JIM'S PHOTOSHOOT WITH TANYA BRAGANTI

By Jim Hession, 2013 Fellow

Shortly after learning that I would be fortunate enough to be named the 2013 Karen Schmeer Editing Fellow, I had the honor to meet up with one of Karen's oldest and dearest friends. Her name: Tanya Braganti. Her profession: photographer. Her goal: to take at least one headshot of my ugly mug and make it appear, at a minimum, presentable.

Karen, Tanya, and Tanya's cat Sam, around 1998

As it turned out, Tanya and her obvious talents achieved the ultimate objective in ways that I think surpassed everyone's greatest expectations, as she managed to compose an exceptionally flattering picture, for which I am incredibly grateful. And as someone with a fondness for the photographic image, I was genuinely interested in Tanya's thoughts while we walked around New York City's Meatpacking District in search of things like "good light," "good backgrounds" and poses that that would somehow make me appear "more natural." In my opinion, check, check and check... mate!

But it was Tanya's memories of Karen, which she generously shared with me between the "click, click, click" of her camera, that I will remember most about our brief encounter.

As I came to learn, Tanya attended Boston University with Karen way back when. It was there that the two classmates spent four years enrolling in courses such as "Being Indian in South America" while bonding over their mutual affection for life's oddities, quirks, obsessions and the people who possessed them.

It is perhaps not a coincidence, therefore, that they both cited Cinemania as one of their favorite documentaries of all time. Directed by Stephen Kijak and Angela Christlieb, the film follows five self-proclaimed cinephiles who compulsively watch between two and five movies every day. Yes, that is correct—two to five movies everyday. If you're like me, you haven't watched the documentary until someone kindly brought it to your attention, but just to give a taste of what the film explores: one of the characters is Harvey Schwartz, a man living with Asperger’s Syndrome who sustains himself with the sole help of disability benefits while wontedly watching "just about anything" and proudly possessing hundreds of vinyl soundtracks without ever bothering to own a record player. It was a shared appreciation for these sorts of matters that brought Karen and Tanya close over the years.

After graduation, like many college friends, the two lost touch for a period of time. After all, while Karen was busy working in Boston for the filmmaker Errol Morris, Tanya was consumed by her apprenticeship with the Vietnam photojournalist Phillip Jones Griffiths in New York City.

But it was shortly after Karen had completed the editing of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. that she and Tanya reconnected. Now a resident of Manhattan, Karen spent many weekends with Tanya strolling the not-yet-trendy sidewalks of the Meatpacking District on undefined photographic excursions. Snapping pictures of this and that as she zigzagged the gritty avenues and streets, Karen preferred to carry her Polaroid Land Camera, reveling in its distorted, heightened and immediate renderings of the physical world. Their walks would usually commence at the nearest available dive bar, and according to Tanya, it was over drinks that Karen would "hint" that she had "edited a couple of documentaries" in the past few years. Back then, Tanya didn't think much of "these documentaries" that Karen so humbly alluded to because, frankly, she hadn't heard of them.

karentbland.jpg

 At this point in the story, it should be noted that while Karen and Tanya were reconnecting as friends, the aforementioned documentaries were almost singlehandedly altering the film world’s perception of what a documentary could be, and critics were busy anointing the works with words like "brilliant," "magical" and "wildly original." And on a personal note, yours truly was so inspired while watching these films over and over again in my college dorm room that I began to think for the very first time that I might want to make movies for a living. Nevertheless, in Karen’s description to one of her closest friends, these were just "a couple of documentaries." No big deal.

At the tail end of our outing, Tanya and I wandered into a nearby bar, where the conversation eventually led to her describing what it was like to lose a dear friend.

"It was all so surreal and unbelievable when I first found out," Tanya recalled before going on to reminisce about the memorial service that was held in the days immediately following Karen's death.

KarenAtCoolidge.jpg

Karen working the box office at the Coolidge"It was at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline," she remembered as her eyes began to water. "Karen used to work there as a ticket-taker."

Knowing that I had spent some time living in the Boston area and perhaps trying to change the subject, Tanya asked me if I had ever been to the well-known arthouse theater.

"No, I’ve never been," I answered without giving the question enough thought. "Sorry, that's not right," I quickly corrected myself in the same breath. "I went there once. It's where I saw The Fog of War for the first time."

I paused for a few moments. Tanya nodded. And we both realized the unintended significance of what I had just said.

"Yeah, it's where I saw The Fog of War for the first time," I uttered again—this time a little softer, a little slower.

A reposed smile appeared on Tanya's face. A slight twinkle entered her eye.

"Good movie," she said.

karen_scan_img018.jpg

Karen in front of the Coolidge

JIM HESSION REACTS TO BEING CHOSEN AS THE 2013 FELLOW

By Jim Hession, 2013 Fellow

Growing up, I wanted to be many things. Professional basketball player. Journalist. Doctor. Lawyer. Photographer. Scientist. Historian. Writer. Bartender. CIA Agent. I don't specifically remember ever wishing to become an astronaut, fireman, or police officer, but the chances are that I considered those lines of noble work at some point as well.  

