Episode 028: Moving from Assisting to Editing

Episode 028: Moving from Assisting to Editing

This episode is the the panel Moving from Assisting to Editing that was recorded on October 16th 2019 at Finalé in Vancouver.

Moving from Assistant Editor panel

The assistant editor is the foundation that holds the edit suite together, and is to the editor what Robin is to Batman.

But you may not want to be Robin forever. How does one make the move from assisting to editing?

How does Robin become the Batman? 

Have a listen to this informal Q&A session with Vancouver editors Justin Li and Greg Ng.

Moderated by director Kaare Andrews.

Justin Li

Justin Li is a television and film editor based in Vancouver, B.C. His genre of work include drama, horror, comedy and science fiction. Notable projects include the television adaptation of the Douglas Adams novels, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, CBC’s limited series “Unspeakable”, and historical horror anthology series “The Terror: INFAMY”. Justin enjoys long walks, standing desks and ergonomic mice.

Greg Ng

Greg Ng is a film and television editor from Vancouver, B.C., and though he doesn’t like being pigeonholed into one particular label as a multi-faceted human, he feels comfortable identifying as such for tax purposes. He is an alumnus of the UBC Film Program and the Canadian Film Centre, and has worked on documentaries, fiction films, and everything in between. In addition to these facts, he has won several awards for editing, which validated his professional insecurities and made him feel warm and fuzzy inside. Some recent credits include the VIFF 2018 People’s Choice winner, Finding Big Country, Viceland’s The Wrestlers, and Epix’s rock doc series Punk. 

Listen Here

The Editor’s Cut – Episode 028 – “Moving from Assisting to Editing (Vancouver Master Class)”



Sarah Taylor

This episode was sponsored by Finale — A Picture Shop Company. Hello and welcome to The Editor’s Cut. I’m your host Sarah Taylor. Before we dive into this episode I have a message from DOXA. The 19th Annual DOXA Documentary Film Festival returns June 18th to 26th online. Committed to cultivating curiosity and critical thought. DOXA will present both short and feature films from across Canada and the globe representing some of the best in documentary cinema. The online festival will include live and pre-recorded conversations with filmmakers as well as industry specific events. More announcements including programming to come. Visit doxafestival.ca for details and further updates. Today I bring you the panel Moving From Assisting to Editing that was recorded on October 16th 2019 at Finale in Vancouver. The assistant editor is the foundation that holds the edit suite together and is to the editor what Robin is to Batman. But you may not want to be Robin forever. How does one make the move from assisting to editing. How does Robin become the Batman. Have a listen to this informal Q and A session with Vancouver editors Justin Li and Greg Ng. Some of Greg’s recent credits include the VIFF 2018 People’s Choice Winner Finding Big Country, Viceland’s The Wrester and Epic’s rock doc series Punk. And Justin’s recent credits include Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, CBC’s limited series Unspeakable and historical horror anthology series The Terror: Infamy. This panel was moderated by director Kaare Andrews.

 

Kaare Andrews

Well I think we should start. I’d like to just set the stage with like how you guys got into this where you were your background is are you from here. Are you from some other faraway land. Greg you grew up here and is that right. Or where did you how did you where were you born.

 

Greg Ng

I was born in this city. Yes. And then I went school Richmond. blah blah I went to UBC for the film program and that was very good. Very small kind of program. It’s still small. Then I went to the Canadian Film Centre in 2008.

 

Kaare Andrews

You’re from here as well.

 

Justin Li

I am from here. Yeah I was born here I grew up in Coquitlam just like a suburb outside of Vancouver for those not from here. And then I actually didn’t know films or want to get into. I watched a ton of movies growing up my parents took me every week to cheap Tuesday didn’t matter what the rating was probably not the best parenting but worked out for me. I went to SFU I studied Communications. Then I went to BC IT for broadcast actually and I used to work in sports and news just in various things shooting, graphics —

 

Kaare Andrews

Let’s back up a little bit a little bit. We’re racing ahead to education but really most people here their love of film starts at an early age. So Greg how did it start for you. What was the what was the what was the turning point for film and then how old were you when you realized that some could be an editor of a film. When did that. When did that happen. That’s secret information.

 

Greg Ng

It’s Star Wars. I loved that. And I got a box set. So the making of and I was like holy moly these guys made aliens and spaceships. I want to do that.

 

Kaare Andrews

When did you when did you realize that there was such a thing as an editor do you remember? Was there a moment when you when it was like oh there’s a whole list of people here that have done different things.

 

Greg Ng

You know I can’t remember the specific moment but I do remember when I wanted to make a movie with my home video camera. I was like How am I supposed to get from this shot to that shot? But without you know they I just like you into the stop start movie making? So I was like there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah. Your family had a handy camera was it a friend?

 

Greg Ng

Yeah my family had a handicam. It was cutting edge at the time and had a color viewfinder.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Justin how about you when did you get into it like wonder with the love or film one of that kind of emerge?

 

Justin Li

Love of film just came with watching a lot of movies with my family growing up. Yeah. It was always innately there. The first time I saw it as a career opportunity something that I would actually be interested in especially specifically editing was in SFU. I was in a class regarding technology and society and our final project for the class was to do a five minute video documentary on any subject related to the course so my group did online dating. No one knew how to edit, shoot, make anything. I was the most comfortable with computers so I took on editing, pirated some software. I taught myself how to use it I think Sony Vegas or something. That’s how long ago it was. But I taught myself to edit. I got all the footage for the project two nights before our final was due, stayed up for 48 straight hours and was very happy at the end of it and really enjoyed every minute of it. After that I was like Yeah I can do this and I kind of sort of sought those opportunities out.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Greg When was your first when’s the first time you edited something?

 

Greg Ng

I edited in school in elementary school. Doing the two VCR system was probably my first editing experience and I went overboard with like my favorite song of the time and there was some projects I don’t know what it was exactly. We had to remake a Shakespeare scene in modern day times and I took an entire song and had this huge build that only remember the band and it was magic because I was like Can’t you feel the emotion that’s happening right now. The music’s gone all these things and it was very complicated though to time the VCRs with the whole thing.

 

Kaare Andrews

And you been pretty tech savvy since I’ve known you that as it is that what did that lead into. What you liked about editing?

 

Greg Ng

Yeah for sure. I it was a big fan of tinkering with computers and recording devices played music and recorded it. I pirated some software as well. Now that’s not something I do, I’d just like to clarify that I subscribe to all my software. But yeah tinkering with all the gear and sort of knowing how to record things and sort of embellish them and play them back was always really fun.

 

Kaare Andrews

There’s a big connection between music and editing for a lot of people. Is there is there with you Justin? Were you into music at all?

 

Justin Li

I like music but I don’t think it related to editing for me. I like that you can take two images that were totally unrelated. Juxtapose them and just like infuse meaning into them. I think that was something that really caught caught my eye about it. Looking for meaning, creating meaning and I think and you know just empathy was something that was really interesting to me because you could take something and hold it for an extra second and it feels wholly different. Knowing that that’s how it would affect people. I think that that part of it was really interesting. Yeah it sounds like I’m super manipulative.

 

Kaare Andrews

But that’s the job isn’t that manipulative?

 

Justin Li

Yeah I think that’s what holds my interest in it.

 

Kaare Andrews

OK Now let’s get into the school. So Justin when you started school you weren’t initially I’m going to be an editor. In film. You were telling me you were gonna give me Give me the rundown of your school.

 

Justin Li

I went to school for broadcast after I made that discovery about editing. It was more that I also wanted just like work and like you know pay off debts and things like that. So going to BC IT was a quick way to earn a job because I would graduate right when the 2010 Olympics came here. But I knew that we covered production in the course. So I was using that kind of as a back door in and through that met a lot of the editing instructors and that’s actually how I got my first assistant gig.

 

Kaare Andrews

Through one of the instructors at school?

 

Justin Li

Yeah. So he is a post producer in town and I kind of just asked him after this they have these conferences with all those staff and you can ask them questions as students and stuff and try to improve the program. And I went out to him afterwards and I asked him if I could take his course at night or anything in addition to my broadcast course. And he let me audit it for free. At the end of that course they had everyone apply for jobs to be a first assistant on one of his pilots that he was doing. And the editor chose me and that was my first gig.

 

Kaare Andrews

Oh that’s cool. That’s great. Greg how did your first job come along?

 

Greg Ng

I actually had a similar story… UBC. Yeah I went to the film program there when I finished the program one of the teachers knew somebody who is a post supervisor and was looking for a post P.A.. And so right out of like I graduated and started working at Bright Light Pictures where I learned a lot about you know how movies actually got made.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah. Now let’s say what that first job were you prepared for that job. Was it overwhelming and was it easy when was that what was it like to see.

 

Greg Ng

I mean the first one being a post P.A. it was like just being a production assistant you know for post-production and was pretty it was pretty light. There was you know getting lunches. I built a lot of spreadsheets a lot of I built a database a lot of sort of that sort of stuff I procured certain things for certain people that are now legal. There was not part of the description but it was something that fell upon me.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Justin how were you when your first job what was that what was that experience like?

