What Our Members Do: Jackie Johnson, Dialogue Editor

Jackie Johnson, dialogue editor. PHOTO: Courtesy Jackie Johnson.

Where are you currently employed?

Independent, technically, but almost all my work is for Monkeyland Audio.

Current projects?

Just finished a Quibi series called “Die Hart” with Kevin Hart and a feature called “Love, Weddings and Other Disasters” with Diane Keaton.

Describe your job.

I go through many tracks of production audio, select the best ones, and arrange them for the re-recording engineer. I find production sounds that can be used in foreign release and create a track for them, even out of ambient sound, and basically make it sound clean and flow well.

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

I had been making a living as a pianist in Chicago and was incredibly burned out. So I moved to Los Angeles to do something new, but I didn’t know what. I found a piano gig to buy some time, then went about the job of figuring out the rest. I majored in film in college and had done a little film-scoring, so I set about acquiring the skills I’d need for music editing… and wound up dialogue editing instead!

Who gave you your first break?

Paul Stanley (not the one from the rock band Kiss) gave me my first break almost 20 years ago. When I went looking for music editing work, I interviewed with Paul. I had no idea what dialogue editing was, or ADR, or most of what goes on in post-production. Yes, I studied film, but I went to Northwestern — and my theory is that NU doesn’t train you to work in production; they train you to run a network. Paul and Jesse Pomeroy trained me from the ground up as an assistant editor, then eventually started Mission Post where they hired me as a dialogue editor. They rock.

What was your first union job?

My first union project was a Netflix series called “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” (2019-Present). Each episode of the series was based on one of Dolly’s songs. Some were the length of a movie. Though I’ve been doing this work a long time, Dolly’s series was only last year. I’m a new union member.

What credits or projects are you proudest of, and why?

Our team at Monkeyland had an Emmy nomination for one of our projects back in 2014, and another this year for a Hulu series. Pretty proud of that! Sad that there won’t be ceremonies and parties this year due to world circumstances….

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

I remember a movie from the early 2000s where the actors were having a whispered conversation in a church, but every second or so there was a quiet but obvious scraping sound. It would have been a difficult scene to ADR due to the emotional intensity and the fact that the performance was perfect. So I went through the whole scene and painstakingly got each scrape out of the dialogue. If I had the software then that I have now, it would have been so easy! This was pre-iZotope….

Another memorable session on a big studio movie found the ADR supervisor in New York; the director, some actors, and me here in LA; and actor Nicole Kidman in Nashville. Recording ADR while trying to sync up all that audio across the country made for an incredibly difficult day. It was like driving a Mack truck through a bog.

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

Dialogue editing is solitary work, so I wouldn’t say all too much “fun” happens while I’m alone in my studio. I’ve been an ADR recordist in the past, though, and that was a LOT of fun. I love seeing how directors coax great performances out of their actors – in spite of the fact that they’re acting alone in a booth with people staring at them, and trying to match or improve on what they did on set. It’s incredibly difficult, and I love watching pros do it so brilliantly.

The very first ADR session I did was for Patrick Giraudi of Virtual Mix. It was a movie where many characters were getting attacked by a monster. Actor after actor came in to work that day, basically, to scream while being killed by a three-headed snake. How can that not be fun?

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

I would like to add to my toolbox by getting more skilled at mixing and music editing. I’ve mixed a couple of movies and also done some music edits, but I’d like to do more while still dialogue editing.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

I am still a part-time musician professionally, though there are no gigs during COVID. So I’m spending my music time teaching online, which I love.

My other hobby is ballet class. I’ve been dancing since I was six years old. It’s the most fun thing I do every week—at least, it was fun before COVID. Now I take class online, which feels very different.

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

I know I’m supposed to be an intellectual and list some obscure foreign films here, but the truth is I loved “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) because Rami Malek’s performance is amazing; “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) because I love the Russian choir music by Basil Poledouris (but there IS one ADR line in there that bugs me); “The Turning Point” (1977) because ballet and Baryshnikov always do it for me; and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) because Morgan Freeman; need I say more? I have seen each of these at least 25 times and have them mostly memorized by now.

Favorite TV program(s)? Why?

I loved “24” (2001-2010). The 24-hour time constraint was interesting and must have been a difficult writing challenge. “Madam Secretary” (2014-2019) because Téa Leoni is great.

I tend to fall in love with a show, then watch the series over and over. I’ll be chatting with my therapist about this.

Do you have an industry mentor?

I’ve really lucked out working for some of the best guys in audio post. I learned everything from them and from some re-recording engineers.

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

Since I came to this by an unusual route, I don’t have much wisdom to offer in terms of career strategy. Maybe I would say to someone young enough: play an instrument. There’s nothing better for developing critical listening skills, and a good ear is essential for post.

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

I am a new member so, thankfully, I haven’t had any issues yet. Having spent 25 years as a working musician, which means self-paid health insurance, I’m ready to figuratively kiss the union for getting me real health insurance. It’s magical.

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

We can be part of the solution to the world’s problems. Art can pick up where politics fall short. We are part of a team that creates art, and art can change the world — or at least make it forget about its troubles for a while…

“Art, freedom, and creativity will change society faster than politics.”

–Victor Pinchuk

Compiled by David Bruskin.

If you would like to be considered for this feature, or recommend an MPEG member, contact Communications Director Scott Collins at scollins@editorsguild.com.