It perhaps comes as little surprise, therefore, that I had many interests and passions throughout my youth. But above all else, I was an American history buff. And if I were to be completely honest, I'd actually say that I was a bit of an American history nerd. I loved reading about it, I loved studying it, and yes, I absolutely loved watching documentaries about it. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around managing to watch nearly all 18.5 hours of Ken Burns' Baseball series with my father when it originally broadcasted on PBS. I was thirteen at the time and had my sights set on becoming a Hall of Fame relief pitcher.

But it was in my junior year of college that I was first introduced to the documentaries Fast, Cheap and Out of Control and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. Both works were edited by Karen Schmeer. Both works altered the direction of my life. And both works changed my entire perception of what a documentary could be.  

At the time, I remember thinking that, indeed, these were documentaries. But they were also films! I was captivated by their artistry, charmed by their cleverness, and most of all, thoroughly amazed by the fact that a documentary could actually make me feel something on a visceral level. I laughed when the filmmakers wanted me to laugh, my body grew physically tense in the moments of drama, and I felt a legitimate affinity for the films’ characters. Sometimes they made me happy. Sometimes they made me sad. At other times they made me squeamishly uncomfortable.  

Either way, I was sold. “Damn,” I remember thinking. “Forget all of those other careers. I want to do that!”

In subsequent years, I have been fortunate enough to grow into the role of a professional editor, and over time, I've come to realize that the work I am most proud of manages to somehow reflect how I am inclined to view and experience the outside world. Consequently, I must believe that when we watch films such as The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara and Sergio, we are gaining a privileged insight into what life must have looked like through the eyes of Karen Schmeer. And upon reading the warm memories of the numerous people who Karen touched throughout her lifetime, I think that I now understand why so many of her films have affected me on a very human and emotional level. For sure, it is evident that Karen edited with the very same passion, care, and sensitivity with which she lived her life.   

And so, I am absolutely thrilled to learn that I will be representing the Karen Schmeer Editing Fellowship as this year's fellow. I wish to warmly thank everyone responsible for entrusting me with this very humbling honor. Over the course of the coming year, I look forward to taking full advantage of the wonderful and unique opportunities that the fellowship affords its awardee with the knowledge that there are many other emerging editors who are equally deserving of such recognition. But most of all, I will consider myself to be extremely lucky for being extended the chance to partake in the remembrance of an individual who provided so much inspiration for so many people—myself included.

LINDSAY AT SUNDANCE 2013: "SUNDANCE AND THE OPEN ROAD"

By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow

utz_sundance_2013_badge.JPG

In January I visited Park City for the Sundance Film Festival for the third time. I broke my own personal record for cramming as many screenings as possible into a festival experience, averaging 2.6 films a day over a period of 10 days. Actually, since I spent the last full day there cross country skiing (my first time ever) and most of the first day traveling I think it would be fair to say my average was more like 3.25 films a day, which isn't bad when you consider all the other things I had to do: sleep (when necessary), eat (when possible), bathe (a few times), socialize (constantly), etc.

I saw many remarkable films, but for me the true highlights included Sarah Polley's gorgeous and gripping personal documentary Stories We Tell, Baltimore indie filmmaker Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker, and the fantastical and entirely illegal all-shot-in-Disney World-without-location-permits Escape from Tomorrow.

For me, attending film festivals is a crucial part of my occupation. This is for four reasons: 1) to be reminded that, despite the solitude of editing as a craft, I am in fact not alone in what I do, 2) to meet and interact with real, live, in-the-flesh people, i.e. not simply the characters with whom one spends countless hours in the edit, 3) to watch high-caliber work with a critical eye... in a dark room... on a big screen... for many days in a row and, 4) subsequently discuss and debate ad nauseam the merits and weaknesses of every single decision made in the film.

But there was a fifth reason that made this particular festival at this particular time especially meaningful for me. I was only two weeks into the edit on a new film I'm cutting, In Country, when I jumped on a flight to Utah. As an editor friend of mine, and fellow Sundance-goer who was also working on a film put it, "we're so lucky to get this break from our own creative process." The importance of leaving the edit and coming back to it with a fresh eye and a perspective honed through seeing others' creativity laid bare on screen is something that cannot be overestimated.

I was particularly spongey since I was at this early stage in my own project and taking so many notes throughout the entire festival: what worked, what didn't and why. And I literally couldn't wait to get back to my edit. When you're first starting out, there's this feeling of the open road, the beginning of a long drive where anything could happen. That sense of exploration, discovery, adventureit's thrilling. You haven't hit any deer yet or lost your way or gotten a flat tire or decided you were just too tired to keep driving through the night. You're in the early stage of your relationship to the material, and anything's possible.

utz_sundance_2013_program.JPG

But that's a fantasy. And the truth is it's gonna get hard, it always does. We dream in those early days of cutting the perfect film, but there is no such thing as a perfect film—not even at Sundance. Yet sharing the ritual of watching with so many like-minded people, going for ten long days to cinema's "church," if you will, reminded me that no matter how hard it gets, it is worth it in the end. It's a humbling and spiritual experience to hole up in the mountains with a bunch of kindred spirits who create and struggle the same as you do. It's a sort of therapy—for you, for your work and for your process.

That said, what I experienced in the days after I returned home was this sort of wild creative surge, this newfound feeling of being a little more daring, more likely to choose the less obvious route, to try things I wouldn't normally try, and then try them again.

