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Federico Brusilovsky: Cutting Commercials

Gordon sits down with Federico Brusilovsky to discuss the editing of commercials and rebuilding older brands. He cuts in LA for Lost Planet where he cuts for the top brands.

Go to aotg.com/cuttingroom for more interviews.

Federico Brusilovsky Bio

Federico Brusilovsky was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Initially, he enrolled in advertising school in his home country, but decided to move to the US and study film at The City College of New York. Once out of school, Federico began his career on the production side of the business, working on a variety of independent feature films, but he eventually found that the production world couldn’t satisfy his creative urges. So, he shifted gears and became a book-dealer, opening a store in DUMBO.

Yet, the film world kept calling to him. After a couple of years, he departed the book business and entered the post-production industry as an assistant editor. Again immersed in the film community, he met Bourne Identity editor Saar Klein in 2009, who in turn introduced him to the team at Lost Planet. Joining Lost Planet as an intern in 2012, Federico worked his way up to assisting under the venerable Hank Corwin before finally relocating from the East Coast to LA, where he now leads editorial efforts on campaigns for Cadillac, Dodge, Heineken, and HP.


The Cutting Room: Can you start off by telling me how you got into film editing?

Federico Brusilovsky: I studied film and I was very interested in film. I never really thought of editing as a venue for that. I guess like anybody who's in that world, you first start with the idea of directing or, because that's the closest thing you think you are of being a story teller and also I'm from Argentina. My background had to do more with cinema of authors where the editors and others are craftsmen involved and are more operators and the director is more of a very strong commanding force. I never really thought of anything that matches the venue and as I said I went to school for film then I went into production which was the natural path and did not like that at all.

The Cutting Room: Why not?

Federico Brusilovsky: People in production will get very upset with me, but (laughs) it's just management to me, not a creative place to work I mean, I started climbing up that ladder and I realized it wasn't the way I wanted to go. It was also showing me it was not where I needed to go because I was not good at it. (laughing) I got out of that and then luckily, because I had met some people and worked with some people I was able to see the post-production world differently. I became very interested in it and I decided maybe I should go into this and then I just got in and never got out. (laughing) I realized that my preconception of it was very different, the things that were happening in the cutting room were a lot more interesting and creative and dynamic and...

The Cutting Room: Well you also ran a bookstore for a bit?

Federico Brusilovsky: That's true, yeah, when I was between production and post actually.

The Cutting Room: Can you tell me about that, what's the...

Federico Brusilovsky: Yeah I was tired, I was so burnt out with production and realized it wasn't the venue or the path or the way and I just, I knew somebody who was doing some book selling and he had kind of taught me a little bit about it and then he said, "Why don't we just kind of team up?" We ended up doing it for 2 years, So I just became a book dealer. (laughs)

The Cutting Room: Oh Wow.

Federico Brusilovsky: It's not something I expected to be. Then my interest still lied in film and when I was doing the books I was still drawn to the film world and still searching for what would be the place that I found what I, I found interest and find that passion again that I had lost while working in production. I got lucky when I met some editors who, I guess it's when I started stepping more into the cutting room and realizing the process that was going on and jump into that, I said, "This is the place."

The Cutting Room: How did you make that transition into the cutting room? You started out assisting if I'm not mistaken.

Federico Brusilovsky: That's something that, and I'm going to have to talk specifically about where I work, Lost Planet. Because this is kind of how this place works which is one of the great things about it. It feeds from its own and builds its own people as much as it can of course, if you see the roster of editors or at Lost Planet here, the vast majority of them have been kind of bread here. It's a place where, actually when I started here I had already started a little bit in the post-film world. I knew about Lost Planet, I knew an editor who cuts here and he put my name in here and said I wanted to start assisting here. When I came into interview they told me that they didn't hire assistants that they just hired interns and this was an unpaid internships. I said, "That's fine." I just wanted to work here. Long story short, from answering the phones to cutting I guess. That's not just my story here, that's a lot of the editors here.

