Veteran picture editor Richard La Brie took a look at the realities of aging in the television industry, and created a new future for himself – along the way, earning two Emmy nominations.
As a new year begins, it’s only natural to think about transitions, personal and/or professional.
For Richard La Brie, that process started some years back, when the Writers Guild strike of late 2007-early 2008, coupled with the 2008 economic downturn, ushered in a dark period.
By then, he had firmly established a niche as an editor for sketch comedy shows, working at the time on the original MADtv on Fox, where he cut an estimated 1400 sketches, and previously on that network’s The Ben Stiller Show.
He had been recruited by MADtv after studying at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and writing, producing and/or directing several films; when the call came he was in the midst of editing Good Luck, a film he’d directed starring Gregory Hines, Vincent D’Onofrio and James Earl Jones.
“I started doing the math. I didn’t think I would have the stamina to keep up with editing in my old age,” La Brie recalls, of the time when he began thinking about his future. “I noticed the industry [work schedule] was getting longer, and the executives were getting younger. I’ve been editing 30 -35 years. Inevitably, I’m going to be the most experienced of all the people, but not the boss.”
So La Brie began exploring new avenues, learning skills ranging from soap - and fitness drink- making to music engineering. Eventually, he decided to become a psychotherapist; he’d enjoyed being in therapy and liked his therapist, and the profession would fulfill his need for autonomy and creativity.
He applied to grad school but also applied for an editing position on a new Comedy Central series, Key & Peele, a sketch show created by and starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele that would go on to win the 2016 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series.
Both opportunities came through: he began editing the pilot in March 2011 and entered school that September, working out an arrangement with the show to be able to do some of his editing work at home.
La Brie earned his doctoral Psy.D degree in 2015 and his license to practice clinical psychology in 2016. In those same years, he was recognized with back-to-back Emmy nominations for Key & Peele in the category Outstanding Picture Editing for Short Form Segments and Variety Specials, a gratifying way to close out his professional transition.
Besides seeing entertainment and non-industry clients and giving presentations on mind-body wellness, he remains available for editing consultations.
What do editing and psychotherapy have in common? How has being an editor helped you in being a psychotherapist?
As an editor, there’s reading the room. When I first get the footage it’s just me, alone in the room, with some details from the producer. You watch, you feel what the intention was on the set, the angles to use, which line to use. Then the producer comes in, and you read the vibe of the producer.
Maybe your point of view shifts, maybe you’re hypervigilant playing off that vibe. I’ve experienced this more with pilots. There’s so much pressure – network executives are there, executives handling finances, people who aren’t used to being in an editing room.
So you have to read all that, and respond. You have to be authentic, and have an honest exchange. Sometimes there are disagreements to mediate – like in couples’ therapy.
In therapy, if someone comes into the room and their body language seems different, I’ll ask about that. If there’s a pause or it seems as if something’s being left out, I’ll go by that. Editing prepared me for that.
Also, in editing, you have to balance the camera angles, the beats of the story, the beats of the scene, all the multi-factional considerations of putting together a scene. In therapy, you’re balancing so many things – body language, family history, cognitive style, verbal style, emotional style. And in both, you’re helping to re-shape a narrative.
What was it like, editing a television show while also working toward becoming a therapist?
I was working around the clock. I’d come in to the studio, I’d go to see clients [under supervision], I’d work on my dissertation, on Mind-Body Wellness. It’s amazing how those guys allowed me to bend the schedule.
Are entertainment clients different than non-industry clients?
I focus on the areas of creativity, trauma, depression, anxiety, people going through life changes. I work with actors, actresses, editors, directors and clients not in the industry. People’s struggles and stories are unique to them, but they’re also universal. Some industry clients have debilitating problems, but so do some clients miles away from the industry.
The benefit of having been in the field is that I’m able to speak the language. I’ve had clients say, “I’ve had therapists where I’ve had to explain what a call time is, or the difference between an agent and a manager, or why I work such long hours.”
The difference in working with film and television, commercials, web clients is that it creates a shorthand, a bond, so they can get to their stories quicker. I understand the emotions and the stresses of the creative life.
Let’s talk just about editing. Do you have a particular editing philosophy?
The golden rule is, the material sets the pace: the rhythm of the actors, the style of the shots, the tone of the entire piece you’re cutting. That starts to show itself as it goes along.
For me, it’s easier to cut a dramatic scene than a comedy scene. You’re simply looking for authenticity in the line reading. You’re not looking for, Should we go for farcical? Are they having a psychotic break? There are more parts in comedy, and they’re harder to grasp, such as the reading of a punchline or the reaction to a joke.
Do you consider yourself a funny person?
Yes. I always wanted to do stand-up. There are certain comic chops you need to edit sketches. You have to have a sense of what’s funny. There’s nothing more satisfying than when you can make a great comic director laugh.
Your two Emmy nominations came after you started your psychotherapist training. Did the training influence your editing in any way?
I felt more aligned with who I am. The editing became effortless. There was some work I did on Key & Peele that I was more proud of than anything I’d ever done. It was such a high-quality show.