UGFTV Chair Ezra Sacks caught up with Alyssa Hartwig, UGFTV student, to hear about her time working as an assistant editor on the Tokyo Olympics.
Ezra: Hi Alyssa! Thank you for joining me to speak about your experience working on the Tokyo Olympics, which is just amazing. Can you tell me about how you got involved and what your role was?
Alyssa: Yes, I was initially contacted by UGFTV professor Marsha McKeever who reached out about her colleague, UGFTV faculty member Michael Schanzer. He was looking for an assistant editor to work with him on NBC’s news coverage of the Tokyo Olympics. The reason she had reached out to me is that two semesters prior she'd helped me get Avid certified. She knew that I had the certification and they would be using that program for the Olympics, so she wanted to connect me. I then met with Michael to see if it would be a good fit, from there, we got all the paperwork and everything done on the NBC end. Once all that was covered, we figured out how I would get there, travel expenses, and once in Tokyo, it was just a matter of learning the system. I was primarily responsible for gathering footage and preparing everything for him to do his coverage stories. He was in charge of doing more of the sponsorship pieces and the stories on different athletes. I was responsible for gathering all that footage and keeping up to date with what interesting stuff was happening, and seeing what might be a good fit for his next pieces.
As the Olympics started to cool down, I was actually offered the opportunity to start working on my own stuff which was really, really great. I was able to work more closely with the producers and get their opinion on my own work, rather than just seeing it for everybody else and seeing their opinions on everybody else's work. That was an amazing thing to add to my portfolio.
Ezra: How long were you there working on the Olympics?
Alyssa: I was there for around three weeks. We arrived a few days before the opening ceremony, and we had a day or two of training on the system we were working with, Interplay. It is basically a server that Avid uses. Then we started preparing material for the start of the games and planning who would be doing what.
It was three weeks straight, no breaks, 12 to 13 hours a day, every single day. But, everyone was so kind and friendly and we were working so hard that it didn't even feel like it. It went by so fast.
Ezra: Are you hoping to pursue a career in editing?
Alyssa: Yes. I think I was a little bit scared going in, not only because I hadn't had the most experience in Avid, but also because I had only done freelance work. I wasn't used to working in a professional environment. Having now worked in that professional environment, especially at high stakes, with a very fast turnaround environment, it's something I can see that, not only I was able to get through, but something I was able to enjoy while doing. It definitely didn't change my thoughts on whether or not I wanted to go into post-production.
Ezra: You mentioned that you were able to move from working on pieces as an assistant editor to doing your own pieces. Tell me about some of those that you did that you especially found interesting or liked; what were the special ones?
Alyssa: It’s kind of funny – the producer that I was working with has this very favorite style of screaming compilations – the best screams of the Olympics. I had the honor of doing a few of those compilation pieces, which everyone found quite funny. We got a few great ones, especially in track and field. I also was able to help out in what we call the highlight factory, which was basically the people who created the highlights, the best moments of different games. I was able to work on some soccer pieces and field hockey pieces, creating compilation pieces to put out on to the YouTube channel.
All the while, I was able to help Michael with his story pieces and had the opportunity to give my input on certain things; it was really nice to be heard. Michael has so much experience with the Olympics; to really see what he was doing and hearing his thought process was helpful for me, especially as a young editor, to really see what people are looking for and how things are made. When you're watching it on TV or YouTube, you don't really get that same experience. Really seeing the thought process behind every single shot was really nice.
Ezra: Were there any challenges you had specifically as a young woman?
Alyssa: No, I never once felt like I was being treated any differently. Afterwards a lot of friends asked me how it had been and I get it. I think it’s scary to go into a professional environment where people might treat you differently because you’re younger or because you’re a woman. I was so grateful to have a team that was so open and so kind – it was a little bit overwhelming at first, because I did not expect everybody to be as kind as they were.
Nobody ever treated anybody differently. You could really see how passionate everybody was about their craft; when you have so many passionate and talented people together, you don't really have that hostility because everyone's just working hard to make sure that everybody's uplifted and everybody's getting through it. That's an aspect I’m very grateful for, that I was able to have that experience and feel included and respected.
Ezra: When you were working on a piece like the best screams, would they show that several times over the course of the broadcast, on various channels and social media as well?
Alyssa: Yes, my pieces were mostly for social media. They would go to the official NBC Olympics coverage site, the Youtube channel, and sometimes Instagram or Twitter. We had different areas, some people focusing more on Tik Tok or broadcast content, and ours was mostly for the Youtube channel and the NBC site.
Ezra: As you got comfortable and people respected your work, did unexpected things come up?
Alyssa: Absolutely. For Michael’s content, we had to focus on basically athletes who broke the boundaries, underdogs who came out on top. It was hit or miss for us – sometimes we would be focused on one athlete thinking they were going to be our next story, but then, all of a sudden some Filipino weightlifter broke the boundaries. She became the first gold medal winner for the Philippines, so we'd have to completely switch gears and completely start working on a different story. We were working with the news desk on getting scripts written and research done; it was kind of like a train of workers, so sometimes you’d have to stop that train and go right back and start from the beginning. It might be frustrating because we’d already pulled all this footage for a project, and then you change gears and start anew. It could be a little bit frustrating, but once you get back into the motion, start to see the story grow, you get more interested in it and really want it to work out.
