carol littleton secret to surviving 40 years working in hollywood

Ep117: The Secret to Surviving 40+ Years Working In Hollywood | with Carol Littleton, ACE


» Click to read the full transcript


It’s an understatement to say Hollywood is undergoing major changes right now, but are these circumstances unprecedented? I argue things have changed a lot less than we want to believe over the last few months, the major difference is our level of awareness. And what we’ve become keenly aware of is how badly none of us want to go back to normal.

There’s no question the pandemic has caused upheaval and instability, leaving us all wondering if we’ll weather the storm or sink with the ship. As the industry attempts to reopen, we grapple with difficult changes like working from home, safety protocols for returning to set or to the office, and setting boundaries for the health and sanity of ourselves and families.

Though the change and uncertainty we’re all experiencing might feel new, it’s surprising how little things in our industry have actually changed over the last several decades, specifically in regards to the working conditions and the insane demands put upon our time. Today’s guest, Oscar nominated editor Carol Littleton, ACE, who has edited such legendary films as E.T., The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon, Benny & Joon, and The Manchurian Candidate, has endured many changes in her long career in Hollywood. She worked her way into commercials, to indie films, all the way up the ranks to working with some of the best directors in the industry.

She successfully made the transition from film to digital, but it was that change that required a greater focus on her movement habits and healthy lifestyle choices to sustain her career and well-being. These habits have contributed to her vitality for her work and her zest for life that you will hear throughout our conversation.

This is the second in our series of archive conversations from the ‘Fitness in Post’ days with hollywood film legends where we clearly see that living a healthy lifestyle, weathering major industry changes, and enjoying a long and successful career are not mutually exclusive (pandemic or otherwise). Learn from the cream of the crop how to be resilient and gracious in the face of adversity, no matter how uncomfortable the circumstances.

Want to Hear More Episodes Like This One?

» Click here to subscribe and never miss another episode

Evercast Banner

Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Carol got her first feature film because…she spoke French?
  • How she went from working on small independent features to working with big Hollywood directors like Stephen Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan
  • The big question: How did she get her break cutting E.T.???
  • What the biggest creative challenge was in making E.T. a successful story.
  • The biggest difference between editing on film to editing on an NLE system (and what has been lost in the process).
  • How Carol approaches a day of dailies and cuts a scene.
  • How the physicality of working on film kept her in shape and active all day long.
  • The switch to Avid drove her crazy because she was so sedentary!!!
  • The difference between your mental agility and acuity is immense when you are sedentary vs being mobile.
  • Sleep, diet, and exercise are her top priorities to stay sharp and creative.
  • How to fight the fear of thinking that if you stop to take a break from work you won’t get everything done (it’s real, but you can overcome it).
  • Turn your work into your exercise to tax your body just enough that it will free your mind to work at its optimal performance level.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Eating healthy will make you resilient and capable of handling the ups and downs of the industry.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Eating intentionally, mindfully, and with others is the secret to staying energized throughout the day and keeping morale high.
  • Carol’s passion for long walks has taken her through cities and countries across the globe.


Useful Resources Mentioned:

Ep118: Legendary Editor Walter Murch On Optimizing Creativity, Productivity, and Well-Being In Hollywood For 50+ Years

Ep50: EditFest 2018 Panel “The Extended Cut: How to Survive and Thrive In Editorial”

Episode Transcript

Zack Arnold 0:00

My name is Zack Arnold. I'm a Hollywood film and television editor, a documentary director, father of two, an American Ninja Warrior in training and the creator of optimize yourself. For over 10 years now I have obsessively searched for every possible way to optimize my own creative and athletic performance. And now I'm here to shorten your learning curve. Whether you're a creative professional who edits, writes or directs, you're an entrepreneur, or even if you're a weekend warrior, I strongly believe you can be successful without sacrificing your health or your sanity in the process. You ready? Let's design the optimized version of you.

Carol Littleton 0:45

Hello, and welcome to the optimize yourself podcast. If you're a brand new optimizer I welcome you and I sincerely hope that you enjoy today's conversation. If you were inspired to take action after listening today, why not tell a friend about the show and help Spread the Love. And if you're a longtime listener and optimizer Oh gee, welcome back. Whether you're brand new or you're seasoned vet, if you have just 10 seconds today, it would mean the world to me if you clicked the subscribe button in your podcast app of choice, because the more people that subscribe, the more that iTunes and the other platforms can recognize this show, and thus, the more people that you and I can inspire, to step outside their comfort zones to reach their greatest potential. And now onto today's show, it would be an understatement to say that Hollywood is undergoing major changes right now. But are these circumstances really unprecedented? I argue that things have actually changed a lot less than we want to believe over the last few months. The major difference is really just our level of awareness. And what we have become keenly aware of is how badly none of us want to go back to normal. Now there is no question the pandemic has caused upheaval and instability leaving us all wondering if we are going to weather the storm or if we're to sync with the ship. And as the industry attempts to reopen, we're all grappling with difficult changes like working from home safety protocols for returning to set or going back to the office, and of course, setting boundaries for the health and sanity of ourselves and our families. Now, though, the change and uncertainty that we're all experiencing might feel new. It's surprising how little things in our industry have actually changed over the last several decades, specifically in regards to the working conditions and the insane demands put upon our time. Today's guest Oscar nominated editor Carol Littleton, who has edited such legendary films as at the Big Chill Silverado, the accidental tourist Grand Canyon, Benny and Joon and The Manchurian candidates, just to name a few. By the way, she has endured many, many changes in her long career in Hollywood. She's worked her way into commercials, indie films, and then all the way up to the ranks of working with some of the best and biggest directors in the industry. She successfully made the transition from film to digital, but it was that Change that requires a greater focus on her movement habits and her healthy lifestyle choices so she could sustain her career and her well being. And these habits have contributed to her vitality for her work and her zest for life. And you will hear all about those habits and more in our conversation today. Now this is the second in the series of archival conversations that come from way back in the fitness and post days where I talked to Hollywood legends. And in this episode, we are clearly going to see that living a healthy lifestyle, weathering major industry changes and enjoying a long and successful career are not mutually exclusive pandemic or otherwise, I want you to learn from the cream of the crop, how to be resilient and gracious in the face of adversity, no matter how uncomfortable the circumstances. Now if today's interview inspires you to take the next step towards a more fulfilling career path that not only aligns you with projects that you are passionate about, but also includes some semblance of work life. And especially if you would like support mentorship and community to help you turn those goals into reality. Well, then you and I need to talk because early September, I am opening Fall Enrollment for my optimizer coaching and mentorship program, and it sounds like you might be the perfect fit. Over the last three years I have now worked with well over 100 students and I have seen stunning transformations. But the biggest obstacle for most of you has been that the program was just too expensive or require too much time. Luckily, those are no longer problems because I've made the program a lot more affordable and a lot less time intensive for those who have busy lives but still need an extra push to make whatever the next major transition is in your life. If you would like to learn more and get on the waitlist to be the first to have access to the application when it becomes available. Please visit optimize yourself.me/optimizer. Alright, without further ado, my conversation with Oscar nominated editor Carol Littleton made possible today By our amazing sponsors ever cast and arrow driven, who are both going to be featured a bit later in today's interview, to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss the next inspirational interview, please visit optimize yourself. That means slash podcast.

I'm here today with Carol Littleton. And this is an immense pleasure for me because if you're not familiar with Carol, little tunez, then you haven't done your study in the world of Film Editing in film history. Carol is the Oscar nominated editor of such films as at the Big Chill, Silverado Grand Canyon, Benny and Joon dreamcatcher. And just a few of these other tiny little obscure movies you probably never heard of. So Carol, it is such an immense pleasure to have you on the other end of my microphone today.

Well, thank you very much, Zack. That's quite an introduction.

Well, you deserve it. I mean, you are pretty much a legend in our industry and Anytime that you talk to people that have been around for a while, and they talk about just some of the best and the brightest and the nicest people that helped them get where they are, your name comes up in a lot of those circles. So not only do you have a pretty impressive resume, but you have an impressive list of people that have said that you helped them get where they are. And you and I actually connected originally via Roald Avalos, who is a good friend of mine, and he and I shared a wall on empire for two years. And I know that you've worked with role on several films as well. And he was one of the many that spoke very, very highly of you and you helping him get where he is.

