UNION MADE: Following in Father’s Footsteps

by Nancy Frazen

Nancy Frazen.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I spent many Saturdays of my childhood watching my father, Stanley Frazen, A.C.E., edit hit television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart and The Monkees.  I loved coming to work with him, but I always thought it was too dark and solitary in those cutting rooms and wanted nothing to do with editing.

I had other plans.  I wanted to study acting.  After finishing college with a teaching credential (my parents insisted that I have a profession to “fall back on”), I attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA and then moved to New York, where I joined an improv group and did voiceovers, commercials and soaps.  I loved New York and was able to support myself acting, but the constant auditioning was wearing on me so I took a summer off to go home.

Back in Los Angeles, an assistant editor friend said that an animation company, Ruby Spears, needed an apprentice.  It would only be for six weeks so I thought, “Why not?”  I started editing quarter-inch reels of recorded audio sessions, then got bumped up to an assistant working with film on a Moviola.  I was surprised by how much I liked it.  Editing mirrored everything I had learned about performance, and it was fun to be behind the camera.

My father had instilled in me the value of a union with its benefits and solidarity (he even served as president of the Editors Guild), so when Ruby Spears went union and we all got in, I knew this was a giant foot-in-the-door opportunity.  Soon, another job followed at another animation production company, Filmation, working nights as an assistant editor.  During the day, I took improv classes at the Groundlings.  But when they asked me to perform on Sunday nights, I knew it would conflict with my assistant editing job.  Finally I had to choose––and editing became my next path.

I wanted to work in live action, but my only editorial experience was animation, so I had to start over as an apprentice, learning from three teams of editors and assistants on a TV series.  The first day, after I was finished synching and coding 35mm film dailies for the first time, the assistants and editors were all having a quick lunch when I nonchalantly asked, “So how many frames does it take to be out of sync?”  I still remember at least one fork dropping.

A supervising editor opportunity on the very challenging Space Jam followed my Paris adventure.  It was the early days of the Avid (as well as CG), so we had both Avid and film assistants, all helping and training each other.  We also worked with both a live-action crew and an animation crew, interpreting for both how the other worked.  Additionally, there were 14 different international animation studios submitting their work in very different formats.

Other jobs soon followed, including working for David Bretherton, ACE, on my first feature, and even assisting my father, which I will always treasure as a special experience.  Assisting Dede Allen, ACE, gave me my first glimpse of working for a smart, perceptive woman, and I finally allowed myself to imagine being an editor.

After cutting scenes with many of the editors with whom I had worked, a friend’s recommendation landed me my first solo editing job on the HBO documentary You Don’t Have to Die.  I loved the documentary form––finding the structure and organizing the material so it told a compelling story.  What a bonus when it won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short the next year.

My animation experience opened another door when I got a call for a six-week editing gig on an animated Mickey Mouse theatrical short called Runaway Brain.  Well, those six weeks turned into two years and for eight of those months I got to work at Disney’s Paris Studio!  I lived across from the Arc de Triomphe and traveled on the weekends when we were free.  The Parisian artists at the studio encouraged us to join them for long lunches, with wine, of course.  We had a beautiful cutting room with a large window overlooking the city.  It was an amazing experience that I will never forget!

Both live action and animation start with a script, but in animation, only voices are recorded and the visuals are still frames of storyboards.  The editor cuts together the stills with the voice tracks, along with the complete music and sound effects (even footsteps).  Frequently the story is rewritten and re-recorded, and the storyboards redrawn multiple times before going to the expense of the actual animation.  This collaborative editing process can take years.

A supervising editor opportunity on the very challenging Space Jam followed my Paris adventure.  It was the early days of the Avid (as well as CG), so we had both Avid and film assistants, all helping and training each other.  We also worked with both a live-action crew and an animation crew, interpreting for both how the other worked.  Additionally, there were 14 different international animation studios submitting their work in very different formats.

I love working in animation, live action and documentaries.  They all have a different process of getting to the final product, but they all have the same goal: To tell a good story.

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