Today I sit down with Drew Mixon and speak with him about his grad school experiences at the American Film Institute Conservatory, his undergrad experiences at UNLV, and what influences him as an editor.
You are about to graduate from AFI. If you had to do it all over again would you still choose to go to grad school?
Yeah, I would definitely go to grad school. It’s helped me to be better technically and I have met a lot of people who are better than me. It’s made me a better editor and a better person. I’ve worked on how to communicate with people and how to get things done. It’s been a great experience.
What would you say is the most difficult aspect of attending grad school?
The hardest part is the constant grind. It gets very difficult and you won’t have time to adjust. Plans are constantly on the move. There are very few plans set in stone so you have to learn to go with the flow. You have to be a problem solver. Being an editor, the baseball equivalent would be being a closer. Everything has been set out for you and you have to close out the game. You do everything in your power to see it out and stick with it. Make what’s happened in the past, preproduction and production, and finish it out and make it the best that it can be in post production. I learned to do that AFI.
What makes AFI different from other grad schools like USC, NYU, UCLA, etc.?
The prestige I think. And it’s a conservatory so we are constantly making movies. With AFI, we focus on moviemaking so much that it will definitely help us in the future. Going to UNLV for my undergrad was an advantage to me because the film history there is second to none. I learned a lot about movies before even walking into movies. My Cycle One (first of three films in the first year at AFI) was an homage to old movies. I knew I could knock it out of the park with what I had learned. The director and I worked together and he would reference an old movie and I would get excited and we would talk about which scenes we really loved, or that one part here or there. We would think about the same scenes and be on the same page throughout. Appreciating film history and adding on to my technical skills is something that AFI has enhanced with a little bit of help from UNLV.
What made you want to get into editing?
I saw Kill Bill Volume 1 around the time I moved to Vegas. After seeing that I said to myself, “I need to do that.” I didn’t know what that was but I knew I needed to do whatever it was. I very rarely wonder how they do that in movies or get blown away by things but that got me excited for filmmaking. After I saw that I signed up for the broadcasting program in high school. We didn’t really make movies in broadcasting but it was me and a camera. I started cutting things and thought, “Hey, I’m not bad at this.” Over time my knowledge and appreciation for film editing has doubled and tripled. I graduated and then went to the College of Southern Nevada for two years. I got to learn Final Cut and with the help of the teacher there, John Marsh, I got really into film editing. After that, for a year, I wasn’t able to edit because my computer died. That’s when I started taking film history classes at UNLV. I jumped into the Production I class and I was able to use the skills I’d learned in broadcasting and at CSN to make Black Angus. That’s one of the few times, after cutting, I thought,”This is something.” I really enjoy that movie. Looking back at it, it can be hard to watch because there are times I think I should have done this or that. I really enjoyed doing it though and over time I started to cut more things and meet people and apply the skills I’d learned. That was the best thing to happen to me. That’s why I fell in love with editing.
What did you learn from undergrad at UNLV?
It was the first time I got to work with people who were just as passionate, if not more passionate, than me. People who loved the craft. UNLV film has shaped me to be editor that I can be. I have friends that I still keep in contact with. I was there five years ago and there are people I still am friends with. I love what we accomplished at UNLV. This is going to sound corny but I feel like there was renaissance at UNLV of people working and making films. It makes me happy I got to experience that with the people I got to experience it with.
If you had to point to one movie as an example of great editing, what would one of your personal favorites be?
The best edit in a movie is in Lawrence of Arabia. But I would say Singin’ in the Rain and The Godfather are my favorite movies. The Godfather because of the tone and the relationships while with Singin’ in the Rain it’s all about what editing can do. They preview the movie and it’s terrible. They go back and think about how they can make the movie better. One of my favorite edited movies is about how to save a movie.
Would those be considered your favorite movies overall?
My tastes vary. I don’t hate movies. I give each individual movie a chance, or I try to at least. I really wanted to hate 21 Jump Street but it’s one of my favorite movies. I was wondering why they were touching something that was a classic.
I like all of Tarantino’s movies. I like Blaxploitation movies. There are movies a lot of people don’t like that I do. She’s Out of My League came out three or four years ago. I’ll always watch that when it is on TV because it is great. There’s The Other Guys. For foreign movies, Yojimbo, City of God. For action, Die Hard.