 

Justin Li

It was good. I mean it is you don’t really learn too much about syncing and dailies paperwork and all that stuff in school. So you know you go there and you lean on another assistant if they’re there or you know they train you in afternoon and it’s kind of trial by fire it’s sink or swim I didn’t delete all the footage my first night — everything got sunk I was ready for everyone in the morning you know it’s like yeah it’s kind of it you just get thrown into the deep end. But yeah thankfully it worked out for me. I was just comfortable enough with technology and computers and stuff that I think I was able to muddle through it.

 

Kaare Andrews

And what about what about the first time. You you’re now working started your your your career working as a lower position. The first time you started you were you editing your own material on the side or how did that. Did you have time even. I mean it’s very busy.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I think for me once I made the jump fully into film you grab anything you can edit I mean you’re not getting paid for it. I think that’s probably what everyone needs to understand is you can’t get a editing job that’s going to pay you right out of the gate. You need to build credibility and also prove yourself to people. So for me while I was assisting assisting was great it paid the bills and it gave me a real a real life like opportunity to learn from masters of the craft and people that I consider like the best editors in town. And then on the side I’d be cutting everything I could shorts, reels… like whatever people will give you and let you mess with. And I think that by far accelerated my learning and my ability to do so.

 

Kaare Andrews

And how did you how did you get those little things. How did you get those shorts and those reels?

 

Justin Li

Word of mouth. There you go. You go network. I think we didn’t have the VPA back then. That’s something that we have here now that you can go to networking events for. It’s talking to people in other departments on shows that you’re working on I think you know at your entry level there’s someone at an entry level in Camera, in ADing, whatever and they all need editors particularly free ones so there’s opportunities there. I think it’s just making it known that you’re interested in those opportunities to anyone that will listen and eventually someone will ask them and they’ll pass your name on.

 

Greg Ng

When I’m on set. It’s. Like it’s like everyone’s always making their own projects. Yeah I guess it’s just finding those people that are making their own projects and to make things with.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Greg, what about you? When you were at Bright Light and were you cutting shorts and things like that Bright Light?

 

Greg Ng

Yes I was. I was cutting things on the side and then I would do all this sort of fast film competitions that were happening. I did a lot of 48 hour competitions a lot of the 24 hour all the hours. Crazy eights. Yeah. And so that was kind of like I met new people and did fun things on the weekend and lost a lot of sleep. Working on short films Yeah.

 

Kaare Andrews

How long did you spend at Bright Light and doing these shorts and stuff on the side. And then when did you leave. Like what what was what happened next.

 

Greg Ng

I think I was there for three or four years. Kind of post P.A. working and then eventually evolving into assistant editor. Learning the ropes from the other assistant editors that were working there.

 

Kaare Andrews

By the time you jumped into assistant editing. Did you understand the job or was it still a very new experience?

 

Greg Ng

It was I think the I mean there’s a huge difference between assisting and editing. Editing is you know the emotion whenever I like putting them together the creative side and assistant editing on a feature scale is you know is a huge sort of organizational nightmare. And still lots of you know tracking viz effects shots and I think I learned a lot about sort of just managing this sort of monstrosity that a movie can be when it’s big on a short film. You know my organization and I think in the beginning like working on Final Cut 7 or whatever it’s all just like everything in one folder and you know it’s happening in 48 hours I don’t need to remember the footage scrub the footage and like where’s the shot. We don’t have it. But on a feature you know I learned a lot about organizing and know how to just like simplify and refine and all that sort of stuff just through assisting. I think taught me a lot about how to break things down into their elements and sort of make things manageable.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Justin when did you start officially assistant editing?

 

Justin Li

I think it started around 2000. I did that first one in 2010 but I was still working broadcast for a while. So I went into it full time in about 2012.

 

Kaare Andrews

How did that happen?

 

Justin Li

It’s just opportunities came up. I was able to roll on to from like a MOW to a limited series to a series kind of back to back to back with overlap.

 

Kaare Andrews

Kind of with the same core people?

 

Justin Li

You know like similar Post Supervisor. You know when I got into that series there were four editors I got to work with three of them two or three of them. One of those editors and I hit it off and he took me to another post supervisors so that my network you know, grows. And you know from there then I got to work on a different series and you need more editors and that’s kind of how it is for assistants. I’d say it’s wonderful to build rapport with the same post supervisor because that’s how you’ll ultimately get opportunities in the end when they trust you and you put your time in with them. But at the same time you can’t put all your eggs in that basket. And I think not being afraid to take chances and work with new people is is something that’s important because when you work with new people your network grows and then there’s that many more opportunities flying at you especially if you’re good.

 

Kaare Andrews

What was that initial learning curve like when you were just into it?

 

Justin Li

It was you know it was intense and was fast paced but it was something I was very passionate about so you know I think on those shows like I would pull all nighters sometimes just because I was given like an action scene and I wanted it and they’re just like oh can you do sound for this and I’m like Okay I’m going to crush sound for this. And I stayed up like the entire night went home to shower came back to work and you know and that’s ultimately the editor that took me onto another show with him. So it’s like you know it was steep. The other thing too is I would say if you’re in opportunity where you get to work on a series or there’s multiple First Assistants or assistant editors in general talk to each other like teach each other stuff because the amount of stuff I’ve learned from them. Like James Lawson’s in this room as an assistant editor. I don’t know how much stuff James taught me. Like most all of my templates and stuff are from James. It’s like so you know talk to each other and don’t don’t be kind of protective of your skills. I think sharing them with other people and other assistants is only gonna make you better you need to. You need to support each other and have each other’s backs. And I think for me like that allowed me to grow as an assistant editor and ultimately as an editor too much more quickly.

 

Kaare Andrews

So some of those first things you can do to really prove yourself was like sound design things like that temp sound.

 

Justin Li

Yeah sound design. I think it’s a sound design temp visual effects like I didn’t really know how to use anything but you know we have YouTube now. You can get a tutorial for like anything whatever is asked of you. Just give it like go for it and then try to figure it out. Like even if even if what you did isn’t great. Ultimately if you try people will appreciate it and they’ll take notice of it and you’ll learn and the next time you get asked to do the same thing you’ll do it that much better.

 

Kaare Andrews

I’ve worked with editors and they’re like oh there was this other assistant on the show and I demanded he was my assistant cuz… he does amazing things with sound or whatever there was you know certain things that people get known for. And Greg, what was the first what were the first areas you could like prove yourself as someone who could do things in a way that was exceptional.

 

Greg Ng

Well similarly I had an action scene. Lots of bullets to ricochets lots of big boom. There was definitely something that I prided myself and was like working with sound like… how can you take a sound that’s there and sort of bend it into something that became like you know as polished as possible for… there’s sort of the attitude that it just has to be good enough to you know sell the idea for it the scene to work. And then there’s the idea that it has to be you know just polish that scene as much as possible so that people don’t have to necessarily rely on their imagination to make it work which translated into temp effects. And other such things. So I learned how to do after effects and whatever smoke 3D stuff and whatever like just to make it pass.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah I know for me when I’m when I’m doing my director’s cut and there’s. Great sound design temp sounds in the cut I know it’s going to it’s going to make the sound designers rise up to at least that level. Like it or not you’re trying to beat it. You know yeah it’s super important to have not just placeholders but like good work there.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I think to your point I like doing temp sound may seem frivolous because it’s ultimately all gonna get replaced but it’s a really great way to show your taste level and ultimately becoming an editor is… it’s about your taste like the whole job is based on your opinion and I think if you can showcase that you have that high level of taste or a level of taste that’s in sync with what the director the showrunner the other editor wants. I think that’s a good way to inch your way into being given scenes to assemble because they’re like Okay I trust this person. They clearly know how a show should look sound and feel. So let’s give them more chances.

 

Kaare Andrews

So what what were some of those early chances that you were given in terms of OK here’s what you do run on this. Justin?

 

Justin Li

Yeah. I mean like for me it’s like you know you did sound and then be like oh like this guy can understand music you understand kind of like sound design a little bit like you don’t need to be a master at it but it’s something something you can work at. I mean we all watch TV and movies you should have a rough idea of how things are supposed to look and feel and then yeah you do that for editors and they’re like Hey this is pretty good. I’m getting slammed I have nine hours of dailies today. Can you take the scene off my plate and the answer’s yes. See you do it. And then hopefully that goes well I think and then that will snowball right.

 

Kaare Andrews

Do you remember the first chance to show yourself?

 

Justin Li

I think it was just the dialogue scene. I mean most editors will start you off small. They’re not going to give you something with a ton of coverage because they ultimately need to know that coverage inside and out but they’ll give you a dialogue scene three or four setups and then you just I think it was something like that as you’re just cutting back and forth between two people talking… And and that goes well enough and they give you a bigger scene and the bigger scene and then eventually you’re cutting something like 26 setups. And I think you know and it’s it’s all frozen. He’s just learned a long way.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah yeah. Greg what do you remember the first kind of chance you were given really prove yourself in a scene?

 

Greg Ng

You know I can’t exactly when I think back to that time. There was a lot of energy drinks and a lot of late nights in my memory it was kind of foggy of those holes so I don’t… I do remember one particular scene in a movie that I was given a chance to do some cutting on and it involved the Taliban running through fancy gardens chasing after Hitler or something. It was just bananas.

 

Speaker 34

What movie was this?

 

Greg Ng

Uh Postal, I think? Yeah I was assisting for Julian Clarke and it was he was very knowledgeable and it was a fun wacky time.

