Taking flight@SXSW
Artists Springboard to Success in Austin

Music, Movies and More

For the last 26 years, the Austin, Texas-based South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival has enabled a broad community of up-and-coming artists in technology, film and music, as well as an international audience of enthusiasts, to develop careers and share ideas. What began as a music event in 1987 with 700 registrants has grown to include film and interactive components that attract nearly 32,000 attendees each year.

Beyond the event itself, the festival’s growing popularity has transformed SXSW into a springboard for the year in music and film. As a hub of creativity and industry innovation, SXSW is a natural venue to attract storytellers who are employing the industry’s most proven and trusted tools - audio and video solutions from Avid - to make their mark. Here are a few particularly exciting examples of movies and music coming out of SXSW 2013, and the key role Avid played in their development:


Timothy Lovell (editor) – HAWKING – HAWKING, an intimate biopic on the life and discoveries of world-famous professor Stephen Hawking, used Avid Media Composer to cut the film. Production began in June 2012, with editing running from early September through the second week in March. Lovell notes that the film was shot on 1080i PAL, which was ingested into Media Composer (running on HPZ800), both natively, as well as transcoded to Avid DNxHD. “Avid is great at handling mixed formats. The timeline pretty much handles anything you throw at it in real time,” Lovell said. “We had some issues with footage shot in both progressive and interlaced formats, but Avid handles this mixture perfectly, just requiring a full render once the sequence is finished.” The final edit of the sequence was Total Conformed into Avid Symphony for online.

Other applications used on HAWKING include Avid FX (bundled free with Media Composer) for blur effects, animatte, resize, and color grading effects to set a guide grade. Lovell also used picture in picture effects combined with animatte.

Vladimir de Fontenay (writer, director, editor) – Mobile Homes – Vladimir de Fontenay relied on Avid solutions entirely for the editing of his film Mobile Homes, which he also wrote and directed. Mobile Homes is the story of a young woman who is trapped in sex trafficking and how her son contemplates an unlikely way out. While his mother survives day to day, seven-year-old Alex explores mobile home sales lots in the hopes of establishing a permanent home that can follow them from city to city. de Fontenay shot on super 16, processed the film at Deluxe, and did a supervised transfer at Metropolis in New York. He captured to DNx36 in Media Composer, edited the film, made the titles, and did some final color and contrast adjustments using the color correction tools in Media Composer before he uprezzed the picture and exported RGB. The film was scored with Victoria de la Vega, with rough sound edits done on Avid Media Composer. Professional sound mixer Scott Hirsch mixed the film on Pro Tools. Mobile Homes was the first project de Fontenay created using Avid solutions, but said he is currently editing both a commercial and a new short with the software. “I overcame a lot of challenges with Avid. The stabilizer (SteadyGlide™) saved my life on a few shots. There was a panning shot that we did handheld that was not very smooth,” he said. “The shot was panning over a mobile home park from left to right and lands on the kid staring at them. It was really important to save that shot as it was our only take. We had the same challenge with the moving mobile home at the end of the film. It's my favorite shot of the film. I was dreaming [about the scene] before making the movie and it had to work. I used the stabilizer and it made the closing shot of the film really smooth.”

Lee Salevan (sound editor) – This is Where We Live – Lee Salevan used Pro Tools to edit the sound for This is Where We Live, a portrait of the Sutton family in Texas Hill Country. The film examines how Noah, a local handyman, touches the lives of the family through his help caring for their son, August, who has cerebral palsy, while his parents battle illnesses of their own. Noah’s friendship with August has a ripple effect that forces Noah to confront his past. “A handful of times throughout the process, a new picture edit would need to be made,” said Salevan. “That became a challenge when I had already moved past a particular scene. Pro Tools “Automation Follows Edit” function definitely saved me a couple of times.”

Jacob Craycroft (editor) – Downloaded – Jacob Craycroft, who worked with Alex Winter on Downloaded, which details the rise and fall of Napster and the birth of the digital revolution, said that Avid Media Composer is the only solution he would use for a documentary. Craycroft edited the project and noted that Canon HD material was backed up and then converted to Avid DNxHD using MPEG Streamclip. The converted files were then brought into a 1080p/23.976 project, and all of the SD material was brought into a 29.97 project. Those bins were then copied into the HD project. Anything coming in off DVD was converted, backed up and then imported in case anything went wrong with the original drive. When the picture was locked, the SD footage was strung out by source type and then uprezzed in a project matching its original frame rate. Those Avid Media Composer sequences were run through a Teranex. The new 1080p/23.97 clips were then eye matched back into the HD final sequence for color correct. Sound editing for Downloaded was also done with Pro Tools.

