Alumni Spotlight / Amanda Taylor ’95
We are excited to present our interview with TV editor Amanda Taylor! Amanda is based in Los-Angeles and freelances as an editor for reality TV shows such as Real Housewives of NYC, Deadliest Catch, and Upscale with Prentice Penny.
Read about Amanda’s time in the MFA program, her career, the key to collaboration, and her upcoming personal projects in her own words below! Big thanks to Amanda for reminiscing and talking to us about learning to find ways to make art, no matter what.
Where did you grow up, and how did that influence your career path?
My family moved to the Twin Cities from Bethlehem, PA when I was six. My parents were always big arts advocates, so most weekends we went to a museum or play. My mom enrolled me in painting classes, and in junior high I was regularly going to the old Arts and Science building in downtown St. Paul for classes with David Rich, who ironically I ran into later at MCAD when he was a painting professor and I was in grad school. The frequent museum visits made a huge impact on me. I vividly remember seeing Claus Oldenburg’s oversized suspended electrical outlets, and William Wegman’s videos from his residency at the Walker Art Center. Every visit to MIA included a traditional stop at Chuck Close’s gigantic self portrait in the permanent collection. It was a great early education.
In high school I started going to movies at the Uptown Theater, which only showed second run films at the time, and usually double features: The Shining, Little Big Man, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Graduate, Annie Hall. That was the beginning of my film education.
What’s something you learned as an MCAD/MFA that surprised you?
When I was a student in the early 1990’s, I was coming to MCAD after years of living in San Francisco. That was the decade I came out as a lesbian and dealt with the painful fallout from my family. It was the middle of the AIDS crisis, and people were involved with ACT UP, wore T-shirts that said “silence equals death”, pink triangles and freedom rings. The play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner premiered in San Francisco in 1991 and NBA star Magic Johnson publicly announced that he was HIV-positive.
I had been verbally harassed, and physically attacked in San Francisco, the gayest city in the United States. So coming back to the Midwest was intimidating to say the least. I knew my film ideas were informed by my struggle to understand myself as a lesbian in the world at that time, and I was pretty scared that MCAD would not be a supportive environment for that. While the students didn’t always know how to respond to me, the faculty across the board were always 100% engaged, supportive and encouraging. It was the most surprising thing, and one of the things I am most grateful for. Without that support, I doubt I would have made the films I did, or succeeded in the program.
Who is your favorite artist?
I have many favorites, all for different reasons: Degas, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Anselm Kiefer, Rothko, Hockney, Jay DeFeo, Anne Hamilton, Bill Viola, Arthur Miller, August Wilson, Sam Shepherd, John Sayles, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Alfred Hitchcock, David Bowie. It’s impossible to pick a favorite.
What inspires you lately?
Josh Fox, creator of the Oscar-nominated Gasland and How to Let Go and Love all the Things Climate Can’t Change. Photographer Joel Sartore, who’s making a 6,500 animal species Photo Ark, to capture animals before they become extinct. The recent film, The Clouds of Sils Maria. Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels. Two time Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, Iranian Asghar Farhadi. And perhaps most of all, people who find time, despite their crazy lives, to make art.
When you look back at your tenure here, what do you wish you would have done more or less of?
I wish I would have found a way to work bigger – more spectacle – more theatrics – more experimentation with light, and worried less about making mistakes, “bad art” or offending people. When you’re learning who you are, sometimes you have to go too far in one direction or another. If you can’t do that in art school, where can you do it?
What have you learned since graduating?
I do some of my best thinking when I’m talking to other people, not in isolation. Getting feedback is always helpful, even when I don’t agree with it. Collaboration means knowing when to back down, or keep my mouth closed, and trusting other people’s thinking. I have to be my own best advocate, because if I don’t no one else will. Trusting my skills and creative thinking is something I have to remind myself of over and over. Thoughts of being a fraud or an untalented hack are as frequent as thoughts that I may be a genius. But just because I think it, doesn’t make it true.
What do you do when you feel creatively blocked?
Get outside, walk around the block and get out of my head, notice my surroundings and engage with other people so my subconscious brain can chug away at its own pace. Talk it out with a friend who’s a good listener, not an adviser. Eat. Read a book.
Tell us about your current company, and what is your role there?
