Assistant editor Erin Wolf on the artistic process of editing a TV show

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Erin Wolf and Rebecca Martin

When I met assistant editor Erin Wolf back in January in LA, I instantly felt like we were friends. She is so laidback. Our conversation was fluid and organic. I think maybe our styles are similar when it comes to our work, by being curious about people and their stories.

Erin has worked on the TV shows “The Magicians,” “You,” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” and she also assistant edited Ethan Hawke’s feature film “Blaze” and Nick Cannon’s “King of the Dancehall.” Erin kindly walked me through the artistic process of editing a film and a TV show, and I was so inspired. I feel privileged to meet women in film like Erin, and I can’t wait to go back to LA and hang out with her again.

GROWING UP

ERIN WOLF: I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My sister, Caitlin, and I initially got into filmmaking together when I was about ten or eleven. We decided to use our parents’ video camera to create stop-motion news interviews with our Sailor Moon dolls.

REBECCA MARTIN: That’s awesome! Are the films still around?

WOLF: They’re somewhere in my parents’ office. They were a lot of fun to make. And I have always enjoyed writing short stories. In middle school, I got interested in turning those short stories into scripts, and filming them as movies. Starting in seventh grade, I would film during the summers. I would try to make them as professional as possible, printing out a production calendar and keeping everything as on schedule as possible. My friends would act in them, and then I would edit them afterwards.

COLLEGE

MARTIN: Where did you go to college?

WOLF: I went to USC, and I graduated in 2011.

MARTIN: So you went to the film school at USC?

WOLF: Yes.

MARTIN: When you were there, what were you thinking you were wanting to do with film?

WOLF: I would say USC does a pretty good job at introducing you to all aspects of film. So then you discover what you like, or what you don’t like. So I went into it thinking I’d direct or edit. Once I was in my classes, I still enjoyed the directing aspect of film, but I found that I gravitated towards editing more, because I loved the puzzle aspect of editing. I love how it really can transform the story. They say that editing is the final rewrite of a film. So much can change in the editing room, and I think the power it has on a scene or the overall story is so cool.

RITA SANDERS

MARTIN: Are there any women editors that inspired you?

WOLF: So I started working with an editor named Rita Sanders a few years ago, and she has been super motivating and inspirational to me as I have continued to be her assistant editor. Over these years, she has been so supportive of me making the transition from assistant editor to editor. The most recent episode on “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” we did, I was able to coedit with her.

MARTIN: Congrats on that! That’s a huge show, “Sabrina.” When can we expect to see the episode?

WOLF: It’ll be in April [2019], when they release part two of the series.

ROAD TO “CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA”

MARTIN: Could you walk me through your career, since you graduated? What took you to where you’re at now?

WOLF: I graduated in 2011, and I was very open to opportunities. I actually found my first job on Craigslist, and it was to intern on a feature at a postproduction house. I was working pretty much solely on the feature for awhile, and then I started interning for the postproduction house as a whole. I got to experience working on commercials and music videos there, which was a much different editing style than narrative projects.

MARTIN: That’s good experience though, to try out all those different areas.

WOLF: I got to play around with editing my own versions of the videos, and I had the opportunity to show the editors and ask, “What do you think of this?” “What could I have done differently to make it better?”

Music videos are such a different kind of medium. There’s not necessarily a defined structure on how to edit a music video. A lot of it is driven by the music, and how the cuts feel with the song. You can be so creative in how you interpret the video.

So that was really fun and a great learning experience, and about six months into me interning there, I became a full-time assistant editor. I worked there for about three years.

MARTIN: What were the videos and features you were involved in?

WOLF: There were some pretty well-known artists like Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga. But there were also a lot of indie artists. We had a big range of projects come in. I worked there for a few years, and I really loved it. Because it was a pretty small post house, it felt like a family. And as much as I enjoyed working there, I decided after awhile that I really wanted to go toward narrative projects. I just had to figure out how to make the jump from music videos to scripted.

Eventually I was able to join the Editors Guild and met an editor who was looking for an assistant for a scripted show. It turned out we both came from a music video editing background, so we were making that transition together. The show we worked on together was Kevin Hart’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood.”

MARTIN: Oh yes, that’s right, I remember it.

WOLF: It was a really fun show to work on. And it was my first experience outside of school working on scripted content.

MARTIN: As an editor, what influences your choices on how they come together?

WOLF: As I’ve worked on more and more projects, I would say the feeling of “what or who do I want to see now” drives a lot of my editing choices. So let’s say we have a scene where you and I are having a conversation in a café. Maybe you start the scene with a wide shot, setting up the space and that we are talking to one another. From there, you find a line or a look that might motivate your next cut and who you see next. A lot of it is based on intuition, and what feels natural to want to be looking at next. It’s good to think about what the scene is about. Reactions are so important, too. Oftentimes the actors’ performances will drive when and what you cut to next.

And I think what’s interesting is that there’s not just one correct way to edit a scene. It’s more about what feels right to you. There are so many ways of how you could cut a certain scene depending on how you choose to order the shots, or how long you choose to hold on a certain shot. It can really affect how the scene comes across.

ASSISTANT EDITOR

MARTIN: As an assistant editor, how does it work with your relationship to the head editor?

WOLF: First we receive the footage, and the assistant editor sorts through all of it. Oftentimes there is more than one camera that may be shooting at the same time, so we group clips together and make sure they are synced up properly. From that point, the editor will edit the scene. Then usually they’ll pass it on to the assistant editor to clean up dialogue and do the sound and music design.

