SVA Dustys at 25: Q&A with Alumnus Katie Hetland

March 4, 2014

With the 25th Anniversary of the Dusty Film & Animation Festival just around the corner (May 10 – 13 at the SVA Theatre), SVA Close Up thought it would be a good time to check in with some of the College’s many successful alumni making names for themselves in the world of film, video and animation. katieagain200For the first installment of the series, the spotlight is on Katie Hetland (BFA 2008 Film and Video) who, aside from winning an Emmy Award in 2011 for her editing work on the HBO special Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden, has also worked with Disney, Google, the Oprah Winfrey Network and American Idol, to name a few. Hetland recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via e-mail.

When did you realize that filmmaking was what you wanted to do with your life?
I don’t think there was ever a specific moment in time that I knew it’s what I wanted, I just always did. I tried to shoot my first film at nine-years-old and just kept going at it every chance I got, and then I started to win a lot of festivals. I definitely had big dreams about making a career of it, but it wasn’t until I flew across the Atlantic to start a degree at SVA that I realized it could be real.

What makes a great film?
Anything that leaves an impression on you. Sometimes that means just really enjoying what’s on the screen as it happens, other times it’s about how it makes you feel days, weeks and maybe even years later. I remember having to sit through some films in Film History class at SVA that were pretty painful at the time, yet that I now keep finding myself referencing and thinking about often.

If you could have dinner with three filmmakers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Darren Aronofsky: He directed several of my favorite films, of which one in particular is responsible for me being drawn into the field of editing (Requiem for a Dream).

Aaron Sorkin: A brilliant dialogue writer and I can only imagine what getting into a conversation with him would be like.

Sally Menke: The fact that Quentin Tarantino had a female editor made a huge impression on me. I love all her work and it is so, so sad that we lost her so soon.

If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, what gets you out of it?
This is probably going to make everyone in art school cringe and shake their heads in dismay, since it’s usually whisky and cigarettes in dark, fumy rooms that is considered the norm for visionary birth, but I do the opposite—I seek fresh air and activities that get the blood flowing. I spend most my life in a chair in front of a computer, so it’s amazing what ideas and storylines can magically pop up into your brain by just changing scenery. But if you don’t want to get on your feet, get your hands on a deck of Oblique Strategy cards. If you don’t know what they are, you should find out.

How did your time at SVA prepare you for what you’re doing today?
In one way, I want to say that nothing at film school could have ever prepared me for what met me when I came to Hollywood. I don’t actually think it can be taught; you need to experience this industry first hand in order to understand it. But SVA gave me the foundation for and skills needed to navigate it. I learned everything I needed to know about my craft at SVA, and at the end of the day that is what it all comes down to. Three years after graduating from SVA majoring in editing, I won an Emmy for best editing. That says a lot.

What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
Find out what you really want. Make a plan to achieve it. In that order, and be as specific as possible. Then keep revisiting both as they change (they will) and adjust everything in your life around it. Oh, and stop wasting time on Facebook.

Image: Photo of Katie Hetland by Roy Moss.

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