Picture Editor x Picture Editor: Nick Hector & Jordan Hayles

Picture Editor Nick Hector (whose most recent production, The Man Who Stole Einstein’s Brain, is premiering at Hot Docs this month) sits down with fellow Picture Editor Jordan Hayles (of the hotly-anticipated Director X series Robyn Hood) to chat about their paths to film and television, the merits of expanding your professional horizons, and why empathy is one of the most important qualities of a great Editor.

Jordan: Hey Nick, how’s it going?

Nick: Good, Jordan. Nice to meet you. Hopefully, we can meet in person sometime soon.

Jordan: Absolutely! How have you been holding up with the work-from-home situation? It’s been an adjustment for all of us, but it seems like you have more experience with it. Have you been prepared for this work-from-home lifestyle?

Nick: Strangely, I’ve actually spent most of my career working from home. However, just before COVID hit, I was starting to take steps to integrate myself back into society to work with people, as I was getting a little tired of being alone. And then the pandemic struck, so now I’m back to where I started.

Jordan: Yeah, I used to work around people too, in offices and suites and stuff. Personal projects are great to work on at home, but once I was forced into working from home full-time, I really missed the human interaction and the collaborative aspect of editing. But thankfully, I had some opportunities to work in person last year and even now, which offers a nice balance. It’s necessary for the soul. So, while I do enjoy working from home, I also need human interaction.

I’m curious about your experience with Post Production and Picture Editing. How did you get started, and what’s your background?

Nick Hector: Long story short, I was always interested in editing. I had an inspirational high school teacher who taught this Great Cinema Arts class. This is the 1970s in rural southwestern Ontario, but in that class, I think six of us ended up being professionals in the industry. That’s extraordinary when you think about the business in English Canada, which, at the time, was made up of maybe 4,000 workers. I knew I wanted to be an Editor, but I didn’t really have a vision of what exactly I wanted to do. One weekend at a small-town film festival, I saw Sturla Gunnarsson’s Final Offer and Allan King’s A Married Couple, and that’s when I knew I wanted to specialize in feature documentaries. I started off as a researcher and was lucky to enter the film industry around the time when digital technology was coming in. I embraced these new ideas quickly, so I never worked as an assistant. I was able to work on small documentaries for shows like The Fifth Estate and The Journal. Most of those Directors wanted to work on feature documentaries, so when they “hit the big time,” they would take their whole team with them, which led me to specialize in feature documentaries in the late 80s and early 90s. How about you? 

Jordan Hayles: That’s a great history! Thank you for sharing it with me. I remember when I was nine years old, my dad took me on a tour of CBC, and I got to see the set of The National. I saw the big chair, the desk, the lights, and everything, and I was just captivated. 

As a kid, I was always talking, and I loved listening to the radio. I thought that maybe one day I could be a radio VJ or an emcee. But it wasn’t until high school that I got to explore my passion for media. I went to Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, which had its own TV studio setup, lighting grid, and master control room. When I started high school, editing was still done on tape-to-tape DVC Pro, but in grade 11, I was introduced to Avid when it was Express Pro. I did a mashup trailer of Corpse Bride and The Transporter, and I loved putting it all together and realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do as a career. So I went to Mohawk College for three years, and after graduating, I got an internship with Triangle Post, which is now Jaxx. I networked with a colorist there, who introduced me to his then-girlfriend, now-wife, who was a Post Supervisor at RTR Media. I finally landed my first job as an Assistant Editor in 2013, working on factual shows like Lost and Sold and BBQ Crawl. My big break came when I joined Vice as an Assistant Editor, and eventually landed my first editing credits on shows. Even after being laid off from Vice, I continued to work on other shows, including a season of Carnival Eats for Alibi Entertainment, and MLSE.

The first scripted content I worked on was an independent web series called Next Stop, and it eventually got picked up by CBC Gem. Once that took off, I got into the union, which had always intimidated me due to the qualifications required. Through the success of Next Stop and networking, I got the opportunity to work on Tallboyz season three. My career progressed from there, and I’ve never looked back since. I still have goals, such as working on feature-length narrative and documentary films and longer series, but I’m not limiting myself, and I know I have the skills to achieve them.

