Editor Lisa Bromwell, ACE at Women in Post
By Debra Kaufman
At the annual Women in Post luncheon at the HPA Tech Retreat, editor Lisa Bromwell, ACE (The Sessions, In Treatment) described her journey to become a successful editor. She was a professional dancer until an injury and a desire for more financial security led her to a job as a PA on a film set. She spent that job looking closely at every role on the film production, to see which might suit her best. When she asked what happened after the film was shot, she was introduced to an editor. “I remember it was a yogurt commercial,” she recalls. “I watched him work – and I knew that was what I wanted to do.” She immediately saw a correlation between dance and editing. “The movement, rhythm, musicality – I knew I could do this,” she said.
Her decision to go into editing took persistence and focus (other traits she honed as a professional dancer). After answering phones at a commercial production house, she began visiting the Brill Building, at the time the center of feature post production in New York, handing out her resume. She was offered a job as an apprentice sound editor, and again left a secure job and rising pay scale to start again at the bottom – for two weeks employment. She caught the notice of a sound editor on Ishtar, and was hired as a sound apprentice, making leaders, filing trims, marking up dupes, doing conformations, over and over again with complete accuracy. She rose to assistant sound editor, but her heart was set on picture editorial, so she took another apprentice job in her targeted field.
Editor Craig McKay (Philadelphia, Reds) hired her as an apprentice, where one of her responsibilities was to get him his afternoon coffee and jelly donut. After several films together, she moved up to 2nd assistant, and when he needed “an extra set of hands on a looming deadline,” he bumped her up to editor. Her first job as an editor was on Silence of the Lambs. After that movie was finished, she decided to visit Los Angeles, timing her visit to coincide with the opening of that movie. She got meetings everywhere, and felt emboldened enough to pack up her life in New York and move West. But when she got to L.A., the phone never rang. Eventually, she called the legendary Roger Corman, King of the B Movies. “Within days Roger hired me to edit a film – for about one-quarter of the money I had been making,” she said. “It was a start, more like starting over, but at least a place to begin.”
By 1987, she had joined the union and was part of that generation of editors who were cutting during the transition from film to digital; she remembers cutting on the Montage, the Ediflex, editDroid, and LightWorks, as well as creating her own computerized log book on her first Apple computer. With deep experience in both media, she’s qualified to comment on what’s been lost in the transition to digital. “When you cut on film, you have to think about what you’re going to do because you have to thread up the film, roll it to the edit point, cut, splice… it takes time,” she said. “So you better have an idea before you start. And that goes for the directors and producers. Very few had the patience to sit in the room for the amount of time it took to do the work so the need to articulate the problem was important.”
With regard to women in the edit bay, Bromwell recalled that when she first started, she cut her hair short and traded contacts for glasses to look less attractive. “Wearing glasses to an interview, they take you more seriously,” she said – but noted that didn’t stop one film producer for hiring her because, as he said to her, she had good legs. She worries that there are fewer women in the edit bay. “I think there are fewer women than there used to be in the edit suite,” she said. “I don’t have data, but when I get resumes, I get a lot of from men and not a lot from women.”
She has two theories: one that, as people have become more aware of the power of editing, it’s become a cooler career, drawing more men. The second one is more disturbing. “There is a perception that men are good at technology and women aren’t,” she said, relating that very recently, she complained about a problem for three days and was ignored. “It took two days to fix my system – but three days for them to realize there was a problem.”
Since up-and-coming editors don’t have the chance to handle film and participate in the editing process in the same way as before, Bromwell encourages them to “just pay attention.” “The assistant is expected to do sound and music, they’re overworked,” she said. “But they need to really look at the cuts and pay attention to what’s different.” One last piece of advice: be kind. “When assistants hand you a resume looking for work or looking for advice, it doesn’t hurt to be encouraging,” she said. “We’re all well acquainted with the closed door.”