Sunday night’s season premiere of “The Walking Dead” drew the largest audience in the show’s history: an impressive 16.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the zombie drama go down. Before that premiere, we were fortunate enough to have Full Sail Film grad Hunter M. Via, a former Editor on the show (and an editor on several other projects, including “Arrested Development” and “Sons of Anarchy”) answer more than a hundred questions about his work on the project and his career as an editor during a live Facebook Q&A. In case you missed it, below are a few of the most popular questions from the chat.
Q: What was it like after you graduated Full Sail? Did you find work easily? How did you get the editing job for “The Walking Dead?”
A: I moved out to Los Angeles with some friends from Full Sail. We helped each other out a bunch. My first gig was as a Jr. Avid Assistant at a small high-end commercial post house. But, my real start was getting the ACE internship. From there I met people that would later get me onto “The Shield.” I can trace every job back to that internship.
Q: What was the thing that surprised you the most while working on such a popular show?
A: That lots of people wanted to watch a show about zombies! Frank Darabont had been trying to get the show made for years and years. Then we finally did it and it was a huge hit. Such a surprise.
Q: How long does it take you to edit an episode of “The Walking Dead?”
A: On most of the shows I work for, they shoot for 8 days. I start working the first day of shooting and usually get 3-4 days after shooting to finish my cut. After that, the director usually gets 4 days, and the producers get 4 days, and then we finally send it off to the network for their thoughts.
Q: Any tips on how to make the transition from school into the industry?
A: The best advice I have is know what you want to do. Being armed with what you want to achieve and having a clear path to get there is unquestionably the difference in those that get what they want and those that are unhappy.
Q: What assets do you have provided to you to create your edits and what assets do you provide the post audio team to do their edits?
A: We do full temp mixes. Editors and Assistant Editors keep extensive libraries of sound effects or we sometimes create them in them cutting room. Sound is a HUGE part of the process for me. When we lock picture, we turn over our temp mix to the sound team and have what is called a spotting session. In the spotting session we discuss the sound design we have in mind for the final mix.
Q: What’s your salary per episode?
A: I negotiate my rate on a per week basis. There is a minimum established by our union (THE EDITOR’S GUILD). I usually negotiate higher than the minimum required.
Q: Can you picture a situation where you might kill the main character [on”The Walking Dead”] before the very end?
A: Depends on what the writers have in store!
Q: Who cuts the grass even though the apocalypse has started?
A: Busted! It is a real town with real houses and real people who care what their lawn looks like. We do try to mess it up though.
Q: What was the best lesson you learned at Full Sail?
A: I loved my Avid classes. I really did. But, we had this class where we made resumes, etc. I hated that class and really thought it was a waste of time. BUT – they taught me to find a way to be unique. How are you going to make your resume stand out and get noticed? It wasn’t until 6 months or so after graduating that I really appreciated that class.
Q: Have you ever gotten emotional while editing a feature?
A: Of course! It’s crazy, but you read the script, you watch the hours of dailies and all the angles and put the scene together and then you still cry or laugh or get scared.
Q: Which do you think has been most helpful for you for landing (and maintaining) jobs: your skills, connections, or character? Which do you think employees in the entertainment industry value most?
A: Wow – tough one. It really depends on who the producers are and what they value. However – I can track back all of my jobs to my first one. So, connections connections connections. This really is a small business and having a good reputation is key to maintaining those connections.
Q: What’s your favorite moment throughout your time on the “The Walking Dead?”
A: I love the pilot and the montage of Rick finding bicycle girl and Morgan trying to kill his zombie wife.
Q: Did you want to be an editor when you started at Full Sail, or was it something you just were good at in school? Also, how much of your editing process is based off of the script and how much is based off of the footage shot?
A: Yes, I knew going to Full Sail that [editing] is what I wanted. That really helped me to focus on what I wanted and take advantage of the classes. However, it was also great to get my hands on so much other stuff and knowledge. As far as editing goes: The script is where we all start, but the footage really dictates how something goes together in the end. And its all fair game – they call cut and you get a great honest smile or a crazy whip pan – whatever. You use everything you can to tell the best story. Sometimes that has to change from the what was originally intended in the script. There’s a saying: There are 3 versions of the movie. 1 – the script, 2 – what is shot, and 3 – the final edited version.
Q: How many hours per day do you spend editing?
A: It can really vary. Sometimes you are locked in your room for 12-15 hours. The great thing about editing is that we get to work with other departments, too. So, you are not just in your room all alone. You get out and work with sound team, the final colorist, etc, etc.
Q: In Season 3 when the Dixons are walking and they have their falling out and where Merle shoves Daryl, the tattoo on Daryl’s back switches sides? Was that an editing mistake? To make him look as though he was heading in the right direction?
A: Good catch! Not a mistake – we had to keep Daryl on the same side of the line. In case you don’t know what that is, go here.
The full chat transcript is available on Full Sail’s Facebook page.