I’ve spent my entire career wondering what the difference is between those who simply string along one job after another to pay the bills and those who have extraordinary resumes, amazing credits, and award-winning careers. You might assume it’s some combination of God-given talent, luck and hard work. If you’ve listened to me for any amount of time, you know I consider “luck” to be a four letter word (so that’s out), but I do believe talent and hard work absolutely play a role when it comes to success. However, I think the difference for those who reach the highest levels is that they are simply playing a totally different game than everyone else. Most people are playing a game of checkers…the best of the best are playing chess.
Today’s guest, ACE editor, Michelle Tesoro has worked on critically acclaimed shows such as House of Cards, Godless, On the Basis of Sex, When They See Us, and most recently The Queen’s Gambit. Rather than talk about her creative process editing The Queen’s Gambit, Michelle and I take a different approach in this conversation and discuss the metaphor of chess as life and how you can apply a long-term, more strategic chess-like approach to your career.
Michelle and I had such an in-depth conversation that I’ve made it a two-part series. In this first part we discuss how Michelle chooses the projects & people she works with, and we discover how there is a common theme running through much of her work that keeps her engaged and passionate (despite the arduous nature of the projects she takes on). Michelle also shares what she believes to be her greatest assets and soft skills (outside the editing timeline) that have led to her tremendous success in Hollywood.
Finally, I am keenly aware that Michelle has been making the rounds on the podcast circuit, but rest assured no matter what you’ve listened to already this very candid conversation covers fresh ground with stories you definitely haven’t heard on other shows. And you don’t want to miss part 2 next week where I put Michelle on the hot seat to discuss the challenge of balancing her career with the rest of her life.
Want to Hear More Episodes Like This One?
Here’s What You’ll Learn:
- The first small moments Michelle realized that editing was for her.
- How a street artist in New York helped her understand the power of editing and storytelling.
- The similarities between Michelle and the lead character, Beth in The Queen’s Gambit.
- How Michelle has become comfortable being the only woman in the room.
- The parallels Michelle can draw from the themes of On the Basis of Sex and her own mom and childhood.
- Michelle shares one of the most valuable soft skills she possesses that helps her gain the trust of her collaborators.
- How being clear about her goals early on in her career helped guide the decisions she made.
- The word that Michelle has been practicing to use more often in her career. HINT: it’s not “Yes!”
- KEY TAKEAWAY: The only way to confidently say no is if you know what the end goal is.
- What Michelle learned from NOT getting the ACE Internship when she applied for it at the start of her career.
Useful Resources Mentioned:
Continue to Listen & Learn
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 rights 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're 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 O.G., welcome back. Whether you're brand new, or you're seasoned vets, 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 on to today's show. I have spent my entire career wondering what the difference is between those who simply string along one job after another to pay the bills. And those who have extraordinary resumes, amazing credits and award winning careers. You might assume that it's some combination of God given talent, luck and hard work. First of all, if you've listened to me for any amount of time, you know that I consider luck to be a four letter word. So that's out. But I do believe that talent and hard work absolutely play a role when it comes to success. However, I think the difference for those who reach the highest levels is that they're simply playing a totally different game than everybody else. Most people are playing a game of checkers, the best of the best are playing chess. Today's guest ACE Editor Michelle Tesoro has worked on critically acclaimed shows such as House of Cards, Godless, On the Basis of Sex, When They See Us and most recently, The Queen's Gambit. But rather than talk about her creative process, editing the Queen's Gambit instead, today, Michelle and I take a different approach in this conversation. And we discussed the metaphor of chess as life and how you can apply a long term more strategic chess like approach to your career. Michelle and I had such an in depth conversation that I ended up making this a two part series. So in this first part, we discuss how Michelle chooses the projects and the people that she works with. And we discover how there's a common theme running through much of her work that keeps her engaged and passionate. Despite the arduous nature of all of the projects that she takes on. Michelle also shares what she believes to be her greatest assets and soft skills outside of the editing timeline that have led to her tremendous success in Hollywood. And finally, yes, I am keenly aware that Michelle has been making the rounds on the podcast circuit and is frankly everywhere right now. But rest assured, no matter what you may have listened to already. This is a very candid conversation that covers completely new and fresh ground with stories you definitely haven't heard on other shows. And you don't want to miss Part Two next week where I put Michelle on the hot seat to discuss the challenge of balancing her career with the rest of her life. Lastly, is a super quick disclaimer. I had some audio connection issues and I apologize in advance for the less than stellar quality of this specific interview. But frankly, this conversation was lightning in a bottle and I wasn't going to try and capture twice just for the sake of audio fidelity. If today's interview inspires you to step up your networking game so you can continue to build relationships with people that you admire who can open the right doors to the next stage in your career. I am excited to share with you my new, improved and vastly expanded Insider's Guide to writing amazing outreach emails. In this extensive guide, I will help you completely transform your outreach email game. So you can build a networking strategy and reach out to the right people so you can seek much needed advice, connect with a potential mentor, set up meetings and shadowing opportunities and even get referred for your next gig. In this upgraded version. I've also included a step by step template that breaks down every single piece of your outreach email from subject line all the way to the final salutation and I also provide a video tutorial with a before and after email tear down so you understand what a great outreach email should and should not include to download your FREE guide And take your outreach emails to a completely new level. Visit optimizeyourself.me/emailguide. Alright, without further ado, my conversation with ACE editor Michelle Tesoro made possible today by our amazing sponsors Evercast and Ergodriven, who are going to be featured just a bit later in today's interview to access the show notes for this in all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss the next inspirational interview. Please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast.
