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fourlegz
editing Documentaries
on Sep 6, 2006 at 4:51:57 am

After editng for the past 25 years, I just became curious in how other editor/director/writers approach a new project.

You've got all the footage, now what? Do you storyboard? Write a script? Hang index cards all over the place? New software solutions to organize all these thousands of hours into something fantastic? What is your favorite way to create?
Thanks for your time....
M



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Mark Suszko
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 6, 2006 at 4:40:18 pm

Well I usually have an outline at least before I start. I don;t know too many people who just walk into a situation and start taping with NO preconceived notions or point of view.

But you are editing, all the time.
Even during aquisition. Each decision to turn the camera on or off, to stay or leave, is an edit, because if it's not on tape, it never happened, reality is altered, right off the top.

Anyhow, I normally have a main story in my head and roughed out before I start. if things come up spontaneously during the shoots, I will work them in if they add something.

When there's a lot of footage and ideas to work with, my favorite method of initial organizing is decidedly low-tech. I like a wide piece of wall and several colors worth of post-it notes. Each great quote, each main idea and location, get individual notes. Then I basically build a timeline on the wall using the notes, sometimes with branches leading down from the top level to other things that relate, sometimes left to right. Whatever feels right at the time. One of the things I like about this method is, the glue on these notes is only good for a certain number of attachments and removals. If you keep moving a post-it note around the outline until the glue no longer holds, maybe it means the shot, while cool by itself, really has no place in the program.

When I have the structure close to final form, I start recreating it on the timeline.

During digitizing, I do my first rough cut, again, choosing not to even digitize some footage is already editing. Depending ont he context, I may digitize into many little discrete clips, or I may ingest one whole section of tape as one grab, if i feel like I'm going to be shortening the one clip down but using it for a base.

I come from an early background in tape to tape linear A/B rolling, and while searching thru source tapes and watching pre-rolls was time consuming and boring, it forces an editor thru repeat viewing in both directions to really learn his or her raw material. You tend to pick up little impressions and flashes of inspiration as the tapes skim back and forth, to see "rythms" or patterns in the footage going by at 10x that you'd never have piecked up by just going direct to a single clip.

Very often in those old days, I would remember an image from the tape-skimming process that was not in the script or logs, but that would be PERFECT for use in a certain place. Bits of b-roll and cutaway, sources of room tone, that sort of thing.

So I think it's important the editor does the ingest themselves, and not leave logging and digitizing to an assistant. This stage is where you get so many impressions from the raw material. So one reason I may digitize one long section instead of pre-dividing it into clips is, I think there may be some use in being able to scrub thru the footage later like it was tape, once it was in the bin or on the timeline. Cutting the raw stuff up *too* much at ingest would prevent me from getting those impressions.

Later, when stuff is on the main timeline, I may sub-divide the clips and assign better names to the new components for efficiency's sake. By then I've done the harder parts.


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Pixel Monkey
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 6, 2006 at 7:41:05 pm


[Mark Suszko] "I like a wide piece of wall and several colors worth of post-it notes."

Yep - It's funny how universal this technique is. Even the most production-unsaavy person can walk into the edit bay and understand how the storyline is forming. In addition, I try to have a couple stacks of 4x6 index cards ready for if the Producer wants to take chunks of the "Post-It timeline" home. Keeping them in order, they stick B-Roll Post-Its onto white cards and A-roll ones onto their color(s) of choice. This keeps them from sticking to each other, and provides surface area for them to make notes without messing up my Post-Its.

(And for the power-geeks out there, there's nothing cooler than punching a hole in each card's top left corner, putting them on a metal ring and wearing your script on your belt like Snyder from One Day at a Time ...did I say that out loud?)

Scripts change way too much and too quickly, making chasing them with software too clunky for my taste, unless an Asst Editor or two are available. Breaking the script down into these "stickable clips" on the wall will work most efficiently for me... until a piece of software comes out that can make on-screen Stickies that be moved around and interact like the effects chain interface on an Avid D|S system, AND be emailed to the Producer for review and changes.

My best-case process (if afforded the time):
- Rename all tapes with 2 letters (the project's name) and 3 numbers starting at 001 (like FL213), and keep a sheet going that compares new "edit names" with whatever stupid crap they were called in the field. This numeric sequencing is applied to non-tape media too. (And never EVER name a tape or a clip "Guy in a blue shirt saying stuff".)
- Digitize whole tapes - using an assistant editor if one is available (I'm comfy with not watching it all come in).
- Put B-roll clips into their own bins, then subclips each shot and color code them (same colors as Post-Its).
- Print out each bin of A-Roll (list view) and file them all into a 3-ring binder.
- Print out each bin of B-Roll (Script view - with subclips and comments) and file them all into a 3-ring binder.
- Edit, edit, edit, change, change, start over, edit, make the trailer, cut out an hour, redo the trailer, Host a Dog and Pony Show, edit, edit, done! Whoops, add a new underwriter, fix that misspelled credit, edit, edit, done!
- Archive the project, delete media, upgrade the Avid software, redo all my settings, drink beer, change some diapers, sleep.