Well, he was my assistant on several movies way back, one of which we had an awful lot of fun with so right,

yeah, so what I really wanted to have you on the show for today and for anybody that's listening, I just want you to understand the amount of toil and just what you and I had to go through just to get you on the other end of this microphone right now. It has taken us almost two months of rescheduling and multiple times where Skype didn't work and you had to set up a new Skype account that didn't work, then we got disconnected. And then of all things when finally we got Skype to work, you had a pipe burst in your house. So the fix, right, so the universe did not want you and I to be on the same microphone at the same time. But guess what? We're here anyway, the reason that I really wanted you on the show is because you and I have had some extensive conversations offline in the past, just about the lifestyle of being an editor, and how things have changed over the last 30 to 40 years, but also, more importantly, how they haven't changed as much as people like to think I want to talk a lot about that. But before we do that, I just want to give people a little bit more background. I've given them the credits, which kind of give them a sense of just you know, the the elevator pitch for your history, kind of how you came up in this industry, how you got your big breaks and became the Carol Littleton then I want to dive into the lifestyle stuff.

Well, I actually moved here. In here, meaning Los Angeles in 1970. A couple years after I got here, I married my then boyfriend who's now my husband, John Bailey. We've been married for I guess it's now it's been some 45 years, 44 years. I started out as a commercial editor because I could not get into the union was what they call the in a closed shop. So I just said, Well, I'll just do what I can. And I had my own company as a commercial editor for about five or six years, started first as a PA. But before getting into commercials, a PA for an agency, director, AGC creative guy. And through that contact, I eventually had my own little company and tried to get into the union eventually got into the union in 1976 77 but couldn't work because of the seniority system, which meant that I was a group three with no seniority as an editor, and I couldn't work until all the group one working and all the group twos were working. So that meant that I was going to be unemployed. So I just kept on with my commercial company until I was offered a job on a feature. And it was very low budget and kind of some off the radar. So I did that and that kind of started my the switch from commercials to features and once I made that switch with pretty much with Karen Arthur, who was a young director at the EFI with the woman's woman's directors workshop, I did two of her films one was called oddly enough, the the morpho cage and the other one was called legacy. And after that, I got then my first assignment on a on a feature film, which was called fringe postcards. And I got that essentially, because I speak French and they needed somebody who could be on location in Paris. So that was very difficult assignment. And then from there, I just simply got one film after another, it was very, very lucky. And here I am today, some 3538 Films later and I'm still enjoying it.

I love that the doing your kind of career retrospective you talk all about, you had these little films here and there, you know. And then a couple things happened. And it's today. And there's there's a pretty giant range of names on your resume and between the legacy film The French postcards film, and to being on this podcast right now. So let's just talk a little bit about how you went from working on these smaller films and, you know, working as an assistant or whatnot, then all of a sudden you work on a film called body heat. And for anybody that doesn't know that was just one of the seminal films of the early 80s. And then all of a sudden, you're on what is known as one of the top quintessential family films of all time, all within the span of what looks like about two years, so Talk about that period a little bit.

It wasn't really two years because I had cut my teeth doing commercials. And I guess they would call them corporate films, little, little documentaries and so forth. For the nine or 10 years from the time that I started in Film Editing in the 70s, until I got my first union assignment of my first what I would call big job on fringe postcards. So it looks like I came out of nowhere. But in fact, I kind of paid my dues for seven, eight years, nine years before I started to do a sort of a rash of films. But I guess you would have to say that my very big break came when I met Lawrence cast and Larry Kasdan, when we actually got together to do body heat. And I have worked on non mercy 10 of his films since then. And I would say that he is probably the main reason that I had a real spike in my career because Larry If people don't know who he is, and I'm sure that most of the people who will be watching it will be listening to this will know, was the writer on Empire Strikes Back and on Return of the Jedi. So when he, in his association with Lucasfilm and George Lucas wanted to start directing, Lucas said, Yes, that's fine. I will help you in every way that I can. And that's sort of was the launch pad for Larry's career. And the first film that Larry did was by heat. And I actually got a phone call to read the script and talk to Larry, by virtue of his knowing George Lucas and my husband went to film school the same time that George Lucas was at sc. So you can see it was a kind of a roundabout association with Lucasfilm that that essentially introduced me to Larry. And that's how I like my career in feature films. really started. If I back up just a couple of paces, the writer director of print postcards as Willard hike, and Gloria Katz, were very close friends of George's, and they wrote American Graffiti. So you see, I got into the orbit of young filmmakers, my contemporaries, sort of very honored through that contact with George Lucas Lucas Film, the director, and producer refrige postcards. And also my husband, john Bailey, who's a cinematographer. So

well, and I was gonna say your your husband is he's picked up a camera once or twice, correct.

We have actually worked on a lot of films together. And that's probably if a director has the courage to hire two key people who were actually married. It turns into actually a wonderful relationship and we've done several films john, as a cinematographer is the editor and various director So it's been it's been a great, great way to work and to come up through the ranks in Film Editing.

So then what was the specific connection once you went from body heat all the way to et because as most people know, Michael Kohn is basically the quintessential quote unquote Steven Spielberg editor. So talk a little bit about how it came about.

Well, actually, it was very much a fluke, because if you'll, if you'll go back to the 19 8081, when he was, you know, in in production and post production, Larry and I had just finished body heat. And Larry had just finished the script. And also, the filming was starting for Raiders of the Lost Ark. So Larry obviously knew Steven through that connection of having written Raiders of the Lost Ark. And also George because he was one of the CO producers on Raiders. Larry knew Stevens through their association on Raiders lost our steel was very involved with Poltergeist and there were a lot of problems on that film and he tried to get it going at the same time. And Michael Kahn was doing Poltergeist so he was not available to do et. And furthermore, he was considered to be a low budget film. I was going to be it had followed 1941 and Steven had gotten the deal universal, and they said that there was an absolute cap of $10 million for bunk for the budget. And Steven consequently, decided that he would do it pretty much like an independent film, even though it was a union film through universal in that he would just hire young filmmakers to to do it with him so that he could afford to make the movie. So he called me primary after he had talked to Larry to see if he had seen body very much. And he said well, you know, he is a film as much as it is a special effects film, with the puppet and everything. is really a film about the relationships, the relationship with the children with at the children with each other, and the relationship with their mother. So he wanted somebody who could deal with relationships in a very emotional way. So through his association with Larry that they had a little chit chat, Larry asked me if I would be interested, I simply, of course, will be interested. But I like to read the script. So Stephen invited me down to MGM where his offices were at the time, and said, Why don't you stay in my office, read the script. And I'll be back in a couple hours we'll talk about which is precisely what I did. I was sworn to secrecy, the name of the script, then the working title was a boy's life. And that's the title we used through production and post production. And that's a little bit of the short version of how I got involved on end.

And did anybody have any sense at the time even though it was a $10 million, which, in my mind still is not low. But in you know, back in the early 80s is a, you know, it's not nothing but at the same time in the world of Steven Spielberg and Raiders of the Lost Ark, like it's kind of pennies. So did you? Did you guys have any inkling of what you were sitting on and what it was going to become before it came out? Or were you just completely in shock when it ended up earning? I think it's like four or $500 million at this point?

Well, first of all, of course, anybody would be surprised with that kind of mammoth success. And it is a pretty success in that. Now, children are adults, they have their own children they want their children to look at and it just has, has stated perennial favorite, but at the time to answer your question, no, we really didn't know is going to be this mammoth hit. Although I'd have to say that when I read the script, I was absolutely convinced it was going to be an extraordinary beautiful little film. And when we were working on it, all of us always referred to it as Stephens little film as opposed to To close encounters, and all the other films he had made before that, which were pretty large jaws and so forth. So this was built always as a small low budget film. But as after I read Rosa Matheson's script, I knew that it was absolutely a wonderful, wonderful script. And I knew that if we were able to approach the storytelling and warmth, the story and the relationships, if we could get that on film, it was going to be really a beautiful, beautiful film. I didn't know it's going to be such a big hit. But a short answer would be that the script was fabulous. My first conversation with Steven was so reassuring the pieces just fell into place. Can I say it was a wonderful, wonderful experience?

