When Liz Tate started Hootenanny, the Chicago-based post-production company she runs with co-founder Jim Annerino, the name set the tone for the kind of atmosphere she wanted to create: slightly goofy, genuine, welcoming, and comfortable. The name arose organically from Liz’s interest in playing music—a hootenanny is what she and her friends call getting together to jam.
“Calling ourselves Hootenanny sort of distinguishes us from other players in the market, just because it automatically projected a note of not taking yourself too seriously,” Liz explains. “It wasn’t a really macho-sounding name or a gutsy name; it’s almost a silly name. And I think that represents a part of our company that people enjoy.”
That warm and welcoming attitude informs Hootenanny’s work—and with name-brand clients like Aldi, McDonalds, Allstate, Bridgestone, and Walmart, it’s clearly paid off. It also goes hand in hand with Liz’s commitment to growing and mentoring editing talent. Liz caught up with Avid to share the advice she wants up-and-coming editors to know.
There’s work outside of New York and LA
Liz is living proof that there are thriving pockets of the industry outside of New York and LA (in fact, a TV show was shooting outside her window as we were speaking). After moving to Chicago to attend Northwestern, Liz has spent the last 30 years as an editor in Chicago, starting at a larger post-production company before starting her own business in 2008.
Liz gives back to the Chicago community where she’s built her career through her work with Free Spirit Media, a local non-profit that provides opportunities for youth of color interested in pursuing media careers to produce and distribute original content. “It’s a great way to open up horizons and find viable jobs for youth that are interested in the arts but may not know the outlet for it,” Liz says. Participants in the program have gone on to work in post-production, on local TV and film shoots, and in the journalism program at the Chicago Sun Times.
Don’t discount the benefits of a small shop
Much like you don’t need to move to Hollywood to get a job, you don’t need to join a large shop to get opportunities—in fact, Liz points out that smaller teams can get you the personal attention you may miss out on in a larger environment.
“People know your skills better, and you’re not being shopped around with ten other people. It’s easy for a rep to know you and know you well, and know the kind of personalities that might be a good fit for your clientele,” Liz explains. “I think when you’re at a bigger shop, it’s hard sometimes to get work unless you’re one of the top dogs. I think it’s a real strength to be at a smaller place.”
Liz and her co-founder Jim made a deliberate decision to limit Hootenanny’s size. Having come from Avenue Edit, a team that ranged from 60 to 70 people, they knew the headaches that came from being part of such a large team and sought to avoid them. “We both wanted to come to work every day and enjoy the people we were with and really get to know them and have everyone feel a part of the team. And we felt we could do that in a better way with a smaller group,” Liz says.
Work for someone who wants to amplify your voice
As one of very few women at the helm of a post house, she’s deliberate in her decision to brand Hootenanny as a woman-owned company. “Less than a third of the creative editors in Chicago are women, and it hasn’t changed a lot in the 30 years that I have been in this business,” Liz says. “Why are there so many white male editors in the chair? I don’t think it’s from a lack of talent of women and minority editors, but from a lack of opportunities. It’s important that diverse voices be amplified, and when you do that, you will find creative perspectives that speak to a wider range of the audience.”
Liz gives credit to Avenue Edit, where she started her career, for having gender parity in its workforce at a time when that was even more unusual than it is today. Still, she chafed at the assumption from agencies that “men cut beer and all the manly things, and women cut beauty products.” While she’s happy to report that women editors are less pigeon-holed today, she remains vocal about the ample room for improvement in elevating underrepresented voices across the post-production industry.
There’s more to the job than editing
Liz is committed to growing editors and promoting from within, so when she’s hiring new talent, she’s even more attuned to the skills outside of technical proficiency that make a difference in a team environment.
“You can have all the chops in the world on the creative side, but there’s a lot more to the job than that,” she says. “It’s being able to manage a room well and know how to deal with problems in a room full of clients. It’s about teamwork and being a team player. And then when I’m looking at assistants, I’m looking at how detailed they are, that they’re covering all the small parts of the job too, because it’s really important in our client service to make sure that every detail is covered and nothing slips through the cracks.”
Learn to edit music
One skill Liz tells every up-and-coming editor to learn is editing music well. “I don’t think anyone thinks about how much you end up editing music when you’re an editor,” she says. “It’s not the job of an audio engineer to edit music for you, and you will use that skill on every job.”
Liz considers her musical background a tremendous asset, from suggesting ideas for particular songs to cutting music so that it sounds like it was meant to score a 30-second commercial.
Make your workflow efficient
Another skill that goes unsung is knowing how to take advantage of technology to make your workflow more efficient.
Liz is a big fan of PhraseFind, which she uses extensively, particularly for documentary pieces. “Before PhraseFind, I used to do my own transcripts for a lot of the things that came in the door, especially if they didn’t have time to send them off or money to send them off. And when PhraseFind came along, I could just stop doing that.”
She also takes advantage of Media Composer’s new task-oriented workspaces, customizing each for her specific workflow and toggling back and forth as needed in order to streamline her production.
Push for the chair
Liz’s final advice to young editors? Simply this: to push for the chair. “Ask to edit anything you can get your hands on; it shows you’re hungry and increases your skillset,” she says.
And if you have a hootenanny of a time doing it, so much the better.