Susan Vaill interview

Ep104: How to Keep Working As An Editor (After You’ve Made the Transition From AE) | with Susan Vaill, ACE


So many working in post-production around the world are obsessed with making the transition from being an assistant to being an editor. But does the journey end once you’re sitting in the editor’s chair? Or has the journey just begun?

Editor and director Susan Vaill, ACE (Space Force, Gray’s Anatomy, This Is Us) has been helping to answer these questions as a mentor to many in scripted entertainment in Hollywood, and she’s become so passionate about the subject of helping assistant make the transition (and stick the landing, so to speak) that she even recently lead an Editor’s Guild panel titled “Bumped Up: The Leadership Workshop for New Editors.”

So what are the most important questions that assistants who’ve recently been promoted into the editor’s chair don’t know to ask? What surprises might come their way they aren’t prepared for? What politics should they be aware of? What soft skills are necessary to build relationships and get invited back to jobs in the future?

And if you haven’t made the transition yet but you are oh so close!!!, then what differentiates you from other people vying for the same position (especially if they have more experience than you)? What can you do to stand out?

NOTE: This interview was conducted shortly before the pandemic struck (early March, 2020), so as you’re listening keep that in mind as we discuss her upcoming panels and general networking strategies.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • The fun story of how Susan and her twin sister ended up in a classic Double Mint Gum commercial in the ’80s.
  • Susan’s amazing origin story and how just ONE experience with deck to deck editing in high school gave her the power to “see the matrix” and recognize editing ‘tricks’ in films & television shows early on in life.
  • How a documentary job 20 years ago directly led to her working on Space Force today.
  • The pivotal moment where Susan realized she had a lot more to offer than what was on her resume. And how she leveraged her unique perspective, background, and personality to make her resume so compelling that it jumpstarted her career.
  • Hot Tip: Inject your personality into your resume!
  • How Susan’s passion and life experiences motivated her to spearhead the panel on moving from Assistant Editor to Editor called ‘Bumped Up: the Leadership Workshop for New Editors’.
  • Why the most common question she gets at her panels may surprise you.
  • What compels Susan to put on these panels and give back to people in the industry.
  • How she thinks about the difficulty of Assistant Editors moving to Editor in the current environment where they aren’t really gaining the creative skills it requires.
  • Why Editors have to be proactive about mentoring their Assistant Editors to get the next generation ready to be our peers.
  • The benefits of making a habit of getting away and taking lunch together.
  • Why it’s so important to create a really comfortable, safe working place of your edit bay.
  • F.A.I.L. = First Attempt in Learning.

NOTE: Susan’s panel is limited to 30 participants, but they’ll do them every 3 months. Keep an eye on MPEG’s events calendar page.

Useful Resources Mentioned:

Ep69: Cobra Kai…Inside the Edit Suite | with Jon Hurtwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg

Ep85: Mentorship, Networking, and Surviving Hollywood Blockbusters | with Dody Dorn, ACE

Ep70: To Assist or Not to Assist…That Is the Question (pt 1) | with Chris Cavanagh

Ep39: Breaking “Bad” From Assistant to Editor | with Kelley Dixon, ACE (pt 1)

Ep40: Breaking “Bad” From Assistant to Editor | with Kelley Dixon, ACE (pt 2)

Our Generous Sponsors:

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Guest Bio:

Susan Vaill bio photo

Susan Vaill, ACE, is an editor of both comedy and drama series, including This Is Us, Lodge 49 and the upcoming Space Force on Netflix. She has edited six television pilots and helped launch five shows in their first season.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Susan appeared with her twin sister Sarah in an ‘80s Doublemint gum commercial and the Hal Ashby film Bound For Glory. She studied film theory and art history at Williams College and got an MFA in film production at USC. After assistant-editing documentaries and feature films like The Last Samurai, Susan edited over 70 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy which won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series in 2008. Susan also directed three episodes of the series, in which Loretta Devine gave a guest performance that earned her an Emmy in 2011.

More recently, Susan turned to comedy, editing the half-hour series Grandfathered, Me, Myself & I, and the upcoming comedy Space Force, created by Greg Daniels and Steve Carrell. She also edited the legal drama Doubt, the award-winning mega-hit This Is Us, and the critically acclaimed AMC dramedy Lodge 49. Two of Susan’s episodes of Lodge 49 earned spots on The New York Times’ and Entertainment Weekly’s year-end lists of Best Episodes of Television of 2019.

In 2018, Susan was elected to the society of American Cinema Editors, and in 2019 she spearheaded ‘Bumped Up: the Leadership Workshop for New Editors’, co-sponsored by ACE and the Editors Guild, which she leads 2-3 times a year. Susan’s interests include golf and music-driven story-telling, and her favorite karaoke song is “I’m On A Boat” by The Lonely Island.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared 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).

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Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, and the creator of the Optimize Yourself program. He helps ambitious creative professionals and entrepreneurs DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time, your energy, and your creativity so you can produce higher quality work in less time (and ultimately become a productivity ninja). “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people, things, and passions in your life…all without sacrificing your health (or sanity) in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”