This week I have been editing my documentary about how COVID has affected Brighton. Well, that’s what some would call it but I think that I am finally “creating”. Having spent months, organising, labelling and referencing my media I am into the bit where I am piecing together a narrative and it is far more enjoyable than all the donkey work that has gone before. Having said that the preparation has been invaluable and is now allowing me to focus on creativity. I have made 15 timelines, each with a theme: First Lockdown, Summer, Vaccine etc. To start with I worked on these in a linear fashion but after getting each one roughly assembled I began skipping around as I moved material between these themes. I ended up with a very rough cut lasting much too long and am now into what I am calling ruthless cutting. I’ve heard it said of editing that it’s mostly about cutting and I am starting to think of it like sculpture. I have this massive block of material and I hack away at it to reveal a narrative. Often I have found several excellent pieces but going through the material again and again it becomes obvious that they say the same thing. Only one can remain and so I cut, cut, cut. Like sculpture once I’ve cut there is no going back – that way lies madness. That bit I just hacked off may have made a fine nose but it’s too late now. It’s gone.
Preambles are interesting. I find that each time I return to a segment I find more preamble. By this I mean where people say something like “Um, I think….”. It’s a normal part of speech but adds nothing and each time it’s shaved away a more perfect form is revealed (so I tell myself).
I started out with 15 interviews and about 20 hours of footage and, unfortunately, as I cut I realise that some interviews cannot be used. This is a disapointment for the interviewees but in the end I remember what I was taught in film school: Everything must serve the story.
I learn things about myself along the way. The temptation to balance the screen time of the two students is because I am trying to be fair but fairness is not part of film making. Cut, cut cut! The temptation to shoehorn in an engaging sentence: “They’re all at it!” yells one guy when talking about kids drinking on the beach but try as I might it doesn’t bloody fit and it must go.
I am aiming for around an hour and today I am down to a rough cut of 1 hour and 14 minutes. I need to keep in mind that I will probably have to add some spacing. Pausing between segments. Perhaps a brief musical interlude and titles and credits. All will require more cutting and it’s possible I may have to lose more speakers. However, my iterative aproach reveals more superfluous material at every viewing and so I am hopefully that I will distil the material down without losing too much more of the valuable content.
When this process is complete I have more work to do. I will need to finalise the shot for each clip, add cropping and zooming, shoot more B-Roll and add B-Roll where necessary, add spacing, fine tune the audio, colour grade, add titles and credits and finally add music.
What a palaver!