Jon Roberson is an Oklahoma-based editor whose assistant editing credits include “Possessions”, “Seven Cemeteries”, “We are Going – A NASA video”; and editing credits include internal videos for McDonalds and Under Armour. In addition to his work in the editing department he is a storyteller with a heart for collaboration.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I actually officially started in the film industry this past August (2021)! The majority of my experience comes from commercial editing. It’s something I have done full time for the past several years. I have always had an insatiable desire to work on movies and tell stories in the way only film and television can offer. The problem was for the most part that industry was seemingly everywhere else but here. Occasionally a production or two would come through, but good luck knowing anyone on set! Over the years there have been a couple occasions where I wanted to concede and move to one of the larger production hubs, however, due to circumstances I could never in good conscience bring myself to move. For years I felt stuck having such a desire to work on real movies, but never the means to figure out how to break in. Then came along the “Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021”. In my experience this quite literally changed everything. Since that act was signed I have had two productions reach out to me based upon my profile on the Oklahoma Film + Music website and graciously give me the opportunity to assistant edit for them.
Did you have any formal education or training related to the film industry before starting? Did you have any formal education or training related to your specific department on-set?
I do not have any formal education or training related to the film industry. Right out of high school I became an intern at my church in the production department. Our church is a little unique in that back in the day they actually produced movies and TV shows. So even though I was learning live production, there were several staff members who worked on those productions for years. Thankfully they were kind enough to answer my bombardment of questions. That was ten years ago and they still answer questions for me! I couldn’t be more thankful for their gift of wisdom. I also grew up with my mother being in stage productions and my father being a lighting guy and bending neon. So I have always been around productions in one way or another.
What are some of your most recent successes (credits or accolades) related to your career in the industry?
I would say a couple fun projects would be assistant editing for the films “Possessions” (Directed by Brent Cote, and produced by Next Entertainment in association with Paperclip Ltd.) and “Seven Cemeteries” (Directed by John Gulager starring Danny Trejo). Both productions were a wonderful experience. “Possessions” was particularly enjoyable because the director, Brent Cote, actually came over to my editing suite everyday for a couple weeks and we actually assembled a director’s cut of the film. Getting to work with him one-on-one for that time was such a great learning experience and was so much fun. Brent is such a nice guy to work with. So yeah, I would say those two projects would be my two favorite projects as of late.
What has your career in the state’s film industry taught you?
Never give up. For the longest time I thought I was the only one here who wanted to work on movies here in Oklahoma! Really, I actually thought that and wow I was wrong! Diving deeper into the community has taught me that we really have the chops to compete in this industry. We can do this!!
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
I really don’t want to sound like I am on repeat here, but assistant editing on two films back to back was such an honor. Trusting me to organize and put together a cut in preparation for the editor was truly an honor and humbling experience. It is something I have strived to do for so long that when it finally happened, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have worked on such projects. I would be humbled to work on more in the future.
What is your favorite aspect of working in Oklahoma’s film and television industry?
My favorite part of the Oklahoma film and television industry is that it’s here! Where I live! I don’t have to move anywhere to get the satisfaction of working on movies and tv shows! I am so thankful for the recent influx of productions.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone starting their career in Oklahoma’s film industry?
Persistence. Don’t give up just because someone doesn’t call you back or get back with you immediately. It’s a busy industry so most likely it’s not personal that someone didn’t get back with you. It still stings, but you can’t let that drag you down. Don’t let anything stop you from blessing the world with your art. We need your perspective and need to see what only you can show us.
Secondly, I will say to always stay humble and do the best job that you can, even on the small things. Please don’t cut corners just because nobody is looking. Eventually someone will notice and they won’t want to hire you anymore. Even worse, cutting corners could cost someone their life. Whether rigging something above people’s heads, prepping for a stunt, working with high voltage — fill in the blank — it’s just not worth it. No matter the pressure, please take a breath, relax and then do something the right way. Someone’s life could depend on it. I didn’t mean to turn this into a safety lecture, but lately I have seen too many people do lazy things that are just plain dangerous. If you’re just starting out, please learn to make safety a priority.