I'm here today with Michelle Tesoro, member of American Cinema Editors, you are a television and a feature film editor. And some of your recent work includes Godless, On the Basis of Sex, When They See Us, and most recently, a little known project on Netflix that got about 150 gazillion viewers, which was the Queen's Gambit. And some of your more historical work that is equally as impressive include shows like The Newsroom, House of Cards, locked, Intreatment, and Fringe. But there's one thing that you don't put on your about page in your resume and IMDb that frankly, we're probably going to talk more about which is that you apply for the ACE internship and you didn't get it. So, on that note, Michelle, it is a pleasure to have you on the show today.
Michelle Tesoro 6:16
Thanks for having me, Zack, I love that introduction. It just made me laugh.
Zack Arnold 6:22
I'm assuming nobody else has ever brought that up in your about page in your bio before. That's the kind of thing you put a bunch of Asterix in and you highlight. But I think there's going to be a lot of value in talking about that a little later.
Michelle Tesoro 6:32
Zack Arnold 6:33
So I have some really good news for you. It may be good news for the audience that I might not, but I want to make it very clear to them. You and I are not going to talk about the Queen's Gambit today. If somebody was listening, and they're thinking to themselves, I really want to understand how does she do all the split screens? or How did you paste it out? How did you make chess interesting to watch? Guess what? You've done the rounds. And they're amazing interviews about that already. And I'm even going to publicize them in the show notes. So if somebody wants to listen to some of those, two of my colleagues that I highly recommend, you did an interview with Joaquin Elizondo for Hollywood editing mentor, and also with Steve Hullfish. For art of the cuts. I'm going to put links to those so people want to dive into the craft of the Queen's gambit and editorial. What was it like taking notes from Scott Frank, et cetera, et cetera, all amazing material, there's no reason I need to rehash it with you. We're going to go a whole lot deeper. But here's the caveat, we might not be talking about the Queen's gambit. But boy, are we going to talk about chess, because I believe that chess is one of the most brilliant metaphors for life. And there's a quote that I want to pull from the the final episode right before the big match. And I'm not going to spoil it for the 14 people on the planet that haven't watched it yet. But there's a quote that it just popped off the page. And I said, This is what the interview is all about. And it's a quote from Thomas Huxley from way back in the 1800s. And to paraphrase, it basically says the chessboard is the world. The pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature, and the player on the other side is hidden from us. I really believe and I teach this to all the students in my coaching and mentorship program that if you're going to be successful, no matter what you pursue, that you have to play a game of chess and not a game of checkers. And I think so many people are playing a game of checkers trying to make the next move, trying to get the next gig whatever it might be, because it can seem so daunting to go after the larger chess match. So that's more what I want to talk about today is this idea of approaching life like a game of chess, the various strategies that you've used to get where you are today, etc, etc, etc. So that's going to kind of be the the general idea where it goes from here, I have no idea, there's probably so many good stories that we can tell. But where I want to start, is we don't have to rehash your entire backstory of all the steps that you took to make it into the industry and whatnot. But what I really love to understand about creative professionals, specifically those that get to the level where you are now, what was the first spark? What was the first time that you were doing the craft? And you're like, Whoa, there's something to this, and I want a lot more of this drug. Do you remember what the first moment is that you said, I think editing might be for me?
Michelle Tesoro 9:16
Well, it's interesting, because I think about that moment, there's probably like three or four small moments, and then maybe a fifth bigger moment where I actually realized that I could do it as a career or that it's kind of where it was sort of solidified. So these little moments were. So I took I think every little editing class that I took growing up like there was one at Columbia College that I took for they had a Columbia College High School summer program that I took like a 60 minute parabolics class and you had a shoot and cut your own thing and it was all on one Like a little viewfinder, moviola thing, and I was physically doing it, and I had more fun doing it. And I loved doing like little wipes and stuff. And, you know, although I did like shooting, you know, so I wasn't quite sure what it was. And then I think when I went to college, and we, you know, I had to learn, you know, you were in the oven, you were cutting on the steenbeck, I think I was realizing that I was better at it than some other people and that I like that the time that room a little better. And then it really solidified with me, when I was learning the avid and the project was, we all had to shoot an artist documentary, like we had to, we had to find like a street artist or somebody and do a portrait of them, like a five to 20 minute little documentary about them. And I did one on the street artists. And it was so controversial. Like I put the star, I put this documentary together, and I had like an interview with him. And he was a performance artist in that, you know, he had a disability in his hips. And in New York, he the way he would get around was a skateboard. He went by crutch. And he had created these crutches that had like a circular bottom to them. So that when he would get around New York, it would go really fast. And so that was kind of, you know, you would see him around town. And then his performance art was basically he would go into a public square, whether that be Union Square, or in Moscow or any other country. And because he was he had to use crutches to walk around because of this hip disability had the performance was him in various stages of either falling or disabledness right. And so it was interesting, because he would do it to you. Like if I met him when I met him the first time we're walking together. And he kept like, flipping his skateboard and dropping it in front of me. And then I kept picking it up. And I kept picking it up. And after a while, it's like, well, why am I picking it up, because he's obviously does this all day, you know, he doesn't need me to pick it up. And that was kind of the point of his performance art. And it was very controversial with people because they thought that that was taking advantage. So you can argue with that all day long, and which, when I did the documentary, and I interviewed him about what his performance art meant to him and all that, you know, I put it together. And, you know, and he was really interested in how I was going to present him to other people. And, and I didn't realize at the time, because I was young and whatever it was 20 years old. And and I showed it and it angered people, and some people thought it was amazing, and some people that and, and I then I realized why he was so interested in how I was going to put it together. Because the manipulation of what we do, whether you're doing it as like a fiction, or you're presenting something real, it's always going to be a point of view. And you're always making a hypothesis, a statement. And, and how you put those things together. You're telling a story, and you have to be careful what story you're trying to tell. Right. And I think for me, that is a moment is that was solidified for me that this is where I thought this part of filmmaking was the strongest part. Because when I tried doing the other things, you know, I didn't really enjoy the group knit, you know, being around a bunch of people.
