VFS Film Production grad Shannon Halwes has been nominated for a 2003 Emmy Award for her work as part of the sound editing team on the Steven Spielberg/Dreamworks produced mini-series Taken. We caught up with her at home in California to ask her about her experience on the project.
Are you going to the Emmys?
Yes indeed! But we are part of the Creative Arts Emmys, so I don’t think it’s televised. Maybe on CSPAN.
How did you land the music editor role for Spielberg’s Taken mini-series?
In the music realm, I work exclusively for my partner, Laura Karpman, who is a multi-Emmy winning composer. (I also write lyrics for her whenever she needs a song for a movie.) Laura got the Taken gig after Spielberg heard her score for the Showtime sci-fi series Odyssey 5, for which she is nominated this year. Composers tend to have one music editor they like to work with and can trust to be their advocate, and so they do the actual hiring even if the production company or studio does the check writing.
Can you describe a highlight of your experience on Taken?
Taken was an all-consuming project for about eight solid months. Laura wrote about seven hours of music. In addition to the usual Pro Tools, dub stage and organizational duties, I got to edit the recaps and probably a good hour’s worth of cues from her orchestral scores. That was a tremendous amount of fun.
“Learn drama. No matter what you are doing, learn what it
takes to tell a story.” Shannon Halwes
Is music editing your specialty or is independent filmmaking your passion?
Music editing has become a specialty. I seem to have a knack for it and I love the technology. My experiences as an amateur musician, and as an editor and filmmaker have been bundled up together in the music editing job, and it’s a good fit for me. I do love independent filmmaking and I love/hate writing for film, but I have to say, there’s something appealing about being a part of a project that is seen by millions of viewers all over the world.
What have you been up to since leaving VFS?
I’ve done a lot of different things since VFS. I’ve written a script that has won a handful of awards. My short film, American Slices, has done pretty nicely on the festival circuit as well. I worked a lot as an assistant editor in Houston, I’ve written lyrics for songs in movies, I’m scheduled to do a libretto for a workshop of an opera at LA Opera. And most recently, I’ve been doing a lot of music editing.
I wanted to learn filmmaking, but since I already had a Masters degree in Art History, I didn’t want to go to another three-year program. I liked the compact nature of VFS. I also thought it was much more affordable. I especially liked the fact that your tuition paid for the films you were involved with, as opposed to a lot of film schools where raising a lot of cash is part of the deal.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in filmmaking?
Learn drama. No matter what you are doing, learn what it takes to tell a story. Whether you are lighting it or editing it or directing it, the story is what must be served. Whether you’re making big bucks from the studios or preaching to the choir, if you let storytelling motivate you, you’ll have a rich career.
Where do you get your inspiration from as a filmmaker/music editor?
As a filmmaker, I get inspiration from any filmmaker or film that gives me the special ‘I just saw a great movie’ feeling. It doesn’t matter if it is Woody Allen, or Steven Spielberg, or Francois Ozon, or Kasi Lemmons.
As for music editing, I don’t think you can get that ‘great movie’ feeling without great music. I love Bernard Hermann and Gabriel Yared, to single out just a couple. Laura Karpman’s music is quite simply some of the best music being written for any medium. It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with it.