Well, I'm definitely one of those people that has the same story where I can tell you that it's actually one of my first memories ever being in a movie theater was seeing et when people say oh, I have this No memory first time I was in the theater really young, you know, it's just that magical moment. Et is one of those for me. And I now have also shown it to my kids. And now my son just loves it. So just like a couple of days ago. I mean, he's almost seven now. So he knows how to run Netflix and run the internet and Apple TV and all that, like, what do you wanna watch it? I want to watch it again. So I mean, it really is a multi generational favorite, and it completely holds up. Because I've been, I've been trying to show them all the great films from the 70s, the 80s, some from the 90s. Like all these seminal family films that came out and some of them do not hold up, but it just holds up perfectly.

I really believe it's because, in fact, at a certain point when Steven was shooting when they were really shooting a lot of the puppet, he came to we had dailies always at noon, when we had our lunch break, and then we would look at him again in the evening. Because Steven kept saying, you know if we get the relationship between Elliot and et, and people can accept et, as this little animal with his own personality, and his own way of being as a as a learner Just a little beautiful little being, the moving will work. But if we if we cannot get this puppet to work, that's going to be our downfall. So we were always keenly aware that getting the puppet work to work was the biggest, biggest challenge moving. And obviously it does, because people just love that little, that little guy.

Well, and one of the things that I've really noticed from watching the film as an adult, is that now that we have all this new technology and all the CG, like you can tell that it's it's fake, but because emotionally the film works so well you forget so quickly. And now you'd like seeing that after spending the last 20 years seeing CG animated puppets and characters. You feel so much more connected to a fake piece of plastic than you do to some of these brilliantly animated characters and I don't really understand why maybe it's because it's this physical thing that existed in front of the camera. Maybe it's all in the writing. I don't really know what it is, but I really had this visceral reaction. Whereas like, this is such a different experience than these new CG characters. And the funny thing is, I specifically remember this moment when I was watching for the first time. And my son was like, there's something funny about that thing. Is it real? Because he had never seen a film with these real puppeted characters like these these animatronic characters? He was, he grew up on CGI, so and he actually noticed He's like, there's something different about that. Is that real? So I thought that was really telling an interesting just about how much things have changed.

Yes. And I think that you know, minor stuff. You can't underestimate the fact that there's an object of 3d object, you know, an object with its own dimension and its own movement alive in the frame with the live characters. It's not Roger Rabbit either is not an animated it's not CG is it's a real honest to God thinks it's a thing. It's a puppet. So I think there is a real A real advantage and having a three dimensional object that is being photographed with with those children. Why is it totally convincing with the voice and the movement and all the work that went into creating the character? I think we did our work pretty well, because people never seem to question, you know, is that a piece of plastic?

Yeah, I mean, you really forget immediately if you're old enough to understand that it clearly it's not real, you forget in about 30 seconds. And I think maybe that's part of it is that when I watch these brilliantly animated and executed films, I never have that moment of forgetting that it's fake, because I know that it was done by computer even if the animation is amazing. I really wish that we could kind of maybe this is just me starting to, to get a little bit older and harkening back on the olden days, but I just I'm watching all these 80s Films over again for the first time with my son, and I just miss that that sense of everything feeling real as opposed to everything being computer generated against green screen. Well, now

one of the interesting things to do is to look at the most recent Star Wars film. And Abrams and Larry actually talked a lot about CG versus model shop. And a lot of the characters actually work model shop puppets. So they had a combination of both in that film, and I thought they pulled it off extremely well. You really do believe that a number of those very, very large, gigantic characters, you believe them far more than you would a CG character. There's something about it. There's something about being a child in the case of et being able to relate to an object on the screen directly. As opposed to if, if Stephen had said, Okay, now, Elliot, you're just going to make believe that there's a character here and you're going to relate to it as opposed to a real puppet there in front of the child relating to the puppet. It's just very, very different. You

Yes I I could not agree with that more and I could probably talk your ear off for two hours alone just about the you know animatronics and puppeteers and just the the experience working on et but what I really want to dive into and the whole reason that you're here and I was so inspired to have this conversation with you was I really want to talk about the lifestyle that you design over the course of your career. But I also want to talk about how things have changed in this industry so it doesn't have to be et but in that period of your career, whether it was et or it was Big Chill Silverado kind of after you'd made your big break and you were working on these very high profile Hollywood films. What was a day in the life back then so would have been you know, the the early to mid 80s before digital editing when you actually had to order a dissolve from the lab and wait for like, one of the things that I hear from people now so often is Oh man, it was so easy back then. And they they would order dissolve at three in the afternoon and take The rest of the day off. And now we've got it so hard because we have this digital technology. So just kind of walk me through what things look like when you worked on these big films 30 or 40 years ago and then I just want to talk about how things have evolved or devolved since then

to answer your questions. We never ordered an optical and then sat around for the afternoon. Because there was always so much to do on it, it really, you would have two or three things that you were working on at once. For instance, we would go through the various thing routines we do now, where we would have dailies every day, we look at dailies, then we looked at dailies as a group as opposed to looking at them alone now, which I find to be one of the huge losses in filmmaking process. But nevertheless the editor then as now always looks at dailies always takes notes always thinks about things before starting to actually put scenes together. And then just as it is now, scenes were shot out of order. So we would work on scenes as they were shot, putting them together, working from the time that the filming started. And then a week, maybe two weeks after, we would wrap we would have, I would have the first screening for the director, which would be in a screening room because we had film and, you know, just very minimal effects and dialogue and music. So we we went through the same routine, but we were working on physical pieces of film as opposed to working on a computer. But it was instant access in the sense that you can go to a box, get a roll of film, put it on the movie or or later on a Kim or steamed back, flap it and look at whatever piece of film you wanted to see by by virtue of taking it out of a film box. And going down and unwrapping it putting in the movie or looking at it, marking it, slicing it, putting it together until a scene was made and then we'll move on So the big difference that I can see, and there are lots of differences in the way that we work, then the way we work now is that number one, we had more time to think about it, because in order to manipulate pieces of film, it took a long time. So you wouldn't just start cutting, you would literally think about the intent of the scene, you would think about the performances, you would have a pretty good idea of what you wanted to do before you started. And believe it or not putting a scene together was usually pretty quick, because you had done all of the hard work ahead of time. Now, I see a lot of younger editors do not go through that rigorous discipline of thinking of making notes of really knowing what you do what you want to achieve before you start. They simply just start cutting without even looking at data sometimes just saying, Oh, well, the last thing is always good. I'll just choose that and I'll go back and review the others. On a fundamental level, the editing is the same Whether you're working on film, or you're working on digital images, you know, on a computer, but the biggest difference is that we took the time to think about it, to really think about the relationships, think about the performances, to think about what's the first shot of the last shot of a scene to really have a plan before starting to work, for instance, on the last thing that I did, which was an HBO film for a political film called all the way meaning all the way with LBJ, that Jay Jay Roach directed. And because he started on film first and obviously, now is perfectly comfortable in the digital discipline. But he shoots and thinks about film as film. So we really had kind of a similar background and that we're using digital technology, but thinking and reacting to film as if it were film. That means looking at dailies We we sometimes will look at dailies together but not too much because we just simply didn't have time. But Jay always looked at dailies. I always looked at dailies. And we were chit chat about it. And because it was the film was being shot at Culver studios, our editing rooms right next to the stages. So anytime there was a break in the shooting, many times Jay would come upstairs, where we had the editing room and would look at what I was seeing that I was working on and would give me pointers and comments and I would make corrections, make adjustments. And we worked very much as if we were working on film every day getting in touch with each other talking about the scenes talking about performances. Talking about what what was needed, what what we could use less of what we need more of and just working as a team, day by day, day by day. Now that's a luxury because most of the time now a director is so completely involved. And the schedules are so much shorter for shooting, that the director many times doesn't have time to even think about the editing until the film's wrapped. And then you're sort of showing him scenes or her scenes without having had any dialogue, or even looking at dailies until the very end of the movie. And that I just find that's just not the way to make a film. You just don't get the best out of the material that way.