Zack Arnold 9:40
I'm right there with you. By the way. That's why biggest reasons I'm in the Edit room is Yeah, being on set. No, no,
Michelle Tesoro 14:00
No, no, thanks a lot. It's a lot of, you know, waiting, hurry up and wait. A lot of people ask me, you know, do you would you ever direct and? And the answer for that, for me, it's like, you know, look, I love directors, I like obviously what they do I I think it's really important. I never want to be that person to have to try to answer all those fires. It's just, again, a part of the the industry that I'm just not, I'm not strong. And I think lucky for me. I realized that early on, and I kind of knew where my strengths were, and how I can also have a creative outlet and have those two things work together. You know, and discover that before I went into the world to try to make money, you know, doing such a thing. So
Zack Arnold 14:51
the the important discovery for you is really, I wield a lot of power in the Edit room, I can really manipulate a story the point of view. And I think a lot of times the word manipulation is taken out of context. Oh, how dare we we don't manipulate we just convey it. No, we don't. We manipulate every
Michelle Tesoro 15:10
Zack Arnold 15:11
Even if it's for the best of intentions with the one of the analogies that I use all the time, when people want me to explain what we do for a living, I say I play Tetris all day long with people's emotions. I move all the little blocks around, I build all these patterns in the timeline. But the movement of these blocks creates specific feelings and emotions. And ultimately, when you talk to most, if not all editors, and frankly, most creatives, the reason we ultimately do what we do is we want to convey a certain feeling and tell a certain story. Otherwise, why in the world, would we spend 80 hours a week in small, dark, windowless rooms behind computers?
Michelle Tesoro 15:46
Right, there are a lot of things over and over.
Zack Arnold 15:49
Exactly. So we're gonna talk a lot more about the lifestyle that you lead as far as how it is on a TV series versus a feature. And especially if you're working on a TV series, where you're the only editor, which is a very unique situation, that it's one that even I haven't been in in my entire career. What I want to talk a little about a little bit more are the themes that I see inherent in some of the different things you work on. Because one of the things that I talk about a lot with my students is that if you're really going to devise a chess strategy, one of your first moves is you have to identify what are my creative needs and my passions, and you found that you really love the process of manipulating story and picking a specific point of view. But with this documentary that you mentioned, and with the Queen's gambit, and with on the basis of sex specifically, and we could dive in other ones, but what I'm already seeing is this pattern of this underdog, unknown that nobody really pays attention to that rises up from the ground, and really teaches the world something would you say that I'm on to something there?
Unknown Speaker 16:51
Oh, Zack. You know, it's funny, you Yes, you are onto something. It's funny that you say that. Because when we had our friends and family, well, it wasn't the screaming because we couldn't do it. In person, we had to do it on Pix, I invited a good friend of mine who assisted me for like four or five shows, who's now an editor. Now, Lisa De Moraes has to be one of the viewers. And she watched and she said, huh, like, I was thinking that you would really connect with this character. She knows me so well. And yeah, I, you know, it's Yes, yes. Yeah.
Zack Arnold 17:37
So let's, let's dig into that a little bit deeper. Having just gone through the entire series for the Queen's gambit, I've never met you before. Up until this call tonight, as we talked about a little bit before I feel like we know each other. But at the same time, we don't actually know each other. And I thought I can see a lot of at least the persona that I know of Michelle in this character. Why is that? What were the similarities? Why would your friend to pull that out of the Queen's gambit of all things?
Unknown Speaker 18:02
Well, I think that it's funny because I have other girlfriends of mine, who are editors who maybe got their start a little bit later than me, but you know, we're the same age or something. And, and the constant that I always get is Oh, Michelle, you know, you're so confident in what you do, and and all that. And I think what I see in Beth is there's this matter of fact, confidence that she has about her skills and her abilities because she does it, not because he's trying to be good at something, but it's for a different reason. That's how she sees the world. That's how she escapes from the world. And she knows she's good at it. Obviously, it's somewhat, you know, logistical level. And I guess I, I guess, similar to that, it's like I, you know, I, you know, I don't want to say hey, I'm great at this, because there's there's always, you know, as you know, you go through your career, you realize, Oh, you know, I don't know how to do that, or I didn't realize I could solve that problem this way or, or whatever. But I always my personality, I just kind of like, go for what I want. And I don't really, I don't really care if people like me, or don't like me. And so I'm willing to go out there and like piss somebody off or offend somebody or, or I'm not worried about someone rejecting me because, oh, well, you know, get in line, you know, but you know, and so I think it's like, at least I asked, so I know, now I know, I'll go over there and ask this person or something. So I think she kind of views that, you know, embodies that personality a little bit. And also, I mean, there's the general thing when I started, you know, there, there's a lot of men, you know, in our, in our industry and no, I'm used to being like one A few women, and I'm actually very comfortable. In that situation. I'm not saying that that's great or anything like that, but I, I never let that bother me so much on less somebody had pointed it out, you know, but it never intrinsically bothered me. So, and I feel like she's that way too. You know. And then I also think that there's just some awkwardness, and this is very personal, but of how she relates to men, and how she relates to intimate relationships in general, like, you know, I, you know, I had a working mother, single mother, I have two older siblings, but they're really a lot older, like 10, and 14 years older than me. So I was alone a lot. lived in my head a lot. And as you know, now that I'm saying it's like, that's the same, like always, by yourself, always in your head. And it's always like, imagining, so it's difficult. When, you know, you see a lot of these characters in the show. You're trying to get close to her, and she has no idea what to do with it, how to how to relate to them. I mean, jeez, poor Harry Beltik. You know, and, and I feel like I've been in those situations sometimes. But yeah, there. There's, there's a lot. There's a lot
Zack Arnold 21:19
I was gonna say a lot of those character traits sound somewhat similar to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex. There's some other similarities there. No?
