By Randi Altman
Buenos Aires native Federico Brusilovsky works as an editor at Lost Planet’s Los Angeles office, leading efforts on campaigns for Cadillac, Dodge, Heineken and HP. He joined Lost Planet’s New York studio four years ago as an intern, with production and assistant editorial experience already under his belt. From there, he worked his way up, learning from experienced editors, including the company’s Oscar-nominated editor and owner Hank Corwin (The Big Short).
We reached out to Brusilovsky, who studied film at New York’s City College after coming to the US, to talk about his path, the way he likes to work and tips for those just starting out.
How long have you been editing?
That’s a tough question. I guess my first experiences editing were all in-camera when I was shooting movies on VHS as a kid. Working in that linear format taught me a lot, especially how to recognize happy accidents: those coincidences and subconscious decisions that end up being some of the cooler parts of a film.
Once I was in college, I was working with Super 8 and 16mm and cutting with a guillotine. Working with your hands with such delicate materials teaches you a lot, too. There’s a craftsmanship to physically altering and moving around film that requires really sophisticated organization and patience. Those experiences are important to me now that I edit using digital, nonlinear systems. So, the short answer is probably “as long as I can remember.”
How did you get started in this business?
I was lucky to know editor Julie Monroe (Lolita, The Patriot), who offered me the chance to intern on the film she was working on, Mud. From there, Julie introduced me to Saar Klein (The Bourne Identity, Almost Famous), who introduced me to the studio that he’s on roster with, Hank Corwin’s Lost Planet.
After joining Lost Planet as an intern, it was easy stay focused on my goal of becoming an editor. I knew an internship wouldn’t naturally evolve into a lucrative editing career. I did lots of technical training on my own, so that the moment they needed me to step into a more challenging role, I would already have the skills.
How early did you know this would be your path?
I didn’t recognize it as a path early on, even though it was in front of me for a while, and I was always editing one way or another. It wasn’t until after meeting and talking to a bunch of feature editors that I was able to see it.
Was it much of a transition in terms of editing moving from Argentina to the US?
Speaking strictly in the commercial world, the biggest difference between the US and Argentina (and I guess most other countries as well) is the role of the editor and the director. For some reason, directors in the US are not as involved from start to finish as they are abroad. They tend to shoot and walk away, not always because they want to but because they have to.
Although we work with them at the beginning of the process, a lot of decisions that may be directorial end up in the hands of the editor. Which is great for me from a creative standpoint.
Overseas, directors are a good deal more involved in post production, and editors in production, which can be an advantage for strong collaborations but a disadvantage for editing objectively. It’s fun to get a feel for each shot while it’s happening on set, then work closely with the director in post, but that experience can make you married to footage that you would otherwise toss out in the edit room.
What system do you use?
Mostly Avid Media Composer. It’s the least user-friendly piece of software, probably because it pre-dates functions like drag-and-drop being available in every single app. But, with patience and the right training, it’s the most robust and attractive piece of non-linear software out there.
What’s your favorite shortcut?
CMD+Z (or CTRL+Z for the Windows crowd). Not only is “undo” possibly the most useful hotkey on a technical level, it has huge symbolic importance. Undo is a digital safety net. Knowing that I’m never more than two keys away from reverting to a previous version gives me the freedom and efficiency to take risks and experiment with different styles.
Do you use plug-ins?
With Avid I try not to, unless a specific project calls for it. If I’m using plug-ins, that means I’ve probably moved to After Effects.
What are some recent projects you have worked on?
Heineken’s “Soccer is Here” and Cadillac’s “CT6 Forward” are my two most recent campaigns. Cadillac was fantastic to be a part of. The material I had to work with was so rich and delicate. Each individual shot was successful on so many levels — color, light, movement, composition and so on. Some projects require a bit of strategy in the edit so high quality shots don’t call attention to less successful ones, but not with this project. It was like playing chess with a board full of queens and no pawns.
Do you have a favorite genre? If so, why?
Comedy. I know it’s a cliché to say that it’s my favorite because it’s the hardest genre to work in, but that’s probably why. One unique challenge to comedy is that the margin for error is so wide compared to other genres. The impact of a not-so-exciting fight scene is much less than the impact of a not-so-funny joke. Getting an audience to laugh is one of the biggest challenges in the industry, and so satisfying when you’re successful.
It’s also easy to get caught in an echo chamber of bad comedy in a writers’ room or on set. When you’re working with comedic premises and characters, trying out concepts and laughing with your coworkers, you can easily lose objectivity and convince yourself something is funny when it definitely isn’t.
I read somewhere that on the set of Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, there was a real sense of seriousness and tension, despite it being one of Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray’s funniest movies. Maybe that’s a secret to great comedy… approach it seriously.
Any tips for new editors just starting out?
Listen! Not listening is a classic rookie mistake. Also, it’s more important to be in the right place than to be doing the most glamorous or rewarding tasks. Better to be low on the totem pole for a good film with good people than at the top directing for a bad film. Try to be around companies and projects you admire, then work hard to grow in those communities.