By Randi Altman
Ryan McGuire, who had stints at both Cutters’ Chicago and Los Angeles offices, opened Cutters Tokyo in 2012, taking on a new market and a new culture. But two things he knew for certain: he wanted to edit, and he wanted his staff to operate under one standard principle — if you are not having fun, you’re not doing good work.
That mantra seems to be working. The studio is thriving, and McGuire is doing some of the best work of his life, bringing home multiple Cannes Lions, a pair of trophies from the Spikes Advertising Festival, a Hugo, a TED Ads Worth Spreading award, and the Craft Award for editing at the 53rd ACC Awards in Japan.
A recent job he’s particularly proud of is You Are Someone’s Friend — Facebook’s first-ever spot for the Japanese market, via W+K Tokyo and Epoch Films director/DP Zachary Heinzerling. It was edited by McGuire along with Aika Miyake at Cutters Tokyo. It debuted in October.
McGuire is the son of Cutters CEO Tim McGuire, so it’s not surprising he knows a thing or two about running a successful editing house. Let’s dig in a bit deeper.
So you grew up with editing in your blood. How early on did you know you wanted to edit for a living?
I took a job in marketing straight out of university. It sucked. Still, I stuck it out for two years. Then I joined Cutters. I always knew I wanted a creative career, but when I sat down at the Avid for the first time, I was hooked. All I wanted to do was cut.
What did you learn from your father about editing, working with clients and running a business?
He taught me to put story first. Whenever I would cut something and show it to him, he’d ask, “What’s the story?” He taught me that making a great edit is only half the battle. When challenging client directives come through, you can’t throw hands in the air and say, “I give up.” An editor’s job is to find solutions. And we’ve gotta sell our ideas. When it comes down to it, we are salesmen. We sell the brands and products we produce spots for, and we sell our own edits to our clients.
What did you learn by heading out on your own? How did you establish your own best practices?
Sales is everything. I began my editing career in LA, probably the most saturated editorial market on the planet. It’s dog-eat-dog. I had to coldly assess my assets, work on what I was lacking and promote my strengths, every single day. With my compensation package at the time, if I didn’t bill, I didn’t eat. It was tough. Real tough. But the lessons I learned fighting tooth and nail for every job, are the most valuable lessons of my life.
Much of sales is education. Tokyo lacked creative talent in post production. But the demand wasn’t there, not really. We had to create it, and we created it by showing people what we can do. Raising market awareness for who we are and what we do is the focus of our marketing efforts in Asia.
Can you talk about what it’s like to work in a culture quite a bit different than our own? Can you compare and contrast the experience in terms of the editing style and working with clients?
Every day I am reminded of how much I still have to learn about the Japanese market. The single most challenging aspect in plying our brand in Japan is human resources. The way business is done in Japan is different. Companies tend to operate fat, relying on teams to complete tasks. In the US we run slim and put our trust in individuals.
Your average Japanese employee is not used to taking on so much responsibility. In order to offer our unique creative services in Japan, we need to maintain a US model, and that makes staffing difficult. Demand for our services now far outweighs supply, and our ability to find the right people is really what will determine how fast we grow.
One thing I noticed when I arrived on the scene in Tokyo was that a lot of work was being done (Japan is the second largest advertising market in the world), but people weren’t having fun doing it, and the work suffered. In this business, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing good work. So Cutters set out to create an environment where great artists could do great work. We’ve established ourselves as a creative center in Tokyo’s advertising community. We’re known for challenging norms and never settling for less than the best. Our parties get quite a crowd too (he smiles, proudly).
In addition to running the shop, you still edit. Why is it so important to still get in the room with a client and get behind that monitor?
I love to cut, but I think to be an effective leader you need to be familiar with the processes involved in delivering your product. I was successful in setting up the Tokyo studio because before we had brick and mortar I was able to develop the business and at the same time provide the services as a one-man band.
What tools are you using at Cutters Japan? Does Cutters allow each location to pick the best gear for them or is it a company wide decision?
In Tokyo we run Avid for creative editorial, Flame for finishing and Resolve for grading. Aside from the Flame, we’re all Mac. Our systems are largely developed and implemented by our engineering team in Chicago, but our artists make collective decisions on software.
What is your favorite part of editing?
When I was in university I was in the photography club. While I enjoyed getting out and shooting, the dark room was where I felt most at home. My heart beats a bit faster when I get a new batch of footage to play with. And I love crafting the story, tending to the details, poring over the possibilities.
What is your least favorite part of editing?
I hate when unnecessary politics get involved. Personal interest has no part in filmmaking. When everyone involved is in it to make the best possible, most effective product, all is good, but when decisions are made for other reasons and the effectiveness of the piece is sacrificed, that’s disheartening. Fear is the enemy of creativity. As creators, we have to have the courage to focus only on what is in the best interest of the piece.
What project are you most proud of, and why?
There are a bunch of past projects I hold dear. But among them I would say the work I did for Mazda in Germany holds a very special place in my heart. The spots were short documentaries with interviews from engineers and management at Mazda. We had endless footage and flexible scripts. Since we didn’t know what we’d get from the interviews, the concepts were almost entirely created in the edit bay. I worked with the kick-ass creative team at JWT Dusseldorf and was able to collaborate with director and good friend Hisashi Eto. The crown jewel of that campaign went on to win an Ads Worth Spreading award at TED.