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A Creative Conversation with Uppercut’s Micah Scarpelli and Lisa Houck



Founder/editor Micah Scarpelli and managing director Lisa Houck at the editorial and post-production company Uppercut, discuss lockdown success and company expansion

A Creative Conversation with Uppercut’s Micah Scarpelli and Lisa Houck

Photo credit: Sye Williams

A post-production and editorial company originally based in New York, Uppercut has recently expanded into Atlanta and is currently building its third office in Los Angeles. With such significant growth during a period of time that has been so volatile - a global pandemic and the great resignation impacting the industry by large - Uppercut has managed to flourish under adverse conditions. In their conversation, the Uppercut leaders speak about this expansion, their beginnings in the industry and keeping the soul of the company alive.

Since its inception in 2015, the edit and post house has gone from success to success under the leadership of Micah Scarpelli and Lisa Houck, who joined in 2020. A notable addition to Uppercut’s growing empire is the creation of the Racket Club music company that was born out of a partnership between Micah and Uppercut producer Nick Crane. This is just one example of the multifaceted approach that the leadership at Uppercut takes to post-production. Both Micah and Lisa describe the new Atlanta office and the - currently under development - LA office as ‘creative hubs’ for both internal and external creatives to utilise and collaborate in. 

As well as the new offices, in this creative conversation, Micah and Lisa speak to LBB about the importance of mentoring and investing in young talent, their own introductions to post-production and a refusal to focus on the ‘star’ editors and founders, in favour of uprising talent. 

LBB> What were your first experiences of the post-production world? Was it where you started your careers, or have you had varied experiences in the industry?

Micah> I didn't go to film school or anything like that. The first thing I did was buy myself a computer and my parents bought me a camera. I started making skateboard videos, which then parlayed into joining a creative organisation where we did live video mixing at events. An editor at Cutters was at one of the events and hired me as her assistant. That’s how I got into the industry and I worked my way up the ranks from there. 

Lisa> I started at the bottom and worked almost every step up - a path I’m super appreciative of. I begged my way into a role wiping down monitors and pulling patches in the machine room at an SF post facility and worked my way up to an assistant editor in the SF market. It was the first boom then and we were slinging .com edits like crazy! It was during these formative years that I learned the importance of details and that no matter how good the work is and how hard everyone worked, if you screw up on the final delivery it’s all for nought. To this day I am a stickler for making sure we have pristine systems in place for QC and a consistently perfect delivery process. 

After about two years assisting the best editors in SF I made the move to LA and was blessed to be connected to the Spotwelders team and began assisting and then producing for the world-class talent they had. Both editors and producers were the best in the business and I think it was here that my eyes opened to the level of service that really made an excellent shop stand out from the just ‘good’ shops. It was here that I learned that relationships are everything and our business is built on them.

LBB> Micah, how did you learn your craft as an editor? What inspires you nowadays regarding editing?

Micah> In the beginning, it was all on my own. The funny thing is that I learned on Adobe Premiere because that was the cracked program I could get when I was young and broke. Then, when I went to work for companies, they had expensive Avid stations. At that point, it became about having great mentors. The biggest mentor in my career was Vito DeSario, the owner of Version 2. I met him midway through my early days when he gave me my first job in New York. 

LBB> How have you managed significant growth during such an intense year and a half?

Lisa> We’re firm believers that times of upheaval and big shake-ups are times to reinvent, expand the model, build teams, and add capabilities. We opened our second office, in Atlanta - a 10,000 square foot space to serve the growing market there both in advertising and entertainment. We’re building a third office, in Los Angeles, that will open in the spring of 2022. Of course, new offices mean we’ve brought on world-class, award-winning editors to the roster, as well as deepened our relationship with several editors in the UK and Europe for stateside representation. More editors mean more support staff and to that end, we’ve added assistants, designers, producers, coordinators, and even expanded our finishing/VFX team. So, recruiting has never been more important.

Micah> One thing that’s really important to us is to take care of the team - both the existing members, so that they feel supported, mentored, and seen during the growth - and the new members, and how you integrate them. You must set a vision for who you want to be as a brand and what creative work you want to help shape and define you in the future.

LBB> Bearing in mind you started Uppercut in 2015, what are some things to consider when you have large growth in a short period of time?

Lisa> It’s about having the willingness to invest in your expansion. Micah is a person who puts his efforts, finances, and business movements into where his vision is. That's what it takes. He does it over and over. That's been so fun to work with because not a lot of people are willing to absorb that level of risk. The leaps and bounds that Uppercut and Micah have chosen to make these last two years are outstanding, especially considering that we've been through a pandemic and just two years ago, he was a one-office operation. 

Micah> Lisa and I are a really good pair with a similar vision for growth. I realised very quickly while I was down in Atlanta trying to get that office-ready - I needed someone to partner with me to help grow all these things. That’s when Lisa came aboard. In order to really go the extra mile every single time, you need the right people. 

