Where are you currently employed?
I’m an independent picture editor, and I’m lucky to be employed in these times!
I’m working in Lowell, Michigan on C. Thomas Howell’s The Genesis Code, about a college hockey player and a female journalism student struggling to find common ground between faith and science.
Describe Your Job.
I put the pieces together to capture the filmmaker’s vision and help bring the story alive. I always make sure there’s complete sound and music on my cuts and some color correction if time permits. I find this helps keep the story alive and shows what some of the challenges or problems with the footage may be faster. Many times my sound/music editing and mixing is screened before a test audience––especially the “friends and family” screenings. This is partly because I have learned from some of the best––like Don Zimmerman––and partly out of necessity. It’s called “working in the indies.”
How did you become interested in this line of work?
As a kid, I started going to work with my father [Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated film editor Edward M. Abroms] during the late ‘60s and ‘70s on shows like Tarzan, Ironside and Columbo. I would watch over his shoulder as he put scenes together on a Moviola. It was amazing how you could take all these pieces of film and tell a story. Visual storytelling inspired me and since I didn’t have access to editing equipment the way today’s kids do––iMovie, etc.––I went into photography and graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography.
Who gave you your first break?
After graduating Brooks, I kept coming back to editorial in between commercial photography shoots. Photography didn’t seem complete. I thought long and hard and realized editing was my real first love. In the late ‘70s, I started asking for information interviews with various people I had met at Universal. During one of those meetings, Jack Rush said he needed a film apprentice.
After a year, Ted Rich gave me a job at MTM as an apprentice, working on such shows as St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues and The Bob Newhart Show. Three years later, Stephen Markmade me an assistant on the Crossroads TV series. Later on, Richard Chew introduced me to Bonnie Koehler, who liked that I had created a codebook program in FilemakerPro. I became her first assistant for several feature films. I also got to work with Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena and Patrick Lussier. Patrick is one of those intuitive editors [now a director as well] who understands the horror genre, usually overlooked for its artistry and craft.
Patrick recommended me to visual effects supervisor and director Bill Mesa, who was directing a movie titled DNA. Bill gave me a chance to be an editor, after I had done this ultra-indie film for director Dorne Pentes, The Closest Thing To Heaven, among other small projects. I’ve had numerous breaks and it’s not always easy, but I’ve always felt lucky to be in this business among such incredible talent.
What was your first union job?
Until I became a full-time editor, all my jobs were union. About the time I became an editor, the independent feature movement began, starting with films such as Sex, Lies and Videotape, and many of these jobs were non-union. Now it is unusual for anything to be non-union. Maybe that’s because I'm getting bigger movies.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
It’s hard to say, because editors spend so much time with each project. Pride was a great movie and it was a great experience to work with director Sunu Gonera, producer Paul Hall and editor Billy Fox. Billy is so innovative. We actually cut using Skype and Sync View so we could be in two different locations. Cutting the swimming scenes and being involved on such a quality project was great. I wish more people had seen it.
For television, SyFy’s Eureka has great synchronicity, and the stories are quirky and fun. It’s great to be part of an editing team with Augie Hess and Steve Welke, among others. The show is a comedy based family show based on a small town of brilliant scientists and their mishaps. Everyone needs comedy, especially now! I always looked forward to going to work and watching the episodes when they air.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I feel a lot of what we do is preparation and anticipation, but you have to balance that with the politics. Working on a Top Five network show like CSI Miami was very challenging because the show runners are so in tune to the pulse of what audiences wanted to see. The pace and pressure is enormous. Ideas blossom, but the deadlines don’t usually change. I have tremendous respect for Ann Donahue and her dedication and intuition.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
As long as I’m editing, it’s usually great fun. The team on Eureka really pulls things together. I also won’t forget the real camaraderie of working with Bill Anderson, Armen Minasen and Bill Henry on location on Just Cause.
Job wise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
Any combination of the following: Editing and creating content. I enjoy shooting and directing, but editing is where it all comes together. My wife, a feature post supervisor/producer, and I are creating a webisode series based on a radio show and we’re hopeful that is fully realized and leads to more product. I’d also like to be editing with my son James, who has already shot shorts and cut a music video using footage from The Punisher and the song “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War. Everyone’s kids have such opportunities with today’s tools. Finally, I hope to be giving back to our community. Both my wife and I donate time to ACE and MPSE and do mentoring when we can.
There are so many great movies. Lawrence of Arabia captured my love of adventure. To Kill a Mockingbird made a huge impact when I first saw it. UP, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, Blazing Saddles, Dances with Wolves, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Matrix and District 9 are all favorites. I bet all editors would have a hard time with this question, as we love storytelling. The American Cinematheque shows many classics and it’s fun to revisit them, especially when we can hear fellow editors like Mark Goldblatt discuss their work.
Favorite TV Program(s)?
Eureka, of course. When I’m not editing, I try to catch up on Warehouse 13, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, 24 and Scrubs. Thank God for TIVO, video streaming and Netflix! I also go to a lot of theatre, both large and small spaces, to keep on the pulse. The importance of live theatre is not to be ignored.
Do you have an industry mentor?
Bonnie Koehler, Patrick Lussier, John Refoua and, of course, my dad. However, everyone I have worked with has given me something valuable to take away from the experience.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
Many people think they can edit, but editing goes beyond putting shots together. It boils down to story, story, story––and timing. As an assistant or apprentice, take time to learn the whole process and ask questions. Take the initiative, be helpful and prepared. I was taught to be the first one in, and last to leave. Keep your editor editing, with minimum interruptions. Observe, be patient and respectful. Always do your best, since enough people will find reasons to shoot your work down. Do everything as if your name is going on it.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
We all rely on the Guild––to make sure we are not taken advantage of, to set guidelines, protect the integrity of our credits, our benefits. They offer training and screenings. Come on, how great is that? We’re lucky we’ve got such a good Board and staff: from Lisa Churgin, Alan Heim, Danny Cahn and Maysie Hoy to Ron Kutak, Cathy Repola, Tris Carpenter, Dieter Rozek and Serena Kung. These are just a few of the people who make our guild possible and work so well.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
To quote Benjamin Button, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”
- Michael Kunkes