belt, hiring an editor of Sanford’s caliber would be a no-brainer for a small indie movie? “I had an interview on the movie Hedwig, which I didn’t get, because I just didn’t have enough experience cutting music.
And then I missed out on other musical work, and it was very frustrating because to me, that was everything.” Often for editors to break out of these labels and explore storytelling in different ways it takes a stroke of good fortune, and often on a show that is at the top of the game in the genre they are established. “Boardwalk Empire was the one that opened things up, because there were a lot of staged musical numbers on that, and it was from there I was able to transition into The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Fosse/ Verdon and the musical comedy genre.” says Sanford. “I would still love to work on an actual musical.” Isn’t it time the industry stopped referring to editors as ‘a great comedy editor’ or ‘a great drama editor’ and instead simply refer to them as ‘great editors’?
Surely the mark of a great editor is telling the story in the most entertaining way possible, and knowing what style to use and when? “We cut The Wire using documentary style rules,” explains Sanford. “On Mrs. Maisel we use laser precision editing to get to the comedy. But what I do, and I’m sure so many of us do, is we have this skill of memorizing the dailies, finding things quickly, and telling the best story possible. And that skill set translates from drama to comedy to all genres.”
Perhaps with the new ground being broken by TV, networks and studios will stop putting the craftspeople in such predefined boxes. And while it can hurt as an editor to miss out on a show or film that you know deep down you are right for, doesn’t it hurt the studio more to miss out on the right editor?
3rd Qtr, 2019
There are many excellent television directors who understand the pace and limitations of series television and guide the actors to subtle performances. They know how to shoot coverage and maybe design a few cool-looking camera moves. But on occasion we get directors who are mismatched for a show. They can’t block, get hung up on unimportant story points, and miss key scene beats.
On most long-running TV series the actors know their characters, the photographic style is set, most departments from casting to set design answer to the showrunner not the director. Here is a thought experiment: Imagine a show without a director, where the actors block themselves, the camera operators figure out the shots, the AD runs the set. This occurs when an unseasoned crew member is moved up to director. Usually the show turns out okay. Some jokes may be missed, some moments are flat but usually about 80 percent of the script
makes it to the screen.
The horror that I confront as an editor is the rare occasion when a terrible director gets the gig and I have to contend with 40-50 percent of the script realized on the screen. These rubes make the show worse than if there was no director. They may be maestros with a skill such as shooting live sport events or excellent at pitching network execs but fail miserably at working a nuanced comedy.
When writers, directors of photography, actors, editors, set designers and others on a crew don’t perform well, they don’t survive. But directors are different. A director with poor skills can build a reel of material that can be very impressive after rewrites, reshoots, opticals and intense editing go into fixing the show. For the purposes of this article I am going to fictionalize and create a composite director named Myron Smith and a composite series I’ll call MacDriver which is not related to my experiences on MacGyver (1985-92). Hopefully, using anonymity I may continue living my life without a bodyguard and food taster.
Executive producers brought Myron Smith to direct MacDriver, because they had great experiences with him 20 years before on TV westerns. In that time, audience expectations had changed a lot. Old TV westerns were shot in seven days. Action scenes were composed of a wide master of cowboys shooting at each other and a few choice medium shots for dialogue. Smith’s episode was so badly directed it required 108 second-unit insert shots (many were technically principal photography) shot over three days to make the scenes coherent. In one scene, the director covered an intense four-page car chase setting the camera on one hill to capture the cars on an opposite hill thinking this was enough action to engage the audience. Along with a lack of coverage, the close-ups were shot at the same angle as the master, making matches difficult.
So it begins for the editor. What are we going to do to make this episode look and feel like other episodes of MacDriver? First off there is the ‘brilliant edit.’ We run the scene and the dailies over and over again looking for inspiration. Then a conversation with my assistant; a late night revelation; encouraging words from the showrunner; and the answer is there. Aha! Use the bad take for picture but repo it and steal dialogue from another episode. It was so clearly the answer!
Maybe I can use the tried and true blow-up. If a wide shot is in sharp focus, a 200 percent blow-up can create coverage when there was none. I have heard editors refer to slow optical push-ins as Dramanators. They add tension to lifeless scenes. Speeding up or slowing down the frame rate will build moments. If the director didn’t get a reaction maybe a bit of the actor can be found before a slate and slowed down to look like an intense look. There is a very poignant Wonder Years episode ending made from Mobius strip loops of manufactured reactions.
