For some reason there seems to be this fallacy in Hollywood that someone has to “give you your big break” in order to make it in the industry, and in the meantime you’re just waiting for your big break to appear. The idea that you have to be in the right place at the right time, or worst of all, that you just need to have a lot of “luck” to make your dreams a reality (and you all know how I feel about the “L word”) must be a myth, right?
Today’s guest is here to debunk that myth that success is about waiting for opportunity but instead all about making sure no one can outwork you, making sure you are ready for opportunities when they become available, and most importantly never giving someone the opportunity to tell you ‘No.’
James Wilcox is an African-American award-winning editor who’s edited such shows as Dark Angel, My Wife and Kids, Everybody Loves Chris, CSI Miami, Hawaii 5-0, Roots, Genius, and he’s recently completed Ron Howard’s new film Hillbilly Elegy, to literally name just a few. (Seriously, look up his IMDb page). What’s so fascinating about James’ path is that he’s made numerous transitions in his career including cutting news, comedy, drama, historical fiction, and feature films. In addition to such a wide variety of experience, James also sees himself as a pioneer for black editors and talks about the importance of providing mentorship to other people of color.
If you enjoyed my episode with Monty DeGraff, you’re going to love this one. James is talented, funny, and chock full of stories that give you an inside look at how to not only build a successful and inspiring career but also how to mentor others while leaving time and energy for your health and well-being. In short, James has mastered the balance of both working hard and playing hard.
Want to Hear More Episodes Like This One?
Here’s What You’ll Learn:
- Early on James discovered that shortcuts didn’t work for him and that to be successful, “no one would out work him”
- A “double-edged sword”: How his relentless work ethic has been both a gift and a curse
- The story of how James went from wanting to be a doctor, then a baseball player, and finally, to becoming an editor.
- James got his first opportunity in the News business.
- The three skills needed to be a solid news editor: Speed. Creativity. Accuracy. These skills helped him down the road.
- Why James studied acting for 3 and half years when he moved to Los Angeles and how that was part of his journey to scripted television editing and directing.
- His mantra: “Don’t give anyone a reason to tell you no.”
- KEY TAKEAWAY: Always be ready and prepared for the next opportunity so when it presents itself you can seize it.
- His dad’s advice: If you’re thorough you can’t be denied.
- James believes there is a rapid awakening right now on a global level and the George Floyd murder has inspired activism and change.
- The importance of mentoring and supporting people of color in post.
- One of the key skills his last assistant editor had that he values and appreciates.
- The unbelievable story of James getting to work with Ron Howard on the Emmy nominated series Genius and then getting to work on his new movie, Hillbilly Elegy.
- KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t always expect your payoff to come from the thing you are investing in.
- What the Marshmallow experiment teaches us about patience relative to success.
- James’ advice to POC looking to advance their careers and make it in Hollywood.
Useful Resources Mentioned:
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. 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. For some reason, there seems to be this fallacy in Hollywood, that someone has to give you your big break in order to make it in the industry. And in the meantime, you're just waiting for your big break to appear. The idea that you have to be in the right place at the right time or worst of all, that you just need to have a lot of luck to make your dreams a reality. And I think if you've listened to the show before you already know how I feel about The L Word. Well, that all must be a myth right? Today's guest is here to debunk that myth. that success is about waiting for opportunities. But instead, it's all about making sure that nobody can outwork you, making sure that you are ready for opportunities when they become available, and most importantly, never giving someone the opportunity to tell you know, my guest is James Wilcox. He is an African American award winning editor who has edited such shows as Dark Angel, my wife and kids. Everybody loves Chris, CSI Miami, Hawaii Five 0, Roots, Genius, and he recently completed Ron Howard's new film hillbilly elegy. And this is literally to name just a few. Seriously look at this guy's IMDB page if you don't believe me, what's so fascinating about James's path is that he has made numerous transitions in his career, including cutting news, comedy, drama, historical fiction, and feature films. And in addition to such a wide variety of experience, James also sees himself as a pioneer for black editors, and he talks about the importance of providing mentorship to other people of color. If you enjoyed my episode with Monty to graph your gonna love this one. James is talented at funny, and frankly he is so chock full of stories that give you an inside look at how not only to build a successful and inspiring career, but also how to mentor others while leaving time and energy for your health and your well being. In short, James has mastered the balance of both working hard and playing hard. 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 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. Alright, without further ado, my conversation with ACE editor James Wilcox, a conversation made possible today by our amazing sponsor Evercast who is going to be featured a little 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.me slash podcast.
Unknown Speaker 4:49
I'm here today with award winning
Zack Arnold 4:51
editor and director James Wilcox. He has worked on such hit shows as I'm going to take a big deep breath here. Dark Angel, My Wife and Kids Reno 911. Everybody Hates Chris, CSI Miami, Hawaii Five 0, Roots, Genius, Raising Dion and your current project, which is hillbilly elegy. And you have worked with some of Hollywood's most legendary directors, including James Cameron, Chris Columbus, Mario van Peebles, and most recently now Ron Howard. I'm exhausted already and we barely just get started James. I've only gotten through the first half. By the way, I think the rest of this is really important for the for the conversation, but I found it funny and it tells me a lot about a person when I asked for their brief introduction and then their bio, and I thought, Oh, he must have mistakenly put his bio in the brief intro, but there's so much to cover that it's in the brief one I'm just gonna finish because I think it's so important to convey all of this for today's conversation. So in addition to being a director and an editor, you are an Emmy, an ace award winning editor. You've been named a variety magazine's coveted artists and elite. You're a member of the 80 as the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and pegs Diversity Committee, the African American steering committee, the DGA, and your lecture and mentor, and my friend, I talked to everybody all the time about time management and how we all have the same amount of 24 hours a day and seven days a week. But I'm pretty sure you're cheating. And you have an eight day week and a 30 hour day because how you have accomplished all this is beyond me. But that's what we're going to talk about my God, is it a pleasure to have you here today.
James Wilcox 6:22
Thank you, Zack, for having me. That's That's a lot. That's quite an intro, I you know, don't really do a lot of looking back on my career, because I'm usually too busy trying to plan and find my next job and manage my life and keep everything in order so that I'm in balance. So I'm able to do all these things that we just kind of talked about and having a great steady home life makes the difference. It's all about the support I have at home to be able to do all these
Zack Arnold 6:44
things. And clearly that's what I want to talk about in great detail is how in the world are you able to be so accomplished, despite the fact that we only have a certain number of hours in the day or days in the week. Everything else that's going on in the world. You basically said Well, I'm going to finish Figure it out somehow. And you and I have talked offline off the record about some of your journey. And to me, it is so inspiring the things that you have decided to pursue the things that you have overcome in the process. So I really want people to know that at the end of this conversation, it's not just about your story. It's also about the mindset that you had going into all the things that you wanted to pursue and accomplish. But in order to understand the mindset, we have to understand the person better and we have to understand the story. So you, my friend, are a very good storyteller. And I want to understand more about your story. And the place to begin today is talk to me about the guy that wanted to become a baseball player and decided, you know what, maybe I want to be an editor or a filmmaker instead. What's that all about? So let's, let's start there with your interest as a younger child and deciding which path I wanted to take in life. Well,
James Wilcox 7:51
I'll tell you this, that one of the ways that I'm able to accomplish a lot during my day, is it starts with my parents. They got us out of bed super early. I'm the youngest of four. No matter what it's just, you know, some people I think are born with internal, earlier clocks, and some people are nighthawks. And I happen to be a person who really enjoys to quiet of the morning when everybody's sleeping and like not hearing a lot of traffic and hearing the birds and all the things that qualitative things I'm able to get done early on. So I start my day, very early, sometimes 530 sometimes six, I get up, I work out, I have a little breakfast, and I'm ready to Nestle into whatever the day holds. You know, so starting work early, and then by the time I'm done, which usually is about it can be up to eight o'clock, nine o'clock, 10 whatever it is, but I never feel so exhausted because I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I've packed a lot and I've watched other people who leave much busier lives and myself as examples on how they're able to squeeze so much into their workday, their home life and the whole thing. So going back, I you know, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and One of the things that we were taught in Pittsburgh, or certainly my family was you have to work hard for which one life. And so I have a very hard working ethic about everything that I've set out to do. Because it's brought me everything that I've been able to experience in my life. And I was taught early on learned a great lesson, that shortcuts didn't kind of work for me. Some people were able to take things easier. I was an athlete growing up played a lot of baseball, there were kids that the game came much more natural to. I was one of the ones who I had talent and skill, but I needed to work at it. Because if I wanted to compete against the very best, which I've carried over for just about everything else in my life, I figured hard work was going to be the way to do it that no one could outwork me. Everybody wasn't born with the same skill set. Everybody wasn't as gifted. But what would begin to separate us was who was trained, who worked hard, who took their talents for granted. And that was something that I never ever wanted to do is just consider myself mailing it. So that's kind of how I I approached my work day. In how I like to stay busy, and I also like meeting new people and doing new things. So that's, that's a big part of it.
