Interview: Ruben Sebban

Ruben Sebban


Why did you move to Los Angeles?
I applied to The American Film Institute (AFI) and I got accepted. It’s a two-year graduate program where you learn from the best in the business. It’s also a very expensive education and I was fortunate that I got help from many wonderful Dutch foundations, grants and scholarships. It was an amazing experience where I learned so much about film editing. Afterwards, my intentions were always to go back to the Netherlands and hopefully find a nice job in narrative features. With AFI on my resume I thought I had something that could open doors that had otherwise been closed. My career path didn’t quite go as expected because during my time at AFI I won an important student editing award. My professors liked what I was doing and what I was capable of. One teacher in particular helped me get my first feature editing job. This movie was called Tomorrow You’re Gone“. With this job, my career began here in the US instead of in the Netherlands.

What is your advice for people, the Dutch in particular, who are thinking about moving to Hollywood?
I see a lot of people from the Netherlands who come here to start their careers and pursue their dreams. But in the end they give up after just a couple of months. If you’re lucky you’ll get a great opportunity right away. But in most cases it takes a lot of time to start your career here. It’s the American way to start from the bottom and work your way up. It’s important that you do the work that professionals before you have done. Traditionally, you start as a Production Assistant, work your way up to an Assistant Editor position, and then, if you’re lucky, work your way up to an Editor position.

Sometimes opportunities can appear out of nowhere. In my fourth year here I was asked to edit a horror film for an established production company, QED International (producers of District 9). I edited Haunt for them and it was a great but tough learning experience. As a younger editor working with more experienced, established professionals, I found it challenging to prove myself. But it’s all part of the process.

Now I balance my time working as an Editor on smaller indie features and as an Assistant Editor on bigger movies. I have built a good network here. There are two things that are really important here: “networking and creativity”.

What kind of movie would be your dream to edit?
I would love to edit an action film. I grew up watching actions movies with my father. A new James Bond movie would be really cool or if going back in time was not an issue, I would love to edit Terminator 2!

Ruben Editing James Bond

What is the difference between working in LA and working in the Netherlands?
There are more opportunities and larger projects here in LA. Of course, there are also great opportunities in the Netherlands. I have friends from the HKU who are working on really cool and amazing projects back home. I think it’s just where you feel the most comfortable or where you’re lucky enough to break in and begin creating a network.

The work mentality is really different in the US than in the Netherlands. Hierarchy is important here. For example, as an Assistant Editor, it’s not appropriate to share your creative ideas about the project you’re working on with your supervisors. If you were hired as an Assistant, you perform that specific job, which does not include giving creative notes. In the Netherlands, there is also a hierarchy, however it’s easier to share your creative ideas, regardless of your position. I also sometimes miss a social aspect where you can be a bit more direct and upfront in the office.

You have edited several horror movies, aren’t you afraid you will be known as a ‘horror only’ editor?
I love working on horror movies! It’s a very fun process. It’s great to see how fake it is and then make it into something that really scares people. I did one movie that grossed people out. It’s also fun to see the different reactions in the theater. I’m not really known as a horror editor. I’m very lucky that I have worked on a lot of different projects. I have worked on drama, comedies, thrillers and so on. But that can also work against you because bigger genre projects go to editors from that genre.

What is your ‘Hollywood Highlight’?
The student award I mentioned earlier. Javier Bardem was the presenter and he handed the award over to me! I had to give a speech in front of a lot of famous celebrities. Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan were some of the many who were in the audience! There I was, a simple Dutch man standing in front of all these people, giving my speech. Later, I think an Assistant of Spielberg’s Editor told me that Spielberg liked my speech! I don’t know if it’s true but I can dream, because after all I’m in Hollywood.

Interview by Carla Lekkerkerker & Hidde de Vries
Illustration by Nelson Navarro

IMDB Ruben Sebban



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