Interview by Wendy Woodhall
We had the opportunity to sit down with the very busy, award-winning editor and director and LAPPG member Greg Hobson to discuss his work in television. Greg shares insights on some of the popular shows he worked on, as well as how his career has unfolded and what advice he would offer to those looking for longevity in this industry.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for speaking with us Greg! Let’s jump right in. Upon looking at your IMDb what immediately jumps out is all the different hats you’ve worn in this business. From editor to cinematographer to the music department to even writing! Can you share with us how you started and got interested working in the film and television industry?
Greg Hobson: I went to Iowa State University to major in theater, even though I had music scholarships to two other colleges, because if I couldn’t be the trombone player in the rock group Chicago then I couldn’t see myself as a professional musician. My freshman year at ISU I took the basic theater classes and I worked on the lighting crew for an upperclassman’s TV production project and I thought that was way more fun, so my sophomore and junior years I completed the whole TV curriculum.
After Iowa State I moved to California. It took me 7 years to get my master’s degree in film production from UCLA because I kept taking leaves of absence to work on film projects and one two-year stint in Austin, Texas editing two PBS series. Some of my earliest IMDb credits are from this seven-year period.
In my 10 years as a professor at Chapman University I taught 18 different classes, from technical classes including editing, cinematography, and audio techniques, to film aesthetics, to basic/intermediate/advanced screenwriting. Plus, I created a directing actors class, two genre studies courses, and every January I supervised a student production on location. So, by the time I left teaching to go back to work in the industry full time, I had a lot of varied skills that helped keep me working.
LAPPG: A lot of your work includes television series for children. Was this a specific choice?
GH: Children’s television was definitely not my career goal. When I was planning to leave teaching, I called a producer friend to see if he might have a job for me. He was producing a sci-fi action-adventure movie called Galaxis. They had already hired an editor that the director really wanted to use, but that editor was only available during production. So, when they were through with principal photography, I took over the editing of that feature. Next, my producer friend was going to produce a “family” film that was being directed by Sean McNamara. That film, P.U.N.K.S., had five kid protagonists, but also starred Henry Winkler, Dennis Quaid, and Cathy Moriarty. My association with Sean and is partner David Brookwell and their BME Productions led to me editing other family movies for their company – Treehouse Hostage, The Trial of Old Drum, and Wild Grizzly.
Then, the brand-new cable network Disney Channel was forming and looking for original content. BME became the first production company that Disney Channel hired, and the first show was Even Stevens. For the next few years I was primarily editing Disney Channel shows and pilots, and shows for Nickelodeon, The N, and Cartoon Network, and during hiatuses I was editing reality shows or TV movies or indie features.
LAPPG: What was it like working on those popular Disney shows like Even Stevens, That’s So Raven, Zeke and Luther and the Amazon Original show you are working on now, Just Add Magic?
GH: My experience of working on children’s shows has been generally pretty great. Because of strict labor laws that limit kids work hours, production days are scheduled extremely carefully. There are almost never Fraterdays. A five-day week with 12-hour days is the norm. Even Stevens and Just Add Magic were the best experiences of my professional career because of the people running those shows. When the producers are positive, caring people who keep the actors and the crew happy, there is nothing better. Those two shows in particular were wonderful because the writers were constantly striving to deliver quality content. On Even Stevens, we were literally the first original Disney Channel show, so we were given pretty much carte-blanche to let our freak flag fly and our imaginations run wild in the way we staged, shot, and edited the episodes. We were making it up as we went along, and it was a fantastic creative environment. Just Add Magic was a much more mature show in that it was smoother, slicker, and had more serious and twisty long-arcing plots. But both of those shows were blessed with young cast members that showed up every day with their lines memorized and worked their butts off, yet also laughed and goofed off and had fun.
LAPPG: Speaking of Just Add Magic, the new season Just Add Magic – New Protectors has recently been released. Many fans are waiting to see how they will be handling the original cast aging out and the bringing in of a set of new, younger characters. Do you have any insights?
GH: I never thought of the young cast as “aging out.” Perhaps that was Amazon’s logic, I don’t know. But the actresses didn’t seem to be getting bored with the show or too old to play those parts because the writing kept advancing with them as they grew up. I replaced another editor toward the end of the first season on that show. I was immediately impressed with how spot on and consistent those three girls were. During the second and third seasons they just kept getting better and better. I think the most noticeable jump, in terms of growing up, was between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second. Not only did all they seem to grow about 3 inches, they went from being tween kids to young ladies.
LAPPG: As an editor on this popular Amazon Series what is the relationship like between you and the director.
