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Category Archives: Sundance

Sundance Videos: Editor to Editor

Our own Brady Betzel headed out to Park City this year to talk to a few editors whose films were being screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

As an editor himself, Betzel wanted to know about the all-important workflow, but also about how they got their start in the business and how important it is to find a balance between work life and personal life.

Among those he sat down with were Scare Me editor Patrick Lawrence, Boys State editors Jeff Gilbert and Connor Hall, Save Yourselves! editor Sofi Marshall, Aggie editor Gil Seltzer, Miss Juneteenth editor Courtney Ware, Black Bear editor Matthew L. Weiss, Spree editor Benjamin Moses Smith and Dinner in America writer/director/editor Adam Carter Rehmeier.

Click here to see them all.

An online editor’s first time at Sundance

By Brady Betzel

I’ve always wanted to attend the Sundance Film Festival, and my trip last month did not disappoint. Not only is it an iconic industry (and pop-culture) event, but the energy surrounding it is palpable.

Once I got to Park City and walked Main Street — with the sponsored stores (Canon and Lyft among others) and movie theaters, like the Egyptian — I started to feel an excitement and energy that I haven’t felt since I was making videos in high school and college… when there were no thoughts of limits and what I should or shouldn’t do.

A certain indescribable nervousness and love started to bubble up. Sitting in the luxurious Park City Burger King with Steve Hullfish (Art of the Cut) and Joe Herman (Cinemontage) before my second screening of Sundance 2020: Dinner in America, I was thinking how I was so lucky to be in a place that is packed with creatives. It sounds cliché and trite, but it really is reinvigorating to surround yourself with positive energy — especially if you can get caught up in cynicism like me.

It brought me back to my college classes, taught by Daniel Restuccio (another postPerspective writer), at California Lutheran University, where we would cut out pictures from magazines, draw pictures, blow up balloons, eat doughnuts and do whatever we could to get our ideas out in the open.

While Sundance occasionally felt like an amalgamation of the thirsty-hipster Coachella crowd mixed with a high school video production class (but with million-dollar budgets), it still had me excited to create. Sundance 2020 in Park City was a beautiful resurgence of ideas and discussions about how we as an artistic community can offer accessibility to everyone and anyone who wants to tell their own story on screen.

Inclusiveness Panel
After arriving in Park City, my first stop was a panel hosted by Adobe called “Empowering Every Voice in Film and the World.” Maybe it was a combination of the excitement of Sundance and the discussion about accessibility, but it really got me thinking. The panel was expertly hosted by Adobe’s Meagan Keane and included producer, director Yance Ford (Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, Oscar-nominated for Strong Island); editor Eileen Meyer (Crip Camp); editor Stacy Goldate (Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen); and director Crystal Kayiza (See You Next Time).

I walked away feeling inspired and driven to increase my efforts in accessibility. Eileen said one of her biggest opportunities came from the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, a year-long fellowship for emerging documentary editors.

Yance drove home the idea of inclusivity and re-emphasized the idea of access to equipment. But it’s not simply about access — you also have to make a great story and figure out things like distribution. I was really struck by all the speakers on-stage, but Yance really spoke to me. He feels like the voice we need when representing marginalized groups and to see more content from these creatives. The more content we see the better.

Crystal spoke about the community needing to tell stories that don’t necessarily have standard plot points and stakes. The idea to encourage people to create their stories and for those that are in power to help and support these stories and trust the filmmakers, regardless of whether you identify with the ideas and themes.

Rebuilding Paradise

Screenings
One screening I attended was Rebuilding Paradise, directed by Ron Howard. He was at the premiere, along with some of the people who lost everything in the Paradise, California fires. In the first half of November 2018, there were several fires that raged out of control in California. One surrounded the city of Simi Valley and worked its way toward the Pacific Coast. (It was way too close for my comfort in Simi Valley. We eventually evacuated but were fine.)

Another fire was in the town of Paradise, which burnt almost the entire city to the ground. Watching Rebuilding Paradise filled me with great sadness for those who lost family members and their homes. Some of the “found footage” was absolutely breathtaking. One in particular was of a father racing out of what appears to be hell, surrounded by flames, in his car with his child asking if they were going to die. Absolutely incredible and heart wrenching.

Dinner in America

Another film I saw was Dinner in America, as referenced earlier in this piece. I love a good dark comedy/drama, so when I got a ticket to Adam Carter Rehmeier’s Dinner in America I was all geared up. Little did I know it would start off with a disgruntled 20-something throwing a chair through a window and lighting the front sidewalk on fire. Kudos to composer John Swihart, who took a pretty awesome opening credit montage and dropped the heat with his soundtrack.

