Interview: Video Editor Jordan Hayles Talks His Career, Being Black in The Media Industry & Hopes For The Future
If the name Jordan Hayles rings a bell, it’s likely that you’ve seen his work or perhaps you’ve seen him on Twitter (@MR_STiXX), especially recently. His tweets have a penchant for going viral (he was recently quote tweeted by Zendaya and now, naturally, I can’t tell him anything) and he has a new podcast that is three episodes in that you should definitely check out!
One of the best things about Jordan is that he’s a Toronto man through-and-through (shoutout to Scarborough) and there is an ode to the city in many of the pieces he’s worked on. One of my personal favourites is a series of shorts called Next Stop. Trust me, if you’re from Toronto (like myself), you will definitely understand, appreciate and likely laugh during many of the four episodes.
Hayles has been in the video editing game since 2013 and it’s amazing to see his growth during this time. From doing freelance work to editing for the Toronto Raptors, Hayles leaves his mark wherever he goes. I was lucky enough to interview him a few weeks ago about what his career has been like, what sent him down the path of video editing and post-production, what it’s been like being one of the only Black people in a predominantly white industry and what he hopes the future brings.
Check out the interview below:
As a video editor, can you tell me what your work has been like thus far in your career?
Jordan Hayles: Right now, I work for MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) where I edit videos for their sports teams, including the NBA Championship-winning Toronto Raptors. I’ve been working in post-production since 2013. I started as an assistant editor at a production company that specializes in making lifestyle television. So, I’ve worked on shows that appeared on HGTV. From there, I went over to another production company, Alibi, where I worked on a Food Network show, and then I worked at VICE for a while – and that was really my progression into getting to be more of a lead editor. From there, I advanced from an assistant editor role to a junior editor, which is more focused on building scenes and helping the senior editors with their cuts.
I had the opportunity to actually cut a couple of episodes of various series, which I was very thankful for and that basically propelled me to take on larger roles. After my time there, I went back to Alibi and worked on four episodes of Carnival Eats (season 6) and that was cool, and then I worked at CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) for a short contract, working on the pre-Juno show – building the intros for each segment.
What would you say was the catalyst for you, that sent you down this career path? What was that “aha” moment for you?
Hayles: So, I came across editing videos in high school because we had a TV program and it was also very media-focused. Through that, I was exposed to linear editing in grade nine but I didn’t really get into the standard non-linear editing, which is the large focus today, until grade 11 when I was 16. There was a teacher’s assistant who kind of gave me a little fun project to do. So, I took the trailers for Corpse Bride and The Transporter and basically made a super trailer for it which was cool. But it wasn’t until I was working on my friend’s music video project for school and while they were around watching the cut back, their excitement at the end of it – and that feeling made me think, ‘Ya, alright. I think I can do this!’ So, that basically inspired me to see what I could do with this going forward and here I am now!
In terms of your first official job to now, what has your experience been like being a Black person in the media industry, especially as there are obviously so few of us in comparison to others?
Hayles: It hasn’t been a tumultuous experience. It hasn’t been as rough as some people may anticipate it has been, but I think that speaks to my work ethic and at the same time where I’ve worked. The places I’ve worked placed value in my talent and work ethic above my race, you know what I mean? And that’s really important. But obviously, it’s always something when I go into every production company that I’ve worked at, regardless of if they are a post or of full-on production companies, if I am not the only Black person there, I am one of a handful of Black people there – at max, maybe three or four and even those numbers are kind of generous.
So, I think that I was able to navigate through working this industry through things like my mom. She’s also a Black person who works in media, in a predominantly white industry which is book publishing. So, taking from her experiences and how she’s navigated through it helped me navigate in my own end, and I think everything has just really come down to the fact that I was just persistent and I continued to reach out. I was able to establish a good enough network so that I didn’t really have to stress about you know, what the next gig would be just because my talent and work spoke for itself – so that way my skin colour wasn’t a hindrance to moving forward.
Having said that, have you noticed from your beginnings to now, any kind of differences or shift in a positive way as it pertains to Black faces and voices in predominantly white spaces?
Hayles: Not really. Mainly because everywhere I’ve been at, I still see that if it’s not just me, there’s maybe one other Black person. But, it’s not something that’s very prominent – in terms of a focus on Black creatives – especially editors, producers, directors – within a corporate setting. When it comes to independents, that’s where you see a grander scale of the advancement and improvements for championing and amplifying diversity, which is great. But just through my own journey and where I’ve worked, I don’t see a lot of myself, you know what I mean? And I think that’s something that needs to be addressed. Obviously, there are people that look like me and I know that they edit, and I know that they direct and do other creative stuff. But breaking into the corporate world is very difficult because if you don’t have the patience and also the persistence to really break in, then it’s almost like your doomed to do freelance stuff forever.
