Professional Advice from Acclaimed Music Video Editor and VFX Artist Max Blum

For an artist in the entertainment industry, finding the balance between personal and professional life is a special challenge. Often, the two weave in and out. In a time where the competition wants more and more for less and less. As many say, the struggle is real. Blending the sharpening of your skills with the awareness needed to better yourself — as well as a healthy dose of authentic networking — provides the tools music video editor Max Blum uses to keep his career trajectory on the up and up. His most recent music video credits range from Lady Gaga to Ariana Grande, Chris Brown and Kylie Jenner.

Yoga, presently.

On a random Thursday night. I shoot a text over to Max Blum: “what you on” (i.e., “What are you doing?”). His response: “Yoga presently.”

A year prior, this response would have been completely different, but the past twelve months have brought Blum huge success in the editing field, including an editing gig for Lady Gaga’s latest music video, “Till It Happens to You,” home editing sessions with the elite in Calabasas and some major career shifts. Things are different now. His fight to better himself and his love for the industry push him through and allow him to shine in a crowded market.

I tell him we should meet up; I love his story and think many can benefit from it. As is typical for Blum, his response is immediate: “Yeah I can do that.” “Just act real natural,” I say to which he responds jokingly, “I’ll wear a suit.” In the Hollywood landscape, Blum maintains his laid-back personality no matter what — an expression he carries on into his wardrobe as well — so much so, that in his first encounter with Ariana Grande, her reaction upon seeing him was a quick “You look rad!”

As I pull up to his place in Sherman Oaks, CA, he heads towards the car. Magically, his suit has transformed into an all black hooded sweatshirt, with a leather hat and dark jeans. His signature scruffy beard is just full enough to mature his young 22-year-old face. “How’s it going my dude?” he says as he hops in the car. We buckle up and are off.

We pull over to a diner not too far. When we get there, in typical fashion, Blum’s tattooed arm holds the door for a mom and her kids coming out.

I set up my recorder, we sit down and just talk. The water that he orders offers a testament to the healthier lifestyle is living as well as his new found love for running. The conversation shifts into the Oscar talk. Immediately, he brings in advice from his dad, respected VFX and Post-Production Supervisor David Blum: “You should never put awards on your resume, ‘cause nothing looks more pretentious than saying, ‘Look, I got these awards!’”

While Max Blum is hesitant about listing his accomplishments, we’re not, so let’s review them.

Breaking In

Blum has certainly moved up the ladder since entering the professional editing sphere. Starting as an assistant editor (AE) for Fox, a job which required him to digitize Simpson episodes, he used that experience to move up to working as an assistant editor on feature films. Following that, he gravitated toward visual effects work and made name for himself as an all around guru in the music video world under Riveting Entertainment, a production house known for top-quality music videos and commercials.

Over the past few years, Blum’s accomplishments have continued to grow. He was one of the VFX Supervisors for a major Arianna Grande project that required him to pull all his resources together. The project required Blum to call upon other industry professionals to work on the project, to work hand-in-hand with the directors and producers and to act as liaison to other VFX houses out the country working on the same project. The task that requires deep knowledge of the trade and a well-rounded, people-friendly persona. The results of Blum’s efforts are seen in the music video for Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time.”

Our waitress comes back, we order our food, and we shift into talking about “The Revenant.” Blum was able to catch an early screen with the Visual Effects Society (VES). Membership allows Blum early access to movies while simultaneously providing great networking opportunities. Still, he insists that important connections can’t be developed solely at formal networking events. Strong connections are made more casually than that. Infact, Blum doesn’t seems as it he ever intends to network; it’s just something that comes naturally and feels authentic.

Speaking of networks, the path his VFX artist father has carved is not lost on the younger Blum. While in no sense has he had it easy breaking into the business, he openly acknowledges that “nepotism is real.” It’s who you know, after all.

The Importance of a Reference

With a growing list of credits and an increasingly impressive demo reel, Blum began to establish a positive reputation with those he worked with, putting him in line to start work on projects with a higher profile. By the time planning started on Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You,” Lady Gaga’s music video producer, Nicole Ehrlich, was already in his corner. Ehrlich spearheaded efforts to get Blum on board to editing the video for the epic ballad confronting sexual assault on college campuses.

“It wasn’t the first time Nicole has gone out on a limb for me. But it felt good that someone was going out and actively pushing and trying to build a brand off of me. Someone had so much confidence in me that they were willing to stake their own personal brand into my work. And the issue, that it’s important to me, helped. And a lot of people I know were victims. Getting a chance to work on that video was huge for me. That song is up for an Oscar.”

“I can’t lie, I was so high for like 2 weeks after that. I was 2009 Kanye West — you couldn’t tell me nothing!”

Any time Max begins to say anything that may get taken as being braggadocios or cocky, he immediately humbles himself: “Not the video, the song.” He does, however, take pride in the powerful visuals that accompany the song. He shifts a little and opens up about how he let his ego have a little fun: “I can’t lie, I was so high for like 2 weeks after that. I was 2009 Kanye West — you couldn’t tell me nothing!”

Editing Lady Gaga’s Music Video

How does one go about editing a music video for the director of Twilight, one of the biggest artist in the world, a song co-written by one of the greatest songwriters of all time and a subject that is so close to so many people? “I wasn’t able to sleep at first. She’s an amazing director. When the project was ongoing, she would tell me how much coverage she received.” For a music video that usually hit certain cues in the song as well as the timing of the entire piece, sometimes it could be a little overwhelming. The comfort came in knowing it is better to have too much than too little. But this posed it’s own challenges as, inevitably, some shots didn’t make the cut. “It sucks cause I’m looking back on what’s out now, and there was so much amazing stuff we had to leave on the floor, bro. I wish the song was two minutes longer. I really do.”

