Hunter M. Via is an ACE Eddie-winning editor known for working on hit TV shows Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn and Mayans M.C. Here Hunter shares with Mandy News how he started out in the industry, what kit he edits on and what aspiring editors can do to succeed.
Please explain how you became involved with the film and television industry and how you became an editor.
I stumbled into the television and movie business when I was actually in college. I went to a liberal arts school and went in thinking I was going to be a business major or a lawyer or something. Then I started taking these media classes through sociology programs: I kind of maxed out all of those, started looking around for something else and realised it was something I was really interested in.
So I transferred to a different college called Charleston in South Carolina and became a big part of the TV station there. I ended up editing because we needed to. This was back in the ‘90s. I ended up buying Adobe Premiere and I bought a 9GB hard drive costing $900 (£680), which sounds ridiculous now. I started editing on a computer in my bedroom and just really fell in love with it.
Through that I ended up finding this other school in Orlando, called Full Sail University and they were a legit film school, where you could go and play with film and digital cameras and they had Avid.
After I graduated from Charleston, I went down there and a few of my friends said “Hey let's make a movie after we graduate”, which we did and it was awful, just terrible… but we all made a pact that we were going to go to Los Angeles. So we made a movie, premiered it in Orlando and, the next day, drove to LA and crashed on couches and did all that kind of stuff… we didn't really have any connections in Los Angeles, other than ourselves, so we leaned on each other and helped each other out as much as we could. That was in 2001, so that's kind of how I got started out here.
I ended up getting the ACE Internship, which is the American Cinema Editors Internship, which introduced me to professional cutting rooms and led to my first union job, which was The Shield, as an assistant editor and that ended up turning into my first editing job.
In between that I assisted and edited on the pilot for Arrested Development, so I got my first co-editing credit on that then, right after that, got offered full-time editing on The Shield. So that's the very beginning of how I got into editing.
Do you still make films with the friends you drove to LA with? Are they still involved with film themselves?
They are – one of my buddies ended up working in post production and camera work. He has since moved back to Orlando with his wife but my other friend is Darren Bousman, who went on to write and direct Saw 2, 3 and 4. Since then he’s made a bunch of other horror movies that I've actually had a chance to collaborate with him on.
He and I worked together on three movies; 11-11-11 and The Barrens – I just helped out a little bit on those ones – and I got to work on a movie called Mother’s Day which is a remake of an old Troma movie.
You also got to work on Torchwood, is there some kind of British connection there?
I got to work on the Americanised Torchwood – which I understand is not quite as well received over the pond – but getting to work with the BBC was fantastic. I got to work with Russell T. Davies and he was just awesome. A great energy and talent. I really learnt a lot from working with him. I consider it a privilege to be any part of the Torchwood/Doctor Who world.
You also worked on Stephen King’s The Mist directed by Frank Darabont.
Yes, Frank and I know each other because we did The Walking Dead and a show called Mob City together… I actually met him on The Shield. He loved The Shield and the crazy, kinetic filmmaking style, which was so different from what he was used to doing. So he came in and directed an episode, I got to edit it and I've been working with him ever since.
So, let’s fast forward to now and the spin-off of Sons of Anarchy, Mayans M.C. How did you get involved with that?
It's funny. As you said, Mayans is a spin-off of Sons of Anarchy, and I was one of the editors on the pilot for Sons of Anarchy. The first crew on Sons of Anarchy edited a bunch of re-shoots so Ron Perlman, for example, was not Clay Morrow – somebody else was playing him. They had to re-shoot all of those scenes.
I know Kurt Sutter (who is the show runner and creator of Sons of Anarchy) because he was a writer on The Shield. When he was getting Sons of Anarchy going, he called some of his friends and coworkers from The Shield to come and help out.
