UNION MADE: Joy, Luck and an Altman Connection

by Maysie Hoy, A.C.E.

When my high school counselor asked the girls in my class what they wanted to be when they graduated, most of them wanted to be nurses, teachers and librarians, but I dreamed of being an actress and living in Hollywood. Back then, flying to the moon would have been easier than breaking into show biz––especially for a girl from Vancouver’s Chinatown.

I was directing my own improv group when I was cast in Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller. After the movie was over, I left for Los Angeles with a backpack and a sleeping bag. I knew two people in LA––a friend who offered me a place to stay and Robert Altman.

Bob was shooting California Split and he allowed me to observe him on the set. Two days into the shoot, the script supervisor called in sick and suddenly, for the next three days, I was the script supervisor! What I didn’t know, I asked. My little substitution job did not go unnoticed by Bob because he kept me busy for the next eight years. I learned the art of filmmaking by working many different jobs in various departments. I even worked in the wardrobe department on Nashville because I could sew.

On Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Bob had shot a million feet of film and trim bins lined the office hallway. One day, I saw editor Dennis Hill with half his body in a bin and film flying everywhere. He was looking for four frames. I asked if I could help put the trims away and Dennis told me to ask Bob. Oh, great.

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So, I walked into Bob’s office. He looked at me sternly and said, “This isn’t a film school, you know.”

“Yes, but there’s all those trims to be put away,” I replied.

“Alright, if it’s okay with the editors, then it’s okay with me,” he responded. I thanked him and, afraid he’d change his mind, I quickly ran out of there.

Great, I’m an apprentice. But the hurdle was getting into the Editors Guild. Bill Sawyer was the sound supervisor on the film and a well-respected union member. He made it his mission to call the union every day to see how many apprentices were on the availability list. Soon, he hired me.

My husband told me that if I am in this business long enough, something bigger and better would come my way. The telephone rang, overlapping his last words; it was the producers of The Joy Luck Club. And the rest, as they say, is history.

After a few months coding film and labeling trim boxes as an apprentice, I moved up to assistant on Altman’s Three Women and A Wedding, which lead to assisting on Alan Rudolph’s (Altman’s assistant director) films, Welcome to L.A. and Remember My Name. The crew all had fun and we helped each other, no matter what our classification. To this day, some of them remain my friends. One thing that I learned from being the only woman in the cutting room was to have a sense of humor.

Just as my career was starting to go somewhere, I took an important eight-year hiatus to rear my two sons. I always kept in touch with the editors I had assisted and made sure to remain in good standing with the union. When it was time to go back to work, I called my lunch buddy, sound editor Bill Stevenson. It just so happened that he was starting a show and the budget only allowed him to hire an apprentice. The drop in classification did not bother me. It was union and I was back in the cutting room.

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I started editing when I was assisting Danny Greene. He was starting a job and needed someone right away. He hired me over the phone. Danny encouraged me to cut and was always kind and positive with his feedback. He helped give me the confidence to trust my instincts. When Danny and I worked together on There Goes My Baby and the director wanted a second editor, Danny recommended me. A few days before the show ended, Altman called me to help with the museum scene in The Player. It was to my advantage that Danny had edited M*A*S*H for Altman.

While The Player went on to gain critical acclaim and the editor––Geraldine Peroni––was nominated for an Oscar, I was unemployed for a year. When I finally got an agent and a job, I was fired. That night, when I got home, my husband told me that if I am in this business long enough, something bigger and better would come my way. The telephone rang, overlapping his last words; it was the producers of The Joy Luck Club. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My career has been filled with luck and many serendipitous moments that brought me to this space in time. I have had the good fortune to meet kind and extremely generous people who were not afraid to share their knowledge with me. I am proof that you can live your dreams.

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