Zack Arnold 10:07
Well, I want to dive a little bit deeper into this transition that you made from being an athlete to wanting to play baseball to being a filmmaker. But the one thing that I want to really extract from what you said right away, and maybe this is going to take us down a totally different rabbit hole. And we don't even talk about that transition for half an hour. I don't know. But it's a very potentially dangerous thing to say, no one can outwork me. That's a lot of what's gotten us in such trouble in this industry in the first place, is the idea that we believe that we are machines that can work ourselves into the ground. So I very much appreciate the work ethic. But as I'm sure you know, from working in this industry for so long, it's a very fine line between no one can outwork me, but I'm still gonna take care of myself versus nobody can outwork me no matter what, whatever the detriment might be. So how do you find the balance? If you say, no one's gonna outwork me, but you're also talking about seeing your family and you're in a standing desk and you take care of yourself and you're clearly in very good shape. So where do you find that line?
James Wilcox 11:03
You just have to find it. I mean, exercise is a big part of myself and I have to tell you this too, as you're talking about, no one else can outwork me and that's my part of my ethic. But at the same time, I've actually gotten myself physically ill from that same thing, that same thing that's been a gift to me, has oftentimes been, you know, a curse as well, because it's like someone who doesn't have a certain pain threshold and they go too far and then the pain occurs and they realize up now I'm in, I'm in it now. And so that's, that's all I really know is kind of how I'm built. But the it's the balance of it. Work hard, play hard. I should have told you that to that exercise. I love it. It keeps me balanced. It keeps me healthy. It You know, I'm really proud of I don't get sick very often. And that has a lot to do with the supplements that I take. I do work but I play hard to. So when a vacation and this is an order or going to a movie or going to see a play or taking in a sporting event or just chilling with the family, whatever it is. I'm there 100% with that, too. And so, you know, going back a little bit about how I transitioned myself from my desire my childhood dream to become a baseball player, I actually had a couple traits going up. And when I was younger, my mom used to always tell me stories about how my dad was in medical school. And then he got drafted in the army and he went the Korean War. And he wasn't wanting to talk about his life a whole lot. So I mostly heard some of those stories through her. So I thought, you know what, kids want to be like their dad, I thought, maybe I'll go to medical school. And I had that in mind. I also had baseball player in mind anytime, anytime a teacher would write down What's your goal in life? What's your dream? I just put down baseball player and doctor I had to have and the doctor part of it worked out really well until I got to about eighth grade. When we started doing dissections in my biology class. And we started with the worms cutting them back and identifying the organs and and, and making these carefully dissected cuts and everything like that. Great. I could do that. But I didn't notice that the smell of formaldehyde just made me gag. And I thought, Okay, well, this is just the worms. We'll see how the next thing go. we progressed up the frogs ago, okay, this is a little bit more intense, because now I can actually see the organs and I don't know if I like this, you know, I'm kind of happy doing it. Right. And so then we had a field trip one day to the Pittsburgh city more. And that was a real eye opener because we went in the morgue. We didn't see any bodies per se. They were all covered. But they opened up the freezer. And they said, This is what happens to various people for different reasons. There's people that we found who've passed on the street. There's people who have died from various illnesses and diseases and the coroner's office, they had these huge draw which you've seen before, of how all the organs of the body can fit into essentially a jar. And but the difference was, those jars were the disease ones. So you saw what the lung should look like. And then you saw someone who's smoked for a lifetime and died and their lungs, just like black. And I saw that and I was like, I don't think I can do this. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can do this. Let's go twice as hard at the baseball thing. And and I was a good baseball player all throughout my youth and into high school and into college. And when I got to college, I need to pick a major. So I chose liberal arts within liberal arts. I really enjoyed photography and within photography, I just I understood that there was storytelling within the photography, if you chose to do that there are point and shoot subjects, but then there are subjects of really compelling people in their lives and you just want to know more about them. And so I would take my camera and just photograph various people. without their permission, mostly just kind of get candid shots of different lifestyles and just wondering, I wonder what this person's story was. And it was for a class. So I never really approached them to get the full story. I brought it back to one of my professors, and they look and we developed my photography. So So after I brought it back to one of my, my professors, we had an overview of my photography, and he really was encouraging he goes, you really understand what this is about. And I didn't think anything more of it. I thought, yeah, I enjoyed doing it. And you know, he was encouraging the whole thing. And so this was still in Pennsylvania, and I was playing baseball there and I know that I needed to place more baseball 20 games more, which meant go into a warmer climate. So I transferred down to Atlanta, Georgia and went to a school, Clark College, which is now Clark Atlanta University. And that's really where I got my first exposure in deeply into mass communications broadcast journalism, television film, but my emphasis was really in television, so from there, I got an internship with CNN and their sports department. So here's a guy who's fascinated by storytelling and television, and also fascinated with athletics and sports and I landed an internship at CNN and their sports department. So that was two things that came naturally to me. wonderful opportunity. And what I learned there was, this could be a real interest of mine going forward. The hours were long, they were demanding. The people I work with were exacting, and it just came easier for me. So I knew at that point, I had the stomach so to speak for editing. I didn't get on the equipment very much. And it wasn't until my second internship. I got my second internship at the CBS affiliate, there was wh ga at the time, and that internship was paid. But you basically were a low salaried employee because they wanted you to do everything. I went out with camera crews. I would go down to the various sports teams throw a mic in there. in their face and ask him about what happened up there your last at bat, come back, write this copy for the story, handed over to the anchor. He would look at it proof it. This is great. I've cut the highlights. And then we go from there. And next thing you know, I would see my work. My evenings work on the 11 O'Clock News. And it was it was pretty fascinating.
Zack Arnold 17:21
So the path then from you've got this young kid in Pittsburgh as far away as you can get from the Hollywood atmosphere in the film, lifestyle and the industry. And you're primarily an athlete, you decide, you know what, there's something to this media thing. So I find my way in the door in the media broadcast side of things with sports, but then from there, too, I'm editing tentpole feature films with Ron Howard. if somebody were to look at your resume, they'd say, What in the world like what's going on? There's, it's it's not a logical path. There are so many different genres and mediums and short form and long format broadcast and it seems nearly Impossible in this day and age to be able to do that. So one thing I'm really curious about that I want to talk more are these major transitions. Because as I'm sure you've heard ad nauseum, and many of these committees in it, all the things that you're involved with, that it's so difficult to transition because everybody gets pigeonholed. But somehow you found a way to say, Nope, this is what I'm going to do next. And here's how I'm going to do it. So talk to me about some of these major benchmarks and transitions that you've made throughout your career.