 

Kaare Andrews

When you say he’s knowledgeable like what what did what did you learn from him or one of your other editors you worked with around that time that stayed with you? You just kind of starting to be given these chances to prove yourself. You’re kind of you’ve kind of learned things technically. What were some of the early points of advice that really helped get you know get you where you’re going.

 

Greg Ng

Well I think we were just talking about sort of you know polishing the scene and refining and refining and I do remember not one thing that comes to mind right now not from Julian but from the movie I worked where they I didn’t like I knew people were using test scores but I didn’t know the certain level to which temp scores were being used where like they were really they were pulling like from one scene there was like pulling from like a dozen different movies and each one of those things were like a tiny little sting to make you know make the movie sound like it was fully scored. And that was the first time I saw a temp score being used so meticulously and I there was a period of time where I just couldn’t wait to work on any short film so I could mess around with the temp score from Indiana Jones or whatever like the biggest movies possible just to give it like a huge sound but to time it to your own movie.

 

Kaare Andrews

And then specifically for like someone like Julian was it was there a thing that sticks out like his approach to something that that inspired you to do try things a new way or….

 

Greg Ng

I will say he was very inspiring but I couldn’t tell you like a nugget of wisdom that he may or may not have told me. I remember I picked him up one morning and we were driving to the office and or maybe we were driving home. It was a foggy time and he was looking out the window and said something like he was like looked over and he’s like I think I must be daydreaming because I just was like looking out the window and be like you know this window needs some matte bars because it’s not the right aspect ratio.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Justin what about you? Were there any early mentors or editors that…

 

Justin Li

Yeah totally. I’ve had lots of editing mentors which is what I’ve been very lucky about. A lot of guys in town that have brought me up taking me under their wing I think building on what I was saying earlier about proving yourself to them and then being given some trust in assembling scenes of stuff. It’s great to assemble and it’s always nice when you click on that bin later and like there’s been very few changes. But ultimately all that assembling is not gonna help you a lot from a learning standpoint unless you have someone that’s willing to discuss it with you. And that’s ultimately up to the editor but if you get a chance to work with someone and they are okay with you assembling I think it’s important to make sure that you ask to see if they can talk through that edit with you after especially after they’ve done changes you know they might ask you why you made certain decisions which is an important skill to learn because once you’re working with someone like Ari and it comes in the room and he shot the special and you don’t use it you have to explain why. So I think breaking down your assemblies with that editor is is where I got most of my wisdom from from these editors. Like they they tell you they basically take the position of the producer or the director and you have to explain to them like they would explain to someone else why certain decisions are made. So I think that’s most of my learning was from editors in that way. Yeah. And I think also just like just building on that. And if you get past that point and you have a really good working relationship with the editor sometimes it’s just being in the room with them it’s like you probably learn more from you’ll probably learn a ton from Julian but you can’t peg a specific thing but being around him and seeing how he conducted himself I’m sure it was helpful for me when I worked with editors that I was close to and I was able to be in the room with them when they’re working with directors and producers and show runners and you can be in there with them as they’re doing their cuts. It’s great to be a fly on the wall. You see how they talk to them. The types of questions they get asked what it’s like to be in that kind of environment. I think if you can work with that editor where you’re in the chair even to a certain degree like it’s it’s a great way to learn. You have someone telling you trims that they want and things like that and then you’re in the hot seat on the controls while someone else is pushing you for what they want. So that’s another thing I would suggest. And even if you have you know if your editor’s too busy or isn’t up for that that’s fine. If you have other assistant editors maybe do that with them as an exercise.

 

Kaare Andrews

So that’s essentially because that’s also the second skill set right. One is just the creative aesthetic taste and two is working in the room with either a director or producer or a showrunner. That’s a different skill. But it has to be wrapped up in the same job.

 

Justin Li

And that’s something that you don’t necessarily learn from an assistant editing standpoint. I mean you have to work in a team and there’s interpersonal skills which are always important. But in terms of how to operate within that dynamic and navigate the politics of being an editor I think you don’t get that unless you can be that fly on the wall.

 

Kaare Andrews

What were some of the early things you learned from that dynamic that let’s say let’s say working with the director. Yeah. What are some of the lessons you learned early and like how that works.

 

Justin Li

However much you may critique the footage in private. Don’t do it in front of the director. Nothing is a problem. It’s just could be better. Like you know those kinds of things. It’s how you speak to someone how you conduct yourself I think. And also just like in how you can gain trust so that they’ll take your opinion seriously and also how to offer that opinion without offending them.

 

Kaare Andrews

Because different directors too, I mean I came up making shorts, learning to edit myself because there was no editor to work with until… maybe like Greg but some directors have no technical ability at all and just rely on you as… for that entirely and somewhere some are very tech savvy and know what you’re doing. Like what is that difference?

 

Justin Li

It’s like the skill sets are important. And I think you need to quickly gauge how it is someone likes to work whether that’s them micromanaging you or not micromanaging but whether it’s right or whether it’s them being like two frames one frame one frame or someone being like I want this faster. Like as a global note. So it’s like everyone works differently. And it’s also learning how to interpret that information and execute it quickly.

 

Greg Ng

Or someone saying two frames two frames they really mean faster. But they’re trying to micromanage….

 

Justin Li

And like you know and you need to figure out how to navigate that rapport that you’re hopefully building from the moment they walk in the room and then make suggestions to them or be like you know like Is this what you wanted. Yeah.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Greg I know we’re just working on a movie now and during shooting what I like to do with editors call them every day. Just like recap what happened the day before. Because to get a clean perspective of like what what actually happened beyond the drama of the set and late nights and you know all that all that stuff things not happening things compromising all that stuff like. How do you how do you like to work best with directors in general on a film.

 

Greg Ng

Well I sort of started by saying. Coming up sort of in the sort of indie world or whatever working on a bazillion shorts or whatever. I was I was not always but I have a strong preference and would continue to work with people that would have good rapport with or trust or like we can have a good banter because like we’re… Justin was saying it’s all about your opinion and you don’t want to have to conceal anything or you know we’re supposed be critical about what’s happening no matter how many great specials there were or how many hours had to go into whatever the crane shot like. We have to look at it and judge it for what it is. And so I you know having to be able to be able to trust the people you’re talking to and that they could trust you if it went so you can if you have that sort of rapport everything becomes easy.

 

Kaare Andrews

It’s like I’m like an honesty in editing right. Yeah like it’s when you have to be honest with what was the what do we have? Yes sometimes you have shit right. You nothing there. And if you’re not honest with each other and you just try to pretend something’s there it’s gonna wreck the whole project. Or maybe you have to adjust. Maybe there’s still three days left to shoot and you can fix it if you’re honest with each other and if you’re not there’s no chance.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah. Everything is wonderful then the movie may not be. Yeah you know you have to be able to be very frank without having any ego on the line when it comes to that. Like if you’re calling me I have to be able to tell you. This was shit. And also you have to be able to tell me what you’re doing is shit if it’s shit and I have to be able to understand that you know it’s you know you get to sort of leave the ego at the door. It’s everyone’s movie and you need to make it the best. It’s not like in the edit room it’s nice to sometimes think look at this great movie I’m making it and I’m going to the big bush here and then we’re going to cut to the thing and then you know it’s not my movie to sort of you know I like the movie to be the best it can be but we have to work together to sort of make it.

 

Kaare Andrews

Let’s just back up a little bit. When did you start. How did you start. Now you’re assistant editing. You’re cutting on projects on the side. What was your first big break in in editing a big project and how did that happen?

 

Greg Ng

My first feature was directed by a woman named Tracy Smith who was working at Bright Light and had her own script that she wanted to shoot. She did a no budget movie and raised her own money did like there was like 50 producers you got a you could buy a producer credit for 500 bucks or something. Everyone was volunteering the whole thing. I’ll say you know it’s not a great movie but I learned a hell of a lot on it about just editing you know multi camera stuff long form being you know thinking sort of about you know what how does is this movie making sense which you know working with the director and kind of like having that relationship or calling them up and being like this looks like a student film at certain points can we please reshoot some stuff.

 

Kaare Andrews

Why did Tracy choose you. How did that work?



Greg Ng

Because I was free. It was a large one. I had cut a short film of hers before too. I think we got along really well which you know goes a long way.

 

Kaare Andrews

So no money at the time. How much time did you give to the project. How long did it take?

 

Greg Ng

I couldn’t tell you. It was all after work. Kind of weekends and after work for months I remember there was one summer where I didn’t have the summer I spent it looking in front of a computer trying to make this movie happen but it did happen and then that obviously led to other movies. You know people saw people that were involved knew that I cut it and then you know we’re good around this guy cutting some movies or cut this movie and they got you know a bunch of other shorts.

 

Kaare Andrews

And how did you meet Tracy to do the first short film?

 

Greg Ng

When she came downstairs where the editors were at Bright Light and she was like looking for a who’s gonna cut this thing for me. I need eight cuts in this short film. And I said Yeah. Like. I can do that.

 

Kaare Andrews

Because you volunteered to do that short. It allowed you to volunteer your whole summer away to do the feature. And do you think that was the key? That was the key that that opened up that….