The sound and music design is one of my favorite aspects of assistant editing because it’s a good opportunity to be creative. The assistant editor also takes care of outputs so directors and producers can watch cuts. And once the episode has been picture locked, we take care of turning over the episode for final sound, music, visual effects, and such.

So being an assistant editor, there is the technical aspect of the job and there is a creative element as well. And Rita, the editor that I’ve been working with for a while now, also lets me edit some scenes, which is really fun and a great way to learn. For the episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” that we got to coedit, we each edited about half of the episode. That was such a great experience, and I can’t stress enough how supportive Rita has been as we’ve continued to work together.

TELEVISION RENAISSANCE

MARTIN: In some ways, TV surpasses film in terms of representation. And there’s a lot of quality shows now. I think it would be an exciting time to be involved with TV.

WOLF: And the growing amount of shows being produced creates more jobs, too. I started on “Sabrina” in May of last year, and next week will be my last week on the show. Then I’ll have a few weeks off before I start my next show. In the past, I haven’t always known what I’m going to go to next. It can be stressful sometimes.

“BLAZE”

MARTIN: The editing is so powerful in the film “Blaze” (2018). How did you get involved with that?

WOLF: The editor on “Blaze,” Jason Gourson, was an editor on the first two seasons of “The Magicians.” He had connected with Ethan Hawke and asked me if I’d be interested in coming onboard as the assistant editor. It sounded like a great opportunity so I was all for it!

MARTIN: It’s such a raw film. I would think it would be fun to edit that kind of movie, where it’s not “clean,” it’s more gritty.

WOLF: Yeah, and I think the music was such an integral part of the film. The music was a great medium to drive how the story unfolded and really feel like we were in Blaze’s mind and memory. I thought the way the editing came together was constructed so well.

MARTIN: Yeah, I love that. The actors were great, and I liked how none of them were big names, except maybe Alia Shawkat. Were you able to meet Ethan Hawke?

WOLF: Not directly, but I was able to see him with Jason at the LA premiere when they did a Q and A following the film. It was fun to hear them talk about the process of working together. You can tell he is definitely passionate about the film.

WOMEN IN FILM

MARTIN: What are your feelings about representation for women in editing?

WOLF: I would say as I’ve moved from job to job, I’ve started to see at least a little more of a balance in terms of representation. I still think that men outnumber women in the industry in general, even in editing. But I think that, at least on the shows that I’ve been on, it’s been somewhat more balanced. My hope is that each facet of the industry will become more and more equal.

MARTIN: Also, for strong females on-screen, like you working on “Sabrina,” do you think the female characters are becoming more developed and are represented better?

WOLF: It was so exciting to work on “Sabrina” for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones was that it was such a female-driven show. There are so many female characters, and they are strong, developed characters. Sabrina never just sits back and waits on the sidelines. She goes after what she wants.

MARTIN: I’ve read that “Sabrina” is very relevant in reference to the #MeToo or #TimesUp movement, it’s groundbreaking in terms of women rising up with the movement. Do you feel the show is leading the pack in that sense?

WOLF: Yeah, it’s exciting to work on a show that has that aspect to it. I really like “Sabrina.” I think it’s inspiring to watch and work on content that you feel connected to. I really love working on all kinds of stuff, but I definitely gravitate towards projects that are from a female perspective or have complex female characters, because I see myself in them. It all goes back to why representation is so important.

TV SHOWS

MARTIN: What films or TV shows in 2018 resonated with you?

WOLF: There are so many to choose from. I might be a little biased, but one of them is one I worked on. Lifetime put out a show last fall called “You,” based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes. The show was just released on Netflix in December.

MARTIN: Is that the one with the stalker character, [actor Penn Badgley,] who was in “Gossip Girl”?

WOLF: Yes, and “Gossip Girl” is also one of my favorite shows. And I like anything that has a thriller aspect to it. My sister and I just binge-watched “The Haunting of Hill House.”

MARTIN: Yeah, that was so good.

WOLF: I thought it was amazing how many different layers there were to the house and the characters, and what the house meant to each of them.

MARTIN: The editing must have been interesting for that one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

MARTIN: Any final thoughts you want to add, about what you’re doing, what you want to do?

WOLF: As far as goals, I definitely want to continue learning as much as I can and to keep honing my skills. I’d like to make the jump from assistant editor to editor, and to work on projects that really inspire me.

I also wanted to mention a wonderful speech Reese Witherspoon gave at Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards. She talked about her perspective on women’s representation, asking the audience to think about all of the times a female character has said “What do we do now?!” and how crazy it is that a woman wouldn’t know what to do in a crisis situation. She urges that we should be striving for more complex, competent, strong female characters on-screen, and she started her own production company to create films that focused on those kinds of characters. Her speech has definitely been something that has stuck with me.

MARTIN: I am so glad you shared that.

WOLF: So, go Reese Witherspoon!

MARTIN: Yeah, she’s doing a lot, she’s so great.

WOLF: Yeah, and she just seems like such a fantastic person.

MARTIN: This is always a confirmation that I’m doing a very important thing. Yeah there still is a long way to go, but there seems to be this awareness growing, which is good. Things are changing and we just need to keep that going.

WOLF: Yes, definitely. When we watch movies and tv shows, we want that to be a reflection of what society is truly comprised of. I mean, let’s show that women are just as capable as men.

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