I’m Spenser. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and moved down to Los Angeles to pursue filmmaking. I am currently a freelance editor and can’t imagine having a career doing anything else.
What made you become an editor?
Well, I started off as a writer. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a writing/directing career, but I quickly learned how much I did not want to direct whatsoever. Learning that kind of lead me into exploring other options and I had dabbled a bit in editing a long time ago, so I explored this option with the most excitement and openness. The more I started learning it and doing it the more I fell in love with it and came to the conclusion that editing is what I’m meant to do.
What education, schooling or skills are needed to become an editor? And what suggestion do you have someone who can’t go to traditional school but wants to become an editor?
The best education is through practice. I did go to film school and it definitely helped me get a start in editing, but I feel like I’ve learned way more through practicing and trial and error than I ever did in film school. I’m not knocking film school, but I don’t think it’s a necessity for learning to edit. There are so many amazing tutorials out there and if you’re dedicated to it, you can teach yourself.
As far as skills go, does dedication count as a skill? I mean, art is so subjective, so to say you need to be creative or have the right “eye” is meaningless because that’s different to every person. I think it’s more important to be dedicated to editing and hone in on your craft. If you want to be an editor, become so dedicated to it that you can list it as one of your skills without hesitation, you know?
When you start editing, do you stick to the script and the storyboard, or do you start interpreting right away?
Man. It’s hard to give a definitive answer on this because I approach each project differently. I’ve approached projects each of those ways. I guess if I’m leaning one way or the other, I think I lean more towards interpretation rather than the script, especially with dramas. With comedies I tend to look a bit more at the script because comedic actors, from my experience, tend to veer off the script a bit more, so I want to make sure I’m still hitting the important beats that the script hits. With dramas, though, I don’t want to be as influenced by what the script says compared to what the actors’ performances are giving me. The thing is, is that whatever they shot on set is the most your movie can ever be. No matter what the script says, if it wasn’t shot, it doesn’t exist. For that reason, I think it’s really important to read the script once so you can get a feel for the intention of the film, but then kind of put it away forever unless you absolutely need to reference back to it. For me, at least, I want to work off what I have – the footage – rather than what it could have been – the script.
Do you cut to music or without sound? How does sound influence your cutting?
Usually without sound, but again, it depends on the project. I cut a music video and I, of course, cut to the song for that project, but I typically prefer to cut without sound. The reason being is I’m a highly sensitive person so if I’m cutting to music it will have a heavy impact on the way I’m editing. I want to watch the performances and draw my emotion out from the actors, the setting, the cinematography, etc. rather than an outside force like a piece of music. Although, I did recently cut a scene while listening to a metronome to see how I felt about it and I have to admit that I kind of liked it. That was more of a focusing thing rather than an emotional thing, though.
Are there rules for editing certain types of scenes (i.e. comedy, dialogue, action) that you like to follow – or like to break? Examples?
I don’t think I’m following/breaking rules when I’m editing. Or at least, that’s not my focus. There’s not a great way to explain when I know I want a cut in there, but I can feel it. I know when something feels wrong and I know when something is speaking to me. I do think my approach is different depending on the type of scene, though, but that’s dictated more by what I’ve found works or doesn’t work in past projects and translating what works into new projects. Like I know for comedies, I love if I can have an awkward pause in there somewhere. Not such an awkward pause that the audience is hating me for it, but I love to be able to elicit an uncomfortable response in comedies. That’s a fun, I guess, “rule” I have when cutting comedies.
What have you learned about editing that they don’t tell you in film school?