So, I really had to take a chance on myself to break in. I was working retail and then I just quit and went cold turkey. But before that, I’d been putting feelers out and sending out cold e-mails looking for internships. Then a week after I quit, I got a call saying I got one of the internships and I just had to work towards finding out what the next step was going to be because I didn’t really know anything. I was just reaching out, meeting and talking to people, and that’s how I found got this opportunity and went for it.
But from 2013 to 2020, I can count on one hand how many Black editors I’ve interacted with and that’s wild. But at the same time, I know that more exist. You see it every day on social media; so many Black creatives making really dope things! But it’s taking all of that talent and merging it with working in a corporate environment that is the missing link. And I don’t know how much time that’s going to take, but I feel that because of the stark nepotism within the industry, it’s something that I don’t feel is going to have a dramatic shift any time soon – unless the powers at be and the people at the top of the food chain start to look outside of their own comfort zones and bring in new talent and new perspectives.
Since you spoke about working as a creative in a corporate setting, I’d also like to highlight some of your work with independent creatives. What is an indie project that you worked on that you’d like to showcase?
Hayles: I cut the trailer for an independent movie called Brown Girl Begins which was directed by Sharon Lewis and that was really fun. As editors, our experiences as it pertains to people wanting to work with us, it’s usually I have x amount of footage and I need it in x amount of time – which is often some ridiculous timeline and it’s usually working with either a low-budget or no budget at all. It was a great challenge because it was the first time I’d done something like that for a movie on the scale that it was. It was shown at Cineplex; it was shown on Air Canada flights. I actually saw the trailer coming back from New York with my mom and that was also the first time she saw it, so that was pretty cool. It was a great thing to witness.
I also worked on a little short film series with my friends Jabbari Weekes, Tichaona Tapambwa, Phil Witmer and Sharine Taylor called Next Stop. I’d never really cut scripted shorts before, so that was also a new challenge and I was happy about getting four of them done last year. But the Brown Girl Begins one was something because it wasn’t just me making trailers for myself anymore. It really hit me that this was for a movie [laughs]. So, that is something that really stood out for me.
So, if you were to look back on your journey thus far, is there anything you would change or do differently?
Hayles: Um, in terms of change, I probably would have changed my attitude toward expectations when I was about 21 around when I graduated. You know, when you graduate college you’re just like, ‘Okay! Now I gotta get to it, I have to be doing it all now. I already put in three years.’ Then you have OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) like, ‘Okay, give us back our money.’ So, of course, I was trying to rush and find something to justify having my diploma so I can pay back OSAP, but at the same time find something fulfilling.
So, in the beginning, I wasn’t as patient. I eventually found that patience and it was a trip to New York in 2011 that I went on with an editor, who at the time had won five sports Emmys (and now has 10 sports Emmys). So, being able to meet him and sitting in a building overlooking Times Square it put things into perspective. I just thought about it and thought, ‘You’re able to be here, listening and talking to this person. Talking about editing and talking about my career.’ So, I feel like from there it was me really figuring out what I gotta do and getting to my career and whatnot. So, the only thing I would have changed was to manage my expectations at that time.
But I wouldn’t change anything that pertains to going throughout my journey because with every decision, with every time you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to certain opportunities, you never know where they can lead you. And through all the decisions that I made, it’s led me to a place where I’m thankful for all the years I’ve put in and for what I will continue to do moving forward. I don’t even know what that’s gonna look like, but I’m excited about it!
In terms of your future, is there anything that you haven’t worked on yet that you’d like to tackle at some point? Or something that is coming up down the pipeline that you’d like to give a shout out?
Hayles: Well, it’s in the colouring stage, but the first documentary short that I’ve ever edited is slated for release this year. It’s called Project Susan and it’s a collective effort by myself, Issaq Ahmed and Brandon Isaac that basically tell the stories of individuals living in East Scarborough at The Susan. The experiences, the friendships and everything that’s been shared there. It’s been my passion project for the last three years and I am excited for the world to see it.
In terms of something I haven’t done yet, I’d like to edit a full-length documentary feature, a full-length scripted feature. I’d still love to do something for NFL Films at some point in life. I’d love to cut a 30 for 30 for ESPN. So, there are a lot of things! But I’m glad that I’m doing something sports-related now. So, it’s kind of ushering me into what may be the next phase in my life. But, the world’s really just my oyster. I will continue to do what I do in order to put myself in a great position so that I can achieve those goals.