IN MEMORIAM: Sue Blainey, Australian-Born Picture Editor on ‘Lost’ and ‘Six Feet Under,’ Dies at 60

An undated photo of Sue Blainey, picture editor, at Niagara Falls. PHOTO: Courtesy Blainey family.

By Kristin Marguerite Doidge


When Sue Blainey, ACE, was a little girl, she and her big sister, Libby, would often be glued to the TV after school, watching “Gilligan’s Island” and “Bewitched” until they heard a car come down the drive of their family home in Sydney, Australia. They’d jump up, switch off the TV, and scurry into the kitchen table, pretending to be doing homework.

The younger Blainey was drawn to those stories, and could be found weeping after watching a particularly touching black-and-white movie, such as “Lassie Comes Home.” It was perhaps those earliest memories of being swept up into the magic of cinema that helped her build a successful career in film and television picture editing that spanned several decades and two continents, including work on such hits as “Lost” and “Six Feet Under.” 

With Libby by her side, Sue Blainey passed away in February at the age of 60 after two years with metastatic breast cancer, leaving behind sister Robyn, brother David, three nieces, three rescue dogs, and numerous colleagues and friends in the editing world and beyond.


‘Bringing laughter’


After briefly attending North Sydney Technical College’s film and television program, Blainey got her start in editing when a neighbor introduced her to Alan Lake. He saw a bright young spark and gave her a full-time job at Film Production Services. Her first project was assisting Lake in editing the 1983 film, “BMX Bandits,” which was directed by Brian Trenchard Smith and starred a very young Nicole Kidman. Blainey’s talent – much like Kidman’s – was already apparent.

Louise Innes, who’d been a fellow assistant editor with Blainey in Australia in the 1980s, reconnected with her around 10 years ago on a show. “It’s so easy if you know someone from your early days,” Innes remembered. “She was always bringing laughter into the room, and also was obviously very skilled in her work.”

Blainey worked at Spectrum in Willoughby, where she met a number of great editors, directors, and sound designers, and gained additional experience. “There was great camaraderie amongst the workers, and much was learnt slipping in and out of others’ editing suites,” Libby Blainey explained. “And fantastic parties were held in the backyard there.”

Never one to “live to work,” the younger Blainey could be found after hours at a local pub enjoying time with her friends, listening to punk bands playing live music and drinking cheap beer. But she was also serious about her editing career, and in early 1989, she made the decision to leave Australia for New York City.

Sue Blainey early in her picture-editing career, in an undated photo. PHOTO: Courtesy Blainey family.

She found a new editing home at Sound One Studios at the iconic Brill Building in Manhattan, where Blainey remembered being “thrilled and surprised” to catch the elevator with acclaimed filmmakers and actors working there, such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Julie Andrews, and Dustin Hoffman. “You never knew who you would run into!” she recalled in 2008. Friend and sound editor Dan Edelstein remembered that Sound One “was a second home (and family) for all of us.” 

Blainey’s first union job came in 1990 when she served as apprentice editor for Kristina Boden, ACE, on “The Comfort of Strangers.” The pair became best friends for more than 30 years after an introduction from the late Bill Nisselson, the longtime manager of Sound One.

Elizabeth Nevin said that Blainey was living downtown at the time on Elizabeth St. “We quickly became good friends,” Nevin said. “We’d spend a lot of time at Milano’s bar on Houston St. Sue had a large group of Australian friends, and she was generous with her time and so much fun.”

Some of Blainey’s favorite projects from that time included cutting “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” in 1994 in her native Australia, as well as her later work on the acclaimed series “Oz,” and “Six Feet Under.” Blainey earned both Emmy and Eddie award nominations in 2006 for her work on “Lost.” 

But on April 19, 2007, a moment came that she’d long been waiting for, said a friend, the agent Craig Mizrahi. ‘I AM OFFICIALLY AN ACE!!!’ she’d said to him in an email. “Sue was so proud to be part of this [ACE] organization,” he added. “She was a supremely talented film editor, whose work ethic was unmatched.”


The big move


After several years traveling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, Blainey decided to put down roots in Los Angeles in 2005. Her steady income from work on hits like “House” helped fuel her interest in building a space of her own where she could host friends and family from both coasts. In fact, Mizrahi said she’d put him up rent-free for seven months while she was away working in the U.K. “That’s who Sue was, always thinking about everyone else first,” he said. “She was one of the kindest and most generous souls I’ve ever known.”

That generosity didn’t stop when she received news of her cancer diagnosis in 2016. Mizrahi said she “instantly” started to give back to others fighting cancer, and faced her illness with the same courage and hope that she’d built her successful career on.

An avid gardener and proud rescue dog Mum, Blainey first purchased a home on Ridgeley in mid-city, and later bought a beautiful craftsman house in Jefferson Park.

“I’ve had so many adventures with her,” Boden said. “Sue was so smart, and she embraced the beauty of life even in the face of her diagnosis, and I just adored her for that.”

In between work and treatment, Blainey enjoyed road trips, hiking, cooking (especially Aussie sausage rolls) and baking (often for neighbors and the crew), and drinking champagne with friends – something friend and colleague Tanya Swerling said she’d affectionately called “shampoo” or even just “poo” for short. Whenever possible, she brought her beloved dogs with her to the cutting room.

Just as in Sydney and New York, in Los Angeles, Blainey’s many friends adored her. Her colleagues from “Six Feet Under,” including Michael Ruscio, ACE, Swerling, Pattye Rafferty (Rogers), and Lisa de Moraes became friends who ultimately became family.

“From the second I met her, she was just my person,” Rafferty said, while de Moraes added that she was “a bright light.”

During the pandemic, Blainey helped organize socially distanced get-togethers with the neighbors to encourage building a stronger community instead of isolating, helped make face masks, and helped distribute food as a volunteer at the local church.

Dorian Harris, ACE, remembered her “incredible stamina” and fight throughout her illness. “She never let her diagnosis weigh her down,” Harris added. “She rented a beautiful apartment on the beach in Australia, and then she and her sister Libby bought a house to renovate. She was doing exactly what she loved up until the end.”

As an editor and friend, Rafa Garcia said Blainey will be remembered as an incredibly generous mentor to up-and-coming editors. “She believed in opening doors for new editors and ensuring current editors had a safe space to do their best work,” he said.

Steve Sahagun, who was Blainey’s assistant editor for more than 10 years beginning with “Happy Town” in 2010, agreed, adding that she had a humorous, spunky and feisty personality and was “always cracking jokes in the editing room.”

“When I first worked with her she came in one day with a helmet and wearing a leather jacket,” he remembered. “I was shocked that she would ride her Vespa to work on occasion. It was both cute and daring.”

Sahagun said over the years she was protective of him, helping to make sure he was taken care of when going from series to series with her or working on features. “She made sure I got paid for all of my overtime work and she would stick up for me if I had any issues during a show,” he said. “I learned so much from her during my years of assisting her – tricks, tips, organizing in editing – all of which I use to this day and teach other assistants and editors.”

Garcia said she left her mark on many hearts around the world.

“I imagine Sue would suggest downing a stiff drink, blasting some INXS and pressing forward,” he said. “Life is too short. Get up and dance, garden, adore your pets, build a community or do something that will help fill your heart with joy. That’s the way Sue lived her life.”

1 Comment

  1. Dear Sue you will be missed! May your memory be eternal. I will remember your friendship, our laughter, and old times at the Elizabeth Street apt from our NYC years xo Elena

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