When scenes are blocked badly and jokes or beats are not working I will trim out pages of dialogue. I enlist the writers as reinforcements. On Arrested Development with the help of the writers we often came up with a graphic joke, insert of a newscaster, or a flash to another scene to bridge missing story.
Often poor directors will miss the sense of urgency in a scene. Well-placed ADR and insert shots can help create urgency. Underscore can build emotion when there was nothing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of when to start and stop a cue to underline a story point. I often joke after hearing in the final mix how the composer should get the directing credit.
Back in the day on MacDriver (totally fictional), one of the editor’s tasks was shooting inserts. Sometimes they are details like a bomb ticking to create tension, or tight shots of Mac building his gimmicks for clarity. The inserts might be a wide shot which doubles to create geography that the director missed. Very often the careful use of inserts and sound can fill out drama where there was just a limp master shot with the actors lined up like a remake of A Chorus Line. An insert can create a scene transition when the director left bupkis.
VFX editors and assistants who are masters at temp effects are heroes. In order to be in the bad directors club you have to ignore framing. Why is there a piece of that distracting character floating at the edge of frame? Presto! Gone. Why don’t the overthe-shoulder shots match? Voila! Clean Cut. Why don’t the actors react at the same time in that group shot? Bam! Frankenshot. And by Presto! Voila! and Bam! I mean many growling hours in After Effects pounding out traveling mattes.
We employ these technical measures to fix mediocrity; the tricks learned since I picked up my dad’s 8mm camera and started shooting war stories with neighborhood kids in the backyard. But these schemes are not the whole story. There is another ingredient to successful TV repair.
Back when I was an assistant trying my damnedest to move up to editor there was a guild rule that assistant editors had to assist for eight years. I had cut about 800 commercials and many industrial films before coming to Los Angeles. However, because of how I changed guild jurisdictions I could not keep my status as a picture editor and had to work as an assistant editor. It was frustrating forced to assist even with so much cutting under my belt. I remember asking the president of the guild at the time, Irv Rosenblum, why is there an eight-year rule? He told me that an assistant had to gain a certain amount of maturity to navigate the politics of the editing room. The rule may have been arbitrary but there is wisdom to the thought.
Marco Zappia (1937-2013) may have been one of television’s most successful editors. He started physically cutting twoinch videotape on Laugh In and became the most sought-after multi-cam editor. He lived and breathed editing. He didn’t take vacations, he told me once he had only been out of the state once on a sports remote. On the weekends he took home dailies to cut as side projects. I had the pleasure of working with him on a couple shows. What I learned from him had nothing to do with split screens or selecting a performance.
Marco was the nicest person. He treated everyone with respect. He was soft spoken. When he worked with producers he did not resist or make faces, he gleefully executed their notes. However, he had a secret super power. If he had a better idea of how to fix a scene, using humility he carried out the fix and somehow he allowed the producer to feel it was their idea. It was a humble transference of ego. The producer would sit behind him and say, “That joke isn’t landing.” Marco would quickly trim a few frames, steal a reaction and praise the producer for his comedy chops. This was not condescending. Marco sincerely communicated gratitude with subtle expressions and knowing nods. The producer left feeling success and empowered. In this world of ‘lean in’ and ‘sharp elbows’ Marco’s zen approach had him cutting several sitcoms a week, taking a percentage of the video facility profits, and buying apartment buildings throughout Los Angeles.
Myron Smith has pissed off the performers; missed moments; missed technical fundamentals like the 180-degree rule; and called me every morning in an attempt to have me fawn over the dailies. He insists on sitting next to me while going through his cut and his touches and goofy punches are a bit over-friendly.
It’s as if Myron has hidden a flaw in every scene for me to find. His scenes remind me of the kids magazine, Highlights, What’s Wrong with This? Look closely to find 24 silly things. After sitting with Myron for a day hoping he could give me a clue of how to unlock these scenes I realize he is as clueless in the editing room as he is on the set. We swap out a performance; find the camera move he loves even after I point to the c-stand clearly passing by; we end with a reaction though the scene was over long ago. We add top-40 music he brought in though the studio warned us about licensing costs. I summon the inner Marco Zappia in me and happily perform his lateral notes praising his comedy chops. His DGA-designated days are over, he tells me he can’t wait to work with me again, and I sigh with relief as his Ferrari speeds off the lot.