GH: From my experience on several TV series, the show is run by the show runner(s). There may be a main recurring director for a series, but most directors are just hired guns who come in and direct an episode or two, then go off and direct on some other show. The interaction between the producers/show runners and the editors is the constant and sustaining relationship. Per DGA rules, a director only gets two days to work with an editor on a half hour show, four days on an hour show. Then they are gone, and the rest of the decisions and shaping of the show are the responsibility of the show runner. When I first started working in television, I was surprised at how few directors even come into the editing room or take their full two or four days. Most of them just email their notes, because even though they want to deliver a good show, they know they can’t get too out of the box creative because they will be overruled by the producers who try to maintain consistency from episode to episode.
LAPPG: One of the things that you shared with us at an LAPPG meeting was that although Just Add Magic was a VFX heavy show, many of the effects were done practically. Can you detail one or two instances of this and how they helped tell the story?
GH: In the season one finale, the girls cook a spell that freezes the entire town, right during a big town fair. Rather than create a freeze frame (which always looks like, well, a freeze frame) the director simply had the dozens of background players stop moving. That allowed the natural breeze to blow scarves and flags and spin the pinwheels, but the people did not move. Our three main girls had taken a counter spell, so they don’t freeze. A couple of fairly long scenes play out while everyone in the background is frozen. With the foreground girls moving and talking normally, and the camera dollying back and forth, it’s incredibly effective and believable. Yes, we did have to digitally fix a few eye blinks in the frozen people, but it’s pretty magical!
Another technique that was used on a few different episodes where characters supposedly appeared differently to the characters than how they appear to the TV audience was by the simple “Texas-switch,” where we see the person on camera talking, then the camera pans and lands on the same character only now they are in a different body. Or possibly when a character walks up to or past a mirror, but their reflected image is of someone else. No VFX, just camera and character movement.
The one I showed at the LAPPG meeting was my favorite. In jumping back and forth in time from present day to the 1960s. The girls eat one of their magical recipes, but they also have to all three tap the walls in the room for the spell to transport them back in time. They shot the scene in Corky’s Diner (in Sherman Oaks, which hasn’t changed its décor in 50 years). We show a wide shot of a dreary diner with almost no patrons except for our three actresses, then tilt the camera down to their hands as they simultaneously slap the wood, then pull out to see a bright and shining diner full of people in 1960s wardrobe and the signage has all changed to that era, with a 1960s tune playing on the jukebox. At the end of the scene we reverse the action and when they tap the wood we are back to the present day. No VFX, just seamless editing.
LAPPG: Since this series, like so many nowadays, stream all the episodes at once, does this allow for changes in the story as you work through editorial? Do you ever go back and unlock prior episodes?
GH: On Just Add Magic, because we had season long or several-episodes long story arcs, if something seemed like it needed more of a setup or clarifying detail, then small adjustments could be made to previous episodes – but these adjustments were made BEFORE the episodes were locked. A finished, on-lined, color corrected, mixed episode would most likely NOT be unlocked unless something major happened, like a character was recast of something like that. But most TV today seems to be done way in advance of when it airs – not just streaming shows. I’ve heard editors of network shows like Glee and Breaking Bad and others talk about being halfway (or completely) through editing a season before it starts airing.
LAPPG: Can you tell us what a standard schedule for a television series looks like?
GH: A typical half hour episode shoots for 4-5 days, an hour show for 8-10 days. (Game of Thrones shoots for about four months!). The editor puts together the episode by himself/herself, usually by the third day after they finish shooting. That’s the editor’s cut. Then the director gets his/her two (or four) days with the editor to create the director’s cut. Then the show runners get their pass to create the producer’s cut, which goes to the network or studio executives. The network sends their notes and when executed, this becomes Network Cut 1. Depending on how in sync the network is with the goals and storylines being developed by the writers there may be some pushback on the network notes and one or two more versions may get sent back and forth before the network gives the official Locked Picture decree.
LAPPG: With such an expansive career you’re obviously doing something right! How have you gotten your work?
GH: The simple answer is: People who know me, or people who know people who know me. In other words, recommendations.
Right out of college I took a job as a grip on a movie – for free – for a schlock producer because I just wanted to work on a real feature. A handful of guys I met on that crew, who were also just out of college, became my good friends. Whenever one person from that group heard about the next film, he’d share that info and we’d all get jobs on that film (for $$ after the first one).
Right after I moved to LA, I also got a job at Disneyland as a stage lighting and sound technician – my college theater technical training paying off. Because most everyone on those crews came strictly from stage, I became known as the “film guy” and whenever there was a commercial film shoot in the park, I would become the gaffer on those shoots. After I left Disneyland as an employee, they hired me back as an independent lighting director for several years, where I would be in charge of lighting special events
in the Disneyland park or souvenir films that were sold in the gift shops. That led to me starting my own company and editing many of those same projects.
On a whim, I answered an ad in the back of the Hollywood Reporter looking for editors willing to relocate to Austin, Texas. That 8-month job turned into almost two years of editing PBS series. One of the editors I met on that job came back to LA and started a feature film sound editing crew and hired me on a few projects before I got the teaching job at Chapman University.
