We had the good fortune of connecting with Tucker Hampson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tucker, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Becoming a creative professional always felt more like an irrevocable gravitational pull rather than a choice to me. As a child, I came off as a complete space cadet, often unresponsive when my name was called and distracted during class, but come recess I was the ringleader of the next imaginative game. My parents could never get me to do more than a few math problems before I was off in my room for several hours creating an elaborate stop motion lego film. I was a storyteller from day one, no matter how hard I fought it. After high school I convinced myself that I was going to get a “real job”, something in biology or electronics, but one miserable semester of college trying to determine the chlorophyl levels in pine trees and titrating microorganisms onto onion cells had me totally disenfranchised with that plan. I remember my freshman advisor, a man named Steve Hayward who saw me for who I was, sitting me down and saying “Tucker, man, why are you trying so hard to be a scientist when you’re clearly a storyteller?” Something clicked. After that it was the matter of figuring out what stories I wanted to tell, and how to tell them. I became a creative writing major and journalism minor at Colorado College, I worked as a radio journalist on the local news, and had a stint at the Berklee College of Music. I spent four years channeling my creative voice into music and short stories, but it was never quite right. It wasn’t until my final semester of college that I found film. On a whim, I took an advanced documentary film class, skipping four prerequisites and most of the major. Half the class dropped out on the first day when they found out we had to make half a dozen shorts and a capstone film in a month, and the teacher was clear that I had little chance of getting better than a C+ since I had never even held a professional camera before, let alone used a film editing program. Not only that, but the odd number of classmates and the fact that I was now the only non film major meant I would be working alone. I was considering switching courses, when my Cross Country coach, Alex Nichols, returned home after becoming the first American to win the grueling Monte Blanc 80k in the Swiss Alps. I had the story for my capstone film. For several weeks, I learned by doing. I taught myself camera operation by sticking a tripod in the passenger seat of my Prius and driving next to Alex while he ran (in hindsight that was a little dangerous). I spent hours alone in the dark editing bay, watching Youtube videos on how to set up three-point lighting, interview a subject, and collect b-roll. Though I had little idea what I was doing, I was hooked. I sifted through hours of Alex’s race footage, learning on the fly how to color grade, sound design, and craft a story. What really captivated me was the editing. While the other aspects of filming were fun, editing felt as natural as breathing. Where I had little idea of what I was creating during the filming process, everything crystallized in the edit, to the point where I was still trying to perfect it up until half an hour before it was to screen for the school. I had a film I was genuinely proud of, and I knew I had found my calling. Not only did the professor give me an A, but he wrote the letter of recommendation that helped me get my first film job at Rocky Mountain PBS, and later my eventual acceptance to the University of Southern California’s Film & Television MFA. USC is really where I laser focused on becoming a film editor. I knew that if I was going to become successful in such a highly competitive career field, I had to stand out and work on as many films as I could. In a sea of directors vying for coveted roles in the flagship classes, I worked behind the scenes in the edit bays. As I became known as one of the only editors in the program, I had the opportunity to work on as many films as I could get my hands on. Nearly every semester saw me doing twice the required number of projects, often taking on work for friends and colleges with no pay or credit on the table. Students who had never met me before and years ahead of me in the program started hiring me on their thesis films, and by my final year I was already working professionally on films outside of school. Though Coronavirus created a bit of a roadblock in the quest towards a studio job, I found that even during a global pandemic editors were in high demand, and I have been called up to edit everything from video game broadcasts to teasers for documentaries on people who keep monkeys. No matter what I’m editing, it feels like home. Though I’ve only been in the industry a short time, I now feel confident and skilled in my craft. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents, fiancé Anna, and the mentors who have pushed me to become a film editor. The wonderful filmmakers I’ve met and worked with, and the projects I’ve gotten to be a part of have been sustaining, engaging, and life affirming. Though it has been a complete whirlwind, I’ve enjoyed every second of it, and intend to keep doing so as I continue to search for new stories to tell, and to better myself as a storyteller.
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.
