If there's a singular truth in the entertainment business, it's that most people are faking it. Joi McMillon, however, is not. When I was a panicked newbie production assistant on HBO's Togetherness who had to Google what a boom operator did, Joi was an experienced assistant editor on our team who showed me what it felt like to not be scared you would lose your job if you went to the bathroom. She was cool and confident and took pride in her work in a way I wasn't accustomed to. Whether it was the coffee she preferred to drink or defending a scene she felt should not be cut out, Joi had no problem asking for what she wanted.
And it's working out for her. When the 2017 Oscar nominees were announced last month, Joi's Best Film Editing nomination (with Nat Sanders for Moonlight) made her the first black woman in the history of the Oscars to be nominated for editing. Moonlight follows the story of a boy in Miami from adolescence to adulthood in a stunningly delicate and intimate evaluation of what it means to be — among about a million other things — poor, black, and gay.
While I'm here to praise Joi for her incredible work, as her friend I'd be remiss not to mention that there is no one who shines as brightly as she does. I call her laugh "the domino" because it is truly so infectious that if she is laughing, the whole room is laughing.
Joi has taught me more over one charcuterie plate about what it means to be a powerful woman in this business than most people might learn in a lifetime. When I first met her, she didn't have to tell me that her voice mattered, she commanded it. When she reads this, she will say, "Nora, you're so silly," and let out that big Joi laugh. I'm laughing right now just thinking about it.
Nora Silver: Tell me how you became interested in editing.
Joi McMillon: Originally, I wanted to be a journalist. I had big dreams of graduating from college, moving to New York, and being hired for an amazing magazine. But I was a part of this group called Junior Achievement in high school, and we had a career day, and I wanted to go to the Orlando Sentinel, and then my backup was film, because my brother had just moved to LA to become an actor. So I thought, Oh, film sounds cool. Well, I submitted my request late, so I got my second choice.
Our career-day trip was to go to Universal Studios, and a part of the tour was going to see this editor who was editing Animal Planet, and I was like, "Wait, what is this?" And he was like, "Here, I'll show you. Basically what I can do is, the owner is throwing a ball and then when I cut to the dog, the dog can catch the ball," and he showed us that scenario. And then he was like, "The dog could miss the ball," and he showed us that scenario. Then he's like, "Or the owner throws a ball and the dog catches a Frisbee." I was like, "Wait, that's crazy!" He completely manipulated the story by his cuts, and I went home and looked up film schools because I was like, "I want to be an editor, that seems awesome."
NS: Before I worked in postproduction, I didn't get what an editor was or the influence the editor had on the final product. How would you explain your role in the film?