One of the friends I made on that first freebee film right out of college became the producer I mentioned earlier that introduced me to the BME peeps which got me hooked up in children’s TV. One of the producer’s assistants at BME went to work for another producer who was producing low budget horror films and she recommended me to them, which is how I ended up editing four horror features in a row. One of my former Chapman students, who was producing music videos, hired me to edit the first feature his company was producing. Another one of my former Chapman students, who was writing Lifetime movies, recommended me to a company who was producing those movies and that has been a very good hook-up for editing gigs.
LAPPG: Do you have a personal mantra or a motto in terms of editing or your editing work?
GH: When I was teaching, I would always convey my personal motto to my students: Editing happens in that space between your ears. It does not matter which hardware or software you use.
LAPPG: The end goal for a lot of people in the entertainment industry is to become a director. Can you talk about how your directing opportunities came about?
GH: My last three years at as a student at Iowa State University I was also a member of an outside theater group (not the university’s productions) and we did three shows during the school year and a five-show summer stock season. Through that company, I did a lot of acting and singing, played trombone and guitar in pit orchestras, conducted some orchestras, and directed my first two musicals.
While I was teaching film classes at Chapman University, I was also privileged to direct two of the theater department’s mainstage productions, the Lanford Wilson play, The Hot L Baltimore, and the musical Man of La Mancha.
When I started working with Sean McNamara, editing his BME company films, I told him of my theater acting and directing background, which it turned out was very similar to his. I also told him of my desire to direct films. As part of the first film I edited for them, P.U.N.K.S., we needed a massive weekend of pickups and inserts for this technically intricate kid’s movie. Sean put me in charge, and I directed 140 shots in two days. On his next feature, Race to Space, I was editing the film, but also was able to direct a couple of days of 2nd unit.
I guess those were my test runs because even though I was a full-time editor on Even Stevens, the producers gave me my shot at directing network TV with three episodes of that show. My second of those episodes was nominated for a DGA award for Children’s Television – a great honor. The head writer of Even Stevens went on to co-create and was the show runner on Zeke and Luther. I edited the pilot for that show and edited several episodes, but also ended up directing 12 episodes, more than any other director. Through BME I also edited and directed shows for Nickelodeon, The N, and Cartoon Network.
LAPPG: As the technology has changed over the years can you discuss how that has impacted your work?
GH: All editors of a certain age can attest to the fact that in the good old days of film, you used to cut with only the picture and a single dialogue track (and maybe add some music for test screenings) until the movie was completely finished editing. Only then was it sent to the sound editors, composer, colorist, etc. But now, because non-linear editing system have the capability of endless video and audio tracks, and plug-ins for every conceivable process, producers and network execs and even most directors won’t watch a work in progress without complete sound and music scoring and possibly even a pass of color correction and temp VFX. They EXPECT everything they watch (even the first cut) to have that level of polish, like it’s ready for air. If it doesn’t have all those whistles and bells, they often don’t seem to be able to concentrate on the actors’ performances or the pacing of the story – they feel the show is undercooked and not good.
I don’t mind putting in all of that extra stuff. I actually like finding just the right piece of temp music or sound effect. It’s just a matter of having the time to search for those things. Since most indie projects I work on are low budget, I don’t have the luxury of an assistant editor to help build the soundtracks, nor do I have a music supervisor or music editor to share the workload. On a TV series, I generally am blessed with those asst editor and music people, which allows me to go home and sleep every so often.
LAPPG: Can you offer any words of wisdom on how to have a long and successful career in this business?
GH: a) Say yes to almost everything, high paying or low paying, and no matter what the pay, always do your best, because you never know where the people working on that project might end up.
b) Get involved with organizations like Film Independent or the Sundance Institute, and work on one of the films that their members make. Many of them end up nominated for Independent Spirit Awards.
c) Learn After Effects & Photoshop. Really learn them. You will become more valuable to every show you work on.
d) Have the mindset that you’re in this business for the long haul. Forever. If you give yourself an exit, or a “if I don’t make it by such and such a time I’ll quit”, then when things get tough, you’ll take that exit.
e) Fill in your breaks on larger projects by cutting short form content – commercials, music videos, short films, trailers, anything that keeps you working and keeps you sharp.
f) Join organizations like Los Angeles Post Production Group and attend the meetings for networking and learning about new technologies. If getting to meetings is difficult, watch the videos on their Youtube Channel. Also, watch free webcasts from Adobe, Avid, Apple, Boris FX Mocha, MotionVFX, Ripple etc., and learn all about the latest and greatest toys and techniques.
LAPPG: With so many long hours in the edit bay, how do you de-stress?
GH: About six years ago, after coming off of back to back to back editing and directing jobs, I was feeling pretty blah and out of shape. So I started hiking the canyons and trails around LA. That quickly led to longer hikes, which led to higher and higher peaks. After a few years of that, hiking had lost some of its luster for me, so I started road biking. I guess that means my method of de-stressing (besides going to movies) is extreme physical challenges. It really clears my head.