James Wilcox 18:26
Yeah, I think that the total of it and stepping back a little bit to total up it is being able to identify opportunity, and being prepared for that opportunity. That's where the hard work thing comes in. So when the hard work, and the opportunity came together, it usually was a game changing moment. So while I had that internship, I did transition eventually from Sports because one of the staff news editors left they had been watching me, I didn't know that I've had a life of a lot of people watching me and spotting something in me that I was thinking about something Else I couldn't see in my own self. So they had been watching me too. They hired a lot from within. And when they did that, and in the staff editor left, the supervising editor came to me and he says, We want you on the new side. And I thought, but I love sports. He goes, No, no, no, you'll learn to love news. This is way more important. And he was right. You know, he gave me a lot of pointers really took me under his wing, and mentored me, one of my very first professional mentors, I've had a lot in my life from family members, just people who say things to you that they just stick with you, and you connect with them. And you know that this is a device that you can carry forward for a lifetime. And so the guy really took me under his wing, he showed me exactly how to cut, what made difference in the cut and he gave me an exercise. When I first started, he said, Look, I want you to go home, and you're going to look at for commercials, and you're going to come back, and I want you to have your television down. And you're going to tell me what those commercials were trying to communicate in their 30 Second airtime. And then I'll know these commercials because I'm going to watch them. And I'm going to listen to them with the sound up. And let's see how well you understood this sort of non verbal storytelling up at all. And I came back, gave them my thoughts on the various commercials. And he goes, he watched, it took about, like, two weeks or something, he finally watched them all. And he goes, you get this, you get this, I'd love to have you as part of our team. So that was one of the first big opportunities. Then once I got in there, you know, I'm, I'm kind of a twitchy guy. twitchy guy a little bit of times. And so my speed and like, just how I process thing was, was really a great asset in the news business because the three things skills that you really need that speed, creativity and accuracy to become a good solid news editor. And I didn't know it at the time, but I was actually honing my skills for bigger opportunities down the road. So eventually, as I moved through that system, I got to a point where Two years in, I wasn't making very much money, but I was happy with what I was doing. But I did realize now after school, I needed a little bit more money. I went in ask for a raise. And the news director at the time, his name was Andy Fisher. He goes, James, let me see what I can do. And I waited a week, two weeks later, almost three weeks later, and I thought I'm probably not gonna get a race. So I go back in and he says, Come on in. And let's sit down and talk about the race. And he gave me a race. It was phenomenal. It was really not anything that I thought, I'm gonna probably gonna have to leave. Well, right about that time, there was a fellow news editor who left to go up to New York, Connecticut, New Jersey work in that tri state area. And the place where he was working out, which was called satellite news channel at the time was supposed to be a rival to CNN and the other like 24 hour news services. But he ended up connecting me with the people there and I was able to leave Atlanta. So that was the first big break as I went into resign. That news director his last words were to me Well, I'm not Not gonna be here forever either. So let's make sure that we stay in touch. And I thought that I love to do that, you know, this guy's been great for me, he hired me. He taught me a lot and told me why he hired me. He gave me a lot of confidence. So it's just about spotting opportunity. And from there, once I got up to New York and Connecticut and working in that area, he called me like, a year and a half later, almost two years later, and he said, James, I'm a news director out at at the time it was k and x t, which has now become kcbs. And he says, you know, we have an opening out here, why don't you come out to California? Take a look at see what you think. And I'm like, What is there to look at? I don't mind at that point. It was 13 inches of snow on the ground in New York. bed of winter, like in the middle of February and I thought to myself, I'm on it. So I fly out to LA I had never been west of the Mississippi. I come out and everything is just in stark, colorful contrast to what to the way it was back east. Everything was brown and gray and it's snow and slushy and ice and you grew up in Michigan, so you know what it's like. And, and I went out here and there were palm trees and the sunsets were gorgeous, and it was a spurt on sunset. And I go in the interview, and they walked me through. And I could tell that they really wanted to hire me off of his recommendation. So as soon as I saw that I go with just don't say anything stupid, and you probably will get this. And before I left to get back on the plane, at the end of that day, it was a long day. They took me around everywhere. It was like a full day interview. Basically, what they did is they showed me a day in the life of an editor at the station. And they were observing me just to see how I would work out what I thought and the whole thing. And I did a lot of listening. And they hired me, and I worked there for for nine years. And that was another big game changing opportunity. And eventually I became the supervising editor at CBS. For the first three years I was there establishing myself I thought, wow, I'm going to Los Angeles. I'm gonna be working with all these things. You're editors. And I got there. And I knew way more than I thought. And I was better than I thought. And I was like, I'm able to compete with the people who are here who are considered the best. And then eventually, over the next three years, I was considered the best there. So I was in demand. And over the last three years, I thought, you know what, this is great. But there has to be more. And I started preparing myself for life after CBS. And boy, when I when I told people I was leaving this great corporate CBS job, people looked at me like you are insane. Do you know what you're doing? So right around that time, the technology in the industry was changing, as it was emerging, and it was stable, and it was one and then I left CBS and I went on to a show at Fox where they had like 1415, Abbott's and 1415 editors who really didn't know the habit, so it was perfect. So we're all learning on the job is sharing information together another game changing opportunity. To stay up with the technology, I did that for a while. And I thought, What more is after this, maybe I'll go into the scripted world because I've been been doing a lot of unscripted work here. And I knew I wasn't ready to go into the scripted world. And as I told you, I went and got myself in the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and I studied acting for two and a half, three years, and it taught me how to break down the scene. It taught me the actor's intentions. It taught me what overall the scene could be as opposed to the way it was written. And it really taught me if I was ever going to go into the direct how to speak to an actor, the active language than an actor relates to the emotive language than an actor relates to other than saying, well, this time you need to be happy. Or what does happy meaning, you know, at what point should I show that happiness in this scene? So that was another big opportunity that helped really fortify my future. I didn't know a lot of these things. Things that I'm doing, I'm feeling my way through it. Mind you, as I've come through this whole journey from becoming a sports editor to a news editor to then going freelance to then being in this Playhouse along the way, I never really went to film school. And I thought that I missed a step here. But life was going fine. And I had bought a house and I was paying for mortgages. So now I have responsibilities. And I thought, well, I'm still learning. I'm still advancing. Then I got enough hours to join the union. And I joined the union. And I paid dues for six years, without ever getting a union job. I barely got an interview, but I was working and I was fine. And I'm like, I'm preparing myself and it'll happen one day. And eventually I got an interview over at Paramount with this guy, Hal Harrison, who had who was the head of post production over there, and Brian Bradford, who was like a VP over there. I told him what I was interested in doing cutting a show and I must have thought this guy's really bold. He's not Never been an assistant editor. He's never been in the studio system. He's not out of film school. He's been cutting a lot of stuff that maybe we've heard of, maybe we haven't. But he's boldly declaring he's ready to work on a studio in a network show. But I thought it was kind of bold, but they took me seriously. And they then called me back in and offered me assistant editors job on I think it was like, cheers, or one of those shows run bulk was the editor. And I said, I'll take that job, if you think that Ron will allow me to cut so I can show him what I can do. And of course, they couldn't promise anything like that from Studio level about an editor who's an award winning edit, multi award winning editor, so they call me back eventually. And between that opportunity, and along the way, I've met another friend of mine who I call a friend and a mentor. And he's shocked when I call him a mentor, his name's Monty dygraf, who's a fabulous editor and a great person all around,
Zack Arnold 27:58
and frankly, the reason that you and I are on The microphone today was it all started when I talked to Monty Monty has worked for somebody else that knows you they talk to you. So Monty is the one that starts all of this he's responsible for all of it. So I'm gonna I'm gonna give him kudos didn't mean to interrupt, but I want to I want to throw out kudos to him and let you continue
James Wilcox 28:14
well deserved. We're all six degrees away. Right?
