What Our Members Do: Rita Sanders

Member Profile: Rita Sanders, Picture Editor

Where are you currently employed?

I work on the Paramount lot, which is great because my last two shows have been in the same building there.

Current Project?

I am one of the editors on a new thriller, You, for Lifetime Television. Get ready, because it’s going to be an incredible show!

Describe Your Job.

I generally work in one-hour television on shows with three editors, each one taking charge of every third episode. I endeavor to take the roughly four hours of footage shot daily for my episodes (prepared by my excellent and talented assistant editor, Erin Wolf) and sculpt it into its most compelling form.

I try to make creative choices that will align as closely as possible with the writer’s and director’s intentions, trusting my instincts and personal tastes as my guiding principles. Choosing when and where to cut, I shape performances, pacing, tension and comedy; then I sprinkle in some temp music, sound effects and (sometimes) visual effects After my initial editor’s cut, working with notes from directors, producers, showrunners, and studio and network executives, I polish the show into a tight 42-minute masterpiece (hopefully) of storytelling.

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

I’ve been editing since my parents let me set up two VCRs in our living room as a teenager. I would try to cut trailers or funny mash-ups from VHS movies we owned. I was also part of a team that wrote, shot and edited my high school’s daily announcements on an Amiga Video Toaster; it was incredible how much fun we had with it. I entered the University of Texas, Austin film school wanting to direct but, by the time I left, I knew I wanted to be an editor. Of all the elements of filmmaking, editing still seems like the most fun and most important to me.

Who gave you your first break?

I worked about eight years editing TV news, indie features and documentaries in Austin before I moved to Los Angeles. I qualified for the union because of my documentary experience, but when Terry Kelley, ACE, helped get me a job as his assistant editor on a union TV pilot, I felt like I got my big break. It was a chance to show my stuff at a higher level, and I was better able to find my own jobs afterwards as a union assistant editor and, eventually, editor.

What was your first union job?

Before that, my first union job had been as assistant editor on a feature, Breathe In, edited by the patient and talented Jonathan Alberts.

Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?

I am very proud of The Horse Boy, a beautiful 90-minute documentary I edited from hundreds of hours of footage shot mainly in Mongolia. However, getting to cut on the first two seasons of the SyFy show The Magicians was also truly incredible. That show is so complex, so funny, so stylish and so scary, I feel I came out of it a better and much more confident editor.

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

Back in Austin, I edited a documentary in a building that almost burned down in a four-alarm fire. We lost all of our computers, some of our tapes and a lot of our digitized footage. Fortunately, I had backed up all our project files and taken them with me when I left the previous night and we could re-digitize almost all of what we lost. That was a big lesson — always back up your project!

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?

My last show, Chance (for Hulu), was an incredibly fun show. Our post department was the nicest, chill-est group of people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. We were always trying to get more exercise because we all sat all day, every day. One day, our whole editorial department took over the Paramount editorial building break room to exercise to a fitness dance video. A lot of people got a big laugh when they saw us dancing so intensely and awkwardly.

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

I am a big science fiction fan and I want to work on shows that tell difficult stories in fantastical ways. Like most people, I also crave being represented in the stories I see. I really want to work on shows that are not only wildly entertaining but will also contribute to women’s understanding of themselves and the world. These goals are not mutually exclusive but sometimes it feels like our industry believes they are.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

I enjoy nerd stuff like cosplay, sci-fi novels and Dungeons and Dragons. I am constantly listening to podcasts and spend a lot of time with my cat; she tells the best jokes.

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

Children of Men, The Witch, 28 Days Later and Fast, Cheap & Out of Control are films I love because they elevated their genres to a higher level of quality and entertainment. The Jerk and Clue remain two of the funniest films ever made.

Favorite TV program(s)? Why?

Y’all, I need to remind you that Xena: Warrior Princess was the best television show ever made. Comedy, action, swords and sandals — and a beautiful depiction of female friendship. What else could I ever need? I accept Firefly, The Expanse, Misfits, Are You Being Served?, Steven Universe and 30 Rock as runners up.

Do you have an industry mentor?

I would not be where I am today without Terry Kelley. He taught me how to be a better editor and a better person. His friendship and career guidance have been invaluable. He has a long history of mentoring young editors and he taught me the value of taking an interest in the people working around me; we can all teach each other something. I want to pay his mentorship forward to other young people who need a mentor like I did when I was starting out.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

Honestly, if you can be happy doing anything other than this, go do that thing! This can be a brutal line of work, but if you have that fire and passion for the work, then give it your all because it will enrich you and nourish you. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

I haven’t needed to go to the Guild with work problems, but the training classes the Guild offers and the opportunity to better my skills on equipment at the Guild has been very valuable!

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

It’s rough out there but we are very lucky to be in one of the few industries left with strong unions. I try to stay involved by participating in union-related social media pages to keep up to date with what is happening with our membership. We are all better off when as many of us are as involved as possible.

Compiled by Edward Landler

 Editor’s Note: To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on the home page of the Editors Guild website, contact edlandler@roadrunner.com.

About Edward Landler 113 Articles
Edward Landler is a filmmaker, media educator and film historian. He made I Build the Tower, the definitive feature documentary on the Watts Towers, and is currently completing a cultural history of film. He can be reached at edlandler@roadrunner.com.