“We have five drummers here at Sugar,” says Jeju Reid, Founder and CEO of Sugar Studios. It occupies three floors of the iconic Art Deco Wiltern Building in Los Angeles, somewhere near the center of the independent film world.
Sugar is set to have Reed executive producing. LSD is free, will conclude this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. Another Sugar project, the Michael Polish-Kate Bosworth series Get on the dancing horsesIt premiered last year at Sundance. In the fall, another movie that Sugar did all the publication on, blacknessIt premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Along the way, Sugar also worked on the Machine Gun Kelly Hulu documentary Life in pink.
Reed’s studio has 12 editing rooms, two color suites, four sound rooms, and a 20-seat Dolby Atmos theater for mixing and theatrical color grading. In an industry known for frustrating partial outsourcing and post-production, Sugar stands out as a one-stop-shop for everything from editing to color, sound, visual effects, and delivery. It also happens to be a fun place to work, collaborate, and hang out.
“Most filmmakers probably have to go to Burbank for sound, Westside for color, or somewhere else for visual effects — which definitely affects the creative process and the efficiency of these films, especially with films that don’t have an unlimited stash of money we want,” Reid says. For people to realize that the fit of our model goes hand in hand with high level quality.”
So why all the drummers? “It’s all about the rhythm,” he says. “The speed of the cuts, the flow of the content. Most of the best editors have a sense of rhythm. I find with our artists who have a knack for rhythm and timing, there’s a certain flow, a certain smoothness—that rhythm that really makes these cuts feel right, you know? It’s all about rhythm.” .
Reed’s story has all the beats of the best rock ‘n’ roll biographies – swanky 1950s decor, a rapid rise, an addiction, even a Ferrari accident. Then the comeback – to his biggest success yet – built on the love of the core art that got him started. It all started in the 1980s, in Studio City, where Reed was part of the psychobilly or punkabilly scene, a mixture of punk and rockabilly. “I was really into the ’50s aesthetic, you know? ’50s cars, ’50s clothes. I used to go to the Palomino and all these clubs in L.A. that had rockabilly and punk bands,” he says. “Since I was 14 or 15, I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetics of that era—the lines and the colors and their purity, in just the simplistic aspects.”
He modified and developed the aesthetic, but never abandoned it. “I always shopped at flea markets,” he says. “I had 1950s dog bone sofas, tweed chairs, ceramic ashtrays and glass grapes.” Now his desks are decked out in mid-century sea foam and retro deco that fit perfectly with Wiltern’s aesthetic. Sugar’s catchphrase is the first tip for his tastes. “I told my wife when I was designing the logo that I wanted it to look like old-school shabby Vegas combined with the logo on a low-rent North Hollywood duplex.”
Reed played in two bands as a teenager, The Hellcats and the Bobbi Brat Band. As he did in Los Angeles, he caught the attention of a casting agent who liked his look, and auditioned him for commercials and movies.
So I had a short stint trying to be an actor. And like most actors in L.A., I needed a real job. I worked as a waiter at Jerry’s Deli, in Studio City, and then a friend said to me, ‘Hey, do you want a real job?'”
It was 1989, and the job was as a chauffeur for a company that produced movie trailers. He started relaying tapes back and forth to the studios, then became an assistant, then an assistant editor and director — the person who puts everything together to make it beautiful. He became very proficient in the technical aspects of the job and eventually became a creative producer.
The company he worked for, The Cimarron Group, did the trailers for classic movies incl Terminator 2And the unforgivenAnd casino. He remembers the latter particularly well — as it perfectly captures the creativity involved in cutting a great trailer.
As he recalled it, three trailer companies were competing for the Martin Scorsese movie, and all of their trailers included the famous car explosion that appeared near the beginning and end of the film. But one thing made his company stand out: a creative recontextualization of a line that Robert De Niro’s character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein, quietly introduced to his wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), after he overheard her plotting in their home to get rid of him.
“Eventually, after the explosion, we cut it—a beautiful sweet shot of him looking over the Tangiers casino floor, and we just hear the dialogue: ‘You want to get rid of me? Here I am.’ I put those two together and created this magical ending to that trailer. So we ended up having that campaign, and I’d say I worked on that trailer.”
His attention to detail is evident in the way he remembers the bakeoff game. He tells the story only after some prompting from me, huge casino admirer. Even though he worked on it 27 years ago, and it’s one of the countless trailers he’s been involved in, when I watched it later on YouTube, it was exactly as Reed remembered it:
He continued to rise in the trailer business, eventually becoming an executive producer at Union Editorial in Los Angeles, and then owner of The Division Media, where he handled feature films, television, new media, and more. Things seemed, from the outside, to be going well. He even owned a Ferrari.
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But it wasn’t all good. “I really spiraled into drugs and alcohol,” he says. He could have left that part out, but decided to share it, near the end of our interview. Because maybe hearing that will help someone else. He remembers that he used to tell himself that he needed drugs and booze to handle his workload.
“It’s funny that my brain would tell me that work required me to stay up late. So, I’m going to need some help staying up late,” he laughs. “But really, it was my need to stay up late and take drugs that kept me working late.” He had a moment of clarity at the party. Someone came up to me and said, ‘Oh yeah. Are you used to being productive? And in my mind, I thought I still was — but I wasn’t. “I was off the grid,” he says. “I had the clichéd experience of a reckless Hollywood producer: my marriage ended, my career ended, my Ferrari crashed.”
He went into rehab, and spent six months recovering again. Then it started again. “2012 when I rented a small office in Wiltern. I had a laptop, a hard drive I got at Fry’s for $120, and a monitor,” he recalls.
“I taught myself Final Cut Pro on my laptop and started cutting trailers in this tiny ninth-floor office in Wiltern.” For 10 years, with his wife Nicole in the role of COO, they have built Sugar, bigger and better.
“Every time I got a job, I would buy more equipment, hire some apprentices who became employees, and keep going.”
In 2013, he began focusing on full post-production production. Among his successes since then is his 2019 Regional Emmy Award win for Documentary Feature Breathe, Nolan, breathe. “So in the last 10 years, we’ve gone from a small office on the ninth floor to bypassing the entire eighth and ninth floors and the gorgeous penthouse on the 12th floor,” he says.
As we speak, he gets an email from a lead producer — a name you might recognize — that refers a filmmaker to Sugar.
“Ninety-five percent of our business is either referrals or repeat customers,” says Reid.
Get on the dancing horses It is Michael Polish’s fourth project that Sugar has worked on, and Paul, the show’s lead editor, has a long professional relationship with the writer and director. Series star Polish and Bosworth believed in it so much that they independently financed all 10 episodes of the series before looking for a network or broadcaster. (Expect an announcement soon).
Another sugar project is cinnamonFrom director Bryan Keith Montgomery Jr. , which features Pam Grier and Damon Wayans. It is being produced by Village Roadshow Pictures under a deal to produce several “Black Noir Cinema” films. Village Roadshow is one of many companies moving into more modest productions – and Sugar Studios is perfectly positioned to help them, with their unique, streamlined process.
“They were pleasantly surprised, and in some cases amazed, at the quality they could get at this budget level,” says Reed. LSD is free Reid would bring it full circle: It features some punk icons, like Dead Kennedys drummer DH Peligro and Circle Jerks vocalist Keith Morris, who he looked up to as a kid. He first met Morris when his band The Circle Jerks opened in 1986.
“Sort of a punk rock hero, you know?”
You can find out more about Sugar Studios at sugarstudiosla.com.
Feature image: Jeju Reed, CEO and Founder of Sugar Studios.