Burton James Sears was a successful film editor who worked on several big-budget movies, but on his many return trips to his native Columbus, he was still just “one of the guys.”
That’s how lifelong friend Hutch Schumaker remembered Sears, who was known as “B.J.” to his friends.
Sears died Aug. 4 at the age of 66 at his home in Savannah, Georgia, where he was a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design.
“That’s just the way he was,” Schumaker said. “If he hadn’t talked to you for five years, when we got together it was just like we were back in high school.”
Sears worked as sound editor for the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus” and picture editor for several other feature films, including “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Jacob’s Ladder.”
He was born in Columbus in 1948 and graduated from Columbus High School in 1966. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from DePauw University and a master’s degree from the prestigious University of Southern California film school.
Schumaker said he and Sears were among a group from Columbus who attended Woodstock in 1969, but aside from that, his friend never showed much interest in the arts as a youth.
“I never would have guessed that would become his career, because when we were growing up none of us were really focused on artistic endeavors,” Schumaker said.
“But he went and did that and immediately got into film production and began to make a name for himself.”
Soon after graduation, Sears began work on a documentary at the Boulder Valley Institute and stayed on to teach at the school that provided educational opportunities for troubled youth.
Schumaker, who grew up with Sears on Flat Rock Drive, said his friend returned to Columbus about a year ago for a reunion.
“He’s been a really close friend for a very long time and he came back here on a regular basis,” Schumaker said.
Schumaker also visited Sears several times in California and Savannah.
“As the technology evolved he really began to enjoy his work a lot more because he was not stuck in the studio,” Schumaker said. “He came up to see us once when we were in Northern California on business and he was working on a movie from his laptop. It was fascinating to see him working on this stuff that I knew nothing about.”
Condolences for Sears on the Adams Funeral Services site in Savannah included messages from friends and acquaintances from across the country.
Walter Murch, a film editor and sound designer who also worked on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” described Sears as a dear friend.
“We both lived in Bolinas and would carpool to Berkeley, with great discussions along the way ... and we kept in touch regularly through the subsequent years,” Murch said.
Sears joined the faculty at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005 as a professor of post production in the film department. During his tenure, the school became recognized as one of the top film schools in the United States.
He also began creating a series of sculptures that focused on the fusion of antique and modern technology that were featured in the exhibition, “Professor Sears’ Electrophonic Anachroscope and Other Steampunk Amusements.”
A statement from the Savannah College of Arts and Design acknowledged Sears’ contributions to film production and to the university.
“The SCAD community is deeply saddened by (the) passing of film professor Burton J. Sears and extends its deepest condolences to B.J.’s family, friends, students and colleagues during this difficult time,” the statement read. “B.J., a brilliant filmmaker, caring educator and kindhearted person, taught at SCAD for nine years after an extensive career in Hollywood.”