We are happy to introduce you to Charles Little II, ACE, a film and television editor-director-producer and an award-winning multimedia creative. Charles and the editing team for FX Network’s internationally acclaimed documentary series, Welcome To Wrexham have recently been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Picture Editing For An Unstructured Reality Program – 2023. Charles took a moment to share some of his insights and experiences with us including how an ACE’s event inspired him to start editing, how his background in the US Navy helped to give him valuable skills for a collaborative career in editing, and how being a good person is one of the keys to making it as an editor.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for taking the time to share your story and insights with us, Charles. For starters, how did you get interested in editing?
Charles Little II: I became interested in picture editing at a time early in my career when I began to seek more substance in my work. I was first introduced to computer graphic design in the mid-1990s which progressed into Motion Graphics 3-D animation, and stage/production design by the mid-2000s. As a visual artist, I took a lot of pride in my work, but in a concert or theater environment it often felt like the audience paid little to no attention to all of the video content surrounding their experience, and that led me to pursue an avenue to channel my creativity that would result in a more poignant and lasting result. I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2007 and at that time I wanted to be a Director of music videos and television. In 2010, a friend invited me to the Egyptian theater for ACE’s ‘Visible Artists Invisible Art’ event, which was a live panel where the current roster of Oscar-nominated film editors discussed their work before a crowd of like-minded, wide eyed storytellers. Witnessing that discussion was the exact moment that I knew I wanted to become a picture editor. I’ve been on an amazing journey from assistant editing to cutting reality television, scripted television, and documentaries; and now I’m a member of ACE, one of the industry’s most respected organizations of film and television editors and the producer of the event that first lit that fire within me.
LAPPG: How did your time in the US Navy prepare or offer you skills that are important in the world of editorial?
CLII: My time serving in the United States Navy (the world’s greatest navy) has impacted my life in the most profound ways. It was there I learned how to collaborate, how to lead, and how to follow. Film making above everything else, in my opinion, is a collaborative experience. So the fundamental respect for and ability to collaborate continues to serve me each and every day.
LAPPG: What is the biggest difference for you between editing a show like “Welcome to Wrexham” which is under Emmy consideration as an unstructured reality show vs. a narrative show that you worked on like “9-1-1” or “9-1-1 Lone Star.”
CLII: Yeah, that’s a great question which I do get asked from time to time. I’m sure that my answer here will be a subjective one, but for me the biggest difference between working with unscripted material and scripted material is a fundamental one. With unscripted material, it’s very much what I call hands on. I have to manhandle that material to make it often do what it was never intended to do, in order to tell a story that viewers can follow, connect to, and believe in. That’s a direct contrast to my approach with scripted material that has been pre-visualized and crafted to do a specific thing. With scripted material I have to get out of its way and allow the performances to be, allow the elaborate sets, costumes, and dialogue to live in all its glory. With unscripted material I am creating a script from the material. With scripted material I am serving the script to bring its story to a level beyond anyone’s expectations including my own. I am always trying to amaze myself and everyone else in the process. LOL.
LAPPG: For you, how much of editing is technical vs creative?
CLII: Oh yeah, that’s also a good one, but for me, the answer is rather short and simple. The act of editing is 100% creative. It’s the act of utilizing the tools that is technical. And similarly to photography, picture editing today requires a mastery of the technical aspect, so that you no longer have to think and you can just do. So that the creativity can flow through you freely without the technical aspects hindering that process and rather fostering it.
LAPPG: How does a platform like Avid Media Composer allow for your creativity?
CLII: Avid Media Composer does a great job of allowing for that creativity to express, because it streamlines the process enough that the technical, the bells and whistles, don’t overshadow or hinder the creative process. For me, cutting in Avid Media Composer is like playing an instrument. I don’t think anymore, I just do.
LAPPG: You are a member of major industry organizations such as the American Cinema Editors and Motion Picture Editors Guild. Can you tell us about the work that you are doing on the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s African-American Steering Committee?