 

Greg Ng

It was a key I think in the way that I sort of look at it. You know I worked with a lot of filmmakers. I think I cut 50 or something shorts or more out of all those people that I worked with the filmmakers I worked with maybe 10 percent of them went on to do something bigger and then eventually they all came up with projects. You know working on fast films and building relationships with filmmakers you know at the time like when you’re making something on you know mini DV on a weekend and you’re not sleeping it may not seem like much but down the road somebody is gonna call you back and be like Hey!

 

Kaare Andrews

Like when you’re doing a film directors pick their editors. I mean they have to get approvals but if I’ve done a shot with you and had a good experience and we’ve already built up our trust. I know I can trust you with my feature film in a way that maybe I’m working with a very experienced editor. I would be wary that they would use their position to override me or or politicize the process or like take it over or like it’s almost more effective as a director to work with an up and coming editor that you’ve worked with on a smaller project because you know how it’s gonna go and you have the trust already and you want to prove something you know and you wanted to prove something like like you know you have that energy you gather you’ve already built in the two of you can go against the world in a way that if you’ve got a very experienced editor maybe it maybe you won’t feel so empowered or so like you’re fighting on the same team… Justin what was your what was the what was your very first big project and how did that exactly happen.




Justin Li

I think probably like a really big break for me was a TV series called Dirk Gently and that was something I started off on as an assistant and I was it was a producer I’ve worked with many times, editors that I was familiar with so it’s again people I’ve had relationship with for a long time. Ultimately they needed someone to fill in because you know an episode needed attention. I think the pilot was taking quite a while and then in the rotation they needed someone to fill that next slot and assemble and they’d been around me long enough that they thought I could handle it and they asked me to do so so I assembled while doing all of my regular duties as a first assistant I didn’t let any of that stuff slide because I was assembling I think the assembly for me was a bonus. So I would stay late and work on those kinds of things. And then you know after the first season that episode went well and they were kind enough to give me a credit on it even though the editor took over down the line. I took it through director’s notes and the first producers pass. So I got to take it pretty far. I think there was one more producer pass….

 

Kaare Andrews

So it was the first time sitting with the director in the room?

 

Justin Li

Yeah that director in that situation he was in L.A. so it was remote notes which also made it easier because I could talk things over with the editor if there’s things I was uncertain about. But yeah I mean that that was kind of a big break and I think it ultimately led to them giving me my own show the following year because I asked for one I think I felt like I earned it and things went well and I think when you feel that opportunity is there it’s OK to ask for it if you ask for it too soon you may not like the answer and it could make your relationships a little weird but so you’ve got a time that.

 

Kaare Andrews

Well I’ve been on series where an assistant editor was given an episode. And it’s it’s like it’s a it’s a celebratory thing in the production like people want to do it and when they do it everyone’s so excited that it’s happened like it. I don’t know if it happens a lot but I know I’ve seen it firsthand where people were so excited to give this person a shot at their own episode and was like everyone really supported that process — was it like that for you?

 

Justin Li

Totally I mean my whole team and the other assistants like banded together to help me find time to do these things like you know on the second season when I got my own episode I was still a first I said I would come back as a first if I could and they made that happen.

 

Kaare Andrews

So then you put that out there. I’ll come back if I I could have one episode. Yeah. Do you think would’ve happened if you didn’t ask that demand you think that demand actually was the thing that made it happen?

 

Justin Li

It wasn’t so much a demand it was a request. I would say to speak to that I felt comfortable enough doing that because I was really tight with my team particularly my editor which is something advice that I’ve gotten from a lot of editors I’ve worked with and why they said they would give me a chance in the first place because I had their backs it’s like if you’re a great assistant and you take care of your editor when the producers and directors ultimately are deciding whether or not you can have an episode they’re going to ask your editor is this guy ready. Is this girl ready. Is this someone can they handle it. Like are they good enough and you need to have that support and you need to prove yourself as an assistant so that editors will give you that time of day. And also when push comes to shove and someone comes asking them about you they’ll say you’re ready.

 

Kaare Andrews

I’m not that quite a lot especially in TV this you know and every level of production it can be like a grab for power in so many different areas all at once. Like I think if you if you can have someone back. That means so much especially in the TV landscape. I think that’s such a necessary quality to then return the favor later on.

 

Justin Li

Yeah. And I think it’s like they want to support you and they want to see you succeed. I mean there’s always the risk that someone like if you’re too good an assistant someone doesn’t want to lose you as an assistant. But you know I think if you have a good relationship with the editor they’ll look out for you. So I mean and that’s the biggest thing I think for some assistants that maybe struggle to make that jump to the next step is they’re in too much of a hurry. Like to them assisting at least in my situation like assisting is isn’t something that interests them and that’s fair. I think that’s why I admire Greg’s path so much because I think you just want straight to the source. Like you went and found directors and filmmakers that you could just work with and cut for immediately. I think for me I didn’t feel as ready to cut right away. So I chose assisting as an opportunity to continue to work and also work on projects I knew ultimately I would want to cut one day but to hone my craft and learn from these people and like and kind of like slowly do it that way. I mean I assisted for five six years I think maybe more before I really got….

 

Kaare Andrews

It really is the opposite path because….

 

Justin Li

I think that’s what’s so interesting and I was like I totally admire Greg like he… I don’t think I had it in me to go out and knock on doors and just like do all those things cuz I didn’t feel like I was ready to handle it.

 

Kaare Andrews

But also for series. Directors don’t hire editors. The director is assigned to the editor. Right, it’s like a different a whole different paradigm from getting those jobs.

 

Justin Li

Yeah. I mean and that’s true. Like for me like I really I mean I want to do like more features and stuff as well. But TV for me is fun and I think because there’s the opportunities for multiple seasons. And like you know repeat business on like the same crews and teams and stuff is a lot easier for me to build that credit. I guess so. And it’s a and it’s like a fun safe environment with like a lot of like team I think with features sometimes it’s like an assistant and editor and then maybe like the director in a room right. Like whereas on a show you might have like three other assistants and then like three or four editors to learn from. So for me it was a really big pool of like people’s brains to pick from and stuff and to learn lots of different skills. I think even now cutting I borrow little tricks and stuff from all the various editors I have assisted over the years.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Greg have you I don’t even notice if you’ve done TV?

 

Greg Ng

I did two documentary series. But yeah but not a dramatic drama.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Justin have you done features at this point?

 

Justin Li

I have done some. Yeah. I for a while especially and this is goes back to me saying try to assist on what you ultimately want to cut on. For me I always want to keep a toe in that pool. So when I was assisting I would purposely try to assist on a feature and a series every year at least one of each if not more if I could fit it in schedule — wise. I think it gave you an exposure to different styles different workflows different people and networks. So that’s a good way to diversify too. I mean I never ultimately got into reality or docs but I really like scripted both features and series yeah.

 

Kaare Andrews

Now they say this is what they say that you don’t learn from success. Cuz there’s no lessons. You only learn from failure. That’s where you learn everything and the more you can fail and more quickly can fail the more you learn. So what I want to know if what I want to know is now that we’re all so humble as you stated very early on what was was big failure a big fail you really learn from somewhere along somewhere along the way? You don’t have to name names but like what was a situation that really like I learned a big lesson today.

 

Justin Li

The only one I can kind of think of. I don’t know if this totally ties in but it was really early on in my career as an assistant and I just felt like I was getting kind of a raw deal from the show like working like really ridiculous hours like no OT. Like just not being treated well. And then ultimately I spoke up but not in a nice way. I think I kind of snapped. And at that time I actually was making demands and it did not go well.

 

Kaare Andrews

Right you let it build up a little bit too much.

 

Justin Li

Yeah. And I think for me like as my lesson there as an assistant and I still carry it in everything I do professionally is like you’re not owed anything. So you could be an amazing assistant amazing editor no one owes you anything. It’s like like if if you build those relationships and you still have to be good but if you build those relationships and you put in the work maybe someone will take a chance on you and that’s all you can kind of do it’s like plants a lot of seeds. But yeah ultimately no one owes you anything and I think that’s an important thing to remember because sometimes people are in such a rush to get in the big chair or to get to that finish line that they forget they got to put the work in first then and have people actually give them a chance. I think it’s you try to surround yourself with people that you want to ultimately kind of emulate. For me it was like and that I was very specific about what editors I liked assisting and what types of shows I like to be on. For me it was is about kind of like forging that path and making sure that I had like a lot of good influences around me.




Greg Ng

You know as a failure in the short term but I think like there’s been a couple projects maybe more than a couple. I won’t put a number on it that I had the incredibly tough decision to leave for perhaps a another project or… because like it wasn’t jiving or I thought the movie was gonna be something and then it was turning out to be something else. And you know that sort of trust wasn’t there. And so you know I chose to walk off certain projects you know which is tough because you know there’s something… you always want to see it through. You always want to finish it you don’t wanna be a quitter or like you leave a project that’s a big sort of deal to sort of leave something behind. And I don’t think anyone really likes to have some unfinished business or you know to walk away before it’s done. But it wasn’t because anyone was you know yelling at me or… there was nothing there was no hard feelings. It was just sort of the project was not for me. I was not a good match. And you know I’d had to leave which taught me you know when you when you’re picking your projects it’s like you’re asking someone out. It’s like you’re getting married to the project. You know you know we’re gonna be spending a lot of time and it’s a commitment that you feel you need to make and it’s it’s hard when you have to sort of when you know it’s not working though it’s really in the best interest of all parties to sort of quit before it gets too late or you know those tensions build up.

