UNION MADE: From the Diamond to the Bench

by Charles “Chips” Swanson

As a youngster, I discovered my love of baseball. I participated in the local Little League, and then went on to play baseball at Chatsworth High and Los Angeles Valley College. When I was 20 years old, I signed a professional baseball contract after being picked second in the draft by the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, I played over 30 years ago during a time when baseball superstars made $80,000 instead of the $80 million they do today.

As a young husband and father, I found I needed some extra money to pay the bills during the off-season. Fortunately for me, my father, Bob Swanson, was a film editor at Paramount Studios. He told me, “If you can carry film, I can get you a job as an apprentice.” I had grown up visiting my father at work at the studio, but actually had no interest in doing any kind of film work. However, I was grateful for the opportunity for employment and this began phase one of my career in the film industry.

During that first off-season, I went to work in the music department at Paramount under the direction of Jack Hunsacker, on a union work permit. Jack invited me back for the next off-season, and this arrangement continued for the next few years. Starting in September, I would work for approximately five to six months at Paramount, then leave in February or March for spring training.

After about three years, Jack explained that the studio needed a second editor and asked if I would be interested. The job entailed helping one of the established music editors, Bob Krueger, on a one-hour show. In those days, there was extensive tracking (taking previously scored music from one show and cutting it to fit a new show) required on hour shows, which required two editors, and this was how I began the second phase of my career.

Charles “Chips” Swanson.

I found working with Bob to be a great experience. In addition to being a great editor and teacher, he encouraged “hands-on” learning and gave me as much work as I could handle. To this day, Bob remains a close friend and co-worker, which is another plus in my work career for the studios.

While working with Bob as a second editor, I was informed that I would have to officially join the union. At that time, I was still working under the union work permit and was not really interested in becoming a union member. However, I was interested in keeping my job, so I joined and have been a member for 37 years. Later, I discovered the importance of our union in assisting studio workers like myself in terms of securing and maintaining cost-of-living raises, health insurance, pension plans, state unemployment insurance and other employee benefits.

After a few years of my working with Bob, Jack asked if I wanted to have my own show. The only stipulation was that I would have to begin working at the studio on a full-time basis. I understood that I was being asked to make a choice: Continue on indefinitely playing baseball, or accept the offer to pursue an opportunity few budding editors are given: their own show.

As one can imagine, this was a difficult decision for me to make. Carefully considering my options, I realized that after playing for ten years, I had become tired of baseball, with all the traveling and uprooting of my family several times during the season. I decided to take Jack up on his offer, which took me into the third and current phase of my career.

Looking back, I have never regretted my decision, and have been employed by Paramount Studios (now CBS/Paramount) for 38 years. Since my first show, Laverne and Shirley, my work has included features, TV movies, miniseries, one-hour dramatic shows and comedy––and I have enjoyed it all.

I really have had the best of both worlds in my careers: playing and traveling as a professional baseball player for a decade, and steady employment in the film industry. Through the years, I have had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented individuals in their crafts and have made a lot of good friends and acquaintances.

The best suggestion I can give to someone starting out in editing would be to take any job in the business to get your foot in the door, and give it your best every day. That’s what I did, and things just seemed to fall into place. I consider myself very lucky.