Sunday, December 28, 2014
Emerging from the Editing Room
Still some final steps -- even though editing is done -- those last technical and aesthetic finishing touches that transform an "edit" into a movie.
There's a way of talking about the cutting of a documentary (a form notorious for bulking up on hours and hours of footage) that sounds much like trying to lose weight. The exercise of keystrokes on the editing station slims down the running time in such a way that one might exclaim: "I'm down to 2 hours and 6 minutes!" as if one had just stepped on the bathroom scale.
A good friend of mine was telling me this summer about editing her first big project, and how she began the process with a three-hour rough cut. Confronted with material she was reluctant to remove from the film, she kept telling herself that she wasn't completely getting rid of what she began to cut from it. These scenes would be "DVD Extras." The film was completed and it had a quite successful life of screenings. But she never got around to compiling all those DVD extras after all that -- they were, however, a good mental conceit for parting with footage dear to the heart but not helpful to the project moving forward.
Suffice to say, some lovely material has crossed the rainbow bridge into the Valhalla of "DVD Extras."
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One aspect of the editing process that proved itself of great value in the last stages of things -- especially for a large project with many elements in play -- were the many private viewings and pieces of feedback from colleagues and cohorts.
A film plays very differently on a screen than it does on an editing platform, sometimes in quite subtle ways. Some of the advice I received made it directly into the film, but other suggestions were helpful in a more indirect way, pointing me toward sections of the film that needed attention -- even if the solution turned out to be something very different than what had been advised.
There's an art to giving feedback too. Sometimes there are very good suggestions that are nonetheless unhelpful -- not because of the quality of the idea, but because every film is a personal vision and there are many ways of making a film. Suffice to say, it might be a good suggestion. . . for the film that person should make themselves. Feedback of a more open-ended type can often be more useful, as paradoxical as that sounds.
But even sensing the energy in the room when people are seeing the film is a critical thing to the fine-tuning of pacing and the length of an ellipsis from one sequence to the next. And in a private work-in-progress screening there's no more beautiful sound than to hear laughter from other people at a funny moment in the film after so many times viewing it in the cutting room and hoping it will translate onto the screen. There can be a real danger in discovering how all this will play out by waiting until the film's premiere, and so I'd highly recommend it to other filmmakers as a useful lesson from the process here.