By Randi Altman
Timothy Dixon is creative director/lead editor at New York City-based Jarrett Creative Group. They are an independent production company specializing in reality shows such as TNT’s Boston’s Finest, TLC’s Alaskan Women Looking for Love, TVGN’s Mother of all Talent, and paranormal fare like the long-running Celebrity Ghost Stories, The Haunting Of and I Killed My BFF.
His job is to translate the vision and ideas of the executive producers to what is seen and heard on the screen. “I’m tasked with creating the individual looks and sounds for all of the company’s new projects,” he says. “A one-liner will tell you what a series will ultimately be about, but rarely does it tell you what that series will look like or what it will sound like.”
Dixon says once a project is given the go-ahead, “the early fleshing-out of the visual and auditory styles will affect how the project will be shot on set or in the field. It will give a framework to the initial editing in terms of pacing, use of voiceover/interviews and it will sketch out the role the soundtrack and sound design will play in telling the story.” His job is a split between the design of concept and the actual editing of that concept.
Let’s get to know his job a bit more.
When did you start working at Jarrett Creative?
I started working for Seth and Julie Jarrett about seven years ago when the company was still young. From the outset, Seth and I were on the same page in terms of what we wanted from the first few projects.
At the time, Jarrett Creative was just starting to develop an idea for a new twist on the paranormal/reality genre, which was gaining popularity at the time. The task was to figure out how to make a paranormal show that felt different from what was out there.
Their idea, for what would become Celebrity Ghost Stories, was the beginning of hundreds of discussions Seth and I would have over the next seven years making his ideas come to life — from concept to shooting to edit.
I was in a wonderful position as a young editor to be working directly with the owner of a company as he laid out his vision to make something new and exciting.
Can you talk about your process?
The process remains the same today as it did back then. We threw ideas back and forth and shared film and TV clips of shots, camera angles and special effects that we wanted to emulate.
It wasn’t long after I started that I was introduced to one of Seth’s favorite sayings: “Let’s pretend for a second that time and money are no object. What would we do?” Those are the two things everyone has to worry about in every job in the world. It’s incredibly effective at the start of a project to cast those concerns aside and start thinking about the grandest thing imaginable. Then we work backwards from that to make it fit the budget and schedule that’s already on the table.
Nothing about the idea for Celebrity Ghost Stories led anyone to believe it could sustain, but there was something created in that pilot that lasted for six seasons and 96 episodes. There was even an SNL spoof three days after the show premiered.
How did the success of Celebrity Ghost Stories change your job?
It led to many more opportunities for me as an editor and I continued to work directly with Seth and Julie as they developed, sold and created the work that grew the company. A direct trust was born between me, the editor, and Seth and Julie, the creators/executive producers. Up until that point, this was rare in my experience in television.
When the company was just starting out, there weren’t any senior VPs or heads of programming between the owners and the room where the ideas were taking shape. The owners were in there with me. As the company grew and more series were being produced, those early discussions about what we imagined a show to look like continued, and continue to this day.
Boston’s Finest is very successful. How did that begin?
When this project, co-produced by Donnie Wahlberg, came along it followed the same process. Seth and Julie laid out what they wanted to do, and Seth and I spoke about how we could make a show about police officers and the city of Boston feel like something new under the far-too-reaching moniker of “reality television.”
So that’s what led to the title of creative director/lead editor?
Yes. It was clear that I understood them and that they entrusted me to work, explore and push the ideas that are in my head for their projects. I like to think that they’ve handed me the world’s biggest coloring book.
From what I’ve seen in the industry, this model of a trusted editor becoming the company’s de facto creative director is becoming more common. Executive producers/owners are finding that having that one person that they can trust, creatively — across the spectrum of shows a production company needs to have to be successful — is vital. I’m extremely lucky that I was given the opportunity to fill that role back when it wasn’t as common.
What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
What’s most surprising to me, even having been in the job for a few years, is the involvement on so many projects, at so many levels, that goes beyond sitting at the Avid.
As the company grows, so do the needs to expand and use the successes of one series on the next. I still edit picture and sound quite a bit, but the creative work and development extends to graphic packaging, working with composers to create original music, writing, development of projects that extend beyond what most television production companies turn out, etc.
The day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour, bounce between projects across the spectrum of comedy, drama, paranormal, reality and development is a bit foreign to an editor who has been used to focusing on one series or one episode for the duration of a gig.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
It’s that I still spend the majority of my day in front of the Avid Media Composer. I’m, in a sense, still getting to work with my hands, which is what I want to be doing.
Seth and Julie and I have a wonderful shorthand; they can see from very early stages of my work where I’m going with their ideas, and we can modify, expand on or completely change course very early in the process. This allows for more time to try new things, to push the limits a bit.
How early did you know this would be your profession?
I did a few film school summer sessions while I was in college (which did not have a film program), and after learning the basics from writing, casting, lighting, camera work, directing to editing, and it was editing that I enjoyed the most. My first job out of college was as a PA. I watched the editors and wanted to do what they did.
I was extremely lucky to be paired with an editor early on who let me sit in with him. He’d edit out loud… talking me through what he was doing. It was there that I realized that it’s easy to learn the buttons; it’s the craft that takes time to figure out.
What is the project that you are most proud of?
Done at completely different times in my career… it’s a toss-up between Boston’s Finest for TNT and the independent documentary Meeting David Wilson.
Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My MacBook, my Bamboo Tablet and an iPad Mini for my commute.
What social media channels do you follow?
Twitter and Tumblr for most of the industry driven content I follow.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I cannot listen at work, but I listen on the subway. What it is varies depending on what I’ve been working on that day. I will say that Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid shows up quite a bit, though.
How do you de-stress?
I have three children; one is a newborn. I trade the editing world for one that requires a much larger and wildly different type of energy and attention to detail. It’s an effective balance in that I have to put the series away for a while, and that separation allows me to look at the sequence with fresh eyes in the morning.