EditFest Los Angeles

A conversation with Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE – who earned an Oscar® nomination earlier this year for I, Tonya – capped this year’s sold-out EditFest LA, which also included three panels, lunch and a closing cocktail reception.

During the event, held Aug. 25 at The Walt Disney Studios, Riegel – who actually earned her college degree in political science – discussed topics including dailies and the editor/director relationship during a session of Bobbie O’Steen’s “Inside the Cutting Room.”

On the onslaught of dailies that editors receive, Riegel warned that while it can be time consuming, it’s necessary to review everything so that one can select the right takes. “A lot of time people take shortcuts, and I think you miss a lot of gems doing it that way. I watch everything, sometimes several times. I have to be the audience and get a first reaction and try to hang on to that.”

She also emphasized the importance of the editor/director relationship. I, Tonya was her fifth collaboration with director Craig Gillespie, and she said, “I think neither of us would be as good separately as we are together.”

Her presentation included several clips from I, Tonya, the Tonya Harding dramedy for which she earned an Oscar nomination in January. She noted that I, Tonya already had such an unbelievable built-in story, so she would frequently choose the “non-quirky takes.” In the edit, she took risks from incorporating unreliable narrators to breaking the fourth wall – all of which paid off. “I was surprised the whole movie worked,” she admitted with a laugh.

And with a budget of just $10 million, she added that, “Because we had nothing, we went for everything.”

Moderator Matt Feury of Avid presided over a wide-ranging panel featuring Zack Arnold, ACE; Lillian Benson, ACE; Carol Littleton, ACE; and Andrew Seklir, ACE.

“The Extended Cut: How to Survive and Thrive in Editorial” eschewed the showing of clips and the discussion of individual projects and career highlights to focus on the panelists’ expertise in having a “long, fruitful and hopefully happy career.”

Topics ranged from the need to rethink one’s relationship to Facebook to the now-lost benefits of rewinding film to the creative value of watching traffic roll by while standing in the sun, but the dominant theme was preserving your own health, both mental and physical.

Arnold recounted an early editing job on which he worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, for two months. “I loved what I did, but I realized I couldn’t live like this. If you’re working at a job where people are treating you with disrespect, you’re allowing them to take your passion and [that passion] is what is going to get you success in this industry.”

To Benson, the answer is “sometimes you have to quit. You learn … what you won’t do … what you will not put up with.” The problem though in seeking a healthy relationship with your work is “what you call self-preservation sometimes they [employers] call weakness.” This conundrum lies at the heart of the editor’s dilemma. Arnold noted, “One of the biggest fears that people have when it comes to the health, the mind, the body, is ‘I’m going to be replaced. If I don’t push myself beyond my limits and do whatever it takes to deliver this product, I’m going to get fired.’” How does one survive, much less thrive in that situation?

First, do your homework. If a job presents itself, “talk to other editors … so you can decide if you even want to take it,” Seklir advised. And trust your gut. Littleton learned early on “if my gut tells me this is something I shouldn’t do, I listen to it.” And if you haven’t listened to your gut, and you can’t quit? Seklir’s answer after years of cutting episodic television was to “be cognizant of the kind of culture that you want to create [in the editing room].

I’ve seen assistants come up through a dog eat-dog system where everyone’s trying to get a seat as editor and they carry it on to the next series because that’s the way they came up.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. “We can all decide what we want the culture to be.”

The first session of the day, “Small Screen, Big Picture,” featured clips and conversation with Peter Beyt, ACE (Will & Grace); Jacques Gravett, ACE (13 Reasons Why); Tim Porter, ACE (Game of Thrones); and Meaghan Wilbur (2 Dope Queens). Adobe’s Margot Nack moderated the panel, which in addition to their clips, included conversation about how to mentor assistants at a time when schedules are impossibly tight.

Beyt lamented of the impact of time crunches: “There are so many disciplines to this job. And there’s also understanding and being empathetic to characters. There used to be time to discuss that with assistants. Now they are so busy that you don’t have time to discuss the art.” Porter related that during the first few weeks of a series, “before the workload gets too heavy,” he works with assistants, allowing them to assemble scenes.

Gravett noted in addition to helping assistants, he participates in the ACE Diversity Mentorship Program. Wilbur addressed getting to the type of entertainment you want to work on – which can mean moving around. “You want to brand yourself with what you want to do,” she advised. “I started in commercials. Then I assisted on scripted. Then unscripted. … I want to do features, so I cut a small feature last summer. Now I’m on my first feature, currently as first assistant.”

Prior to the closing cocktail reception, the program concluded with the always popular “Lean Forward Moment” panel moderated by Norman Hollyn, ACE. “Our lifeline is to find the moment or moments you want the audience to lean forward and pay a little more attention … all in service of story,” he explained, asking each panelist to select a clip from a movie that inspired them  (and that they didn’t edit). Mark Hartzell, ACE, chose a clip from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan; Joi McMillon, ACE, selected a sequence from Three Colors Blue; Shoshanah Tanzer turned to Double Indemnity for inspiration; while Julia Wong, ACE, wrapped the day with a thrilling clip from Terminator 2.

The day also included a look at Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, presented by Dave McLaughlin of Digital Film Tree. “We love DaVinci Resolve,” McLaughlin said, adding that “it has changed the way we operate as a company. We focus on making things quickly, fast and precise. Resolve allows us to minimize steps – one big step is round tripping. We eliminated that.”

For their support, ACE would like to thank Blackmagic Design, platinum sponsor; Adobe, Avid, Disney Digital Studio Services, Ignite and Motion Picture Editors Guild, gold sponsors; AJA Video Systems, bronze sponsor; and Going Postal, Master the Workflow and Optimize Yourself, media sponsors.