Did You Hear the One About the Farmer’s Daughter Who Wound Up in the Editing Room?

Union Made

Parenthood. Photo: NBC

by Susan J. Vinci

I remember sitting in the theatre watching Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and being blown away by the visual metaphors in this movie. His opening dream sequence — the clock with no hands, the coffin spilling out of the hearse — captured my imagination.

More than any other aspect of the film, I was most impressed by the power of the visual montage and the artful juxtaposition of the images. I exited the theatre knowing I wanted to become a part of this medium, but unsure of how to go about making this happen.

I’m going to be…well, I’m not sure what I’m going to be, but I’m going to California to figure it out.

Growing up as a baker/farmer’s daughter in Connecticut did not prepare me for a pathway to the magical land of filmmaking. I could fry donuts, decorate cakes and deliver a litter of cute piglets, but had absolutely no clue about how to make a film.

Originally, I went to college for sports medicine, but then decided to pursue a degree in English literature because I loved reading and writing. However, the free classic films shown at my university on weekends made me question if I had made the right decision. Should I become a novelist or find a job in the movies? And what type of job would I do in the movie business?

Hmmm… There I was at Valparaiso University in Indiana, a school not at all known for film. I took the few film courses offered by one professor, and together he and I designed an independent film study. Off to the theatre I went, researching and writing about films. It was because of his encouragement that I returned home after graduation, determined to save my money and move to Hollywood.

Back in Connecticut, I got a job at the Hartford Stage Company, where I met many actors — one of whom lived in Los Angeles and offered to show me around. Wow! A free tour guide?! I was there! I went out a few months later for a visit, and decided within the first few hours that I had found my new home.

I took every opportunity to watch the in-house editor create director’s reels, and couldn’t help but think how much more fun his job was than mine.

Mom and Dad, I’m moving to Hollywood! No, I’m not planning on taking over the family business. I’m going to be…well, I’m not sure what I’m going to be, but I’m going to California to figure it out. With $1,000 in my pocket, I boarded the plane.

Once in LA, I responded to ads in The Hollywood Reporter every day, but the phone never rang. Months went by before I finally landed a receptionist position at a successful commercial production company.

It was there that I became familiar with the art form of editing and how changing the order and timing of the same images could evoke very different emotions. There was a dark room at the end of the hall that consisted of a bunch of tapes and a state-of- the-art, linear, three-quarter-inch, joystick-controlled editing system. I took every opportunity to watch the in-house editor create director’s reels, and couldn’t help but think how much more fun his job was than mine. Luckily for me, he had more of a desire to be an actor than an editor. He taught me how to run the edit system. I submitted a few reels to the executive, passed the test, and was promoted from front desk to back room. I worked long hours at my new craft. And when one of the directors mentioned a potential gofer position at a commercial post-production boutique, I jumped at it.

Dexter. Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime

It was there that I encountered my first Avid system. If the three- quarter-inch system was a Cessna, this was a 747. Imagine the editing you could do on that machine! Determined to expand upon my newfound love of cutting, I volunteered to help the assistants in any way possible. Need a label, an output? How about your inventory or packing? I’ll even work alongside you until the wee hours of the morning. All of my efforts caught the attention of the lead editor and, three months later, I was the new staff assistant! I learned a lot, as commercials were an art form. They were fun and fast — but my heart was in long-form storytelling.

When an opportunity arose as an assistant editor on a non-union TV show, I jumped at it. And from there, one job led to the next. I earned my 100 days of non-union work to qualify for the union, and became an official member of the Editors Guild.

I’ve been very fortunate to work on many compelling, well-written shows such as Dexter and Parenthood, and very blessed to have worked with people who encouraged and inspired me and taught me a great deal about the art and craft of storytelling. Someday, I hope to be in a position to show the same generosity that has been shown to me, and to pass on my knowledge of the craft to another eager and interested person.

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