Dinner in America is a mid-‘90s Napoleon Dynamite cross-pollinated with the song “F*** Authority” by Pennywise. Coincidentally, Swihart composed the soundtrack for Napoleon Dynamite. Seriously, the soundtrack to Dinner in America is worth the ticket price alone, in my opinion. It adds so much to one of the main character’s attitude. The parallel editing mixed with the fierce anti-authoritarianism love story, lived by Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs, make for a movie you probably won’t forget.

Adam Rehmeier

During the Q&A at the end, writer, director and editor Rehmeier described how he essentially combined two ideas that led to Dinner in America. As I watched the first 20 minutes, it felt like two separate movies, but once it came together it really paid off. Much like the cult phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite, Dinner in America will resonate with a wide audience. It’s worth watching when it comes to a theater (or streaming platform) near you. In the meantime, check out my video interview with him.

Adobe Productions
During Sundance, Adobe announced an upcoming feature for Premiere called “Productions.” While in Park City, I got a small demo of the new Productions at Adobe’s Sundance Production House. It took about 15 minutes before I realized that Adobe has added the one feature that has set Avid Media Composer apart for over 20 years — bin locking. Head’s up Avid, Adobe is about to release multi-user workflow that is much easier to understand and use than on previous iterations of Premiere.

The only thing that caught me off guard was the nomenclature — Productions and Projects. Productions is the title, but really a “Production” is a project, and what they call a “project” is a bin. If you’re familiar with Media Composer, you can create a project and inside have folders and bins. Bins are what house media links, sequences, graphics and everything else. In the new Productions update, a “Production” will house all of your “Projects” (i.e. a Project with bins).

Additionally, you will be able to lock “Projects.” This means that in a multi-user environment (which can be something like a SAN or even an Avid Nexis), a project and media can live on the shared server and be accessed by multiple users. These users can be named and identified inside of the Premiere Preferences. And much like Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, you can update the “projects” when you want to — individually or all projects at once. On its face, Productions looks like the answer to what every editor has said is one of the only reasons Avid is still such a powerhouse in “Hollywood” — the ability to work relatively flawlessly among tons of editors simultaneously. If what I saw works the way it should, Adobe is looking to take a piece of the multi-user environment pie Avid has controlled for so long.

Summing Up
In the end, the Sundance Film Festival 2020 in Park City was likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. From seeing celebrities, meeting other journalists, getting some free beanies and hand warmers (it was definitely not 70 degrees like California), to attending parties hosted by Canon and Light Iron — Sundance can really reinvigorate your filmmaking energy.

It’s hard to keep going when you get burnt out by just how hard it is to succeed and break through the barriers in film and multimedia creation. But seeing indie films and meeting like-minded creatives, you can get excited to create your own story. And you realize that there are good people out there, and sometimes you just have to fly to Utah to find them.

Walking down Main Street, I found a coffee shop named Atticus Coffee and Tea House. My oldest son’s name is Atticus, so I naturally had to stop in and get him something, I ended up getting him a hat and me a coffee. It was good. But what I really did was sit out front pretending to shoot b-roll and eavesdropping on some conversations. It really is true that being around thoughtful energy is contagious. And while some parts of Sundance feel like a hipster-popularity contest, there are others who are there to improve and absorb culture from all around.

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s theme in my eyes was to uplift other people’s stories. As Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Atticus Finch is talking with Scout: “First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

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Sundance Videos: Watch our editor interviews

postPerspective traveled to Sundance for the first time this year, and it was great. In addition to attending some parties, brunches and panels, we had the opportunity to interview a number of editors who were in Park City to help promote their various projects. (Watch here.)

Billy McMillin

We caught up with the editors on the comedy docu-series Documentary Now!, Michah Gardner and Jordan Kim. We spoke to Courtney Ware about cutting the film Light From Light, as well as Billy McMillin, editor on the documentary Mike Wallace is Here. We also chatted with Phyllis Housen, the editor on director Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency and Kent Kincannon who cut Hannah Pearl Utt’s comedy, Before you Know It. Finally, we sat down with Bryan Mason, who had the dual roles of cinematographer and editor on Animals.

We hope you enjoy watching these interviews as much as we enjoyed shooting them.

Don’t forget, click here to view!

Oh, and a big shout out to Twain Richardson from Jamaica’s Frame of Reference, who edited and color graded the videos. Thanks Twain!


