I have been asked to write for the Alumni page a few times, but I have always had a goal in mind which I strived to achieve, before I started to look back.
Today I am sitting on a laptop in my apartment in West Hollywood, living a life I had dreamt about for over 14 years. So I thought it was a good time to write something.
This is a very long story, BUT if you prevail to the end, like all good stories, there are some valuable lessons inside.
From University to Editing
I got my first video camera for Christmas when I was 15 and never put it down. Like most, I grew up dreaming of working in Hollywood, directing movies.
I studied Media Production between 2007-2010 specialising in Single Camera and Digital Media. By the end of the course I was passionate about all aspects of the degree, even the parts I left behind in previous semesters. After graduating I was undecided on what to do next, my first thought was to do a Masters. In order to pay for it, I decided to take a year out, get the first job I could find as I saved up.
The job turned out to be the Mcdonalds at the end of my road. While working behind the grill, I applied for jobs and work experience at various production houses to gain media experience. After hundreds of emails and applications, and 7 or 8 interviews for Runner and junior positions, I was unsuccessful. I needed experience, which I was unable to get. I was trapped in the classic catch 22.
With my first few pay cheques, I decided to buy a camera, as everyone I knew was in a similar situation looking for work, so it was a perfect time to make some short films on the side.
After four months, my first work opportunity came from a contact I had made writing my dissertation, the subject being Movie trailers. I headed to London for two weeks to do a work experience placement at a Trailer production house in Soho called The Editpool. It was terrifying. I mainly shadowed the Junior editor, learnt about footage intake and outputting (back then it was still tape decks and huge monitors) and did Runner duties. On my last few days they asked me to cut a 10 second spot for the movie Blue valentine, my spot was pretty bad, but they took some shots I had chosen and put it in the actual editor`s cut. It felt good. Overall I loved working in Soho, I felt I was really in the creative hub of London and made a lot of friends in the office. They were the kind of people and conversations I had been looking for.
I told the lead Director about my plan to do a Masters Degree, and he told me when he offered me the experience, he had looked at my website, and watched a trailer I edited. He told me a Masters degree wasn’t going to change anything, but an even better show-reel would. He told me to go away and rip 3 DVDs of movies, and make trailers for them and send them to him. So that became my goal.
I worked 4pm- 1pm five days a week at Mcdonalds, so every chance I got, I would sit at my computer and I would edit . Black hawk down, The Matrix, E.T, Road to Perdition. Once I had three I liked (which took a few weeks) I sent them. He emailed me and said they were looking for a junior editor and invited me to an interview.
The interview went well, but afterwards he called and told me I didn’t get the job, they had another candidate with more experience. (Classic)
At the time I was quite upset. I felt like I had climbed a mountain only to slide back down. But I persisted. In the coming months I decided to keep editing as much as I could, and to send the Show-reel of trailers to other trailer houses around London. I was also making short films at the weekend with friends, entering every short film competition I could find. We often got shortlisted but never won anything.
New years day 2012, I had been at Mcdonalds for 18 months. I was getting my hair cut and had a missed call on my phone. To this day it was the best message I had ever heard. The director of a company in Soho called Zealot had called, by the name of Shaun. He left me a message saying he had watched my trailers and was very impressed and would like to talk to me about doing some work for him.
He asked me to come down to London to pick up a movie they had been doing the trailer for. He wanted me to take a look. I jumped on a train the next morning, and met Shaun. I grabbed the drive and left and had a week to see what I could come up with. It was a gangster movie set in East London called ‘TWENTY8K’. It had multiple characters and storylines, and the limitation was that I had to use music from the film.
I spent every waking minute on it. I would get up early, and work on it long into the night. A week later with my heart in my throat, I got a train back down and presented it to the office. They liked it. It had a way to go and I had made some Amateur mistakes, but overall they were impressed.
The finished trailer after a few more weeks of work
Shaun took me aside and gave me another film. He said he wanted to give me another shot. It was an Indie thriller, the project was for an Oscar winning producer. I took it home, again working non-stop in the time I could. I brought it back, showed him what I had done, and this time, he was blown away. He shook my hand, congratulated me on a great cut, and offered me a job as a junior Editor to start on Monday. I stayed in London that weekend, and ended up staying there for the next 3 years. Naturally I quit my job at Mcdonalds, happy to never to wipe down a grill again.
From London to New York.
My first year of Editing was tough, I had done no running or assisting editing so was constantly learning on the fly. To make matters worse after the first 3 months the other full time Editors left. I worked on a range of projects from kids TV show format promos to High end Indie film trailers. I worked late nights and weekends to make tight deadlines. At times it was very stressful, particularly around film festivals. After 6 months in the Deep end, I was promoted to “Editor”. We started to hire more full time staff, and I was learning more and more.
Away from Editing, I noticed an advert on Facebook for a
short film competition “The 48hr film challenge”.
I messaged my friends and told them how perfect this was. We hadn’t found the time with me working so much to make any more shorts, so this was a great opportunity to start and finish a project within 48hrs. We made a team and entered.