Yeah, I could not agree more that it's a very collaborative process. And being younger in the industry, I actually haven't had the experience that much of being so involved with the director until the director's cut because they are so inundated with so many requests and shorter schedules and there are some times especially in television, or I will not have ever spoken to had a single email exchange or even have had met the director at all until after I handed in a first cut of an episode and then our conversation starts and then they get an entire four days to try and give their their thoughts and their ideas. And clearly TV is different from film. But the two worlds are kind of merging. But I want I want to back up a second because I think that you hit on just one of my giant pet peeves and something that I taught my students for years at USC. And anytime I talk on panels, I talk about this. And it's the idea of how to approach the material when you first start, because especially in television, most of the editors that I know on TV, they said, there's just too many dailies, they're shooting too much, I don't have enough time. So my process is that I just watch the final take and I start cutting. And if there's something that really isn't working like somebody flubbed a line for God, align, then all kind of scan through to find that missing piece. And to me, this is in Yes, in the short term, you might be saving time in your first edit. But if you're looking over the course of the entire process and the project until you lock picture, you're actually wasting an immense amount of time, because you don't know the material. You're going to have to scan through it anyway. And you can't devise the plan like you said, so for me I watch every single bit of dailies chronologically the way that they were shot on set. So I just create a digital version of a camera roll. And I just sit down and watch everything. And then I don't even take out the stuff before and after action. It's anytime they hit the record button between on and off. I watch that. And at first, it's a little bit more time consuming, but I'm able to like you said I can devise a mental plan and really notes here's what I want the scene to be about. And hey, there was this one moment where they were waiting for a reset because an airplane flew overhead but I saw this look and the main characters I that was the strongest look and all the tasks I'm going to build my entire scene around that one stolen look and that's now my plan. But if you discover that look, when you're two days before you lock picture, you can't build a scene around it, it's too late. So I think that having come up through the film process, that it's it makes such a big difference the way that you approach it even though you're not working with digital material.

Right? Okay, I the same routine every day. All right. read the script first where I have, you know, made my notes of when I first read the script, I read the scene, I think about the intent, I think about essentially what is going to be needed in the scene. And then I start looking at all the angles and making notes I look at all the dailies, and that may take sometimes as much as four or five hours, you know, the way they shoot these days. Sometimes it can be six or seven hours, but I have that discipline of looking at dailies. And then I start to cut and the cutting actually goes pretty fast. It doesn't take so long, then I will once I have made my first pass through the scene, cutting it, I put it aside and I won't review it until the next morning. Then the next morning, the very first thing I do is I review the scene that I have done the day before and make a few quick changes. And just put it aside again. By now it is looking better. It's actually playing pretty well. This So I just kind of put a pin in it put aside. Look at the dailies for the next scene that's up for me to see, which will be either long or long involves scene or a short scene or whatever. But I do the very same thing I think about the intent. I think about the performances, I think about what the director had wanted, you know, what might have been the first shot, that would be the best, you know, design of the scene, that he's on set of the scene. And I do the same thing again, I looked at everything, take notes, cut that version, put it aside, look at it the next morning. So now scenes are starting to pile up and I begin beginning to have scenes that can actually be put together to make a sequence. When I have enough of those. I put them all together, look at that then make revisions based on the sequence. And when that is finished, I put that aside all the while I'm cutting new scenes every day. So they the pieces just start to build and they build organically because they're always connected. It seems the performances, the emotional life is always connected all the way through. So that's essentially how I go about my work every day when we're when the film is being shot, then of course, it changes dramatically when the director comes in because we start working as a team, really thinking about the film as a whole, what works, what doesn't work, where we need to put our attention, and then it evolves into looking at it, edit it ourselves in the screening room, then getting outsiders to look at it with us and then eventually we have a series of previews all the while changes are being made, changes are being made, changes are being made. So that I'm sure you do the very same thing but it's, it's a discipline that you know, you always do your work you you work hard every day. You just keep up you keep up the steam and just keep rolling through it.

As far as the kind of when you were talking about like the, the process for the editors cut versus Director's Cut, and so on. The analogy that I always use for people is is kind of like it isn't kind of it is a relationship, a very deep, intimate relationship with another human being. So when you're kind of interviewing for a job, at least on a feature film, it's a little different in TV, but it's kind of like you're getting ready for a marriage, you're saying is this somebody that I can marry, and the editors cut, that's the dating phase. That's like when you're, you're just loving each other. And, you know, oh, that's a great idea. Oh, I love what you did there, and I can't wait to get started. And then the director's cut starts and you're living together and like, you're seeing all the warts and urine long hours. And now this guy needs to shower more often, but you really get to know each other. And then comes the, you know, the deeper sides of the marriage and the therapy sessions. But you know, you eventually work through all of it, you will walk away with a great product if you both have the same intention, which is it's all about the film. So that that's really how I look at that director editor relationship, but you're right, it evolves drastically over the course of a single project.

And I think One of the things that, you know, is being an editor is not about controlling, it's really about interpreting. We are the interpreter of the script, the writers intention. And we're the interpreter for all of the grace notes, all of the all of the ways that the director wants to approach a scene, a character, a sequence, the overall film, we are as interpreter, which doesn't mean to say that we don't have ideas, and plenty of them. But it becomes a real light, as you said, a collaborative work of given take. Oh, let's try that. That sounds good. Let's try this. Let's try that let's try this is the editing room becomes a sanctuary, a safe place to try a lot of ideas, and to solve a lot of problems.

And one of the things that you said when you were kind of talking about the director editor relationship, and also just the the general process is you said, you know, we worked very hard. We work long hours. Get it done. And that's where I want to go next is I want to know what the the actual Day in the Life looked like as far as hours during the day, number of days in the week and really kind of put this idea to bed that all of a sudden nowadays because of digital technology, we're working so much harder than our predecessors used to. Because when I spoke to Walter Murch, he made it pretty clear that things were pretty rough even back then. So kind of give me your interpretation of what the hours look like then versus now. And if you've seen a change,

well, I could just take one example. For instance, on Silverado, we had a we had a long shoot, but it was primarily because of the locations we were in Santa Fe. And there were a lot It was a Western. So there are lots of horses, lots of wagons, lots of period, you know, costumes and so forth. So the logistics every day of getting to and from the set were enormous. And it took quite a while to shoot and we thought that we had a A nice schedule is something like, I think it was eight or nine months after after they wrapped to edit the film. But as it turned out, we that was cut way short. And so Larry and I was like, I think it was like we were supposed to have nine months in post, and it was cut down before. So we realized that we were going to have to change and work. We worked seven days a week while we were at on vacation, they shot six days a week. And Larry and I went into the cutting room on the seventh day. I didn't have a day off the whole time we were shooting. I might have taken an afternoon off, but we work straight through from the time we started to we wrapped and then when we got back to LA, we work six days a week until we got it done. It was it was really, really grueling. And I don't know what to say. But you do physical work when you're cutting film. you're lifting rolls of film, moving it around. We have fairly large crew. When we were in Santa Fe we had, there were three of us and apprentice in tunes assistance. And when we got to LA, it expanded somewhat by having even more people on staff and the sound crew came on when we came back so they were working simultaneously with us from the time that we wrapped until we finished so it was a huge crew constantly funneling film, you know, scenes that were cut recut, cut recut, going back through editing, all of this was on film. So we didn't have once one of those days that you that everybody seems to think we had where we ordered an optical and then went home to the day, it would never happened. First of all, the assistance order the optical and we would go through two or three iterations of opticals on film until we got something we liked. So there are a lot of misconceptions about how, how easy it was when we were on film. How difficult it is now. Working digitally, my sincerest

Zack Arnold 41:03

apologies for the interruption in the middle of this interview, but if you are a content creator or you work in the entertainment industry, not only is the following promo not in interruption, but listening has the potential to change your life. Because collaborating with ever cast is that powerful. Here's a brief excerpt from a recent interview that I did with ever cast co founders, Brad Thomas, an award winning editor, Roger Barton, living this

Unknown Speaker 41:25

lifestyle of a feature film editor has really had an impact on me. So I was really looking for something to push back against all of these lifestyle infringement that are imposed on us both by schedules and expectations. When you guys demoed wherever cast for me that first time my jaw hit the floor, I'm like, Oh my god, this is what I've been waiting for. for a decade. I also

Brad 41:48

had the same reaction when I first saw ever cast to words came to mind game changer. Our goal honestly, is

to become the zoom for creatives, whatever it is, you're streaming, whether it's editorial visual effects, Pro Tools for me composition, LIVE SHOT cameras. It's consistent audio and video. Lip Sync always stays in sync, whether you're in a live session where you're getting that feedback immediately, or you can't get it immediately. So you record the session and you can share those clips with people on the production team where there's no room for any confusion. It's like this is exactly what the director wants. This is exactly what the producer wants. What matters most to me is it makes the entire process more efficient, which then translates to us as creatives who spend way too much time in front of computers. We get to shut it down, and we get to go spend time with our friends and family. The biggest complaint and I'm sure you guys have heard this many, many times.

