Thursday, December 8, 2005

So, how do you do that?

Maritza asked about the editing process. Here's a primer for the way we'll do it:

1) digitize the footage.
We've already started this process. Monica and I are starting in on the more than 100 tapes we've recorded so far. We aren't looking at content at the moment --- we're just capturing every second of footage we've taken and getting it into the computer to start examining later (in the world of writing, it's kind of like taking your reams of handwritten notes and scanning them in to the computer so that you can start editing your essay for content). We do it in 3 20-minute chunks per tape, and we're doing it at a low, rough resolution (we have to do it at a low resolution because it would take many hard drives full to capture all our footage at high resolution. Using low resolution we can have access to all our footage. When we're done, we can finish up with a high resolution version. It looks a little fuzzy, but you get used to it). For ease, in addition to our complete tape naming scheme ("Interview with Leon Lederman, 11/05/2005", for example) we've just given each tape a number. So when we digitize to the computer we use the numbers, so it will be easy to keep track of each tape and grab it when the computer calls for it later.

2) Log the footage
This is where it gets a little agonizing. In the first stage, you simply capture in giant chunks. In this stage, you actually make smaller clips (called subclips) based on what's happening. For example, if Ben is roller blading around the ring, you might take a great 30-second clip out of the big 20-minute chunk and call it "Ben rollerblades." You'd also enter lots of other information, such as location, the time, who's on camera, etc. so that you can sort it all later (call up all the shots of the ring, for example, or all the shots with Ben). After this stage we will have many, many hundreds of small clips, each named something descriptive. These are the basic puzzle pieces we will be shuffling around to make the film.

During this phase also we will be getting a real idea of what we've got and what we don't have. Rough themes will begin to emerge, and we'll fall in love with some clips, be disappointed by others, sick that we missed some things, excited by something we didn't expect, discouraged and energized in equal measure.

3) Transcribe the footage
Truly agonizing. We will literally type (or, hopefully, enlist someone to help) all the interviews. As torturous as this is, it is critical, because you can't imagine how many times you'd find yourself asking "didn't Leon Lederman say something like that? Or was it John Conway? Weren't they talking about this sometime in the winter? Which tape was that on? Or was that someone else? Or did I totally imagine that?" All these questions can be answered when it is in cold black and white, in an indexible word file.

4) Create a paper edit
Now the strategizing and creative work begins. Since we now know what we've got, and what everyone says and does, it's possible to create a rough diagram and flow chart of the movie simply on paper. I've used big pieces of paper before, making a long timeline; I've used notecards; I've done it on a computer. For me, I really love the feel of a pencil and paper, so in conjunction with Monica and with feedback from Luke and Andrew, the first stab will probably be done that way. 2nd draft, 3rd draft, changes, adjustments.

5) Obtain secondary footage
We'll be using some news footage from local and national goings-on, so we have to pursue the legal and logistical battles associated with aquiring footage of, say, the Dover Pennsylvania school district announcing they are requiring teachers to discuss intelligent design in the classroom.

6) Begin the edit
The paper edit is a nice starting point, and essential to get an idea of the flow of the story, but everything changes when you start seeing clips in place on a timeline. Things are too slow, things rush by too fast, themes are not developed like you thought, certain footage is not compelling like you had hoped, and suddenly new things emerge as threads to pursue that you hadn't imagined would be interesting. People get chopped out of the edit, new people find their way in, whole themes get tweaked and massaged or cut altogether.

One thing that will make this film manageable (and more fun, in my opinion) in the editing room is that we are planning to treat the year we spend with the Tevatron as just that --- a year. So in a sense, that gives us a basic structure from the start. We'll be thinking of our story in terms of several units (months) strung together. In that way, we can focusing on creating a beautiful, totally engrossing "January," or "August." Sometimes it's easier to think about a larger work in terms of several successful subdivisions --- like focusing on writing a great chapter instead of always trying to write the novel.

7) Deadline 1: the Rough Cut
You have to have a deadline. This is when you have a working, albeit still flawed, version of the film for trusted viewers to watch and give you feedback. Watching a movie you've made with even one other unconnected person is a radically different experience than watching it alone in front of your computer. This is when people blink and say "I don't get this at all" or "hmmm. That's pretty good. But that middle section is way, way too long. I don't care about that guy or what he's doing."

8) Deadline 2: Rough Cut #2
Taking the feedback from your viewers and from your gut, you make adjustments, re-edit. This process could have a #3 if you feel there are major changes to be made.

9) Deadline 3: Fine Cut
This is where you've got it about as good as you can get it --- the music is in place, the themes are where they will stay, and the time for major changes is over. You show it to trusted viewers again for feedback on timing ("that shot is just a little too long") and emotional impact ("that section works really well, but would work better if...") and overall effectiveness ("a little more impact on your last point").

10) Deadline 4: Final Cut
Self-explanatory. Big party.

If you're lucky and work really really hard, this process can take 6-9 months. Usually much shorter with a fiction film, since you basically know how it's going to get put together before you even pick up the camera.

One final note --- Only in the last 10 years is this even possible. Back in the old days, of course, everyone had to shoot on film. That would increase the budget by a factor of 50. We could never tackle a project like this without digital video --- we can do everything ourselves for free! Vive le Mac...

1 comment:

Jennifer Ross said...

Hi Jeff (or should I say "Crazy Pants"?),
So, I found your blog. I check it regularly and enjoy learning about what you are creating. I especially enjoyed this entry because you described a very specific process. Having finished (today, this very day!) my 3D class where "process" was drilled into our heads, I've become interested in how other artists approach process. I love listening to/reading about how people start with a concept, gather info/materials, fidget around with stuff, discard, discover, reroute, edit, focus and finesse. I'll keep reading - and I wish you continued success on your project!