2017 Sundance Film Festival Highlights the Creative Synergy between USC Alums and Avid

By in Audio Post, Education, Video Editing

While attending the famed USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, most students dream of one day impressing film buffs with their very own cinematic tour de force.

At the Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, Utah in January 2017, a group of USC film school graduates actually got to witness the warm audience reception to the films, episodics and docudramas they had worked on as producers, editors or sound mixers.

These USC alums—including Peter LoGreco, Marcello Dubaz, Peter Bawiec, Kari Barber and Evan Schrodek—credit Avid with helping their Sundance entries win both buzz and distribution deals.

Evan Schrodek—Burning Sands

“The reception to our film was wonderful,” says Evan Schrodek, editor of Burning Sands, which now streams as a Netflix original feature. Burning Sands tells the story of five college students who embark on a “Hell Week” of hazing and abuse in order to receive admission into a prestigious black fraternity. The film examines the bonds that are formed by a tightly knit group of men in an incredibly trying set of circumstances.

“Having grown up on the wave of independent films of the early ‘90s, the Eccles Theater at Sundance has always been this mythical place,” Schrodek says. “We got to showcase our first public screening to a packed house at Eccles and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.”

Schrodek also grew up with Avid Media Composer, which he began using as a student in 2003. Ever since, “I’ve been a massive fan,” says Schrodek, who received a MFA in Film and Television Production in 2012 from USC, where Avid technology has a significant presence. “When you get really comfortable with an intuitive piece of software like Media Composer, the tool sort of fades into the background and allows the editor to explore creative ideas as quickly as they come to mind.”

Peter LoGreco—Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On

“Our Sundance screening was a blast, and it was so gratifying to see our work on the big screen in a theater full of people who laughed, gasped and clapped in all the ‘right’ places,” says Peter LoGreco, executive producer of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.

Shown in the 2017 Sundance DocuSeries Showcase, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On tells the personal stories of people whose lives have become defined by the ways in which they use the internet to explore, express and/or exploit their sexuality. The show, which was subsequently screened at the Miami Film Festival in March, will begin streaming on Netflix this spring.

Besides rough cutting and online editing the show with Media Composer, UHD resolution media files were stored on Avid shared storage, and the sound was mixed using Avid Pro Tools.

“My team and I work very collaboratively, and our work tends to be driven by a lot of observational documentary footage and longer, more in-depth interviews,” says LoGreco. “Avid is the only environment that allows the level of creative collaboration necessary to do this well on a TV schedule.”

“Without Avid’s media management and sharing capabilities, this would’ve been a very different series,” Lo Greco adds. “I’ve tried to do long-form with other platforms and ended up spending a great deal more time managing the technology, which was a true obstacle to creative momentum.”

Marcello Dubaz—Lemon

Having graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Science in the Music Industry program, Marcello Dubaz chose to do the sound editorial and mixing for the film Lemon using Pro Tools because, he says, “It combines the technical and creative tools I need as a re-recording mixer.”

“Pro Tools allows me to quickly manipulate and enhance sounds,” says Dubaz. “As a result, I get to spend more time finding creative ways to tell the story. At our Sundance premiere, everyone seemed to be laughing, cringing and enjoying themselves.”

A fresh, quirky exploration of personal dysfunction and misunderstanding in our relationships, Lemon also screened at the Rotterdam and SXSW festivals, and the film’s North American rights have been acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

Since the film didn’t use ADR, Dubaz used Pro Tools—and plugins from iZotope, Waves and FabFilter—to reduce environmental sounds and other extraneous background noise from the production audio to preserve the actors’ vocal quality and performances. Pro Tools allowed for easy transfer of the audio from the sound editorial to the mix stage, as well as greater flexibility during the mix.

In the end, Dubaz says, “we are storytellers, and the tools that we have at our disposal in Pro Tools let us shape each film uniquely.”

Kari Barber and Peter Bawiec—Pineapple

Kari Barber, sound effects editor on the TV series Pineapple, agrees: “Pro Tools is a powerful DAW that enables filmmakers to efficiently tell stories using sound. It’s been an invaluable, artistic canvas that provides a perfect balance between power and reliability.”

Pineapple focuses on an incident that takes place in a coal-mining town that’s very isolated and stuck in its ways, and the soundscape reflects this setting’s surreal mood.  Following its debut in Sundance’s new episodic category, the new streaming media service Blackpills announced it would release the digital series.

Barber, who graduated from USC in 2012 with an MFA in Film Production, uses a Pro Tools | S3 control surface with built-in EUCON support to pre-mix tracks on the fly to create an immersive experience for the audience. With Avid Cloud Collaboration, audio files can be quickly shared between people who are working in different studios and locations, which maximizes productivity.

During the audio post production, some key Pineapple team members were working remotely due to their travels, and some of the work, such as the foley, was done abroad. “Being able to use the Avid cloud platform for collaboration was the most crucial element that allowed us to deliver the project on schedule,” says Peter Bawiec, a Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) member and long-time Avid user.

After graduating from USC in 2015 with a MFA in Film Production, and a sound design concentration, Bawiec was able to capitalize on his network of USC relationships and his technical training on Avid systems to further his career. He moved rapidly into positions as a sound designer and re-recording mixer on a variety of TV pilots and feature films that have since been shown at the Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, SXSW and other film festivals.

“Over the years, the USC School of Cinematic Arts has developed state-of-the-art facilities and mix stages, as well as relationships with companies, such as Avid, which continually provide support,” says Bawiec.

“With today’s style of filmmaking, where ‘picture lock’ never happens, the sound editing, foley and ADR are done remotely,” Baswiec says. “With its ‘in the box’ mixing style, I can work on my 5.1 setup in my studio, take that session to a dub stage, and not lose anything. This makes Pro Tools a very versatile and user-friendly centerpiece that supports the creative process. Without a doubt, it’s industry-standard software. The fact that it’s perfect for short form as well as big budget studio productions is proof.”

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Don Rohrer is an accomplished technology professional in the Media and Entertainment industry with more than 19 years of sales and leadership experience. His positive attitude and excellent communication skills make him a great coach and mentor. Don has been responsible for introducing many new products and services into the M&E sector.