As editors we are not always in control of what we get to edit or the story we want to tell, but I have always been driven to tell stories of the human condition, isolation, and loss. Most of my work has a science fiction or post apocalyptic nature, which I believe creates a stark canvas to pick apart the unique and indescribable pieces of emotion that make us human. I pride myself on creating powerful, seamless edits that allow the audience to feel as though they are one with the characters, rather than observing them. There are editors who speculate and deliberate on the frames of a cut, the length, the shot composition, color, and on, trying to manipulate or mathematically solve the puzzle of a good edit, but my approach tends to border on stream of consciousness. I emerge hours later and have no idea how long I have been working. I don’t stop working on a piece until I feel it, even if I have watched the edit a hundred times. If I don’t get an adrenaline rush, a pang of sadness, or feel sick to my stomach, then I still have work to do. The road has not been easy to get to this point. At USC, where the bulk of my film experience took place, I was an underdog. Many of these filmmakers had already worked a decade in the industry, with dozens of credits to their name, while my acceptance video was shot on an iPhone and my experience could fit on a Post It note. Many times I was convinced I was in the wrong place. However, I learned that everyone was willing to pass on what they knew. I became friends with as many people as possible in the program, working on their films, watching their cuts, and asking them how to do the things I was bewildered by. As time went on and I became one of the veterans of the program, I made sure to turn this around and help others who were getting their starts, as I knew how it felt to be out of my depth. I think the single greatest lesson I have learned at USC and in my professional life is that we all succeed together. Every single person you help by watching their edit, or fixing a technical problem, or even just keeping an eye on their export so they can get something to eat, they remember. Five years from now they may ask you to work on their big break. It’s happened to me already. That’s not to say that relationships in filmmaking are selfish and transactional, people can tell from a mile away if you are just there because you want something from them. If you actually care about the story they want to tell, and do something to help them along the way, there is an irrevocable familial bond you are creating together. You understand something deeper about each other, like a collective unconscious. Those are the kinds of people who want you to help them create their vision, and visa versa, because they know they can depend on you. I strive to try to find that connection with as many filmmakers as possible.
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.
LA is such a big city I feel like I have hardly even scratched the surface thus far. I feel like it will take me at least a decade to even just feel like I know downtown. That said, I have certainly curated a selection of my favorite spots to explore, especially for someone who has never been here before. I would start with a trip to Griffith Observatory, not just because it has a wealth of awesome artifacts but because it offers some of the best views of the city, provided it’s a relatively clear day. Next, I would take them to Korean BBQ at Road to Seoul – this is something I had never experienced before coming to LA and has quickly become one of my favorite activities. I’d follow this with some of my favorite speakeasies and clubs in LA – Breakroom 86, Cliftons Republic, The Wolves, Eighty-Two, Seven-Grand, and Los Globos are just a few of my favorite spots, and I’ve been very impressed with the range of cocktails LA has to offer at these places. Of course I would recommend hitting the classic Disney day while here, but not without also hitting Little Sisters, Coles French Dip, and Bottega Louis’ for great food, as well as The Last Bookstore and some of LA’s Hidden Staircases for a little under the radar charm. Finally, I would take them for a hike in the Los Angeles National Forest, and a fancy dinner at 71 Above, provided we could get reservations.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Just as a film is a collaboration and coming together of people, the place I am today would be impossible without the many, many mentors who have taught me, recognized who I am, and listened to what I have to say. At the risk of sounding like a long winded thank you speech at the Oscars, I feel I would be reticent not to give a shoutout to some of the most impactful people who have shaped my path. First and foremost, my parents. From day one, they have been the voice actors in my animated films, the test audience of my edits, and the protectors of my passion. My father, Greg, a mechanical engineer, cultivated in me a thirst to understand how things work and to fix them, from which I believe I derive my editing skill and drive. My mother, Kathryn, a wonderful teacher and people person, helped me to understand the importance of collaborating with people, and holding true to my vision and sense of self. Without them, I would be lost, and most likely working a job that might pay well, but would leave a black hole in my soul. In my college years, Steven Hayward, Andrea Chalfin, and Julie Speer guided me along as I was just beginning to understand my creative potential. Steve, as my college advisor and teacher through most of my creative writing classes, helped me craft a powerful and uniquely personal voice, as well as an unabashed confidence in my work, by never allowing me to second guess myself and providing endless encouragement in my endeavors. Andrea, my first ever boss, taught me the value of efficiency, accuracy, and owning my choices. My work ethic, dependability, and knack for getting to the heart of a story derive from her careful teachings. Julie, the first filmmaker who I ever had the pleasure to work with, showed me that if you don’t love your job enough to do it for free, you shouldn’t do it. From her I learned that passion for your work is the single greatest ingredient for it to become great, no matter how big or small the project is. At USC, I had many, many mentors, from older students to a plethora of outstanding teachers, but the person who stands alone as my guide through the hardest three years of my life was Nancy Forner. Nancy’s wealth of knowledge, expert eye, and firm, no nonsense attitude have helped me transition from a green student to a seasoned professional. Not only has Nancy’s critique of my work helped me grow creatively, but she has moved mountains to put me in contact with other great filmmakers, helping me get my foot in the door nearly a dozen times. I owe much of my success in the industry to Nancy’s mentorship. Last, and most important of all, is my fiancé, Anna. Anna made our lives work despite a full year of living across the country from one another, and kept me going when I was burned out, discouraged, and wanted to leave my graduate program. As the only person to see my first cuts, Anna is always the one who can see what I am trying to say in an edit, I find what is holding me back from achieving it. More importantly than anything, Anna gives my life without film a meaning, keeps my work and life in balance, and is the one who says “you should do it” when I am sure I am unqualified for a job. Her never wavering support has been everything to me on this journey.