Nick Hector: That’s a fantastic story. It’s so interesting how you laid out what your immediate goals were and that you were able to achieve them quickly, and now you just recalibrate and figure out what’s next for you. What’s your next project?

Jordan Hayles: Right now, I’m working on season two of We’re All Gonna Die (Even Jay Baruchel). They just won a couple of Canadian Screen Awards for season one, which is great. It’s a half-hour, six episode series. It’s kind of a call back to my time on Vice, doing that doc series work. It’s really niche, but it’s also fun and informational. I also just came off of doing some work for a project called Sounds Black, which is a doc series about the history of Black Canadian music, and that was a great experience as well. It’s just so exciting to dip into different genres and see where your skills can carry over, but also how to build those skills for the next job. 

“But I think, at the end of the day, I can cut, I know how to tell a story, and I know how to execute when it comes to being technically proficient in Avid or Premiere Pro. If there’s a script in front of me, I know how to translate it.”

Picture Editor Jordan Hayles

Nick Hector: So, one question I have for you is, when I was reading about you and your impressive IMDb credits, I realized that we work in an industry, in English Canada especially, that tends to favour specialization. Earlier in my career, I worked a lot in Montreal, and there it felt like, as long as I could deliver the goods, I could work in every genre in any field. People wouldn’t reject me just because I was known for feature documentaries or informational television. I could be open to everything and work with a lot of flexibility. But in English Canada, particularly Toronto, the industry has become so specialized that I wonder if you’ve found that your diversity of skills works against you.

Jordan Hayes: It did initially. Even when I was working on Robyn Hood, I almost wasn’t considered for it because I didn’t have any drama credits to my name. The closest that I got to drama was doing doc series at Vice. Because my introduction to the scripted world was in comedy, they liked to pigeonhole me and just say, “Okay, well, you’re the comedy guy.” So when I wasn’t doing comedy, it was like, “Well, I can do other stuff, too.” Working at MLSE for almost two years was a different type of editing as well because it was more like advertising, with that fast turnaround, high-octane energy, and dealing with big brands.

My diversity wasn’t even intentional. It just happened to be how it was. But I think, at the end of the day, I can cut, I know how to tell a story, and I know how to execute when it comes to being technically proficient in Avid or Premiere Pro. If there’s a script in front of me, I know how to translate it. We all watch TV, and we all get a sense of pacing, especially Editors. It’s actually harder to cut comedy because you have to be funny. The performances have to be good, but it’s the way you put it together for reactions, not just for yourself but for the audience. Drama is more about pulling out other emotions.

I have been passed up for an opportunity to work on a doc series because I didn’t have enough experience in that department, dealing with recreations or heavy subject material. But I know how to edit, I know how to work with a Story Editor and a Story Producer, and how to manage my workflow as it pertains to notes and turning those around. These are the fundamental things that you need and require for an Editor. I’ve just been persistent, and I don’t necessarily dwell on opportunities I’ve lost. I like to think, “Okay, what can be gained here?” and move on to the next project. I get that survival mode from my mom. I’m just always on the hustle. I think that’s why, when you look at my assembly of credits, it’s so diverse, but I love it. 

I have a question for you: what has it been like to start off in one era and progress through so many different technological advances in Post Production? How has that adjustment been for you, especially as workflows and turnaround times are getting tighter and there are more productions in Canada than we’ve ever had before? 

Nick Hector: When I started as a junior Editor, I was the first Canadian to use Avid for documentaries. I taught some older Editors how to use it, but one Editor really hated it and asked me, “What is the machine asking me to do?” At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous question, but now I realize that machinery makes recommendations and steers you in a certain direction. I think a lot about the process because it shapes how we make our films. Technological changes like ratios have allowed us to work on films with a ratio of two or three-hundred and fifty to one, but we have to find ways to get through the material faster. However, I worry that technology has distanced us from the material and that people are making decisions based on transcripts and their own subjective ideas before working with the material. They think they know the subject before they know the material. This can perpetuate systemic beliefs and poses problems like systemic racism and sexism. My concern is how technology has changed the field of documentary film editing.

Jordan Hayles: It definitely is a big adjustment. And Editors are expected to know everything and watch all the footage, which is something people often overlook when putting together productions. This is especially true for documentaries, where everything is built in the edit suite. You’re taking interviews, videos, and other assets to create a story, and you have to live with it, sit with it, and care about it. You want to translate it in a way that respects the material. The role and responsibility of an Editor is very empathetic.

