We had the good fortune of connecting with James Cude and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I once read this statement, and it has always stuck with me: Risk is a problem that COULD happen. Change fixes the problem that HAS happened. I think back on that statement as I answer this question, because I don’t consider myself a risk taker. It involves change, and I’m not a fan of change. I think that stems from the fact that I lost one of my senses at a young age. I started losing my hearing when I was 13, got my first set of hearing aids when I was 18, and have progressively lost more hearing all my life. My career involves a lot of work with sound. I didn’t plan this career, it’s where my interests gravitated while in grad school. In the 20 years I’ve been doing it, I have encountered discrimination because of my hearing. How can a deaf person be an editor? I’ve asked myself that question, in moments of doubt. Yet I am, and have established a successful career. So I guess to me, taking risks isn’t about making huge leaps of faith in hopes of a greater good. It’s about doing a job that most people wouldn’t expect someone like me to do. It’s about living my life authentically and trying to not make decisions based on fear.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In my career, I’ve bounced back and forth between scripted and documentary, with my focus of late on the later. I love the challenge of documentary filmmaking in that there is no script. It’s exciting to figure out how to tell a story that’s both organic and truthful to the people in the film, and also engages the audience on a visceral, emotional level. I bring to the table a strong sense of structure, and the ability to hone in on the emotional beats of the story. I’m grateful for the fact that I have been able to work with some truly amazing directors on a wide range of films. And I’m also grateful in the last few years that my work on specific films has become very well known nationally and internationally.
My path to this career was a bit indirect. I was a business major in college. My first boyfriend dumped me my junior year, so I took that grief and wrote a play in 4 hours. That ended up getting produced, which lead to a job running a traveling educational theater company post-college. The kids in the troupe got invited to perform in Washington. I needed to figure out a way to pay for it, so I agreed to produce a training video for a local free clinic and use the money I made to pay for the trip. I had a blast producing the video, so I enrolled in a summer film course at USC. I loved that, applied to the MFA program and started to save money. I saved enough to pay for one year of school. My thinking was, if I get in, great! If I don’t, I’m gonna use the money for a vacation to Antarctica.
Fortunately, I got into grad school; otherwise I may still be down with the penguins. And that’s how my career started. I think the one major lesson I’ve learned through the years is: listen to your heart. If something feels right or wrong, trust that feeling and act accordingly.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d take them on a waterfall hiking tour. There are a surprising number of hikes in SoCal that involve waterfalls. Sometimes the trail heads can be a challenge to find, which makes it even more fun! If we weren’t tired after that, I’d suggest a parking lot spin class at Hype in Silverlake. And if we still have energy, I’d suggest a hike up to Mt. Baldy Ski Resort for a zipline, followed by a summit ascent along the Devil’s Backbone. I’d suggest visiting the Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro, and marveling at the breathtaking ocean views. During the lockdown, my partner and I would try different restaurant’s take-out on Saturday nights. We loved Republique, APL BBQ and Garden of Taxco, amongst others, so I’d definitely recommend those places. At night, we’d veg on the couch, watching a hidden gem documentary, like “My Octopus Teacher”, “Dick Johnson is Dead” or “Class Action Park”. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many people! My parents, Ken and Bette Cude, for strongly encouraging me to study music as a child (even though I wasn’t good at it.) My piano teacher, Elaine Elliot, for broadening my horizons in music. William Haugse and Kate Amend for being amazing editors, and my mentors and instructors in grad school. Dawn Goeb for giving me a shot as an assistant editor at the beginning of my career, and recommending me to be promoted on our second show we did together. Kim Kantner, for a wonderful 15 year work partnership. Skye Borgman, for the experience of “Abducted in Plain Sight” and several films beyond. Lis Bartlett, for allowing me to help tell the story in film of my local LGBT swim and water polo team. The men and women of the 2009 USA National Deaf Water Polo team. Jeff Gramma, for helping me navigate my ever-changing world of hearing aids and hearing loss. Beth Bishop and Kristin Vallacher for helping me tap into my inner Spartan. Jim Griglak, for being my spiritual mentor and friend. And last but not least, my partner Dave Modisett and our fur baby, Benny, for more things than I could possibly put in one list.