The Final Cut LA editor speaks to Addison Capper about helping edit ‘Beastie Boys Story’, the importance of understanding others for great storytelling, and why a life as a sculptor wasn’t for her
Zoe Schack has a love of storytelling and desire to understand other people that she pays thanks to her family for. She grew up in a conservative Jewish family to an engineer / philosopher father and a mother who was a science teacher and environmentalist.
“The conversations I had with my parents about community and the environment instilled a passion for politics and the world around me,” she tells me. “Stories about our family history were the highlight of holidays and get-togethers. My father used to tell me how important it is to put myself in other people’s shoes, to see things from different perspectives.”
Today, Zoe puts that into practice as an editor. After three years as an assistant editor, Zoe was promoted to Final Cut LA’s editorial roster at the end of 2019. Fast forward to now and she finds herself nominated for an Emmy, which are set to be announced on the 20th of this month, for her work on Beastie Boys Story, the Apple-produced documentary about the hip hop group, which she co-edited for Spike Jonze with her colleague Jeff Buchanan.
“Beastie Boys Story has been the biggest turning point in my career,” she says, unsurprisingly. Jeff is Spike’s long-time editor and brought Zoe onto the project two years ago for the initial book tour. They received a drive of photos from the group’s initial book tour and all the research that went into the book. They cut photo montages for the book tour and went to rehearsals, working with the video projection team to prepare for the shows.
When it was decided to transform the book into a full-length film project, Zoe and Jeff were brought back onto the project. “It was wild to work with Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys,” she says. “They are legends. I have followed them for as long as I can remember. They each have a terrific sense of humour. It was so much fun to work with them. The scripts were changing till the last minute so we were re-cutting, receiving higher-res material, replacing footage and photos to the very last moment. Rehearsals were full of great stories and lots of laughter.”
Regarding the Emmy nomination, Zoe is pumped but acknowledges the weirdness of such an exciting moment taking place during a time of such uncertainty and division. “It doesn’t feel real in a sense since the world is falling apart,” she says. “But it is a bright light in the midst of so much insanity. I feel very lucky to have been part of telling their story and had a great time with it all.”
Growing up in a small hamlet north of New York, Zoe was always interested in art but her curiosities didn’t stop there. “I was very curious and interested in a lot of things,” she admits. “Sometimes I would watch operations on TV after school. Brain, eye, and heart surgeries are what I remember most. I was fascinated by science, the universe, and how stars were formed. I loved natural history, took art classes, and played the piano. I didn’t know where it would all lead. Clearly, I didn’t become a surgeon or an astrophysicist.”
In high school she took sculpting and figure drawing classes and was inspired by foreign films like Camille Claudel, about the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his muse, and documentaries like Cane Toads, which was about an invasive species that wreaked havoc on Australia’s native species. From there she began studying sculpting at the Rhode Island School of Design but eventually realised that a life as a sculptor wasn’t for her. “I wanted to be around people and gravitated to experimental film and art/video installations and then to documentaries. I transferred to the Tisch School at NYU and spent a semester abroad in Prague. Leaving the East Coast was a great change of perspective for me.”
Then there was a short stint working for an artist in Brooklyn and for an architecture firm painting watercolour renderings before landing on film as a focus. Her first foray into editing was an experimental dance art piece that she cut for a friend of her sister in exchange for helping her get a job in the industry. A short film entitled Dosa Hunt, about a group on the hunt for New York City’s best version of the Indian pancake, marked her first ever professional project. She was the editor and producer on the job. “The director would come to the office and we would order delicious NYC Indian food. It was a great experience but my waist line suffered,” she jokes. “The expansion paid off and it was accepted into a number of festivals.”
Eventually she switched coasts and moved to Los Angeles, shortly after joining the ranks at Final Cut as an assistant editor, working her way onto the editorial roster three years later. Zoe honed her crafts by “experimenting, trying things out, making bad cuts, watching good and bad movies”. She’s also thankful for the mentorship she has received at Final Cut from the likes of Crispin Struthers, Joe Guest, Jeff Buchanan, and Rick Russell. On top of Beastie Boys Story, she has edited branded content and commercials for Audi, Infiniti, Doritos, and Dollar Shave Club as well as music videos for Swae Lee and Whitney Woerz. She has also worked with some of the best directors in the world including Dougal Wilson, Ava DuVernay, Michel Gondry, Craig Gillespie and Steve Ayson.
“I love the creative process,” she says. “Collaborating with a director and helping them see their vision through. Making something flow. And ultimately editing something that we’re both excited about. I am extremely privileged and lucky to work with such incredible people… Relationships are so important - some of my closest friends are in the industry. You never know where your next job is going to come from. So cherish friendships and keep in touch with the people that support you.”
Zoe resides in the LA neighbourhood of Echo Park. She’s pleased that her volume of work increased in April after an initial month of lockdown obsessively reading about Covid-19, binge-watching shows, baking, starting a herb garden and catching up on sleep. “Work picked up at the end of April and it’s been non-stop as I’ve watched the world fall apart,” she says. “The work has been a distraction, however, it is depressing to read the headlines about our country’s ineptitude and the continual injustices that permeate our culture.”
When she’s not working, she’s keen on walking, hiking and riding her bike. Yoga, meditation and jumping jacks keep her “focused and fresh”, and she’s always happier with a book in her hand. She also takes solace in the daily comfort of making a cup of tea, especially during long work hours and lockdown. A notable lockdown achievement is getting an avocado seed to sprout after many failed attempts.
Unsurprisingly, a chunk of her spare time is spent consuming all manner of media, especially movies and series. Some of her favourite creators are Spike Jonze, Taika Waititi and Michel Gondry but one that she singles out is Ava DuVernay. “[She] is a big inspiration,” says Zoe. “She started as a journalist and became an incredible director. She also has a film distribution company that releases films by people of colour and women from all over the world. I’m proud to have been able to edit some of their theatrical trailers.”
Pride in her work and all-round enjoyment in what she does is a common theme while speaking to Zoe. “Working on meaningful projects gives me a sense of purpose and value,” she says. “Making a living telling stories is a gift that I want to honour as best as possible. It’s a process of continual growth that I love more than anything.”