The Cutting Room: I hear that a lot in the industry where it's like the first year or two is working on freebies and small projects. So in that sort of struggle to get into the place paid work, did you have a side job or did you just cut other stuff on the side?

Federico Brusilovsky: I had stuff on the side but it wasn't in the editing world. Everything you try to do in editing is free at the beginning, right, I guess the only thing that's going to get you hired is a reel at some point, but I guess also work, building relationships and work in commercial house or post-production house, is really more key than anything at the end of the day. You're going to be in contact with this great work that is so hard you know, that you're never going to come across by yourself.

The Cutting Room: Now because a lot of the feature editors might not understand what your schedules are like or your process is like, can you take us through what a typical schedule for a commercial like the ones you edit would be?

Federico Brusilovsky: Well we are obviously on very tight schedules and I'm sure other editors are on tight schedules but comparatively. (laughing) When the job gets to me I'd say, a job gets to us it has already gone through several stages already of the pre-production world. From the time let's say, from the time we get the footage, maybe the editor will get a couple of days on average. Let's say an idea or scenario we get the footage and it's broken down as soon possible, you know, we're working mostly in 30's or 60's so it is a lot of footage for the amount of time that you're going to have but it's not as much footage as if you were shooting. I mean we have done a little bit of documentary and we do a little bit of long-form for the web. For the most part, you're going to work in 30's and 60's so there is a little bit restraint in that.

The editor gets a few days to screen and have a cut ready in, and this time he's working along with the directors. As soon as the directors walk in, we come in or they might be working remotely and give us some feedback. Then this cut is presented to the agency. The agency will also bring some feedback, a little bit of work, a couple of days of work with the agency. Then we finally present to the client. The client will love it and say, "That was perfect," then there will be no comments, then we're picture locked. [This is the ideal situation] This all happened in a course of a couple of weeks. Then the other way it happens is it goes on for a very long time (laughs) because we need to find something that satisfies everybody...

The Cutting Room: One of the things that I've noticed is all the commercial editors I've talked to they'll have a very strong knowledge of things like after-effects and what have you, do you find that with tight deadlines like that, you have to do a lot of the simpler visual effects? Obviously if there's massive visual effects they'll go to a visual effects house. But do you find...

Federico Brusilovsky: Definitely.

The Cutting Room: How do you tackle that in such a tight time constraint?

Federico Brusilovsky: Well, what you need mostly is a strong support system. (laughs) One thing that is definitely changing and it's getting you know, I don't want to say worst but it is in a way. You know technology has moved so fast that when we're in the offline process and people are expecting to see you know, 99% finished products. That goes down to color and visual effects and everything, where the offline used to be like crap and now it looks great. (laughs) You definitely need a support team for that. There are some very, very effects heavy jobs, usually we'll work with a team that will allow us to do that. When we get the job, we plan out how we're going to approach it because it's like everything in post, right? You need to know what your work load is going to be before you start. There's some quick things that we can do in after-effects.

Last year we did a job where 2 people were flying across the world, in different places of the world and taking pictures. They just showed them for 4 hours, each in green screens and that was it. We knew going into that what we were going to be tackling. Actually one thing with effects is that I guess we all have gotten used to being able to do whatever we want that it goes higher up a ladder and somebody will say, "I don't like that sweater." Then we need to build a whole new sweater. That's I guess it's the (laughs) you know, when I worked in the film world, I worked in independent film. Of course there your biggest hurdle is money. It's a little bit of the opposite in the advertising world because people just solve it with money. It feels a little bit like anything can be done and we've had all sorts of experiences with that.

The Cutting Room: I guess that leads me to one of my questions, is anytime I've, you know I haven't worked much in the commercial world but I do have a tiny bit of experience in it. What I've noticed is that the brands are very protective of... well their brand. (laughs)

Federico Brusilovsky: Yes.

The Cutting Room: It's their money, it's their, their income. So I've always seen that, you know there'll be a lot of people involved to make sure that your, you know, the story's being told the right way, the brand's being presented the right way. With that kind of influence coming from the producing side, from the financiers I guess you could call them, how much freedom do you have in the cutting process, and how do you work with them to make sure that they get exactly what they want?

