October 15, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Nona Khodai '05

By Jason Ng

From editing Hallmark television movies to working on various projects from J.J. Abram’s Bad Robot production company, Nona Khodai ’05 has compiled quite the resume as a film editor. Nona rose from the ranks as an assistant editor to now where she is a seasoned editor within the industry. Her credits include Revolution, The Strain, Colony, as well as the recent Amazon hit series The Boys, which is created by fellow SCA alum Eric Kripke. She joins us to talk about her experience and journey as an editor.

What made you decide to be a film editor?

Honestly, it kind of fell into my lap.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do after USC, and I happen to get a job through a friend of a friend from school as an Assistant Editor for a company that produced movie-of-the-week’s for the Hallmark Channel.  And I kind of fell in love with the job.  I didn’t realize how much editors manipulate performances and how instrumental they are to the structure and the tone of a story.  Plus, it’s fun playing around on a computer by yourself with no judgement from others.

What are some of the things that you’ve learned in film school that helped you once you made the professional leap?

First of all, learning Avid and Pro Tools were instrumental in me finding work right out of USC.  If I didn’t know how to use those programs, I wouldn’t be working today.  I was able to get those entry level jobs based on that skill set alone.  And second, learning how sound design works.  During the semester I did my 310 coursework, our sound professor, Erik Aadaahl, had such enthusiasm for sound and it was infectious.  He taught us all how sound can really change a film’s intention, and having the right sound can really elevate a movie, but having the wrong sound can do the opposite.  I’ve taken that lesson with me throughout my career.     

Can you tell us about your transition from assistant editor to editor, and how the move came with new opportunities and challenges?

I had assisted for 8 years before I got the bump up to full time editor.  And honestly, I was ready for it. The challenges were mostly with learning to be confident in my skill set and able to communicate well with the directors and producers.  The most challenging part was learning to be a supervisor and leader in the cutting room.  I still struggle with that because it feels so unnatural to me.  

You’ve worked as an editor in both feature and television projects. How is the editing experience similar or different for each?

There are three major differences between features and TV.  One is the pace of the schedule.  On TV shows, you just don’t have as much time to work the material because of air dates, though with streaming that has changed a bit. But when it was just network television, if there was an air date, we would have to deliver even if we weren’t necessarily ready.  On features you really have a bit more time to finesse and make the performances the best they can be.  Not to say that there are no time constraints, there are, but it just feels like there is a bit more time allotted to finish a film.  Second, in television the main creative visionary is the showrunner or head writer, but in features that person is usually the director.  And third, the way the project is structured is different.  In television, you’re usually working in episodic which means that style and pace of a particular show needs to stay consistent from episode to episode.  On features, that kind of limitation in cutting isn’t really the case. The editor and director usually dictate how to tell the story and so the limitations are endless. Ultimately, editing in both mediums is technically the same.  You’re still putting footage together to tell a story, just the way it's gone about is slightly different.

What role does a film editor have in bringing the vision of the director or showrunner to life?

The editor is hugely important in helping the director and/or showrunner set the structure, pace, tone and style of the show.  The editor helps choose how music and sound effects are used or not used.  The overall feel of a show is entirely influenced by the editor’s taste.  And that’s why certain directors and show-runners work the same people over and over again because that trust is rare to find.  

How did you arrive at the opportunity to be an editor on the Amazon series, The Boys, which is created by fellow USC alum, Eric Kripke?

I met Eric on the NBC show, Revolution.  I was an assistant editor on that show and because the schedule of the show was so difficult, I had a lot of opportunities to cut.  An editor was leaving early at the end of the season, and I was given the chance to cut an episode at the end of season one.  I guess I did a pretty good job because I was asked to stay and edit for season two.  Unfortunately, the show was cancelled at the end of that season but working with Kripke was really wonderful.  I learned a lot from him and I took those skills with me.  It had been a couple years where I was working on different shows and I happen to email Kripke to say hello and he mentioned that he was working on a series called The Boys and that it might start up in the next year and if I’d like to work on the show.  And I jumped at the chance to work with him again and the rest is history.  

The Boys takes the superhero genre that has been made popular by recent films and TV series and inverts it by situating the superheroes as the antagonists in the show. Why do you think it works so well that critics and viewers are praising the series?

I think critics and fans feel the show gives a refreshing new twist to the superhero genre.  The series works well because it's honest to the society we live in today.  If there were real superheroes among all of us, the way they would behave would not be necessarily the most altruistic.  That’s way more relatable to me than the superhero who saves the world and its more interesting.  

You’ve worked on a wide range of genres from post-apocalyptic to dystopian, and now superheroes. How do you stay true to your own voice and style while navigating across so many genres?

Honestly, staying true to myself has taken a while to learn.  The style and pace of a show is set usually by a pilot episode and so if you’re on the series after the fact, my job is to continue the look and pace of what was set beforehand.  I usually just cut with my gut.  I know it sounds cheesy but it works for me. My own internal metronome has a unique pace as does every individual, that’s why you can give ten editors the same footage and they will all cut it differently. 

Is there a particular sequence from a movie or series that you’ve edited that you feel most proud of?

Not really.  It’s hard for me to like anything I work on because I see all the mistakes.  If I had a choose a sequence, I really love music and I love the Billy Joel sequence in first episode of season two of The Boys.  My goal is to someday work on a musical and that’s probably the closest I’ve come to working on one.  

How important is it to keep a good relationship with your peers and others working in the industry?

This industry is very small especially in post-production, and working well with others is the key to surviving.  People want to work with nice people and if you’re difficult to work with, people talk.  You never want to not get a job because someone spoke poorly about you.  I mean you have to be great at your job but also more importantly, just be nice.  It will take you far.  

Are there any projects that you are working on that you would like to share or tips that you would like to offer our readers who are aspiring editors?

I can’t talk about the project I’m on right now, but I’ll give some advice I wish I had.  To all students not just aspiring editors, please take advantage of all the tools the schools has at your disposal.  Make you own films, edit your friend’s film, just keep making stuff.  I look back now and wish I did more. And most importantly have fun!  Don’t be stressed that it’s not perfect.  Make the mistakes now while you’re in school.