In the end, it wasn't all the movies I saw or friends I made this time around that made Sundance so rich, but the adrenaline and fresh energy I took home to my own edit room, grounded in a sense of realism about my own process. I think that's the gift that a festival like Sundance gives to filmmakers—a reminder that we're all in this together, and the nudge to push harder, be better and do great work, even if it's not perfect.

ERIN AT SUNDANCE 2013

By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

Park City.jpeg

A few months ago, I had the great opportunity to attend Sundance 2013 with two projects: a feature-length documentary film called American Promise and a short narrative film called Gun. I started working on both films around the same time in late 2011 and worked on both for almost a year. I was on American Promise full time and on Gun whenever my director Spencer Gillis and my co-editor Adam Brown and I could squeeze in time at night and on weekends around our day-jobs and other side jobs.

Park CityWhen I began working on the films I knew both sets of directors had their sights set on submitting to Sundance in late fall. I hoped both would get in, but tried to keep my expectations low. Needless to say, I was floored that both of them were accepted and that I would get to “double dip,” as my American Promise co-editors put it.

AP World Premiere Group 2.jpg

On the first Saturday of the festival, the Gun crew piled into our rented van and headed out to Salt Lake City for our world premiere in Shorts Program IV. I don’t know if it’s just my luck, but I find shorts to be pretty hit or miss, so I wasn’t sure what to really expect going in. My uncertainty immediately evaporated as soon as the show started. We were in seriously good company. One of my favorite films in our program was called On Suffocation, which is about the execution of two male lovers who are hanged by a few jail guards for violating laws against homosexuality in an unspecified county. It was a brutal but masterful piece at only seven minutes long. In the Q&A that followed, Writer/Director Jenifer Malmqvist explained that she purposely chose to leave out dialogue because homosexuality is punishable by death in seven countries, and she felt the story should represent anyone who is persecuted in any of those countries. I made a mental note to think of ways I could incorporate that idea into future work.

AP World Premiere Idris Seun2.jpg

The "American Promise" cast and crew.The following Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Inauguration, and the premiere of American Promise. Again, we were in good company. American Promise is a 13-year story chronicling the entire education of two Brooklyn-born, African American boys who are sent to one of the country’s most prestigious private prep schools. Overall, there was a ballpark figure of 700-800 hours of footage which my co-editors Mary Manhardt and Andrew Siwoff waded through in about 11 months. Creating the architecture for such an extensive story in that timeframe felt like an achievement unto itself, let alone premiering at Sundance.

Both families and the boys—Idris and Seun—were there, as well as most of the crew who worked on the film over the years. It was the first time so many of us were together in the same room.

Idris and SeunThe thing that makes me the most nervous about a premiere is meeting the subjects for the first time and sitting through the film with them as they watch themselves with a live audience. American Promise has been exceptional in this instance because not only were one of the families directing and producing the film, but I had also met many of the subjects, including the two boys, long before the film was finished. Despite having less distance than usual from the subjects, I still felt very protective of everyone and hoped they would like the film. To me, there is no greater validation in my work than the participants being proud to be a part of the finished film—especially in the case of Idris and Seun, who were documented from age 5 to 18. Mary, Andrew and I came to care very much for the boys as we watched them grow on film, and we did not want to let them down. As luck should have it, I happened to sit right in front of Idris, Seun and their friends and siblings, and they provided a running commentary of their reactions—joking and laughing with and at each other. From what I could hear, they seemed to like it and enjoy the audience cheering them on.

  Erin and Andrew Siwoff (photo by Errol Webber)

Erin and Andrew Siwoff (photo by Errol Webber)

Aside from eavesdropping on the boys, I spied on audience reactions. The laughs hit where they should, there were audible sniffs, a few gasps and tisks that all fell in their intended places. The mood in the room felt great, and I couldn’t have asked for a more engaged audience, especially since the film’s running time is 140 minutes! Once it was all over, we got a standing ovation. It was really cool to see everything come full circle for the families after such a long journey with this film.

Later that night we had our after party at an art gallery on Main Street.Jonathan Batiste and the Stay Human Band performed. We danced until they had to close the gallery so we marched down Main Street and took over Black House and had an even larger party. We danced for hours.

Sundance Awards Screen Capture.png

The next day I attended a filmmaker panel about the New York Times’ new opinion journalism feature called Op-Docs. The panel highlighted Op-Docs from notable documentary directors Laura Poitras, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing and discussed the first year of the Op-Doc series. They also premiered two new pieces by directors Dawn Porter and Roger Ross Williams, which were based on their Sundance-selected films Gideon’s Army and God Loves Uganda, respectively. I got to edit Dawn's Op-Doc, called True Believers In Justice. The piece follows a young public defender named Travis who has fully committed his life—and skin, as you’ll see in the piece—to giving fair representation to indigent clients in the South. I got to meet Travis at the panel and personally thank him for his work, and he couldn’t have been more humble. A woman standing next to me called him an American Hero. “I’m just a regular person,” he replied.

I really enjoyed working with Dawn on the Op-Doc. Gideon’s Army had considerable success at the festival—cheers to the whole team!