Unknown Speaker 21:29
Yeah, I guess. So. You know, it's funny, I, I loved working on a movie, obviously. Because, you know, you're you're trying to, you're telling a story about this icon, who's really done so much. For me as a woman, the world overall, for all for both men and women. That's what's so great about that story is like, it's not just, you know, she, she did something for a woman, she did something for a man in terms of equality for both sexes. I mean, that that's amazing. And yeah, again, awkward, but like living a life that for her time. You know, she was kind of pushing against the grain. I mean, she really reminds me a lot about, you know, how my mother lived, you know, she's my mom's suit really smart. She could never be kind of pinned down. And she lived for all intents and purposes, sort of an unconventional life by being single for most of her life, and just working and really good at her job. And, and I, yes, the justice, the life that we're presenting in the movie Anyway, you know, as I learned more about her, it, you know, it's very similar, just like, she just had the thing that she needed to do. And, I mean, I don't know if it's luck, but she was lucky to have people around her who supported her. Because really, when you think about at the time, she could have been with anybody who would have tried to squash those dreams. But you know, Marty, and his family really, really supported her. And she also had a very strong mother figure who wanted to push her in that direction. So yes, that's true. It's very similar, right? And, and I remember my husband, well, my husband now my fiance, then, you know, he was taking some time off. He's also in the business. He was with me seeing, you know, seeing this movie comes together. And actually, when we screened the movie for the Justice in DC, he happened to be there working on Wonder Woman. So he was allowed to come to the screening, because, you know, it was a very, you had to give the list and, and the Justice invited her family and all of her clerks. And we went to see it, and she was so like, this amazing woman who's like four foot 11. You know, very soft spoken, it was probably like the highlight of my career like meeting, Ruth Bader, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and hoping I wasn't gonna say something stupid, you know. And I remember after coming home from that, like, all of a sudden, and after seeing the movie, he was like, Well, yeah, maybe, maybe honey, maybe I'll stay home. And, you know, like, he was so affected by how like Marty Ginsburg was, and like, how amazing she was, I was like, Well, wait a minute. I don't want you to stop what you love. But you know, it was very strong women, I guess, interesting. personalities was the movie that you that you want to that you mentioned. So he said, on the Basis of Sex.
Zack Arnold 24:29
It was the documentary film that you talk about that was your spark of inspiration, because there's another person that was kind of coming out of the ether from nowhere, having this impact on people because they just, this is who I am. This is the performance art. This is the lesson I'm going to teach. And I love this image of him just constantly dropping the skateboard thinking to himself, you realize I can do this myself why it caused you to think differently about the way you perceive somebody with a disability, right? in certain contexts, whether it's changed Whether it's law, being a female was a disability,
Michelle Tesoro 25:04
Zack Arnold 25:04
Right? So and I, it's eerie to me how similar You and I are, because this whole thing of like, I just see it and I go for it, like, Oh my God, that's my mo sometimes to my detriment, it can be a superpower, it can be a kryptonite. Same thing for me a little over three years ago, overweight, out of shape felt like crap. And like, you know what, I think I'm gonna be an American Ninja Warrior, that sounds like fun. just said, I'm gonna do it. There's no reason that it made any sense whatsoever. But once I set my mind to it, I had the confidence that I could figure it out to make it happen. And I think that's what you're pointing out in these characters that so similar to you, is that there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. And I think that was a line that found over the course of the series. But as little as age nine and 10, you could just tell she already knew I'm the best at this. Right? Maybe I can't beat the best yet. But I know I'm the best in the world, this one thing. And there's a part of you that I also sense. You just know, I really, really good at what I do. And there's still a lot of things to learn a lot of different techniques, different stories that I can tell, there are always going to be new challenges and problems to solve. But you just exude the idea that I go in the room, I can solve your problems. And I know I'm good at what I do.
Michelle Tesoro 26:18
Yes, it probably it's hard for me to say that about myself. But I know that about myself. And I know other people who know me will say when would say that is that
Zack Arnold 26:27
So so basically within the first 15 minutes of our psychoanalysis session, we now better understand your childhood and your your really deeper inner workings for why you're doing what you're doing. Like I said, this is going to be a little bit off the beaten path for our usual interviews I love this is I really wanted to understand what makes you tick. Because to get where you are at your age with all of the various quote unquote, disabilities, it's pretty difficult to get to the stage of your career where you are now. And one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is I've had multiple people in my program, where when I teach them how to do outreach and connect with people that they want to learn from, as you know, now, more than one have said, the number one person on my list that I really want to talk to is Michelle Tesoro, because she inspires me to believe that as a woman, and I even had a Filipino woman that said, I can actually do this, I never actually saw myself doing this. But now that I see somebody else that successful, I have no excuse. And I know that I can do it. And there was a quote that you brought up about this idea of being a woman specifically in the world of editing. And I want you to expand on this a little bit, it was a brilliant quote, you said, we are all the same height. When we sit in the chair, it's all about your mind. And you're solving strategy, your ability to solve problems. So I love everything about that, except for the visual sitting in a chair because of course I pro standard movie, we won't get into that quite yet. But talk to me a little bit more about this equalizer of being a woman versus a man, once you're in the editing chair.