Unknown Speaker 42:36

This looks amazing. I just can't afford

Brad 42:38

it. Tesla had to release the Model S before they released the model three. So by the end of the year, we are going to be releasing a sub $200 version a month of ever cast for the freelancer in indie creatives, anyone who is a professional video creator outside of Hollywood. I think what we've learned over the last few months is that this technology continues. translates to better lives for all of us. They give us more flexibility and control while still maintaining the creativity, the creative momentum and the quality of work. I cannot stress this enough ever cast is changing the way that we collaborate. If you value your craft

Carol Littleton 43:15

your well being and spending quality time with the ones you love, ever cast now makes that possible for you and me to listen to the full interview and learn about the amazing potential that ever cast has to change the way that you work and live, visit optimize yourself.me slash ever cast. Now back to today's interview. When I remember specifically one of the stories that Walter had told me that really resonated was and I don't remember the exact specifics, but anybody who wants to listen, I can put a link to the show notes to that episode that I did with Walter March. But he had mentioned that they were working seven day weeks. I can't remember which which film it was offhand. But it was her major studio and somebody went to a studio executive and said, Listen, everybody's dropping like flies like we've got to slow down. We've got to pace ourselves. The executive simply said, well then just get more flies. So and that was not five years ago, that was decades ago. So clearly the mentality hasn't changed as much as the younger editors like to think that, you know, want to become the martyrs and say nobody has worked as hard as we've worked. Now it's like it the process is different. But the the hours and the demands are really no different. And you really hit upon something that I wanted to go to next. And that was the idea that when you're working on film, you are moving throughout the day, and anybody that's listening to this show knows that I talk incessantly about the idea of moving versus being sedentary, and how that affects your creativity. So I really wanted to talk to you specifically, because I know that you were really active. I think there were three or four times that we had to reschedule podcasts just because you're like, Oh yeah, I'm going to Yosemite or I'm going to this other national park and I'm going to be walking off the grid for a week or whatever it is. So talk to me about the difference that you've seen in the way that editors work in their lifestyle and the transition from film to digital.

Oh well, well, first of all, like you said, and all of us who've worked on film can really remember that many times we stood. If I was working with a movie Ola I would stand all day long and reach out to take pieces of film down. You would be rewinding film you were constantly in motion to make a splice you'd have to move two pieces of film and splice it together put it back in the roll and go even when we went from movie Ola to flatbeds we were always moving film around and I had I stood to work on a movie Ola so long that many times I would have my my Kim or seeing back or common five been put up on blocks so I could stand up and work and I would just use a higher chair to sit down if I got tired and just only recently I started out in 95 or 96 when I moved from film to working on first alight works and then an avid The first thing that I noticed was that I was Far more sedentary and sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting, just drove me crazy. So I started to always take a walk, walking break at lunch, I would have a sandwich or something, made it a rule never to eat at my bench or at my desk, and always would take, take a lunch break, get outside, walk vigorously around the block just just to change where I was looking, changed the air change the way I was thinking. And when I came back, I was always refreshed so many times late in the afternoon, if we were going to be working late in the evening, I would do the same thing. I take a quick half hour break, walk briskly around the block or around the studio lot and then go back to work and feel very invigorated and refreshed. I have always exercise and being physically engaged while I'm working has always been a part of the way that I work. I just simply make Time for it. And it has just given me I think mentally alert and physically strong.

Well, I would say that's an understatement cuz having met you in person, I mean, you've got the the energy, and the vitality and just the the personality of somebody that's most likely younger than I am. So you know, you look on paper and you're like, Oh, yeah, she was an old seasoned veteran. But, I mean, you just you wouldn't know it from talking to you, or having a conversation. Like, you've just got so much energy to you. And I really curious to know, what the biggest thing that you notice when you start because you said yourself, you're like, wow, I'm really sedentary. What did you start to notice? were some of the things that were different about either your performance, how you felt or how you were working as an editor, when that started to happen?

Well, the first two or three jobs i didn't i didn't quite realize, you know, because we made a transition. We always had a film project parallel with the digital project. So I would always, you know, look Get on the film project and, and sometimes sit down and make a few cuts on on film and it wasn't, you know, just from one day to the next we just forgot film. So I began to realize after I did a couple of films that were purely with no film whatsoever, they might have been shot on film, but we never saw that film. It was always, you know, cut negative. I did. That's when I began to realize that I was sitting and sitting and sitting and I was it was driving me crazy. I wasn't thinking straight. I would forget footage. I've never forgotten footage, I would forget, you know, take 50 to A, B and C, I would forget Oh, that was a close up. It was this so that I can retain footage really very well. But I was beginning to realize that I was looking for footage more than then retaining it. Because it's so easy to do digitally. You can just pop it up and say, Oh, yeah, I remember that now. So the discipline of looking at film remembering it was Starting to start to lose it. Then I began to realize that I wasn't eating as well, I was not exercising as much, I was not taking breaks as much. So I told myself, I have to go back to the things that kept me going, when I was cutting film, and do that when I'm now cutting digitally, and it it really turned me around. So I know there's a huge difference in your mental acuity and your mental agility. If you between the time you know that you're active, or that or when you're sedentary, there's just a huge, huge difference. So I started, um, I get up in the morning and I do a round of exercise. You know, like walking or whatever. I don't go to a gym because I just can't stand the gym life but I get up before I go to work. I have a little bit of breakfast, I spent about half an hour 45 minutes exercising and then when I get To work, I am alert, I'm awake, I'm alert, I'd have a maybe a cup of coffee or something. And then I make a rule never, ever, ever to need in my cutting room. I don't have any junk food in there. I have a snacks in there, the snacks are kept in somebody else's room. But I the only thing that I do is I sip tea throughout the day. And I asked my assistant to bring me a fresh cup a couple of times during the day. And it's always herbal tea. I tried to keep a certain amount of exercise a certain amount of discipline with my diet. And then I tried to always get a good night's sleep. The sleep is when you're able to flush out all that garbage that you thought about, renew yourself, and then do it again. So I I've learned through trial and error that that's worth that works best for me.

Well, it's not that it just works best for you. It works best for everybody because we're all human beings. And that's the way that we're wired. we're wired to be moving and our genetic code expects us To move like 10 to 15 miles per day, and if you're sedentary in front of a computer, and you're trying to, you know, think intensely and be creative, but you're moving a mile and a half to two miles per day, which is equivalent to about 2000 steps, which is what I'm finding to now be the norm for a lot of people in this industry, then it's absolutely killing your ability to make those creative decisions. And that was the aha moment that I had, where at first it was, well, I know that I'm sitting all day long, but as long as I exercise either in the morning or the nights, then you know, I can still be fit and not gain a bunch of weight. And it's kind of more about how much do I weigh, and how do I look at how do my clothes fit, all of which are important, but it wasn't until it kind of clicked I'm like, Wait a second. If I'm not moving, and I'm sitting all day long, I'm not a good editor. because like you said, You started losing information. And that's what was happening to me, where I have I don't know if I pick this term out from a book I read wherever. So if this term was coined by somebody else, and I'm stealing it, that's not purposely but I have this process that I call mental digital tising where I just watched the footage intently, and I'm just digitizing it into my brain. So like you said three months later, somebody says, I know that that's in this one take this one guy did that. Yeah, I know exactly where that is. And when I sit all day long, I lose that ability. I'm like, Yeah, you're right. But I don't remember seeing that. Where was that? But if I'm moving all day long, then I'm able to retain so much more information to learn more. And it makes such a huge difference in my performance. And like you said, you know, you make the time to do these things, but it actually isn't about finding more time. I would assume that in your case, because I hear from so many other people, you're actually gaining time back because you're so much more efficient and so much more energetic by the end of the day.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I my routine is pretty much the same. And and I find that it really is invigorating, and when I started to sort of drop off drop off fast, you know. So I, I know when I have to make an adjustment in the way that I either the way that I eat, or the way that I exercise or the way that I get the proper amount of sleep. I'm very much attuned to what my body needs, and I will give it. I'll give it whatever it needs. And I just have to face that if I do that, I know I'll be okay. In the editing department. Because I'm, you know, I feel, at least now this far along in my career, I know that I know how to put a movie together. And if I start to lose it physically, I know I have to stop and take care of it right now.