Well hopefully a lot. Film school is great, but experience is the best education you can get for something like editing. The most important thing I’ve learned, that schools are not going to tell you, is that if you don’t love it you shouldn’t do it and if you do love it, you should pursue it like you’ve pursued nothing else before. Editing is so much work. It takes your nights, weekends, sleep, and social life away when you’re an in-work editor and it’s absolutely worth it – if you love it. If you love it, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t had a full night of sleep in ages or a weekend for months because you lose yourself in your work. I can’t imagine putting myself through so much for something I didn’t love as much as I love editing. But I think that’s true for any career you want to pursue. If you don’t love it, do something else. Put your whole heart into the thing you love because if it’s going to be your career, you are spending so much of your life doing it and why wouldn’t you want your life to be full of something you love..?
What kinds of things inspire you? Do you have any personal rituals, or maybe a creative exercise you do to get your head in the right mood before you start?
Other movies inspire me, of course. Also, just day-to-day interactions with other people inspire me. It’s crazy how much I feel inspired in my editing just from day-to-day interactions.
When I have a full day of editing ahead of me, I like to get up on my first alarm without any snooze button crap. This might seem like a small thing, but to get in the right headspace, I really want to start my day off with wanting to edit. If I’m hitting my Snooze button every ten minutes for an hour, I find it much harder to get into editing. Not like it’s impossible, but I have to fight myself more to do it if I start my day off weird.
Also, if I start off editing for an hour or two pretty early in the morning and then take a break to eat breakfast, that works really well for me. It helps me start my day off by knowing I’m going to be editing all day, but that I’m still going to take care of myself which will end up helping my edit in the long run.
What are the three most common mistakes you see beginning editors make?
A big mistake I made when I first began is being overly confident. I think it’s something a lot of beginners have at first. I got excited in how much I was progressing, so I would enter some harder or lengthier projects with the same mindset that I had on easier or shorter projects. I think it’s good to have confidence in yourself and your ability, but getting to the place you want to takes time and you can’t jump from the beginning to your end goal just because you’d like to. The journey is super important. That’s one common mistake I see in beginning editors.
Besides that, I think a common mistake I see in beginning editors is they can become defensive when people critique their work. Directors, producers, the audience, etc. will all have an opinion and it can be really tough to listen to those opinions at times. When I first started, I had a hard time taking criticism if it wasn’t one-on-one. Meaning if there were a few people around all giving notes at once, I would clam up a bit. It can kind of crush your spirit to hear something you put a lot of effort into isn’t coming across the way you thought it did. Developing a thick skin and being able to absorb these critiques is a really important part of being an editor. It can only help you grow and learn to be best editor you can be if you can take people’s notes in with an openness. There’s value in listening to the good and the bad notes alike, so shutting down will never help you in learning how to absorb the good and to discard the bad.
How do you earn a living and sustain a career doing what you love?
You just do it. You do it every day as much as you can. You accept as much work as you can at the beginning so you can build your talent as well as your resume until you’ve reached the point where you’re making money off of every project you take on and, even more importantly, until you can be just as picky as you want to be with the projects you take on.
How does a typical day (for you) begin when you are in full swing of editing?
It varies, but I do like to get up right away and start immediately. I will take a break about an hour or two in to have breakfast, take a shower, brush my teeth, and all of that, but I like to start first with editing. I want to feel like I’m in the swing of things with editing so I don’t put it off or get distracted and end up wasting more time than I meant to. So yeah, it’s really important to me to sit my butt down in front of my computer and start editing right away.
What’s next for you?
Being a freelancer is tricky because the future is always a little uncertain. I’m currently working on a few projects, but then I’ll be gone for almost a month, so I have to take a bit of an editing hiatus. Once I’m back I do have a couple of projects lined up, but we’ll see what happens outside of that. I would like to be an editor on a documentary, so I would love to make that happen in the future. I would also be really excited to work on a feature-length horror film because I’m a huge horror fan, when they’re done well. My husband is a composer so I also look forward to the day when we can both work together on a project because we both respect each other’s artistic outlooks and I think it’d be a lot of fun to work on a project together. Besides that, it’s all possible. I’m happy when I’m editing, so as long as I can keep doing this thing I love for as long as I want (forever – haha), then I’m pretty satisfied.