From Flatbed to Media Composer — Veteran Editor Ron Sussman Looks Back at 30 Years of Creative Tools

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

As a freelance editor, I’m free to take just about any job that comes my way. Working in a smaller market provides me with a lifestyle I enjoy, but the types of jobs are somewhat limited as far as my choice of NLE. To succeed in this market, I need to be well versed in all the current NLEs, as well as motion graphics and color correction.

Director Lisa Eastman approached me to help finish her autobiographical documentary, Living Off The Manhole. She specifically needed an editor well versed in Avid. The documentary needed some tightening and finishing. Lisa also needed a trailer cut for the film, an official entry in the Madrid Film Festival.  The film tells the story of Lisa’s life living in one of her family’s Manhattan hotels, contrasted with the story of her grandfather, an immigrant who came to the U.S. with nothing and built a steel and hotel empire. As the film had been cut in Avid, it made sense to cut the trailer in Avid as well.

As I watched the film many times while finishing it, I had a really good idea of what kind of story I wanted the trailer to tell. The film has several story threads that overlap and build to a defining moment in Lisa and her family’s life. It was important to capture the key moments of the story and give viewers a sense of who Lisa is while not giving too much of the story away.

The film had been cut on a MacBook Pro running an older version Media Composer at Lisa’s house. The trailer gave me the opportunity to give the latest release of Media Composer 8.5.3 a good run on my system at home. There are many very talented editors in town, but few have had any practical experience working with Avid. I have been editing on Avid since early 1990 and started on system ID #6, at the time, still on the last official Beta release of the software. MC 8.5.3 has many great new features and excellent functionality, and it allowed me to work fast, which was important because the trailer was needed in Madrid on a short time frame.

I have spent the majority of my career editing commercials for major advertising agencies and clients including Budweiser, Nissan and Coke. I was one of the last generation of editors to come up cutting 35mm film on a flatbed, which allowed you to take your time and think visually. In the late ’80s, while editing at Miller/Wishengrad in Los Angeles, we made the switch from 35mm to the second generation of George Lucas’s EditDroid, an NLE that worked off a bank of seven LaserDisc players and was “non-linear” in playback but had limitations due to the maximum number of discs and the amount of footage that each disc could hold. While at NAB in 1989, I saw Avid sitting on a little table off the beaten track and was instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter, I jumped at the opportunity to work at a post house in Chicago where they had made a big commitment to Avid.

Media Composer allowed me to work the same way I was used to working, on a 35mm flatbed, but with a level of flexibility that film didn’t offer. Having never been a “tape” editor, I didn’t really care about pre-roll, EDLs and time code. What was important to me, and continues to be, is the footage. I think fast, and I work fast. Being creative and telling a story is what is most important, whether I am cutting a 30-second commercial, a four-minute corporate video, a trailer or a film. Media Composer allows me to work quickly and find the “moments” that make an emotional connection with the viewer. Equally as important, Avid is stable and rock solid. I know that I can rely on Avid’s deep tool set and its unparalleled media management. Avid sets the benchmark that every other NLE has copied from day one.

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Ron is a multi faceted Editor, comfortable editing everything from commercials to sports to documentaries. An accomplished musician, painter and photographer, he draws from these artistic disciplines. Based out of Scottsdale, Arizona, Ron splits his time between Scottsdale and Los Angeles.