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July 12, 2011

Editing With Eva

Screen shot 2011-07-12 at 3.50.24 AM
Today I was talking to my friend Kate about this new blogging venture and she suggested I discuss the process of editing. It's something I could talk about for hours so here goes.

At Seven Days, every story goes through an intense editing and proofreading process with several sets of eyes perusing each bit of copy (and one set belongs to my sister, Margot Harrison).

In my case, I am the only one editing my videos. And as much as I sometimes loathe the process of editing, I doubt I could stand sharing this unique experience with another person.

The planning, shooting, interviewing and lugging of equipment certainly takes time and effort but the real work, the hardest and most excruciating bit for me is the editing.

Punishment_sisyph Imagine Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, over and over again. Well that is how I feel when I begin to edit a project — overwhelmed, exhausted and as though it will never end.

There are too many options when editing: How do you choose the "right" clips? How do you make it all blend together seamlessly? What sort of pace do you choose, which images? 

Some people say editing is their favorite part of the filmmaking process and I say, "Get back to me after you've tried editing a piece every week for four years." Not to say that I despise editing, I both love and hate it, it pulls me apart every week without fail but I would not spend my time doing anything else.

Of course, the editing process does end on Wednesday mornings when I publish the Stucks, but every week it starts again and I feel just as helpless next to that heavy rock and that steep hill (this explains my Facebook procrastination on Mondays and Tuesdays).

So here is a quick breakdown of the grueling process of editing/whittling/weaving that I perform weekly. I am sure all editors have their own technique, this is just what works for me when crunching huge amounts of data regularly. 

For the tech-heads among you, I edit using Final Cut Pro 7 (thanks to Apple, FCP is soon to be obsolete) with an iMac Intel Core i7, a Drobo and G-Raid for storage.

I usually transcode the raw footage on Sunday night and pull my stills which I post to my Stuck in VT page on Facebook. This always takes longer than I suspect it will. Perhaps this is because I pull 100 stills when I only need five. This OCD behavior pretty much applies to my editing as well. Could I do this faster? Yes. But what if I missed some gem of material, buried beneath a clip I skipped? Oh the horror.

Monday I put together my rough cut. This is my least favorite part of the editing process. I generally shoot about two hours of footage and in order to pull my rough cut, I have to watch every minute of that, slowly pulling out the pieces that I think may be useful to me. I group these bits into rough "paragraphs" or sections. My first cut is usually 10-14 minutes long which is always rather overwhelming — "I'll never get this damn rock up this insufferable hill!"

FIRST CUT (it is the deepest, just like Sheryl Crow says):

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.34.05 PM

Tuesday I get down to business. I slowly whittle each "paragraph" into a smaller bit. I continue to do this over and over again, saving the project as different versions, trying to get the overall video length closer to five to six minutes.

SECOND CUT (about 14 minutes long):

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.34.27 PM
As I mentioned in my previous post, this painful process is called "killing your babies" and it genuinely feels that terrible. You become strangely attached to your sound bites and even though the story can live without some, you can't! You have to force yourself to remove them for the good of the story. Or do you? I don't know anymore, everything gets so blurry at that point!

THIRD CUT (about 8 minutes long):

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.34.56 PM

During this process, I am also cutting out all the "uhms," "ahs" and dead spaces to make the dialogue as clean as possible. What's that? you say, real life is full of "uhms" and "ahs," well this video is not real life! You can't totally capture a multi-faceted person/place/event in six minutes, it is not possible! This is a sliver, an essence — and who has time for stuttering when you are fighting for every second?

FOURTH CUT (7.5 minutes long):

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.35.24 PM
I wait until the project is my preferred length to add b-roll, titles and graphics and to massage the final sound mix. So if I am on an all nighter, I don't get to all these important bits until the wee hours which means I am half awake when making big decisions like what image to put where. I've already pulled all my favorite b-roll so it is just a matter of picking and choosing at this point.

FINAL CUT (7.5 minutes):

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.35.58 PM
Then I watch the final version through a number of times, checking titles and details and I also do a couple of viewings just for sound levels. When I am pretty sure I have my FINAL CUT, I send the project to Compressor to condense it for the internet. An hour or so later, I post it to YouTube, my blog, Seven Days, Twitter and Facebook.

At that moment, the rock is up the hill, I should be happy, right? Wrong. At that moment I hate my video. After staring at it for two days and combing over every millisecond of it, all I can see are the rough parts where the images are shaky, the colors are totally off and the audio mix is whacked. "How could I produce such crap?"

On Wednesday or Thursday I revisit the video to snip it down to the two-minute version which airs on the 11 p.m. WPTZ Friday-night news. At this point I am at peace with the video and it feels fresh and new.  "Who made this video? It is swell!"

SHORT 2-minute version:

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 11.36.10 PM
Want to see all this in action? Here are some editing samples to show the different cuts of a recent episode of Stuck in VT (Pond Hill Pro Rodeo):

Egads, I have procrastinated long enough with this post, time to get back to my editing!


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Jack Morgan

I get the whole "sacrificing my babies" thing with editing. Especially when you're editing down a lot of people, and you finally have to make the call that X person just doesn't make the cut. But I've come to find that being made to meet a :30 or a :60 format (in your case much long) leaves me with a lean product wherein I can count the truly wasted space in terms of frames instead of seconds. And I find that more envigorating than diminishing. At least...that's my take!

Tyler Machado

"Killing your babies" is good, but I think I prefer "drowning kittens".

Kate Keough

Yaaaay! Love seeing a breakdown on the hard work you put in each week. I'm a short and sweet girl. Interesting seeing all of the awesome footage you had on the rodeo, and think that the short piece is the best. Good reminder that short pieces don't mean less work. From your process, looks like MORE work (but worth it :)

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