Now, the experience of opening in Atlanta is helping us as we open in LA. We all know LA is the toughest market as far as competition for post-production, but we can’t resist a challenge. We have big ambitions for our presence there. Starting in 2018, I went from renovating our office in New York to opening our facility in Atlanta, and now building out LA, that’s 30,000 square feet worth of buildings in three different states. Oh, and we started a music company (Racket Club) during that time, too! So, it's a lot! But I don't ever want to be settled. 

Lisa> And it all comes full circle back to NYC as we’ve just signed a lease for an additional floor in our Flatiron building!

LBB> How did your partnership with Racket Club come about? Could you talk us through how this dynamic works?

Micah> (Racket Club co-founder) Nick Crane was working with us as a producer, and he really wanted to start a music company. I made a promise to him that we would do that together, I just needed some time. I kept good on my promise and we started Racket Club and he's one of the hardest working musicians and new business owners that I've ever encountered. It's not easy to start a company, let alone mostly running one on your own. That’s where Lisa came in. The three of us have been working a lot to try to scale Racket Club and I think the sky's the limit for the company. 

Lisa> It made so much sense, both as a benefit to our editors - to have that talent at arm’s reach - and as a benefit to our clients, to be able to give them tracks to work with and cut to. It's an all-around good thing for creative work. We really believe in it as part of the model, part of the future of post - to have those resources that you need close to you, so you can do your best work.

LBB> What are your intentions and aspirations for the new office in Los Angeles?

Lisa> To establish Uppercut LA as a visionary creative editorial and VFX shop. To cultivate a community that fosters creativity for our team, agency clients, directors, and to a larger extent, all members of the creative community here. Our capabilities will span traditional editorial, finishing, VFX, colour, music, and sound mixing. We’ve worked with our architects here to ensure our over 10,000 square foot space is designed with the idea of being able to host creatives and teams, even outside of our staff. With agencies and production companies downsizing on their real estate footprints we believe that creating space within our four walls will be a welcome opportunity for all. We're creating creative hubs. We’re designing open spaces for people to collaborate in groups or in private. We really want to create a nexus for creative people to come work in our studios with us. 

Micah> Absolutely. I think for a lot of us, one of the reasons why we got into this industry in the first place is because of our love for cinema. Some companies have already beaten us to this, but the end goal is to be able to produce our own original content. That was one of the reasons for opening our Atlanta office, and it’s a goal for us in LA too. I want Uppercut to be creating content. 

LBB> What are some benefits, both intentional and unrealised, of having offices in different parts of the US?

Micah> It gives us an in-person footprint for the various markets and access to more talent. Also, it gives each one of our editors and artists the ability to be exposed to different regions. To be able to have boots-on-the-ground and build relationships in each region is a game-changer. 

Lisa> Right. Everything in this business is based on relationships. I think for us, we really want to keep our editors working in all markets, but it’s helpful if the support staff is localised to where the agency is. They may have deeper relationships and understand the traditions of post better in that region. There are little differences in traditions between the west and east coasts, as far as the post-process goes. 

LBB> What are your thoughts on attracting new talent in an ever-evolving industry?

Lisa> It starts with the fundamental universal aspect of connecting on a human level and establishing a basis of trust and mutual respect. After that, it’s about understanding the nuances of what is important to each editor when considering a new home and being honest about that alignment. 

It’s also really important today to see talent being ambitious and smart with how they navigate their own relationships in order to keep growing. The old model of management or reps being the only source of new opportunities is long gone. Thanks to social media and everyone being accessible and connected you see the most successful people being the ones using those channels to self propel.

You often see companies grow and become so big that they focus only on the huge editors and forget about the rising talent. For me what makes talent that much more desirable or interesting is when I see their creative point of view, beyond just their editing reel. I really admire and are blown away by talent who are using all the resources free to them to network, grow, and be in charge of their own careers. 

Micah> I think another thing that has been important to me as a business owner and as someone who is trying to make sure we're building a good culture, is that we're getting people that care about the company and the team as much as they care about themselves and their success. I've worked at a lot of companies along the way and the atmosphere can feel negative if it gets too competitive. Of course, we want people who are driven and have a vision and challenge themselves to do great work. But we also want people who care about the interpersonal stuff, who treat each other well. The feeling you get when you’re with this group of people every day is what ultimately makes it a nice place to work.  

LBB> What are your favourite aspects of working in post-production?

Micah> Group creativity. I honestly believe that creativity is strongest when you’re in the room together, brainstorming new ideas. I know Zooms have been making us more efficient during this time, and not having to commute is nice, but I do believe clients are coming back to the shops. I also believe that agencies will continue to downsize their office spaces and we will eventually become the go-to hangout for a lot of these people to go and create their ideas. I mean, part one of the reasons why I picked the Atlanta location is that right outside our doors is a beer garden and lots of hangout areas for people. Our facilities should be a place where they can come, create, and congregate. Meet other people or host an event. We’re here to be a creative hub. We just so happen to have edit rooms, too.

LBB> How has post-production evolved since you started in the industry? And where do you see it going in the future?

