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I thought I knew you, Alicia Witt

The best feeling of my life = sitting with a real audience at a real movie theater at the Sundance Frickin’ Film Festival watching something you have spent so much time and lavished so much love on. And then to step back and watch it being enjoyed by others. A-maze-zing.

Sitting in my airplane seat in January of 1994, it hit me that I’d get to experience exactly that.

I was the editor for a film called FUN, alongside director Rafal Zielinski. After losing his previous editor, I had to hit the ground running. They hadn’t even started editing yet, and we had about 10 days to cut it to meet the extended submission deadline. Yikes!

So we rushed to get a video screener into the hands of the almighty Sundance screeners, just in time. And low and behold: we were accepted!

After that, the next couple of months were nuts. Don’t forget, post production was slow in those days. So we rushed to finish editing the film to get it to the negative cutters, to score the music, finish the final sound mix, and make the optical track.

Rush, rush, rush! And, finally, we rushed to get the only copy of the film, fresh out of the lab, onto a plane to Park City with only minutes to spare.

Once FUN hit the screen, it didn’t take long for the audience to warm up to the two leads, Renee Humphrey and Alicia Witt. They were young, talented and virtually unknown at that point. Which is a lot of what Sundance is all about - giving a platform for new voices and new talent.

Their electricity on the screen was a delight to watch, which the audience clearly appreciated.

It wasn’t until the end of the screening, after the Q&A, that I got to meet Alicia. She was one of the leads of FUN, a darling of the audience and the press. And there she was, radiant, and alive.

Frankly, it felt a little weird for me. Not because I was star-struck (ok, maybe a little), but because I knew her so much better than she knew me. Or so I thought.

You see, I had been sitting in a dark room for weeks, staring at her every move, watching her, studying her, and judging everything she does. I felt like I understood her and the pain and internal suffering she must be going through. The struggle was real and I wanted to reach out.

The real Alicia Witt, at a party at my home, circa 1994

I know that may sound a little creepy, but that’s what editors do. They have to know their characters. And I felt I knew her well. So when I first met the real Alicia-- charming, graceful, and not covered in blood-- it was the most pleasant reality-flip of the night.

Later, both Alicia and I watched as Rafal accepted the Special Jury Recognition Award for FUN. All that hard work had paid off and I couldn’t be any prouder. Prouder of her, prouder of Rafal and prouder of the entire team that made this film possible.

And it really was the best feeling of my life. Not so much for the work I did, but for the fact that so many people were willing to come together to make this film, for all their hard work, and for the audiences’ glowing response. On that day, Sundance became the castle on the hill that I got to hang out in, a warm place where magical things can and do happen.

I am writing this in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival. I had my first film screen there 27 years ago, back in 1994. #Sundance40th #Sundance #Film #FilmFestival #Happy40thSundance #FilmEditing #Filmmaking #WorkHardPlayHard #SundanceFilm

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