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I joined a children’s choir just after my 3rd birthday. That was in Yugoslavia, Zagreb, in 1983. Choir defined me as a person. I’ve learned early on we are all individuals with different needs, wants and perception, so listening is often more important than talking. We’d rehearse twice a week and occasionally perform on Sunday morning Kid’s show on Channel 1 broadcasted live from the studio at Zagreb TV. The studio lights were insanely bright and enchanting. Built sets, colourful gels, bubble machines, giant cameras on wheels, heaps of grown ups, discipline, and us kids were all needed to create those few minutes of a TV programme. The Whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, and I saw the beauty in the collective, not in soloing.

By mid teens, I was in a few TVCs, had a supporting role in a feature film, acted in couple of theatre plays, but started feeling uncomfortable being recognised on the streets. Rather than escaping that world, I removed myself from the spotlight, and joined the crew “behind the scenes”. I spent my 20s mostly in theatre, making music and sound design, experimenting with 3D mapping and projections, filming and editing my friends’ gigs and creating short videos for VJing. I was lucky to own a firewire HDV camera, Final Cut Express and a laptop powerful enough to deal with the footage. VJing was a passion giving me a chance to perform my own artwork without too much exposure. I was VJing for 3 bands I liked, and realised that clip making part of the process was my favourite. I wanted to edit more. I approached the team that was producing a weekly music show about demo bands, and I got the gig. It felt like playing music and Lego at the same time, but it was an unpaid job and if I wanted to edit more, I would need to find paid work before I quit the day job.

Editor Luka Turjak in his many elements / Photos: Supplied

Same year I was introduced to Željko Senečić who needed an editor to re-cut a film about Yugoslav sculptor Dušan Džamonja. It was edited in Final Cut 6 so it was a rather easy task once I found a common tongue with a director who was larger than life and 47 years older than me. Senečić had degrees in Painting from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts and Scenography from the Zagreb Academy of Drama Arts and he was a production designer, film director, screenwriter, playwright and way more. I on the other hand was a choir singer, had some college in Mathematics and earned money at a telephone company.

Luckily we understood each other, became good friends and in the next 6 years we made another 8 documentaries, mostly about painters and one TV drama. He supported my idea of quitting my job and turning freelance editor and theatre video/sound designer. Not the wisest thing to do during the Great Recession, but it worked out fine. It made me a happier person. I was editing art exhibition pieces for various artists and took occasional TV jobs and had time for theatre, choirs and my bands.

Editor Luka Turjak in his editing suite / Photo: Supplied

Coming as a tourist to New Zealand in 2014 was a big change. I’ve met a woman here and we wanted to explore what would living together be like. I stayed taking my chances of starting fresh. No friends, no choirs, no theatre group to belong to. I’ve taken “the long way home” approach. I didn’t know anyone in the industry yet, so I figured I’d crew for a while. Because for me, it is the people, it is the people, it is the people…

I took on everything I felt comfortable with – running, locations and unit assisting, agency/client/talent driving, ADing, DITing… I met a bunch of extraordinary people on sets, in rental and production companies who gave me greater insight into Aotearoa. When I felt the time was right, I put my hand up as an edit assist. And without forcing it I have slowly settled back into the editing chair.

Of course, I still do theatre, sing and perform, occasionally even in the editing suite.

 


About Luka Turjak

Luka is an experienced editor and assistant editor originally from Yugoslavia, and now based in Auckland. In the last few years, he has edited feature films In Passing and Spring Interlude, as well as documentaries, short films and music videos.

alukat.me

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out.

The Accidental Editor

It was 2009 and I’m working at Unity Books in Auckland, my specialty – children’s picture books and classics of literature. It’s been 2 years since I quit my career as an art director in advertising with no intention to ever step back into that world. I loved selling books and I still work at Unity from time to time, but in 2009 I was hoping to find a new path.

A friend mentioned a job going at TVNZ. They were looking for creative producers with an advertising background. A ‘creative producer’ makes 30-60 second promo videos for movies and shows; you write a script, edit the footage, direct the voice over talent, select music, SFX etc.