  Lindsay Utz (2012 Fellow) and Erin (2011 Fellow) at the end of Sundance

Lindsay Utz (2012 Fellow) and Erin (2011 Fellow) at the end of Sundance

On the last day of the festival American Promise received a Special Jury Prize for Achievement in Filmmaking. It felt like an accurate description in our work as a large, protracted family of collaborators. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that.

I also got to celebrate the end of Sundance with my fellow Schmellow Lindsay Utz! We danced and caught up on the past year. It was so cathartic. Lindsay reminded me that us editors always need to support each other—of course I agreed!

In between all of this, I got to see films and connect with fellow filmmakers and editors. I left Sundance 2013 feeling grateful for an incredible end to a challenging and busy year and came away with a deeper love of what I do.

Park City Sunset.jpeg

LINDSAY AT ACE EDIT FESTS NY AND LA 2012

By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow

One of the greatest benefits of the Fellowship is a pass to both of the ACE Edit Fests: one in NY (June 8-9, 2012) and the other in LA (Aug 3-4, 2012). Each consisted of two days of panels with film and TV editors. I'd never been to either one, but I immensely enjoy any sort of conference where people talk about their creative process. In what can be such a solitary profession, it's so inspiring to hear other editors discuss the ins and outs and ups and downs of their work. Just as I was looking forward to attending Edit Fest NY, ACE invited me to be on a panel called The Documentary Edit: Nonfiction vs The Truth to talk about working on Bully and my other projects. Of course I said yes!

Garret_20120608_5834.jpg

The opening night panel at the Directors Guild Theater on W. 57th was called The Lean Forward Moment. Each editor picked a sequence from a feature film in which the editing inspired them. Lance Edmands (Tiny Furniture) showed the opening sequence from the 1973 film Don't Look Now, edited by Graeme Clifford. Wow! I had completely forgotten about how much I loved this film when I first saw it, and I saw it so long ago (before I became an editor) that I'm not sure I truly appreciated the editing. The cuts in this opening sequence are artfully jarring, frenetic in composite and unexpected, which leads to a feeling of fear and disorientation. If we, as editors, are in the business of producing feelings in our viewers, this is a great example of how it's done. 

After that, there was a Friday night cocktail party next door at Le Parker Meridien Hotel where we had a chance to mingle with conference participants and take in the stellar views from the rooftop patio—after all, no NYC conference would be complete without a swanky high altitude after-party!

Garret_20120609_5864.jpg

My panel was the first one on Saturday morning at 10 am. I wasn't expecting much of a turnout at that hour but the devoted editors and cinephiles of NYC didn't disappoint. On my panel were editors Lewis Erskine (Freedom Riders, Toots), David Tedeschi (George Harrison: Living in the Material World) and Arielle Amsalem (By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, The Education of Dee Dee Ricks). It was moderated by David Zieff (The Cove, The Awful Truth).

We discussed a range of questions: how did we get inspired to become editors; how do we approach a non-fiction edit with the sheer mass of material that is shown; how did the story evolve and how was the film treated before; during and after we knew what you were dealing with; how do we seek, discover and develop our story? Do we get guidelines from the director or have an internal sense of story or some combination? When the film advocates a particular point of view or desired response how does that affect our work with the director? For a good recap on what we said to all of these things, check out this site.

Garret_20120609_5846.jpg

It was a little nerve-wracking to get up in front of other editors and discuss what actually is essentially a private process. In a way I felt vulnerable talking about my experience. Documentary editing is a complicated and magical, but sometimes ethically tricky craft. Discussing it on stage is an equally complicated task. Somebody asked me afterward if maybe I was too honest. I thought that was a funny question because if you can't be honest in front of a roomful of editors, where can you be? 

Later in the day I really enjoyed hearing Christopher Tellefsen (Moneyball, Capote) discuss his work, especially the masterfully taut gallows execution scene from Capote, one of the best dramatic accounts of a true story I've ever seen. As a side note, In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books and is something I return to a lot when I struggle in the edit room; it informs a lot of the techniques nonfiction writers (and therefore documentary film editors) employ in books and film today. I actually reread it when I was working on Bully in order to get my brain thinking about alternative ways to structure a story. 

editfestLA_2012_ellie_lindsay.jpg

Ellie Lee and Lindsay Utz at Edit Fest LAIn August I flew to Los Angeles to attend Edit Fest LA. That event had an entirely different feel both because of where it took place (on the historic Universal Studios lot) and because the programming was more centered around fiction, 3D and animation—appropriately so since that's what most LA editors are working on. Even though I'm primarily a documentary editor, I found much overlap in the challenges that fiction editors face in the edit room. One point in particular was made during the opening night panel in which fiction editors discussed how, because shooting digital is so cheap compared to rolling film, they're dealing with such a higher ratio of footage these days and that actors actually end up rehearsing their scenes now while the camera is rolling. It made me think about how it brings a sort of documentary element to fiction filmmaking.

editfestLA_2012_lindsay_kate01.jpg

Lindsay and Kate Amend at Edit Fest LAThe highlight as always during my trip to LA was the people I met through the help of the fellowship and ACE: lunch with Leo Trombetta (Mad Men, Little Children), chatting with Carol Littleton (ET, The Rum Diary) over lunch and meeting superstar doc editor Kate Amend (The Long Way Home, Thin) for drinks at the closing party. They're all such wonderful editors who were full of fun anecdotes about their own work. I also finally got to meet Jenni McCormick, Executive Director of ACE, who was awesome about introducing me to people throughout the weekend. Jenni knows everyone! I look forward to staying in touch with all of them.

