Four-Time Emmy Winning Editor, Director and Producer Sean Olson’s Journey
Posted on: Feb 06, 2024
Sean Olson is a four-time Emmy-winning editor, director and producer whose most recent work can be seen in the family feature Camp Hideout, starring Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Corbin Bleu (High School Musical). The film comes after Olson’s recent success with films like Netflix’s Christmas Wonderland (Emily Osment), The Contractor (Danny Trejo), and editing credits on Wyatt Earp’s Revenge (Val Kilmer) –all while ringing in 4+ Emmys for his editing work on Extra and Crime Watch Daily.
Sean chatted with Staff Me Up about his journey from film school in Arizona, to being Creative Director and Head of Development alongside his friends at their company, Trash Panda.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I was a big fan of films when I was a kid. I watched everything. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., those types of movies. I ended up going to film school at the University of Arizona where we got to write, produce, direct and edit our own films. I did a short there, met a lot of friends [and] really got into editing. I really loved the editorial process and how you can shape and create a project through editing.
I ended up working in local news —my first job— in Phoenix and Denver for three years. I spent a lot of time learning Avid, which is the number one tool to edit on, and so I spent a lot of time doing that. I cut a documentary while I was there on domestic violence in Colorado, which was really a great opportunity and it’s such an interesting story to tell.
Then I came out to California like so many people. I started working on editing a show called Lifetime Now and Speaking of Women’s Health. The funny thing about that show is that our assistant night editor was Bill Hader. Years later, I’m working on another show with a buddy of mine who [also] worked on that show, and he’s like, “Did you see Bill Hader’s on SNL?” We were like, “Wait, what? The night editor?”
I ended up working on a bunch of other television shows for probably between 12 and 15 years. I [later] transitioned into directing. I did my first film with Danny Trejo, called The Contractor. I did a number of other films, of all different genres, everything from Lifetime thrillers to Hallmark to independent sci-fi features.
I love genre films. I got to do my most personal film, Freddie, which was a sci-fi film about a kid who finds a robot in the forest outside of his house. I met my future business partner working on that film. He does creature effects and all sorts of sci-fi, Marvel costumes and that type of stuff. Now we have our own company where we’re working on our first creature feature.
How did your background help you transition into directing?
I think [learning editing] helped immensely. Editing: When you’re watching dailies and footage, you realize the pieces that maybe the filmmaker that you’re working with, maybe they missed something. Or how you can creatively put something together when you don’t have all the pieces, so that when you go on set and you’re directing a film, you realize, “Okay, these are the things that I need.” You may have a wishlist of, say, 10 shots for a scene, but then the clock is always ticking, and that 10 shots is like, “No, we don’t have time for 10. We have time for six.”
As an editor, you’re always thinking, “Well, what are the exact pieces I need to tell the story? And then if I have time for other shots, let’s do it and it’ll enhance the story.”
Is directing your passion, or do you kind of like everything?
I mean, I love the directing part because you really get to get in the mix of the story and get to develop the story and work with the cast and the crew. That’s the aspect that I love. But I love going into editing and reshaping [the narrative] and adding sound design and music and finding ways to manipulate the audience by how you’re cutting the scene together.
Are there particular genres you’re looking to work with at your company Trash Panda, or are open to any genre?
We’re kind of open to any genre. But at the moment, we’re leaning in towards the creatures, sci-fi, those types of films because that’s something that working with one of our owner’s other company, Quantum, which specializes in creatures and costumes. That’s what we used for Freddie.
Do you have a dream project that you kind of hope to work on?
The next one I’m really excited about, it’s called Paralyzed. It’s about a guy who’s found paralyzed in the middle of a forest, and these other campers find him and are trying to find help, trying to find a way out. The genre that I’ve always wanted to work with is creature horror. I’m a big horror, sci-fi junkie.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into directing and is just starting out?
Learn all the different crafts involved in making a film so you know what everybody does on set. Then learn how to work with actors, learn how to economize explaining something to actors. You don’t need to give this gigantic story about the backstory of a character and this and that while you’re on set. That’s something that you can talk about prior, but just try to find a way to spread the information that you want to give as efficiently as possible.
By knowing how everything works, you’ll have an understanding on how long something takes on set. Also learn to network. I’ve met a lot of people at film festivals, even in film classes in college starting out. Figure out how you’re going to tell the story in the most efficient way with the people you know and what you have access to.
Camp Hideout is now out on digital. Learn more about Sean.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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