Yeah. And that's really the the mindset that I feel that so few people have adopted, because we've kind of become extensions of our workstation. It's like, Oh, well, you know, we're just the keyboard monkeys, we just press the buttons and if the computer is running, then I need to be running. But instead of looking at it that way, if you really think well, I'm a high performance machine or I'm, you know, I'm a racehorse, if you're somebody that spent a million dollars on a racehorse, you're going to let the poor thing rest in You're going to take care of it and you're going to feed it well. And once you kind of make that mindset shift, all of a sudden, everything starts to click into place, and your efficiency increases and the quality of your work increases and your mood increases. You're not the grumpy editor anymore. And I'm, I'm guessing you've probably run into a grumpy editor or two in your career. Oh, yeah,

yeah. Uh huh. They seem to grousing is what they do best.

And that's really, really counter counterproductive. You know, you've got to keep a positive and an optimistic point of view. That's our job we have we get to be a grouser to be an old complainer old curmudgeon that's just not going to happen. Nobody wants to be around you. You're not bringing any life to the movie. You You are smothering it with your bad attitude. So the best thing to do is to realize like you said that we are a high performance machine. We have to give it what it needs. If it needs exercise. If it needs diet, if it needs, you know, proper kind of food, if it needs sleep, it works. Now, the interesting thing is that once I realized that I needed to recoup my routine that I had, when I was cutting film, and apply it to cutting digitally, things started to really turn around for me. And I, I firmly believe in movement makes the difference. It really, really does. It just we're just wired. Like you said, we're wired for it, we have to keep it up. And I'm able to do much more work much more efficiently if I've taken care of myself.

And movement is also one of those Keystone habits because you've also mentioned sleep, you've mentioned diet, and those things are not going to fall into place. If you're sitting around all day long doing nothing because if you start to get the engine turned on, then all of a sudden you're going to be more conscious of your diet and all of the hormones that are kicking in in your brain saying I must have Crunchy snacks, I must have sugar. Those hormones become dissipated as you move more. And as you move more, you're able to get deeper sleep, get more restful sleep and be more refreshed. So it's kind of like if you're gonna think, alright, there are all these things that I can do with my life. I can eat better, I can exercise, I can move, I can change my sleep, I can be more organized, I can meditate, whatever it is, you got to find one Domino, just focus on one Domino to get started. And you find the biggest one and all of a sudden the rest just kind of fall when you push that first one over. And through 10 years of research. There is no one definitive answer, but in my opinion, the big Domino is you just got to start to move more, then you can focus on everything else. And it sounds like you had the exact same revelation.

Yeah, I did, too. I really at a certain point, I realized, first of all, growing up I grew up in rural Oklahoma. My dad was a farmer, essentially ranch farmer. And I spent most of my early childhood outside doing all kinds of things. That has that has become a part of me now how I got involved in a cutting room, probably, you know, I have to examine my mind about that. From the time of being a little kid, I was always very, very physically active. And I realized right away when I got involved primarily in music, that all those hours in a practice room were practicing really didn't work for me unless I kept up my exercise. So from a very early age, I had the connection of my mind working my mind works when my body's working right. And if my body's working right, everything else will fall into place, including sleep. So this has been a lifelong habit. And sometimes you'll get into situations where in editing, you're just you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work and I have learned to say when that starts to happen There's only so much I can do. It's better to stop and to be fresh and just start when I'm fresh. And I just have faith in the fact that the editing routine will kick in and everything will fall into place. Now, I just don't get as nervous as I used to. Because I know that ultimately, everything, everything will work if you take care of yourself.

Yeah, and that's the fear. That's the anxiety that everybody that does creative work knows, which is if I stop, I mean, I get everything done that I need to get done in time. Therefore, I must keep going. We've all had that fear, I still fight that fear every single day, thinking, well, if I don't work this extra hour, then I'm never gonna have time to make up the extra hour and I'm gonna miss my deadline. But if you if you play the long game, you're still going to get everything done, but you're going to do a better job of it.

The main thing is you have to have enough confidence to have total faith in the editing process. And the way that I'm able to keep the note because I My hands and do all the things that people do you know, you gotta get nervous, like, I am worried about this thing. I'm worried about that I'm worried about this performance. I'm worried about meeting a deadline. Don't believe for a moment that I don't have those same worries. I just know how to put them into context. And I have faith in myself. And I have faith in the editorial process, that if I show up every day, do a good day's work, I know it will get done. So you just have to convince yourself and have proof that that actually will work. And once you believe it, you just do it. Now I'm not a gym person. So I don't go to a gym. I just I either garden or I walk. I used to to jog, I don't do that anymore because my ankles and my hips. Can't take it. But I find that if you find an exercise where you can tax your body, it frees your mind. And that's whatever exercise that is for you. That's What an editor needs just enough to tie your body detects your body, and just enough mind work, you know not not to not to have to concentrate too much when you're exercising, because that's when it frees your mind. And if you're able to get a routine that helps you do that you will go to work every day with your mind being refreshed and alert. And that's when you work the best.

And what's funny is that I've just now had a revelation that I have not been able to put my finger on and I just listening to you talk, I figured it out. And that is when you said I'm not a gym person. And I'm like, Yeah, I've never been a gym person either. And it goes just beyond the whole gym culture and sweaty machines and all that. But you said you grew up on a farm, and I did too. And I spent most of my life where you know, people when I talk to people now living in Los Angeles, you know, what did you do growing up Oh, and went to camp and did this and soccer and I'm like, Oh, well, I built barbed wire fences and herded cattle and then I realized that I never had the gym. mentality because my work was my exercise. And it just hit me that that is what you and I have done with editing is we've turned our work into our exercise, which is something you didn't have to do as a film editor. Your work was your exercise. And does it mean that you shouldn't still go out and be active outside of your work? Of course not like exercise is absolutely paramount to better health. But if you can find a way to turn your work during the day into your exercise, that's when all the pieces come together. And I just made that realization now.

Yeah, exactly. It just, you just have to find a way to tax your body enough during the day that you will be physically tired at the end of the day, as well as mentally tired. And when you're able to kind of get that balance going through yourself, you if you just have trusted in a work. It's great the same way we trust the editorial process. I trust the process of looking at dailies thinking about a scene, putting it together, evaluating it, doing it again. Until all of those refinements fall into place, and then everybody else's work comes in, you have faith in, you know, the sound editors and music editor, the composer, you just have faith that all of that is going to work. Because you have you just trust it. You trust your body. You trust your mind, you trust the process. And is it ultimately makes you into a very optimistic very, can do project oriented editing person.

Yeah. And if you're if you're a director or producer and you're looking to hire somebody, would you rather have the grumpy old sedentary curmudgeon or somebody that has boundless energy and all kinds of passion for the project? I mean, that's, if you're thinking well, I don't quite have the resume and I don't have the experience and I'm up against people that have a larger resume but you come into a room and you just bowled them over with your passion and your energy like you. There are a lot of People that can compete with that in this industry Now,

unfortunately, I can see with a lot of my friends who contemporaries, they're just having a hard time. They're having a hard time with the way that business is changing. But you know, this business has always changed. The business has always chased after the cheapest buck. Remember back in the 60s, there were this spaghetti westerns, they were all being shot in. In Spain and Italy. This there's nothing new is going on today. Other than the way that film was being delivered to people's houses, now, we're not we're not going to the movie theater as much as we are looking at films at home, on our TV sets or on our computers or on our phones, God forbid. But the business has always been the same. It's always been breakneck it's always been get as much as you can are all these people with a limited number of hours is Jam Jam Jam. The funnel is always Work is always funneled down to this tight juggernaut for editors. It that's just the way it is. So get over it, you know, find a way to get over it. And the way that I have found to deal with the pressures of today's editing, which are essentially the same as they've always been, is to take care of yourself first. And the rest of it comes along, you know, we haven't talked about it, but I, I good food, I don't eat junk. I don't eat candy. Although, and I love chocolate, but I just tell myself, that's not going to do it. You know, an apple is a lot better. You know, having a good salad is much better than, than a piece of pizza. And along those lines, if in the evening, we're working long hours, and the producer decides he's going to be a nice guy and bring him some food for the editors, and they bring in cold pizza. I say I'm sorry, but that is not a meal. I won't eat that. Because it won't help me. I'd rather not eat than to eat crap. So you really really have to insist upon On being treated like having a real real meal, having a salad having fruit, having plenty of some liquid to drink during the day, take time out to walk around the block and let your mind rest for a second.

