Meet the Neighbors Interview with JJ Evans Editor in Chief
Q. How long have you been an editor?
A. In 2002, a group of my friends and I started filming comedy shorts. I directed and edited them all and that was when I realized that filmmaking, and editing in particular, was something that came naturally to me. In 2005, I moved to New York City and took a six-week course in editing which was the springboard that took me from there to actually getting paid work in film and TV.
Q. What is your background?
A. I was born and raised in north-central Indiana. I spent my high school years playing in bands at underground shows all around the midwest. In the fall of 2001 I moved to Chicago to go to Columbia College. I started the year studying creative writing but by the winter I had changed my major to film.
Q. What is your technique or process during the editing process?
A. My technique is hard to describe succinctly but it’s broadly kind of like working with a hammer and nails at first and then a paintbrush and canvas second. It starts with more mechanical, logical work to get all of the pieces of a story in order, then it becomes more of an artistic process where the most important toolset is a sense of motion, flow, rhythm, and emotion.
Q. What is the most challenging part of the project?
A. The most challenging part of a project for me is the aforementioned “hammer and nails” portion. Sifting through hours and hours of content, trimming and moving parts around to find the story can feel kind of motionless. But I’ve used the same documentary process for years now so I’m able to maintain confidence that the more tedious work is ultimately leading to “the paintbrush”.
Q. Do you have a film style?
A. I don’t know that I necessarily have a style, not one that I could put a name to anyway. But I feel like as a lifelong musician, I cultivated a sense of emotion, rhythm, momentum, and even the story early on in my life. When applying those qualities to a film is one of my stronger points as an editor.
Q. What drew you to these films or projects?
A. What drew me to the Belonging series was the heart of the idea, which is that we all belong, even those who aren’t always welcomed. And bringing together stories of people who were told, in some sense, that they didn’t belong but stood strong on their principles against powerful, imperial forces (and suffered immensely for it). I think they’re important to tell, perhaps even more so right now than when the project began a few years ago.
Q. What emotions do you want the viewers to come away with?
A. I want the viewers to come away with whatever emotions the story stirs up in them. The powerful thing about stories, and art in general, is the ability to mean different things to different people in different ways at different times. With that being said, I see the Belonging series being more about empowerment, solidarity, and amplifying the voices of the marginalized and the misunderstood. I hope those come through at the completion of each project.
Q. What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a film/documentary editor?
A. I think the main advice to someone who wants to be an editor is to just do it.
You won’t get paid at first obviously, but it’s easier now than ever to teach yourself for free. But learn by creating. And make connections with other people who want to make films. So learn by trial and error, use the internet to acquire the more nuts and bolts skills, but most importantly, the way you’ll learn and get better is to just make content.
Q. What is the one thing people might be surprised to learn about the editing process?
A. People might be surprised at the amount of work that needs to be done before anything is ready to share with a director or producer. For a documentary, there’s a long, long process of importing, viewing, logging, organizing, and distilling the footage before any semblance of an edit is started. If you’re given six weeks to edit a documentary, you’ll spend the first month at least in this process before actually beginning to cut the film.