I did the first couple of seasons of Sons of Anarchy and stayed in touch with Kurt through the years so when he had Mayans going he called me to come in and collaborate with him. I was really grateful that the schedule worked out and I got to do the pilot for Mayans and then the series. I’m actually on the series right now, we're wrapping up the finale as we speak.
You've worked with some incredible show runners and directors over your time in editing – it must be fantastic to work with these different people.
Yes, I didn't really think about it until recently, but the rise of the powerful and really creative show runner coincided with my career. When I started on The Shield, that was at the time of The Sopranos. Then you started to get Nip/Tuck and Ryan Murphy's stuff got going. That kind of kick-started the whole cable movement of really strong, original stories being told.
Looking back now I'm like “Oh yeah, I just managed to get really lucky”. But yeah, it's been really cool going to work with some really great and talented people.
What's the difference in editing styles for these shows? Do you have the same approach regardless of the genre or show runner? Specifically, what is editing for Mayans M.C. like?
I did a show before this called The Chi, which is about the south side of Chicago and the violence that's there, but it's being told in an unexpected way. Everybody expects it to be really dark, dour but instead we try to find the light, the humanity and the musicality of that, so the editing was very lyrical, very musical and very emotional; lots of jump cuts or speed changes. Very non-typical editing. Not quite like music videos, that's not quite right, but more like music video style editing.
When you're doing a show like Mayans M.C., it’s much more traditional editing. Editing to me is always about the character and the story and it’s always servicing that and those change from project to project, so yes, you approach the different materials differently.
If you're editing something like The Walking Dead, that's all about creating tension, fear and unease, but always servicing the story and the character. Mayans is a little slower paced – we really want to get in and see the wheels spinning with the characters as they think about what's happening.
One of my assistants moved up to editing on this show and one of the things that I said to her, on her first time getting to edit, was to have ideas begin and end on camera. When you're editing, make sure that you really see the process of what the characters are going through and the decision making and eye contact.
That's something we really work for on the show - to make it feel real, like we're in the moment and not staged. Of course everything is staged, so how do you make it feel visceral and real? That's our goal.
What sort of turn around times have you been working to and what are you actually editing the series on?
We edit the show on Avid Media Composer 8, which I now understand is being called Avid 2018 or something. I don't know what version we're on, I think we're on 8.6 – they just changed how they name the system.
Normally you have three editors and work in a three editor rotation, so I did the pilot and then episodes 2 and 3 are cut by two different editors, then I do episode 4 and the next editors do 5 and 6 and then I do 7.
In this case, we ended up with a little bit of a weird scheduling issue, so we had five editors, but I ended up cutting five episodes, so the system got a little confused. As I was lead editor, I ended up taking over other editor’s episodes. They all had leads for another show, so I ended up inheriting their stuff.
A typical schedule is the crew would shoot for eight days and then the editor would get two or three days to finish the cut. We don't just cut picture, we also make sure we get full sound design - I have one project that's 34 tracks of stereo sound.
We temp it with music and visuals sets. It's a full pass and these are all just temp versions but we really polish it before we start to show it to people.
Then the director will come in and work for four days and the show runner will come in and get as many days as he needs on the show until he's happy with it. Typically, it's two or three days, maybe five… then we show it to the network and usually they give us one round of notes and then we're locked. A typical episode is a month to six weeks total.
It sounds like quite a quick turnaround – finishing a project while it's airing at the same time.
Yes, in this particular case we are up against air dates and we are actually quite pressured. It's my understanding that the American method of television making is a little different, very rushed, compared to the British method.
Having worked with a few different people, I think that both sides have pluses and minuses. I also find that both sides are envious of each other, to some degree because there's something good about having that pressure and moving on to the next thing. I've done shows here, like Mob City, that was only six episodes and we spent nine months on it. So I've certainly done that version of it as well, which is also rewarding.
You’re finishing up with Mayans right now. What else is coming up that you're allowed to talk about?