Michelle Tesoro 27:57
I mean, I think no matter what your instrument is, you have to do the job through an instrument, whatever that's going to be right. It's was film and now it's you know, not an ease. And now we're you know, at a computer, and we're doing it. And it's seems to me no matter what the technology, you're basically performing the same job, it's you're talking with another person or maybe a group of people and you're trying to solve a problem together by putting picture together. And that has to come from internal and your brain and how you communicate that if you're six, four, or if you're five, one, right? So I think because I Well, a lot of people view, you know, editors view editing as more of an intellectual sport. I believe that is that's the equalizer, right? Because you can't, you can't do it unless you're actually you know, doing it in your mind. And it kind of doesn't matter like physical attributes. So yeah,
Zack Arnold 29:03
I couldn't agree more with all of that. Which brings me back to this idea of mindset, if we're going to play the chess match, we're going to sit at the board. If you're thinking to yourself, I could never figure this out, and I'm never gonna win. Yeah, it doesn't matter how much strategy I teach you, or skills or tactics or secrets. If you don't believe you can do it, there's no point. So you have to sit at the board and believe that you can do it. And you believe you can do it. And you saw this great equalizer of wealth. We're all going to be the same height when we sit there. So if I can solve problems better, and I can communicate, and I can manage a room and manage all the various personalities, because there are so many things that an editor has to be great at beyond the timeline. I think that's one of the fallacies and it's right. It's the most common thing you're going to talk about like how did you organize your sequences and how do you watch your dailies all that's great, but I believe that being amazing in the timeline are amazing and you're Anneli is the minority of skills you need to be really good at to be successful editor. So what do you think some of those additional soft skills are that you bring to the table? And I know that you're probably like, I've, I have a hard time talking about these things about myself. So I'm going to rephrase it. If I'm talking to one of your closest colleagues. And I asked them, What are the soft skills that Michelle brings to the table that would make her a great asset to my team? How would they answer that question?
Michelle Tesoro 30:24
Well, I think, first and foremost, you need to understand how to talk about the story about the problem at hand. So in terms of, I feel like, because I know how to verbalize what might be right or wrong, about whatever we're doing, and have a conversation that isn't, you know, laced with other desires, or, or fears, you know, people feel comfortable with having that conversation with me. And we can actually, and I feel, I think that they feel well, this is what I'm hoping. But I think that they feel like they're free to talk about what they actually want, out of what we're trying to do, and that I understand what their goals are, you know, because we're we're focused on the story, and maybe something I've said, clicks with them, or leads them to understand that I understand them. So it's, it's really like being able to talk to whoever I'm working with, and understanding where they're coming from. So there's that. And I also think that I'm, I'm fairly good at reading the room. I mean, that's important for anybody to know, it's like, you know, when you're going to overstep, you know, when to shut up, you know, when to leave the room. If you need to leave the room, and you know how to be supportive, even if, I guess the better way of putting is, you know, when to give tough love, and you know, when you have to be supportive? And I'm sort of like this, because it's hard for me to be yes. You know, I don't do that. I think it takes a lot of energy. And you know, I it's just easier if I'm dishonest. And I tend to be honest, and sometimes that hurts some people's feelings. But what can I say? Sorry, but that's just my personality. But I think that that works in an editing room, because, you know, I see that I see the, the time that we spend there as a director's last chance to try to make the thing that that they initially wanted. So if it's not doing that, someone's got to say it. And I hope that if you've hired me that you're okay with me saying that to you. And if not, and I'm still there, then I'm here to support you, you know, but I think people feel it's more the previous than the latter.
Zack Arnold 33:03
I agree with everything. But I want to add a caveat. I think you and I are very similar, I would love to share a wall someday on a series just like to collaborate and see if all my suspicions are true. But I think you're similar to me, and that you have no problem being brutally honest, sometimes maybe to the point of fault, or like, maybe I shouldn't have shared that much about how I feel about the scene. But that only works. If you work with people that trust you. that trust is such an important component. And you strike me as somebody that can build that trust early on, because you have that level of confidence, and you take the time to learn about the story and really understand and communicate, what are your visions? What are your desires for the story? Therefore, when you have objections, or you say that things don't work? I feel like if that trust is there, the note or the idea behind all of them is I'm just trying to protect this. So would you agree that that's also your approach?
Michelle Tesoro 34:02
I mean, I think, to an extent, yes. Like, once you have that trust, it's a lot easier for me to be that way. But sometimes you got to be that way out of the gate. Like I've found in recent years, that, me being that way out of the gate. And conveying that. I'm not afraid of you rejecting my idea, you know, and I'm not going to be hurt. If you decide this isn't going to work out or you think I'm wrong. It's like the lack of fear of being disappointed is not a part of this. I think people respect that. And then they really feel like you're, you're whatever you're saying must be true. And it's not because you want to be liked and it's not because you want to keep your job. It's because we're whatever you're talking about is is they see it as truth, you know, so and and it's Hard to know whether you're conveying because I feel like out of the gate if you're like that, and they're like, okay, that's who she is, then I know that moving forward, when she says something, it's not she's not pulling me because before she didn't pull, you see what I'm saying?
Zack Arnold 35:16
I absolutely see what you're saying. And this goes to another thing that I talked about with my students, which is that in addition to pursuing a project, because you're creatively passionate about the theme, or the story, or the genre or the style, you also have to make sure you're collaborating with people that are the right fit. And I'm guessing there's at least one point in your career where you were just honest, out of the gate, and there was no bull. And that probably didn't work so well. And you realize, maybe this isn't such a good fit. I know, I've had that experience. And sometimes that's a blessing in disguise, because you don't want to go down the road for three months, six months a year with people that see you as an operator.
