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Ervin Dyer

Magic Man

The winding road from Pitt to Hollywood

Doug Crise (John Hartigan photo)

It sounds like the stuff of dreams. A young man, inspired by the
movies, leaves the farm roads of his Pennsylvania hometown and sets his sights on California, dreaming. In his 20s, he walks away from his small-town job as a supermarket meat cutter, but he can’t yet imagine that, one day, he will stroll a red carpet at the Academy Awards.

Doug Crise (CGS ’90) began his Hollywood odyssey as a film studies major at Pitt, inspired by movies like E.T., Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which spun entire new worlds in the dark of neighborhood theaters. Initially, he attended the Greensburg campus, not far from his family’s home in rural Smithton. Later, he commuted to the Oakland campus, where he got hands-on filmmaking experience through the University’s partnership with Pittsburgh Filmmakers. As a student, he produced several short films.

After graduation, he spent a few years trying to break into the LA film industry, along with thousands of other California dreamers. He worked without pay to gain experience. He drove a movie-lot truck, he hung around editing rooms, and he absorbed everything he could about filmmaking. His persistence paid off. For more than a decade, he worked as an apprentice, an assistant editor, and finally as an editor. Along the way, he learned that the art of film editing is unglamorous—but also magical.

“A film is not a story until we touch it,” says Crise. “An editor gives the film its shape and tone. Our job is to create an emotion on screen, to help shape an actor’s performance.”

Crise has mastered that role. As a freelance film editor, he has worked with some of Hollywood’s top directors, including Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His films have been seen at the Sundance Film Festival. And his work on the movie Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, led to an Academy Award nomination for film editing.

Crise and fellow nominee Stephen Mirrione trimmed Babel from its original 240 hours to a complex story spanning three continents in a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes. By cutting 237 hours and 40 minutes from the initial rough film, the duo crystallized the story. In addition to receiving the Academy Award nomination, they won a 2007 American Cinema Editors Award for their work on the film.

Often, Crise sculpts the story by himself in his work suite. Using a sophisticated Avid computer system, he stitches a single scene together from thousands of frames. He spends hours reviewing endless dailies—multiple sets of just-filmed scenes—and he assembles rough cuts, which are visual drafts of a work in progress. Here, he creates the magic that still inspires those who dream big. For a small-town boy and a former meat cutter, that’s a perfect Hollywood ending.

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