Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 1)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Between pre-cut packages and live footage and montages put together with moments that had happened seconds ago, I couldn’t fathom what went into the teams who created this media.

Lucky for all of us, among the nerds I have been grateful to cross paths with is LA-based editor Mike Api. (That rhymes with “happy”.)

For the next few weeks, Mike is in PyeongChang, South Korea, where he’s working as a freelance editor on the Olympics for NBC. Having been through the Olympics editorial experience before — the Summer Games in Rio two years ago — he knows he has a lot of interesting stories to tell us while he’s working.

He also knows life gets crazy on location, so I’m helping him to tell his stories as best we can as they happen. I don’t know how often I’ll post a new dispatch, or how long it’ll be, or how illustrated we’ll make it. But I’m going to ask him a few questions every few days, and he’s going to tell me what he can, and we’ll all have a great time.

Ya’ll, I know the Winter Olympics has its high drama, it’s ups and downs and emotional beats on the skating rink or the ski slope. Wait ’til you hear about the twists and turns of the edit suite. (Think I’m being dramatic? Read below about playing live to the world via an Avid sequence and try not to scream.)


First day in Korea, decked out in swag.

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Being an Assistant Editor on a Sundance Documentary: Julie Hwang on “The Game Changers”

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made — and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a “below-the-line” crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers’ visions to life. They’re the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I’m telling their stories.

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Like many of the connections made at Sundance, I met Julie Hwang in a flash during an Avid mixer on Main Street, introduced by a mutual friend. Between the purple lights, free beanies, and blaring music, we could barely hear each other — but when I saw she had served as an assistant editor on her first Sundance documentary feature, I insisted we trade cards and follow up soon after the fest. (Then I ran off into the night to interview Barbie down the street.)

And I’m so glad I did because Julie is rad.

Julie Hwang came into editing in a roundabout way. Her background is technical: she went to MIT and was an electrical engineer at Texas Instruments in Texas where she designed HDMI switches for ten years! “If you ever switched inputs on your HDMI TV, there’s a good chance one of the chips I worked on made that possible.”

Once she left engineering, Julie took a Final Cut Pro class and some other production-oriented classes around Dallas, worked on a low budget feature in various roles, and then found herself moving to Silicon Valley along with her partner when he was transferred. After a couple years of freebies and Indies, she decided to fully commit to post production.

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Being a Camera Operator on a Documentary at Sundance: DP Barbie Leung on ‘Half the Picture’

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made — and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a “below-the-line” crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers’ visions to life. They’re the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I’m telling their stories.

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New York based cinematographer Barbie Leung is highly relatable, especially among film nerds in Park City this week: she describes herself as “the high school kid that rented movies from the library when I was 16 when other people were outside.” After her film theory education at University of Rochester, she spent time exploring where to go next. Her first gig in the industry was on a student thesis feature film (where she went in to be a PA and ended up script supervisor) and then hopped from indie to indie, learning all the roles, putting the pieces of how a film production works together, and gaining the confidence she needed to pursue her chosen path.

That path ended up being camera operator, where she worked as an assistant camera operator (AC) and enjoyed being “close to the action” before realizing she needed to make a choice about how to proceed. Frustrated by the slow upward movement in the traditional union path, she decided to forego that ladder and pursue being a cinematographer on the vast number of independent films in the city.


Barbie camera operating on feature documentary Half the Picture (photo credit: Tommy Ka)

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Sundance Impressions: Three Movies on Sunday

Yeah, it’s Tuesday. I lost a day to travel, as I returned to Los Angeles yesterday in a sold out flight filled with exhausted looking film fans and the occasional indie actor. Our scarves and new boots have seen winter, and we’re through with it.

On Sunday I took full advantage of the festival, attending three world premieres in three different places across Park City. Thankfully the relentless snow had stopped and the shuttle service was back on track, allowing me to actually make it to all these films.

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Sundance Impressions: Snow and “The Sentence”

The threat (or promise, depending on your outlook) of snow delivered today in full force. So much so that I was taken off guard and missed an early screening due to basically being buried in a snow drift. I was born and raised in the midwest, and I started driving at age 16 with a very light front wheel drive vehicle in the dead of winter in a rural area. But it turns out once you live in LA for like, a minute, your natural instincts begin to disappear and you struggle to remain upright.

I was really proud of my snow boots though. Obviously I am not A Winter Sports Person (TM) so I didn’t own boots until last week. Breaking them in here was a risk and it seems to have paid off.


The Egyptian Theater

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Sundance Impressions: Main Street, Friends, and Lizzie

Boarding my flight from LA, I knew I was in for an interesting trip when half the people around me were already wearing snow boots and hats. It was a chilly morning by Southern California standards, but my sweaty self was regretting even wearing a long sleeved shirt. (I really enjoy visiting cold places because I can walk outside and be comfortable. But I obviously don’t like living in them.)

