COVID Brighton – Update 9 – Video Prep

It’s been a while since the last post and we’ve now completed all interviews for the COVID Brighton film. We had a couple more in the pipe line but had scheduling problems and, as we already have fifteen interviews, I decided it was time to get on and make the film. Ah, but there lies the rub – where to start?

Documentaries are often driven by the interview dialogue and my tutor at film school instructed us to transcribe everything, read everything, mark the bits that we like and then cut them out with scissors and lay them out on a table. Then assemble them into some kind of narrative. I started down this line but now realise that the scale of the task was deterring me from continuing me and I procrastinated by chasing the few remaining interviews. Eventually I decided that one thing I could do while waiting for these interviews was to get the media prepared.

Preparation involves synching the video and audio and extracting the good bits of the interviews. After fiftenn interviews, I now understand that people do not speak the way they do on the telly. Most people are unused to public speaking and produce quite a bit of superfluous content. This is not a complaint, it is the way we all speak most of the time and, having listened to my own voice on the recordings, I confess that I am one of the worst culprits. Superfluous content may be things like: Ums, Ahs, unfinished sentences; sentences which start fine but are then reworked part way through, coughing, sneezing or just saying, “Sorry, I’ll say that again”.

The amazing thing is that, even with the most erratic speakers, I understood them perfectly during the interview and it is only under the forensic examination of the editing software that the meandering nature of speech becomes evident. Perhaps when the speaker is not actually present we miss the immediacy of the relationship and so need the speaker to be more concise.

Of the interviews conducted so far, three speakers spoke in coherent paragraphs and all three had experience of public speaking. It’s also true that some of the people who were more erratic spoke more spontaneously and with more emotion and this is very good for film makers.

I have hours of footage and it is the task of the editor to piece these sections together into a coherent narrative. The following is a discussion of my experience as I attempted this. It’s fairly technical but might help anyone attempting the same task. We used two cameras for most interviews and I am using Davinci Resolve software for editing.

I began by synching the audio with the video footage for each camera so for most interviews I ended up with two clips. I then created a “Timeline” for each interview and dropped a clip onto the Timeline. I listened through and clipped “OUT” my speech as well as, superfluous comments, retaining bits that I thought were useful for the final film. Very roughly this brought interviews of perhaps 50 minutes down to about 20 minutes.

On maybe the 3rd interview I realised that I should be adding “Marks” at the position of pertinent comments. I started doing this and then by about the 6th interview I realised that I should be using the top marker as this one shows up in the main timeline below the video pane. By default markers are named Marker 1, Marker 2 etc and this shows upp in the top timeline. It’s better to rename these top markers so that the main timeline markers can be browsed. Again, this is me feeling my way through the workflow and it’s possible there are all sorts of other mechanisms that might be used.

I’d had a nagging thought rattling around my head that I was only cutting and marking one of the cameras and I vaguely thought that I would synch the second camera clip ad hoc when I needed to but, as I progressed and created perhaps hundreds of clips, I realised this was going to mean a lot of work. Eventually I realised the solution was obvious: I should have synched the two camera clips together prior to beginning the editing and marking.

Davinci Resolve – Prepping

So, perhaps half way through the prepping process my workflow for each interview is now:

  • Synch Camera A & Audio and save as Interview Clip A
  • Synch Camera B & Audio into Interview Clip B
  • Create Interview Timeline (eg Pizza).
  • Drop Interview Clip A onto Timeline using Tracks Video 1 & Audio 1
  • Drop Interview Clip B onto Timeline using Tracks Video 2 & Audio 2
  • Slide Tracks 1 & 2 around so that the audio in the clips synchronises exactly.
    • (Tip for this is to turn off the “Magnet” so that you can slide more precisely)
  • Synch the two clips together.
  • Listen through the clip and edit out superfluous content using the “Razor” tool.
  • Click “M” to mark clips and enter text relating to the speech in the title of the top mark.
  • Use different coloured marks for different purposes. eg. Background, Interesting, Must Have.

When the end of the clip is reached I end up with numerous marked clips. I then delete the gaps between the clips as follows:

  • Highlighting all clips (Ctrl A)
  • Edit – Delete Gaps
  • Don’t forget to Save – Give project version numbers and save with different version numbers after sections of work are complete to allow recovery in case you screw something up.

The result of all this work should be a Timeline for each interview which includes both cameras, only the interesting dialogue and has marks for the interesting points.

All of this does nothing to contribute to the eventual shape of the film but goes back to what I hear again and again which is to break the task down into smaller tasks. The preparation process will provide me with a sort of “pallet” of useful video/sound bites from which I can assemble the final film. And that is when the real work starts.