CLII: That’s another important topic to touch on at least for me in my particular career path. During the early days of my career, I was so hungry I literally walked union picket lines before I was ever a union member. I shot photographs of union editors on those picket lines, and I contributed to the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s communication efforts. It was my way of introducing myself to the industry and ultimately it paid off. Once I joined the Editors Guild, my work had really just begun. Because I realized it’s not the union’s job to find work for its members, that’s a responsibility for me and me alone, so I remember thinking to myself, well “if the union can’t do anything for me what can I do for the union?“ And that’s when I sought out ways for me to give to the union. I looked through their list of committees and their diversity committee spoke directly to me, being a person of color, and so I joined. I became very active and as the diversity initiative grew, it spawned the development of various subcommittees, which included the African-American steering committee. That committee has become a great source of camaraderie, inspiration, and mentorship throughout my career and continues to be so today. I am grateful to be a member and proud of the work that we do.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for someone starting their career as an editor?
CLII: I’d say make certain that editing is something that you truly love because it requires a 1000% commitment. And also, make certain you have some heroes and goals. For sure, it’s not about the destination but the journey, that’s completely true, but I feel that you need goals as benchmarks to guide and track your journey as much as heroes to inspire your vision and your pursuit.
LAPPG: How important is it for someone to become proficient on Media Composer?
CLII: Well, Avid Media Composer is the Cadillac of NLE’s and the industry standard tool when crafting feature films, television series, and documentaries at the highest levels. But I do think that today the landscape has a lot of powerful tools that allow creators to express themselves. Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve are among a range of creative tools that are widely and constantly in use in filmmaking today. So I think today’s editors should have proficiency in Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro at the very least.
LAPPG: The Welcome to Wrexham episode, “Do or Die”, which has been nominated for a 2023 Emmy seems to go more into the backstories of some of the players and townspeople. It also seems to use some special editing techniques. Can you share with us what made this particular episode so special?
CLII: Welcome To Wrexham’s Episode 118 “Do or Die” is the culmination of a really interesting exploratory and groundbreaking series of television as much as it was all of the aforementioned for the characters on the screen in real life. The game happened on the pitch, but the real game playing out was the game of life. As editors, our constant responsibility in cutting Welcome To Wrexham Season One, was to tell an authentic story, to make certain that what viewers experienced on the screen within the context of our 18 episode series, was what actually happened. It was our duty as much as our pleasure to just amplify that experience a bit. Season One ofWelcome To Wrexham was always about the townspeople at its heart. And the editing techniques flashing from the pitch into the homes and hearts of the townspeople and the players was specifically designed to give the viewers access to that coveted insight as much as to make the experience that much more emotional and entertaining. The editors with whom I collaborated on Welcome to Wrexham are simply some of the best editors I’ve ever encountered. They made up those techniques off the hip. I myself spent the majority of my time crafting scenes from raw material, and when Curtis McConnell or Michael Brown or Micho (Mohamed) El Manasterly got their hands on the material, the scenes took on a new life which inspired me to another level when the material often made its way back to me. We all touched one another’s work a bit and inspired one another healthily. Working with this team on this series was really like what I would expect playing in a really great band might feel like. I mean I’m not the best musician and I used to fancy myself a singer back in my band days, so please pardon the band references. LOL.
LAPPG: What does it mean to you for this episode to have been nominated for an Emmy?
CLII: For me this Emmy nomination is a confirmation that I am exactly where I need to be and I’m doing exactly what I was born to do. It all really does feel great.
LAPPG: What other skills, besides having good editing chops do you think an editor needs to have in their belt?
CLII: Well, that’s a great one, and another simple answer. Just be a good person. Filmmaking is an intimate, laborious, collaborative and challenging undertaking. It takes a lot. A lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of resources and a lot of people and the latter is the most important ingredient. Of course you need to be a great editor. You need to be a great storyteller, you need to be a powerful creative, because ultimately no one wants to spend weeks and months holed up in a room with someone that’s just no fun to be around. So it’s easy, just don’t be that person. Do great work, be a great person and just give. Give at every turn and it will feel absolutely great. 🙂