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Sutter High grad edits box office hit 'The Grey'
Kevin Hale had a 20-year career with good pay and job security, which was great since he has a wife, two boys and a mortgage in Natomas.
Then, at 42, the Sutter High School graduate quit his job to chase a dream and launch a career in Hollywood.
"It was terrifying," said Hale, who had no idea he would soon be editing a movie that opened last week atop the box office. "It was unnerving leaving a good job and going into the unknown."
Hale, now 43, grew up in Yuba-Sutter and graduated from Sutter High School in 1987 before majoring in communications down at Sac State.
Even before graduating from college in 1992, Hale had already worked his way into a job in local television, a career which would last nearly 20 years and take him to multiple TV stations.
He was working with Channel 31 in the late 1990s when co-worker Joe Carnahan, 42, started working on a low-budget film, "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane." Hale's and Carnahan's other colleagues pitched in by acting, carrying equipment, holding boom mikes and whatever else had to be done.
Carnahan remembered one thing Hale did that really helped: He gave money. More specifically, Hale wrote a check for $600 during a time when he was probably pulling down less than $20,000 a year.
"That was a big part of his income," Carnahan said. "That's how much Kevin believed in what was going on."
"Blood" became the "talked about film" that year, Carnahan said, and went to Sundance in 1998, launching his career as a director and ending his career in Sacramento television.
He stayed in touch with Hale, and the two kept trying to find the right movie project to work on, Hale said. Things just never lined up.
Until a year ago. That is when Carnahan was looking for an editor to work on his new film, "The Grey," which stars Liam Neeson and has grossed $24 million. He needed someone who was skilled and could work quickly. Hale came to mind.
"I learned a tremendous amount about editing from Kevin from way back," Carnahan said. "I always knew he was talented."
That gave his friend a touch choice: stay with a solid job he was good at where people liked him, or jump into a new career in middle age in the midst of a horrible economy.
Hale wasn't just thinking about himself; the idea of abandoning his family weighed on him.
"I kinda felt like I was bailing on my family," he said. "If I do this, she's basically going to be a single mom."
His wife, Cherylle Magno-Hale, was the one who was pushing him out the door, Hale said.
"He was getting restless," she said. "I could tell he was itching to do something a little different, more creative."
That didn't make it easy. Hale spent Monday through Friday in Los Angeles before flying in late Friday, spending the weekend in Sacramento and flying out early Monday. That left Magno-Hale doing all the child-rearing and housework, including meal prep and bathing, something they used to "tag team."
"That was all on me," she said.
Hale's parents, who live in Yuba City, were a little skeptical of their son shirking a good job for something that might not pan out.
"It bothered us," Judy Hale said. "We're from the old school of when you have a good job, you should stay with it."
He didn't. Hale quit and accepted Carnahan's job offer to work on "The Grey," something that was "completely different" from TV. He started out as the second assistant editor, emphasis on "assistant." Hale printed emails, faxes, three-hole punched papers and put them in binders.
"There's nothing creative about that position," Hale said.
Still, he watched what his bosses were doing, and when those bosses got fired, Hale was "yanked" into an editor spot as the crew searched for permanent replacement. During the six-week search, however, Hale and Carnahan cut the film together.
"It was terrifying. I was like 'Oh my god this was a huge mistake,'" he said. "It was terrifying and it was exciting and it was great."
Carnahan is a little bit calmer about assessing the collaboration, which he said yielded great results, including a "brilliant" cut Hale made that is Carnahan's favorite from the film.
"We made a lot of wonderful discoveries during that," Carnahan said. "(The film) needed to go in a very specific direction. Kevin knew the direction it needed to go."
After work wrapped on "The Grey," Hale landed another gig working on a film in the Sacramento area. In a few weeks, he is set to team up with Carnahan again, this time to edit a TV commercial for a Chinese telecommunications company, one starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hale's father, Bill, is happy his son's succeeding. He, too, jumped into an unknown career when he was in his 40s after his wife's parents passed away and someone needed to take over the family farm in Yuba-Sutter. He didn't know a lick about farming, but things turned out all right.
Still, he made sure to lay out the risks his son was taking — bad economy, health insurance, big mortgage. "He had a very good job, and he was giving that up for an unknown."
Then Hale came home one day and told his dad that he'd quit, an act he said was harder than quitting itself, according to his father.
His father, about 30 years into a career he started from scratch, was there for him all the way.
"I told him I would've done the same thing."