LINDSAY REMEMBERS IFFBOSTON 2012

By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow

For the past year my fiance and I have been based in Providence, Rhode Island (he's teaching at a college nearby). The best part of being here has been getting to explore a part of the country that was totally new to us, including Boston -- a city I had only ever commuted through. So when the opportunity to go to the Independent Film Festival Boston came up we decided to make a trip out of it, packing our bags and heading north on the train. After all, is there a better way to get to know a city? Think about it: you spend days with locals, make friends with the ticket takers, drink at neighborhood bars, mark up your film schedule at the corner coffee shop and master the city's subway system. 

When I arrived Friday afternoon and first set eyes on the filmmaker's lounge I knew it was going to be a good weekend. The lounge had the most thoughtfully curated and well-stocked snack tables I have ever seen, from prosciutto, fruit and cheese to homemade pie! No joke -- the festival staff even baked muffins and cooked soup for the filmmakers! How cool is that?

crewdson.jpg

"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters"The first film I saw on Friday was a documentary called Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters which follows the acclaimed photographer on his 10-year journey to create a series of surreal portraits of small-town America. Crewdson is known for his complicated, painstaking setups which often involve the equipment and crew you would associate with a major motion picture: grip trucks, steam machines, cranes and all. More than just a portrait of an artist, the film really captured the whole arc of the creative process through the eyes of the artist. To an outsider Crewdson may seem like a maniac, but to those of us who work in creative fields, especially editing, it's not hard to relate to his OCD and relentless pursuit of perfection. One of the most interesting moments in the film was when we started to see what goes into the post-production of his elaborate photographs. The IFFB audience was palpably disappointed to learn that in spite of his dogged quest for 'the perfect image,' in the end, he often uses a composite of multiple takes. Maybe it's disappointing because we hope he would pursue the post-production of his images with the same purity and evangelism he uses to shoot his images. Does it sully the finished product somehow to know that ultimately he had to 'manipulate' it in order to obtain his much sought after ideal?

Detropia1.jpg

"Detropia"Later that evening, I went to see Detropia, edited by my dear friend Enat Sidi, who received the editing award at this year's Sundance for her work. (Enat worked closely with me as an advisor on Bully.) I had seen a rough cut of the film last year but I was pumped to see it finished -- and I was floored. It's truly a stunning example of documentary editing at its best. It is nothing less than a visual poem. It bestows on Detroit a sort of dignity, even nobility, as its inhabitants attempt to salvage meaning and grace out of the rubble of its blighted neighborhoods. Also Erin Casper, last year's KSFEF, was an associate editor on the film. Go Enat and Erin!

Another film that I really enjoyed watching, despite the nagging frustration that there wasn't enough breath between the interviews, was Joe Berlinger's Under African Skies, a doc about the controversy stirred when Paul Simon teamed up with local musicians in Johannesburg to make his iconic Graceland album. Simon was accused of being a cultural opportunist and exploiting African musicians. Alternatively, others argued he helped showcase the work of musicians subjugated under apartheid, who would otherwise never have been heard. The film's archival footage is AMAZING... but I wanted more of it! (For a taste of what I'm talking about, check out this incredible clip of the super rad Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes live on SNL in 1986... and turn up the volume.)

Apart from the movie-watching, the other highlights of the weekend were the KSFEF mixer, held at a bar near the theater where I got to meet board members Lewis Wheeler and Ann Kim, as well as one of Karen's best friends Lucia Small. And the following day KSFEF sponsored a fantastic panel called "Editing the Documentary" which featured Jen Fineran, editor of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry; Andy Robertson, editor of We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists; Kevin Belli, editor of The List and was moderated by Bill Anderson, an editor who was also a dear friend of Karen's. I was really happy to get to meet all of these wonderful people and felt proud to be representing the KSFEF in a place where Karen had spent many years living and working.

Thanks to Adam Roffman and the rest of the magnificent, ALL-VOLUNTEER (!!!) staff of IFBB for putting on an awesome, down-to-earth festival with a great lineup and a rockin' opening night dance party!

LINDSAY LOOKS BACK AT SXSW 2012

By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow

My favorite film at SXSW was Monsieur Lazhar, a Canadian drama that premiered at Toronto and subsequently picked up a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. It will be coming out in US theaters in April and I highly recommend it. It's not only a powerful story of the immigrant experience, but also a haunting and beautiful mediation on childhood, love, loss and how we grieve. I felt pretty emotional after leaving the theater, and I carried that emotion with me into the awards ceremony later that evening, where Garret presented me with the KSFEF. He did a beautiful job talking about Karen, as a person and editor, and what she meant to those around her. When he finally called me up onstage I was pretty choked up and the speech I had worked on in my hotel in the hours prior to the awards ceremony was suddenly useless. I tried to just speak from the heart about what it meant to me to be chosen as this year's fellow. If you've ever been to the SXSW awards ceremony, you know that it's anything but a serious affair; but the theater got very quiet during the KSFEF part and I think people were genuinely moved to hear about Karen and the Fellowship. After the ceremony I had the honor of meeting some of Karen's friends who shared with me some wonderful memories of her.

