We’ve been chatting with assistant editors across internationally locked-down cyber borders to bring you this piece in these unprecedented times. Today, we’re chatting to Shondaland stalwart, Revis Meeks, and rising assistant editor and ACE intern, Irene Chun. Meeks and Chun originally met at Shondaland when they both worked on Scandal, Meeks as assistant editor, and Chun as newbie Post Production Assistant.
Seasoned pro, Revis Meeks, has put in some serious time in the editorial department over at Shondaland. Starting right back with the classic Grey’s Anatomy, Meeks has more recently worked as assistant editor on Station 19, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder to name just a few of her latest projects. She is now taking the opportunity to pass her skills and knowledge onto future filmmakers and editors as an Academic Fellow in Film Production at Salford University in the North West of England.
After Scandal, Irene Chun won the prestigious ACE internship in 2018, and her most recent gig was assistant editor on 2020’s Sundance award-winning Minari (winner, US Grand Jury Prize, and Audience Award US Dramatic).
What becomes clear very quickly after talking to them for a few minutes, is the enjoyment both Meeks and Chun have of their community. Both have nothing but respect for their colleagues, and a genuine joy in watching their friends and contemporaries succeed in the business.
What follows is some seriously valuable advice for those of you starting out – read on to find out how to make a big splash at the start of your career.
Tell me about your route into the industry.
RM: I didn’t go to Hollywood until I was 37 years old. That’s late — but there’s a good lesson. If I could still succeed as an assistant editor on big TV shows, so can anyone who really wants this career. Before TV, I worked in academia. I studied Chinese, and got my MA in Asian studies before I went the graduate film school route.
IC: I did a media production degree and got a double major in advertising in case I couldn’t get into tv and film.
Working on Scandal was my first full-time job and my first job in post that definitely has had the most impact on me going forward. This first job really taught me a lot. When I interviewed, I had told the post supervisor and everyone who was interviewing me that I had never worked in post before but I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew at that point that being an editor eventually was my goal. They were totally open to having someone who was green and didn’t really know a lot but had a really good attitude. Scandal gave me the foundation I needed to give me an entire overview of how post production works.
Irene, how did you land your first job?
IC: After I finished my last class in my junior year, I emailed a bunch of editors and assistant editors of shows that I liked. Smallville is the show that really got me into working in this industry, it had helped me through a really tough time in high school and I wanted to work on shows that might help other people like that show helped me. I looked up all the editors and emailed 6-8 people, only 2-3 didn’t get back to me. I met up with Tuan Quoc Le for two hours and after I followed up with a thank you email and he suggested I send him my resumé and helped me with that and submitted it to his show. He taught me about the role of Post PA. That’s the one show I had applied for but didn’t end up getting it and it was good I got rejected. I knew I wasn’t really qualified to be the only PA on a show so it helped me get more realistic. Rejection made me a stronger person which is what you need when you start out.
When I got the job on Scandal, because they were filming in the lot, I could see how the whole thing just jumped from department to department. The assistant editor was the person to show me what happens with the dailies set up and what I do with the hard drive. I really learned how to read the room, and how to conduct myself professionally. I wasn’t as confident at the beginning because I was fresh out of college so I had a lot of self-doubt. Then I started to feel a little more comfortable. There were so many things that happened that year that really set me up to get the ACE internship, to start getting my gigs as assistant editor – it was the best job that I could have got.
I had this power outfit with a bow tie and Hufflepuff suspenders so every interview I’ve gone for in that outfit, I’ve gotten. Whatever you want to do that helps you feel good really shows people.
You’ve both experienced film school, Irene as an undergrad, and Revis, as a post-grad. So what do you both think are the pros and cons of film school?
RM: Film school was incredibly valuable to me. My film school classmates were my first professional network in LA. I don’t think I would have been as good at collaboration if it weren’t for working with them. There were so many skills I learned in film school. I already had really good study skills, but as far as showing up on film sets at call time, working with people all day long…You need to know how to collaborate and be good to be around and all of this I learned in film school. Of course you only get as much out as you put into it, and it’s also vital to explore great resources like Master the Workflow! (Ed: thanks for the plug, Revis!)
IC: I think in general going to university film classes didn’t exactly teach me what I needed but the people you meet there – you’re all going up together. Doing things for the first time in class, and reaching out to people as a student teaches you a lot. I knew my school, wasn’t going to help me get my job, but I figured out that I can get my foot in the door without learning all the technical things – that I can learn on my own, I’m pretty tech savvy.
I think there is a lot of value in school. Even paying for school, I took the maximum amount of units I could because I was paying for it and I finished early letting my employers know that I did finish early and I finished with two degrees really showed that I was driven and focused. And the ability to reach out to people saying ‘I’m a student would you mind meeting up with me because I want to be where you are one day’ was really valuable.
RM: I agree, and our students get a very positive experience in having to work with groups of people they may not have chosen to. It’s a test run for collaboration. When you’re working with classmates it’s a little bit safer to make mistakes and learn from them. Film school can be a practice run for any collaborative, creative job in industry.
IC: And if you’re not sure what you want to do yet then film school is a great way to find out. I wasn’t one of those people who knew right away what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t like doing any of the camera stuff or sound but I knew I really liked editing right away. Once you know what you want to do your trajectory really goes so much faster because you’re able to really focus on what you want to do.
You both either work or have worked in LA, do you think it’s important to get to LA when you’re starting out?
