Madison Mackay uses her creativity to venture as a freelance editor with career goals to direct and edit her own material. As one of the founding members of Utah Women in Production and Photography (UWIPP), and creator of the public service announcement (PSA), “Break the Stigma,” she identifies as an advocate for equality and mental health. In her constant efforts to overcome her feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, Madison has come into her own as a film professional working to accomplish her dreams.
Before filming shorts and winning awards, Madison attended Utah State University and got her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She enjoyed working with people and helping others, but as time went on it became draining. There was no outlet to express her creativity. She realized that she could help others by utilizing a storytelling platform. With that in mind, she knew she needed to refocus her career and pursue her dreams. “I’ve known I’ve always liked telling stories and that I have this creative side that I need to hone in on.” So, she decided to go back to school and attended the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) film program, graduating in 2021.
Since childhood, Madison had a passion for storytelling. While she played with Barbie dolls, she staged them in scenes and took photos on her dad’s digital camera, forming narratives through photographs. This continued as she got older by directing vacation vlogs with her friends, “They hated me, but they put up with it because they loved me.” A natural creative, she never struggled knowing where to cut and how to tell stories. She used those fun habits to evolve and grow into a director and editor with the skills to frame a narrative. Madison always had a mental timeline – piecing together each sequence for how she imagined the narrative should flow.
She learned a lot at SLCC and built connections with her classmates. She shot and directed projects and optimized her editing skills. The summer following her graduation from SLCC, Madison worked as a freelance PA by reaching out through Facebook posts. Some tasks delegated to runners or PAs include managing crafty, crowd control, and ensuring talent and crew have the necessary resources throughout the day.
One day on set, Madison faced on-set harassment from a crew member. Her reports of the behavior went ignored and she had decided that she would finish out the project by avoiding the mistreatment. When asked about industry misogyny, Madison answered, “It is changing, but just listening and believing people – not brushing it under the rug, is an important first step.” This instance led Madison to reevaluate her career choices. She wanted to put her skills to the test in the editing world.
Soon after, Madison scrolled across a Facebook post from BW Productions. They were looking for a new editor. She didn’t think she’d get the gig without a sizzle reel of past work or zero corporate editing experience. But she did what she could and sent in a link to her YouTube channel, Mackay Film, that consisted of previous student projects. Next thing she knew, BW Productions contacted her for an interview and Madison got the job. Madison said that she was intimidated when she made this move:
“It’s scary putting yourself out there, you know? Rejection is hard. Nobody wants to deal with that. Don’t doubt yourself, cause I sure did, but it still worked out.”
She overcame her self-doubt and started a new experience with BW Productions. There, she edited corporate projects ranging from intimate interviews with CEOs to training videos to educate new and existing employees. Madison saw a different side of storytelling from the corporate perspective. She realized that everyone has a story to tell and that they are all meaningful in some way. The position gave Madison an opportunity to explore her creative thinking in a different setting—one that allowed her to grow collaboratively on an editing team that worked with a client’s vision in mind. But she was hungry for more, so she picked up a project that she set aside after she graduated.
The most difficult project she worked on was an independent study. Madison created a short film “Too Late” based on her grandfather’s personal experience. The $300 budget financed location costs and that was it. The cast consisted of friends and volunteer actors and was filmed in four days. Without a budget for crew, it was often only Madison and her director of photography. Leading a project without a proper infrastructure complicated the production process. There were moments where self-doubt crept up that delayed the editing portion of the project, “I was nervous to finish the project. There were times where I didn’t think it was worth the effort.”
But she pushed past that feeling. An opportunity presented itself for her to enter an online film festival. She used that inspiration to accomplish her goal of completing the edit. Madison submitted “Too Late” to the 2022 Pinnacle Film Awards, winning Best of Show. At first, Madison diminished the achievement, “It’s hard to believe in yourself, at least it is for me,” but she ultimately found the experience validating and cathartic, “Chasing my dreams – it’s cool, you know?” But her filmmaking didn’t start there.
Before graduating, Madison pitched an idea for a video in one of her classes and hers was one of the two selected to produce. She named it “Break the Stigma.” This short PSA illustrated the similarities between physical and mental health and how the former is treated much differently than the latter. As a topic she’s incredibly passionate about, she’s proud of the final product and happy that people relate to the video. She submitted the PSA to Labeled Fest, a festival set on eliminating the stigmas associated with mental health. “Break the Stigma” played with multiple screenings and is currently featured on Labeled Fest’s website. From the early stages to the final outcome, the PSA has become an achievement Madison cherishes.
Since she started creating and sharing her own videos, Madison found that her biggest obstacle is herself. Anxiety and self doubt have held her back at times, but she believes that learning how to overcome the blockades you put up yourself is one of the most intimidating challenges anyone can face. “It’s about taking initiative and not standing in your own way, because not trying is also failing.”
With that sentiment in mind, Madison embarks on a new chapter in her career. Visual storytelling and creative writing have always been meaningful to her, so she is shifting her focus from corporate interviews to narrative projects. She strives to broaden her knowledge within the industry by learning through additional classes and new experiences. One of Madison's dreams is to work on a feature film. She wants to work in a team environment where she can collaborate with others and create something people will resonate with. Her hope is that her new experiences will present opportunities for personal and creative growth.
Madison states that the role of an editor is often overlooked, “Editors have a lot of power; they can craft whatever storyline they want.” The influence she has as an editor is one of the main reasons she enjoys working in post-production. As a testament to her storytelling abilities, Madison hopes to give movie trailer editing a shot. She said, “I think it’s an art taking a huge story and segmenting it to motivate the audience into seeing this [movie].” Creative expression is extremely important to Madison and her future in the industry.
With the next chapter in her life, Madison continues to sharpen her skills in navigating client communication, managing project deadlines, and establishing a good work-life balance for her mental health. Now that she’s had some experience, she’s ready to prepare some newcomers with advice on entering the film industry.
As a freelance editor, Madison illustrates a client’s vision through appropriate guesswork with changes made after feedback. She maintains that being upfront and conveying information clearly, saves time and improves project efficiency. Madison mentions, “don’t take excessive criticism to heart.” The importance of recognizing that difficult communication from clients is not always the editor’s fault.
When editing her personal projects, she finds that it’s easier to edit with full creative knowledge. However, she feels that there is an objectivity gained from not being attached to certain shots. This allows the story to be more focused, even if that sequence she cut has sentimental value. While this process is mainly for her personal creativity, she finds that aligning her vision with the client’s, through proper communication channels, results in producing the best cut.
As a mental health advocate, Madison keeps a few things in mind to balance her work-life schedule: she sets goals, structures time with reasonable pacing, uses to-do lists, and holds herself accountable. She emphasizes taking time to decompress, stating, “My anxiety makes me super productive, but also very worn out.” By scheduling time for self-care, Madison continues to better her craft while also bettering herself.
Madison believes that nothing is unachievable. She says, “If you truly have a passion for something, you’re gonna find a way to pursue it.” As a mentor told her, “manifest confidence; fake it until you become it.” From her experience, Madison advises, “There’s no harm in trying even if you’re scared.” Pursuing opportunities, even when it seems daunting, has led to her biggest achievements.
Madison’s career has only begun to bloom. She knows proving herself wrong is difficult, but it’s only the first step in her new journey. Her ability to overcome self-made obstacles are what led her to earn the accolades she cherishes. Now that she’s already taken the first step, there’s nothing stopping Madison Mackay from chasing her dreams.
Join us on April 20th to listen to our guest speaker Jen Hansen!