In the early days of his career, Jason Stewart was like many people looking to break into film and television work. After graduating with a film degree from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, he moved to Los Angeles and pretty much took the first job he was offered. It turned out to be a shrewd move.
“I started editing reality TV because it was the only work I could find at the time, and it made good use of my skills on Media Composer,” says Stewart, who had spent two years in college using Avid’s industry-leading film and video editing software, a skill that later helped him land his first gig on an MTV reality show, “Truth.” “This was back when ‘Survivor’ had just come out—and people were wondering if reality TV was just a flash in the pan. Turned out it was my first real break.”
Since then, Stewart has alternated between editing reality television programs (“Amazing Race,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”) and independent film projects. His latest indie, World’s Greatest Dad, starring Robin Williams, is his third collaboration with director and comedian Bobcat Goldthwait.
Making the move from reality TV to scripted film was initially a concern for Stewart. To his surprise, he found that cutting reality shows was actually the perfect background for editing indies. He explains, “There aren’t any stories inherent in reality TV. You just shoot people doing things, and then you manipulate the footage [during editing] to tell the story you want to tell. So when I started cutting features, I thought to myself, ‘Well, the director wants to tell a certain kind of story—what can I do with the footage I’ve got?’ I really wasn’t inhibited by any rules of feature film editing. I just wanted to tell the best story I could.”
ScriptSync Nails the Laughs
Now, with nine feature films under his belt, Stewart continues to expand his storytelling skills using Avid editing systems. On World’s Greatest Dad, he used an Avid Media Composer Mojo DX system, relying heavily on the Media Composer software’s innovative ScriptSync feature to help craft the film’s comedic impact. This unique feature speeds up script-based editing by phonetically indexing dialogue to “sync” source clips automatically with the script, letting you instantly find and compare takes.
“The toughest thing in this movie was to nail down the tone,” says Stewart. “It was a dark comedy, so it was tricky. The Robin Williams character, Lance, is sort of sad, and we talked a lot about whether we wanted people to think he was pathetic or sympathetic. Getting that tone just right really depended on the performances. ScriptSync was the method we used to find those performances.”
Stewart and his assistant, Stacy Katzman, had never used the ScriptSync feature before, but after seeing its capabilities in a product demonstration, they were sure it could help their workflow. So they entered their script into Media Composer and began using ScriptSync to call up selected takes from any angle just by typing in a line or phrase. “With ScriptSync, we left no stone unturned,” says Stewart. “In comedy, you are always looking for jokes to work, for funny reactions. It’s a line by line thing. One take is not going to do it. With ScriptSync we could see all the versions we had – wide shots, medium shots, close-ups. I can’t think of any scene in the movie that doesn’t have Robin’s best take for that scene. In a comedy like World’s Greatest Dad, ScriptSync was a lifesaver.”
It was also a timesaver. Stewart estimates that using ScriptSync saved him and his assistant about two weeks in post. “If we hadn’t used ScriptSync, we would have had to dig through the footage, select clips, open clips. That is so tedious and time consuming. After a while you start thinking, ‘Well, this is better than what I had.’ When you are rushed for time like we were, you start to settle for ‘good enough.’”
As a result of using the ScriptSync feature, the artistic aspects of cutting the film were never at risk during the 17-week post process. “It wasn’t that we locked the film sooner. We edited more,” says Stewart. “And we were able to do more screenings with friends and family to make sure it was working. The last time we watched it together, we knew we had made the best movie we could with the footage we had. You don’t often get that with indies.”
Budget constraints are also an inevitable part of indie moviemaking, and Stewart feels that Media Composer systems offer cost savings as well. “When people are choosing an editing system, you have to account for time savings in the editing bay and what that is worth,” he says. “We saved two-plus weeks in the editing bay. That’s a major cost savings.”
Sounds on the Run
The ScriptSync feature even helped after the picture was locked. During mixing, Goldthwait wanted to revise pieces of dialogue either for audio quality or performance, and he asked Stewart to bring the Media Composer system onto the soundstage to help him find alternate takes. Stewart, who had used a Windows-based system to cut the film, grabbed the FireWire media drive that he’d used for the movie and plugged it into his MacBook Pro laptop, which was equipped with Media Composer software.
On the dub stage, Stewart used ScriptSync to locate different takes in real time on his laptop. “I would do a ScriptSync search for words and phrases, and then give Bob the headphones and he’d pick one. I’d export the audio, put it on the server [at sound facility Wow and Flutter], and they put it right into the mix [using a Digidesign Pro Tools|HD system]. It was instantaneous and saved us a lot of time in the mix. It would have taken so much more time for the mixer to listen to the audio files and locate appropriate alternatives. After seeing me use ScriptSync, the sound supervisor said, ‘What do you have there? Can I get that?’”
Stewart continues to work on both reality shows and feature films and feels that the variety strengthens his creative storytelling skills. He particularly looks forward to using the ScriptSync feature on one of his reality shows to manage the volumes of interview transcripts. “It could help us go through endless amounts of interview footage so quickly,” he says.
Now that he has discovered the benefits of using ScriptSync, it is unlikely he will cut a project without it. “I would call this product Media Composer with ScriptSync,” says Stewart. “It’s one of the things that sets Avid apart. There’s nothing else like it.”
For more information, visit www.avid.com.
World’s Greatest Dad is in theaters now. It will make its DVD premiere on December 8th.