Inside my press credentials, I was surprised and pleased to see a number for a hotline the festival created with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to report harassment, sexism, abuse, and discrimination. I hope other event organizers are taking notice (hello, NAB Show) because this is an obvious tool that should have been implemented years ago. It’s been an after-thought for so long, and it’s finally at the forefront.


The insert was inside all festival badges.

Wandering Main Street involved spotting actors I know whose names are on the tip of my tongue, people I worked with on projects in the past, and people I’ll probably work with in the future. And talking a lot about the threat of snow.

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Searching: Creating Cinematic Drama From Small Screen Trauma

On the feature film Searching, editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick were tasked with some hefty new challenges: a film shot almost entirely on GoPro (with a little dash of iPhone and MiniDV) requiring thousands of layers of continuously rasterizing vector files — which takes place entirely on computer screens, in application windows that were meticulously created and animated, rather than screen-capped.

And in its original form (and original title Search), cut under crushing deadlines to meet its Sundance Film Festival debut in January 2018. Acquired by Sony Pictures in one of the festival’s biggest deals, Searching opens worldwide this month.

>> Read the whole article on Creative COW

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Being a Post PA on a Sundance Indie Feature

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made — and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a “below-the-line” crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers’ visions to life. They’re the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I’m telling their stories.

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A lot of assumptions are made about post production assistants, or “post PAs”: that they simply fetch lunch, sort M&Ms by color, or other “small” tasks dolled out at the whim of a producer. But Briana Kay Stodden’s career so far has been anything but minor. After jumping from rural Illinois to New York City, she has served as post PA on some of the most talked-about shows and movies of 2017 and 2018: Oscar contenderMudbound, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, Golden Globe winner The Marvelous Mrs. Maiseland now making its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week, Private Life directed by Tamara Jenkins.

Briana graduated from Southern Illinois University with a BA in Cinema Studies and spent her college years working in news. Upon graduation, her partner Eric was offered a job at Light Iron in New York. They moved together, without so much as a quick visit to NYC before the relocation. “There was a lot of uncertainty in those first few months and being unemployed was scary for me but I had a few projects I did from home that kept my bills paid.”


Briana Kay Stodden

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Follow Me at Sundance This Week

Tomorrow morning, I’m jetting off from sunny Burbank to snowy (frigid, icy, frozen) Park City, Utah to cover the 2018 Sundance Film Festival here on the COW. I’ve got furry snow boots, long underwear, and a handful of tickets that cover everything from the fest’s most anticipated to most experimental offerings. And I’ve got my own angle.

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made — and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a “below-the-line” crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers’ visions to life. They’re the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I’m telling their stories.

I’ll be talking to directors and producers and writers of course, and I’ll tell you all about the films I see and the scene that’s set in Park City, but my goal is to bring you insight into the daily lives of the crew — the ones with the 10 or 12 hour days, the ones who worked their way up through unpaid “for exposure” promises, and the ones who unwaveringly service someone else’s story.

In our current political climate, in Hollywood and everywhere else, learning more about each other and respecting one another’s work and life has never been more important. The #MeToo movement has opened a dialogue we’ve never been able to have with each other before. Time’s Up, the legal defense fund set up support those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace, is making the right moves toward keeping that dialogue happening and protecting those who want to have it.

But we can’t forget our below-the-line crew in these conversations. For every actress who has been assaulted by a filthy producer, or every director coerced by a power-hungry executive, there are thousands of female crew members in production and post who are caught in a nuanced power struggle every day. Many of them are harassed, assaulted, and abused too. Most of them can’t or won’t ever speak up because they remain in a position where they would lose work, maybe forever.


Courtesy of Sundance Institute

#MeToo is going to shape a lot of Sundance coverage this year because it’s going to change how we view the films in the festival. That will be challenging for some people who have old traumas reawakened, and offensive to others who view equality as a loss of power. But regardless of your opinion or your past experience, something has shifted and its affecting Hollywood — and the best thing we can do is try talk to each other. A lot.

In the coming days I’ve got conversations to share with operators, assistants, producers, editors and many more. I’ll be sharing what I see here on this blog, as well as shorter, quicker takes on my Twitter and Instagram feeds. Film and television editor Meaghan Wilbur will also be on the ground in Park City serving as a contributing editor and tweeting some #hottakes from the theaters.

Back to packing now — is four scarves enough? I’m bringing four.

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2017: Year in Pictures

Sometimes I get to the end of the year and feel I haven’t accomplished enough. When I review my Camera Roll, I realize why I’m so tired. 2017 was an exhausting year for a lot of reasons. But so many good things happened, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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