The folks at PBS are serious. Even though our show won't air until November, they wanted our final edit by ... July 3. Ahem. Cutting down our movie from 81 minutes to 53:30 is nothing to be sneezed at, so we asked for a couple more weeks, and they said "one would be better, but if you need two, then go ahead." Here's another advantage of having a co-director: I had been editing for hours and tried to write an email asking for a later delivery date. I re-read it just before I pressed "send," and thought, "I think this might sound a little whiney." So I sent it to Monica, my co-director, instead. She had a more fresh perspective, re-wrote it, and sent it out. Normally I'm a little more tactful, but 15 hours in front of a computer monitor will do that to you.
Surprisingly, the 26 minutes were much, much easier to excise than we thought they'd be. One of the producers at PBS, Lois Vossen, gave us some very shrewd cut-down notes with recommendations on what she thought should stay and what should hit the cutting room floor. We followed many of her suggestions, as we had come at some similar conclusions ourselves, but we differed on a few things. A wonderful thing about Independent Lens on PBS is that key first word: "Independent." Lois made it very clear from the onset that I.L. was a showcase for independent filmmakers, and while she would give suggestions and feedback, ultimately the editing decisions would be ours. For a small filmmaking group airing nationally for the first time, that is hugely important and a vote of confidence from PBS that we appreciate tremendously.
So, we've almost got the 53:30 cut in place. To get it to this point we've taken the equivalent of a meat cleaver to it, and now must get the scalpel back out for delicate fine-tuning before we're satisfied. With a giant revision such as this, it's easy to lose track of your subtle transitions, breathing room, and moments for reflection. The danger becomes that the piece is hacked and rearranged to the point that it feels breathless and rushed, clumsy and lurching. That's the point where we are now, evaluating for "feel" and "pacing" and "rhythm" and all those other esoteric descriptors. (I've heard that musicians make the best editors, and I believe it. Of course, being a musician myself makes me a little biased) and I'm glad to say we've gotten to this stage a couple of days earlier than I anticipated. By end of day tomorrow, I hope to have the final cut polished and gleaming, ready for the next stage.
More on that next time...
Thanks to all who wrote in with congratulations!