Unknown Speaker 28:17
I like that. That's six degrees from
James Wilcox 28:21
Kevin Bacon's Yes, yeah, six degrees from agree. But you know, we would see each other at we had a mutual friend who was an actor who would throw these wonderful Christmas parties every year and it would be a chance for us to catch up, talk shop a little bit, have our wives talk a little bit. And so he knew I was really trying to transition over into the scripted world while he became the supervising editor on this TV show, my very first one that I worked on soul food that was patterned after the movie for Showtime. And I went in the request was they were looking for someone who was good with music and was a good storyteller. And I went in and talked to him. They believed in me. And that's really how I got the next huge break. Because when I when they were looking for someone who was good with music along the way, I had worked with MTV, I'd worked with VH one. Those were all those sort of music doc driven shows. So I could cut my own music why wasn't just considered a picture editor. And it just, you know, for them, I was the right guy at the right time. So those two showrunners Felicia Henderson, the Kevin ARCA die, they hired me on the spot there. And it was amazing, because that's when I finally went through that passage of getting into the scripted world, and with so much to learn, and it's funny too, because my very first director I've worked with was Kevin hooks. And one of the last directors I worked with in television was Kevin hooks. So and he didn't even really remember. And I said to Kevin, do you remember I cut your first episode and he kind of was like, Yeah, he didn't remember I'm pretty sure but but you know, That was, you know, it's so so I guess what is the reoccurring theme and a lot of this and I'll continue forward, you know about how I had now I've gotten to cut with Ron Howard. It's kind of being ready not being told to get ready but readying myself with the idea of don't give anyone a reason to tell you know, and whatever you don't know, go learn it, work hard at it. Continue to develop your craft your skills, keep them high, and just and just when an opportunity comes, who knows when and where it's going to come, but be prepared for it. And so that's kind of my lesson.
Zack Arnold 30:35
And I would say that the the big one to pull out of that is the idea of never putting yourself in a position for somebody to say no, you said a little while ago, you're like, Well, I was just the right guy at the right time. Hmm, it sure sounds like you got lucky. Right? And anybody that's listened to my show on a regular basis knows that I think that luck is a four letter word. Never use the word lucky because if you are Want to be quote unquote lucky? Well, that's just the intersection of your hard work and someone else's opportunity at the same time. So I don't believe that you were just the right guy at the right time. And it was luck. I believe you made yourself the right guy by spending years honing your skills to be the right guy. And then when the right time came, you created those opportunities. because anybody can listen to your story up to now and say, Wow, there's a lot of lucky breaks for this guy getting this job and this interview and working here, and the guy in California calling him and saying, We've got a job for you, boy, none of that's gonna ever happen to me. Like, I'm never gonna be lucky like James and on top of it, I've been doing news for nine years, and I've just been told like it's too late. It's too late for me to to make the transition to do what I really want to do when scripted TV or music videos or trailers like I should have made that decision A long time ago. And you You've proved that that's very, very wrong. Because I think we've only covered maybe half the genres that you've you've worked in so far, right? 30 minutes, and there's so many things we haven't even touched upon, yet. But I think to stop it where we are here and like you said, it's really talk about the themes. You made sure you were the right guy. And you made sure you were in the right place at the right time.
James Wilcox 32:09
Yeah, no, no question about it. I don't mean to misrepresent myself as being this happy go lucky guy. It's all it all built on a foundation of preparation, meeting opportunity. And, and winning the people over in the room and having them believe in me that, you know, you're committed, we can see you're committed because we see your resume, we see how passionate you are in the room. And that's something that we would like to have as a part of our team. So yeah, I don't I don't, I don't want to misrepresent myself as being someone who's, you know, had a four leaf clover in their back pocket all through their career, because there were a setback. So I'm just giving you the highlights. Sure. Um, you know, so yeah,
Zack Arnold 32:50
well, I also think that statistically, it would be pretty hard for somebody to say, well, you got all the breaks, because if we're talking about the math of it all, especially given everything that's going on, it's Society and in the industry, you're part of the 1% of people in post production. That's African American. So for anybody to say, Oh, yeah, well, he just got all the breaks, like, Uh, no, I'm pretty sure that not only did you have to work just as hard as anybody else that might have gotten where you are. And by the way, there's very, very few people left at your level, like you're at the highest of the high, you it was probably significantly harder for you to be able to do the same things. So to get through this journey, we haven't even gotten to the present yet. But just for the journey that we've talked about so far, were there any barriers that you felt whether it was from being from Pittsburgh and not from LA or the color of your skin or anything? It was making it even harder where you just said, You know what, it doesn't matter as long as I work hard, and as long as I make sure I don't, I don't give anybody the opportunity to say no to me,
James Wilcox 33:51
yeah, you know, my dad used to teach, if you're thorough, you can't be denied. That's what he would say. Now, having said that, that can be a cliche, or that can be reality, it depends on how much you want to put into that thought process. So yeah, there were times I was greatly discouraged because I didn't see a lot of people who look like me. And growing up, I didn't know anyone involved with television. The only person I knew involved with television was this man, Mr. McKnight that used to come to the house when our TV went out. That's a guy that had no intelligence, who would repair them. That's it. And and even when I got into college, and I was telling people, I was interning at different TV stations and the whole thing like that they thought I was talking about what he did, repairing TVs, not working and telling stories as an editor. And for years, my mom introduced me as a writer, producer, she didn't understand what I did as an editor. So yeah, I mean, the whole idea of this.on the map where I started from to where I am, was oftentimes a very lonely journey. So I chose to not really pity myself but look at it as one of pioneering and helping to create a path for people that may come behind me now. I didn't do this all by myself, I had a lot of mentors along the way. And I should have mentioned more of them, who just took a keen understanding and recognizing that I was dedicated. I had some talent, I had a drive, and that they would help me get to the next place. And it was very discouraging those six years where I pay union dues, and I would go to events, and I wouldn't see hardly any African American people, and I just would feel so lonely in those rooms. Because I was up and coming. I didn't have credits that they could recognize from me. And it was just, it was really brutal even now. I mean, I don't want to make it seem like that's the thing of the past. We're talking about 1% of our over 8000 member, Motion Picture editors Guild, being of African American descent, and then includes all the different classifications, sound editors, picture editors, mixers, the whole thing. And so, it's been tough, but you know, that's my life. That's what's been put in front of me. And so I welcome the awkward opportunity to be a shining example when I'm where I can for other people that are just, you know, traditionally not on the Hollywood track. I didn't grow up with any, anybody that I knew in this business at all. And it has been difficult. And I have to tell you, I don't really have one horror story or a series of horror stories about call being called out of my name or anything like that. I'll tell you the more stories that are a little bit more interesting to me that when we have common group lunches, and a lot of the people that I work with non black or whatever they may be, sometimes our conversation will veer off on a cross country drive to go, do you name it, you know, just some cross country drive to go out to the Dakotas to see Mount Rushmore. Let's just say that, and in my mind, I'm thinking, I don't know, man, as an African American. There's a lot of hostile places that I would be subject to traveling through and it's kind of like, you know, the movie Green Book, which is what Green Book represents, although the movie didn't illustrate that part of it, but there were these towns traditionally called sundown towns, where black people, you could not be there by the time the sun goes down, or it was just going to be held to pay. So I think about things like that, where I don't think my counterparts have ever considered that they might consider Well, the worst that can happen for me maybe is the engine goes out the tire blows, I get a speeding ticket, I think about all those things. And in addition to that, being African American out on a lonely highway with my family vulnerable to law enforcement or some crazies or some bigoted person or something like that. So those are the kinds of things but as it relates to the industry, yeah, I'm right now going 1,000% hard to see to it that I can bring other people along, who've traditionally have had to work really twice as hard and they've not been in recognition of an opportunity.
