Alum Daniel McDonald MFA ’17 Snags Emmy Award, Reflects on Episode that Got the Win

On September 14, 2020, first-time Creative Arts Emmy nominee Daniel McDonald MFA ’17 earned a coveted trophy for Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program for Netflix’s docuseries Cheer, which followed cheerleaders of Navarro College in Texas as they prepare for a national competition—the biggest moment of their lives.

As an editor on the series, McDonald was responsible for piecing together the pivotal climax of its final episode, which was the ep submitted for Emmy consideration. “The ’Daytona’ sequence, as we called it, showcases the cheer team’s big competition,” he says. The production crew was not allowed to film it, so they asked parents, participants, and friends of the cheerleaders to film as much as they could using their own mobile phones and cameras. McDonald then stitched together the 25-minute sequence from these disparate sources and used social media clips from SnapChat and Instagram to round it out. ”It is by the far the most challenging thing I’ve been asked to edit, but I’m proud of how it ended up—sort of a Cloverfield-meets-Bring It On found-footage action sequence,” he says.

McDonald had earned an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and had been considering a career in academia before applying to SFTV for a master’s degree. He had no prior TV or film experience. ”SFTV helped me build a working knowledge of skill sets that prepared me for working in the industry, most especially editing,” he says. ”I’m a firm believer that everyone involved in this business should have a basic understanding of and appreciation for it. When you’re working on unscripted reality programs, you don’t have a story arc and you’re filming real people, not characters whose outcomes you can control. A good editor must make a narrative from the source material, while also being true to the people whose lives are being laid bare for all to see.”