  Julie Goldman, Jo Utz, Lindsay Utz, John Utz

 Julie Goldman, Jo Utz, Lindsay Utz, John Utz

Aside from the awards ceremony, the week was full of the usual parties, screenings, free drinks, and FOOD CARTS! I think it would be fair to say that I thoroughly ate my way around Austin: lots of tacos, of course (the surf & turf kind topped off with creamy slaw and crispy radishes), fried pickles, and the best late-night buffalo burger on the planet. Having spent a lot of time in Portland, OR, which is a food cart mecca, I was pretty impressed with both the ubiquity of the carts and the variety and quality of food offered. Another mouthwatering highlight was the best drink all week at Cheer Up Charlie's--a bar that serves Kombucha on tap (a drink that I'm told Karen loved). Why don't more places do that?! Austin is so cool. Their house cocktail was a mix of Kombucha, whiskey and ginger infused simple syrup. I'm going to try to make this at home. 

On Monday afternoon we held a KSFEF meet-up at Lovejoy's, an appropriately dark (just like an edit room) dive bar just off 6th Street. Lots of editors showed up, including Jen Lilly (Electrick Children), Penny Falk (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work), Nat Sanders (The Do-Deca-Pentathlon), Jane Rizzo (ComplianceSee Girl Run), David Franklin, and Nathan Whiteside (Pilgrim Song). Julie Goldman (Producer, Sergio) was there as well. It was wonderful to get to talk to all of them.

Another cinematic highlight of the week was the late night horror anthology V/H/S (disclaimer: a good friend from film school, Tyler Gillett, was one of the 6 directors who worked on the film, so I was pretty proud to see him up on stage after the screening). I love going to the late night films at festivals because the crowd is rowdy and the films are fun. Not always masterpieces, but fun. 

The documentary The Impostor was a well-done thriller based on a real story. The film reminded me a lot of The Thin Blue Line with its stylized flashbacks and spellbinding score. I really loved one particular editing technique used to transition from interview to flashback, cutting mid-sentence from the main character recounting the story straight into him reenacting it. The old adage "truth is stranger than fiction" couldn't be a more appropriate way to describe this film. About 5 minutes into the screening I realized I had read a New Yorker article years ago about the film's subject, Frédéric Bourdin--it's a must read.

I had a blast in Austin and fortunately a lot of the films I missed there will be playing at IFFB next month. I will report back then!

  Jen Lilly and Nat SanderS

Jen Lilly and Nat SanderS

  Nathan Whiteside, Andrew Reed, Jane Rizzo

Nathan Whiteside, Andrew Reed, Jane Rizzo

  SXSW Awards Ceremony

SXSW Awards Ceremony

  SXSW Awards Ceremony

SXSW Awards Ceremony

LINDSAY REACTS TO BEING AWARDED THE 2012 FELLOWSHIP

By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow

I’m simply thrilled to be this year's Karen Schmeer Fellow. Karen was a truly groundbreaking editor, and I’m humbled to be chosen for a Fellowship in her honor and memory. My work can only begin to live up to the exacting standards in craft, vision and creativity she left behind. I feel especially honored to be chosen for this award by my peers in the filmmaking world.

Though I never met Karen, I vividly recall a feeling of deep sadness when I learned of her death. Here was a young woman at the peak of her career, thriving quietly in a business dominated by big egos. She was, for me, a role model in the truest sense. I’m incredibly thankful to the KSFEF Committee for all the hard work and dedication that has gone into creating this opportunity for young editors – extending to them the same gifts Karen herself shared with others.

Editing is a solitary enterprise; an editor often labors silently in the shadows of the creative process, making thousands of tiny decisions every time she sits down in the edit suite. But nobody makes a film alone, and I think we are only as strong as the personal and professional networks of which we’re a part. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of a community that recognizes that, and I look forward to the many new friends and colleagues I will make in the coming year.

ERIN AT EDITFEST LA

By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

About a week ago I attended the Los Angeles version of Edit Fest, hosted by American Cinema Editors. As with the New York Edit Fest, the weekend-long event consisted of panels, networking events and Avid demonstrations geared toward anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the editor’s craft. Or, as ACE President Randy Roberts phrased it at the beginning of Friday night’s opening panel: “When we started Edit Fest, we thought our audience would be students, but we’ve found that editors attend because they want to know what other editors do and how they do it.” This couldn’t be more true, especially in light of my own goals.

On Friday night’s panel, “Editors as Storytellers,” the feature editor panelists started off with an engaging discussion about their approach to editing, “Collaboration,” “subtext,” and “compressed schedule” were some of the ideas discussed in detail. The panelists dove deep into these ideas by showing examples of their work. One central approach that came up several times was to make sure to anchor the scene in the character’s point of view and cut for performance. I found myself relating to this because of the vérité doc work I’ve done. These tenets will be good to keep in mind the next time I’m watching dailies for the first time on a project. Farrel Levy (Dirty DancingPrimal Fear) also talked about saving a performance by subtracting dialogue and using reactions. This was useful to me as well, and reminded me of how I also occasionally work with stories and characters in a reductive manner. Martin Nicholson (Game of ThronesNorman Rockwell: An American Portrait) furthered the discussion by relating advice he gives his students, which is to borrow the basic questions actors ask themselves in every scene: What is the place? Where am I coming from? What do I want? and What are my goals?