Unknown Speaker 38:01
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Zack Arnold 40:31
I think that one of the things that our industry has done a good job, not a great job and hopefully we can start doing a much better job of it. But over the last 20 or 30 years, I grew up with a lot of movies like Green Book and many others Remember the Titans all these movies that are bringing to light what was happening in earlier decades. But as you grow up, you think, Oh my god, I can't believe those things happened. Right? You don't think yourself there's still happening? Yeah, and we've developed this hyper awareness over the last few months. Oh, wait. A second. None of this is not only not fixed, it might actually be worse than it used to be, but we weren't aware of it. And in the entertainment industry, we have a huge responsibility to continue telling those stories and have the right people telling those stories. So I have a podcast with three students that are black that are either still in school are some of them that have recently graduated, talking about what this journey looks like now from the beginning. Because statistically, there's so much attrition for minorities and people of color because they get into the industry. They're super excited, super exuberant, I'm gonna tell my stories, but they just get so beaten down by the system. And like you said, it's not necessarily just overt racism or discrimination. You just walk into a room and you're like, I'm here on my own, like, I've got no friends. I've got no allies. So I know that you're part of multiple diversity committees and mentorship committees. What can we do to bring more people in from the ground up and not just say, We need more people of diversity? color that are the head executives at Netflix or wherever, all of which is important. But I believe to really tell these stories, we need a lot of people coming in from the ground up as well. And I'm not as ingrained or intertwined with these discussions or these developments. But I'd really like to know what can we all do to foster this?
James Wilcox 42:17
I think we all got to take a deep, long look at ourselves and go, how do we get better? How do we make this better? How do we have sustainable actionable long term generational change? Because I've seen these movements and moments happen, although this one I think is different, because I've never seen the global outrage. I've never seen the huge racial outrage. For the first time I'm really seeing a lot of what I would call our allies, our white allies, our brown allies, all those people who are now coming together collectively to say this is wrong. This has to change. So with that in mind, there is a bit of an awakening and then a bit of awareness or rapid awakening that's going on. Right now, maybe it's due to COVID-19 people being at home. I'm just not sure what it is. But the George Floyd murder to witness that. It's just It's unbelievable. A brutal murder like that. So how do we, in the industry do what we can do? I think we got to hit it on multiple levels. There's kids in high school classrooms right now that are involved in media and cinema and television and storytelling. That's one thing that we have to we have to as members of our guild, and members of this industry begin to expose ourselves to these people, because they wouldn't see anyone like me. So they shouldn't have to have the same lonely journey that I had, that I might be able to go into a classroom. And they see somebody who looks like them. And they go, Ah, this is possible. I like what this guy's doing. I just been doing this at home on my own, and my cell phone and on my own premiere or whatever setup it is. I've been doing all of this stuff, but I didn't know it was possible to have a long career in it, and what that career means and all the opportunities And exposures that can come out of it. So from the high school level to the college classroom level, to many of these groups of African Americans and other people of color diverse groups that are out there, they need support now for transitioning to where it is they're trying to guide their and architect their careers to go. So there's people in the unscripted world that are trying to get into scripted just people in a scripted world out of trying to elevate into premium television, there's people in premium television that just want an opportunity to maybe cut a feature. So for me, I hope that my voice carries some weight in that regard, that they can see that it's possible because my advantages, I've done all of those things, from news to drama, to comedy, to unscripted material to commercials, music videos, and now I'm cutting features. So yeah, I think that's what has to happen. And also, you know, it's just this is just one part of it societal Lee speaking there's so many systemic barriers. We have to legislatively begin to knock down. And that means full participation from all of us in whatever we can do, from voting, to writing letters to your representatives to going to Kathy repol. And saying, I have an idea that I'd like to share with you that I think can help move the needle forward for a long term sustained generational change, so that we're not talking about these same issues 20 years later, and guess what, by the time we go back and visit the numbers on this next year, we need to see growth, we need them better. We need a metric that says this has not just been lip service, this has not just been a token movement and and the in the compendium of life that there has been real significant change that we can point to that the year 2020 was one of those sparks of and again, for me, you talk about game changing moments. This has the opportunity to be that
Zack Arnold 45:53
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I mean, the the key point here is what you measure you improve upon, it's one thing to say well This is the movement now. And I'm just going to say, yeah, of course we should support this. But can we actually look back and look, quantifiably? Have we made a difference? And I think one of the important things that you said, that really didn't occur to me before, before all of these things were happening. And I now realized is so important, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to have you on the show and discuss and just tell your story, right? It wasn't about how do we get into like a really deep racial discourse for an hour that it's just making sure that your story is available and out there. And the reason it's so important was this, I'm going to paraphrase because I'm going off memory, and I've received maybe over 1000 Facebook comments and messages in the last three or four weeks, with the combination of the article that I wrote about things in Hollywood not working in the interview that I did with Monty. But the one comment that stands out in regards to our conversation, is I posted the interview that I did with Monty and there was what looked like just based on the profile photo. I don't want to make any specific generalization but it looks like it was a fairly young Indian girl. I think was overseas. And she commented, oh my god, it's so great that somebody, somebody of color was doing work at this level. I didn't know that was possible. And that blew my mind. Not that what you said was wrong, that somebody could think that way and live in a world where that's how you view it that it's literally not possible for someone of color to be working at the level that you are Monty er, and that really opened my eyes. I was like, wow, that's such a different perspective than I ever saw it as. And to me, I thought the one thing that I can do personally, is I can give somebody the microphone so more people hear your story and say, I didn't think that was possible either. I look just like that. Now I've got a shot. Right? So it's, I really believe that it's about the people at the top at the top of the game like you are sharing your stories mentoring, which allows more of the people at the bottom to not feel so discouraged. And then slowly the next year, there's 2% of the people in the room. Then the next year, there's 5%. And then the next year, there's 12% right? So you don't walk into these giant rooms of people and say, God, there's just there's nobody here that looks like me or knows my backstory or has had a, you know, a similar upbringing. Like, to me that that's really what helps us move the needle long term. But I'm just trying to do my part to listen as opposed to step in and try and solve everything, which is that's usually my default is I just want to, I want to get in and solve the puzzle. And I'm like, nope, this one's not for me to solve, I just want to be able to lend a hand. And that that that was one of the biggest reasons that I wanted to have you here so people can just hear your story and know that it wasn't easy. But you took responsibility for your circumstances. That to me is such a big key. You just took responsibility and said, these are my circumstances, this is what I want. I'm gonna put myself in the place to make sure that people can't say no, I love that.
James Wilcox 48:45
Yeah, yeah. I mean, for me, it's about never quitting. You know, if you quit, you don't have a chance to do anything. You don't have a chance to have this beautiful life and career you don't have a chance to have access. You just you know you're out of it. And so all your competition or your peers or whatever, they just move for So that's, that's, you know, that's a big thing. And thank you for doing your part, and illuminating the story. It's important, it's really, really important. And that's to that young Indian girl. That's why it's so important for us to be able to connect with all these people that are traditionally out of the system. Because if you can see it, and maybe believe it, you can achieve it. And that sparked a dream or something that reinforced confidence in her that we don't know who she's gonna grow up to be, she may or may not become a filmmaker or storyteller, but the fact that she was able to see someone who expanded her our mind beyond what she thought was the possible now she had can see that the realm of possibility it can happen and we all have a story. So mines is just one, each one of us has our own story to tell. And so with that in mind, don't you know I would say to you know, our listeners, don't necessarily compare your story to mines because you have a unique story of your own to tell. And that unique story that we all tell is what's our goal do it's what makes us all better. As a whole, when we go on to these shows, and you're not just dealing with one, whether it's all male, you need some women in there because they have a point of view. When we're screening these movies or whatever I'm doing, it is super vital important that we collect a nice round demographic of who's watching that and what they have to say. It's really, really important. And it's not all incumbent on just the studios or the white directors or producers or showrunners, the African American directors and producers have to step their game up to we all do, you know, because there are a lot of movies and TV shows that we would benefit greatly from our unique point of view and our experiences in life. And for me, this is funny because what I've now learned over the course of probably the last decade when I'm hiring an assistant, I almost treat it like a casting. Like obviously I want the person who's best for the job. Everybody should always strive for that. But I'm also looking to help and see who has not been traditionally involved in the pipeline, that they're sitting on a goldmine, a wealth of story, and their voice has been muted. So and I also am looking for what is what am i hiring you for? Do you have a knowledge of the type of film or the type of show that I need help on? And so that's one of the things I've been really blessed with some great assistance. What am I? I mean, I have a great, two great assistants in New York. My Lead guy Ulysses with Dottie who just is amazing, and Nolan Jennings who was my second and then I've had Augie Rex action, so many others who just wrote a piece about being helpful is sometimes the most important ingredient in a person anticipating the needs of their supervisor. In this case, it's the editor and just being helpful if you know, we're digging through dailies for a take, and all this coverage comes in and I can't find that particular take. He had a way of just gently quietly taking down a note texting it to me while we're in discussion with the director or showrunner. It comes from I look at my phone and I go, I know where it is. Now there's two ways to approach that he could have just piped up out of nowhere and played hero ball, which wouldn't have gone over so well with me either. More, he definitely quietly did his thing to be helpful. And that was the right way to do it. So yeah, I mean, you know, that's a lot. And I haven't even gotten to tell you the part of the story of how I got to a Ron Howard
Zack Arnold 52:24
when you stole my segue, because that's exactly what I was going to say is talking about this inspirational story, never quitting. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. It's no coincidence. You're now working with Ron Howard. So yeah, so let's, let's close the loop and talk a little bit more about how you got from there to here.