Federico Brusilovsky: That's a great point and (laughs) that's one of the biggest problems, right? Being that, yes at the of the day we're shooting a commercial, right? We get interesting work and we do the most interesting scenes we do what we think are going to be appealing or we try to draw attention or do something that is interesting that will move you in some way. It's the same as in film when you're approaching it that way, but you still need to sell this thing or talk about this particular thing. That's when it gets tricky because in some constant conversation where you will get a lot more response from emotion than from information. That's the constant struggle I guess that we have it's in something that we need to show more of the car or show more x product as opposed to seeing this very interesting thing or that's too dark or that's too scary or that's too much. I actually, before I came here I studied advertising in Argentina. I always liked the advertising there actually.

In Argentina there's very good advertising and I think a little bit of it has to do with ignorance in a way. I mean ignorance in the sense that there's too much information here. From the client's side they hold too much information. Brand x of cars knows that people love the head room in their car. Then they want to do a spot and they want it to be interesting. Then at the end of the day all they want is that we show that there's a lot of head room because these guys love their head room. While (laughs) in Argentina, they just don't have this information because it's not all this research and development going on. They just say, "Let's just do a cool spot." Spots are really cool or interesting and more risky in those ways. Then you end up with a lot more brand recognition which is the area of the whole thing is that people noticed it a lot more because of that. I find that interesting.

The Cutting Room: I'm also seeing at least now a days, a lot of stuff moves more towards the story side of commercial telling, or at least that's what I'm seeing a lot of.

Federico Brusilovsky: Absolutely, yeah. While the landscape is changing dramatically, right? Well who watches commercials? Only people watching YouTube or watching live sports games, right?

The Cutting Room: Do you find that the commercial changes for the delivery format? If it's going to YouTube is there a different expectation from you or is it compared to like broadcast?

Federico Brusilovsky: There is, there's a lot more freedom on the web in a lot of ways. There's recently, there's actually something being cut right now here that we know that one cut's going to make it to the web and it will never air because of certain things that are happening in the cut itself because the networks will shut it. There's a lot of freedom when you have web. On the same page, the attention span on the web is a lot shorter. Basically, if somebody gives you the opportunity to skip in 5 seconds you're going to skip, right?

You don't get that opportunity on live TV or even if it's a recorded show you have to record and then jump to it, that's a different story, I'm not even going to go there. Like I was saying, on the web you have 15 seconds for the most part, sometimes you can get 30 and then you really have to grab it in a different way. There is a different approach but I personally feel it's freer on the web. (laughs) We do constantly try to find different things and different ways to do and push the comfort levels we feel we find here.

The Cutting Room: When I was you know, interviewing back and forth with your company, they were saying that you work a lot with older brands and help refresh them. What's your process with working with these older brands like Cadillac and Heineken and helping them refresh their image?

Federico Brusilovsky: I do like working with brands that are let's say older or that have been around. They do kind of need to sometimes reinvent themselves, right? You do have a new message. There is something in the back there that is always difficult because there's an image that they're trying to drop but at the same time they want to hold onto their heritage. It's a fine line that you cannot hop back and forth from. There's nothing that you can reject more in a commercial or in an advertisement that somebody telling you that they're something they're not. You know, if a classic brand comes and tells you that they're new and hip you're not going to buy it. Then also their loyal following is going to say, "What is going on with my favorite brand?" It is definitely a more fragile bridge to go through. It's also, goes back to the team that you work with and the agency that you work with and those guys kind of have a very, very clear goal on what's the message like you know, to spear the exact message that we're trying to get across.

The Cutting Room: Now I have one last question I like to ask everyone and that's what's your favorite guilty pleasure film to watch?

Federico Brusilovsky: Airplane!

The Cutting Room: Yeah? (laughing) That's a good one.

Federico Brusilovsky: (laughing) I mean it's very popular I don't know if it's because, I mean to me it's brilliant but uh, yeah Airplane is a film that I quote all the time, so ... (laughs)

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