My only film editing experience was that once, I made a joke video on iMovie to amuse a friend, but I brazenly applied all the same.

To this day I’m still not quite sure how I was hired, it was a total accident, didn’t ask for it, fell on my lap. Perhaps a mix of luck and fate. TVNZ sent me on a two-day crash course to learn Avid Media Composer. The next day I started working. It was incredibly hard, I felt like a senior citizen learning computer skills, and back then there were no YouTube tutorials. The first few months I’d work late nights, I’d work weekends and study other people’s work, frame by frame. Why does one cut on a particular frame? What makes an elegant edit?

One day, my Creative Director pulled me aside and told me that he thought I had the right sense of timing to be a good editor. This encouragement drove me to want to be the best at TVNZ and I continued working late nights and weekends. The work projects became more complex and I was trusted to cut important campaigns, brand montages. I won international awards. In 2015 I became a freelancer. I worked for Sky TV and edited commercials with the ultimate goal in mind – to edit movies!

Sometime in 2016, I bumped into an old friend – director Florian Habicht. He’d recently returned from living overseas and told me he’d noticed my work. “One day we’ll work together,” he said. That comment encouraged me enormously. I was determined to make that happen, I just didn’t know how to make the switch from TV to film.

Editor Anastasia Doniants photographed by director Lula Cucchiara / Photo: Supplied

A personal connection helped. A friend of mine, director Jessica Sanderson, asked me to edit her NZFC funded short film, Ways to See. Again, luck was on my side, Annie Collins – the greatest editor in New Zealand – agreed to mentor me through this project. My fate was set there and then. Annie taught me everything about long-form: the workflow, the protocols, how to log, the assembly process. Annie also suggested that I trust my instinct, and this is something that can’t be taught, it must be in you as a person. Ways to See and my second short film, Ani by Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, travelled the world with much success. This gave me confidence to continue to edit.

Educational institutes are not the only paths to knowledge, nowadays. I’m sure going to film school would have been of great help and, personally, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to follow my path. What helped me is that I was a movie mad kid. Movies and books took up most of my imagination growing up. My advice to young people – your hours of watching films are not wasted. Be curious. Be generous with your time as you’re investing in your future, if it means working for free – do it.

Most importantly, you have to love the magic and spectacle of film or else you’re in the wrong industry.

“Astonish me,” Sergei Diaghilev used to say to his dancers. “Astonish me,” I say to every person involved in the process of movie making.

 


About Anastasia Doniants

Anastasia is an award-winning editor based in Auckland. In the last few years, she has edited feature film documentary Fiona Clark: Unafraid, co-edited documentary James & Isey; as well as short films, documentaries and music videos.

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

I’m 18, with frosted tips, earnest to a fault, about to graduate South Seas Film & TV School. I post out my CV to every production company I can find: nobody bites. (Though, I did send it with a bar of soap wrapped in 16mm film and the opening line, “You don’t know me from a bar of soap…” *double cringe*).

Then one of my tutors puts me in touch with a graduate student who is working on The Lord of the Rings, shout out to Dan Story! Dan takes my CV to the production manager, Brigitte Yorke. While unimpressed with the soap, Brigitte, an alumnus of South Seas, appreciates my grades and hires me as a runner for two weeks. I martyr myself to the job. Changing lightbulbs, making coffee, spilling coffee, wearing my studio-issued ID like an Olympic medal. Two weeks turns into two months, and before I know it, I’m off to Wellywood, leaving behind my hometown in the Tron.

I quickly learn the magical business of show business can be a high stakes, lawless place, and I’m sucked into the pressure, the hierarchy, the people. It’s intense, intoxicating, compulsive… a wild west of bullshit, politics, nepotism, sexism, slave drivers. And I bloody love it. Because when you finally see your name roll up in the credits, it’s suddenly all worth it. Addicted, I jumped from one film to the next… King Kong, The Water Horse, The Lovely Bones, Avatar, The Hobbit… going from runner to driver to cast PA. Watching. Learning. It wasn’t until I became James Cameron’s driver, 8 years after leaving film school, that I decided I had to tell my own stories. I quit James and made my first short film… and then the next one, and the one after that.