Sundance: Audio post for Honey Boy and The Death of Dick Long

By Jennifer Walden

Brent Kiser, an Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer
at LA’s Unbridled Sound, is no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival. His resume includes such Sundance premieres as Wild Wild Country, Swiss Army Man and An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin.

He’s the only sound supervisor to work on two films that earned Dolby fellowships: Swiss Army Man back in 2016 and this year’s Honey Boy, which premiered in the US Dramatic Competition. Honey Boy is a biopic of actor Shia LaBeouf’s damaging Hollywood upbringing.

Brent Kiser (in hat) and Will Files mixing Honey Boy.

Also showing this year, in the Next category, was The Death of Dick Long. Kiser and his sound team once again collaborated with director Daniel Scheinert. For this dark comedy, the filmmakers used sound to help build tension as a group of friends tries to hide the truth of how their buddy Dick Long died.

We reached out to Kiser to find out more.

Honey Boy was part of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, which is supported by several foundations including the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. You mentioned that this film earned a grant from Dolby. How did that grant impact your approach to the soundtrack?
For Honey Boy, Dolby gave us the funds to finish in Atmos. It allowed us to bring MPSE award-winning re-recording mixer Will Files on to mix the effects while I mixed the dialogue and music. We mixed at Sony Pictures Post Production on the Kim Novak stage. We got time and money to be on a big stage for 11 days — a five-day pre-dub and six-day final mix.

That was huge because the film opens up with these massive-robot action/sci-fi sound sequences and it throws the audience off the idea of this being a character study. That’s the juxtaposition, especially in the first 15 to 20 minutes. It’s blurring the reality between the film world and real life for Shia because the film is about Shia’s upbringing. Shia LaBeouf wrote the film and plays his father. The story focuses on the relationship of young actor Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) and his alcoholic father James.

The story goes through Shia’s time on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens series and then on Transformers, and looks at how this lifestyle had an effect on him. His father was an ex-junkie, sex-offender, ex-rodeo clown and would just push his son. By age 12, Shia was drinking, smoking weed and smoking cigarettes — all supplied to him by his dad. Shia is isolated and doesn’t have too many friends. He’s not around his mother that much.

This year is the first year that Shia has been sober since age 12. So this film is one big therapeutic movie for him. The director Alma Har’el comes from an alcoholic family, so she’s able to understand where Shia is coming from. Working with Alma is great. She wants to be in every part of the process — pick each sound and go over every bit to make sure it’s exactly what she wants.

Honey Boy director Alma Har’el.

What were director Alma Har’el’s initial ideas for the role of sound in Honey Boy?
They were editing this film for six months or more, and I came on board around mid-edit. I saw three different edits of the film, and they were all very different.

Finally, they settled on a cut that felt really nice. We had spotting sessions before they locked and we were working on creating the environment of the motel where Otis and James were staying. We were also working on creating the sound of Otis being on-set. It had to feel like we were watching a film and when someone screams, “Cut!” it had to feel like we go back into reality. Being able to play with those juxtapositions in a sonic way really helped out. We would give it a cinematic sound and then pulled back into a cinéma vérité-type sound. That was the big sound motif in the movie.

We worked really close with the composer Alex Somers. He developed this little crank sound that helped to signify Otis’ dreams and the turning of events. It makes it feel like Otis is a puppet with all his acting jobs.

There’s also a harness motif. In the very beginning you see adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) standing in front of a plane that has crashed and then you hear things coming up behind him. They are shooting missiles at him and they blow up and he gets yanked back from the explosions. You hear someone say, “Cut!” and he’s just dangling in a body harness about 20 feet up in the air. They reset, pull him down and walk him back. We go through a montage of his career, the drunkenness and how crazy he was, and then him going to therapy.

In the session, he’s told he has PTSD caused by his upbringing and he says, “No, I don’t.” It kicks to the title and then we see young Otis (Noah Jupe) sitting there waiting, and he gets hit by a pie. He then gets yanked back by that same harness, and he dangles for a little while before they bring him down. That is how the harness motif works.

There’s also a chicken motif. Growing up, Otis has a chicken named Henrietta La Fowl, and during the dream sequences the chicken leads Otis to his father. So we had to make a voice for the chicken. We had to give the chicken a dreamy feel. And we used the old-school Yellow Sky wind to give it a Western-feel and add a dreaminess to it.

On the dub stage with director Alma Har’el and her team, plus Will Files (front left) and Andrew Twite (front right).

