Meet VFX Editor Richard Sanchez

We had the pleasure of having Richard co-present at a LAPPG meeting early in 2020 (highlight video here) with his training series, “Master the Workflow” co-creator Lawrence Jordan, ACE. There they taught us about the role of the assistant editor. We wanted to delve a little deeper into Richard’s experience with his work as a VFX Editor and find out what that’s all about. We appreciate Richard pulling back the curtains a bit for us to learn about how finishing a big project like Bill & Ted Face the Music was done remotely, due to the pandemic. Please meet Richard Sanchez!

Los Angeles Post Production Group: It sounds like you got to editing by way of theater in college. I’ve heard that from many in the industry. What was it that attracted you to editing?

Richard Sanchez: I was a theatre major when I discovered editing as a craft, but it was two events that are probably most responsible for leading me down that path. The first was I got really into George Romero in college and Dawn of the Dead quickly became one of my favorite films (and still is). I bought a two DVD set that included both George Romero’s American Cut, and Dario Argento’s International Cut. Watching the two versions back to back, I found it amazing how from the same footage came two very different films. Romero’s was a slower paced horror film that filled you with a sense of foreboding and Argento’s was a faster paced film that had a more action feel. Both films were great for different reasons. That being one of the early seeds planted, at the end of my senior year I had to take a studio art class as part of my major requirement. I was going to take black and white photography, but a friend convinced me to take a video art class instead. It wasn’t editing narrative, per se, but it was a lot of Bill Viola and more abstract video art but sitting down on the Final Cut Pro systems, I fell in love immediately. After that, I was completely hooked.

LAPPG: You have a lot of experience as an assistant editor on projects like the films Suicide Squad and Table 19 and the television series The Good Place and I’m Dying Up Here. What advice do you have for people interested in following your path into the AE world.

RS: I feel the need to not misrepresent myself in that my time on Suicide Squad was short. I wasn’t on that film for the entire run, but I met some ferociously talented folks there whom I’m grateful to had had the opportunity to work on a project of that scale. My best piece of advice for people trying to follow a similar path is: Be kind, be generous. The work can be taught. The attitude is almost more important. People want to work with somebody who they enjoy being in close quarters with for twelve hours a day. Touching on generosity, the old adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” is a motto I also live by. I’ve built relationships with colleagues by answering questions in Facebook forums and other outlets. Those have led to great friendships and even work. There’s nothing to lose in kindness and everything to gain.

LAPPG: What skills do assistant editors need to be successful and competitive?

RS: There is no single skill more important than adaptability. Everybody works a little differently and there are often good reasons to work one way versus another in context. Rolling with the punches instead of relying on the comfort of familiarity will be invaluable. Touching on that adaptability: never ever stop learning. Don’t shrug off subjects or technology because they seem boring or complicated. The process is changing at an exponential rate and with this influx of new technology comes new challenges. It’s not unreasonable to have never worked on the bleeding edge before, but it can be invaluable to be able to say, “I’ve never worked with that process before but I have read up on it quite a bit and am excited to finally try it out.”

Attention to detail is another skill that cannot be overstated. I won’t pretend to have the best memory in the world, so I make sure that I never enter my editor’s cutting room without a pad of paper. We all have our days, but I try to never knock on my editor’s door a second time to say, “I’m sorry, what was that?”

The final skill I want to mention, and this is a big one: have the courage to ask for clarification when you’re asked something that you’re unsure of. I hear a common refrain in people who are afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid of looking dumb. The problem with this dilemma is, if you take the time to admit you need clarification and do the job right, you look pretty good. If you say, “I understand.” and you carry out the task wrong, you will look bad because now you’ve lost time doing the task incorrectly, and you weren’t truthful when you said, “I understand.” If somebody judges me for seeking clarification, I suppose that’s just how it is, but I’ll opt to measure twice cut once.

LAPPG: What was the impetus behind you and Lawrence Jordan, ACE creating Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion?

RS: Larry and I came up with the idea for Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion as we were wrapping a Netflix project called Naked. I was showing Larry the database I had built for the show which incorporated most of the show paperwork. I was considering turning it into a product but was running into several challenges, among the biggest was that it was very dense and I needed to make a video tutorial to teach all of the functions in it. Larry had suggested we cover the entire feature post process which would be valuable for new assistant editors trying to transition into features and Master the Workflow grew out of there.

LAPPG: As we all know the long, crazy hours and tight deadlines can really take a toll on people health – both mental and physical. What activities or things do you like to do to manage the stress and to stay balanced?

RS: About a year ago I became a father so I spend most of my off time trying to be the best daddy that I can. In addition to that, I’ve been drawn to musicianship for a long time. I’ve played the upright bass for many years and I occasionally pretend to be a bluesman on the roundneck Dobro, but my fingerpicking technique is not quite there yet. Cycling is also a deep love of mine.

LAPPG: On recent projects you’ve worked as a VFX Editor. How has the transition been from Assistant Editor to VFX Editor and can you explain what skills needed to have to become a VFX Editor?

