Ones to Watch: Movie Editor Greg MacLennan Launches Electric Owl Creative
The founder worked as a video montage editor at Alamo Drafthouse before starting his own business
By Britni Rachal
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
It’s a career often so behind the scenes that “if you are really good at your job, you are invisible.” Described as “such an invaluable piece to the puzzle, but also unseen,” right now, video editing is a large part of life for Greg MacLennan of Electric Owl Creative. He launched his own spin-off of business during the pandemic, after previously working with Alamo Drafthouse’s founder, Tim League.
An aspiration to “play a character (or a role) who dies in a movie” is what led MacLennan down the route to start editing feature films, with his most recent one starring Frank Grillo. MacLennan got his start with Paper Street Pictures.
“One of the directors, Aaron Koontz, was a casual acquaintance of mine,” says MacLennan. “I was hanging out with him, and I said, ‘Your next movie — I better die in it!’”
Koontz took MacLennan’s words seriously and called him six months later with an opportunity to die in a film. MacLennan didn’t hesitate and even without reading a script ahead of time, he traveled to Oklahoma to participate in the movie. But what happened after shooting his scenes in the Western Horror, “The Pale Door,” surprised him the most.
“On my last night there, the director pulled me aside, and said, ‘Hey man, I brought you up here because I want you to edit this movie.’”
MacLennan drove back to Austin, thought about it, and decided to say yes to editing his first film all the way through. Since then, that experience has led to more opportunities, including “Margaux” and now most recently, “Year 2.”
The work is much different than pre-pandemic, as the door is now open for movie editors to complete work remotely. While editors used to always be on the set, they are now able to remote in and get footage with the help of an on-site assistant, changing the industry and allowing for more flexible living arrangements during shoots.
“Everybody always thinks that editing action scenes is the most fun, but a lot of time it’s been so planned out ahead of time,” says MacLennan. “A character-building scene also leaves more room for creativity and to shape performance, which is really fun to do.”
“If the opportunity is sitting and waiting there, someone is going to come along and take it. Why can’t it be you?
Another surprising aspect of editing, which most people might not realize is the process surrounding the collaboration between editors, directors and movie producers.
“I think a lot of people think that the director tells the cinematographer what he wants, the cinematographer shoots it, and then the editor just cuts those two things together — but it is so much more than that,” says MacLennan. “It’s actually tons of creative solving. You are constantly taking what you have available in front of you and then trying to manipulate it to be something that wasn’t shot, to fix a problem.”
Through the process of movie making, MacLennan creates his editor’s cut on what he thinks the director would like to see. Then he gets feedback from the director (often, what MacLennan jokingly describes as, “I hate you”) and re-cuts the footage based on that, before getting feedback from the producers, who are the final piece to the process.
Movies are a part of MacLennan’s life that he’s always loved. He used to watch movies back-to-back regularly with his brother and sister, who are both six to seven years older than him. Later, he started playing around with friends’ video cameras.
“I had two VHS tape decks where I could record parts of the footage I really wanted to edit together,” explains MacLennan, who later studied radio, television and film at the University of Texas, before becoming a movie montage editor at Alamo Drafthouse.
“I thought I had my dream job of editing the montage of 12 movies that were showing or being highlighted that month into a three-and-a-half minute-long super video,” says MacLennan. “Then I started doing movie trailers.”
A key to his success involves taking opportunities as they come, with much gratitude. There’s also a lot of hard work involved — often 10 to 12-hour days.
“If the opportunity is sitting and waiting there, someone is going to come along and take it. Why can’t it be you?” says MacLennan. “My advice is to not wait for opportunities to come and find you. Just go out and ask for it. A lot of times people won’t know you are interested or capable until you tell them you are.”