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Sundance Production: Skateland

Jan 29, 2010 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

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Robert Hoffman, editor of the Sundance 2010 entry Skateland, traveled from Los Angeles to Austin to join the project after production was complete. In the absence of an editor, assistant editor Yusef Svacina and the producers had completed four separate cuts of their own.

Thus Hoffman found himself in a somewhat daunting position: With his first cut on Freeman Film's Avid Media Composer system, he had to prove his worth to a team that had already taken four cracks at the task. "I kept assuming, 'My God, they've been through four cuts. [My cut is] not going to be polished, it's going to be a sketch,'" he says. "It forced me in some scenes to try things that I assumed they hadn't seen before."

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Hoffman says, for instance, that he attempted to "stylized, flashy cuts" because the production team had already seen a basic assembly. The edtior forced himself not to watch any of the existing cuts until he was done with his first pass—and that's as Freeman Film wanted it. "They're first-time filmmakers," he says of director Anthony Burns and producers Brandon and Heath Freeman, "but what they wanted to do, which is very mature and advanced, was for me to not be affected by what they had done."

In the end, the editor was affected by what assistant editor Svacina had already tried. "I was able to learn from it and see some different takes that I liked better," Hoffman says, noting that he lobbied the producers to choose some of those sequences.

Because of the cameras that were available at the time of shooting, the film was shot as both 3- and 4-perf 35mm. During postproduction, Avid wrote code to allow Freeman Film to intercut that 3- and 4-perf material seamlessly. "The code was so that lists would be accurate," says Hoffman, who adds that he wasn't aware of any differences between the types of footage even before Avid wrote the special code.

Though he learned to cut film in the literal fashion, enjoying the tangible nature of the process, Hoffman has learned to take full advantage of the nonlinear nature of the Avid. One of his favorite methods for controlling the timing of the sequences he's cutting is creating simple, time-based effects within Media Composer. "As long as there are no extreme movements with speed effects," he says, "I create little time graphs to speed things up for a specific moment." (Of course, with film, nothing's that simple—this process requires the sped-up material to be sent out for grain replacement.)


Skateland is the reason for Hoffman's fourth trip to Park City, Utah, for the annual festival. Previously he'd been to Sundance as editor of Easy (2003), Art School Confidential (2006), and Phoebe in Wonderland (2008). That second film was Hoffman's second opportunity to work as editor for director Terry Zwigoff. Hoffman credits Zwigoff for helping instill his meticulous approach to editing audio. (Hoffman helped create a custom TV-friendly overdub of Zwigoff's deliriously raunchy Bad Santa, for instance.) He adds that Burns and the Freeman brothers were very passionate about finding the right music for Skateland.

The production employed a dozen-member audio department and an audio-oriented editor in Hoffman. He did his audio editing on the Avid and sent tracks he liked to John Nutt, the supervising sound editor.

Though many independent films cannot afford to keep their editor on after picture has been locked, Hoffman says he was glad to stay onboard during DI (at Deluxe in Toronto) and ADR editing (at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif.).

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