What are you plans after graduating from AFI?
I would like to work in TV, particularly comedy. I’m applying for internships related to that. I watch a lot of TV. It’s getting to the point where TV is on the same level as movies. More people talk about what’s happening on TV than they do in movies. The last movie that shook up the world was The Avengers. With TV, it happens on a weekly basis. Take Breaking Bad. You have twelve hours of story. I know people who have watched all of Breaking Bad in one weekend and they think it’s the greatest thing ever. At times, TV is just as interesting as movies if not more so. I love movies and it’s one of the best escapisms there are but I feel like I would fit better into the world of TV. It’s story based and that’s important to me because I’m just a big guy on story. If the story doesn’t appeal to me then I can’t fully get into it.
If you had to give advice to editors just starting out, what advice would you give them and why?
Watch a lot movies. Get a good film knowledge. Know your program well. You can learn any program. The basis of any editing program is putting what you want on the timeline. Once you master that you can master any program. And hang out with people who are smarter than you. It will make it easier for you to do well. You can pick their brain about things and use that. It’ll help you in the long run and will amplify your passion to make a better product.
If you had the chance to work with anyone in your industry, who would be in your top three?
Tarantino. This may sound weird, but there is a TV show called Happy Endings that just got cancelled. Elisha Cuthbert was in it. I would have loved to cut that show. It’s one of my favorite shows to come on in a while. The timing and pace is great and the jokes land so well. And third would be Jason Reitman. I think he’s one of the better directors. He bases his movies off of tone and if you watch some of the deleted scenes from his movies, you can see why he deleted them. They don’t fit the movie. I respect that. The movie is an entity. If a scene doesn’t make sense being there, then the movie won’t work.
If I could sneak one more in there it would a Judd Apatow comedy. I’d love to see two hours of someone just coming up with stuff, constant improv, and cutting that into a story. This is the End was one of the funniest movies ever for me. I’d love to cut that kind of stuff. I feel that comedy has gone through a really cool phase over the last eight years starting around Mean Girls with absurdist, smarter comedy. It’s so well written and edited. Then 40-year-old Virgin, then Wedding Crashers, then Knocked Up, then Superbad. They all have a really good foundation and improv.
Hmm. Argo is well edited. But the last movie I really enjoyed was The Place Beyond the Pines.
What’s your favorite TV show that is currently on the air?
That’s one of the things with Happy Endings. It’s a heartbreaker. I really wish someone would pick it up because it is a great show. As of right now though, Breaking Bad is really good. OH! Awkward on MTV. I love how each character on there has a different voice. I feel like the show shouldn’t appeal to me but the characters are all interesting.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of going to grad school?
I’ll start with the disadvantages.
Not having enough time for yourself. Not being able to communicate with your loved ones. You can’t fully take care of yourself. There are times where you will work with people who you don’t enjoy working with. As an editor, at times, we cut twelve hours a day so you’re not home that often. It affects your sleep. There were a few months there where I wasn’t getting proper sleep. I’d say another disadvantage would be not being able to talk to your non grad school friends. Grad school is a microcosm of what life is. After a while, you need to experience other things or you risk being a boring person. You need to be able to smell the roses. I try to go to comedy shows and Dodgers games when I get the chance, just something non-related to film.
The advantages are working with people who are incredibly smart. As an editor, you learn technical things that you wouldn’t normally be able to. You get to know the programs so well that you can basically troubleshoot your own problems. You meet people that are incredible. You see people who are just starting out and you get blown away. You start to make a list of people whose movies you will watch in the future. I know I’m always going to watch a movie that Jackie Kay has worked on. I marvel at the things she can do. One of the first things Sarah Ross-Samko shot is one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to cut it. I’d just sit there and think, “This looks amazing. How could someone even come up with this?” They are just so ahead in their craft and that makes you step your game up.
You meet lifelong friends.
Another advantage to me is that I’m close to the thing that I want to do most. It seems both far and close but I know with time that if put hard work into that it will come and that it can be a reality.
Thank you Drew for the interview and congratualations on your graduation from the American Film Institute. May you and all the other AFI Conservatory graduates have success in your future endeavours!