A few days into cutting a poorly-directed show are voyages into darkness. The first thought upon waking is the disaster awaiting on the file server. I drag myself to the studio and procrastinate by chatting with the guys down the hall. I take my time preparing caffeine strong enough to keep me focused. Even scary emails from the IRS are a preferable distraction. When I ask my assistant about the dailies he just drops his face into his hands and shudders. I approach yesterday’s shots and am a kid again looking at Highlights magazine. What’s wrong with the picture? The next 10 hours I am immersed in damage control, looking for order where there is nothing but chaos. I call on the editing gods to help find the hidden moments and accidental treasures. Strangely, the editing gods answer my pleas as if I am worthy, uncovering story, building arcs. Keystrokes and mouse movements are elevated to moments of grace. In the end I have the gratification of having a show that matches the episodes in the series. It may have added 30 hours to my week but I’m done and ready for the next one. This is the job and that is why I’m paid the medium bucks.
1st Qtr, 2019
Despite the rapid advances in digital technology, the fundamental role of the picture editor hasn’t really changed. Whether physically splicing film or editing via a touchscreen, what the picture editor has always brought to a project is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of hours upon hours of raw footage to ultimately tell a compelling story. As editors we are paid for our opinions, our personal tastes and our ability to consistently make thousands upon thousands of good micro-decisions on a daily basis.
Yes, bedside manner and an ability to collaborate with others is also important, and knowledge of the latest technology is also a given, but that gap can largely be filled by surrounding yourself with an excellent team. But there is no replacement for your creativity.
A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two-and-a-half minutes sharpening my axe.” Although the fact that as film editors our #1 asset is our creativity, we have adopted a less-than-ideal lifestyle and enabled a work culture that does everything it can to completely rob us of our ability to be creative. We spend the majority of our waking hours sitting in dark rooms (usually without windows) behind computers screens. We eat lunch (and dinner) at our desks. We put our kids to bed via FaceTime. Late nights are simply a given, and we routinely work six-day weeks (seven when it’s crunch time). And worst of all, we have all collectively accepted that 60 hours per week is a ‘standard’ contract despite all modern scientific research proving that anything beyond 45 hours rapidly diminishes productivity (and our sanity).
We devote an ungodly amount of our time, energy and attention to chopping down a giant redwood tree and carving it into a beautiful pencil (within an impossible deadline) when we should instead be spending the majority of our time sharpening the axe. (Hint: You are the axe). But with the rapid advancement of modern technology and the expectation that we now practically do everything in our timelines, what other choice do we have? It simply isn’t possible to prioritize our well-being ahead of our careers anymore.
Having interviewed some of the top editors in our industry, I am 100-percent confident the job hasn’t gotten any harder, the hours aren’t longer, and the deadlines aren’t any tighter than they were decades ago. As Walter Murch, ACE, told me in an interview: “There’s a famous story at Universal Studios from 40 years ago. There was some terrible deadline, and they were throwing as many people on the problem as they could and people were working 16-20 hours a day.
Finally, the person responsible went to the head of postproduction and said, ‘We can’t keep going on like this, people are dropping like flies.’ And the answer was, ‘Get more flies.’” The job is no tougher now than it has ever been. The only fundamental difference between the lifestyle of the editor decades ago versus today is that editing no longer requires physical effort or movement … editing is now a 100% sedentary activity that requires nothing more than a keyboard. I’m just as guilty as everyone else of locking myself in the ‘edit cave’ for weeks on end without exercise, sleep or sunlight, and I unfortunately experienced the consequences of working a sedentary job for long hours the hard way very early in my career.
As a young editor only recently inducted into ACE, I’m okay admitting that I’ve never edited actual film (outside of a 16mm student project). When my professional career began just short of 20 years ago I was working with Avid and the early versions of Final Cut Pro. I lived and breathed film editing and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. And I was good enough at it that I quickly transitioned from assisting to editing only five months out of college. By 25, I was editing my first feature film for Fox Searchlight, and the schedule was arduous. At one point I was working with a director for 16 hours per day, seven days per week for just short of three months straight without a single day off. Once hiatus hit, I crashed. Hard. So hard in fact that I experienced burnout and anxiety so bad that it led to my first (but not last) bout of suicidal depression. I distinctly remember sitting in the dark one evening with my head in my hands thinking, “I can’t live like this anymore.” Knowing how passionate I was about the craft of film editing, I knew there was no way I would survive the next 40 years of my career treating myself like a Ford Pinto.
So I decided it was time to begin treating myself like a Ferrari, because it requires a high-performance machine to do the kind of work we do for a living. This realization led to over a decade of research and experimentation where I dove deep into the psychology of human behavior, habit formation, workflow efficiency, biomechanics, exercise physiology and the effects of nutrition and sleep on cognition and creativity. I attempted every day to apply everything I was learning about athletic performance and human potential to optimize my role as a film editor and maximize my creativity (and avoid burnout).