Unknown Speaker 35:56
Right? No, that's true. I mean, I think, yeah, they were I think about I think it happened early on in my career, I want to say that I probably have been lucky, or maybe it's not luck. Maybe it's because I'm this way, it's like, I'm naturally going to go with this group versus that group. You know, because they're not going to like me in an interview where they're not going to really dig, dig me in the beginning, like, I don't think I've ever been, like, go for that. But I don't think I've ever been chosen. You know.
Zack Arnold 36:23
And that, to me is not luck. If you've listened to any my past shows, and my regular listeners know that I call luck, a four letter word, because knock it out. If you walk across the street, and you get hit by a bus, that's bad luck, it just is what it is. But I think the fact that you have avoided the pitfalls of working on projects that aren't a good fit, is because you just wake up every morning and you say, this is me, I'm authentic, and confident in who I am. And guess what, a lot of people don't like that. And they're gonna say, Man, I think Michelle is a good fit for us. But that's because you're putting out the authentic version of you and like attracts like. So I don't think it's as lucky as we might think. Right. And this brings me to another idea that I want to get into that's more about the chess mindset versus checkers, which is that when you're playing a game of chess, and the ironic thing is here, and I think you would agree with me, I actually know very little about the game of chess. And I know that you've talked about how you're like, I don't really understand chess either. Right? But when it comes to the theory and idea and strategy of chess, I love it. And it's this idea that you have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. And I think that the most important word, or important words that you have to focus on in navigating your career path, are Yes, and No. Yes can be a really dangerous word, and no can be a very liberating word. So in your journey, can you think of more than one instance where the word No, actually got you to where you are now?
Unknown Speaker 37:49
Oh, boy, dear. I mean, this is the word no, has been a practice that I've had to get used to in recent years. So it's sort of relatively new for me, I want to say it, I want to say it's been new since maybe maybe it was Godless. Maybe as prior to that, I don't know, I don't remember. But I know, it's, it's the last two or three, four years, where I know, you know, the body of work is now speaking for itself. I have enough history with a number of people, that I mean, jobs, if jobs are available, I'm going to be offered some or at least knowing that they're, they're there for for me to try to go for. And saying no, has been the hardest thing, because there are a lot of great projects out there. And it's great when they want you. But is that you constantly have to think about what is the long term goal? How do you want to spend your time over the next year, because really, we're really committing a lot, you're not you're committing your time, but you're also committing your brain energy. You're living in that world, you know, whatever world you decide the story you're going to tell. So that's important too. And, and career wise, is what I'm doing here. Not that you really know where the thing is going to lead you. Because we never really know. But what can you get out of that time? Either educational or, or whatever, you know, relationships, and there's just so many variables. And I, I have to say, yeah, I mean, saying no, I mean, there's been a number of times where I've said no I this people off and I'm getting better not pissing people off because I just say no earlier, or I don't get to the word No, because somebody else says it before me before we even go down the path. Love My agent. Thank you. So You know what I mean? So I'm getting better at arriving. And the only way you you know, that no, is if you know where you want to go, you know, you can't. If you know what the goal is, it's so much easier to be like that. No, that's not that. Not that, not that. And all of a sudden, when you empty your cup, you can fill it up again, with the things that you might, that you actually want. Because the thing is, is if you keep entertaining these ideas, of projects that you know, doesn't really fit what your ultimate goal is, or to you like may not be what you want to do that right now, maybe you just want to do something completely different. And yet, they're they might be very good projects and very valuable and worthwhile. But you're not. Because you're hanging on to them, you're not able to open yourself up to something new, that might be better for you.
Zack Arnold 40:57
And that that to me is the key. I think that you nailed it there is by saying yes to everything, you're actually saying no to potentially better opportunities down the road. It's always because you're because you're afraid, right? You're just afraid that maybe that might not come. And I want to play the devil's advocate for a second because I know there's at least somebody listening that's a little bit younger earlier in their career, and they're saying, Give me a break. Michelle Tesoro and Zack Arnold and Queen's gambit. And all these shows, of course, they can say no, but I'm just starting my career. I've been saying oh, no, no, I was in high school. The reason I am where I am, is because of a very specific string of noes. And I bet that even though you've only honed the skill in the last few years, you you are better at it early in your career than you might have thought.
