Engine Room Edit Takes On Films, Commercials

When most people think of film editing, they envision a cramped, windowless room filled with a few people hunched over glowing computer screens. A little over eight years ago, Don Packer and Scott Knowlton decided to pursue a higher standard of the practice. At the time, they were working for another editing house and decided that they needed the creative and financial freedom that would come with starting their own place. The duo thought it could offer something new and different to the film market, and Packer and Knowlton saw no reason to deny themselves an incredibly comfortable workspace.

With that, Engine Room Edit (ERE) was born-Packer and Knowlton’s very own postproduction facility. Like many film editing companies, Engine Room Edit takes on all sorts of projects-including commercial, film, web, and promotional-but is unique in its level of involvement. According to Packer, the ERE editors like to be present throughout production, including for the design of the shoot, the execution, and the aftermath.

“The mistake a lot of people make is that they make something and then hand it off to the editing company afterward,” Packer said. “We fix it before the process starts.”

Packer, who began his career in L.A. but has since become an advocate for the Boston film community, said there is no way to definitively outline the clientele that ERE attracts. Sometimes it will take on projects for large companies, like Toyota and Progressive, and other times people will come in and ask it to do special projects, devoted to promoting ideas and depicting subjects in a certain way. The company has also been called in to work on television shows, covering everything from the pilots to the title designs to the packages and the entire presentation for the show.

Packer recalled a time that Putnam Investments, a company with which Engine Room Edit has a longstanding professional relationship, called him in early to work on a commercial for the corporation.

“I found myself on a Sunday afternoon basically lining up the shots with the director,” Packer said. “When we were done, we basically used 100 percent of the shots we laid out beforehand. We were able to make three commercials in one day.”

The editors of ERE are well versed in the music and audio mixes that combine with certain visual aspects to make a great project, which means they can make recommendations to companies and inspire creativity that goes beyond the visual aspects of a video.

While Engine Room Edit has experienced plenty of success, Packer said that the company is always looking to expand and improve. It recently opened up a partnership with Nice Shoes, a New York-based design, animation, visual effects, and color-grading studio. It hopes that the partnership will augment the company’s ability to create inspired and impressive projects.

Packer is particularly excited about the opportunity for the company to use remote color correction, a capability which not many film-editing companies have, and he said that the companies hope to collaborate to provide some high-level graphics that have not been presented in Boston in quite some time.

The Massachusetts Production Coalition, of which Packer is a founding member and is the recently elected president, is advocating for the film tax incentive offered to filmmakers by the state of Massachusetts. State legislators recognize that filmmaking is a risky business, and they offer a 25 percent state tax credit on qualified spending for a film. The incentive has already increased business in the movie-making world, and postproduction figures have quadrupled in past years. MPC leaders are continuing to push forward with this incentive in the hopes that its success in Massachusetts will only continue.

Although Engine Room Edit is committed to maintaining a presence in the local community, it also wants to be able to depict subjects from around the world. Recently, one ERE crew returned from shooting in Kenya for two weeks. Currently, another crew is working with Rough Water Films to shoot a commercial about a microbrewery community currently blossoming in Vermont, known as Brewland. Both crews are facing the task of compressing huge stories into small commercials.

There is, of course, an inevitable difficulty in compressing such a shoot into a compelling 30 seconds of video. Therein, Packer says, lies the secret of great film work: “we want to be good commercial editors and storytellers, and there is a big difference between making a commercial and telling a story.”