Next I'm actually doing something a little different for me – most of the shows that I work on have been darker. My next show is going to be The Dolly Parton Theatre for Netflix which is an eight episode anthology, each one based on a different Dolly Parton song. So that's very different.
I've also been editing a show called Snowfall for FX, that we're hoping will get renewed for Season 3. So right now I have two shows airing on FX and I'm hoping Snowfall will come back for season 3 also.
On the subject of your work being dark - is that something you took an active interest in pursuing or something that you did once and became a thing?
I actually am into really dark stuff. I love horror, thrillers, mysteries and sci-fi stuff, but as far as being a viewer goes, I try to watch and take a little bit of everything, just to see what's out there.
I enjoy a good romantic comedy, but I definitely tend to like the darker stuff. I'm excited Halloween is coming – all my favourite horror movies are coming back.
Do you have a dream project or director you would like to work with?
I actually got to do it already, because I got to do From Dusk Till Dawn the TV show and work with Robert Rodriguez. I ended up editing a bunch of his stuff and collaborating with him was fantastic. The material was bonkers, over-the-top craziness.
Getting to team up with Frank Darabont again – he did one of the greatest movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, so getting to work with him, you’re just like “Take me back to film school, I'll just go and learn from one of the masters again”.
Or Tarantino. Tarantino got me into wanting to do this in the first place. I saw him on an interview, late night and I was like “I want to do that, that's what I want to do”. Especially for my age group – I’m 42, I was in college and high school in the ‘90s heyday of reinventing independent film. This resurgence of the ‘70s-style film maker. Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino were huge – hugely influential people of that time period.
I remember I saw Pulp Fiction with my girlfriend (now my wife) and she just looked at me like I was a crazy person, laughing at certain times… then by the end of it she was laughing too and I was like “OK, cool - we like each other”.
What advice would you have for people wanting to get into editing, or for editors wanting to move up in the game and get bigger jobs?
I actually help out a lot with the students at Full Sail University, who are getting ready to move out and the thing that I see, over and over again, that helps you find success, is to know what it is that you want to do.
It's one thing to say “I just want to make movies” and it's another thing to say “I want to be a DP”; “I want to be a writer”; “an electrician”; “a grip”; “an editor”. If someone says to me “My friend wants to be make movies, can you help them?” I'm like, “Whatever”, but if they say to me “Hey, my friend really wants to be a writer, can you help them?”, I can go “Yeah, I know some writers”. I can put them in touch with a writer.
When I moved out I knew I wanted to be an editor. I always took jobs next to editors, or next to Avid, or that would allow me to get on, even if it wasn't in movie making. I worked in promo departments for TV shows or in advertising agencies, but I was always in editing.
My friend that ended up becoming the writer/director of the Saw series, always knew that he wanted to be a writer and he was actually losing jobs as a PA because he was always writing. Finally he was like, “I need to just be writing” and that script that he was working on turned out to become Saw 2, so it's really knowing what your passion is and making every decision based off of it. I find that to be the biggest help.
Also, finding a way to network – when I moved out here I didn't know anybody, but we had a group of friends that were not connected and we all leaned on each other. Then I ended up getting the internship and that opened me up to a network of professionals who did what I wanted to do. Now there's social media and all kinds of different avenues that can really help people to get involved in a community, in a peer group, in a support system that can help out.
So I’d say just follow through with that as well – I wouldn't say it's easy, because I don't think that working is ever easy, but it is a case of going and finding meet ups with people who are doing what you want to do. In LA we have the Blue Collar Post Production Group I think it's called. I've just recently been hearing all about it and I know all kinds of different people that came through it and go to it now.
Having a network seems simple to say but you can't always have it, sometimes you have to create it and that is certainly the hard part. I would not have wanted to move to LA 100% on my own - I would have found that to be very difficult and probably wouldn't have done it. I don't know who in the group would have done it by themselves, but together we're like “We’re going to do that”. You kind of peer pressure each other into doing it and that really allowed us to have some confidence in doing that.
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