 

Kaare Andrews

So here’s a good question. So Justin have you ever walked away from a job? Have you ever been in a position where you needed to?

 

Justin Li

I have not walked away from a job but I have left probably a little sooner than I had originally planned. This is much more recent and it’s one of the people that I kind of left in a bind is in the room which is why I am laughing as I say this but I had an opportunity to go do something. If the schedule according to plan it would have been a decent time to leave. I mean ultimately is another one of those things like I built enough trust in my team that they had my back. They let me go and they kind of covered for me and they made it work because they are all really awesome people that I was working with and they saw that I had opportunity.

 

Kaare Andrews

So you found a way to do gracefully.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I would say if you’re ever presented with that kind of situation definitely be honest. It’s a small city. Vancouver especially people are going to find out if you’re lying. I think everyone wants to see each other succeed especially if you’ve worked together a bunch of times. I think they’ll understand if you have an opportunity to do something… to kind of like better your career. I mean everyone gets that. No one’s going to fault you for it and there’s proper ways to do it. And I think like you know I mean I’ve probably actually done this a few times which is really unfortunate but there’s another time I was assisting on a show and then I got offered to cut a movie but I wasn’t done assisting that show for quite a while. So I tried to give them as much notice as I could. We tried to get another assistant in to fill in for me. No one was available so I asked them if they’d be cool with me cutting there at night or during the day if things are slow and I said I would hang out as long as it took for them to get another assistant. They were OK with it. The movie was okay with me taking the footage there and then I ended up doing that for like months and they never found another assistant and I finished the show as I finished the show anyways and then I went and I finished the movie. So it’s like you know like for me ultimately I didn’t want to burn any bridges. And when push came to shove I kind of took it on my back instead and I’m like fine I’ll be the one that loses sleep but I’m not going to let any of these shows that I make commitments to suffer.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah I mean it sounds like both both of you have taken these opportunties in a way that you know you just you you’re. You’re making them happen by putting the extra effort in.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I mean it’s like and like I said it’s a small city like your reputation means a lot. I think people will give you more opportunities. And I think if someone knows you have integrity and that you’ll never put their show in a bad position no matter what happens then they’re willing to kind of give you chances.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah speaking of the politics of it. So I know both when I direct TV or films there’s always people that want to watch those director’s cuts before they’re allowed to. I always get these calls from my editors being like: “can I let them I don’t I don’t want to.” And sometimes I have to be “No” and sometimes if its a showrunner I really know, I’m like “yeah, I don’t care, show them.” Depends on the situation but have you been in that bind?

 

Justin Li

Yeah I’ve been in a bind as both an assistant and as an editor you know it’s a it’s a tricky situation. There’s a chain of command in film I think anyone who’s assisting knows you’re an assistant you have your editor’s back above everyone else. You’re an editor you have your director’s back until like the DGC is out of the way and then like they they’re not allowed to do anything anymore. But like you I think just do everything by the book be upfront with everyone. I think again with as with anything else it depends on the situation. But there’s a right way to go about it. I’ve had it before where I was like had a director’s cut in my room that I was doing sound on or something and I went to bathroom and came back and the showrunner’s in there and he knows to hit spacebar on the avid. And then I walk in there and he’s watching the cut. I’m like “Get out.” Well I mean sometimes you can’t help it but you do your best to be upfront with everyone I think. Same thing with editors or anything. If producers of something are doing something shady I think they’re they ultimately have the experience and the know how to navigate those waters so lean on them for advice on what you should be doing.

 

Kaare Andrews

Greg you were born… I guess with film it’s probably less so.

 

Greg Ng

Most of the projects I’ve worked on have always been very director driven and all that sort of thing. But I do remember when I was the Post’s P.A. walking down the hallway with a FedEx ready to go of a cut of a certain movie and this like happily waltzing down the hallway and passing by the editor was like “oh how’s it goin?” I’m like oh I’m just fed-exing the movie to blah blah. And he’s like “What?” And he was unaware the director was unaware and then there was the little storm but I’d learned at that point that everything needs to be copacetic. I was just the messenger.

 

Kaare Andrews

How have you dealt with a difficult personality. Producer… director… No names but like… Like you know it’s a stressful situation. Even the nicest people can be can lose their minds in the pressure cooker of it all.

 

Greg Ng

I generally avoid situations and personalities that I think lead into that but ultimately. Things happen. I think I’m generally a quiet person. I feel like in a situation where people are getting big I think it’s always best to just you know Yoda your way through it and just remain calm. You know I can’t think of a specific example I’m willing to share.

 

Kaare Andrews

You ever had that big personality lose their mind in the room?

 

Justin Li

Yeah I mean it’s film we’re all weirdos. It’s like you can run into like all kinds of personalities and I think at every level you just need to learn how to deal with that. I mean for me in the room I’ve worked with some pretty crazy producers but I keep it about the work. I think if if it’s something that doesn’t jive with you from your personal standpoint like you can’t connect with them on a human level which happens sometimes keep it about the work, stay focused and like you know I think they’ll respect that kind of professionalism side of you. If you really want them out of there, just do everything they ask for as quickly as possible and like especially if there’s timing further down the chain to fix it. But I think yeah it should be professional.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah well I will say maybe not some who’s lost their mind in the room but someone who’s been under the pressure in that room it is nice to have a stabilizing person someone who is not trying to get into the conflict by your side to help ease you off a little bit.

 

Justin Li

Mean it goes back to that whole thing about being a fly on the wall in the room when you can as an assistant because I think you see how people manage those difficult personalities. And I think as an editor your one of your greatest assets to the show you’re working on is that you’re impartial you don’t know what’s going on on set you don’t know how long it took to get that shot like ultimately the story’s the only thing that matters to you and the cuts only thing that matters to you so you can put that out of it.

 

Kaare Andrews

And when you’re editing how important is it to think maybe there is a difference between film and TV I don’t know how important is it to follow the written page and how important is it to find the story that’s underneath the words.

 

Justin Li

Oh I mean yeah I think all storytelling is the same film, tv, docs it’s like you’re finding what that thing you’re working on is about and what kind of emotions and feelings you’re trying to evoke from that. I think the story is a story it doesn’t really matter the format. Dealing with difficult personalities… I think from our standpoint is another thing that’s interesting about it is as an editor you’re kind of a therapist in life too a lot of times like you are organized you’re literally organizing the chaos into a timeline a sequential linear timeline. The madness that happened and also just the person that you’re locked in a room with. I mean you’re you’re gonna spend 12 hours a day in a room with a director a producer it’s like you know for some directors when they see the rough cut sometimes it’s like the worst day of their lives because they think they just they just wasted like hundreds of thousands of dollars. And like all of their time. So you need to talk them off the ledge and learn how to do that. Yeah like you need to be like everything’s going to be OK.

 

Kaare Andrews

A lot of therapy on your end Greg?

 

Greg Ng

Yeah for sure. Lots of listening to people talk about their stories on set and so forth as you know. But I will also add to that that there is I mean I’ve worked on I think I don’t know how the difference is guess future worlds and doc I think especially in the docs that I’ve worked on I myself go bananas and I need someone to talk to. And you know there’s the sort of writer’s block and the editors block that still happens because maybe there’s some words on the page that don’t necessarily translate to the thing and you’re just like Oh my God what am I doing with my life. You know I go through that pretty regularly I think and I think it’s a healthy sign. So but you know not during those times I think it’s terrible but in retrospect. I was thinking about this, I don’t know if this is related at all. But I feel like you know when you’re assisting everything is kind of technical and organizing. I mean there’s still organizing in editing but I think a big part of it is a sort of emotional side of things which I feel like weirdly like somehow deep down inside you know underneath this incredibly emotionless stoic person is like a really emotional crybaby. And I somehow can manipulate myself into feeling these things when I’m watching the movie and like I don’t know… like I know it’s sort of working when I can tap into that emotion. But at the same time maybe that makes me susceptible to you know contemplating my existence and you know….

 

Kaare Andrews

That sounds exactly like Justin you were saying earlier when you first started editing that magic of finding the empathy and manipulating the emotions shot to shot. Like that is the job. So if you could give three things people like things in threes three things that if they could take away three things tonight: Transitioning from Assistant Editor to Editing.

 

Justin Li

Actually a lot of the advice I’m giving you guys tonight is from Mike Bennis who’s an editor that I assisted for for a long time and gave me a lot of opportunities. So Mike if you’re listening to this podcast thanks. I think it’s kind of like actually when Greg and I met we met the other day briefly just to see what we’d gotten ourselves and two for this. And one of the things we said and this is probably number one for both of us is do it like just cut everything you possibly can get your hands on. I think it’s like I laugh at all those YouTube videos where people repurpose trailers to different genres and stuff but it’s actually probably a good exercise. It’s fantastic. But yeah I think like cut everything you can. Someone asks you for a reel on a show do it. Someone asks you for like like a gag really which I loathe but it’s good experience do it because you’ll end up getting notes from producers and stuff that you have to work on. So I’d say one is just to go out and cut everything you can. Except for unpaid wedding videos. You’re going to get asked a lot. Those are the ones that aren’t worth.

