Interview with Assistant Editor and Animatic Editor Annie Zhang

(With Jenny Kapp)

Annie Zhang spoke to ASE about transitioning from finance into the film industry as an Assistant Editor, and shared her advice for others wanting to do the same.

How did you get into assistant editing roles in the first place? 
It was something I accidentally fell into. I initially was in a different industry and I thought the most direct transition into film would be on the production side, just because I had a finance background.

I cold-called some production companies and I got an internship with Aquarius Films where I was there as their production intern essentially. I came in a few times a week and in that time, because I was just doing this internship, I was like, well, let's just see what else I can learn. I enrolled in AFTRS and I did their Introduction to Camera Fundamentals part-time course. And I did that at the same time as Editing Fundamentals. I actually realised that I quite enjoyed the editing. During the course, the tutor encouraged anyone in the class who was interested in a career in post to find work as an Assistant Editor. So, I just started.

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I'm working at a studio called DAVE Enterprises. They specialise in storyboarding for TV animation and are currently partnering on several Dreamworks productions. I started there in an Assistant Editor role and have recently gotten the opportunity to become an Animatic Editor for one of the shows.
When I was an Assistant Editor, my main responsibilities involved prepping the deliverables for the clients (the DreamWorks team in LA) and making sure that the Animatic Editors always had what they needed, like the latest boards from the artists.

Is there a typical day?
Not really. There is always a production schedule for the deliverables so the days where I had to get those out, I definitely knew what was happening. And then around that, it varies. There were times when the Editor would ask me to help them with their episode. Or if I had any downtime, I would start cutting an episode for practice, and the Editors at DAVE were always open to giving advice and answering any questions I had. It just depends on what the Editors needed.

Now, as a newly minted Animatic Editor, I’m still learning the ropes. But I do have a more “typical” day. Usually, I’ll just be working on the latest episode of the show – timing out the boards, finding SFXs and music cues, etc. Something that I’m really enjoying so far is the discussions with the director, which are more orientated on the character and story, and I’m getting to learn so much.

What do you think, are the personal characteristics needed to be a good Editor or Assistant Editor? 
I haven't had as much experience editing on a professional level myself but from what I've observed, with all the Editors that I've worked with, I think you need to be quite flexible. Something that I'm discovering more is that a lot of the times the first cut that you make is definitely going to change.

What role does problem-solving play?
Yeah, so problem-solving is a big part as an Assistant Editor because not everything will happen as it “should” – whether it’s technical issues or scheduling mismatches – so having a problem solving-mentality is a big bonus. And also speed. Because I think these days, the schedules are just getting tighter and tighter. So, if you're quick and efficient, then that's pretty good.

What would you say is one of the biggest challenges of assisting on projects?
A lot of it is time management in projects that I've been on. They've just gotten really tight at the end.  You're trying to get things done really quickly and optimising your time. Like, you can’t do one task after another.  You have to find a way to maybe start a render on something and then move on to synching or logging dialogue at the same time. Essentially it’s about making sure you or the machines that you’re working on don't have any idle time – and a lot of the processes that Assistants have to do tend to be long. Definitely, it’s about trying to find ways of becoming more efficient at your work, so things get done.

Are there any tips and tricks that you have picked up or that you wish you knew when you started?
In terms of previous experience, I guess just good habits like jotting things down and never taking anything that's said to you as just an offhand comment. Because I don’t have a photographic memory, I jot everything down. Even if it doesn’t seem to matter at the time, sometimes, it'll be a trigger to something that you didn't realise, like when you're reviewing or when you are trying to find an answer to a question.

You're currently working mainly on storyboarding. You've done a little bit of work in feature films as well.  Are there projects that you prefer working on, or that you would like to get more into in the future? 
A lot of my experience recently has been in animation and storyboarding, and animation is very different to live action. I do love animation, just because of the possibilities that you can get. But also, the workflow is quite interesting and more intensive, at least in my experience. But it would be great to also get more experience and learning in live action projects.

When I first started it was very important to me to, learn the necessary skills and go in the direction, and chase that goal of becoming an Editor, really, fiercely.  I think if you do it that way, at least for me, you sort of set yourself up for too much stress. I felt like I was almost forcing it a bit too much. I think you have to just allow yourself to savour things and explore things out, as well. I’ve found there's no linear route to getting to where you want to go, and that by taking a more flexible approach then maybe all of a sudden, a shortcut will open up. It can be quite random. On the flip side, you can’t take a super laidback approach and not even try to improve your skills along the way. You need to work out how to be prepared when the opportunity comes but also don’t stress too much about it to the point where it’s not enjoyable anymore.

It's also important that if you want to make that transition from an Assistant Editor to an Editor to network and meet people who are not in post-production - like directors, writers, producers - who are creating content that you can then edit, if they take a chance on you. That was one of the pieces of wisdom that my editing mentor from the ASE has told me, and I'm trying to embrace that because I think it’s very valid and applicable advice. It’s also really interesting to talk to a lot of different people who've got varied roles and different perspectives on how the process works and how they think it should work, because there’s a lot of learning in that, and it can help you understand better where you (as an Assistant Editor or Editor) sit in the whole workflow.

(eNews 93 - August 2019)