IC: My school was in Malibu and I was planning on moving to Los Angeles anyway, regardless of whether or not I had a job lined up, because I knew being in that area, that I would be able to meet up with people for coffee, get into some edit rooms. You get to do that if you’re in it. Actually being in LA is a really big part of getting your foot in the door, if you want to make it you have to be here.
RM: My school was in Austin, which does have strong connections with LA, but I also knew people from the Chinese film industry who were there as well. My classmates were going out to LA and this meant it was an attractive place because I got the Chinese language and my classmates. Film makers from all over the world are constantly coming in and out of Los Angeles, and of course, when I got there I just fell in love with it.
Revis, now you have the benefit of knowing the industry in two countries, do you think the same is true of aspiring assistant editors in the UK? Do they need to move to London?
RM: I don’t think it’s quite the same… There is quite a bit of opportunity in Manchester and Liverpool, and more and more is going to be happening. They’re building a big new film studio in Liverpool. I teach right in the heart of Media City. It’s the centre of Manchester’s film and television industry. (Ed: Salford is located very close to Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, the UK’s northern film-making hub) And of course so many of our students are proud Northerners! Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are wonderful cities — I feel so lucky to have landed here with my husband, who’s a local boy.
To change direction a little bit, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
IC: Don’t be a jerk and have a good attitude. Working really hard really does make a huge difference. When I was a PA I wasn’t doing really glamourous work – lots of lunch pick-ups, lots of runs. Doing that kind of work with a good attitude people noticed and so would offer me opportunities. Just being a decent person and being fun to be around. You’re working with people probably more than they’re with their families, so being fun to be around is really important.
Nothing’s going to go right 100% of the time and knowing how you adapt to those situations is a good indicator of being an assistant editor because things go wrong all the time and you have to be able to jump on it and fix it. Having a mentor, Harry Yoon, who was willing to sit down with me and make me face those uncomfortable situations made me realise that you might not know everything but if you’re willing to come up with ideas, and learn, then you’re going to work really hard.
RM: My best advice mirrors what Irene said: my editing mentor Matt Ramsey taught me things will go wrong, and when that happens don’t internalise it, just start trying to fix it. To assistant editors everywhere, I’d say always budget time to check your work. This is a cardinal rule to catch and fix any errors before you lose face — or lose your job! Everyone says your life will flash before your eyes when you die, well mine will flash by twice, because I’ll be checking it!
And what do you both wish you’d known right at the start?
IC: Not being too hard on myself, I had learned that by the end of the season. I’ve never been super worried about where my next job is because I saved so much – like half of what I earn. Being able to reassure myself that it’s all going to work out. Being able to cheer others on. Five years ago Revis didn’t know that she would be teaching in the UK and that I would have done my first film as assistant. It’s really only the beginning. For me that’s really exciting. Take some time to enjoy it. The mistakes that you make you will learn from, try to have a bit of fun too. Working hard in the beginning helped me to learn things that much faster, I missed out on my senior year and I don’t regret it.
RM: I still have the same outlook as Irene probably because I’m teaching young people and they amaze me with their brilliant ideas. And just like Irene, I saved. Hold on to what you’re making because it seems like a lot but there are times when its feast or famine. I got to work on a ton of really great shows and work with great people. My boss was Shonda Rhimes. It doesn’t get much better than that! The thing that’s so fun about living in Hollywood is that if you don’t have the job, your friend has it. Now I feel that excitement for my students – they’re going to be moving into these cool film and television careers. I feel proud of the work they produce in film school and I can’t wait to see the great work they’ll create in the future.
IC: Yeah! It’s really great to see your friends do well because there’s so much work that goes into it and you know that, to see them getting recognised for it from a total stranger, random people on the internet, it feels really great. Normal viewers don’t know that we’ve been there in the middle of the night. That’s why I was so proud of all the little things you do if they make it in. Hey I did that! It’s nice to have those small things when things are really hard.
Is there anyone you think has particularly inspired you?
IC: I decided to do this as a career because of this show and getting to share that with anyone from Smallville I will talk to and thank. Tuan has had a significant impact on my life. And any time I talk to Revis, my heart lights up, and so many from the ACE internship. There are so many people in my life who have had such a positive impact. Holden Chang was my first boss… I don’t have a favourite because everyone’s my favourite.
RM: I’m the same I want to mention some folks from Grey’s Anatomy people who are my friends, Briana London the first editor I got to assist, Ed Ornelas, Susan Vaill, Matt Ramsey, David Greenspan. Those people gave me a shot, and I owe them a debt of gratitude. That respect that you get for your closest colleagues gives you the confidence to speak with any editor.
And finally Revis, you’ve made the leap from assistant editor to teacher?
RM: Every day is full of really cool surprises. I’m often blown away by the quality work our students achieve over three years of serious filmmaking practice. I want to put in a special word for Film Studies teachers everywhere. When I asked some of our students how they were inspired to create great content as well as form, they gave much credit to our Film Studies tutors – they feel inspired and proud when they see this brilliant work and study it in-depth. This reminds me of the pride I feel to have spent so much of my Hollywood career working for Shonda Rhimes, whose many hit shows are so creative and inclusive.
When it comes to film production, I’m proud that so many of our students handle everything like pros, from camera to colour grading. When I start seeing their final year films – I’m just blown away. The thing I really love is when they say something that sounds like every editor I’ve ever known like ‘I’ll go take a look’. I’m so proud that they just handle everything like pros. They’re really trying to work like professional editors. Being open to always making it better.
And what better place to finish than with a reminder of Chun’s power outfit advice (bowtie and suspenders, naturally), and Meek’s final words on the work of any good editor: “Being open to always making it better.” We couldn’t put it any other way.