James Wilcox 52:41
Okay. So a lot of great shows along the way. A lot of hits, shows a lot of fantastic directors, showrunners writers, people that I've worked with, but I was working on this one show called hand of God, and it was for Amazon. And they had just an editor who was working on he was like the supervising editor named Stephen Lang. And if
Zack Arnold 52:59
I gotta stop you here by the way, Stephen Lang is the mentor that got me into the television industry. That's how small this world is. Wow So yeah, so that this would usually be an off the record side conversation but because it's so relevant to what we're talking about, and how important it is to provide value to people and build relationships, Stephen Lang is the one that gave me my shot got me in the door to interview on Burn Notice when I had no TV credits whatsoever, so you may continue but as soon as you said hand of God I'm like, Oh my God, he's not gonna say Steve like there's no way that's possible. I swear to everybody listening you and I did not rehearse this before I had no idea this was coming it This is how important relationships are.
James Wilcox 53:37
Yeah, absolutely vital, because before stepping back one show before that I was working on routes with Mario van Peebles who we both have shared and experience I've worked with a great director. And we were cutting night to a route and Marty Nicholson and Phillip noise we're cutting night one. Well, Marty that the hand of God was one of his regular shows in his rotation. He couldn't leave. Philip was doing multiple projects he needed to shepherd night one of routes through because Philip was unavailable a lot of times. And the same thing occurred with me with Mario, he had a couple of other projects going simultaneously. And Marty kept telling me you got to go over to hand to God, you got to go over hand to God, you need to meet this guy, Ben Watkins, he's the showrunner you love him. He's a great friend of mine is wonderful. He is all those things, and he was all those things. And so I go over the hand of God, and fill in for just an episode one episode that they had available. I've talked to Ben wonderful guy, completely one of the most diverse staffs I've ever been a part of. I love
Unknown Speaker 54:34
Ben and I worked with him by the way, too.
James Wilcox 54:37
That's right. Cuz from Bernie was on
Zack Arnold 54:38
Bernie. I worked with Ben for four years. Love the guy.
James Wilcox 54:41
That's right. Yeah, I forgot. Yeah, I forgot about that with Ben. Yeah, he's fantastic. So to not elongate this story out, because it's all a series of these, kind of like limiti snick. It's a series of events. Instead of unfortunate events. It's a series of fortunate events. Over, I'm working. Stephen Lang likes my work. He gets a call from Fox studio about a show called genius that National Geographic was going to produce. And you know, their bag has been science and nature. So I thought he tells me Yeah, you know, they're doing a series called genius. And I immediately thought, science and nature and I go, I don't know, that doesn't seem very sexy. You know, like, you know, what are we going to do our picking up rocks, or I don't know, they do great work that I shouldn't say, that's just not your thing.
Unknown Speaker 55:27
I get it. And I
James Wilcox 55:28
just did not have the idea. And he totally didn't sell it right, either. So now we cut to our wrap party. And Steve tells me I got a little bit more information about that Geoffrey Rush is going to be starring as Einstein for the genius series. And I thought, really, because that guy's big, and he's going to do TV. And I said, Okay, great. So, you know, you can give them my name over at Fox. That'd be that'd be more than all right. And so then the next day, he comes to me and he tells me Hey, listen, I'm out. Also got word that Ron Howard is going to direct the pilot. I go, are you kidding me? So you gave him my name right? So I get a, I get a phone call from from Fox from West Darwin. And he sets up the interview when I get to the interview over on Sunset Gower studios for the show. Sitting in there is this woman I met Anna call from imagine who's helped me tremendously. Great lady, great producer and Dan Hanley, one of Ron's longtime editors, and Ken biller who I as this comes full circle, we started out talking about Dark Angel connections. He was one of the producer directors on Dark Angel I come into into the room not expecting to know anybody. And Ken gives me a big old bear hug when you could still bear hug people. And he goes James and we catch up the whole whole thing we're sitting down talking together. They brought me on with the idea that I was going to co cut with Dan, the pilot While Ron was directing, well, I got hired, all things were set to go. Dan went in a little early to start cutting. And he looked at a whole lot of the dailies. And there was one particular dinner scene that he saw. And it was just, it was a lot. And it was just like multiple cameras for probably what turned out to be a four to six minute scene. And there must have been hours and hours and hours and hours of footage. And you know, there were 10 people sitting around this dinner table and all sorts of cameras on details of the food and eyelines from this person to that person and, and revolving camera masters and the whole thing. A ton. Yeah,
Zack Arnold 57:40
I'll take a gunfight or a fistfight any day over a dinner table scene. They're the hardest things to cut. Thank
James Wilcox 57:46
you Zack for saying that. Because So Dan goes in there and he had just come off of finishing up Inferno with Ron, and he looked at the material. And I guess he thought, I don't know man. You know, I'm a little exhausted from it for No. And you know, I don't know if I can do the best job, he calls me. And he goes, What are you doing? I said, Well, I'm just enjoying my last moments of freedom before I dive in. And he says, Well, listen, you know, I got to talk to you about something. And I'm like, oh, what's going on? Is that concerned? I got to talk to you about something. He goes, listen, I can't do the show. I can't do the show. I'm sorry to dump this on you. But it's all on you, pal. I feel confident in you that you can do this. And I, you know, I want to do the best job and the guy like, I'm literally now going what I like this has been such a whirlwind of events from getting hired to working with Ron Howard, potentially, to now solely working with Ron Howard on this pilot, and I said, Okay, and I was fully ready because I was always cutting pilots and being the lead guy and the whole thing. They just didn't know what I could do, because they were coming from the world of features. And Dan had always worked with Mike Hill, and it was the three of them Dan and Mike and Ron, and, you know, these guys have won. Oscars together and just cute shoots To fill, I got in there I saw these dailies they were amazing. I was like, Oh, I'm in heaven, I can just do my thing. Here's where the Beverly Hills Playhouse acting thing came into play. Because I was able to go at those performances. Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush and like so many other great actors that I just started cutting, and I had a ball. And then I was sending custom Ron, and Ron goes, James, these cuts are amazing. You're doing a great job. He sent me a text. And I still have the text, by the way,
Zack Arnold 59:30
as you should it should be printed and framed. Yeah,
James Wilcox 59:32
I've got several texts from him that I should hold on to for eternity. But yeah, so so that kind of was the beginnings of our working relationship. Cut to the end of the season. Now it's Emmy submission time. all departments are entering. The show ends up with 23 Emmy nominations. It was the most of a first year show ever. National Geographic is their first real venture into scripted television. So everybody's just Super amped and happy about it. Ron gets a me not for directing. And and everybody, everybody got a nomination except me. And I thought, Oh, this is this cool. No, no, I was ticked. I will tell you I was ticked. I was not anyone to talk to for a good solid week or two. Then I was working on another show after that. And this editor Jane cast says, I saw your work on genius. And, you know, you should submit for an ace Eddie award, and I go, I'm not a part of Ace I don't you know, how can I do that? She goes, don't worry about it. That's not a requirement. I will go through I'll help you get involved. I'll help you with the submission the whole thing I did, I submit it and guess what I want? I want it was it was one of the most amazing nights of my life and obviously if my career and I didn't get played off the stage during my acceptance speech just happened. Daddy's right. Yeah, just it was. It was Fantastic. And so that began our relationship with imagine entertainment. And with Ron Howard. And and since then we kind of made a pact to go on and work together. I did Season Two of genius, which was with Antonio van Darris on Picasso. And that did really well, another guy, not Emmy nominations for that one as well. And and then after that, they sent me a couple of scripts over on different projects to take a look at and see what I would do. And the one project that really stood out to me, which was something traditionally I wouldn't gravitate towards that material because it was like a southern Gothic drama. It's called filthy rich that just came out on Fox this year. But the director was take Taylor, and I thought, wow, that's, that's big. You know, they got a feature guy directing this. He wrote it, the whole thing. So I go over to Fox law. I meet with him. I got my resume the whole thing and Anna jokes with me about this because she set up the whole coordinating of everything. She goes, Yeah, you were sitting there you had your resume. Ready to go and looking for opening big presented to take any member asked you for and he finally just goes we're eating crab cakes and he goes, Well listen, man, I like you. You want to do this job?