 

Kaare Andrews

It goes back to choose your projects wisely.

 

Justin Li

I think to build on that one which is kind of too I think if you’re working on a show and you have the opportunity to assemble, I think start small and work your way up. Start with scenes, take those scenes build them into acts, take those acts build them in two full episodes or movies. I think that’s the other thing with a lot of assistants. They think that they do a scene assembly they’re ready. There’s a lot more to it than that. I think you need to know how to put an entire show together. So build yourself up to that level and get lots of feedback from people that have been doing the job for longer than you and get regular work like ask them for advice. Lean on those more knowledgeable than you, don’t think that you know everything because you don’t. I mean I’m learning every day still. Every time I work with new editors especially if they’re open to it. I like seeing if they’re open to watching my cuts or having me watch theirs….

 

Kaare Andrews

You share a lot of cuts with the team?

 

Justin Li

I do when I can. Yeah I think it depends who you work with some editors don’t like it and that’s fine. I think it’s kind of a personal thing. Like with any other artists you don’t want to show your work when it’s not ready and it’s something that’s kind of personal to you. But for me like I I work with some editors a lot that I know are open to that and we will usually watch each other’s cuts like before editor’s cuts go out and give each other notes and feedback and it’s like totally open and honest. And I think it only makes you better. And I think you do that with other assistants like cut multiple versions like work with other assistants and talk about why you like different versions better like all of that is a learning opportunity. I think don’t think of assisting as like this roadblock that is in your way to cutting and then be so excited to get away from it. I mean some people just don’t like the work and that’s fine. I got to that point too and that’s what pushed me to fight for more opportunities. But I think while you’re cutting there’s a lot you can learn and that’s something that you just need to remember.

 

Greg Ng

I’ll just add I mean just add three things. Well you stole some of my answers but I… You get to go out, meet filmmakers and work on films like you can’t cut movies if they’re not happening. You know if those opportunities and those people aren’t making them you know we lost a lot of sleep working on 48 hour movies and fast films and whatever and working after work you know all those relationships having paid off a lot and were super fun to work on. So you know it gives you a lot of chances to like you know I guess the beauty about working on shorts is that they’re always changing, they’re always different, you could work on a western, you could work on scifi, could do a drama and then just sort of little snippets of you know greater genres or whatever so it gives you a lot of room for experimentation just whatever and just you know I think coming together for something like this is super cool because editors, people in post don’t necessarily you know mingle a lot together but it’s nice when there’s community and you know people that are in sets are sort of they’re fighting the battle staying up late whatever eating and their crafty all together and in editing everyone is kind of like in your own room or whatever so it’s nice — come out of your room and talk to other editors you know share your cuts if you can. That’s definitely I think my first go to is showing other editors the stuff that I have worked out because I have a rapport with them we can talk editing and then you know it doesn’t get I think getting notes from other editors they understand where you’re at like they don’t know like they know it’s a before the rough cut or you can watch a scene with no audio and still kind of get a sense of things because you know what it’s all about.

 

Justin Li

Actually one really important piece of advice I forgot which is something that when I was talking to other editors about coming to this event they all told me to say so I almost forgot: train your replacements. As an assistant if you want to move up, train more assistants. And it’s that same thing where you need to it’s a collaborative art form like you need to be open with everyone and you know it’s a lot easier to get an opportunity and get bumped up to assist if they know there’s another assistant waiting in the wings that can take your spot. I think if there’s like a gap behind you then you know someone might not want to lose you as an assistant editor especially if you’re good so I think you need to take it upon yourselves to train more train more people and make sure that there’s like there’s people there to fill those holes. And you know and selfishly down the road you’re gonna need an assistant too.

 

Kaare Andrews

That’s a good note to end on. And so let’s open up the floor to some questions.

 

Audience Question

I’m just wondering if you guys are still assisting or are you just taking editing jobs?

 

Greg Ng

I’m just editing.

 

Justin Li

I am not anymore. No but I mean now I thankfully am fortunate enough to get steady work as an editor that I haven’t been compelled to assist. But that being said when I first got into cutting I was asked by a lot of people like “is this your last assistant gig” “is this your last assistant gig” and I’d be like No I’m totally open to assisting. I think you get to the stage where you assist on things that you might have an opportunity to cut on but I’d never close that door. And I think you know some people need that push to drive them into taking chances to cut more. But for me I just like I said I don’t I didn’t see assisting as a roadblock. It was still a good chance for me to build relationships and learn to cut. So I bounced back and forth between the two for a while until I got steady enough work and I edited.

 

Kaare Andrews

So it is possible though like you were saying you were given your first opportunities while you’re still assisting. Are you able to balance that that for a while. Both assistant editing and then also be given your first couple episodes. How long did you juggle both?

 

Justin Li

I probably bounced back and forth for like a couple of years. I mean it’s people gonna have to want to give you things to edit. Also I think you know you when I’m saying go and cut everything you gotta know that 90 percent of the everything you’re going to go cut is not paying you any money or… like assisting is a great way to learn and pay your bills and then you cut and you grow your career on side.

 

Kaare Andrews

And Greg we’re used still assisting while you were still when you first started to cut bigger things are was there like a hard….

 

Greg Ng

I had a hard out when I went to the Film Centre. I made a commitment to myself that I was like from now on I’m going to only edit because I figured that would be the best way to evolve and learn. And if I was to sort of dabble then I wouldn’t exactly make that a clear line to everyone else.




Kaare Andrews

So I mean the Film Centre is pretty cool. Can you briefly just tell them what it was like in the editing program.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah it’s like going to a 48 hour film festival for five months and making films all the time full time. Like it was nothing but short films all the time and all kinds of experiments and… one of the coolest things that they did and I think they’d still do it was they tried to find a movie that none of the editors have seen and they gave everybody all the footage, the script, all the whatever and each editor cut a version of the movie that they thought and at the end we watched four different versions of the same movie that were completely different.

 

Kaare Andrews

They give you all the footage all the entire movie just go just do it.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah. Make the best thing you can. Good luck. On the side while we do all these other short films. So they do a lot of very cool things like that but sort of give you a pretty crazy idea of how influential every step of the way is they would also give one writer’s script to all the directors and then each director would direct the same actors and however they saw fit and then yeah all kinds of super cool things.

 

Kaare Andrews

And when you’ve done that hard out if you didn’t hadn’t gone to the Film Centre or you still would have done it.

 

Greg Ng

I don’t know it would have been harder because they wouldn’t have had this reason I guess but it definitely was not an easy transition. I mean I had worked on assisting and I’d saved up you know to be able to afford to go to the Film Centre. I think there was some scholarships from the Arts Council and you know when I came back it was hard to… I couldn’t find work right away. I worked on this doc and yeah it was you know slow… the phone didn’t ring for a long time but I found people that were making movies and I had enough time and I guess savings to kind of afford to do it.

 

Kaare Andrews

Yeah and at that point a lot of the filmmakers you had worked with earlier were starting to get to do projects.

 

Greg Ng

Sure yeah like it worked out well that you know a lot of people that I met working on shorts some 48 hours were making movies that had hundreds of hours or at least a hundred.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I think to your point though about establishing that clear line with people about what position you’re doing that is something that is a struggle I think for a lot of people when you first start out and you’re wanting to transition from assisting to editing. For me it was I would still get calls for assisting jobs all the time while I was cutting and I feel like and it was a good opportunity but “Oh like I’m already working thanks like I’m actually cutting this thing now” and it’s finding ways to let your old contacts know that you’re you’re doing this now and you’re able to do this and like look I don’t know about for you how hot was reaching out to all your old contacts and establishing to them that you’re also editing now or you’re only editing now like that. That’s a hurdle that you’ll have to go through when you’re leaving assisting.

 

Kaare Andrews

People know you one way and you need to announce to them that you’re…

 

Justin Li

Yeah. And in a lot of ways I mean that’s the frustrating thing is you have to start from scratch almost again. It’s like yes all these people know you but they know you as an assistant. Like they don’t know that you can actually hold your own in an edit suite.

 

Kaare Andrews

Where there some dry spells in that transition?

 

Justin Li

There were. Yeah for sure. I mean there were like chunks of time where I wasn’t working in particular like there was an editing opportunity that I had locked in coming up but it pushed. And you know assistant gigs are long especially if you’re on a series there are usually like five to six months. Right. So for me like I had to keep turning down work because I was holding out to do that to cut that show down the road. But it was like three four months away.

 

Kaare Andrews

And it worked out?

 

Justin Li

Yeah it totally worked out. I mean that show actually led to another show and then led to another show actually that’s that gap is the last time I assisted. So it totally can work out. But you know in that time while I’m getting work, I was like “Oh no I can’t take it I’m going to cut this thing.”

 

Kaare Andrews

What were you doing in that dry spell? Were you just waiting or were you…

 

Justin Li

I was doing a lot of chores. I was cleaning my house, cooking dinner all that kind of stuff. But yeah I mean I would reach out to people… but actually no that’s not true. I cut an indie in that time. It was something that I told them I’m like I have this pocket of time I’d managed to hear about this indie which was fortunate.

 

Kaare Andrews

Like a non paying job?

