Alumnus Jackie Kuenstler graduated in 2010 and went to the University of Texas at Austin. While in high school Kuenstler participated in marching band, colorguard, National Honor Society and worked for The Rider.
What have you done after high school?
“After high school, I went to UT Austin and began studying Multimedia Journalism and Radio-TV-Film,” Kuenstler said. “In college, I worked at the newspaper, The Daily Texan, making videos for the publication’s website. After college, I took that love of telling other people’s stories, and began working in the documentary film industry in Austin as an editor. I’ve worked on some amazing independent and local films, as well as documentaries for large companies such as YETI and Rooster Teeth.”
What made you want to do what you are doing now?
“I ended up getting into film in a roundabout way,” Kuenstler said. “I came out of high school not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, just that I had enjoyed a lot of what I did in high school – videos for the newspaper, and band. I ended up starting my major in Multimedia Journalism, and adding my Film degree later on. I was making videos at the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper, and I found that I really loved telling other people’s stories, on video. I made a lot of short documentary films in that time, about different students and personalities in Austin.
Somehow I managed to translate that into full time work, and I currently freelance as a film editor. In the last year, I worked on some great sponsored documentaries with YETI and Rooster Teeth, and I edited a doc about solar eclipses and the scientists who chase them. Next year, I’ll be working on a documentary series about local activism and how it’s helped preserve some of the best wildlife areas in Austin, like Barton Springs. I’ll also be editing a series created by the Austin Film Festival for PBS.”
What did you learn or experience in high school affect you in college and beyond?
“In high school, I really began to learn that I have to be able to depend on myself, before anyone else,” Kuenstler said. “You can’t let your major life choices depend on your best friend, or boyfriend, or whoever. As soon as I started pursuing things I had a genuine interest and talent in, opportunities, friends, and mentors just seemed to find me. People recognize when you’re being genuine and enthusiastic, and they appreciate it. I had a lot of insecurities in high school, don’t we all? And I tended to let those get in the way of long-term friendships and connections I could have been making. Now, I can become friends with the younger interns, and the 50 year old editor who works across from me, it doesn’t matter, because we all share interest in our jobs, and probably our hobbies too. People recommend you for more jobs because they know you’re an honest, pleasant person who can get along with everyone.”
Explain your job now.
“I work both as a film editor, and sometimes as an assistant editor for documentaries,” Kuenstler said. “As the assistant editor, I’ll basically be tech support for an entire film crew, and I’ll prepare all the footage for a film before the editor starts shaping the story. Essentially, that means syncing all the footage up with the audio, making transcriptions, and organizing scenes. It can also involve a lot of research, if you need to find archival materials to supplement the film. A lot of this can seem boring, but it takes a very organized person, and there’s something to be said for being the person that keeps the wheels oiled, even if it isn’t the most exciting job.
As the editor, I’ll take all the footage the assistant has prepared, and start shaping it into a story. I’ll listen to hours of interviews to figure out themes, find the best moments, and put together the whole film. This can take months, depending on the length of the film. Fun fact, in my experience on documentaries, a director will usually shoot about 90 hours of footage for every 1 hour of actual film runtime. Ultimately, I’ve always loved telling other people’s stories, and this is a way I can do that while sitting in comfort in a dark room where no one talks to me for hours. My favorite working environment.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I enjoy editing, and would love to edit more documentaries about different social issues and activism,” Kuenstler said. “On a different note, however, my fiancé and I are building an off-grid tiny home out of a school bus, and we’re planning to do a lot more traveling and exploring the world. With solar panels and water tanks, we’ll be nearly self-sufficient, and can slow down the pace of our lives and enjoy things we love a bit more, like nature. Who knows, I might end up making a documentary about this.”
What is your advice to current high schoolers?
“Freelancing has been an amazing learning experience, and I want to continue,” Kuenstler said. “But there are some hard realities. I don’t have an ‘employer’ to provide health insurance. My taxes get pretty complicated, only beginning with the fact that I don’t have them automatically deducted, since I’m ‘self-employed’. I won’t bog you down with the boring details, but the reality is that many young people are choosing to freelance, or work more flexibly. I love this trend and fully support it, but you’ve got to do your research and be on top of things. Freedom and independence is still complicated. Stay on top of your finances, and save. It’s easy to get a job and have more money than you’ve ever had in your life, and then go spend it all, don’t. ‘Adulting’ takes a lot of work, and you have to do it. But also don’t forget to have a little fun.”