flight? Of course I want to do the job. Okay, well, then you got to go to New Orleans. I'll see you in New Orleans. Okay, so can we get to Bill, let's go. And that's how that went. Like I had this big formal meeting in mind. And it was Taylor and his partner, john, and I got hired on the spot. Now we get down to New Orleans. I see Anna one night, me and my assistant are walking down the street and I said, Let's go down the street to one of the bars down and grab a nice cocktail. Before we head in. We go down there we see Anna, and she's telling me teach us loves working with you. He absolutely loves working but he loves your performance choices. The cuts are going well. He thinks he's not going to have a whole lot of work to do when he comes in. And so James, I'm so happy that you're part of this the whole thing I said great. And then I said to her, you know Before we go, I just wanted to let you know i would love the opportunity to work with Ron again, on anything. So they had this project 68 whiskey that was coming up that it was like a I think it was really an adaptation of, you know, wartime and nurses and doctors and the whole thing, but Ron was supposed to wrap that. So she goes, I'll talk to him about that. While I was waiting for him to respond to that hillbilly elegy came into play. It just zoomed right past 68 whiskey. He was no longer going to direct 68 whiskey. He now had turned all his sights on directing hillbilly elegy, and I'm reading about it in the trades. And I'm finding out Amy Adams is the lead, who I've been telling my wife forever. She's just money. She is so great. Like anything that she does is just gold. Then Glenn Close's a part of it. And then Haley Bennett is a part of it. And this other guy Gabrielle basso, who I didn't know his work, but he's been fantastic. Anyway, conversations are had The next thing you know, I'm being sent the script for hillbilly elegy. Ron calls me on a Saturday morning. We're talking, you know, he says to me like, so you know, if you were if I were to go with you, would you mind working in New York? Not a problem. If If I were to go with you, would you mind working with another editor because I'm used to working with several editors, not a problem. So he goes, Okay, James, this is all great. We had a wonderful experience on genius. I'll be brief. But why don't we talk again soon. I'm in advanced scouting. So I'll call you on Tuesday. I'm still doing a pilot with Tate. I'm back in Los Angeles out of Louisiana now. And I'm waiting. Tuesday comes. I don't hear anything Tuesday goes on like, now cut the Wednesday. tape and I are still working. And I hadn't heard anything. I'm like, I probably will somebody else. Now cut to that Thursday. And tape tells me he goes well, Ron Howard called me about you. And I could do nothing but tell him the truth. And gave you a glowing recommendation. Take I love you. That is so great. So now, Thursday, I don't hear anything. Then Friday. And I had another interview that another show really that was waiting on an answer for me as to whether or not I was going to come on board. So I had this other HBO project. I had tait In the meantime, I'm cutting with him and he goes, What Ron doesn't hire you. I'm going to hire you for this other film I have coming up. We just hit it off and connected super well. Friday, Ron sends me a text. James. Let's do this.
Zack Arnold 1:05:32
Another frameable one, you're gonna need a whole wall of Ron Howard text messages. So
James Wilcox 1:05:37
before you knew it that night that I got inducted into Ace, which was June 3, I think it was 2019. Several hours later, I was on a plane to New York to begin work on the fifth. And you know, the rest is history, New York and all his glory, the heat of the summer, the plays, the theater, sporting events, all these things. Great work great dailies, incredible project, pandemic hits, life changes.
Zack Arnold 1:06:06
Wow, that is quite the story, my friend, quite the story. As editors, we we pride ourselves on our ability to manage time. And I find that just about every single episode, I always end up going longer than I want to because the stories are so good. So I don't want to take up your time any longer than I said I would but I want to, I want to end in one place. If if somebody's listening now is in this is kind of reiterating what I mentioned earlier thinking all that's great, and I'm happy that all those things happen for James. None of that stuff is ever going to happen to me. It's just never gonna happen. I don't think that I can make the transitions that I want or I don't think that anybody is gonna give me the chance to tell my stories because of the color of my skin. What do you tell them? How do we get them to the point where they do the work that's necessary so they can tell their stories so they can put themselves in the right place at the right time. So nobody has the opportunity to ever say no to them. Well, I
James Wilcox 1:07:04
will say this, number one, don't have that attitude, that is never going to happen. Because if you don't believe it's going to happen, it may never happen. So don't block your own blessings. That's number one. Whatever you desire to do effort that, whether it's for whether you're being paid, or whether you're not being paid, if you want to go to features, look at a ton of movies, talk to feature editors, hang out with them, read scripts that are widely available online, figure out what happened from script to screen, all these things. And I would say that don't always expect your payoff to come from the place that you're investing it. So sometimes things pay off down the line. And if you see my whole career, it was a series of breaks and game changing breaks and and just being ready and thoroughly prepared for what's to come next. And so I kind of felt my way through it from decision making and preparation. And that's what a lot of people story is going to be. You don't Always get the opportunity to go look, I've put in so much work as an assistant on this show. And so therefore, that's the show that should recognize my efforts and make me an editor, I should get bumped up as an editor. It might not come until one or two shows later. And so you just got to stay in there. You got to keep grinding, you got to keep believing and you got to keep preparing, no matter what, because it's going to happen. Right now, in this very moment. I have four people after I hang up with you who are sitting on Game Changing opportunities from either assistance to getting into that chair or from VFX cutting to going into that chair, whatever it is, right now, Hollywood is casting a wider net than I've ever seen movement on and if you're ready to go, and you're committed and other people can see that I think that the opportunity will come. You know, I don't have a GPS for any particular person on how to get there. Except know what you want to do. along the way. Try not to get pigeonhole. learn anything you don't know. And don't give anyone a reason to say no to you. I started in news, I transitioned out of that to a freelance editor. I transitioned out of that from music and music videos and commercials to eventually getting into scripted drama. And then the opportunity came for me to work in comedy with Damon Wayans and Chris Rock. And I learned under those great comedians. And then I went back into drama, and all those skills I use in every aspect of what I'm doing, because there's great drama and comedy, and there can be great comedy and drama. So it's the whole toolkit now that has prepared me for where I am right now. So I would say that is the thing. Just keep diversifying your career and trying your very best to develop your craft. You never stop learning, which is fantastic. We're in a business where we can continue to grow and develop our craft.