Finally, always strive to read the screenplay when you can and if you have time. Nothing sucks more than being a part of a production you don’t have a passion for or connect with in some way. It shows in your work when you don’t believe in something and you’re not doing anyone any favors. Never have I had someone decline giving me a script when I asked for one. Take the time. It only takes an hour or two depending on how fast you read. In my opinion, it significantly increases your productivity on set. You’ll always have questions about things, but getting some big answers out of the way ahead of time is a big help. On set or post production efficiency is almost always found in the preparation. Come prepared to set and rock it!
How does someone in your field/department best promote/market themselves to those hiring in your industry?
In editing I would say to not worry about trends. Trends come and trends go. Find your voice, your style, then run with it. Some people will love it and some people will hate it and that’s okay. You do you and let your work speak for itself.
On a more nuts and bolts note I would recommend reaching out to your local agencies and production companies. Starting out you’re most likely not going to be offered your dream position. Take the gig, learn, apply that knowledge and then grow from there. The right steps will come along at the right time. You just have to be patient and persistent.
Are there any local film organizations, resources or events that have been beneficial to you in your career?
The biggest resource I have are the people older than me who have been where I have been years ago. The people who are more experienced than I who are willing to pour into me and teach me something new. Those people are the biggest resource I have. Until you meet those individuals then I couldn’t recommend books enough. For seemingly anything you could want to learn there is a book on it. Two that have influenced me are.
Painting with Light by John Alton: This book was first published in 1949, but don’t let its age fool you! It has taught me so many lessons and really taught me to think out what it means to light a scene in such a way to convey a desired emotion. Light fixtures and techniques may change over time, but light itself and the emotion of light hitting a subject in a certain way doesn’t. It’s a wonderful resource, plus you learn a lot of history just by the fact that you’re reading a book that was written over 73 years ago.
In The Blink Of An Eye by Walter Murch: A well known book among editors, but if you haven’t read it, I would dare say it’s an essential read. Learning The Rule of Six is something I think about on a daily basis. Whether consciously to subconsciously, this book influences every cut I make. Who wouldn’t want to learn from the editor of “The Conversation”, “The Godfather Part II” and “Apocalypse Now”?
Finally, I would recommend getting good at reading screenplays. Third party ones written based upon the final film are fairly easy to obtain, but specifically I would recommend looking for the originals. There is a lot to be learned from reading the scenes that didn’t make the final cut. I really love the one for “The Shawshank Redemption”. There is an introduction by Stephen King and some very insightful notes by Frank Darabont himself about the production of the film.
What’s the one item you can’t live without on-set, and why?
Never underestimate the power of a radio earpiece that fits you well and is comfortable. It sounds trivial, but goodness having something in your ear that doesn’t hurt after wearing it all day is a marvelous thing. I can’t stand the kind that completely blocks one of your ears like an earplug and keeps you from hearing the outside world. I love the kind that still allows you to use your ear as an ear. Having an earpiece that allows you to hear your radio AND the outside world… dude… it will change your life.
Would your career be impacted without the state’s film incentive program? If so, how?
Absolutely my career would be impacted without the “Filmed in Oklahoma Act”. Based upon the information shared with me, the whole reason the first film I worked on was shot here was because their first prospect, Mississippi, spent up their recourses for their film incentive program. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but because they were out of budget for their year, the production decided to film here. They wanted a local editor to work with and I was graciously selected. So quite literally, without the incentives provided by the state I would have never worked on that movie. So thank you!
Where do you see yourself – AND – Oklahoma’s film industry in the next five years?
I would like to believe that I am sticking to this same path and mantra of creativity by doing things professionally and respectfully to my peers. Ideally I will be continuing to tell the stories that I have a burning desire to tell and continuing to collaborate with people on projects we all can be proud to be a part of. As for the Oklahoma film industry, I believe things will be just dandy. The natural disposition of people from around here, in my personal experience, is authentic and patient. I can say with confidence that I haven’t worked with too many professionals who have treated me poorly. There are so many kind and talented people around here that I am confident if we keep up this level of respect and professionalism, it will be impossible not to be attractive to have a production come here. Also, if some rumors are true then…. But, you know how rumors are. 🙂
What are you working on now or next?
Currently I am working on the editing for a couple commercials and on the hunt for the next feature to work on. I have also intentionally taken some time off in December to upgrade some equipment and give myself some time to prepare for this new year. I plan to work on several personal stories too so that’s fun!