Part of the excitement of the Sundance Film Festival is hearing how young and independent filmmakers got their start in the industry. At Adobe’s Art of the Edit panel, three editors talked about the very different ways they got their starts. Lisa Zeno Churgin (Old Man and the Gun) — who worked on The Warriors, Raging Bull, Cider House Rules — said she started in the trenches and worked her way up. Sofia Subercaseaux (TYREL) went to film school but said she considered herself a “fake editor” for her first three films, since she exaggerated her expertise for her first job. And Kyle Reiter (Atlanta) didn’t go to film school at all, he just started putting out his own projects.
Reiter told Digital Trends he credits Channel 101 (Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s monthly short film festival where the audience votes on which films return the next week) with not only getting his name out to the right people but with being a kind of film school. Being self-taught, Reiter not only had to learn the technical part of editing (which is where YouTube tutorials came in handy) but what would connect with the 300 to 400 people watching each month. “Because if you put something up that does not work, the 400 people, they’re not wrong,” he said. “If something doesn’t land, you go, ‘Why didn’t that work?’”
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Participating in Channel 101 forced Reiter to make five minutes of content each month, which led to people seeing his work and asking him to edit a short or series here and there. Then others would see those projects and give him new things to work on. “From that it just sort of snowballed,” he said. Eventually it led him to editing Donald Glover’s FX show, Atlanta. “For me, the stars really aligned in that TV got really good — and obviously there’s more TV and there’s too much TV — but being able to find work in a medium that was simultaneously becoming really good.”
Reiter also counts himself lucky to be working with Glover and the show’s director Hiro Murai; both share a mindset when it comes to Atlanta. “I feel like it’s almost a film in that it really is one specific vision,” he said. “We’re not getting notes from the network and producers you’ve never seen in real life. It’s very much the three of us.” He does think this might be unique to “prestige TV.” Network TV is more of a grind, Reiter said, where the director will have an editor cut an episode one way, and the producer will come in and make changes. “I think network is about, something has to be on TV,” he said. “I’m very cynical about it.” Still, Reiter has noticed there’s more crossover, with film editors turning to TV. “Even Lisa,” he said of his fellow panelist, “who has just incredible film credits, she cuts TV sometimes, too.” (She edited several episodes of Grace and Frankie, another prestige series.)
During the panel, Reiter described Atlanta as “a show that kind of rides the line between drama, comedy, and surrealism,” and he, Glover, and Murai don’t try to overthink its tone. “Because life is kind of weird and funny and sad — and usually all at once — we just sort of go for whatever feels realist,” he said. Yet he admitted that he does tend to become wrapped up in the emotions of what he’s editing. “There’s an episode this season that’s very strange,” he said, “and the entire week that I was editing it, I had very odd dreams. I was in a very weird mood for a week, so it very much affects my daily life.”
“If something doesn’t land, you go, ‘Why didn’t that work?’”
The show’s second season premieres March 1, and we wanted to know what snacks we should have on hand. “For some reason, on this season — I haven’t asked Donald, so I don’t know if this is some sort of inside joke or coincidence or what — but there are so many references to dried jicama this season. Like just very much in passing. It’s not a plot point. It has nothing to do with the show, and I can’t figure out why.” Good answer, considering jicama is probably the most exciting vegetable you’re not eating.
Finally, we had to give Reiter a shoutout for his Yacht Rock appearance. He played Dan Aykroyd in an episode of the smooth-music-loving series, which screened at Channel 101. “I’m the world’s worst actor, but I’m friends with [creator] J.D. Ryznar,” Reiter said. “He did a ‘We Are the World’ episode, and he needed like 60 people, so suddenly acting chops didn’t matter at all.” That’s what a fool believes, Kyle. That’s what a fool believes.
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