Unknown Speaker 41:45
I think I know, I was better at it before. But now the noes are a little harder, they're a little bit more complicated. It's kind of like when you get to like level six and Double Dragon or whatever, you know, so like, Yeah, because the beginning knows, I was very clear. Because and and well, it starts with saying, I'm better at editing than this other stuff. Deciding I'm going to take this track. I know I'm not good at this, even though that seems interesting. I'm going to put all my effort here. I remember when I moved out to Los Angeles, you know, I had a lot of friends who are working in reality and documentary. Well, one friend was very successful at it. And she was really cutting a lot, you know, and, and making really good money. And when I came out here, I knew from there, the reason why I was leaving New York is like I couldn't get into editing anything. So I had talked to, you know, some editors that I met at school and some other editors who happen to be as members who were alumni of our school. And they first thing that they would say to me is okay, you got to get to the union, you have to be an assistant editor. So they grill, they drilled that into me. And when I looked at that, I was like, Yeah, okay, so when I came out, I just had, I knew that I had to at least do that track. Because everybody who, you know, we had this editing class, and then why you were the teacher, she was in her 90s Laura Hayes, all the alarm would come back and talk about their career. And we met editors, we met assistant editors, people who worked in dark people who worked on in features, all different kinds of people. And it really seemed that there, there was a track, you know, and, and I knew I had to do that. So when I came out to LA, I was like, Okay, I gotta do this. And I remember for like, a couple of years I was doing being an assistant, and my friend, his documentary editor and all due respect to her, you know, was like, I don't know why you're doing that. You're not doing anything creative? Don't you want to be creative? Don't you want to edit? I was like, Well, yeah, but I'm not gonna do it doing that, that's gonna be hard to jump that ladder once once we go up, you know, I'd rather start now. Because I'm 20, whatever. 26 or something like that, you know, it's easier for people to swallow twice the 26 year old trying to be an assistant or I'm not going to discover it later when I'm 30 somethings, and I want to jump and then I, I don't know what my obligations are going to be at that time. So I knew I was free. And I was I was starting over anyway. And I think that was the first real No,
Zack Arnold 44:32
And that that's a scary one. Because you're probably turning down jobs that maybe could have paid more money or would have been easier at the time. But you knew it didn't fit with your long term goals. And that's something I talked about incessantly with my students, you have to be clear on the goal. And I think one of the fears is, well, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life. And I always tell them, you don't have to know for the rest of your life, but you need to be confident about what comes next. Otherwise you have no way to discern if this is a yes or no. And then instead of you having a plan, you just become a part of somebody else's plan. And that that's not the life that I want to lead, I feel like we've got very limited time and I want to get the most out of it. And that means you have to get good at saying the word no. And it requires both the mindset of, I'm confident I'm going in the right direction, even if it might not feel like it. But also, I'm willing to make a few sacrifices or a few pawns, if you will, going back to our chess analogy. Yeah, that having been said, another thing that you've talked about, is that you have to be prepared, whether it's financially prepared. I know, you've talked about this in some past articles, but you have this idea that beyond financial capital, it's something you called having your own human capital. I've never heard that term before. Explain what that means.
Unknown Speaker 45:43
You were pulling from the archives? Zack Arnold,
Zack Arnold 45:47
I told you, I did my research.
Michelle Tesoro 45:50
I, you were a student and a scholar. I think that. So in terms of your human capital, I mean, you know, it's a little like sweat equity. Right? Um, I think when you're younger, and you been well, I shouldn't say that. Because there are a lot of older people that have way more energy than I do. But if you have the energy and the drive, like I think, early on, when you're just trying to make inroads and you're honing your craft, you really got to be working on this, because as you said earlier, you know, the job is a lot about how you how you're in the room politicking in the room, like how do you manage a room, but you have to have the craft down, like you don't think about it, you know, and in order to get to that point, you have to put you know, you're Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours, right? You have to like, get it get to that point where whatever you're doing, that's, that's your art, and you don't have to think about it. And I think a lot of people too, you know, in the beginning, I was noticing, you know, some people just didn't want to give up their weekend, or they didn't want to do stay late, or they didn't want to come in early, you know, they'd rather go and do this or that. And not saying that that's wrong, because I think you do get to a point where you're like, Alright, I need my weekend. And that's a good thing. But I think in the beginning, when you're trying to get get to a place where the thing is, is running on its own, you have to build, you have to build the product. So and the product has to be good. So I think I'm trying to remember in what context I had said that, but the way that's the way that I think about it now it's just like, well, you have a lot of you can put a lot of you into it. And I think people do see that. Do you remember what what was that article from? Do you remember,
Zack Arnold 47:45
I didn't actually write down the specific reference, I read through quite a few older articles in interviews, and I don't remember which one I pulled it from. But I think the important thing to really pull out of this is a realization that a lot of creative professionals don't have until later in their career, which is that you are a business, you are the CEO of your own business. And I think that so few people realize that because we feel more like we're a tradesman or craftsmen. But nowadays, you are your own business. And you've used terms like sweat, equity, and capital. These are all words that they use in business and entrepreneurship. And you have to, like you said, hone those skills and hone those abilities. Which brings me back full circle, to the very first thing I said in your introduction, which is you have the esteemed credit of having not gotten the internship for ace. However, very early in your career, you found tremendous opportunity in that. And I think people need to understand that mindset and that viewpoint. So even though you didn't get it, talk to me how you got something out of a non opportunity?
Michelle Tesoro 48:48
Well, you know, what's really cool, I don't know what they do. Now, it may be the same is you can apply for or at the time that I did, which was in 2004, you could apply for the internship. And if you didn't get it, you know, which they basically only could offer it to two people so it's high chances you're not going to get it is you can participate that in a in a week long workshop that they that they hold where you can meet assistant editors, you can meet editors, you can meet the people who are organizing the internship and they kind of give you a little bit of a workshop of what it's like to be an editor. What it's like to be assistant editor I found it very practical knowledge that they were imparting. And, and I went there, I did this is when I first I first decided to move to Los Angeles. And so I didn't know anybody. So it was very exciting because there was all these people weren't doing the thing that I wanted to do. And you can talk to them. And then there's people there who were like you who you know, came from wherever they came from and and I sat next to a young man Patrick. Who is really nice, and he also did not get the internship. But he was there as well, taking notes, and at the time was going to assist Laurie Jane Coleman, on the pilot she was about to do, which was literally like, the next month was March. And so we became friends and, and whatnot. And then he emailed me saying, Hey, you know, they're looking for a PA. And, you know, they're trying to staff, the post crew. You know, are you interested? Like, oh, yeah, you know, and so he got, I gave my resume and give it to Carrie Young, who was the AP on the show. And I met with her and she gave me the job. But I get I think, I don't know how I finagle that but didn't get the PA job, but got the coordinator job, which I'm like, okay, what's that? Alright, whatever, don't worry, I'll tell you what to do. Carrie, really cool lady. So we worked and I swear to God, I hated I didn't hate the job. But it was like perfect for someone who had no knowledge of the industry, because I could just literally be like a fly on the wall and watch all this stuff happen. And, you know, see how the editor and the assistant editor work together, see how all the producers come in, like, and like, you know, it was a lot of being on the phone, and I hate being on phone and Carrie to do this thing to me when I was on the phone with someone she would come up to me and start talking to me, and they would literally cancel each other out. And she would do that just screw around with me. So but which is fun, but you know, I it was really great, because I got to know that and actually the person I was talking to all the time was Bruce Sandzimier, ABC, who was the Post Exec. And, you know, he, because I like knew I had helped Patrick Patrick was having a hard time because he was also new at the time. So sometimes I would go help him with things figure things out in the avid. And they took note of that. So just because I kind of knew and I wanted to help, and he wasn't trying to steal his job or anything, you know, certainly not. But the AP recognized it, and Bruce Sandzimier recognized it. And so my next I was able to get an assistant editor job through that on another project. So to me, that was like, awesome.