 

Justin Li

It paid like a flat and I cut it in my second bedroom. But you know it’s like you fill those times. But yeah but I think that’s that that’s the big hurdle. I think everyone should be aware of and it’s something you need to navigate. I’ve heard of people just cold calling or emailing every producer in town that they know, being like “I’m an editor now!” And like well not to them you’re not. Like you still need to kind of prove that and I think it’s it’s good to for them to know that it’s something you’re interested and you’re capable of doing. And you know actually truthfully that might work out. They might give you a chance but it’s something you need to kind of figure out based on your connections with people.

 

Kaare Andrews

I think at different times again I think right now right is pretty busy. There’s like most of the others are working.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah and assistants it’s so hard to find….

 

Kaare Andrews

But it’s a good time. It’s a good time to look for those opportunities if you if you have a reel you can show. If you’re if you’re ready if you’re on that edge.

 

Justin Li

Yeah. I mean reals are an interesting thing too if you’re an assistant and say you’re only assisting you’re not cutting shorts and stuff on the side what are you gonna show someone when they ask you for a reel you know like here’s my temp visual effects that I did… amazing sound here… So that’s and that goes to cutting shorts and other things on the side that you can show. I mean for me actually I still don’t have a reel that’s like a whole other subject because I think reels are silly doesn’t show that you can cut a story at all. It shows that you can push buttons and pace things to music. But it doesn’t really show you edit.

 

Greg Ng

So I was just going to reiterate the exact same thing. You can’t gauge an editor by a demo reel. You can gauge the demo reel by the demo reel.

 

Justin Li

But to refocus it that is something people ask for. So I think making sure that you’ve done enough work on different things that you have something to show when someone wants to see your work that’s important because just being like “reels are dumb I don’t have one” that’s not going to work either. So you still need to like make sure you’re creating content.

 

Audience Question

Another question. It’s kind of like building off of what you talked about focusing on editing and just editing and when you guys decided in your life that you really want to be an editor. Was there still a point in time where you had to make detours like what you said when you had dry spells when you decided to make detours and said Oh I think I’m not good enough and these other aspects of filmmaking because I guess we all started out as filmmakers. And did you ever make those detours as like directors or writers or producers and do you encourage that sort of thing? Because I mean am I my circle. We kind of fall into that as well because some of us were like I want to be a director but they’re like Oh I think I’ll produce a little bit or AD a little bit. Do you think that’ll help or…

 

Justin Li

I can’t see how being multifaceted could be a detriment. I think if you understand every level of the process that’s only going to make you better at anything you do. I think if you understand the limitations of production and what they have to deal with on set that will make you more sympathetic in the room and understand how to navigate the footage. Think if you understand how things are finished afterwards and online or sound or whatever that will also make you a better editor because you’ll know how to plan for those shortcomings or perhaps you’ll you know they’ll save your ass later on. As far as thinking you’re not good enough. That’s something I think all artists would deal with. I still think I may get fired on every show I’m on.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah me too man.

 

Justin Li

I think you need that insecurity and that drive to to make you better. I think if you walk in and you think that you’re always right you’re gonna have a hard time editing because it’s collaborative. And if you’re not and if you’re not willing to listen to other people’s opinions you’re going to have a really bad time and every every time someone makes you do a note because they will make you do a note you’re going to be miserable.

 

Greg Ng

Yeah. I agree. Like I don’t think you know just because you professionally might be editing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing other things you know to compliment your work or your your creative output. So for sure. Like the more you can do the better. But that being said I do remember that it was when I was in film school this writer came and gave a talk and I often think about what he said where he was like the only thing I know how to do is write and I made it that way so that I would have to write in order to you know feed myself. So he only would write and would take no other work and just like just write and write and write because that was what you did until he was going to do that until someone started paying him. And so you know there’s some value in that too. But balance everything out though.

 

Audience Question

This is more of a freelance editing 101 question. I’m just wondering mostly in indie projects and when you are starting to take on indie projects, how did you navigate like setting your rates and you know getting proper value for the labor and if you had the choice would you suggest to go on like a daily rate, weekly rate, or… You know a flat? From my experience mainly what is offere?

 

Greg Ng

That’s a complicated question with many answers I’m sure. Certain you know jobs if you know the project is super cool you could you know take a look you know do it so that you get the job take maybe a cut or you know a lower rate so that you can have that under your belt. I think ultimately you’ve got to think long term and so in the moment maybe it’s not a good rate but if it’s gonna be a cool project with super cool people that are going to be making movies later down the road it might be worthwhile to do that even then even still I mean today like I work on projects that aren’t massive but you know full of heart and may not have a lot of money but there’s what’s the what’s the word not sweat equity but something along those lines where you know you’re working with a bunch of passionate people that are gonna make something super cool so it’s worthwhile doing it for less than maybe what you’re used to.

 

Justin Li

And I think ultimately that’s a decision you have to make based on the project but from a practical standpoint if you’re looking for just kind of like a 101 on negotiating I think it’s you need to understand what you’re willing to take and take on before you go to the table. I think you have to establish those kinds of boundaries: how long you’re going to work especially if it’s flat, how many revisions, all those kinds of things. I think just to protect yourself. I mean I’ve gotten burned lots of times so I think now I just try to like and it’s super uncomfortable because you’re trying to build relationships but at the same time you have to be blunt and kind of protect yourself. But I think you need to… everyone understands being upfront. I mean that’s kind of the nice thing about emailing and a lot of ways. It’s there’s no tone to it. You can say whatever. Just put a little smiley face haha. But but I think to protect yourself just be upfront with all that. And yeah. And to Greg’s point like you need to gauge what that project is also worth. You like the intangibles of it beyond just the money. If it could lead to something more. If it’s something you’re interested in. If it’s just money. Ask for a lot. Then if they say no, then you don’t have to do it. And if they say yes, you get a lot of money.

 

Kaare Andrews

So that is a very complicated question. That’s a whole nother talk I think…

 

Audience Question

I was at EditFest in August and there was a panel that was talking about reality versus scripted. One thing that they’re going on about which I think really applied to Vancouver, I just wanted your opinion on it was kind of the reality editors find that there’s the stigma against them when they come into scripted and vice versa. And they’re expressing on the panel that when they came from reality to scripted that they’re going to have a bit of an advantage because they’re able to use a lot of the skills that they learned in reality in their scripted work.

 

Justin Li

I think no matter what kind of branch you’re working in in film industry there’s stigma. I think for me trying to jump into features is hard because I have a lot of TV credits. Maybe for someone working in reality it’s hard to jump into scripted. It’s like there’s all those kinds of avenues. I think that kind of goes back to what I was saying about working on the stuff you ultimately want to be cutting even as an assistant because if you’re an assistant in reality it will ultimately lead to editing opportunities in reality and then you’re cutting reality. So that’s something to think about and plan ahead of time. And it’s really unfortunate because for me I think reality editors have it harder than… reality assistants have it harder than assistants on scripted which I’m sure a lot of you can speak to like it’s just way more stuff to deal with.

 

Audience Question

I think there’s a little bit of a stigma this said it’s kind of in Vancouver but it doesn’t really exist to much outside of Vancouver it seems.

 

Greg Ng

I do feel that I mean I haven’t worked in reality I’ve worked in some doc things but there’s for sure snobbery that exists no matter where you go you know what… whatever industry and so but… yeah I do agree that people that are assistants and editors that are working the reality where everybody’s working super hard. It’s just you know the end product may not have a movie star in it or may not have visual effects but it’s still you know the work still good.

 

Justin Li

So yeah and I’m not saying to like quit your job assisting on a reality show because you don’t want ultimately cut reality. I think there’s value in all of that and in working like you’re going to learn something from every show. But you know it’s important to have range and that way you know if someone if someone’s asking you for your credits. Down the road even if you’ve done like reality scripted reality scripted you can give them. If that job is for a scripted show you can give them a CV with just your scripted stuff right. Or if it’s reality show I can give them a CV with just your reality. So I think it’s important to like just have your toe in a lot of different pools so that you can… is that even an analogy? Have your hands and a lot of jars of whatever… just put put things in a lot of other things.

 

Kaare Andrews

I can answer that question as the director. Because my very first feature, that Greg declined to edit, we ultimately used an editor who was a reality editor and this was a scripted thriller and he was editing that cupcake show back in the day. How we ended up being okay with that because it was a you know it wasn’t just me it was like producers in L.A. and Australia and Canada was that he came recommended by Julian Clarke. So it was a process of he had a recommendation of someone who was very esteemed in the genre and we just took a chance we liked him we just took a chance but his credit was the cupcake thing and we had to have this talk. Like explain to these producers that in Vancouver, it’s a smaller industry and there’s the great editors that will work across the spectrum of TV, reality, scripted and features. That’s just the way it is. But it was his relationship with other people that could vouch for him that really helped us get over the hurdle of being able to hire him. But I’ve had the same conversation with films like “oh he’s a TV guy” or TV “Oh he’s a film guy” like there’s always that. But I think from my point of view when I when I can hire editors on films it’s like if I can see stuff. Like shorts or other indie features no matter what they’re working on at the moment if I can see an example of how they can translate those skills into something along the way. That’s what I need to see. Like I would I probably wouldn’t just hire someone with only reality show experience to do a drama film unless I could see an example of the drama work even it was a short it was it’s awesome short. That’s great. Like I would you know that’s enough so we’d be looking for those opportunities to showcase the other side of what you could do.

