Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Long Should Your Project Be?

Well, hello there, this is the first post of the Documentary Insider. Let me introduce myself, I am Stephanie Hubbard, and I have been a working editor in Los Angeles since 1997. After spending alot of time in short form documentary, I cut my first long form project in 2001, it was a television documentary called "The Channel", about swimming the English Channel.

Since then, I've cut several feature docs, the most widely acclaimed have been "Torn From the Flag", executive produced by Vilmos Zsigmond, and shot by Lazlo Kovacs, about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (you can see the Hollywood Reporter review and others at my website, http://www.stephaniehubbard.com/)
and "Incest-A Family Tragedy", also a multiple award winning film. The first award it won was for Best Documentary at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

Okay, now, here's what I want to talk about:


Too many people come into my office wanting to cut their material into feature length docs.

Some people SHOULD go feature length, but it's my humble opinion that more folks would do well to CONSIDER other lengths or forms. What about 5 half hours, or a pair of 45 minute shows, or one - one hour?

According to the senior editor for both "Bowling for Columbine" and "Farenheit 9/11": (and I'm paraphrasing here) "One hour is the way to go for HBO & PBS, and pretty much any one else who might broadcast it." In fact, 44 minutes is the length you'll need to cut to for most cablers that include commercials, 22 minutes for a half hour spot.

Now think about this: How many more folks are going to see your film on television than in festivals - or even in theater? A lot more. And even those that get a feature release, often have to cut down when they do get broadcast.

I know everyone wants to be making a feature film, but it is my opinion, that unless there is a very good reason to go feature length, you have everything to gain by considering shorter form.

Just the opinion of this Documentary Insider.

Coming up: Ten Rules of Documentary Film Editing.

Thanks for reading!

Stephanie Hubbard
Check out my editing workshops for directors!


Le Liu said...

Congratulations Stephanie. I'll bookmark this when I get to my home computer tonight. I look forward to reading your tips.

Paul Birchard said...

Stephanie -
Of course you're correct, but there ARE some reasons why film makers have a burning desire to make a feature, and one must be the kudos from having done so. You get to put the laurel wreath and "Official Selection" on your posters and DVD boxes, which makes it a great idea.
But as Nikita Kurshchev observed: "You can't make soup out of an idea!"
Getting your project sold to TV might enable you to take the family on vacation - or get the resources in place for your next project !
But there ARE other factors.
For example, suppose you're making a real low-to-no-budget documentary, you've got a young editor who has never made a feature before, you sit there beside him or her and call almost every cut, and because that editor has no money, s/he is working graveyard shift on some crappy straight job, and because of that it takes a year and a half to complete the edit, and once the feature length is achieved, s/he starts getting work, or can't afford to carry on for you (and who can blame her/him?)

John Sayles observed that you can only ever make ONE really low budget movie, unless you're able to acquire a whole new set of friends! So then the intrepid producer/director needs to find *another* unsuspecting editor, unless the TV company is prepared to pony up for the edit.

There may artistic reasons for opting for feature length, valid or not...

My feature length doc, U & ME & TENNESSEE - an American romance... has a wonderful, naturally occurring and very satisfying and emotionally moving natural "conclusion" - but it does not conclude the actual story, and the insight that comes from taking a few more minutes to wrap up all the loose ends is what I was after. We end on a jaunty, upbeat, taking-responsibility-for-oneself note - but there is no doubt that many who've seen the film would prefer the it to end on the teary-eyed, "Love conquers all" note of the naturally occurring *conventional* conclusion...I suppose if I'd wanted to make a conventional movie, I'd have made a "character-driven comedy drama"....
Good luck with your blog - It's very stylish, and smart, and evidently you are too !

Paul Birchard
Producer/Director, U & ME & TENNESSEE - an American romance...

Esther Friedman said...

Wow, look at what you've started. Kudos to you

Esther Friedman said...

Wow...Look at what you have started. Kudos to you.

Esther Friedman said...

Wow look at what you have started. Kudos to you. I've got to get my next project in the can so we can start editing