“In general, I feel the media management on Avid editing systems is far superior to any other,” said Craycroft. “I usually cut features, and [I found myself] cutting my first documentary in 10 years that was based largely on SD Archival footage from a variety of sources and lengthy HD interviews. I would not have done it on any other system. The ability to mix formats without having to render anything is huge.”

Mick Andrews (director), Tom Eagles (editor) – Dotty – Mick Andrews and Tom Eagles say that Avid made dealing with file compatibility an easier process. For the film Dotty, which tells the story of an elderly woman confined to a rest home, who is desperate to send a text message to her daughter and what it took to teach her this new skill, Eagles cut the RED acquired project on Avid Media Composer, and then gave the edit decision list to Post House to re-ingest the red files before the color grade. “It was really about keeping the storytelling clear, maintaining the balance between comedy and drama, and transcending the limitations of the location,” Eagles said of the film, which was shot in several different cities. “Avid [Media Composer] is my preferred tool for all of this, simply for its fluid and intuitive interface.”

Music and Recording

Brad Worrell (Studio Manager, Producer) – Converse Rubber Tracks Studio – For the second year, Avid teamed up with Brooklyn-based Converse Rubber Tracks Studio to set up a pop-up recording studio during SXSW. Rubber Tracks sets up in Sound City of Austin, a studio that usually operates in the analog domain. Avid loaned the studio the latest Pro Tools HDX and HD Native gear to get the job done. A select group of Austin local bands were chosen for free recording sessions and some social media push through Converse’s wide digital audience. “The HDX system is pretty monstrous, so at no point were we pushing the boundaries on that. The native system wasn’t really being taxed very much because it was only being used for live recording,” said Brad Worrell, manager and producer at Rubber Tracks Studio. “We were only going in 12-16 channels at a time, but there are no latency issues that I could really detect. It’s pretty flawless and streamlined. I didn’t notice a difference between what we use up in Brooklyn, which is basically Pro Tools HD 3 Accel System.”

For two weeks, Worrell and engineer Alex McKenzie worked to capture live recordings of some of Austin’s hard working, unsigned bands. Worrell and McKenzie did not select bands based on their sound, but based on their tour and show schedules, as well as their following on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. “What we do [is] really aimed at trying to figure out the bands that are busting their butts to try and make it happen,” Worrell said. “We don’t judge the music and we try not to even listen to it. Their social pages indicate a band that’s working hard, and those are the kinds of bands that are given preferential treatment.”

Tim Palmer (Producer, Mixer, Engineer) – U2; Robert Plant; The Cure – Tim Palmer, an Avid Pro Tools user whose credits include U2, Robert Plant and The Cure, believes it is important for people in the recording community to attend SXSW, whether it’s to attend or participate in panels, or to connect with other professionals in the community that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet elsewhere. He has been attending the festival since the 1990s and participated in the Evolution of the Record Producer panel at this year’s festival. “On this trip I met Grouper Hines, who worked on all the Howard Jones stuff. He was sitting next to one of the guys from 10cc,” said Palmer. “I got to meet Kevin Godley and talk to him about what it was like to make records in 10cc. That’s incredible. I mean, it’s really amazing stuff for me to meet people who you just read their names on the back of albums.”

Geoff Sanoff (Producer, Mixer, Engineer) – Fountains of Wayne; Nada Surf; Beirut – Geoff Sanoff, bassist for Edsel and New York-based recording engineer for Fountains of Wayne, Nada Surf, and Beirut, is a SXSW veteran. Sanoff said that during the last 16 years the festival hasn’t changed much, except to say that it has expanded and become a place for more industries to showcase their work. But the music is still a constant. “You can’t walk down the street without seeing someone playing. What’s cool about that, if you’re [an engineer like] me, I spend so much time in the studio and I don’t actually have time to keep up with what’s going on in the world of music,” said Sanoff. “It’s a lot easier to see a random band that will probably be really good.”

SXSW is also a great place for music fans to catch reunion shows. This year, Ska legend The Specials reunited at Stubb’s BBQ, which kicked off the first leg of their U.S. tour. They weren’t the only band to reunite, either. “[Edsel] did an unexpected reunion show,” Sanoff said. “The promoter was a big fan back in the ‘90s and never got to see us play, so she found a way to make that happen. We were extremely psyched to do it because we haven’t really played together in a long time.”

He credits the band with getting him started in recording, citing an experience in Liverpool where he had the opportunity to record an album with a group of people who had done records with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis, Andy Wilkinson, and My Bloody Valentine. Sanoff found that his true calling wasn’t necessarily being in a band, but making records. “I love playing. It’s great to be able to see your old friends and get together once a year to play a show, and when they fly you out to SXSW to play a show, it’s awesome,” Sanoff said. “But I am much better at moving faders than I am at moving guitar strings.”