I freelance as an editor, primarily in reality TV from Deadliest Catch to Real Housewives of NYC. My job consists of scouring through 12 to 32 hours of raw footage to build three-minute scenes and 45-minute episodes with a beginning, middle and end. I write narration and interview bites to move the story forward; locate reactions, and use cutting styles, imagery, and tempo to define turning points and land dramatic moments; build character arcs that track individual goals and obstacles within an episode or across a series. I score music and sound effects to support the emotional impact. Addressing internal and network notes, which are often frustrating, is a part of every gig. Perhaps most importantly, I get to collaborate with multiple producers and executives to bring each episode to air.
How did you prepare yourself to get the job in the first place?
My experience making my own short films and working on a few paid projects in the Twin Cities was a good way to prepare, and it allowed me to create a reel of my work. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I decided I was willing to do whatever it would take to get into editing. So I called friends of friends, had informational interviews, and finally on a whim I posted a plea for suggestions on doculink.org. I got a lot of responses with advice, but the last person who chimed in offered to meet me. We had coffee, and she was very helpful telling me how to update my resume and what the pay rate was, how I’d have to start working the night shift as an assistant. She gave my name to a friend who was looking for an assistant, and two weeks later I started working in Hollywood as an assistant editor on 30 Days with Morgan Spurlock. I spent the weekend getting tips about the AVID from my friends back in the Twin Cities. Never underestimate the value of a network of peers.
What’s a favorite part of your job?
I love collaborating with story producers and the series producer: analyzing and problem solving story points, how to get from A to B, what’s the best story to be found in four hours of raw footage, what’s the best way to tell it. I love building a scene where there’s an emotional exchange: comedy or drama, where I’m able to create a realistic moment that lands, complete with music and sound effects, that I can feel on a visceral level. This is extremely exciting and satisfying, like cracking a puzzle that may have seemed completely impossible up to that point.
What scares you?
Getting fired. Intellectually I know I shouldn’t care. But as a freelancer, your reputation is important, because your entire career is largely based on referrals.
What makes you fall in love?
That rare experience of seeing or experiencing something beautiful and new that gives me moment to pause. It could be how two colors vibrate against each other, or the length of a pause in a filmed conversation, the quality of light and length of shadows in a scene, how a shot is framed, or a well-told story that is actually worth telling.
How do you keep challenging yourself in your art?
My biggest challenge is to simply keep making art. It’s extremely difficult to make art when I’m working 50 to 60 hours a week. The gaps between my gigs are often spent recovering, and looking for my next gig. So it’s vital for me to prioritize going to see art when I can. And adjusting my expectations to what I can realistically accomplish in the time I have available. The other challenge for me is making sure the stories I want to tell are relevant and timely. When it takes longer to complete a project, these things can shift. So allowing for a flexibility in my outlook and goals, and at the same time trying to maintain a schedule and timeline for my projects.
When I left the Twin Cities 11 years ago, I had started work on what I anticipated to be a feature documentary about gay animals called Freak of Nature. Over the course of the last decade I haven’t done much work on it. Largely because I wasn’t sure how to structure the film beyond a series of interviews. There was no story. And after learning the ins and outs of storytelling as a reality TV editor, I knew this alone wouldn’t produce the most compelling film. However, recently I came up with a plan to complete the film, which will require more shooting in the field, and casting a Howard Cosell impersonator (the 1970’s American sports journalist). As soon as I complete my current project – a collaboration with my brother, Christopher, on a one-man show that he wrote and performed here in LA, which we filmed, I’m turning my attention back to my documentary until it is completed.
Is there anything else you wish we would have asked you?
The best advice I ever got was from my mentor Tom DeBiaso. It was a year or two after I graduated, and I was feeling frustrated trying to get grants to fund my film projects. I wasn’t having much success, and I felt dejected, and angry at the way artists are treated in the United States, how we have to compete against each other and how hard everything seems when you’re out of the school environment. Tom listened very patiently. Then he said: “You can’t let money stand in the way. You have to find a way to make your art anyway.” It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But it was what I needed to hear. And it’s a message I’ve never forgotten. It’s easy to allow money to be the reason we avoid making art – money and time. But those are easy excuses for fear to latch on to. No matter what your circumstances, there are always options.