Although it was tough to come up with a short film on brief, and shoot and edit it within 48hr, (particularly as I was writing, directing and Editing the film, so had very little sleep) My two best friends and I had been making short films for the last year and had got very comfortable and capable in our roles on a set and during production. Although tight, we were doing what we used to doing the previous year.
By the end of the weekend on hand in, we watched the finished film and the group nodded in approval but didn’t think it would stand a chance having entered so many competitions previously and coming up short. A month later myself and one person from the group went to the awards, in fact we were deciding whether to attend at all and decided to sneak in late, just hear the winners and then leave.
To our surprise, our film won the audience award, best directing and best film. It was a clean sweep. We were genuinely stunned.
The prize was a camera, and a trip to LA to be entered into the world event. Every city and most states from America had individual competitions and would all be meeting at the Chinese theatre in Hollywood.
To have our film shown for so many people on the big screen was an incredible experience. After the event, we went out for drinks and got chatting to the team from the winners of Rhode Island. It was a group of stand up comedians who also made short films. We exchanged emails, and said goodbye. This seems like a random detail but this is an important point for later.
A few months later after working in the office a full year, I was nominated for my first editing award. For the Dutch film ‘&ME’.
‘&ME” Unsuccessful at Golden trailer awards.
Over the course of the next year our company had doubled in size, we had multiple editors, a graphics person and several producers. Our work-load had also doubled, and we doing bigger films, including some studio work for a major Hollywood studio.
The following year, I was nominated again for a trailer award for the ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ trailer. I was actually on holiday in LA the week of the awards, so decided to extend the trip and go to the awards ceremony in Beverly Hills.
It was one of the most surreal nights of my life, I was suddenly at a formal Beverly hills party. I knew very few people there, and just when I thought it couldn’t get much crazier. I won, best Foreign Comedy.
Golden Trailer Award Winner- 2014 Hector and the Search for Happiness
A few months later, I got an email from the comedians I had met in LA the year before. They had shot a feature length comedy documentary called BE A MAN and their editor had pulled out. They had seen my award on Facebook and asked if I would step in. It was a big under taking but in the end decided it was worth it for the experience alone.
Several months went by of intense work, I was beginning to burn out. I was working long days at the office and evenings on the documentary. I was tired of heavy work loads and tired of London. I was unhappy and my boss could sense it.
It was then, to my surprise, when my boss offered me a two month trip to work in the New York office. I jumped at the chance. I told the comedians I would be delayed on the film. I had already worked on it for 3 months and it was looking like it was going to take another 3 months to finish.
Working in New York was fantastic. I had always dreamt of working in the states. The office was different from ours, their work was specifically trailers while in the UK we worked on a range of media. All of their work was American movies, which I was very excited to work on. My first project was a James Franco film, and to this day is one of the most challenging trailers I have ever done. I really wanted to impress, so the pressure was on. It all came together just at deadline and the client (And James Franco!) loved it.
‘The Color of Time’ by James Franco.
In my second week, the director of the New York office offered me a job, I took it on the spot. I went back to the UK for a month to say goodbyes and sort out my VISA. Once again it was a New years day when everything changed and I flew out. I ended up staying in New York for the next two years.
From New York to Hollywood.
The first few months in New York were tough. I was working as hard as I could to impress, but continuing to work more hours on the documentary each night until the early hours of the morning. This went on for a few months before the finished cut came together I learnt so much about the tedious task of finishing a feature film. At the end of February 2015, it was done and the director signed it off. I had edited my first feature. It had taken me 6 months (over an 8 month stretch). In June I headed to Rhode Island for the world premiere. My heart was in my throat, only me and the producers of the movie had seen it. But after the jokes started rolling, the audience loved it. It was the greatest cinema experience I’ve ever had. As the credits rolled, we got a standing ovation.
Be a man went on to win 3 film festivals.
The ‘Be a Man’ trailer.
Working in New York was incredible. It’s a very unique city and style of living. And it suited me perfectly. I made so many friends and got a chance to work on some great projects. Most notably, last year I finished the trailer for the Oscar nominated film LION.
‘Lion’ trailer, my biggest finish to date.
In February of last year our office announced they were setting up an office in Los Angeles. I instantly put my hand up to go out to help set it up. The opportunity I had been waiting for. It was heart wrenching to leave New York, but LA was always the goal. I took a 3 month sabbatical to go traveling as I had been working intensely for the last 5 years. I arrived here April 1st 2017. I now live in West Hollywood, a 20 min walk from the Chinese theatre, and work in downtown Los Angeles.
Recently the 2017 Golden Trailer Awards were held where I won my second award for my work on Lion.
The Moral of the story.
The lessons I have learnt from the last few years, and advice I would give anyone are as follows.
If you get good at something, I guarantee it will pay off. It may be months or years down the line, but I assure you it will.
DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO:
I made 20+ short films when I was looking for work just for fun, and went on to win an international film challenge. I Edited trailers and short films for fun, and it was this work that got me noticed.
Keep in contact with people. I met the BE A MAN team over some drinks in Los Angeles and we ended making a feature film together a year later.
SHOOT FOR THE MOON:
If someone had told me the story of the next 6 years the day I graduated, I would have found it hard to believe. Have a goal and figure out how to get it, and it will happen.