Three Stories in One

For the interwoven story structure, Blum began by editing each storyline as if it were its own separate video. Then he started splicing them together. “I had 10 timelines, then cut that down to 3 stories in their timelines, then intercut them together. And it worked out better than I could’ve expected.”

Blum admits that fitting it with the song was the last step since it was a narrative piece first. “The song acted as my in and out points. If you look at the video, I don’t always hit the beats and sometimes when I do, it was unintentional. I’m really telling the story narratively and letting the song carry itself through, which I guess, for Catherine, was exactly what it needed to be.”

Being on set for the shoot also helped him know what to expect of the footage so he could put a cut together more quickly. “I cut the first cut in 72 hours and showed up to her place. She was blown away, saying, ‘I didn’t think you’d have it done that fast.’” Videos most commonly go through a series of rough cuts, especially if the director and editor aren’t in sync, but that initial momentum and edit were key in developing the project’s final form.

“There was some back and forth and we changed a couple of things with the storyline to make it make more sense,” Blum explains, “but the rhythm and the cut is actually pretty close to my original edit.”

Staying Mobile as an Editor

Times have changed and technology has advanced. Whereas Blum’s dad would mainly edit in dedicated facilities, it’s really beneficial for today’s music video editor to remain mobile. This came in handy on a video for the song “If I Don’t” with Tamar Braxton. On that project, some of his edit session took place at the home of Vince and Tamar while other times he worked from home. The Gaga project got similar treatment. Blum edited on his laptop, partially in his home, but most of the time, he would take trips to Hardwicke’s compound, as he calls it, in Venice, putting him in closer contact with the director’s vision. He marvelled at her set up: “She has the life I want to invent.”

Moving Forward

The success generated by the Gaga project is still resonating, But what else is Blum working on? He tells me about Sasha Samsonova, a photographer who he linked up with to work on a video project for Kylie Jenner that Samsonova directed. After good vibes and liking the work, she immediately hit Blum up to work on other projects, one of which turned out to be for Director David Lynch and Singer Chrysta Bell. Again, he dials back the accolades. “It’s not that cool, ‘cause I’m only the second person in my family to work with David Lynch. My dad did the opening sequence for Mulholland Drive.”

We finish our meal. The waitress comes with the bill. Max immediately insists he pays, telling me to handle the tip, playing it off as if I’m doing him a favor to mask his generosity. He tells me, “I finally managed to bring someone here with me. People don’t like diners for some reason. I don’t know why. Diners are great.”

Different Experiences, Same Goals

Later in the evening, I’d see first hand the value of Blum’s brand of informal networking. Accepting an invitation to meet up with some friends after dinner, we left the diner and head out to a bar in Silverlake, where we meet up with cinematographer Alex Nikishin and director/editor Daniel Czernilofsky.

Max Blum with cinematographer Alex Nikishin and director/editor Daniel Czernilofsky.
Max Blum with cinematographer Alex Nikishin and director/editor Daniel Czernilofsky.

Small talk between filmmakers usually goes directly into movies, and again, we swap views on “The Reverant.” Nikishin, who’s worked with Taylor Swift, Chris Brown, Mary J Blige, Mac Miller, Miguel joins the conversation, mainly from a DP’s point of view. Daniel Cz’s adds his two cents as a director and editor. His credits include Mac Miller, Miguel, Eric Bellinger, Two Chains, Snoop Dogg, Akon. Blum chimes in as an editor and VFX artist. All mix their opinions in with their love of film. Spotting another fellow filmmaker, Max Landis, in the same bar emphasizes the importance of maintaining a presence in the filmmaking scene in LA.

At the table were a group of guys from all walks of life, some with credits under their belts and a level of success, some with dreams yet to come true. Some are LA locals, while others are from other parts of the country or the world — the LA transplants. Regardless on how you break in, it takes a constant betterment of yourself and humility while also having confidence in the quality of your work.

Of Love and Loyalty

Blum tightropes and walks the fine line of the politics in Hollywood, and no matter what frustrations may arise, his final decision is based off his moral compass and what’s better in the long run. He still gets calls from previous projects and is quick to answer back and share the information he knows, a trait that keeps him top of mind as a reliable creative collaborator.

The night gets deeper and I’m reminded again of Blum’s words at the diner. While he grows and shifts, it’s important to not loose touch of what has brought him success — the relationships made in the editing suite as well as the lounge. So much about surviving in Hollywood are these relationships and working with people you want to work with. Blum reflects, “If you don’t genuinely enjoy working at a spot, you don’t want to be there. It hurts. It hurts emotionally. The thing is, you should feel stoked to wake up and go to your job. A lot of young artist out here think you have to pay your dues, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But you don’t have to put up with garbage. You don’t have to put up with something that’s degrading. ‘Cause that’s just going to make you not love the industry.” It takes a mixture of working with clients and getting along with those behind the scenes while not getting caught up in the negative aspects of the job — all skills that Blum continues to actively develop.

JR Strickland is a writer, director, and editor based out of Los Angeles, CA. 

JR Strickland
JR Strickland
JR Strickland is an award-winning writer and director of films, commercials, music videos and a multidimensional musician.

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