Last weekend I was bingeing on House of Cards (as you do) and after one particularly riveting episode where blank and blank blank-out and they all blank (spoilers/adult situations) I finally noticed a familiar logo: Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey’s production company. Not that it’s terribly widely known I guess, but the logo is burned into my brain (a folder within a folder within a folder from years ago, but it was there.)
In 2002, Kevin Spacey started a website called Trigger Street Productions (now called Trigger Street Labs) for unrepresented writers and filmmakers. It was pretty phenomenal at the time. Years before YouTube, they were storing and streaming a massive amount of video for free – to give filmmakers a chance to get real professional (and not at all professional) feedback. The way the site worked was that you had to give reviews to get reviews. You had to be active on the site in order to get your stuff seen. As a result, the feedback you got was generally fairly thoughtful. If it wasn’t, you could be reported and your credits would be taken away.
It so happens that I discovered the Art of Effing Cinema As I Know It in 2002, when I was like 15ish. I read about Trigger Street Productions in Moviemaker Magazine (I think, anyway) and bookmarked it. Later that summer, a friend and I spent a sunny day out shooting a short film. We got together at ten in the morning, wrote a quick ridiculous script, shot it, and then I was up all night editing it in the primal way editors do.
For my first REAL short (first one cut in a real NLE, as real as Premiere was in 2003 anyway), it was pretty awesome. It was about a girl who turns to online dating and finds herself falling in love with a goldfish cracker. I think our idea was that she’s so desperate for love, she falls in love with a piece of garbage someone leaves on a door step. Or is the fish real? In any case, she has a torrid love affair and then her lover is killed by a jogger running by who steps on it.
Sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper but this thing had levels, man. And it worked on camera. I have no idea why.
I added this short film to my new Trigger Street account (on July 22, 2003) and for the first time, I got real people giving me real feedback on a creative thing I did. Up to this point, all I got were reactions from my mom and my friends. It wasn’t all that easy to share video back then. I found server space here and there and put links to videos in my AIM Away Message (WTF) for friends to watch. But these replies, THESE were other filmmakers.
“There was some stuff that was a almost creepy though, certain innuendo that probably wasn’t necessary.”
“Seriously, though, WOW! That this piece was shot and edited in a day by high school students makes it very impressive indeed. If I were back in high school I’d definitely want to hang out with this bunch and make movies.”
“Obviously, you guys are inate storytellers, and quite bright. I doubt that you’ve gotten much training, which means you watch movies and see what works. That gives you a head start.”
“I liked the edit, I liked the camera work, and it was lit well, at least, I could see everything clearly and it fit the moments. Nice work from some talented young ladies.”
“Cutting the voiceover would have really made it a film instead of a project done in one day. You should open up Premiere and click on the voiceover track and hit delete. Then watch the film, it will be much better. ”
By the way, I didn’t agree with that last one then and I still don’t agree with it now.
I hadn’t logged into Trigger Street since high school, so to my surprise there have been a number of reviews posted in my absence despite me not reciprocating in some time now. I was even surprised my account existed any longer. But there it is, along with all the old reviews and my Realmedia encoded microscopic videos with a bit rate of twelve.
Between the refreshingly interesting storytelling of House of Cards and the very first reviews I ever got, I started to think about what editing was like when I was just getting started. Not that the evolution of a career isn’t something amazing to experience, but when you’re fifteen years old, there are no notes from clients. No difficult producers. There are no tricks or carefully written emails. There’s just you and your imagination. There hasn’t been time to over-think or stress about an editorial decision. It’s all one big experiment.
It’s amazing how much you can grow as an editor while simultaneously losing the ability to think from all these angles. I think most editors would say they’re unwaveringly inventive and creative people, but the truth is that you start to become the sum of your experiences. You can do amazing things in your work, but nothing will ever be like when you were making things for yourself and yourself only.
Although, to be perfectly clear, I’m really glad I’m closer to this part of the journey than the very beginning. I want to go back in time and tell that excitable kid with the Hi8 camera and too much time on her hands that it’s a long, confusing road ahead – but stick with it, because it gets cool more often than not.
And it’s worthwhile to read some of the stupid things strangers wrote about your first film project:
“Although this film has transitional difficulty in editing and lackluster camera work, it’s kind of fun and very interesting.”
Thanks, Internet stranger. You made my teenage day. And thanks Kevin Spacey. Hit me up if you need an editor.