Friday, July 4, 2008

Production Background 5: Organizing the Edit

Things I love about post-production: its where the story comes to life, where a bunch of fragmented clips, sounds, images can magically congeal into a reflection of our deepest experiences as humans. It’s also a great mixture of art and organization: when I have a creative mind I can dive into story-issues, think about how a character is developing, think about how to create mood, how to re-imagine transitions; when I’m feeling brain-dead, there’s always endless amounts of organizational tasks I can slog through and still feel somewhat productive.

Things I don’t love about post-production: this film took over two years to edit.

Here’s how the post-production basically worked:
  • In the end there was roughly 300 hours of footage we shot [most of the first 100 hours was figuring out the visual style, and following angles that were later dropped. Perhaps 5 minutes from the first 100 hours ended up in the final cut.]
  • There was roughly 50 hours of archival footage we got from individuals, organizations, or from screener tapes we purchased from archival houses.
  • All of the 350 hours of footage was digitized first at low-resolution (Final Cut Pro’s “DV Offline Resolution” – which comes out to roughly 4 gigs per hour). I like having all the footage at my fingertips, and hate going back to the tapes to find out if there was anything else good from that scene….
  • When we got to later-stage rough-cuts, we would use FCP’s Media Manager tool to uprez the clips used to full DV resolution. (If I were starting over today, with hard drives being so much cheaper, I’d digitize everything at full resolution. I’d also shoot less, but that’s another story.)
  • All of the interviews were transcribed (and translated if necessary) into Word documents.
  • We created a File Maker Pro database for all the footage. In the end, it consisted of roughly 800 files. All the interviews were broken up and dropped in, all the b-roll and vérité tapes were summarized. Then each card was given descriptors for character, location, and “theme”. The database took about three months to construct, but it was completely worth it. When it was finished, I could find any fragment of footage within seconds: In the middle of editing, I could instantly search for, say… the moment when Yves says that line about growing up in Catholic schools in Haiti… or search for every time someone mentions the band Foula, or everyone who discusses the Haitian Revolution. [here’s a screen-grab of the database]

[Filemaker Pro Database]
  • If I were to do it over again, I think I’d skip all the “theme” boxes at the bottom. It was helpful, but it took a huge amount of time to categorize each point made by every interviewee, and I could find most of the same points by key-word searches. I doubt it helped me save as much time as it took to create.
  • The edit itself looked something like this:
    • A few months spent chopping down every tape or scene into a rough assembly
    • Picking the 20-or-so scenes that worked the best
    • Stringing these into a loose narrative
    • Showing this as a rough-cut, and asking audience members what they saw, what moments stood-out to them, what themes came through.
    • From that feedback, continued shooting, editing, and holding rough-cut screenings for the next year to solidify the story-arc.
That’s the organization. In terms of the “art”… more on that in another post.

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