RS: For me, the transition to VFX Editor was terrifying and exciting at the same time. If imposter syndrome were an Olympic sport, I’d be a heavy contender, but I justify it by reframing the anxiety into the mantra that self-doubt is just the curse of integrity. My first job as a VFX Editor was on Catch-22 for Hulu. While one part of me knew I could do the work, another part said, “Oh my God, you’re a fraud and this is the job that they all find out.” It helped that both the editorial and VFX crew on that show were A+ artists, by far one of the best post teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between being a VFX Editor on the side of production versus being a VFX Editor on the vendor side. As a production side VFX Editor, strong skills for creating quick temp comps are very important. The VFX Editor will need to be able to quickly build and revise comps for the director and editor, especially in heavy green screen sequences, to allow the cut to be seen as representative of the intent as possible. These temps will inform the VFX Vendors as to what the director wants and will be necessary in the event of friends and family screenings. Once the VFX are ready to be handed off to the vendors, it is the VFX Editor’s task to prepare count sheets, order shot pulls and keep track of VFX as they come in. For me, being strong in Filemaker Pro has been imperative for this task. I know some VFX Editors work in Google Sheets and Shotgun but Filemaker Pro is my tool of choice for its scripting abilities and layout flexibility. To put it succinctly: Avid comping skills, Filemaker Pro, a “can do” attitude and the fortitude to roll with the punches and revise and revise until you get it right are the most important skills of a VFX Editor.  

[Editor’s Note: For more information about The Role of VFX Editor, please join us for Richard’s presentation online September 9, 2020. Visit lappg.com for more details or click here to register.]

LAPPG: So now that you recently completed delivery as VFX Editor for the film Bill & Ted Face the Music, what was so special for you about working on this particular film?

RS: Bill & Ted Face the Music was perhaps the biggest dream job that I could have ever had the pleasure of working on. I was born in 1981 so my air guitar years were a little past the release of these films, but had an older cousin that was into hair bands so I loved that music as a kid. In addition, I grew up in Arcadia, CA which was close to San Dimas, CA and though I’d later learn that they shot in Tucson, I’d be lying if I didn’t think back to that film every time I passed through San Dimas. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was one of those films that really made me fall in love with film long before I’d ever even considered the possibility of working in film: It was fun, silly and absurd. I watched it so much that I wore out the VHS tape.

LAPPG: What was the biggest highlight from your work on this film?

RS: Getting to meet Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves on one brief occasion was certainly a highlight of working on the film for me. That said, the whole team was a veritable who’s who of amazing artists whom I had endless respect for. Our editor, Don Zimmerman, cut Rocky III & IV. Our director, Dean Parisot, directed Galaxy Quest. I spent the early days trying to keep myself from going full fanboy on my co-workers!

LAPPG: How did you handle the workflow on Bill & Ted Face the Music when COVID-19 hit and studios were shut down?

RS: When COVID-19 hit, we had to act quickly to set up a process that would work for our cutting rooms. We were nearing picture lock but we still had a lot of VFX revisions coming in so we needed to be able to bring in our shots, review with the VFX team and get those to the editorial team. I cloned the NEXIS on a large drive that I took to work from home. From there, we were doing VFX reviews via the streaming service Frankie. This allowed us to stream our VFX with the vendors and our VFX team in our respective locations, take notes and even draw directly on the screen. I’d then get the VFX from vendors via Aspera to cut into my sequence and I had to make sure I was being very diligent to keep track of all new VFX MXF media and bins that I’d send the Associate Editor each night so that the editorial team had current visual effects. Likewise, each night editorial would send me the Avid bins as the cut was changing so that I was cutting VFX into the current cut. It worked, but I’ll admit it was quite a challenge.

LAPPG: What was the biggest challenge working remotely to finish this film?

RS: I used to think that working remotely would be easier than I found it to be. Coordinating schedules and wrangling people to look at a shot is a matter of minutes in the office. You knock on your editor’s door, bring them and the director in, get feedback and you’re good to go. Working remotely, we’d have to call all parties to see if they were available, set up a Zoom, send out the link and hope there are no technical difficulties along the way. We were often at the mercy of the lowest bandwidth and sometimes one person would be unable to follow our meetings. I upgraded my internet service to the highest tier that I could in my area and I still found that my turnovers would take several hours to upload whereas they would take minutes at the office. I know I’m going to upset some people by saying this, but I think that the technology to work remotely is just not quite there yet. It’s not even a matter of simply having the software to support it. It’s also a matter of municipal infrastructure such as the ready availability of fast internet service which can vary drastically from provider to provider. So many internet providers stress download speeds to consumers, but my upload speed was absolutely critical particularly when it came to turnovers. There were also a few critical moments when my internet was down for hours which prevented me from being able to share assets with my team. Communication becomes significantly harder when working remotely which was the biggest challenge that I encountered working remotely.

LAPPG: What are important considerations for people to think about when they are launching new projects remotely?

RS: Time. Everything is going to take more time. That needs to be understood across all parties involved in a project. For example, if you’re remoting into a system via VPN, something as simple as importing an editor’s sound effects library is normally a task that would take a few minutes. Given the current system, you’d need to first upload the files from your local system at home to your remote system, then import them. Depending on your home upload speed and the size of the library, that could take a while. If you’re mirroring drives, you’d need to import those SFX, then either coordinate a drive to your editor or send the files to your editor and make sure you copy the media to the correct location. Likewise, if your editor imports a song they like, you’ll need to arrange to get that song on your local system before you do an output. The smallest things we take for granted when working on a shared environment in an office will require more steps and care.

As long as everybody is realistic about the logistical challenges, it will be fine but knowing that speed will be the biggest casualty is paramount. I saw a phrase a while ago that I think summed it up well when it said, “You’re not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” As is our job, we will make it work but it will just take a bit more time.