Tuesday, June 8, 2010

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?"


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