August 8, 2017

SCA Alumni Stories: Yvette Amirian

From reality TV to documentary filmmaking, Yvette Amirian ’05 has utilized her talents as an editor to craft dynamic, entertaining stories. Now an adjunct professor at USC School Of Cinematic Arts, Amirian continues to share her wisdom with her students. She recently discussed her passion for editing, the road that led her back to SCA, and her advice for current students.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the Cinematic Arts? I had access to Avid Media Composer software in high school through our film program. Our teacher didn’t know how to use it, so I was self-taught. And while learning, I fell in love with editing. It was something I could get lost in, working and crafting a story for hours. I went into college knowing that I wanted to pursue film and I really wanted to go to USC for film school.  At USC, I focused on editing. And while I explored other possible careers during my time there, in the end it was clear I wanted to be an editor.

What are your thoughts on the role and the creative responsibility of an editor? What I really value in editing and what I’ve learned over time, is how much of an impact you can have on telling the story and the ultimate outcome of the film.  You have the power to set the tone with the music that you choose, sound design, pacing. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also really exciting. I love working with producers, directors, other editors to find the right balance in achieving what we all want for the tone of a project and the story we want to tell.

How did your early background in editing reality TV influence your work in documentaries? I never planned on working in reality or non-fiction TV, I sort of fell into it right after USC. For a long time, it was something I was trying to break out of.  But in retrospect, I learned so much from doing it because there’s no script. As the editor, you’re literally writing the story as you cut because you’re looking through tons and tons of footage, organizing it, shaping it, pulling it all together to tell the best possible story. It taught me about the power of editing, and the great responsibility that comes with that. And that’s something that I took with me moving forward into scripted projects and documentaries.

How did your work on “Whale Wars” challenge and help you grow as a storyteller? Whale Wars was probably one of the most, if not the most, challenging shows I’ve ever cut. It’s a true documentary series, so there is so much responsibility you have as an editor and as a producer to tell both sides of the story while keeping it both entertaining and impactful. You could be looking at footage of an event that was covered by multiple cameras and that took place over a whole day, but you have to figure out how to tell that in a truthful, impactful, and entertaining way in 42 minutes. It wasn’t easy, but the challenge of figuring out how to do it was the most rewarding part.

How much of the audience’s response are you conscious of while you’re cutting?I think the ultimate goal, no matter what you’re cutting, is for the story to be clear and track properly, and for the project to be entertaining.  Sometimes, we get too close to a project, spend too many hours with our eyes on the same footage.  So it’s important to take a step back and view it with fresh eyes, or bring in a new set of eyes, view it as an audience member who would be seeing it for the first time. Editing is a very subjective art. Every person has a different perspective on how they would put something together. Over time, you learn to trust your instincts and do what feels right to you, while also working collaboratively with the vision of the director and producers.

How did you become involved with L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later? What was your experience as editor and producer? What were the main challenges you faced?

It was a great experience. As a producer and an editor, it didn’t really feel like two different roles.  We were a small team, and it felt like everyone was working hard to make this film the best it could be. Obviously, we had a lot of archival footage to look through, which I think was the most challenging part. We had a fantastic producer, named Nora Dohaghy, who went to USC too (Class of 2006).  She was the one helping us navigate all of that footage, what could and couldn’t be used. She was great, I loved working with her.

Looking back on your time at SCA, what was your fondest memory of that time? Probably the 480 experience, which is where you crew on a short film your senior year. I got to direct a script that I had written. And before that, I edited a 480. That year was very memorable because I formed a lot of long-lasting relationships. I still keep in touch with many of the people I worked with on those films. It was a great experience, it really gave you an overall view of what the filmmaking process is like. We had a lot of amazing professors, who really cared about our projects and how they turned out, who were there for us every step of the way. And I still keep in touch with many of them too!

How did you come to the decision to start teaching at SCA? I reached a point in my career where I wanted to share my experiences with students. I had a lot of mentors who were there for me when I needed it, and would provide me with guidance. I felt like I wanted to do the same, and what better place to do that than USC. I feel very fortunate that the timing aligned when it did, and I was able to come on as an adjunct professor.  I’ve been here for over two years now, and I love it.

What’s your favorite part of being an editor? The collaboration I get to have with the directors and producers I work with, as well as other editors. I love the feeling where you picture-lock everything and look at the product as a whole. There’s this feeling of “Wow, there was nothing when we started. And now there’s this thing that I created with my own hands, my own vision.” There’s this feeling of accomplishment. You spent countless hours and created a story with a group of talented people. And now there it is, out there for the world to see. The recent screening of L.A. Burning we did at USC was the first one I had done since leaving here a s a student. It was nice to come back and show my work to students and professors, and be in that screening space again.

What’s your advice for current students and other SCA alumni? It’s so important to maintain relationships with the peers you’re working with now. When I meet people who went to SCA, even if they weren’t in my class, there’s this immediate connection, this sense of camaraderie. You all went through the same program, you all survived 290, 310, 480, you all have the same education.  So keep in contact with the people you are currently working with in school, especially the ones you connect with really well. Those can develop into lifelong friendships and incredible partnerships out in the real world.

Nearly all of SCA’s students are familiar with long hours and late nights in the editing labs. How do you keep yourself energized with what you’re doing? It’s important not to forget about your health, which is an easy thing to do, especially working in post-production. It’s important to exercise and eat healthy, and remember to do those seemingly obvious things. In school and out in the real world, deadlines take over and it becomes this accepted way of life to make them our priority.  But our families, our personal lives, our health and well-being are just as important as our careers. You have to maintain a healthy balance to be a good person, and a happy person, no matter what your line of work is.