Andrew Twite was my sound designer. He was also with me on Swiss Army Man. He was able to make some rich and lush backgrounds for that. We did a lot of recording in our neighborhood of Highland Park, which is much like Echo Park where Shia grew up and where the film is based. So it’s Latin-heavy communities with taco trucks and that fun stuff. We gave it that gritty sound to show that, even though Otis is making $8,000 a week, they’re still living on the other side of the tracks.

When Otis is in therapy, it feels like Malibu. It’s nicer, quieter, and not as stressful versus the motel when Otis was younger, which is more pumped up.

My dialogue editor was Elliot Thompson, and he always does a great job for me. The production sound mixer Oscar Grau did a phenomenal job of capturing everything at all moments. There was no MOS (picture without sound). He recorded everything and he gave us a lot of great production effects. The production dialogue was tricky because in many of the scenes young Otis isn’t wearing a shirt and there are no lav mics on him. Oscar used plant mics and booms and captured it all.

What was the most challenging scene for sound design on Honey Boy?
The opening, the intro and the montage right up front were the most challenging. We recut the sound for Alma several different ways. She was great and always had moments of inspiration. We’d try different approaches and the sound would always get better, but we were on a time crunch and it was difficult to get all of those elements in place in the way she was looking for.

Honey Boy on the mix stage at Sony’s Kim Novak Theater.

In the opening, you hear the sound of this mega-massive robot (an homage to a certain film franchise that Shia has been part of in the past, wink, wink). You hear those sounds coming up over the production cards on a black screen. Then it cuts to adult Otis standing there as we hear this giant laser gun charging up. Otis goes, “No, no, no, no, no…” in that quintessential Shia LaBeouf way.

Then, there’s a montage over Missy Elliott’s “My Struggles,” and the footage goes through his career. It’s a music video montage with sound effects, and you see Otis on set and off set. He’s getting sick, and then he’s stuck in a harness, getting arrested in the movie and then getting arrested in real life. The whole thing shows how his life is a blur of film and reality.

What was the biggest challenge in regards to the mix?
The most challenging aspect of the mix, on Will [Files]’s side of the board, was getting those monsters in the pocket. Will had just come off of Venom and Halloween so he can mix these big, huge, polished sounds. He can make these big sound effects scenes sound awesome. But for this film, we had to find that balance between making it sound polished and “Hollywood” while also keeping it in the realm of indie film.

There was a lot of back and forth to dial-in the effects, to make it sound polished but still with an indie storytelling feel. Reel one took us two days on stage to get through. We even spent some time on it on the last mix day as well. That was the biggest challenge to mix.

The rest of the film is more straightforward. The challenge on dialogue was to keep it sounding dynamic instead of smoothed out. A lot of Shia’s performance plays in the realm of vocal dynamics. We didn’t want to make the dialogue lifeless. We wanted to have the dynamics in there, to keep the performance alive.

We mixed in Atmos and panned sounds into the ceiling. I took a lot of the composer’s stems and remixed those in Atmos, spreading all the cues out in a pleasant way and using reverb to help glue it together in the environment.

 

The Death of Dick Long

Let’s look at another Sundance film you’ve worked on this year. The Death of Dick Long is part of the Next category. What were director Daniel Scheinert’s initial ideas for the role of sound on this film?
Daniel Scheinert always shows up with a lot of sound ideas, and most of those were already in place because of picture editor Paul Rogers from Parallax Post (which is right down the hall from our studio Unbridled Sound). Paul and all the editors at Parallax are sound designers in their own right. They’ll give me an AAF of their Adobe Premiere session and it’ll be 80 tracks deep. They’re constantly running down to our studio like, “Hey, I don’t have this sound. Can you design something for me?” So, we feed them a lot of sounds.

The Death of Dick Long

We played with the bug sounds the most. They shot in Alabama, where both Paul and Daniel are from, so there were a lot of cicadas and bugs. It was important to make the distinction of what the bugs sounded like in the daytime versus what they sounded like in the afternoon and at night. Paul did a lot of work to make sure that the balance was right, so we didn’t want to mess with that too much. We just wanted to support it. The backgrounds in this film are rich and full.

This film is crazy. It opens up with a Creed song and ends with a Nickleback song, as a sort of a joke. They wanted to show a group of guys that never really made much of themselves. These guys are in a band called Pink Freud, and they have band practice.