Zack Arnold 52:27
And again, I don't believe any of that was luck. As somebody says, I don't want to be on set I don't like to be around a lot of people, you still went to the event, you met people, you introduced yourself, you built relationships, and you took a job that really wasn't well suited for you. But it puts you in a position to see the whole playing field and watch all the players and their different positions and say you know what, I think I get how the game is played now. Now I can go to work and you were like I now know which rung of the ladder I want to grab on to I'm going to grab the bottom rung. And then I can climb to the top and here you are the what I would call maybe not the very tippy top of the ladder, but boy Are you close.
Before closing up today's show, I would love to ask for just a couple additional minutes of your time and attention to introduce you to one of my new favorite products created by my good friend Kit Perkins, who you may recognize as creator of the topo mat. Here's a brief excerpt from a recent interview that I did with Ergodriven co founder and CEO Kit Perkins, talking about his latest product, new standard whole protein
Kit Perkins 53:29
I'm into health and fitness generally, but I want it to be simple and straightforward. About a year, year and a half ago, I started adding collagen into my protein shakes. And man the benefits were like more dramatic than any supplement I've ever seen. So I thought if I can just get this down to coming out of one jar, and it's ingredients that I know I can trust and you just put it in water and you don't have to think about it.
Zack Arnold 53:48
When people think of protein powders. They think well I don't want to get big and bulky. And that's not what this is about. To me this is about repair.
Kit Perkins 53:55
So big part of what we're talking about here is you are what you eat. Your body's constantly repairing and rebuilding and the only stuff it can use to repair and rebuild is what you've been eating. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by every day getting out of bed, it's like you know two or three creeks and pops in the first couple steps and that I thought you just sort of live with now but yeah, once starting the collagen daily or near daily, it's just gone. So for us job 1A here was make sure it's high quality, and that's grass fed 100% pasture raised cows. And then the second thing if you're actually going to do it every day, it needs to be simple, it needs to taste good.
Zack Arnold 54:28
Well my goal is that for anybody that is a creative professional like myself that's stuck in front of a computer. Number one, they're doing it standing on a topo mat. Number two, they've got a glass of new standard protein next to them so they can just fuel their body fuel their brain. So you and I, my friend, one edit station at a time are going to change the world
Kit Perkins 54:47
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Zack Arnold 55:01
If you're looking for a simple and affordable way to stay energetic, focused and alleviate the chronic aches and pains that come from living at your computer, I recommend new standard whole protein because it's sourced from high quality ingredients that I trust, and it tastes great. to place your first order, visit, optimizeyourself.me/newstandard and use the code optimize for 50% off your first order.
And that wraps up part one of my conversation with Michelle Tesoro. In the next episode, you're going to hear Part Two where we switch gears and talk in depth about work life balance, and the challenges that Michelle is facing right now with her career path. She bravely allows me to put her on the hot seat, and she shares some of the hard lessons that she's learned by putting her career above many of the other important things in people in her life. This is one of the most honest and open conversations that I've ever had on this podcast. Trust me, you don't want to miss it. Lastly, to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast. And as a final quick reminder, if you're interested in reaching out and building a relationship with either Michelle or anybody else in the industry that you admire, but you're a little unsure about your outreach skills, you can download my Insider's Guide to writing amazing outreach emails and optimize yourself that means slash email guy. And a special thanks to our sponsors Evercast and Ergodriven for making today's interview possible. To learn more about how to collaborate remotely without missing a frame. And to get your real time demo of Evercast an action visit optimizeyourself.me/evercast. And to learn more about airgo driven and my favorite product for standing workstations to topo matt, visit optimizeyourself.me/topo that's t o p o and to learn more about Ergodriven and their brand new product that I'm super excited about new standard whole protein visit optimizeyourself.me/newstandard. Thank you for listening, stay safe, healthy and sane and be well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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Cutting-edge film and television picture editor Michelle Tesoro is an industry rising star, known for seamlessly weaving narrative through the artful and elegant editing of a visual story.
Her most recent works include Netflix’s Emmy-nominated series “When They See Us” directed and produced by Ava Duvernay, and Netflix’s hit limited series “The Queen’s Gambit” directed by Oscar-nominated Scott Frank.
Tesoro’s versatile slate also includes Focus Features’ biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “On the Basis of Sex” starring Felicity Jones, Bold Films and Participant Media’s “Shot Caller” starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Netflix’s Emmy-nominated series “Godless,” directed by Scott Frank, and starring Emmy-winner Jeff Daniels, Michelle Dockery, and Merritt Weaver, Golden Globe-nominated show “House of Cards,” and the HBO’s series “The Newsroom”.
The Cinema Guild’s SXSW Grand Jury Prize-winning feature film “Natural Selection,” earned Tesoro the 2011 SXSW Award for Best Editing.
Tesoro’s unique perspective and refined expertise in composing striking narratives began early, growing up in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Whitney M. Young High School, studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Tesoro currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
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.