FROM NIGHT SHIFT TO RED CARPET: Ten Years In The Vancouver Film Industry

It was the evening of Wednesday, May 14, 2014. I had made my way via Skytrain and express bus from my four-plex in New Westminster to the offices of Finale Editworks (since renamed Picture Shop) in Vancouver to begin work on what would be my first real professional film credit: the Lifetime original movie Damaged starring Chris Klein (American Pie) and Merritt Patterson (The Royals).

I had managed to secure the job of second assistant editor on this project via some help from my former film school classmate Sean Meek who had referred me to Tony Dean Smith, an accomplished film editor in Vancouver who generously fixed me up with the post supervisor for Damaged, Koah Kruse. Although I had never worked on a movie outside of film school, Koah was willing to take a chance on me and before I knew it, I was being given a crash course on the film’s editorial workflow by the first assistant editor Mohamed “Mo” Abo El Fadl and then promptly set free to prove my mettle.

The primary job of a second assistant is to process the dailies, picture and sound captured during a film shoot, and prepare them for the rest of the editing team. The raw files would be dropped off on hard drives at the office near the end of the shooting day (there were typically two drops: dailies from before lunch and dailies from after). I would make backup copies of them and then “transcode” the gigantic high-resolution video files into something smaller and more manageable for the editor to work with. I would then sync the picture and sound, review the dailies for any serious technical errors, and make “reels” of all the synced dailies for others in the production to review. In the morning, the first assistant would make further refinements such as organising the clips into scene bins and grouping multiple camera angles before passing them to the editor to assemble.

I had done similar tasks during my time at Vancouver Film School, but never on this scale. The footage carried a whole different weight when it featured professional actors that I had seen on film and TV. This wasn’t a dinky little student film anymore; this was the big leagues. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I soon got the hang of it and developed a camaraderie with Mo and the film’s editor Dan Krieger, even though I’d see them only briefly as their day shift overlapped with my night shift.

I must have done a decent job on Damaged as I was soon hired to work on two Christmas movies being shot back-to-back: Cookie Cutter Christmas and Paper Angels. These titles would prove to be unique in my filmography as they were the only ones I’ve worked on to be edited on Final Cut Pro 7. Apple had introduced the not-ready-for-primetime Final Cut Pro X a few years prior and the film industry more or less turned their back on Apple afterwards. By then, the old FCP 7 was already on its way out.

I later got a chance to work with Tony, the man who had helped get me started in the industry on a horror film shot under the title “Adrian”. It would eventually be released as The Unspoken. It was an R-rated affair complete with coarse language and gore (one character is impaled by a falling chandelier). In fact, the producers must have thought it was STILL too tame as nearly 7 months later, there were two days of reshoots done to amp up the terror quotient.

By the time these reshoots were done, I was ready to move on from the night shift and try something a little different and more stable. I had met visual effects supervisor Barry Liu at a Vancouver Post Alliance mixer and was offered a job as an online editor at Side Street Post. This position involved “conforming” a locked edit to the original camera files to prepare them for colour correction and VFX work (almost the reverse of my second assistant job). Other tasks included making on screen titles (pro tip: always double check spelling!) and making the final outputs for distribution and broadcast. A big part of the job was a “quality control” check which involved watching the final output all the way through to check for any audio/visual errors. In effect, we were being paid to watch movies! 

It was a good group down there and I’m still in touch with several of them all these years later. The biggest highlight of those years took place outside of the office as we were all invited to facility supervisor Clodagh’s wedding which took place at a craft brewery. It had a subtle Star Wars theme with great food and drink and came complete with a kilted wedding guest riding a unicycle in the parking lot!

Partying with the the Side Street crew at Clodagh’s Star Wars wedding


Most of our work consisted of Lifetime and Hallmark movies including Country Wedding, Unholy Acts, The Gourmet Detective, and the rather clunkily-titled Unauthorized Full House Story. Being outside the normal target audience for this type of content, being exposed to the final products multiple times would prove valuable later when it came time for me to help shape and create them.