On Saturday, the second and final day of Edit Fest, I went to the “Assistant Editor – The Soul of the Cutting Room” panel which focused on the relationship between assistant editors and editors, and included practical advice on networking and advancing in your career. Moderator Lori Coleman (Covert AffairsIn Plain Sight) humorously advised the audience on everything we needed to know while navigating the working world: Work hard, be nice, join the union, check your personality, educate yourself, and bring donuts.

Later in the day, there was a moving tribute to the late editor, Sally Menke (Pulp FictionInglourious Basterds), moderated by author Bobbie O’Steen (Author of The Invisible Cut and Cut to the Chase). Over the course of 90 minutes, Bobbie reminisced with three of Sally’s former assistants—Suzy Elmiger, Tatiana Riegal and Joan Sobel—on Sally’s life and work. They shared stories about Sally’s love of editing (Suzy: Sally liked to work from home and always had interesting people around); her work ethic and rituals (Tatiana: She’d take off all her rings at the start of her day), and her celebrated collaboration with director Quentin Tarantino (Bobby: He called her his co-writer.). The panel was especially meaningful since I grew up watching Sally’s films and was enormously influenced by her work (Scenes from Pulp Fiction were frequently quoted by my brothers and me throughout childhood). Listening to Suzy, Tatiana and Joan illustrate how Sally wove tension, humor and inventive cutting into some of my favorite films was like watching a magician carefully explain their secrets behind close-up magic.

I had a great weekend (it was my first visit to LA), and attending Edit Fest was a perfect way to uncover the LA working world through the panels, demonstrations and one-on-one connections I made with the panelists and attendees.

ERIN AT EDITFEST NY 2011

By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

Early last month, I headed to ACE Edit Fest NY for a packed weekend of panels, presentations, and networking with award-winning film and television editors.

The first night’s panel, “The Lean Forward Moment,” was a mix of four narrative and doc feature editors presenting their favorite sequences and sharing the lessons and inspired moments that impacted them as film lovers and editors. This gentle toeing of the water soon opened the floodgates for questions tweeted from the audience—editors with varying levels of experience, assistants, producers and industry movers and shakers—to the panel’s moderator, Norman Hollyn. From there we quickly got down to business, gaining insights on everything from best practices for job interviews--Anne McCabe’s approach (AdventurelandNurse Jackie) is to at least make the director or producer laugh, so as to be memorable—to sage advice from legendary doc editor Larry Silk (Wild Man BluesPumping Iron), who talked about the painful choices editors make in order to carve out the universe of a story.

The real pen-to-paper moment came the next day on the Pixar panel with editor Ken Schretzmann (CarsToy Story 3) as he gave us an inside look on his editing process. Not only does Ken spend years editing a film (he’s edited three in twelve years), but the editing also takes place throughout all stages of animation before the film is “shot” with virtual cameras. It was a lot to wrap my mind around, since I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, where the documentary director shoots hundreds of hours of footage before the story is penned. I especially admired the way that Ken didn’t seem too phased by the daunting amount of changes and notes pouring into the editing room from numerous other departments.

It turns out Ken’s process proved as mystifying to me as several other attendees I chatted with after the panel. Oddly enough, it was as if we found ourselves in the shoes of the non-editors we’d encountered in our own lives—the folks who assume an editor just cuts out all the bad parts. And here we were, fellow editors, marveling together at Ken’s work, having previously assumed all the animation done at Pixar requires no editing, or at least extraction of the bad parts.

Overall, it was a great weekend at Edit Fest. The biggest thing I take away from events like this—besides the chance to meet with editors who’ve crafted some of my favorite films in recent years—is an appreciation for hearing about the hidden struggle that other editors engage in to fully realize the film’s story. I look forward to learning more about these things from my West Coast counterparts at Edit Fest LA in August.

ERIN AT EDITFEST NY 2011

by Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

Early last month, I headed to ACE Edit Fest NY for a packed weekend of panels, presentations, and networking with award-winning film and television editors.

The first night’s panel, “The Lean Forward Moment,” was a mix of four narrative and doc feature editors presenting their favorite sequences and sharing the lessons and inspired moments that impacted them as film lovers and editors. This gentle toeing of the water soon opened the floodgates for questions tweeted from the audience—editors with varying levels of experience, assistants, producers and industry movers and shakers—to the panel’s moderator, Norman Hollyn. From there we quickly got down to business, gaining insights on everything from best practices for job interviews--Anne McCabe’s approach (AdventurelandNurse Jackie) is to at least make the director or producer laugh, so as to be memorable—to sage advice from legendary doc editor Larry Silk (Wild Man BluesPumping Iron), who talked about the painful choices editors make in order to carve out the universe of a story.