Lisa> Personally, I see the future of post continuing to blur lines with production and original content creation. Uppercut has several productions under our belts. We have clients who come to us, not only to handle production but also to help do creative concepting. Everyone has seen the rise of the editor/director hybrid, especially over the course of this pandemic, and that’s also given rise to seeing some editors stand out as bigger picture creative thinkers. 

Micah> I’m glad to see the industry becoming much more aware of the interpersonal part of what we do. The importance of creating a workplace where people feel valued is huge. We put in so many goddamn hours and weekends in this business, the last thing anyone wants is to be abused. You have to make sure that you’re building a positive environment with people working to support each other. Otherwise, there's no reason for them to even want to come to work.

LBB> Which Uppercut projects are you most proud of? And which stand out as learning or turning points in the industry or your careers?

Micah> I’m so proud of the work our editors do every day, it’s pretty much impossible to choose favourites. So for me, this is more of a list of projects that were real leaps forward for us, ones that pushed us further down the path that we’re on now.

An earlier one is The Wedding for Volvo. Matt O’Rourke, who was ECD at Grey at the time and is CCO of 22squared now, brought me in on it. This was one of those projects that set the stage for an ongoing creative partnership and friendship, which I think is one of the best ways to work. You learn to trust each other, and there’s a shorthand that makes the process so much easier. And it makes for better work. 

Lisa> I think another one would be the Get Out the Vote piece we did for the Georgia Senate race last year, Listen Up, Georgia Senate. This project was a direct result of our new office in Atlanta and is a great example of how local knowledge and culture manifest themselves in the work we do. It’s also a stellar example of rolling up our sleeves to pull off a full production through post, all under one roof. Micah and I came together as creative leads and lead the production team and our Uppercut post artists. It was a real labour of love and helped turn the GA Senate blue.

Google’s Business As Usual, which is about Google’s Search Black-Owned business initiative, is another piece of work that I think really illustrates a sweet spot for us. The piece was edited by Tyler Horton, who collaborated with the director Joshua Kissi of division7 on the project. Joshua’s work is so impressive and he’s just lovely to work with, it was a dream collaboration. We love seeing our young editing talent partner with the next generation of directorial talent; it’s a glimpse at the future of the industry and a reminder of how important it is to be mentoring the next wave of new talent.

Micah> We also have to include a recent project we did for the Ad Council and Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Don’t Wait Reach Out. This is a very moving, cinematic piece that takes on an important issue - Veteran’s mental health. This was Milena Z. Petrovic’s first project after her signing with us, and we are honoured to have been a part of it. What makes it even more powerful is that it was brought to life by Milena and her longtime collaborator, director Jovan Todorovíc. We want to be a place that supports ongoing collaborative relationships like this, and we are invested in making sure that we are. 

LBB> What is a recent challenge that you or Uppercut had to face? How did you overcome it?

Lisa> Staffing is incredibly tricky during this time as we all know, with employees and candidates being highly sought after and wanting to define a new model of working. Navigating that on top of our fortunate position of rapid growth and success adds another layer. 

Micah> Lisa and I probably spend 50% of our day talking about recruiting, not just for talent but also for support. It used to be a buyer's market for companies like ours, we could always pull people out of NYU, or from another shop, and it was not a problem. It’s really difficult right now. 

Lisa> We’re taking a very strategic approach, bringing on great editors and showing off new work, which in turn is helping us attract additional talent. 

Micah> And we've thankfully kept almost every single person that we had from the beginning of the pandemic, which I think is a testament to our culture. I know a lot of other places have had challenges with people quitting because they just didn't want to deal with the hours and the demands anymore.  

LBB> After your recent expansions, is there any sign of slowing down? What’s in the pipeline for Uppercut?

Lisa> No rest for the weary! We have our Los Angeles office opening in the spring of 2022, new partnerships with complementary companies, continued growth in the roster and team…

Micah> I had an editor that we're trying to court in New York and you know, he's familiar with all the other shops, too. And he asked me, how many editors do we intend to have? And I told them it's probably about six or seven in each of our markets. I don't really know the reason to go too crazy beyond that - you start losing a little bit of the soul of the company.

Lisa> Right now, so much of what we do is keeping the soul of the company alive, especially with this pandemic and remote work. It takes a lot of diligence. So, I can't imagine if we had a giant roster and how much it would take to keep everyone feeling engaged. We don't ever want to be disengaged from our talent and our people.

LBB> Do you have any advice for people or small businesses entering into the industry today?

Micah> Invest in new talent. Mentorship is incredibly important to me. When I came to this industry it was all about apprenticeship. You would put it in your hard work and then you in turn would find the assistants who were diamonds in the rough. You work them up to be editors and one day, they'll own their own companies or become partners. In the short time that Uppercut has been around we've promoted two of our junior editors to editors. And I see many more happening down the line. 

I think a lot of companies founded these days are focused on the founders - they are the stars. That’s just the way it’s run. I don't care about any of that. I find much more happiness in creating the future stars of the company.

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Uppercut Edit, Mon, 15 Nov 2021 17:08:00 GMT