Well, that was one of the big revelations that I had as well when it came to food. And I love what you're saying about you know, the producers saying, Hey, guys, we're we're going to be super nice, and we're going to get your pizza. I mean, everybody that's listening to this, whether you're an editor or you work in any kind of creative industry, you're like, yeah, we've all been there before. But you're right, and that that's not helping anybody except the guy that has the Excel spreadsheet with a budget. So like, well, pizza is the cheapest and it's going to feed the most people, but it's not gonna help your productivity

when they bring it into your room and put it in front of you and say, can you eat we had only one day on Jays film all the way to where we actually had to sit in the only way that we could have a lunch was to sit in the cutting room needed there. And that's when the HBO heads of departments came in. They could come at lunch. So that only happened once. It was too bad. But we got over it was fine.

And there are going to be extremes like that you can't live with absolutes. And there always have to be exceptions. But if you have a system, and you have ground rules, and you don't break them 97% of the time, there's always room for exceptions. But for me, it was really that realization, where food is not just about calories, it's not just about oh, well, this is gonna add something to my hips, or whatever it is. It was if I eat this stuff at three o'clock in the afternoon now, and I know I'm working till 10pm How am I going to feel four hours from now and what kind of output Am I going to have and as soon as I started to tie my food choices to my output, that's where it became so much easier to say, well, everybody's having their afternoon birthday cake because it's somebody's birthday, but I got a really tight deadline. I don't want the cake and it no longer became well, I love sugar and I shouldn't but I will Anyway, it was me being fearful of not being able to do my job creating that mental switch. changed everything for me.

Yeah, yeah. And you know, it's interesting people, I have lots of friends who are always trying to lose weight and everything, and they're on a diet and this and that. Frankly, I have never been on a diet. I've never once in my life have I put myself on the diet, maybe I shouldn't, but I've never done it. I just find that if I eat well, and exercise every day, it sort of takes care of itself, to think about it too much.

Yeah. And that's really the way that it works for me is I have tried diets in the past, it's been a long time. But I have tried crash diets and experimented and they're always miserable. It's always about deprivation, it's always about I just need to slog through and do XYZ is the plan indicates. And then at day 60, or day 90 is over. I've lost the weight and I can go back to my old habits and I found that if I just focus on making small tweaks, and I do them over a longer period of time. Now I have if you look at what I eat now on a regular basis versus what I ate five years ago, nothing is the same but I'm not on a diet. I just have a different diet overall. For me, diet is just defined as these are the food choices that I make. But like if I'm at a lunch and I remember this distinctly, about a year ago, we were having a rap lunch. It was one of our last weeks on a TV show. And they have like these cheesy fries or whatever was like some big plate of appetizers for everybody. And they're like, Oh, you should have some. And I was like, No, no, thank you. I'm good. And they're like, man, you've got such strong willpower. And I was thinking actually isn't willpower because I don't want them because I've created that that switch in my mind where I tie this to my productivity into my output. So it's really those small changes and not thinking about as a diet per se, that can make all the difference in the world. Yeah, and

a lot of times when No, I'm not as disciplined as you are, because once or twice, you know, my guys will want to go off campus and go have lunch someplace. And I remember once on the last show, we went we were in Culver City went to someplace called kettle fried or something like that. And I had a piece of fried chicken Oh, pay dearly for that. Oh my god, I was so sluggish and so horrible for the rest of the day. It just reminded me that I can't do that kind of stuff anymore.

Well, it's funny though, that you and I want to make sure that the people know this is that you say, Oh, I'm not as disciplined as you trust me. I break protocol all the time, like, but for me, it's about making the conscious decision to say, Alright, based on my timeline over the next day or two days, it doesn't really matter how like, efficient I am. I just go to town and when I do it, I do it. I mean, like, I will have, you know, red velvet cake and all have Oreos, like so it's not like I'm like this perfect little, you know, vegan machine. Like I deviate all the time. I'm just much more intentional and selective about what I do. And I just kind of follow this rule that I called it the 8020 rule. It's which isn't something that I named I mean, it's, it's out there and has been coined by much larger names in the fitness and health industries, but 80% of the time. I'm very clear about making healthy choices and 20% of the time, I'm equally as clear about making absolutely horrible choices. But loving those choices, not feeling guilty and then getting right back on the wagon the next day saying, alright, that's out of the way. I'm good for a while and it makes life so much more enjoyable.

Oh, yeah, that's great. Well, what I do usually is I you know, I try to eat well, but I'll lapse and I'll say, Okay, that was it on Monday. I won't do that again. This week that that's good. Once is enough. Now, you know, me fall off the wagon, another time the next week or whatever. But I I just know that I feel so much better when I'm taking care of myself that I'm not tempted too much. You know. The other thing is that I'm just mindful when I am eating. I see a lot of people who just jam they just eat fast, because they feel Oh, just eat fast and get over it. I'm maybe it's the time that I've lived in and worked in France, but people stop at lunch. And they actually have Have a sit down meal, it might be short, you know, an hour or something, but it's, they actually savor their food and eat it and the portions are small, but it's the getting together and talking. That is what satisfying as satisfying is eating, you know, a big meal. So what I try to do now is have the editing staff stuck with me and we eat together. We talk me we talk shop and then we don't and it refreshes everyone. And it does you don't eat that much but you actually are eating with others and enjoying it food is to be enjoyed. You know it's not a if you start if you get into the mindset that you are denying yourself, it just won't work.

Well. I mean, science is even proven through extensive research, that you actually digest your food better you absorb the nutrients more if you eat slowly and if you eat amongst other people because eating amongst other people promotes conversation. It reduces stress, it reduces cortisol in your system. So long term. Once again, you're actually better off having that 45 minutes or an hour where you take lunch with your group and you chat and like you said, sometimes you talk shop, sometimes you don't. That's something that we've done on several projects. Now, unfortunately, we weren't able to do that much on Empire. But that show was just magilla gorilla on itself. But on several other shows, we just my assistant and I Natalie just made it a point like, Alright, as lunchtime Where do you want to go today, meaning not our office, and sometimes it was just a break table. Sometimes it was outside like, but we always got away. But we were still able to leave earlier than most people because it was a refresher was like is like a nitrus booster where all of a sudden we have this extra energy boost in the afternoon that you don't get if you live in front of your desk.

That's like a refresh on your computer. You know, it just does work. You're able to kind of start back and step back a little bit your judgments better. Your output is better Just everything about it. And we just on the last one, we had such a congenial crew, we'd all get together and laugh and we had a good time to enjoy ourselves. So you know what's cool?

Well, and the other thing that I find that it brings about as well is that, especially in our industry, or creative industries, where you work mostly in a solitary nature, so whether or not you're sedentary or moving is one thing. But as an editor, you kind of have to be solitary. Because you're in your room, you have the sound in there like you, it's very hard to do our jobs when you have four people in the same office. And if you don't stop to take lunch, and especially in television, where everybody's on their own schedules, you're kind of on your own little island. When stuff really starts to get nuts. You feel like you're on your own. You feel like you're you're shouldering this burden all by yourself. But if you take the time to actually build relationships with your comrades and with your colleagues, when things do get crazy, and they always do you feel like you have each other's backs, even though you're working on your own. A lot of that promoted by taking those breaks and taking those lunches, which makes a huge difference in morale, and ultimately is going to help everybody weather the storm that ultimately comes on every project.

