It was an honor chatting with Emmy Nominated editor Allyson C. Johnson. She is currently editing the critically acclaimed series “The Get Down”.
Matthew Toffolo: You edited two episodes of “The Wire”. How was this working experience? Did you realize that you were a part of one of the great TV shows in history?
Allyson C. Johnson: The Wire was my first TV series so I didn’t know what to expect. I had been cutting features and docs and everyone kept telling me TV was soooo different but it was HBO so we didn’t have to deal with the commercials and other restrictions put on you by Network television. I think we all knew it was a really good series but when you’re in the trenches it’s hard to step back and actually see the bigger picture. So, no, I had no idea it was going to be as big as it is. It was a great experience because the Producers were smart, creative and trusting of the editors and it’s always a pleasure to work with a talented cast like the one on the Wire.
MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?
ACJ: I think Monsoon Wedding was my most valuable Feature experience so far. It was my first film and I learned so much from working with a great Director like Mira Nair. She has an amazing talent for making a performance as good as it can possibly and giving a film real heart.
PHOTO: Still from the film “Monsoon Wedding”:
MT: What is the art to being a great TV SHOW editor? How is working in TV different than working on a feature film?
ACJ: I really don’t think there is a difference between a “TV show editor” and a Feature or Doc editor. Now that there’s streaming and cable TV not all TV has the issue of having to stop the story every 8-12 minutes to add a commercial break. The big difference for me is that in TV it’s not a given that the editor will be at the mix. I still don’t quite understand why that is since the editor knows the show inside and out and can be a huge help during the mix. Network TV tends to want more close ups and to be on the actor’s face when they’re speaking plus having to find spots to put commercial breaks that will not be intrusive can be a challenge. Also, working on a series, although the director does the first cut, he/she doesn’t end up having the final say as they would in a Feature film because the Showrunner is the one who must make sure the series has one look and one feel.
MT: Have you ever been surprised after wrapping a production on the success or non-success of a film/TV show? I’m assuming you’ve experienced both pendulums – a film that you assumed was going to be a hit and the audience/critics didn’t respond. And a film that you assumed wasn’t going to do well and then ended up doing very well.
ACJ: I am ALWAYS surprised at the outcome. There are so many different opinions and tastes in this world. I think we just have to make sure we are working on a show or film we believe in and enjoy and not worry about what everyone else thinks. Unfortunately reviews can make or break a show and these days so can social media so I hope people will give a show a chance before they let someone else decide for them.
MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?
ACJ: Big picture? We spend so much time in the editing room together it’s imperative that we can laugh together. More specifically? I always hope for shots to cutaway to so we are not forced into performances that might not be the best and/or continuity issues. I would imagine a director would want an editor who is open to trying new things without complaining.
MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?
ACJ: I was a musician in college and have always been drawn to musicals. Although I’ve worked on many Rockumentaries in addition to the NBC series Smash and The Get Down for Netflix, I still haven’t cut a musical Feature Film and would love to do that.
MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
ACJ: Aside from the films you watch a thousand times when you’re a kid I think I have probably seen Cabaret, Broadcast News, Sleeper, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harold and Maude, Minority Report, A clockwork Orange and The Heat. Sorry, couldn’t just pick one. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other films that I loved but some films you just can’t watch over and over again even if you love them.
MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?
ACJ: Get a job in a cutting room, any job doing anything. It’s important to be exposed to the process as much as possible and to meet people in the business. If you’re an assistant already cut scenes on your own in your spare time using the footage for the show you are working on so you can get some practice and show them to the editor and ask for pointers. Learn the AVID.
MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?
ACJ: I grew up in Great Neck on Long Island. I always wanted to be a musician and ended up going to college for that. However, I was very involved in Theatre at my High School too and I had a great love for film when I was growing up. Unfortunately it never occurred to me that I could do that for a living. We didn’t have phones that we could use to shoot our own movies and I didn’t know anyone who worked in the business so it seemed a little too out of reach until I got to college. I went to SUNY Purchase and it had a great film program. While I was there I took a few film classes on the side. That was the beginning for me.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go towww.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.