Hi everyone! Here at Dreamfly, we’re in the business of celebrating strong women, and we know that it’s particularly hard to be a female in the film industry. Every day, women are denied the work that they are 100% qualified for, because of a system of perceived lacks that’s been in place since the dawn of time. Women can’t lift a camera mount, women don’t have the patience for editing, can’t report the difficult stories…the list goes on. Obviously, none of the above is true, but sexism in the entertainment field is rampant to this day. That’s why, every other Wednesday, Depth of Field will be featuring one kick-ass female film worker that we love and admire and seek to learn from. It’s called #WomanCrushWednesday, and we’re pretty excited about it.
This week, we’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with Sheri Bylander (Motion Picture Editors Guild), a film and television editor with more on her plate than…. I don’t know; let’s just say she’s crazy busy! Seriously, click the photo above to check out her IMDb page. What a body of work! How does she navigate the industry with grace and apparently impeccable time management skills? Let’s find out:
DFLY: So for starters, the Dreamfly team has a major #womancrush on you, Sheri.
SB: THANKS!! So flattered. You guys are amazing.
DFLY: In keeping with the #WCW theme here, I want to ask you about the most challenging parts of breaking into an industry dominated by men. We know this: In 2013, 191 features by DGA directors were released in theaters. Just 18 of those films were directed or co-directed by women. To this date, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Directing. What do you think we can do to light a flame at the end of that tunnel?
SB: Well, those are two different things – breaking into the industry and winning an Academy Award for directing. It’s challenging to break in, for sure, but nothing like having the stamina and brilliance to become a pioneer at the top. As far as breaking in goes, it’s really about persistence and passion. If you have the passion, are developing your skills, and keep reaching out to those already in the industry, you will be noticed and you will break in. Lighting a flame: just keep encouraging women and let them know it can be done. Storytelling is not a limited resource. We can all tell stories.
DFLY: So you worked on two Woody Allen films in a row (Sweet and Low Down in 1999 and Small Time Crooks in 2000). Some people would consider this a “big break.” Tell me how this working relationship came to be.
SB: I was working on the first season of Sex and The City and I got a call from Woody’s (at the time) new editor. We had a great meeting – a real connection – and she gave me the job. But I was honing my skills every chance I got before that so when the opportunity came, I was prepared.
DFLY: I see you’ve worked on some pretty big names in television (Sex and The City and 100 Centre Street in the early 2000s as well as The Slap on NBC and The Jim Gaffigan Show at current). Tell me a little bit about editing for television – how does it differ from working on films?
SB: I love working in television. It’s a faster pace, and that suits my personality. Some people like having longer to finesse and agonize over every cut, but I like having deadlines and air dates – and different cool people to work with more often. All the big names are doing television now (even Woody!), so there’s no distinction as far as quality of people I work with.
DFLY: Following up, how do you perceive this shift that is taking place in the industry where big name directors are making really cinematic works of art, but in the form of eight to ten episodes per season rather than two hour movies (a la True Detective and The Knick)?
SB: As an editor, I love working in this format, which is like the best of both worlds. Amazing scripts, sensational actors and a longer, more nuanced story arc. I hear this is the reason writers, directors and actors are attracted to mini-series (or event series, as they sometimes call them..) Editing Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, David Tennant, Nick Nolte, Thandie Newton – as good as it gets! I’m about to start another one, set in Texas and based on the works of a Texas writer, Joe Lansford. Hap and Leonard (2015) will star James Purefoy, Michael Kenneth Williams and Christina Hendricks.
DFLY: I know your foray into this business was a departure from the track you had previously been on. I’d like to hear about how you got started – about the obstacles, opportunities and windows you were able to crawl through. What advice do you have for independent film workers that are just getting started?
SB: You may be referring to my previous life in magazine publishing. I worked for a magazine which was bought by Time Warner and I took my severance package and did a summer program at USC. While there, I fell in love with making movies generally and editing, specifically. Since I was living in Little Rock, AR, at the time, I had to create my opportunities, so I worked for a commercials house as a producer of 35mm commercials and learned to offline edit the things I produced. Then I took a flyer by editing at what is now the Maine Media Workshops. There I met people who became key when I moved to New York. I sought out and befriended every New Yorker I met in Maine and made a call to each one when I moved to the city. I had a job on a Stephen King movie within three days of arriving in Manhattan. These days the equipment is much more available than when I was coming up, so my advice is to take advantage and create, create, create. Learn everything you can about storytelling by doing it. Doesn’t matter how short, long or scruffy it is, a story’s a story and you’ll learn everything you need to know to “make it.”
DFLY: Can you tell me about a time you made what seemed at the time like a huge mistake or misstep in your career? How did you recover from that and what did you learn?
SB: I wouldn’t say it’s a mistake or misstep, but when I made my documentary, it took me out of the high level world of editing I had been in before. In between shoots for Homestretch, I worked on reality TV, which wasn’t as much fun to talk about at cocktail parties, but which made me a better editor. I called it the “editing treadmill,” since I got a workout every time I worked on a show that wasn’t great. Learning to tell a good story with limited footage was a gift, which made getting back to incredible footage so nice. It was almost a five-year gap in my scripted experience, so I had to work fast to make it up. I decided to take everything I’d learned making my documentary and working on those reality shows and use it as an advantage, since they made me a better storyteller.
DFLY: For all of us in an industry this challenging, I feel like there is this one defining moment (or, ideally, a lot of them!) which clears your mind and ups your spirit and really helps you to realize you are meant to be here. What was one of those moments for you?
SB: There are many “aha” moments, but in film/TV it’s usually tied to seeing your work in front of an audience and hearing/watching their reactions. That’s why we do what we do – to make people feel something. A memorable one for me was seeing the first film I cut screen in competition at Cannes. From getting a limo ride to the venue to walking the red carpet to hearing people laugh – to getting a long standing ovation – it was incredible. Since then, there have been many, but that was a highlight.
DFLY: Lastly, if you could start over, at the beginning of your career as an editor, what would you have done differently?
SB: As an editor, I would’ve relaxed a little, since, as we like to say, it’s only entertainment. But I was focused and driven to do well, so I was tight. Loosening up is good and maybe would’ve made me more fun to be around. In general, I would’ve started earlier, for sure, and I would’ve powered through and finished the projects I started (as a director) but never finished. I’ve learned that mistakes are important. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not pushing boundaries.
Push those boundaries! Get out there and tell great stories. Make people FEEL something.
DFLY: We will. Thanks Sheri! You’re a woman after our own hearts!
Rachel Wilson, 2015.