The film starts with them doing dumb stuff, like setting off fireworks and catching each other on fire — just messing around. Then it cuts to Dick (Daniel Scheinert) in the back of a vehicle and he’s bleeding out. His friends just dump him at the hospital and leave. The whole mystery of how Dick dies unfolds throughout the course of the film. The two main guys are Earl (Andre Hyland) and Zeke (Michael Abbott, Jr.).

The Foley on this film — provided by Foley artist John Sievert of JRS Productions — plays a big role. Often, Foley is used to help us get in and out of the scene. For instance, the police are constantly showing up to ask more questions and you hear them sneaking in from another room to listen to what’s being said. There’s a conversation between Zeke and his wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) and he’s asking her to help him keep information from the police. They’re in another room but you hear their conversation as the police are questioning Dick Long’s wife, Jane (Jess Weixler).

We used sound effects to help increase the tension when needed. For example, there’s a scene where Zeke is doing the laundry and his wife calls saying she’s scared because there are murderers out there, and he has to come and pick her up. He knows it’s him but he’s trying to play it off. As he is talking to her, Earl is in the background telling Zeke what to say to his wife. As they’re having this conversation, the washing machine out in the garage keeps getting louder and it makes that scene feel more intense.

Director Daniel Scheinert (left) and Puddle relaxing during the mix.

“The Dans” — Scheinert and Daniel Kwan — are known for Swiss Army Man. That film used sound in a really funny way, but it was also relevant to the plot. Did Scheinert have the same open mind about sound on The Death of Dick Long? Also, were there any interesting recording sessions you’d like to talk about?
There were no farts this time, and it was a little more straightforward. Manchester Orchestra did the score on this one too, but it’s also more laid back.

For this film, we really wanted to depict a rural Alabama small-town feel. We did have some fun with a few PA announcements, but you don’t hear those clearly. They’re washed out. Earl lives in a trailer park, so there are trailer park fights happening in the background to make it feel more like Jerry Springer. We had a lot of fun doing that stuff. Sound effects editor Danielle Price cut that scene, and she did a really great job.

What was the most challenging aspect of the sound design on The Death of Dick Long?
I’d say the biggest things were the backgrounds, engulfing the audience in this area and making sure the bugs feel right. We wanted to make sure there was off-screen movement in the police station and other locations to give them all a sense of life.

The whole movie was about creating a sense of intensity. I remember showing it to my wife during one of our initial sound passes, and she pulled the blanket over her face while she was watching it. By the end, only her eyes were showing. These guys keep messing up and it’s stressful. You think they’re going to get caught. So the suspense that the director builds in — not being serious but still coming across in a serious manner — is amazing. We were helping them to build that tension through backgrounds, music and dropouts, and pushing certain everyday elements (like the washing machine) to create tension in scenes.

What scene in this film best represents the use of sound?
I’d say the laundry scene. Also, in the opening scene you hear the band playing in the garage and the perspective slowly gets closer and closer.

During the film’s climax, when you find out how Dick dies, we’re pulling down the backgrounds that we created. For instance, when you’re in the bedroom you hear their crappy fan. When you’re in the kitchen, you hear the crappy compressor on the refrigerator. It’s all about playing up these “bad” sounds to communicate the hopelessness of the situation they are living in.

I want to shout out all of my sound editors for their exceptional work on The Death of Dick Long. There was Jacob “Young Thor” Flack and Elliot Thompson, and Danielle Price who did amazing backgrounds. Also, a shout out to Ian Chase for help on the mix. I want to make sure they share the credit.

I think there needs to be more recognition of the contribution of sound and the sound departments on a film. It’s a subject that needs to be discussed, particularly in these somber days following the death of Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Gregg Rudloff. He was the nicest guy ever. I remember being an intern on the sound stage and he always took the time to talk to us and give us advice. He was one of the good ones.

When post sound gets a credit after the caterers’ on-set, it doesn’t do us justice. On Swiss Army Man, initially I had my own title card because The Dans wanted to give me a title card that said, “Supervising Sound Editor Brent Kiser,” but the Directors Guild took it away. They said it wasn’t appropriate. Their reasoning is that if they give it to one person then they’ll have to give it to everybody. I get it — the visual effects department is new on the block. They wrote their contract knowing what was going on, so they get a title card. But try watching a film on mute and then talk to me about the importance of sound. That needs to start changing, for the sheer fact of burnout and legacy.

At the end of the day, you worked so hard to get these projects done. You’re taking care of someone else’s baby and helping it to grow up to be this great thing, but then we’re only seen as the hired help. Or, we never even get a mention. There is so much pressure and stress on the sound department, and I feel we deserve more recognition for what we give to a film.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney