Transforming Industries: From Film Editing to the Media Supply Chain

Tom Ohanian, M.B.A. ’14, with a Moviola Model DX manufactured in Hollywood, circa 1924. The Moviola, a film viewer, was used in the editing process. At the time, editors had to physically cut the film and splice it to the next appropriate piece.

Tom Ohanian, M.B.A. ’14, is an Oscar and Emmy Award winner, a techie, inventor, and author. He’s given talks on how artificial intelligence and machine learning influence content creation. He is currently an independent consultant and a global business development leader for IBM. Writer Paul Kandarian caught up with Ohanian to learn a little about what makes this Renaissance man tick.

Tom Ohanian’s curiosity about how things work has earned him some impressive awards: As co-inventor of the Avid digital nonlinear editing system in the early 1990s, Ohanian and his team won Emmys for ushering the film industry from the cumbersome cut-and-splice editing days into the digital age. He has since focused on digital media supply, developing ways to make the delivery and distribution of digital media faster and more efficient. Along the way, he also earned an Oscar for scientific achievement. Ohanian’s fascination with the craft of film editing led him to write The Making of a Motion Picture Editor (2019). For the book, he interviewed dozens of film editors who, between them, have won more than 360 Oscars.

Q: Any early inkling of your techie future?
A: When I was young, I was interested in how TV shows and films were made, so I started developing my own black-and-white film with all the smelly chemicals; seeing how images appeared in that soup was fascinating. It was logical to go from still to moving images. I’d always liked seeing how machines were built, and I would take them apart when I was younger. Some were put back together flawlessly—some (he laughs) were not.

Q: How did you move from your work at Avid to where you are now?
A: The most important thing I’ve learned is always asking myself, “Is there a better way to do this?” I’m interested in helping industries do things better. After Avid, which was all about the transition from film to digital editing, I began to look at how content was sent back and forth—using satellites, couriers, and hard drives. I asked, “Is there a better way?” That led to a career transition in which I focused on changing how content was sent from program maker to distributor. Why not move video files over a network and speed the supply chain?

Q: Why the interest in film editing?
A: It is often called “the hidden craft.” People think that once a film is out of the camera, that’s that. But a film is made of small moments judiciously put together to tell a particular story. With cut-and-splice, it used to take like 40 minutes of film to produce one minute of finished footage. With digital editing, for feature films it can be like 100- or 200-to-1. Editing is important.

Q: What do you want to do now?
A: Keep learning and moving forward. Every day I ask myself, “What am I going to learn today?” It’s not about what I know, it’s about what I want to know. •

—Paul Kandarian

Photo: Lisa M. Surmeian