“I worry that technology has distanced us from the material and that people are making decisions based on transcripts and their own subjective ideas before working with the material. They think they know the subject before they know the material. This can perpetuate systemic beliefs and poses problems like systemic racism and sexism. My concern is how technology has changed the field of documentary film editing.”

Picture Editor Nick Hector

Nick Hector: I agree with you that people are going through transcripts to find the story instead of watching the footage because of tight timelines and deadlines. I’m working on a project now where we’re looking at how the editing process impacts the form. We’re taking the rushes from one story and cutting it into two different workflows to see how it compares. The gentleman who has generously agreed to let us use the footage was wrongly accused of the vehicular manslaughter of his own kids. It’s a very complicated, rich story, but when the local TV news covered it, they had an afternoon to cover the whole story. They had to figure out what the story was about before they even started filming. This was an extremely short turnaround, so they went at it and basically pronounced him guilty. They were funding visual verification of their preconceived ideas before they started filming. Whereas if you go in and film with an objective lens, and you just see what’s happening and let it unfold, you realize there’s way more to the story. It’s interesting that this man could directly see the relationship between the process and result, and how vulnerable documentary filmmaking is to subjective decision-making. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s something that fascinates me. I do worry about the distance that technology creates between us. You had some great thoughts earlier about how empathy is one of the most important qualities of the Editor. Somehow it feels like being able to scan through the material or just read rather than hear it reduces that empathy.

Another question for you: is there a moment from your career that you would consider a highlight or especially memorable?

Jordan Hayles: In 2019, when I was working at MLSE, I was brought in as a supporting Editor for the marketing team to create NBA playoff hype videos and other brand materials, including work for OVO. This was just before the Raptors’ playoff run. As the team progressed through the playoffs, I ended up editing the championship video that was shown right after they won. It was an incredible moment for me because I had been a fan of the Raptors since I was a kid and had grown up around some of the players’ friends. When they won, I was out watching the game, and as soon as they did, I texted my friend who was the Producer on the project and said, “They’re gonna show the video!” Even as I was cutting it, I realized how significant this moment was for me personally and professionally. It was the only time I’ve ever cried in an edit suite because it was such an emotional experience.

Winning my first editing award at the Vancouver Independent Film Festival is also a moment that stands out for me. It was for a short film called Gray Area that I worked on with my friend Keesha Chung. She’s a great Producer and Director, and it was her first film. We started working on it together right at the start of the pandemic shutdowns, and it was a challenging but rewarding project. Winning the award was an incredible feeling, especially given everything that was going on in the world at the time.

And, of course, getting a championship ring from MLSE after the Raptors won was very special. How about you?

Nick Hector: So earlier, I talked about how Allan King inspired me to make films. In the late 90s, I got a phone call from Allan King, and he asked if I would be interested in working with him. At first, I thought it was a prank call from one of my friends because they knew how much I idolized him, so I told him to go fuck himself and hung up. But when the phone rang again a few minutes later, I realized it might actually be Allan King, so I picked it up. He was a very classy guy and pretended as if nothing had happened, and we ended up working together on all of the films he made for the rest of his career.

Another moment I’m proud of was when I worked on a documentary series in Eritrea about the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. When there was a peace arbitration between the two countries, they showed our film as part of the peace settlement process. While it was just a small part of a bigger thing, it felt good to know that I had contributed something that maybe helped bring some peace to that part of the world.

But I guess the smart thing for me to say, Jordan, is that I met my wife in an editing room. So maybe that’s the most memorable moment. 

Jordan Hayles: How did that connection come about? Were you guys working on the same project?

Nick Hector: When Avid came out, she was working in communications and had put together a reel, a really high ratio thing. She’d heard about this new, fancy nonlinear editing technology and thought it was a good fit for her project. She had also heard about me and my work with Avid, so that’s how we ended up meeting.

Jordan Hayles: That’s a beautiful story. 