Ezra: Were the pieces composed of footage from the event or the events around a particular athlete and also interview footage with the athlete, personal footage of where they came from, etc?
Alyssa: It definitely varied depending on the athlete because for some athletes, it was their first event and they had no previous experience with the Olympics. They had no interviews they had no footage for us to use other than the event. Then we’d do stories on, say, Suni Lee and were able to get interviews from before the Olympics, home footage from when she was a kid, and we were able to get the event. I think that’s where it varied – for some athletes we had more footage than others, so it was a matter of working with what we had, but I think the team was able to successfully work with whatever we had.
Ezra: Did you get to go to see anything?
Alyssa: No, I was working and our room specifically didn’t have a working TV. The highlights factory had a huge wall of monitors and they had every sport imaginable up, so sometimes we’d watch that. We would get sneak peaks of certain events, but we were on a tight schedule and trying to meet deadlines. We didn’t watch too much.
Ezra: Of the athletes you did stories on, was there one who you found most interesting?
Alyssa: Absolutely -- I might be a little biased here because I did help pitch this one, but Hidilyn Diaz who is a Filipino weightlifter. As somebody who's Filipino myself, seeing that type of representation was really impactful. I wanted to do the coverage on this story; seeing her reaction when she lifted that weight over her head, realizing she had beat everyone and won the goal metal. It got me really choked up because you so rarely see that type of representation in the media. That's probably one of the pieces that I’m most proud of having been able to work on. It’s definitely one of my favorites of Michael’s pieces -- he did an amazing job on that one and had great music picked. I think he did a beautiful job with it.
Ezra: You mentioned UGFTV faculty member Michael Schanzer who you were working with on the Olympics. Michael shared with us that you did an incredible job under extremely tight deadlines and a lot of pressure, and that you were a huge asset to them in the editing process. What challenges came up that you hadn't encountered before that you faced and clearly successfully dealt with?
Alyssa: Well personally, I’m actually not the biggest sports fan, so the fact that this was my first big job was kind of ironic. I think that was one of the main challenges I had… Often I would be asked to find certain footage or materials on a specific athlete and I wouldn’t know exactly what was being asked of me because I wasn’t familiar with the sport. It was one of those situations where I didn’t want to constantly be asking questions, but everybody was so willing to help out that my fear or frustration about not knowing went away very quickly. By the end of the games, I had learned a lot about sports that I’d never known existed before.
Ezra: Are you now more interested in pursuing a career in the sports, if you were offered future opportunities in that realm -- like if the National Football League reached out to you this week, would you jump at that sort of opportunity?
Alyssa: I still feel like it’s not an area that is for me. If I was offered the opportunity to come back for the next Olympics or to work again with anyone from the team I worked with, I would absolutely take up the opportunity. But, generally I feel like I strive more in different areas.
Ezra: Are there specific classes here at UGFTV that you felt were really relevant to the work you were doing and prepared you for it?
Alyssa: Definitely. As I mentioned, this opportunity first came my way because of UGFTV faculty member Marsha McKeever who got me Avid certified. I definitely recommend any students pursuing the post-production route take that certification course. Marsha is a great teacher and it’s a great course.
I took Intermediate Advanced Editing which gave me access to the editing suites on the 10th floor, and those suites are very high end, very professional. When I started working at NBC it was basically the same set up. Getting into the rhythm at the NBC setup was not difficult at all because I had experience with NYU. I really recommend any of the editing courses -- all of the professors in post-production are very knowledgeable of their craft. I think hearing about all of their experiences, especially hearing about Sam Pollard’s experiences when I took his History of Editing course, all of those things really prepared me for this. I actually hadn’t had Michael as a professor before working with him at NBC. Being able to hear about his career really showed me how much knowledge our professors have. Even if students can’t take a professor’s course, I think just stopping and having a conversation in the hallway is really worth it.
Ezra: Did you come here wanting to be an editor or did you discover that path along the way?
Alyssa: I started editing during high school, actually in broadcasting for sports at my high school. They needed somebody to edit and I had no experience but gave it a try. I came to UGFTV with only editing knowledge and no other film knowledge, and so I definitely wanted to at first try and attempt the DP route and cinematography. After taking Frame & Sequence and Sound Image, I realized how much I loved being on the editing side, working with editing programs, and the editing environment. I slowly started taking more and more editing courses. I took some freelance gigs with content creators on Youtube and Twitch. Now I’m pretty certain that I want to to the post-production route, which was something that was in the back of my mind when I first came here and now is something I’ve learned that I really love.
Ezra: What advice would you give a student early in the program who’s interested in getting professional opportunities like this one?
Alyssa: Don’t be afraid to branch out, whether that be with different genres of editing or with programs. I came in only knowing Final Cut and Premiere and since then I’ve learned Pro Tools, Avid, Photoshop, and more; learning these different programs has opened up so many opportunities – when people come to me and ask me to edit in the program they want used, I can say yes. I think even if you have a preference, learning different softwares is worthwhile. I also encourage students to take the advice our professors give us; they really care about us and I think some students don’t take advantage of the amazing faculty we have.
Ezra: Thank you, Alyssa. It’s really been wonderful talking with you.