One day, producer Katie Millington saw my short Darryn Exists and took a punt hiring me, believing I could learn how to direct commercials. I moved to Auckland, but had nothing to show for myself, and advertising people want you to prove you can tell a story in 30 seconds or less. So I self-funded a couple of ‘spec ads’ to build a showreel for myself. This got me my first job directing a TV commercial. I guess things snowballed from there, but not without the loving mentorship I’ve received from great people and places along the way.

Director Jamie Lawrence on set / Photo: Supplied

Looking back, it really does feel like a collision of passion and opportunity that got me into (and keeps me in) the industry. Thank you South Seas, thank you Dan, thank you Brigitte, thank you James, thank you Katie.

It can be a long road, so when it comes to weathering the storm, the things I tell myself:

Turn away from rejection, towards something you love. I’m quick to go on the offensive, taking shit personally. But actually, the truth is sometimes it’s them, not you. If I lose a job to another director, I reframe it in my mind like an actor that loses the role to somebody more “quirky looking” and “on brief”, while I must be too handsome for the part. Then I lock myself in my room and write my screenplay. This way, I not only ‘bounce back’ from the setback, I also have something to ‘bounce to’.

Phone a friend. Nurture these relationships and connections because they are a wellspring to refuel from when you’re in the eye of the storm. Having a cup of tea/gin with a mate toughens/loosens me up every time.

You can say ‘no’. It’s human rights. Sometimes you can’t afford to turn down an opportunity. And sometimes you can’t afford not to. It’s okay to say ‘no’. For better or worse. It can be bad for business (ask my producer or my husband) but it also makes room for other important stuff. I’ve made a list of deal breakers that match my values – a way to measure a job and decide if it’s something I want to do. Yes… it’s idealistic, probably unsustainable, and sometimes I get a nosebleed on my high horse. But it’s not as bad as doing something I hate.

Good luck out there. Thanks for reading.

 


About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie is a director who has balanced short films with a career directing commercials. His debut short in 2008, Somewhere Only We Know, showed he could tell a story without any dialogue at all. Follow up short comedy Darryn Exists debuted in the NZIFF, and got an Honourable Mention at the Oscar-Qualifying Nashville Film Festival. Jamie has received a NYC Film Academy scholarship, a DEGANZ Director’s Attachment, and a Script to Screen FilmUp mentorship. As a commercials director, he has ranked in Best Ad’s top 10 Kiwi directors, and has received nominations for the Emerging Talent Award and multiple Best Direction Awards at the CAANZ Axis Awards.

mrjamielawrence.com

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

I should preface by saying that I never planned to be working in the film and television industry. The honest truth is that when I finished school and decided to go to university, Film and Television papers seemed like a fun choice in amongst English, Sociology, Philosophy, and Art History. As it turned out, the Film and Television papers were the most engaging and fun, and that drove me into doing a Masters in Creative and Performing Arts, specialising in writing and directing for film. After graduation, my first paying gig in the industry was a small assistant editor role through one of my tutors. She connected me with a post-production supervisor who was helping facilitate a short film cutting from his house. It was exciting to be working on something film-related and I got paid a sweet $100.

Meanwhile, another contact through the same tutor, got in touch looking for an assistant editor on a children’s television drama. This would be my first dip into a longer form of drama, as well as a show that had quite a few VFX to contend with. It was at this point that I really began to get hooked into post-production. Even though pickings can sometimes be slim in our industry, I made the conscious decision to only do drama work which is where my passion lay. I was in a position in my life where I had very little financial out-goings and personal commitments so I let myself be open to opportunities, even if they weren’t my original plan. I was in no hurry to make the leap into editing and was hungry to get as much experience as I could.

Editor Jochen FitzHerbert editing Emmy Award-winning series ‘INSiDE’ from his home / Photo: Supplied

It was about five years of assisting work before my break into editing happened. I had assisted on a couple seasons of Power Rangers and one of the regular editors was starting back late due to a scheduling conflict. The returning producer offered me those blocks and I made the quick decision to make the official move to being an editor. Power Rangers was a great first show to cut as I was familiar with it from my assisting time there, but also it had the resources to have a big post team and manageable schedule.