Zack Arnold 1:09:50
I couldn't have said any of that better myself. And there's one thing that I want to just expand on a little bit because I think it's so important and I want to make sure people don't overlook it. It's this idea What you're doing right now may not pay off immediately. I think that's the one of the biggest reasons that people get discouraged. Well, I tried this, it didn't work. So I guess that was a bad idea. And the reason I bring it up is I just had this conversation with Debbie this morning, who is the whole reason that you and I are on this call in the first place? We have a mutual friend editor Debbie germy? No. And I was talking to her on a zoom call today. And we were talking through different job opportunities. And I brought up this thing called the Stanford marshmallow experiment. Are you familiar with this?
James Wilcox 1:10:30
Is that the experiment where you can have to if you wait, or what? Yeah,
Zack Arnold 1:10:35
so in 1972, there was an experiment at Stanford where they took kids and they put them in a room, and they said, you can either have a marshmallow now, or if you wait 15 minutes, we'll give you two marshmallows. And if you're talking to a five year old kid, like 15 minutes, that is an eternity to wait for a marshmallow. But the important thing is what they found is that they studied them until they were adults. And there was a very direct correlation. Between those that were willing to delay gratification, and those that were successful. So for anybody that says, Well, I tried that it didn't work. I guess that was stupid. I'm gonna go back to what I was doing before, you got to see through the lens of this game being chess and not checkers. And that's exactly what your career was at the time. It's like, Well, did that checkers move? I guess that didn't pay off. But let's wait two years. Let's wait three years, let's wait five years, how did the chess move pay off. And that's because you were so well prepared. But you were so good at managing and maintaining these relationships. So I want to make sure people really understand how important that is to the core foundation of your story, because anybody can control that. They can't replicate your version of the story. Nobody has the GPS. But if you find the foundational fundamental steps that you've taken, I really believe that everyone's journey is incredibly similar, as long as you break it down to those steps and that's a big one. You have to be willing to delay gratification, and sometimes say no, even though yes seems like the better answer. So right now, because no gets you where you want to get in the long term. So I think that's, that's such an important point that you made.
James Wilcox 1:12:05
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I still continue to practice that same thing, and I'm learning all the time. And, you know, that's that just goes back to never quitting, that's the athletic side of me, the worst thing that you can do in sports is considered to quit. And so maybe I've been taking headed in some ways, a lot of times where I should have left a bad job earlier or whatever, but there's always something to learn from all of those experiences. And I'll tell you this, lastly, I would say this, you know, as successful as my career has been, and I've covered a lot of ground and found and had an amazing career, I've met some really unique and special people and, and experiences that I don't know if I would have ever had outside of this industry. You know, I, I just have to say that. Well, I mean, it's, it's been pretty incredible. And I and for all of that. I've never thought of myself as being great. I've left whatever has been said to me or about me to others, so, I don't I've never what I guess what I'm saying is I did not stamp my own passport. I prepared my passport for stamping. But I let other people talk about how good if he's great. He's, he's going to want it, you'll love them. I let other people say that. So because of that I didn't rush myself into thinking that my immediate gratification of an opportunity was sanctioned by myself only. Because sometimes we're not as good as we think we are. We're not as prepared as we believe we are. Sometimes it takes other people in that recommendation to say, you know, I have a person in mind for you. It's you know, you do all you can do obviously to be prepared. But part of it was the duality of being ambitious, and patient.
Zack Arnold 1:13:46
I cannot tell you what a pleasure it has been chatting today and Dear Lord when this pandemic is over you and I need to be new best friends and we need to go out and grab a beer or whatever your drink is of choice and we just need to like chill out and talk shop because this has been Like one of the most enjoyable hour and 15 minutes of my life this you I can't even imagine how much fun it would be to share a wall with you and cut a show together my god would that be fun. But in the meantime, I want to make sure that if anybody listening today is either younger breaking into the industry or maybe even not breaking in but struggling and they said this sounds like somebody that's willing to help me learn mentor, ask questions, how can people find you and get ahold of you and connect?
James Wilcox 1:14:26
Well, I'm on Facebook, I'm on Instagram, you can call the editors Guild, I'm on various committees there you can reach me through the Directors Guild. When this podcast comes out, they may reach to you that you could connect us together and I'm I'm a resource when my time is available. You know, I I'll help anybody, quite honestly is the truth. You know, I you know, right now the focus is on African Americans and diversity and whatever that means, women, people of color, but I've helped so many people along The way that I just feel like it's important to pay it forward because I got a lot of help and a lot of help from various different types of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds and the whole thing, and that's why I mentioned some of those names because to honor them, because I have gotten a lot of help from people who have recognized my commitment to the craft or just being the best person you can be or just someone who, you know, I live by the golden rule. So I've treated people hopefully, as well as I've wished to be treated. So yeah, if they want to get in touch with me, that would be the way to do it. I'm like I said, I'm on all the various social media platforms Twitter. I'm not on tik tok. I don't know anything about
Unknown Speaker 1:15:40
me too. I'm too old. I can't hear that.
Unknown Speaker 1:15:42
Yeah, yeah, whatever. Yeah.
James Wilcox 1:15:46
But yeah, my friend, let me tell you this. I'm humbled and honored to be one of your guests in this esteemed list of guests that people that you've had and you've interviewed over the course of the years and I strongly sanction and and completely support 100% what you advocate in this craft of cutting and storytelling, because it's so important, I have these discussions all the time about comfortable places to work environments that are conducive to great work, limiting the hours better managing the humans who are exactly to do these jobs. And so, thank you for being a strong voice and advocate for that, because it's important. You know, there was a lot about Hollywood that was not working, and we should, we should fix everything while we're out here fixing things.
Zack Arnold 1:16:31
Let's get it all that means means a tremendous amount to me. That really does that means a lot to you said that. And I think I'm gonna have to hit the stop button before I choke up. So on that note, I want to thank you for being here today, prioritizing the time to share your knowledge, anybody that's listening, you want to connect with James, he's given the blessing you reach out to me you reach out to him, we will make it happen, time permitting. So James, thank you so much for making this happen today. I can't thank you enough.
James Wilcox 1:16:56
And I will say this before we go if it's about work, you can I always call my agency UTA. Jason guard.
Zack Arnold 1:17:02
There you go. Excellent. I love it. Well, thank you so much for being here
Unknown Speaker 1:17:05
that my pleasure thank you.
Zack Arnold 1:17:10
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James D. Wilcox began his editing career in Atlanta, Georgia in 1982. An opportunity with CBS NEWS in Los Angeles moved James to California where he covered events that ranged from Pope John Paul’s U.S. Tour and the 1984 Olympics to the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit. During his tenure at CBS, James produced and edited the Emmy Award-Winning documentary series, “Lip Sync” which exposed the 1991 Milli-Vanilli Grammy scandal.
By 1999, James had transitioned into scripted television with a wide variety of shows including: Showtime’s “Soul Food”, FOX’s “Dark Angel”, Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!”, UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris”, CBS’s “CSI: Miami,” “Hawaii Five-0” and ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” where he began his directing career.
In 2016, Wilcox teamed up with Director Mario Van Peebles on “Roots” which was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Limited Series. Following the nomination, Wilcox collaborated with director Ron Howard on Nat Geo’s “Genius” which gained two more Emmy nominations for Outstanding Limited-Series in 2017 and 2018. That January, James took home the ACE Eddie Award for “Best Edited Miniseries or Motion Picture for Television” for his work on “Genius: Einstein.”
More recent work by James includes the Netflix series “Raising Dion” starring Michael B. Jordan, as well as the pilot of “Filthy Rich” directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”, “Ma”) which premieres this year on FOX Television. Currently, James is working again with Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment, cutting Netflix’s “Hillbilly Elegy” (due for release in 2020).
James is an active member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG), the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Picture Editors Peer Group, American Cinema Editors, and The Directors Guild of
On his craft, James has said, “I strive to be the best and tell the story I’d pay to see. When I edit, I won’t settle for just good enough.”
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).
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.