Saturday 5 February 2011

Second Thoughts On Editing

By now, I assume everyone reading knows where we are with scAIRcrows. For those that don't, the film is fully cut (in a sense - I'll explain in a sec), the audio is fully synced, more than a third of the score is written, the foley's been recorded and just yesterday I dipped my toes into the world of colour correction.

So after 7 months, we're in the final stages of the film. And when I look back at it - 7 months sounds like a long time but when we consider exactly what we've done, it's probably taken exactly as long as it should have done. Crew of three people (from pre to post production), 2 month shooting period etc.

I would now say that after about 2 or 3 months of not enjoying working on the film - I'm really getting into it. Those 2 or 3 months where I weren't enjoying the process - it was where all the heavy editing was taking place. Watching a day's worth of footage (4-6 hours) and trying to pluck the best minute and a half out of that. It wasn't fun and no-one could say it is. I loved editing the first week that I was doing it because, like all things new, it was a novelty. Then when I realised I still had at least another 28 mins to cut, the enthusiasm quickly dropped off.

There were days when I got back from work, loaded up the software, looked at whatever scene it was at the time and said to myself 'tomorrow' and closed it back down without doing a single edit. I did find that leaving gaps of time between editing each scene helped and also, editing on weekends when I was fresh and able to devote large chunks of time to it made things go a lot quicker. But it was a struggle.

Problem I really had with it is that it truly isn't as straight forward as it seems. I have the script, I know at any given point which character the focus should be on but it never worked like that. I wrote up edit lists after viewing all the available takes and I thought, if I just follow this list, I'll be done in an hour.

No way.

Just because I'd picked out all my favourite takes, it didn't mean that they were necessarily going to work. All sorts of strange things conspire against you in editing. I mentioned the obvious thing in continuity over on the last blog. Things like clashing tones - when I put together my list of favourite takes and watched them back, at points it was painfully clear that the conversation weren't fluid - that characters were reacting or not reacting to other characters when they should/shouldn't have been. You don't think about that when you're watching disembodied takes.

My lowest moment was when I scrapped an entire edit of a scene after all my efforts to get it to work just weren't bringing me any luck. I'd spent about 5 hours on it and just reached a point where I realised I'd just be wasting even more time trying to get it right so deleted the whole thing with a view to starting afresh in a couple of weeks' time. That was a very hard thing to do, to accept defeat and voluntarily destroy 5 hours of effort - I imagine if any job on a film is likely to induce a mental breakdown, it would be editing.

But, it is a brilliant feeling to have spent a good portion of a day on a scene and see it play out in front of you, there's such a sense of achievement from it that it almost makes doing it worthwhile.

My reasons for editing the film were pretty straightforward - there was no money to bring someone in to edit for me. I've spoken to a few people about how I really didn't want to be editing my own film and that, more importantly, I shouldn't be editing it. The general response is that if I let someone else edit, that's a degree of control I've lost, I can't say the the film is fully mine. But I don't agree with that because the film isn't fully mine. The second I decided to make it with other people, to bring actors in, it stopped being fully mine. Obviously, I've got the control over what happens in it and this is the same for the acting, the editing, the score etc. If I don't like something, I don't have to have it. I don't really see any problem in handing the film over to someone else to cut as long I have final say.

I think it's damaging to the film to have the writer and director also edit. I've been watching a lot of short films recently, trying to gauge whether I'm on the right track or not and a common theme seems to permeate these films - they're all way too long and they're short films! The problem I think comes from the fact that the person that wrote and shot the film is way too close to the project and obviously, it being their baby, is completely in love with it. To the point that they can't see that minutes at a time are passing with absolutely nothing happening. I won't name examples but I saw one recently where we clocked just how long it took before anything resembling a plot kicked in and it happened at the 5 min mark. In a 10 min film. And it wasn't an 'art' film, there was a narrative in there - it was just preceded by 5 mins of the main character watching TV and drinking. On his own. And for an outsider - it's abundantly clear that it is dead air but I'm certain the director has a reason for it being in there. But, with a subjective editor looking at it, the film would be a lot better off.

And that's what my current paranoid obsession is. I don't want this film to be too long. It's 29 mins at the moment and I feel that we're using every second appropriately but I'm now going in and trimming where I think we hang too long on something and even removing shots that I think slow things down.

And this is the part that I'm actually taking a good deal of fun from. Because the film is cut, cleaning it up is a very quick and instantly gratifying process. And in the last 2 days I feel like I've changed more the film more with a few rearranged edits than I had in actually assembling the scenes.

So yeah, I love editing again and am absolutely loving putting all these finishing touches to the film - I do think that the last 5% of work on this film will elevate it 100%.

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