Film alum talks effects, editing and SMU

by Hollis Byram

(B.A. Public Relations & Strategic Communication and B.A. French ’18)

Chris Tonick might not be a household name yet, but the movies he’s worked on certainly are. His résumé includes titles such as Straight Outta Compton (2015), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), The Shallows (2016) and several other popular films and television shows. As a 2005 film graduate of SMU and a sought-after editor in L.A., he knows a thing or two about what it takes to make it in film. He has worked his way up in Hollywood and serves as proof that achieving the dream is possible. He used the expansive film history knowledge and hands-on experience gained from his time at Meadows to secure positions on some of the most impressive teams in the industry.

How It Began

It is obvious that Tonick is very fond of his memories at SMU as he discusses how the University influenced his career. In fact, he says, “The technical skills I learned in the editing lab at SMU earned me my first job in the industry after graduation.” He enjoyed the mix between learning in the classroom and learning on actual film shoots. Tonick became very knowledgeable as he got to work in all the different positions on student sets. The experiences helped him understand the different departments that make up a film production and allowed for better communication.

Not many film schools allow students to touch cameras and lights in year one. SMU Film & Media students get right into the gear the first year.

The Big Transition

When it comes down to it, Tonick explains, “I went to film school because I really wanted to make movies, and that’s always been my first and true love.” He got that opportunity as the assistant editor for Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). Although it is hard to decide, he admits that this is his favorite film on his résumé. The family-like team he worked with at Bad Robot Productions reminded him of his time at SMU. “It was some of the most collaborative, fun, exhausting work I’ve ever done,” he says. “It really did feel like making movies with your friends, just on a much grander scale.

“It was some of the most collaborative, fun, exhausting work I’ve ever done”

That sense of camaraderie can be rarer than you might expect.” In addition, it was his first feature film after working in the world of reality TV/corporate/documentary editing. He was finally doing what he really loved. His passion for his work is evident to any professional editor or movie aficionado.

Though he prefers editing films to visual effects, Tonick has worn many hats in the film industry. He has worked as first assistant editor, assistant editor, visual effects editor and production support (which he admits is industry code for “People Who Worked on the Film, and We Don’t Know Where Else to Put Them in the Credits”). He owes a lot to his time at Meadows when it came to finding his place on a film set. “I think what attracted me to film editing is that the final cut of a film is a collaboration between the editor and the director,” he says. He plans to work his way up to feature editor as his career progresses.

When it comes to his advice for current film students, he explains, “Your path isn’t going to look the same as everyone else’s, and sometimes you might need to go backwards to get where you want to be. Your path may meander and have strange offshoots, but if you are headed for your ultimate goal, you are on the right path.”

It’s safe to say that Chris Tonick is on the right path.