In terms of our varying levels of experience, I’m curious to know what you’ve learned about yourself throughout your career as an Editor. With diversity becoming more of a buzzword, it’s encouraging to see real initiatives being taken to bring in Editors from different backgrounds and not just relying on the same old “white guys.” How have you observed this shift, and where do you see the future of editing going in terms of the style and diversity of those contributing to the storytelling?

Nick Hector: Fantastic question. I have to frame this by acknowledging that I work in a very progressive bubble, both in my personal life and in my field of progressive politics in documentary film. So, while I won’t say that we don’t have a problem – we certainly do – I’m aware that the problem is much worse outside of my field. It’s something that I, and everyone I’ve been connected to, have actively worked towards improving through hiring and mentoring.

One of my concerns about the industry was that it favoured privileged white kids with technical literacy who had an edge going into university. They were comfortable with the gear and had their own tools and access, which gave them an advantage. I’ve tried really hard to widen the scope and engage with passionate, dedicated filmmakers who just aren’t given the right opportunities. I provide mentorship opportunities to ensure that people who are passionate and dedicated can succeed.

While there are many great things about technology, one of the problems is that it’s become too siloed. When I worked on a film in 2016, I never met my Assistant, who was working in Vancouver while I was editing and filming in Toronto. This remote working experience left me feeling like I wasn’t able to contribute to her education. As time went on, Assistants were in Boston and other distant locations. Expanding mentorship and providing more than just employment opportunities is essential. It’s about teaching and sharing the knowledge we’ve gained from the giants who came before us.

Jordan Hayles: I feel fortunate that I had people who were generous enough to lend their time and give me advice when I was just starting out as an Editor. It can be really intimidating to try to figure out how to get onto a show or get into the industry in general, so I try to give back by sitting down with young people who are just starting out and need some guidance. I know that someone did that for me, and it made a huge difference.

Not everyone was encouraging, of course. I remember when I was 17 and doing a co-op at a production company, one of the Editors told me, “You don’t want to get into this. You want to go cure cancer, kid.” That stuck with me, but I also knew that not everyone felt that way. I’m grateful for the people who did support me, like Maureen Grant, a great Picture Editor who served as a mentor to me.

That’s why I like to volunteer my time with the Nia Center for the Arts, which is focused on helping BIPOC students find their footing in the media industry. I meet with students from various disciplines and offer advice on how to make better YouTube or Instagram videos or whatever else they need help with. There are so many different ways to break into the industry and showcase your skills, especially with social media.

I remember when I wasn’t on shows regularly, I would cut my own videos and put them on Twitter or YouTube. That’s how the Executive Producer of A Little Late with Lilly Singh found me. He followed me on a Twitter thread of Black Editors who were putting their names out there, and he thought I was talented. It’s really important to put yourself out there and make it known that you’re available and skilled.

I even branded myself with a logo and a brand name, “STiXX EDiTZ,” which comes from my nickname “STiXX” because I was really skinny. Going to events and talking to people, I found that a lot of them didn’t even know there were Black Editors. It’s common for me to be the only person who looks like me in a room, but I know that it’s possible for someone else to come after me and succeed. Whether I’m the first or the first in a while, it’s important for other people to see that they can do it because I’m doing it.

Nick Hector: Beautifully said, thank you. I just can’t follow that!

Jordan Hayles: Well, even when I was a kid, I just loved to talk, and preaching runs deep in both sides of my family. My mom’s grandmother was a pastor, and my grandfather preaches at the church I grew up in. It’s just in me. But gaining perspective through personal and professional experiences and the myriad of nonsense that life provides has added so much clarity to treating people with kindness. That’s the biggest thing my mom taught me – to be kind to people. We live in a time where everything is hustle and gig work, and people are expected to have eight jobs at once. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take your time and slow down to focus on what you really want to do. I’m good at my job and getting better, but I also know my limitations. I’m not aiming to be a one-size-fits-all type of Editor. I’m great at storytelling, but not so much with visual effects. That’s fine because I’m not a VFX Editor. It takes a village to support everybody, and that’s why I don’t charge for advice. Nobody charged me when I sought their help, so why should I charge? I just hope that people do better and pass it along. We should support people’s dreams as long as they want to indulge in them.

Nick Hector: That’s wonderful. I’d love you to come and speak at my school at some point.

Jordan Hayles: I’m down!

Nick Hector: I’ll hold you to that. That’d be awesome.

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