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, there are these always these sort of moments on a movie, it could be as much as a day, it could be as little as a day and as much as a month, when you know, you're really churning through the stuff. You know, if you have a sort of group of people that you enjoy, and that you sort of can commiserate with and can take the madness and sort of remove it from yourself. It's much better. The limit that you start to take the madness on is being your own. That's when you get into trouble. It's better to separate it out saying, I'm not mad the project's mad about why not. This is crazy, but I'm not crazy. I'll just chip away at this. I'll just think about it very, very in one task at a time until it gets done. Instead of getting crazy about thinking about the whole all the time. I thought that too,

right? Well, that having been said, since we're speaking so much about time, I want to be very, very respectful of your time. Because you know, after it's now taken us, I don't know about 47 million different tries to connect, we've finally done it. I'm so so excited that we're able to get this conversation on the books, I want to be able to do it again. But, I mean, we've definitely run over. And I'm hoping that my audience isn't either we've run a little bit over, but I do want to be respectful of your time in the real world. So this has been tremendously eye opening for me. I hope that it has been for my audience as well. And I cannot tell you how blessed I am just to have connected with you and learned your story because it really has had an impact on the things that I'm doing and inspire me to continue doing the things that I'm doing, knowing what a difference it has made for you over the years as well.

Oh, yes, it's really it's really amazing. And the other thing that I might just touch on, so once you kind of get into the into this kind of groove of exercise, good food and sufficient sleep is that when you know longer on a movie, you kind of want to keep it up. And I have a long distance Walker. I don't do physically when a guy say terribly exerting exercise anymore. But I will, you know take three days and walk 35 miles or something. Just enjoy the solitude of being outside and discovering you know nature as it were go to Yosemite. We have beautiful parks in California lovely places. outing some. I took not too long ago an urban walk with a friend of mine. We started in Manhattan Beach and ended up at the Getty Museum took us three days of walking and this wonderful, just an urban walk. I've been on long distance walks in Europe, I the Camino and the Camino de Santiago and in Spain I've done two long walks in England and in Ireland and other wachsen in Italy, and in Other other walks in France as well. So it just you begin to incorporate this in the way that you live when you're not working on a film. I'm an avid gardener, I'm out my garden every day. I did a couple of hours this morning of lugging heavy pots around and digging holes. And so it just becomes a, an extension of the things that you enjoy about your work, become an extension of the things you enjoy when you're not working. It's a real lifestyle choice that has extraordinary dividends. That's all I can say,

Well, I couldn't cap it off any better than that because you are living breathing proof of the dividends that you will reap by you know living a lifestyle like this because your your career is I mean the the resume that you have and the impact you've had on not only the film community, but just culture in general with the films you've worked on is immense, none of which would have happened If you didn't take care of yourself, and you know, you're still doing the work to this day, with plenty of energy and vibrancy. So once again, I just want to thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your story. And I really hope that it inspires other people to really learn to play the long game with their health and you know, really, really shoot for the stars and not not worry about just the choices they need to make today.

So well thank you very, very much, Zach. And you are an inspiration to me as well because I love it. When I see young talented editors coming up and they have adopted the same kind of style of living that that I have, and I know that they're gonna be okay. It's gonna work out. It's gonna be great.

Zack Arnold 1:18:40

Well, I'm trying one person at a time. So well, it's a slog, but I'm, we're getting there. So we're we're making a difference.

Carol Littleton 1:18:46

This is good. Greg, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to talk to you and we'll we'll talk again, I hope

Thank you for listening to this episode of The optimize yourself podcast. To access the shownotes for this and all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss future interviews like this one. Please visit optimize yourself.me slash podcast. And a special thanks to our sponsors ever cast and airgo driven for making today's interview possible to learn more about how to collaborate remotely without missing a frame, and to get your real time demo of ever cast an action, visit, optimize yourself.me slash ever cast. And to learn more about arrow driven and my favorite product for standing workstations, the toe mats stick around, they're coming up next. Now if today's interview inspires you to take the next step towards a more fulfilling career path that not only aligns you with projects that you are passionate about, but also includes some semblance of work life balance, and especially if you would like support mentorship and community to help you turn those goals into a reality. Well, then you and I need to talk because early September I am opening Fall Enrollment for my optimizer coaching and mentorship program and it sounds like You might be the perfect fit. Over the last three years I have now worked with well over 100 students and I have seen stunning transformations. But the biggest obstacle for most of you has been that the program was just too expensive or require too much time. Luckily, those are no longer problems because I've made the program a lot more affordable and a lot less time intensive for those who have busy lives, but still need an extra push to make whatever the next major transition is in your life. If you would like to learn more and get on the waitlist to be the first to have access to the application when it becomes available, please visit optimize yourself.me slash optimizer. Thank you for listening, stay safe, healthy, insane, and be well. This episode was made possible for you by you guessed it airgo driven the creators of the total Matt, my number one recommended product if you're interested in moving more and not having sore feet, your height adjust or standing workstation. Almost every new person that I meet in this industry starts our conversation with, Hey, I got a total map because of you. It's changed my life. Thank you. Listen, standing desks are only great if you're actually standing well, otherwise you're just fighting fatigue and chronic pain. Not like any other anti fatigue mat. The Toko is scientifically proven to help you move more throughout your day, which helps reduce discomfort and also increases your focus and your productivity. I'm literally standing on one as I read this, and I don't go to a single job without it. And if you're smaller and concerned, the topo map might be too big, or you simply don't have the floor space. Well, there's a turbo mini for that. To learn more of is optimize yourself.me slash turbo that's t o p o

powered by

Our Generous Sponsors:

Struggling With Real-Time Remote Collaboration? Meet Evercast

As work begins to slowly trickle in again, perhaps the most pressing challenge we as creative professionals face in our post-pandemic reality is real-time collaboration. Zoom is great for meetings, but it sure doesn’t work for streaming video. Luckily this problem has now been solved for all of us. If you haven’t heard of Evercast, it’s time to become acquainted. Because Evercast’s real-time remote collaboration technology is CHANGING. THE. GAME.

» Click here to be the first to gain early access to the new Evercast
P.S. It’s (finally) priced for freelancers and indie creatives like us!


This episode is made possible for you by Ergodriven, the makers of the Topo Mat, my #1 recommendation for anyone who stands at their workstation. The Topo is super comfortable, an awesome conversation starter, and it’s also scientifically proven to help you move more throughout the day which helps reduce discomfort and also increase your focus and productivity. Click here to learn more and get your Topo Mat.


Guest Bio:

Carol Littleton

Carol Littleton

Carol Littleton, A.C.E. is one of Hollywood’s most talented and successful film editors. Her editing career spans 40 years, with more than 40 feature films to her credit. Ms. Littleton began a close collaboration with writer-director Lawrence Kasdan in 1981 with his directorial debut, BODY HEAT. She continued her collaboration with Kasdan on eight more films, including THE BIG CHILL, SILVERADO, GRAND CANYON, and their last collaboration on DARLING COMPANION in 2011. Ms. Littleton has also collaborated with director Jonathan Demme on four films, including, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

Littleton received an Academy Award nomination in 1982 for Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: THE EXTRATERRESTIAL. Other films she has edited include PLACES IN THE HEART, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE (Emmy Award for editing) and the restoration of Erich Von Stoheim’s 1926 classic, GREED. In 1994, she edited CHINA MOON, the directorial debut of her husband, noted cinematographer John Bailey, A.S.C.

More recently, the 2015 release of A WALK IN THE WOODS was Littleton’s second collaboration with director Ken Kwapis. In 2016, Littleton edited her first collaboration with director Jay Roach on ALL THE WAY, a political film dramatizing the first 11 months of President Lyndon Johnson’s presidency after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

In 1988, Littleton was elected President of the Editors Guild and served two terms and later in 1998, two terms as Vice President. The Editors Guild honored Ms. Littleton in 2010 with the Fellowship and Service Award. In 2016, the American Cinema Editors honored Ms. Littleton with its Career Achievement Award. Littleton is presently serving on the Board of Governors for AMPAS and on the Board of Directors for ACE.

Ms. Littleton has two other passions in life: music and nature. Throughout her college years, she played oboe in various chamber groups and orchestras and still has an abiding love of concert music. Her formative years growing up in rural Oklahoma, gave her an intimate love of nature. Healthy, hands-in-the-dirt gardening and lug-soled hiking are the perfect antidotes for the dark editing room.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared by Debby Germino and published by Glen McNiel.

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

Like us on Facebook


Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”