While there are countless ways to optimize your creativity and well-being, if I were to take all the various knowledge I’ve learned in over a decade and narrow it down to just one thing, my fundamental discovery is that the most detrimental thing to our creativity is being sedentary. It’s that simple. The less you move, the more difficult it is to be creative.
Carol Littleton, ACE, experienced this firsthand: “If I was working with a Moviola I would stand all day long. You would be rewinding film, splicing … you’d constantly be in motion and always moving film around. Only recently when I moved from film to Avid the first thing I noticed was that I was far more sedentary.
Sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting just drove me crazy. I wasn’t eating as well, I wasn’t taking breaks, I wasn’t thinking straight, and I would forget footage … I never forgot footage! So I decided to go back to the things that kept me going while I was cutting film.” If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carol, you know that’s she’s 70 years old going on 25. She has more energy, clarity and vibrancy than most young assistant editors I know. Clearly she’s onto something when she says, “If you take care of yourself, everything else will just fall into place.”
So let’s start taking care of ourselves and begin collectively taking back our health, one literal step at a time. Here are three simple suggestions to get you started sharpening your axe.
1. Never allow yourself to work in the same position for more than 60 minutes at a time. We’ve all heard the term by now: ‘Sitting is the new smoking.’ And countless research has proven how detrimental chronic sitting can be to your health (including drastically shortening your lifespan). But here’s the good news: There’s nothing wrong with sitting. The problem is being sedentary. Sitting, standing, kneeling, doesn’t matter. All are detrimental to your health if done for long periods of time without interruption. But they are also detrimental to your ability to generate ideas and be creative. If you’re trying to solve creative problems and meet a tight deadline, the last thing on your mind is what might happen to your health in a few decades – but not being able to think clearly is another story. So make it a point to simply move around for 1-2 minutes every hour, or ideally every 30 minutes. It’s literally as simple as standing up then sitting back down again. Or touching your toes. Or walking down the hall and right back to your desk. Height-adjustable workstations were a novelty 10 years ago, but they are now practically standard from most rental companies. Take advantage of them and change your working position frequently. If you’re having trouble reminding yourself to move enough, make it a point to drink tons of water throughout the day. Your bladder will do a great job of reminding you to take frequent breaks!
2. Get out of your office and take at least one walking break every day. I know, I know. You don’t have time for breaks.
But from a scientific perspective there is nothing more beneficial to generating creative ideas than walking. According to a Stanford research study, “A person’s creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when walking.” Think about it this way: When was the last time you had an amazing creative insight blindly staring into your computer screen? Walking activates what is called the ‘default network’ in the brain, and I find that I solve the majority of my creative problems during my afternoon walks.
Like Walter Murch, I make sure while I’m on my walks I have a way to capture my ideas and record them (he uses a voice recorder, I use the ‘voice memo’ app on my phone), a process he says is like having a ‘mental butterfly net.’ Remember, creativity is not only a part of our job, it IS our job. Therefore thinking means we’re still ‘on the clock,’ whether we’re in front of our workstations or not.
3. Make it a rule to never eat lunch (or dinner) at your desk. Ever. I cannot stress enough how unhealthy it is to chronically eat at your workstation. It inhibits digestion, it raises your stress levels, and it’s just one of many missed opportunities to change your perspective during the day, get some air and actually be social with other human beings. But we have fallen into the trap of thinking there aren’t enough hours in the day, so it’s no longer time we can afford. Moreover, most productions now furnish free lunches and dinners … with the caveat that you’ll stay at your desk to eat them.
I call these free meals ‘edible handcuffs.’ If you do the math, it doesn’t add up. If you take your hourly wage (let’s use an even number of $50 per hour) and subtract the cost of the meal (generally around $15), you are essentially paying someone $35 for the privilege of eating in front of a computer screen and skipping a much-needed break that will actually benefit your creativity.
Whenever I interview successful editors and break down the keys to their success and longevity, a common theme is the refusal to work through meals unless there is absolutely no other option. I simply cannot put it better than Jeffrey Ford, ACE: “Taking care of yourself and taking breaks is a strength, not a weakness. Your physical well-being is connected to your mental well-being is connected to your success as a creative professional.”
I promise that it is actually possible to excel in your career because you prioritize your health, not despite it. If you’re in this business for the long haul, stop treating your health and well-being like a game of checkers and start playing a game of chess. And the first step is taking the first step – away from your desk, that is.