Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Approaching the EDIT

PUT THE AUDIENCE FIRST. CUT TO ENRICH THEIR VIEWING EXPERIENCE
As editors, we're thinking audience all the time, I've always said editors are proxy for audience. We love our audience, and we want them to be happy and be enriched. And we want them to stay with it, of course, especially if it's for television

WHEN SCREENING DAILIES, BE SENSITIVE TO THE WAY THE FOOTAGE WAS CAPTURED. 
TRY TO SEE WHAT THE CAMERA PERSON SAW IN IT, THE LIFE AND MEANING OF THE MOMENT. BUT DON'T USE MATERIAL PURELY FOR ITS STRONG AESTHETIC VALUES
Cameraman like what I do with their material, or obvious reasons. I respect the quality of what they're doing. I don't muscle it into some intellectual thing. I respect their curiosity. I use their curiosity, it matches my own. And of course, that doesn't mean that therefore I use only their best stuff. But, I'm certainly very sensitive to what I think is effective material. Very often I lose their best stuff, because it doesn't work

DON'T SPOON-FEED THE AUDIENCE. TRUST THEM TO DISCOVER THEIR MEANING OF THE FILM
To a lot of television producers, a documentary is like a term paper. They're not loving the audience, particularly. They believe you have to tell them what they're going to see, tell them what they're seeing, and tell them what they saw. There's an excessive use of narration in television because that's the one thing they know how to do, they were taught well in college and they know how to write. And the audience is just switching channels, or dozing off, because they's spoon-fed. So you have to wrestle with that, and argue for the audience. I would rather confront someone I'm working with than make a heavily scripted film that is totally boring the hell out of an audience

- Larry Silk 

Editing Biographical Portraits



A documentary editor shapes the film narrative. With a biographical film that means being accountable for telling someone's life story. Getting the story right is an enormous responsibility; making the film entertaining and watchable, which is the larger job of the editor, requires careful balance.

Documentary editors pore over material for weeks and months, digesting the meaning of what they are given: film clips, photographs, interviews, transcripts. In making a biographical film, through viewing the subject's life artifacts, the editor comes to know the person intimately, but great editing always requires distance. The interpersonal dynamics of making a biographical or autobiographical documentary with the living subject of the film can be challenging. Because the editor's job is to represent the interest of the audience, she is focused entirely on the quality of the storytelling; the director, on the other hand, is inevitably invested in how he or she will come off. With every cut, the editor makes conjectures and statements about the person's character; as an emphatic person, an editor cannot help but be distracted by the nagging question, "What will the subject think of this portrayal?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tension and Style: film editor's challenges

One of a documentary film editor's challenges is bridging the gap between the often sublime, nuanced story that unfolds as the crew shoots a scene, and what the camera and microphone succeed in capturing. The crew's goal is to shoot footage that will make those nuanced obvious and comprehensible to an audience. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. Nonetheless, it's up to the editor to tell the story as the director sees it, or work with the director in forming a new vision for the narrative. Editors often identify the presence, or lack, of dramatic material in raw footage as "what's there". 

Creating a documentary is fraught with a variety of tension and conflict that gets resolved (or not) via a complex interplay of personal, creative and practical negotiations among the various players. To begin with, in most every documentary, there is inherent tension among three versions of the story: 

1. The story that the director is trying to capture with the material. This story is usually based on the director's original concept for the film, but it often evolves and changes during shooting as the real life unfolds in unexpected ways

2. The story that the editor sees in screening what has been captured by the camera

3. The edited version of the story, which is the reconciliation between what the editor can structure from the material she's been given, and what the director wants to emphasize: themes, turning points, important exposition of the events or characters, or dramatic moments that will be entertaining and informative to an audience.

In addition to the tension among the different versions of the story, there is tension between truth and drama. While the editor goes about inventing the structure, she must keep the dramatic storyline alive, though she also may feel an ethical responsibility to portray events as they actually happened. In structuring the material, a documentary editor often works like a screenplay writer, charged with crafting the entire narrative and "finding the story" in what is often 100-plus hours of material. 

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