Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rule #1 of Documentary Editing

Hey there everybody!

This week a film I worked on that is really beautiful is playing here at the Arclight from the 22 to the 28th for it's Academy Award Qualifying run. It's very competitive to get those spots, so I'm very proud and pleased.

In honor of my role as editor of that film (Executive produced by Vilmos Szigmond, and shot by Lazlo Kovacs) I am beginning my ten part series on "Rules of Documentary Film Editing"

I first developed these "rules" when I guest taught for my Docu-Link Friend and Colleague Sabine Sighicelli at Brooks Institute. (By the way, Sabine is working on a beautiful film about women artists)

So, here is Rule number One of my "rules" of documentary editing:

1) Don't start at the beginning.

It will be your beginning, but don't worry if it is THE beginning. If you find stuff that tells your story, start pulling it into a sequence ESPECIALLY if you have limited time. Your beginning will be the last thing you do. At least it should be.

So there are two things to talk about here: a) the first thing you start cutting and b) the actual beginning of the film. Just to prove my point, I'll start with the second thing.

b) When you are looking for the beginning of your movie, you need a scene or an image that actually contains the whole film. I will most likely not be obvious to the viewer until they view the film a second time, but that doesn't matter - the feeling tone will be there. So, that is what you are looking for when you are actually constructing the beginning. But, typically you will want to have developed your whole film before you do this.

Which brings me back to

a) What do you start with? I just start watching footage. Typically I try to choose footage I know is at the heart of the film - a key interview - or key sequence in the film. Sometimes I just start by marking the footage if I see good material - but at some point, an idea comes forward, and I make a choice to start putting material into the time line. It's very intuitive, and the best way I have found to begin. There are often elements of the beginning here, like, what do I need to tell first about this story - but invariably things get moved around later in the process, so the key is just to start.

Okay that's number one - I look forward to your comments!

Stephanie Hubbard
Check out my editing workshops for directors!


Le Liu said...

My instinct is to edit small scenes individually, regardless of at what point in the story they will take place. Then once I have all the different scenes and ideas and aspects of the stories organized, I start placing them in order. My professor used to always quote this other filmmaker (don't remember who) about how every film has to have a beginning, middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order :)

GregD4 said...

That would be Godard.