The jump from assistant to editor is one of the trickiest things to manoeuvre. You forge a career as an assistant and work with a bunch of people around town, building a reputation only to have to turn on that and say that you are not that thing any more. Work can be slow in this transitional period but if you dig around enough there are little jobs you can flex your muscles on like low-budget web series or assemble editing.

As the Power Rangers season was finishing, Spartacus started shooting in Auckland. No, I did not get hired for Spartacus, but a lot of great local editors did which meant there was a gap in the industry. It was a perfect storm where the industry was booming and everyone was busy so there was room for people to step up. One of the directors I had just worked with on Power Rangers was going onto one of the said local dramas and he thankfully took me with him. From here, I felt I had my foot in the door.

My advice to anyone starting out now is don’t feel like you have to hurry. Make every job a learning experience and forge lasting connections with people you work with. You never know where or who your next job might come from.

 


About Jochen FitzHerbert

Jochen is an award-winning film and television editor with a long list of credits including Creamerie, Mystic, Power Rangers and The Gulf, for which he won an NZTV Award for Best Editing in a Drama in 2020. He also edited the international Emmy winning series INSiDE, which also won him a Webfest Award for Best Editing.

jochenfitzherbert.com

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

I originally studied cinematography at film school and ended up getting work in the lighting department for about four years on TV commercials, TV drama and films. I’m a fairly quiet person and had romantic notions of being quiet, cowering behind a camera.

One workless winter, I asked my flatmate, who was an editor about her work and I took an immediate interest in her response. After downloading the trial version of Final Cut Pro 7 and working through hours of tutorials, I made the impulsive choice to switch from lighting to editing, trading one kind of back pain (standing) for another (sitting). Through my flatmate, I spent a few months interning and an additional year working full-time in a tape library, so I could get a handle on the technology.

After cutting a few short films on the side, I really wanted to end up cutting feature films. I did some research (googled ‘how do I become a feature film editor’) and found the best way for me was to become an assistant editor on scripted dramas. I could upskill on the technical side and learn as much as I could working for editors who had made it.

I bothered every production company I’d worked for as a lighting technician and got work ingesting and syncing on travel and cooking shows. From there, I got my first scripted assisting on TV commercials, scripted TV and films until I ended up in assembly editing on set for an NZFC short film. After that, the producer got me into commercial editing work, so I was able to move on from assisting.

I was getting a lot of advertising/content work, but the drama work was pretty scarce. I’m quite bad at networking, but reluctantly ended up bothering a producer I wanted to work with. I met with her for a coffee and from there I cut a music video that she produced.

Brendon’s Diagram of Connections

  • Through this, I got to cut a drama pilot through the DoP of the music video.
  • After cutting the music video, the producer I’d spoken to offered me an NZFC short.
  • The director of the music video offered me another NZFC short.
  • From someone who’d see the pilot, I was offered a (paid!) web series.
  • From the two NZFC shorts I’d cut, I got offered a TV drama.
  • The producer of the web series recently offered me another TV drama.

What I think I’m trying to say is that being keen and possibly the last person a producer had coffee with before crewing can have a huge knock on effect.

The one thing I’d recommend for anyone is to make those seemingly unattainable connections. You could be extremely skilled, but that doesn’t mean a thing if no one knows who you are. I’m admittedly quite shy, however, the last few years which are the best of my career were only possible because I tried to make meaningful connections, despite being extremely reluctant. From there, I was able to trade cowering behind a camera for cowering behind an edit suite.

 


About Brendon Chan

Brendon entered post production in 2010 as an assistant editor, where he worked on feature films, such as Born to Dance, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Black Christmas. He made the leap to editing full-time in 2017, working across a broad range of television, web and film content. The most recent work he’d like to shamefully promote is the TVNZ drama series The Pact.

brendonchan.com

How I Got Started in the Industry is a new guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.