______
/-o-o-
`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey
`(___)

Just finished editing "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo" - see it on PBS & PBS-HD Sept 4, 2006 at 10pm (check local listings!).

Yes, that is Labor Day.




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fourlegz
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 6, 2006 at 9:13:47 pm

Very funny and interesting info. Thanks for your time on this topic. I too started w/ a grease pencil behind my ear and squinting over a flatbed. I actually loved working up a sweat and burning off stress over a rewind bench but nonetheless have tried my best to embrace the digital world. (I guess it beats looking for a perf at the bottom of a bin). But back to the topic at hand.... ...

How detailed do all of you get with these hundreds of post- its? Is it really just the subject or do you actually break down the dialogue? On this project I have two edit bays going in different towns (and a very indecisive director) so I am trying to come up with something that works, could be portable and helpful. I already cut down sequences of interviews, kind of like select reels based on each topic for his revision (since he is unwilling to review the material) you know the kind


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Mark Suszko
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 6, 2006 at 9:38:42 pm

I have actually seen some PC software somewhere that looks and acts like the post-its, so you can use it on a laptop and "take the wall with you" to your other locations, to meetings, etc. and even print out a version of it or share it over the web for group collaboration.

I just don't remember what the software is called.

I wouldn't want to run it on the same system as the NLE, though, it would have to stand apart from my "working canvas".

To answer the questions about detail level, across the top ot the wall I usually put up post-its that describe a general story arc, your three-act structure, any places where you need a cliffhanger brefore a commercial break, etc. maybe with predicted or expected rough run times.

The second level of mine, running below the first, is usually done in loose generalities or 'beats', then if I feel a need, more detailed versions go underneath the specific note in a ladder-like way. Like "Bob recalls the fishing incident (Interview, tape ###)". That's all I need at that stage. Get too detailed and it gets too hard to rapidly re-configure the arrangements, you may lose parts of it.

The other thing is, the standard 3x4 post-it note I tend to use is about the right size to keep it short, sweet, conceptual, no room to fill it up with too much extraneous detail. It's even the right shape to doodle stick-man type storyboard sketches too, with arrows to show things like pans or zooms or DVE moves or block diagrams of what the graphics could be shaped like.



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Pixel Monkey
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 7, 2006 at 6:40:01 pm


[fourlegz] "How detailed do all of you get with these hundreds of post- its?"

There's a really great chapter in [ http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0735714266?v=glance ] that goes into detail on this. Even if you don't buy the book, look for this chapter while at your local Barns'n Noble.

For my own work, one documentary post-it might look like this:

(from top to bottom)
- Topic of Discussion / Interviewee
- 5 words describing what she says

This is all I'll put on it until we steer the story about 90% onto its final path. Then, we get more detailed:

(each sound byte is split up into multiple post-its - by sentence)
- Topic of discussion / Interviewee
- 5 words to describe her current sentence

Color coding is key at this point - each interviewee gets her own color. This way you can stand back 10 feet and realize "Wow there's a lot of Judy (green) in this section, let's break her up with some Brian (orange)".

______
/-o-o-
`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey
`(___)

A picture says 1000 words. Editors give them meaning.



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fourlegz
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 7, 2006 at 7:19:02 pm

Thanks for more details on your process and the tip on the book. I ordered it and look forward to the read, especially since I talked the producers into using FCP on this mammoth job (we started on avid but much to most peoples horror I prefer the interface of FCP)!
You guys are the best!!!



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fourlegz
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 7, 2006 at 3:41:18 pm

Thanks for all of your info and good humor. I was curious about the color code system you spoke of. Do you build your timeline straight across the top and color code subjects or do you color code the actual footage.In my case it is a Music Documentary. So the footage categories would be performance,interview,broll etc. while the subject would be topical based on the band's history & album and 30 year life story. I am also curious about your mounting method becuase my boards will be traveling so I will have to have a mobile wall. Do you afix the index cards to the wall and move around your post its?



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Pixel Monkey
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 7, 2006 at 6:43:27 pm


[fourlegz] "curious about your mounting method becuase my boards will be traveling"

Get a 3-ring binder and fill it with plastic page protectors. Post-its stick and unstick nicely to them, and you can fit a bunch on each. Each topic or scene can be separated with a solid piece of paper. Get back to the edit bay and stick the whole page protector folder in-sequence on the wall.



______
/-o-o-
`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey
`(___)

A picture says 1000 words. Editors give them meaning.



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fourlegz
Re: editing Documentaries
on Sep 19, 2006 at 6:24:45 pm

Do you know of any books or online resources that might detail different ways of designing these post it boards. I read the Cold mountain Book that was suggested, a really great book BTW but it pertains more to feature scripting than Doc. W/ this historical Doc there is an huge amount of new and archival footage to organize and no director and no script. I have to come up with something very quickly to keep this project afloat. I have organized all 50 interviews into cut sequences based on a particular subject so these can be modular and cut down or used as select reels. This was done so the director could make notes, but he hasn't and it isnt looking like he might anytime soon. I am just rying to find a good and speedy system to move forward quickly before the producer has a stroke.



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