Sean vonLembke may have grown up in the 1980s and ‘90s, but for all intents and purposes, his TV was a time machine stuck in the world before 1952 — the only era of movies and shows that his parents allowed him to watch. That meant lots of Hitchcock and lots of Vincent Price films.
Those films began a lifelong film and production tutorial, one that arced through The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, then through The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction, and ended its amateur chapter at the University of North Carolina, where the starry-eyed freshman majored in computer science and minored in screenwriting.
“I feel pretty dumb admitting this, but somehow, I equated computer science with Pixar, and I thought a degree would mean something when coupled with a screenwriting minor,” laughs vonLembke, who dropped that tack after fairly successful runs in freshman computer science courses. “I quickly realized this was a pretty dumb approach. Ultimately, it was my analysis and criticism courses that really opened my mind to the impact media has on society, while outside work on 16mm films and a paid internship at UNC public television helped me develop technical skills.”
After graduation, it was off to Los Angeles, where vonLembke chose a writing internship, which he promptly lost when the writers’ strike of 2007-08 began. What followed was a textbook story of persistence, flexibility and willingness to take chances.
“Since I was just out of college and I needed to pay rent, I didn’t exactly have the luxury of choosing which area of production I wanted to work in,” explains vonLembke. “Instead, I had to be as proactive as possible.”
After five months of working as a freelance PA, a friend gave vonLembke periodic work filling in as a runner for Nash Entertainment. One day, he heard that the vault librarian needed some help degaussing and recycling old stock, and, since there were no more runs that day, he immediately ran down and offered to help him. About a month later, with less than $1,000 to his name, he got a call from the post supervisor offering him a job in the tape room. He worked his way up from there.
After learning to work directly with clients, deliver on deadline, and master the art of digital organization, vonLembke eventually left Nash on what he describes as an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-esque leap of faith to New York. There, he blind mailed his resume to 75 studios. Of the approximately half dozen he heard back from, one was Nola Pictures, where he started as an assistant editor and quickly worked his way up to making director’s cuts.
A highlight of vonLembke’s time at Nola has been the close working relationship he has developed with director Nick Lewin, whose experience as an editor makes him an easy collaborator in the edit suite. vonLembke, an aspiring director himself, has learned a great deal from his experience with Lewin. The first time the two got in the edit suite together, they worked over the weekend to deliver 15 versions of one spot for a client. “I was afraid it was too much, but then I watched Nick anticipate the client’s response and essentially narrow down the options for them. In short, he anticipated all the possibilities and questions and was completely prepared. There aren’t many better teachers than Nick Lewin.”
vonLembke attributes part of his ease with Lewin and other directors to his experience as a writer for Tru TV and others. “I approach every edit as a writer first,” he explains. “That means trying to understand the story of every writer involved before you, and how you are going to relay that to the audience.”
vonLembke has found a stable home at Nola, one that seems invested in his long-term development. “Nola founder Charlie Curran’s confidence in my work and my aesthetic, along with everyone at Nola, has essentially given me my career,” vonLembke remarks. “But I wouldn’t have found this atmosphere if I hadn’t taken a huge chance and moved to New York. In the end, that may be the most important lesson you can learn in this business: if you want something, you need to put in the effort.”
Nola Pictures was founded in 2005 and operates as a full-service, multi-disciplined media services company. It has affiliate offices in France, Canada and Chile. The company offers turnkey production solutions from shoot through editorial and post; including animation, design and VFX.