Cutting a Feature on a Low Budget with the Software-Only Avid Media Composer

Studio Daily by Bryant Frazer

If any single movie can be identified as the toast of Sundance 2012, it might be The Surrogate, which arrived with little fanfare to tell the bleak-sounding story of the late journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, a quadriplegic polio survivor spending much of his time in an iron lung. But O'Brien had, against the odds, a successful writing career that makes his story inspirational. One of the pieces he left behind dealt with his experience seeking a sexual surrogate. Writer-director Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor, drew heavily on that piece for a film that made a big Sundance splash, selling to Fox Searchlight for $6 million days after its first screening. Oscar nominee John Hawkes plays O'Brien, Helen Hunt his surrogate, and William H. Macy his priest.

The Surrogate was shot on the Red One MX and edited on a software-only Avid Media Composer system by Lisa Bromwell, A.C.E., an Avid veteran who took on the film as a rare unpaid gig because she believed in the material. When we spoke to her this week, she had just returned from the film's world premiere in the cavernous Eccles Theater in Park City and was already back at work cutting two episodes of Criminal Minds, but she said The Surrogate represented a satisfying departure from her normal mix of editorial jobs. "I wanted to work with a filmmaker that had a story they cared about," she told StudioDaily. "That's what this film is, and I'm really proud of it." We asked her about working with Lewin, Hawkes' performance in the film, and how she really feels about Final Cut Pro.

Did you make it to Sundance to see the film?

My husband and I flew up on Friday morning and saw the film on Monday. I've been editing for 20 years, and I've never had a film at Sundance before.

That must have been quite an experience.

It was so amazing. It screened for 1200 people in a huge, sold-out theater. We've been working on this movie for a good while, and we screened it for a lot of people, but never a stranger — not for people who aren't connected in some way with the film. I don't think that's a good idea, but that's the way it happened. I was anxious to see it play in a theater full of strangers, and I could not have been more astonished and pleased. You can always tell if the audience is with you or not. They laughed at the right moments and sobbed at the right moments. It was really an extraordinary experience. And a standing ovation. I was kind of overwhelmed. read more...

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