Where are you currently employed?
I’m currently self-employed, working as a freelance picture editor. I’ve been doing most of my recent work at my edit suite located in Santa Clarita, California. It’s equipped with both Avid and Final Cut Pro.
What is your current project?
My current project is a very daring independent feature film based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Russian director Vitaly Sumin has taken the essence of this classic novel and transplanted it to modern day Los Angeles––shades of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus––very intriguing...
Describe Your Job.
My job title is picture editor, but as we all know, that no longer involves primarily cutting picture alongside a mag sound track. I’m fortunate to have a background in writing, directing, acting and music, and my job gives me an opportunity to apply all of that experience. I currently lead a 10-piece jazz group, and I believe that my musical background has given me not only a leg up on cutting music and effects tracks, but has an intuitive sense of pacing and dynamics that helps to shape the entire narrative of any project in a very effective way.
How did you become interested in this line of work?
While attending the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, I was the leader of a 15-piece jazz group that attracted quite a bit of attention in the New England area at the time. The campus radio station, WMUA, would feature my band on a lot of remote broadcasts. That exposure to radio production led me to a curiosity regarding film and television production, and eventually towards seeking a Masters degree at the UCLA Film School. Students were encouraged to take the auteur approach to filmmaking, and it was through that process that I became enamored with the magic of film editing and post-production.
Who gave you your first break?
A wonderful man, who has since passed on, gave me my first job out of grad school. His name was John Theriau and he was supervising film editor at the ABC-TV network on-air advertising department. This was the late 1970s, and all of the television promos at that time were still being cut on 35mm film. I was brought in as an apprentice film editor.
What was your first union job?
The ABC promo job was my first Editors Guild job. I went on to become a writer-producer as well, and acquired my WGA card. Through my music, I joined the Musicians Union Local 47 here in Hollywood; later, several acting jobs led to my SAG and AFTRA cards.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
My work on the USA Television Network series The Big Easy immediately comes to mind. This series was shot in New Orleans and there were only two film editors on the show. We were based in Los Angeles, and the two of us alternated cutting episodes. Since the writers, producers and directors were all so very busy prepping the next show or shooting the current episode in Louisiana, my fellow editor, Richard Leeman, and I were pretty much left to our own devices. The editor’s cut, for the most part, was what got on the air. And it took the network three years to cancel the show!
What was the biggest challenge in your job and how did you overcome/solve it?
I've always said the hardest part of this job is getting the job. For me, the actual work is relatively easy, because I love doing it so much. I also find the challenge of keeping up with the changes in technology very invigorating.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
I’m always having fun at work. I’m a true believer that enthusiasm is infectious, and I’ve always approached what we’re doing with a very positive, upbeat attitude. I subscribe to the notion that you can be dedicated, serious, diligent, meticulous––and still have fun. And I’ve been blessed to work with some wonderful people who have embraced that very same spirit.
Job wise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I hope to be editing more feature films. That is my favorite thing to do. I also love doing episodic television series.
What are your favorite movies?
My favorite movie is usually the last one I’ve seen. I’m just a sucker for movies. Even bad ones. But looking back, the great films of the 70s like The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Annie Hall are at the top of my list. One film that always comes to mind is The Stunt Man––such a fun clever poke at the movie business. Peter O’Toole was brilliant.
What are your favorite TV programs?
I don’t watch a lot of TV. Occasionally, my wife and I like to binge on cable TV shows by renting DVDs. Love the HBO shows. The Wire was an absolute masterpiece––fresh, sincere, hard hitting and created by some brilliant Hollywood outsiders.
What are some of your outside interests and passions?
One of my great hobbies is music. The musical gene seems to have been passed down from my father's side, my grandmother having been a most talented pianist and music instructor, and my dad a very gifted and enthusiastic sax and clarinet player who still performs with his big band in southwest Florida.
I first began playing trumpet in junior high school and seem to have always been involved with bands. My ten-piece jazz group, Skip Spiro's Little Big Band, performs quite frequently in nightclubs, private parties and jazz festivals throughout the Southern California area and beyond. And of course I love to participate in sports –– my favorites being bicycling, running, swimming, golf and skiing.
Do you have an industry mentor?
While at UCLA film school, I was very fortunate to spend a semester on the set of the M*A*S*H TV show. The executive producer of that wonderful series, Gene Reynolds, remains a very dear friend to this day. His big piece of advice to me while I observed him directing an episode of M*A*S*H was that he was the director and I was never to yell “cut,” unless I really meant it. He still kids me about that to this day.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
If you love what you’re doing, you don’t even have to think about keeping at it. The joy of working at something you love is its own reward, and then everything else seems to fall into place.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
Although I haven’t had to rely support from the Editors Guild, I do feel very well supported.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
Despite putting into question the critical judgment of any club or organization that would have me as a member, I feel very fortunate and proud to be a part of this Guild.
- Michael Kunkes