The real pen-to-paper moment came the next day on the Pixar panel with editor Ken Schretzmann (CarsToy Story 3) as he gave us an inside look on his editing process. Not only does Ken spend years editing a film (he’s edited three in twelve years), but the editing also takes place throughout all stages of animation before the film is “shot” with virtual cameras. It was a lot to wrap my mind around, since I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, where the documentary director shoots hundreds of hours of footage before the story is penned. I especially admired the way that Ken didn’t seem too phased by the daunting amount of changes and notes pouring into the editing room from numerous other departments.

It turns out Ken’s process proved as mystifying to me as several other attendees I chatted with after the panel. Oddly enough, it was as if we found ourselves in the shoes of the non-editors we’d encountered in our own lives—the folks who assume an editor just cuts out all the bad parts. And here we were, fellow editors, marveling together at Ken’s work, having previously assumed all the animation done at Pixar requires no editing, or at least extraction of the bad parts.

Overall, it was a great weekend at Edit Fest. The biggest thing I take away from events like this—besides the chance to meet with editors who’ve crafted some of my favorite films in recent years—is an appreciation for hearing about the hidden struggle that other editors engage in to fully realize the film’s story. I look forward to learning more about these things from my West Coast counterparts at Edit Fest LA in August.

ERIN AT IFFBOSTON 2011

By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

On May 1st, my boyfriend Adam and I headed up to Sommerville, Massachusetts to spend the day at Independent Film Festival Boston. Thanks to Adam Roffman and the generous staff at IFFB, I was given a Chrome Pass to enjoy the festival, and we were more than happy to leave our hectic work schedules behind and spend the day at the cinema. The films we had time to see (there were so many more films playing later in the week, but were at the mercy of work!) were playing in the Sommerville Theater back-to-back and we wasted no time jumping in. All told, we took in three films with some time to grab snacks and mingle with local filmmakers in the lobby before retreating back into the theater. We saw Bobby Fischer Against the World (more on that in a minute), followed by Raising Renee, the story of famed artist Beverly McIver’s emotional journey to fulfill her promise to care for her mentally disabled older sister following the death of their mother. Then we saw the indie sci-fi drama Another Earth, just before a late dinner and trip back to New York.

As I’ve traveled for the Fellowship, one thing that’s happened is that several of Karen’s friends—and she made them everywhere she went—have taken the time to meet and get to know me. At IFFB, Lucia Small—Karen’s close friend and director on My Father, the Genius—generously spent the day with Adam and me and introduced us to many of the Boston colleagues she and Karen have in common. We also saw Bobby Fischer together—Karen’s last film—which was an intense and cathartic experience.

While Adam and I had a great day of watching films at IFFB—we’re already plotting our return next year—getting to know Lucia and her friends and colleagues made the trip truly special. Hearing great stories about Karen and getting acquainted with the Boston community showed me the deep impact Karen had on her friends.

Traveling home from IFFB, it started to sink in that the Fellowship has helped me not only feel connected to Karen in another realm outside of her work, but also facilitate new relationships of my own.

ERIN AT THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL

By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow

Back in March, two incredible things happened: I traveled to the world premiere of my first feature doc as editor, Our School, at the One World Film Festival in Prague, and shortly after that, I was recognized as the first recipient of the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship at the SXSW Film Festival Awards Ceremony. To make things even more exciting, these events took place back-to-back, with enough downtime to run back home to Brooklyn and swap out latitude appropriate clothing between flights. I love SXSW, and there are a number of people that made the week special - the festival’s producer Janet Pierson in particular for the very handy film badge. Thanks Janet!

Here are a few highlights from the week:

  • Hitting it off with endearingly awesome Leah Marino at a party shortly after my arrival. Leah’s a fellow editor, KSFEF board member, and dear friend of Karen’s. She was attending the ceremony to talk about the fellowship and introduce me as the first recipient. She also sweetly introduced me to her friends in the Austin film community and talked me down from my fear of public speaking when we planned for the awards ceremony the next night.
  • The realization (and subsequent relief) that everyone else making speeches at the awards ceremony was nervous and was keeping it short. Leah and I were allotted six minutes, but it was obvious that taking that long would drag down the pace of the ceremony. Our editor brains kicked into gear and we made last minute cuts in our speeches. Clearly, the job of an editor never ends.
  • Bellyflopping onto my bed after the ceremony. I did my best to reply to congratulatory messages on my phone with one hand while eating quickly-melting ice cream with the other. The onslaught of remaining jetlag and sugar overload took over, and the evening gently ground to a halt, mid-Facebook update (never to be completed).
  • Torchy’s Tacos. I was told that this was one of Karen’s favorite places to eat. I can see why. Dear New York: Please take note of this and get back to me when you get your act together taco-wise.
  • Enjoying a gluttony of film and music with my boyfriend, Adam: Cindy Meehl’s affecting portrait of Buck Brannaman in BuckConan O’Brien Can’t Stop; a surprise screening of the 1981 film Dragonslayer (Hosted by Harry Knowles with a surprise visit from Guillermo del Toro! My fellow nerds in attendance freaked), the 2011 Dragonslayer (which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize); Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW (we had to leave early to go catch a showcase of narrative shorts); and the absurdly funny Natural Selection (which swept the narrative awards, including the Grand Jury Prize). I managed to squeeze in a little bit of the music festival in there, with the biggest highlight being Charles Bradley killing it at Stubb’s. Think James Brown incarnate.