Doing a highly technical job can only satisfy an artistic soul for so long and I found myself yearning to return to the “offline” world. Fortunately, Side Street happened to share a building with Front Street Pictures, our most frequent client. I expressed my interest in becoming a first assistant editor to post supervisor Jason Macintyre and after shadowing accomplished AE Dave Grave for a show, I was given the chance to assist veteran editor James Ilecic on Framed for Murder: A Fixer Upper Mystery starring the award-winning singer Jewel. 

Now one rung up the ladder from a second assistant, my duties as a first assistant included organising clips into scene bins, pairing A and B camera angles (most shows are shot with multiple cameras at a time), finding and placing temp sound effects and music, as well as making and distributing cuts of the film at various stages.

Surprise birthday party at Front Street circa 2019


Sometimes the directors or producers would loop me in closer to the creative process. Lee Friedlander spent a day with me doing temp score on All For Love while also casually texting her close friend Avril Lavigne, producer and star Dylan Neal had a special head credits sequence in mind that we hammered out together for Truly, Madly, Sweetly, and Jeffrey W. Byrd personally invited me to the editing suite to get my input on restructuring Stolen By My Mother and sometimes even just to chinwag. Looking back, I really do treasure these collaborative moments.

But my favourite collaboration was with the incredibly prolific and gregarious Sean McNamara. The temp soundtrack for Cats & Dogs 3 required additional ADR for some dog howls. Instead of finding stock howls of actual dogs, the director himself sidled up to the mic and howled into the mic himself with gusto. It was quite a sight! In addition, musician Kaylon Mackinnon was brought in to temp in some guitar playing and singing for one of the female characters. It’s one of the few times in my career that I stopped work to take a photo. I should’ve done that more often.

CATS & DOGS 3 director Sean McNamara, singer Kaylan Mackinnon, and her sister Emma visit the AE suite


Although more creatively fulfilling than my online work, I wasn’t content to stay in the assistant’s chair forever and took every opportunity I could to improve my editing chops by offering to assemble scenes. All the editors I worked with were receptive to this with Tony Dean Smith and Luis Lam in particular offering me valuable feedback to improve my cutting (I’m somewhat ashamed my younger hot-headed self didn’t always take their criticism with grace).

In the pre-digital days of Hollywood, assistants would have to toil in the cutting room for a mandatory period of 8 years before they could move up. I didn’t have to wait quite that long as after 5 years of assisting, I was offered the chance to earn a credit as an “additional editor” on the horror film Dangerous Game starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Bend It Like Beckham). For various reasons, Tony would be unavailable during parts of shooting meaning it would be up to me to take on a larger share of the assembly cut.

As it turned out, a rather brutal wave of COVID would sideline Tony for longer than expected meaning that I would end up assembling nearly two thirds of the film! This along with constructing a Se7en-inspired opening title sequence convinced Tony to advocate for me to receive a co-editor credit with him in the final film. I will be eternally grateful for his kindness.

One of my biggest career highlights took place outside the editing room. When I heard that the legendary Jon Voight would be in town for filming, I knew I just had to meet him, even if it meant driving all the way out to the set in Langley. As an editor, I’ve always felt uncomfortable on set. There’s nothing for me to do and I always feel as if I’m in the way!. 

I ran this by Tony who put me in touch with the assistant directors. I was cleared to come out and when I arrived, I was told to go see the 2nd AD in his trailer. As I arrived at the “circus” (industry nickname for where all the trailers are parked), I spotted the man himself chatting with one of the actresses, Megan Charpentier who played his granddaughter. Even though I’d been working with their footage for a week or two now, I was still starstruck and approached them rather nervously. When I meekly introduced myself to Jon, he warmly put a hand on my shoulder and enthusiastically proclaimed “Hey everybody! Shaun’s here!”, immediately breaking the ice and putting me at ease. He only had a few minutes before having to go back to set but graciously chatted with me and posed for a picture. I would end up meeting him twice thereafter: a chance encounter in downtown Vancouver where my girlfriend Fiona got her own photo with the star and then at a Hollywood premiere (more on that later).

