BlacKkKlansman Editor Barry Alexander Brown: “Cutting on Media Composer? To Me There Is No Second Choice!”

By in Video Editing

I’ve used Avid Media Composer since I first began cutting digitally.   I was never a video tape editor – I actually refused to learn it after my first experience with ¾” tape to tape editing in the mid-eighties. I was a devout film editor and I loved the eight plate Steenbeck flat bed machine.  Spike and I went kicking and screaming into the digital age and there was a steep learning curve for someone with such a bad attitude as I had at the time but once I learned Media Composer my life as an editor took a decisive turn for the better – no more open roles of 35mm workprint and sound strategically placed around my editing room so that I could remember where I planned to go for the next edit; no more shrugging my shoulders when Spike asked to see an older cut; no more small trims that sometimes got lost.

I can’t exactly remember when I learned the trim mode on Avid but once I did, it became my friend for life. I now cannot imagine cutting without it – so quick now to find the cut, to find the right frame. Whenever I have to be on another system my first question is, “What da ya mean it don’t have a trim mode?”

Composer Terence Blanchard, Director Spike Lee , Editor Barry Alexander Brown
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Back in the days when we were making “Do The Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” we could only imagine a Visual FX that we had in mind – there was no trying something out and tweaking it on a Steenbeck.  The best I could do was to draw a line that symbolized a dissolve – forget actually seeing one and setting the exact frame length that looked right.   As we all know, now we do all kinds of temp VFX in Avid and directors are so use to it they scratch their heads when we can’t perfectly deliver an effect in the blink of an eye – my shout out to young directors: “Even though it’s digital and fast, Avid Media Composer is not a magic wand, it does require work – SO RELAX!”

We had a scene in BlacKkKlansman in which portraits of audience members appeared during the Kwame Ture speech early on in the film.   Every one of the cuts and merging of images and moves were worked out in the Avid.  Spike had the ability to tweak what I did originally and we arrived at what you see in the completed film fairly quickly.  Even when Randy Balsmeyer – the legendary New York VFX magician – came in to the see that cut, Spike told him, “This is the way we want it – exactly like this – you just have to clean it up.”

Spike Lee and Adam Driver on the set of BlacKkKlansman

One aspect of the Media Composer that I’ve become very, very happy with is the resolution of the image.  We do our test screenings from an Avid output now – even at 36 DNX.  When we’re in a crunch, I do a basic stereo sound mix and out it we go and it always looks fantastic.  When young people ask me why I cut on Avid I tell them, “To me there is no second choice.”

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Barry Alexander Brown is an English born-American film director and editor. As a film editor, he is best known for collaborations with film director Spike Lee, editing some of Lee's best known films.