Trim Edit

I want to take a moment to talk about the documentary project because I think there was some flummoxing going on – some napkin twisting and dark nights of the soul. There were, naturally, several things I didn’t have time to talk about when we had our class on documentaries – and there were certain things I wanted you to discover for yourself. I think you learned certain lessons:

1. To cover an event you need to shoot some things in real time (i.e.: lectures, performances, etc…) and pick up others as “b-roll” to add visual interest to the piece.
2. You need to find ways to break up that real time element with your b-roll so that you still get the flow of what’s happening. (i.e.: the cutaways Connor used during the musical performance while keeping the audio of the singer going; Brandon’s interview footage mixed in with the comedians)

I think we saw some good examples of how juxtaposing elements give a more complete document of an event – and allow you (and the audience) to make connections to guide us through the “story” of the event.

However, I’m not sure I was clear enough about the purpose of the “chronological” version I asked everyone to edit.

Documentaries – as some of you have discovered – are hard. What makes them hard? You shoot a ton of stuff and then need to put it together in an interesting way. This is essentially like life itself. To tell someone the complete story of your life, you would need at least as long as the number of years you’ve lived to do it. But this would be a tragically boring story to hear (no offense meant – my life story is also full of waiting for buses, shopping for toothpaste and sleeping). What we all do, is tell the big events of our lives – or our days – to other people. We boil down things down into the essence of what we think others would be interested to hear.

With a documentary, you need to boil down all the footage you’ve taken into what is interesting to you – and your audience. This means you must find the essence of the event you’ve documented. Before you sit down to cut, you should say out loud to someone – here’s what happened at the event I just shot. What did you tell them? What did you leave out? Ah-ha! Did you talk about your walk to the bus stop? The foot tapping you did while you waited around? The meandering you did while you looked for something interesting? No. You filtered down the story to what you thought was cool or gross or important or ridiculous.

When you do this, you give your story a shape. It is your take on what happened. As Bill Pullman says in “Lost Highway”, “I want to remember things my own way – not necessarily the way they happened”.

So why the “chronological” edit, Professor B? Yo? What up with that?! Why not just do the documentary my own way? Well, okay, I’ll tell you. The chrono edit was supposed to be the “telling your friend” edit. The one where you figured out – “here are the main things that happened that I thought were interesting.” I wanted it to be chronological so that you had a starting point – a framework to say: first this happened, then this, than that. Highlights in order.

Then the second edit was supposed to be a contrast to the straight story. Sometimes we want our life story to be different – luckily for us, lies were created for that purpose. In documentary, editing was invented for the same goal. In the second edit, I wanted you to be able to play with the highlights you found and re-order them into how you think the event should have happened.

Remember the video by Marc Adrian of the Stadtwerkstatt art installation? He went around and shot an event – setting up an art installation. Now were he to do a chronological edit, he would’ve shown the smoke coming out of the big air cannon, the women standing in the room being blasted by air, the artists setting up the hospital beds, etc…And he would’ve taken the audio of the man introducing the art exhibit and put together the highlights.

What we saw was his mash up. The made motion out of stasis by flipping the shots and alternating between them. He went backwards and forwards in time to stress certain elements and audio phrases. He shaped the piece to say: you should not document art – you should make art from art.

So for those of you who haven’t shown your chrono edits – find the essence first and show the highlights in order. For those of you who haven’t shown your “personal” versions – take the next step and figure out how this event made you feel. Did you like it, did you hate it, what would have made it more interesting. Would it have stopped dead at one moment while someone starts screaming off screen? What lie could you tell about this event that would make it more interesting to you and to your audience?

If you were one of the rare, blessed few who showed both cuts – think about your project. Were both versions as interesting to watch as they could be? Is there something else you could cut out to get to the highlights. Were there things you realized while you showed the audience that you would do differently? If so – please, please, please go back and edit them some more. Your final portfolio grade depends on turning in exceptional work – not just something you got done for class.

The best story tellers know when to jump ahead in time, and when to jump back. How do they know how and when to do it? They have a guiding theme. In “The Iliad”, Homer doesn’t start with Helen getting stolen from her husband and the Greeks going to sack the city of Troy to get her back. Yes, this makes chronological sense – and it would even be a good story. What makes the Iliad a great story, is that we start 10 years into the war with Achilles being pissed off about his role in the fight. First it jumps us into the story – which engages the reader. Second, it tells us that this story is not about a war to retrieve a woman – it is a story about how anger destroys everything. The rest of the story becomes revisions on that theme.

So the guiding principles are these: Find what interests you. Condense it to its essence. Discover why what you’ve chosen interests you – this will make you find the theme. Use the theme to guide your film/video/whatever.

Lastly, think of the audience when you work on a documentary (or anything, really). I’m not asking you to pander to an audience, but film/video is an audience medium. You are not making these videos solely “for yourself” – you will foist them on other people. Just as you wouldn’t tell your friends a long drawn out story about everything you did that day, your audience doesn’t want to see long drawn out shots that don’t lead somewhere. You are asking them to sit through your video for a certain duration – make that duration worthwhile. We will all die far too soon – make the stories you tell worth the time we spend listening to them.

Okay – I will not give you a web assignment – your assignment is to finish your assignments. Make them great.



~ by sosundays on April 7, 2008.

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