 Hanging with Jon Voight on the set of DANGEROUS GAME. No big deal.


Tony’s generosity didn’t end with Dangerous Game. By that point, he was well into his transition from editor to director, having helmed several MOWs as well as Volition, an award-winning indie sci-fi thriller he had co-written and produced with his brother Ryan (I briefly assisted during the turnover stage). The producer of Dangerous Game had an action feature, Mercy, which again starred Jon Voight and Jonathan Rhys Meyers with the female lead taken on by Vancouver’s own Leah Gibson. The movie was going into production in May 2022. Tony was directing and convinced the production to give me a shot as full editor. My pay rate was only slightly higher than that of an assistant, but it was an opportunity I could ill afford to pass up.

This project would be where all those years of assembling individual scenes and temping in sound effects, music and visual effects would be tested. There were many challenges and land mines littered throughout this production including a particularly complex car chase and shoot-out scene that consisted of what felt like hours of dailies for what would end up being only about 2 minutes on screen!

There were some humbling moments to be sure. While Tony was overall pleased with the picture and story flow of my editor’s cut, he found the scoring and sound design lacking. Turns out his modern ideas of action movies clashed with my more nostalgic 90s view. Never underestimate the importance of a director’s vision for a project. It drives all the creative decisions (at least until the higher-ups get involved). There were further issues when we got to the producer’s cut stage that required some re-arranging and re-shaping a key character’s performance. I’m proud to say we rose to the challenge and delivered a tight and (I hope) entertaining film. The folks at the premiere certainly enjoyed it.

Speaking of which, one of the proudest moments in my career came when I was invited to the Hollywood premiere for Mercy which took place on April 19, 2023 at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese theatre with an after-party across the street at the Hotel Roosevelt across the street. It doesn’t get much more Hollywood than that!

Attending the MERCY premiere with my girlfriend Fiona at the centre of Hollywood


Even with a feature film under your belt, it can still be difficult making the leap to editor when every post supervisor in town still sees you as an assistant. Fortunately, Lady Luck was on my side as a job posting from Champlain Media came through a private assistant editor Facebook group urgently seeking an editor for the next day! I immediately sent them my CV to which they quickly replied “You’ll do! Can you start tomorrow??”. The movie was The Proposal Spot starring Debs Howard (A.M.I) and Blake Jenner (Glee), a cute romcom that felt refreshing after nearly a year of doing horror and thrillers. As the movie wrapped, I was asked to cut their next movie and I have continued to collaborate with Champlain on their many projects ever since.

While most of the Champlain projects tend to be of the usual Hallmark and Lifetime flavours, some dare to colour outside the lines including Prey For The Bride, an R-rated slasher film for Tubi that didn’t skimp on the bloodletting, swearing, or the male strippers. One of my greater editorial challenges was attempting to make a tamer version with most of these things removed to be more palatable to traditional broadcasters. I also had a chance to work with Tony again on an upcoming movie that he directed way out in Bulgaria at the same studio where The Expendables movies were shot!

Cutting LIVING WITH MY MOTHER’S KILLER at my home suite with director Lucie Guest


As I write this, I am just wrapping up work on a trilogy of MOWs for Lifetime (look for Maple Street this July) which also has me well on my way to finally obtaining IATSE membership. Sometimes I spend so much time in the editorial weeds that I don’t take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come. In the 10 years since I’ve graduated, one of my fellow classmates has become a TV director, a former instructor is now writing for several TV series, and I myself am now regularly cutting content for both the big and the small screen. While I still sometimes get down on myself for not starting this journey sooner (I was 23 when I started film school), I like to think that my 2014 self would still be proud of where I’ve ended up. 

Now for the next ten years…

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