Where are you currently employed?
I am now working on Greenleaf, a new cable television series premiering next year. It explores the inner workings of a Memphis megachurch, its pastor and his family. Created by Craig Wright, the series stars Keith David and Lynn Whitfield.
Describe Your Job.
I am one of three picture editors on Greenleaf. Each of us gets footage for our specific episode from the location the day after the shoot. I am responsible for crafting the best performances from each scene in my show into an episode that is true to the script but also reveals nuances of character and plot. Each episode is six acts and 44 minutes long.
How did you first become interested in this line of work?
I studied fine arts in college. For one of my projects during freshman year, I made an 8mm movie. It was the most fun I ever had. A few years later, when I was teaching art in the New York City public school system, I met a cinema verité documentary editor who offered to help me get into the film business if I decided to leave teaching. She helped me get my first two jobs, one of which was on a 35mm documentary feature.
Who gave you your first break?
An editor named Joe Staton gave me my first break. He had an editorial service in New York City and edited commercials, documentaries and independent features. Working with him, I learned how to assist in both 16mm and 35mm. I stayed there for a little over a year and also learned about editing room protocol and working with clients. He was a very patient teacher. Based on his recommendation, one of his editor friends hired me for a sports company, where I stayed for two and a half years and got my first full editing opportunities. Believe it or not, some of my first work was on golf segments.
What was your first union job?
My first union job was as assistant editor for Joe working on a children’s television series called Vegetable Soup. It was produced by the New York State Department of Education and was designed to teach children about other cultures and learning how to work together. The series featured different types of stories — documentary, animation, puppets and scripted.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
I am most proud of my work on two episodes of Eyes on the Prize II, the award-winning PBS television series about civil rights, narrated by Julian Bond. I received an Emmy nomination for my work and was also invited to become a member of American Cinema Editors. Since Eyes on the Prize has been used extensively in colleges, universities and public schools, more people have seen my work on that series than on anything else I have edited.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
I think one of the biggest challenges in the workplace is maintaining a moral center. We are all skilled professionals who care about story and character. Sometimes, though, there are forces outside of the work itself — like deceit, ignorance, favoritism and all the other petty “isms” — that interfere with our ability to do the work. We have to find a way to be true to ourselves and do the job.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
The most fun I have is whenever I edit projects about music or dance; I have fun even if the project is challenging. Some examples are: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story, a TV biographical drama directed by Debbie Allen; Beyond the Steps: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a TV documentary movie; and the documentary Amen: The Life and Music of Jester Hairston, which I also directed.
Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I hope I am still doing work that entertains and also makes the world a better place.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
Music, music, music, although I don’t play a note…also art and yoga.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean, because of its scope and literate script, the editing and the score; Doubt, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, because of the performances and the script; and Daughters of the Dust, written and directed by Julie Dash, because of the visual beauty of the film and the depth of its story.
Favorite TV program(s)? Why?
I am a sucker for crime procedurals and mysteries; however, ultra-violence unnerves me. I binge-watch Law and Order and have probably seen every Hercule Poirot episode ever made. I like mysteries because they acknowledge the existence of good and evil, but by the end of the story everything is neatly tied up. I also enjoy female-centric shows like The Good Wife, How to Get Away with Murder and Agent Carter. They show us women who are complex and heroic and flawed.
Do you have an industry mentor?
I consider documentary director Jon Else my industry mentor. He can give you tough, insightful feedback or advice, and you will take it because he also knows how to genuinely praise your work. Jon is one of those rare directors who knows the value of the editor. Plus, he is smart and kind.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
If you like being alone, do this.
If you can bear not getting credit when you deserve it, do this.
If you like to solve problems, do this.
I think it is useful to be literate in many things.
Start with the technical because so much of the work today begins with mastering the ever-changing technologies.
See movies, read books, listen to music…basically enlarge your spirit. This will serve you in the long run.