Phillip Harrison ’92
Nominated for an American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for his work on MR. Robot, editor Philip Harrison’s credits include Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and 13 Reasons Why, as well as documentaries and independent films.
Purchase Memories And Influencers
“I remember looking for film schools in high school when I saw an article in a filmmaking magazine about Purchase. I was intrigued to learn more about the small school where the focus seemed to be on actually making films. I followed up with a request for materials and was excited to see that Purchase seemed to offer the most hands-on film education of all the undergraduate film schools I had researched. Because it was a public school, it was also within reach for my family budget.
“After being accepted to attend, what I found was more than I could have imagined. The training in the craft and technical areas was intensive and began in freshman year with multiple film projects. We hit the ground running and were encouraged by the faculty to think of ourselves as artists. As student filmmakers, we learned the language of film editing from Mimi Arsham and Iris Cahn. Jon Rubin opened up the world of experimental film. And Nick Doob and Dick Rogers encouraged our interest in documentary filmmaking.
“Purchase also expanded my view of what film could be. Tom Gunning was our cinema theory instructor, and he opened up the world of films. Watching new films from time periods and world cinema traditions I was unaware of, and hearing Tom’s lectures about the underpinnings of cinema, made me excited to make my own films and be part of the film world.
“When I first started at Purchase, I thought of myself as a narrative filmmaker – I loved the camera and how you could tell stories with images. Over time though, I recognized that I had a curiosity about the world. I decided to shift my focus to documentary filmmaking. I’m grateful that Purchase was a place where I didn’t have to fit into just one box. I was able to grow as a person and shift my focus to the area that meant the most for me.
“Most importantly, Purchase was a very tight-knit community. In 1988, when I was admitted, my film department class consisted of 20 people and there were less than 100 people in the film department at large. And so, with the faculty, we were very much a family.
“At Purchase, everyone works with everyone else to create our films. You learn a lot, taking on different roles on different projects – on one project you’re the cinematographer, on another you’re helping build sets, and on another you are directing. We learned so much from each other – seeing the different approaches it all broadened what we would try to do on our own films.
“Through all of the creative and personal challenges, we all became incredibly close. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced those years with such wonderful people and I’m grateful to still consider them my extended family. In many cases, they are still my closest friends and we still support each other in our professional projects.”
“During my senior year at Purchase, I had the good fortune to have an internship at Good Machine, an independent film production company of the 1990s. They produced Ang Lee’s films of that period along with other significant independent films. This was my entry into the professional filmmaking world.
“I was subsequently hired by Good Machine and other producers to work on films in various areas, including art departments and locations. I learned the ropes of how films are made and how filmmakers collaborate. Realizing I was most interested in the storytelling side of filmmaking, I began a series of positions as an apprentice and assistant editor where I became immersed in the world of editing, working on such films as Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil and Mary Harron’s American Psycho.
“Striking out on my own as an editor, I started to build a career editing small ‘behind-the-scenes’ projects for DVDs. From there, I got opportunities to edit documentaries and small independent films.
“Highlights include Die Mommie, Die!, which won a Special Jury award at the 2003 Sundance film festival and VITO (directed by fellow Purchase Alum Jeffrey Schwarz), an HBO documentary about the LGBT activist Vito Russo for which I received a nomination for producing.
“I’ve parlayed years of craft experience into work in television as editor on such shows as Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and 13 Reasons Why. My highest personal accolade was my nomination for an American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for my work on MR. Robot.
“The overall trait that has allowed me to build a career as an editor has been a willingness to learn and to keep developing my craft. By experiencing many different types of projects I’ve been able to develop an ability to take on a variety of projects successfully. Once I decided that I wanted to be an editor, I’ve stayed on that path, and over time I’ve developed skills I could not have foreseen when I started. I’ve also always had a love of collaborating and working with people. I love supporting other artists to bring their visions to life.”
“I am currently editing the third season of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. I am also producing and directing my first documentary about the LGBT pioneer Jonathan Ned Katz, writer of the groundbreaking book Gay American History. For this project, I’ve had the opportunity of hiring Brian Wengrofsky, a fellow Purchase graduate and classmate. Brian is a highly experienced director of photography and he filmed interviews for this project. It was a pleasure to collaborate with my Purchase classmate.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to be of service to others. In 2005, I was an editor supporting filmmakers at the Sundance Filmmakers lab. And in 2014, I volunteered as a mentor at the Venice Arts filmmaker camp for underprivileged teenagers. Whether it was helping emerging filmmakers bring their visions to life in the Utah mountains, or helping young first-time filmmakers discover the joys of filmmaking, it is always a pleasure to be part of a filmmaking community.
“As an editor, I spend lots of time in the solitude of the editing room. These opportunities make me realize how important connection to our larger communities is. We are never completely alone and it’s our connection with people that brings meaning to life.”
Words of Advice
“My career in filmmaking has not been meteoric! It has been slow and steady. I’ve had the pleasure of building skills and abilities over years of hard work. Often times over the years, the path has not been clear. There has been frustration and a feeling that things were not going anywhere.
“What I realize now, is that it was all worth it and necessary. I have the satisfaction of seeing all that hard work has developed into a real craft where I make a solid living working on positive and meaningful projects.
“My advice would be to stay on the path, be open to learning and seek out encouragement when you need it! And if you have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it at the right moment. If you persevere, you will find opportunities to have an exciting career and have your voice heard.”
—Written by Susan Kouguell, Lecturer in Screenwriting