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Karen Schmeer Killed in Manhattan Hit-and-Run

Film community mourns loss of accomplished editor and alum


Film editor Karen Schmeer (CAS’92), a longtime collaborator of director Errol Morris, died on January 29 in Manhattan, struck by a speeding car. Photo by Garret Savage

Karen Schmeer, winner of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival’s editing award for the indie documentary Sergio and longtime collaborator of Academy Award–winning director Errol Morris, has died.

A longtime Boston resident, Schmeer (CAS’92) moved to Manhattan several years ago to pursue her career. She was nearly finished with her latest project, editing an HBO/BBC documentary about the late chess master Bobby Fischer, when a getaway car speeding from a robbery in Manhattan’s Upper West Side struck and killed her, just before 8 p.m. on January 29.

Police arrested a Brooklyn resident shortly after the crash. According to reports, the man admitted to being in the car, but denied being the driver. Prosecutors said the Dodge Avenger struck Schmeer on Broadway, near West 90th St., not long after a nearby CVS pharmacy was robbed.

Schmeer, 39, worked on several projects with Morris, including the 2004 Academy Award–winning documentary The Fog of War, about former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. In his acceptance speech Errol credited Schmeer, who was in the audience. She also collaborated with Morris on the 1997 film Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control and edited Sydney Pollack’s Sketches of Frank Gehry in 2005.

A friend and colleague of Schmeer’s for nearly 20 years, Morris describes her as  “tenacious and dogged, smart, funny, and perverse. She was someone I could turn to, not for just an honest opinion, but for a different one.”

Morris hired Schmeer as a researcher shortly after she graduated from BU, but she quickly moved into his graphics department, and eventually became an editor. “She had a natural gift for editing,” he says. “She made so many contributions to my films, and the successes of the projects she worked on can be attributed directly to what she brought to them. She made an enormous difference.”

At BU, Schmeer studied film and anthropology. She sold tickets and popcorn at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre during her college years, and friends are planning a memorial for her at the theater. A date has not yet been set.

Former classmate John Hall (COM’93), a senior lecturer in the College of Communication Writing Program, describes Schmeer as “incredibly humble, friendly, and kind. Film people tend to be jaded, but not Karen. I got the sense she was forever young.”

When Hall moved to Somerville after graduation, he was surprised to learn that Schmeer was his neighbor. “She used to throw great parties,” he recalls. “There’d be all these people from the film industry, and she was in the center.”

A “huge fan” of Morris’ work, Hall says he was most impressed with Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. “That was entirely an editor’s film,” he says. “It wouldn’t make any sense if it wasn’t for the editing structure.”

Though Mary Jane Doherty, a COM associate professor of film and television, did not know Schmeer well, the young filmmaker made a lasting impression. "From the first time I met her in the mid ’90s, I was startled at her acumen, her specialness," Doherty says. "I knew right away that she was a force, someone to watch fly through her career, because she had that special humility that accompanies only the truly gifted."   

“She was by no means at the end of a great career,” Morris says. “She was really only starting it. She was certainly interested in editing feature films. I have a feature film that I’ll be doing later this year, and I had always imagined that Karen would be involved.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu or follow her on twitter at@vickywaltz.


One Comment on Karen Schmeer Killed in Manhattan Hit-and-Run

  • Charles Merzbacher on 02.05.2010 at 11:14 am

    B.U. to Honor Schmeer

    A memorial screening/discussion honoring the career of Karen Schmeer is currently planned for April 2nd. I don’t believe that a venue has been set, but the event will be run by the College of Communication and the Department of Film & Television, so check http://www.bu.edu/com/ft for details.

    Karen truly was a brilliant filmmaker, helping to shape not one but several essential contemporary documentaries (THE FOG OF WAR, THE SAME RIVER TWICE and MY FATHER THE GENIUS) among my favorites. RIP.

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