John Lyons Plays Truth or Dare


John Lyons is not the kind of editor to remain satisfied working in solely one genre. After working as an assistant editor on such wildly diverse movies as Wag the Dog, Sphere, The Siege, Keeping the Faith and Gosford Park, he made an impressive transition to editor on Savage Grace, starring Julianne Moore. The latest proof of Lyons’ editing prowess can be seen in Adam Salky’s Dare, which premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie follows three vastly different teenagers (Emmy Rossum, Zack Gilford and Ashley Springer) as they experience their last, life-changing semester of high school.

MM spoke with Lyons about his editing process just days before Dare’s Sundance debut.

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): What kind of workflow did you use in editing Dare?

John Lyons (JL): We shot on super 16mm film. We transferred the 16mm film to HDSR tape and also to DVCAM with identical time code for match back to the HD tapes. I digitized the DVCAM footage into Avid’s Media Composer 3.0.1 with a Mojo SDI and imported out 24-bit audio and [then would] auto sync the clips. We cut the film, output quick time references and EDLs [edit decision lists]. The post house, PostWorks in New York, conformed the HD tape, which worked perfectly. I handed the audio files that came out of Media Composer to our sound mixer who used that media to mix the film in 24-bit. He didn’t have to sync a clip because everything I had done in the Media Composer worked seamlessly with his Pro Tools 7.4.2. We mixed to QuickTime, which I output from the Media Composer and laid back to tape. It was that simple.

MM: Why did you decide to go with an Avid workflow for this film?

JL: I am tempted to say I went with Avid because you “dance with the lady who brought you to the party,” and I had two films in Sundance last year that I cut on Avid. But the decision here was more complicated. The director wanted to screen the film frequently as it was being cut. We had screenings for producers, friends and family every other week. With that screening schedule and the fact we had very little time to cut the film in the original schedule, I wanted a foolproof system that would enable me to quickly make a DVD or screen directly from a computer to a projector with ease. What I was afraid of was a situation where we would need to make changes just moments before we screened the film. If this situation were to arise and we were on a Final Cut system, getting that cut into the screening room would be more of a challenge than it would be on an Avid system. With the Avid workflow and my laptop, we could simply connect a few cables and press play for the screening or easily burn a DVD.
In addition to the ease our Avid set-up provided for our screenings, I was also banking on how rock solid the Avid database system was. I had no assistant for the edit, so we had a lot to do and I didn’t want to spend any time re-linking files or recapturing media. With Avid, media management has never been a problem.

My last reason for deciding to go with an Avid system had to do with its seamless turn over to post houses and sound houses. The whole process of turning over lists, EDLs, OMFs [Open Media Frameworks] and all the little things one needs to finish a film once it is cut is more straight forward on an Avid system compared to Final Cut. I know what to expect in the whole turnover process with Avid so I am more comfortable, and maybe that played a role. Since we shot on film and knew that was also our end deliverable, an Avid seemed the right choice.

MM: You’ve been an assistant editor on such high-profile movies as Failure to Launch and The Siege. Do you enjoy working more on big-budget studio movies or smaller, independent ones?

JL: Independent movies and studio pictures are different animals and there are things I love about them both. Working with Ed Zwick, Barry Levinson and Robert Altman taught me so much about how to tell a story and what choices to make. And because they were such great directors they had real choices. There were multiple shots and angles to choose from, so we had more ammunition to do the job, if you will. Steve Rosenblum, Stu Linder and Tim Squyres, whom I worked with on those big films, taught me how to organize the edit and do my job well. But, it wasn’t my sandbox to play in on my own, it was theirs’. The little pictures, the indie films, let me make the choices and enable me to have my own voice. I am not just a guy trying to organize the day’s footage or group a multi-camera shoot. I get to try and craft the story in the best way possible. With the little films, I don’t always have the choices those other films have, sometimes we don’t even have the right shot. But we’ve got something to work with. So you think about how to make the story happen and what I have found is you always find a way to make it work. Maybe it is a little rough around the edges or slightly out of focus, but there is a way. When it works out right, and the story has impact and moves people, it is just as cool as the exploding bus in The Siege. This is not to say I wouldn’t love to cut a studio picture, I would. I’d love to have several choices and an assistant. But, there really is a beauty to the simplicity and the forced practicality of the indie world. If it is done right, you don’t need the A camera and the B camera shot, just the shot that works for your story. If emotions and honesty are in the shot, then the audience doesn’t need it shot from a crane or a helicopter. They just have to believe.

MM: What’s your favorite part of the editing process?

JL: Sitting in a room with a bunch of people you’ve never met at a screening or something like that and feeling the impact of the film when it is working. That means the culmination of all the thoughts; all the efforts from the director, writer, actors and the crew members come together to create some kind of magic. When it really works, it really is magic. There is a room full of emotion and reality. I have helped to create that, which is really cool.

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