 

Audience Question

Health in Post? Like it’s a sedentary and very stressful aspect of the industry…

 

Justin Li

What’s our advice for staying alive? I’m by nature I’m a very sedentary person. I’m well trained in sitting for long periods of time. So it’s been an easy transition for me. That being said I have had back issues and I know a lot of people that work in post have back issues. So you get us saying let’s go to physio. If you’re in the union, use your benefits. Drink a lot of water so you have to get up and walk to the bathroom.

 

Kaare Andrews

Have you start experiencing eye strain?

 

Justin Li

Eye strain? I’ve not yet I’m shocked that I don’t have glasses yet because everyone in my family has glasses.

 

Kaare Andrews

I start using those blue blocking glasses.

 

Justin Li

I did but that made my eyes blurry because the glasses weren’t very good. So I mean so far I’m OK I turn the blue light filter on your phone then I guess so. Give yourself downtime when you’re not working but yeah….



Greg Ng

I would say definitely. I don’t know for I rode my bike to work and I think that has saved my life. I got a kneeling chair I got a seating chair I got my standing components so sit stand kneel whatever you know jump up and down if you can. And I think ultimately also in living you’ve got to maintain your health because you’re whole everything is all connected. You know you’ve got to be healthy you think healthy the whole thing. You know when you when you come to work as a healthy person you’re gonna make healthy work so you can you can’t neglect that.

 

Audience Question

What about agents? When did you get an agent?

 

Justin Li

That’s a great question because we have a couple agents in the room actually. I do not have an agent at the moment. It’s something that I’m like I’m definitely thinking about I’m not totally sure if I’m ready for it or not from the people I know who have agents and loved them, it’s it’s a great way to take some of the stress off you. I think going back to the last about health. I think for me the most enticing part about having an agent is expanding a network. I think for me I know who I know. There’s a lot of people I don’t know. There’s a lot of things I don’t hear about until after they’re stuffed up. I think that something that’s really interesting to me especially if there’s different types of work I want to do and I find that I’m stuck in a bit of a bubble. So I think that’s very valuable. From a practical standpoint, yeah they’re negotiating and all of that. I mean how is it for you because you have an agent?

 

Greg Ng

Yes I do have an agent. I still think most of the work comes to me directly but it’s nice to have my agent sort of looking out for me doing promotion because networking whatever maybe he drops my name here and there I don’t know. But you know I’m pretty socially awkward and it’s nice to have an agent who’s out there you know possibly saying “Oh yeah Greg Ng he’s cutting stuff too! How about him?” You know if he’s just doing that that counts for something.

 

Justin Li

Yeah I think it’s nice to just have someone that can help you navigate the industry. I think for me in lieu of an agent I’ve been leaning on like my friends my co-workers like colleagues and stuff. And that’s kind of been my way of surviving so far without it.

 

Kaare Andrews

I think what you find though I get friends with directors like that they just don’t necessarily get your work. Yeah that’s what really. It’s like they are the buffer between the work. So if there’s money issues, or schedule issues or personality issues they can… it’s nice to have that middle man to like not make it personal. Yeah. A person to not make it personal.

 

Justin Li

That’s a really great point because I’ve heard that before it’s like you know there’s things you want and I think this kind of goes back to what we were saying before about how the emails don’t have a tone I think having an agent also kind of doesn’t have a tone in a way. Like I think they’re they’re doing their job and everyone understands that when they’re asking for things like they’re just doing what they’re supposed to be doing and no one takes it personally. So it gives you that kind of that layer of protection and a buffer protects you from damaging your relationship. I guess in a lot of ways.

 

Greg Ng

I do think that before considering an agent they can’t necessarily sell you if you haven’t sort of built up a sort of rapport, a bunch of credits, it will be a hard sell to be like “Oh yeah how about this person cut a bunch of shorts… you to give him this feature?” I think part of… I resisted getting an agent for ever because I just felt like I wasn’t sort of ready for it until I had like enough credits behind me. And then when I did get an agent I had a several sort of exclusions based on people that I’d already worked with and I knew I would regularly work with.

 

Audience Question

I’m relatively new to film. I’ve been told that trying to get IATSE membership is super important. I hear other people say

 

Justin Li

That’s a great question I think especially right now because we’re very short on assistant editors in IATSE I think it’s really… anyone correct me if I’m wrong… getting permittee status in IATSE is super important right now because you know if there’s no one to fill those chairs they go to the permittee list and you might just get a call. I’ve also heard of shows that I’m on like shows very recently that we’re looking for a second assistant editors or to work during the day and they kind of interview people, hired them, and then ultimately couldn’t get them on the show because they couldn’t… they weren’t permittees yet. And it was like it’s taking way too long to get them on. So then they ended up having to give it to somebody else. So I think as with learning while you’re assisting and then getting a permittee status like you have to be ready for when opportunities come knocking. So I would say yeah definitely worth just like I think 100 bucks or whatever you like to get your permittee status. Make sure you’re on the call list because right now people are calling. The town is super busy for post right now like as busy as I’ve ever seen it it’s a good chance for assistants to try and get options cutting especially smaller stuff. And it’s a really good chance for you to get in as an assistant on stuff that maybe you wouldn’t have access to normally, especially if you can show that you’re competent.

 

Kaare Andrews

There’s no one more question. One final question to bring us home. Who’s got that no pressure. Well this will be the most important question of the night.

 

Audience Question

What’s the big dream for both of you?

 

Greg Ng

I always say when I’m talking to various people including my agent I get me onto Empire Strikes Back. That’s what I want. You know. But now that I think about things and my love of Star Wars has shifted since I was a child. But yeah I still have this lifelong dream of eventually working on Star Wars of some kind. The Yoda offshoot movie just the Yoda movie.

 

Justin Li

Definitely not specific. I mean it’s hard. I don’t know if I really have like a dream thing right now. I mean it’s I’m kind of really happy just working and cutting like I didn’t think I’d get to cut full time this quick. So I’m still kind of figuring out the next step. I think for me, I just want to make one thing that I would honestly say is in my top 10 things the whole time I think you spend a lot of time working on stuff especially in the city where we get all range of budgets that you probably would never watch on your own. I just want to work on something that I think I would be really proud of and love and honestly could say that I would have gone and seen that and really really liked it.

 

Kaare Andrews

Great. Before we go. I’m going to ask. Greg and Justin….

 

Justin Li

You said that was last question!

 

Kaare Andrews

It was the last question from the audience. I just want to refocus once again on this idea transition from Assistant Editor Editor. So there’s one point one thing that you think people could leave with tonight even if it’s restating one thing you’ve said in this past couple hours. But one thing to send people away with to think about on the way home….

 

Greg Ng

I believed it was Macho Man. But I looked it up and it’s not Macho Man.

 

Justin Li

It was Macho Man Randy Savage.

 

Greg Ng

Macho Man Randy Savage the wrestler rest said it’s like “Success is when opportunity meets talent.”

 

Justin Li

Yeah just go do it go out and cut it. That’s what you want to be doing. Go out and find those opportunities. Hunt them down give yourself the best possible opportunity and put yourself in a position to succeed. Whether that’s getting a permittee status, being in the ear of people who can make decisions and give you jobs. Learning from every opportunity and every like every assistant gig you get. Find ways to learn and make yourself a better editor. I think it’s when you start showing up to work and it’s just a paycheck and you’re just filling out continuity forms or whatever and not even caring like it’s gonna be harder and harder. Grow because you can get stuck in a rut. So I think chase down those opportunities and make sure that you know if someone comes knocking you’re ready to kill it. And then that’ll lead to more jobs.

 

Kaare Andrews

Great. Well I want to thank Justin and Greg for giving us their… but I’ve learned more more than anywhere else probably here today. It’s all brand new information to me so let’s give them a hand and thank you.

 

Sarah Taylor

Thank you for joining us today. And a big thanks goes to our panelists and moderator. A special thanks goes to Jane MacRae, Sabrina Pitre and Finalé. This panel was recorded by Mychaylo Prystup. The main title sound design was created by Jane Tattersall. Additional ADR recording by Andrea Rusch. Original music provided by Chad Blain. This episode was mixed and mastered by Tony Bao. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and tell your friends to tune in. Until next time I’m your host, Sarah Taylor.

 

Outtro

The CCE is a non-profit organization with the goal of bettering the art and science of picture editing. If you wish to become a CCE member please visit our website www.cceditors.ca. Join our great community of Canadian editors for more related info.

Subscribe Wherever You Get Your Podcasts

What do you want to hear on The Editors Cut?

Please send along any topics you would like us to cover or editors you would love to hear from:

Credits

A special thanks goes to

Jane MacRae

Sabrina Pitre

Finalé

Hosted, Produced and Edited by

Sarah Taylor

Recorded by

Mychaylo Prystup

Mixed and Mastered by

Tony Bao

Original Music by

Chad Blain

en_CAEN

stay connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to
receive updates, news and offers

Welcome! / Bienvenue!

Welcome to the new CCE website. We're in beta! See a bug or issue?

Bienvenue sur le nouveau site du CCE. C’est une version bêta! Vous avez repéré un bogue ou un problème?

Skip to content