Here are my raw notes from the National Assoc. of Broadcasters training day about documentary editing. You can see session one notes here.
NAB Show 2012
Focus On: Documentary Editing
Session 2 – “Documentary Story Structure Secrets” by Christine Steele
- Whether the video is 1 minute, 30 min, 1 hour, 2 hours, story structure principles are the same.
- Biggest challenge is organization. Sifting through vast amounts of footage to find the strongest elements, events, and interviews that supports the theme.
- Transcripts & paper cuts are great, but not always available. Software can now help locate soundbites. If shooting a feature, get transcripts.
- Add log notes with searchable keywords.
- Make long rough cut sequences based upon them. Redundancy is good at this point. Create theme-based sequences for each interviewee.
- Watch all the sequences. Then take a real break. The next day, without looking at the sequences, write down what you remember.
- Then return and cut together what you remember. Cross reference your notes. What you didn’t remember wasn’t working very well. What you remember 3 days later is good stuff.
- This stage is about assembling ideas and/or characters.
- This is a step above organizing media in folders. This is organizing based on themes and characters and moments.
10. Theme is the most important element in telling your story. Pick your theme & define it.
11. Define the main idea that the film is expressing. Even in “objective” journalism, still ask the director what their preferences are. Separate theme from rhetoric.
12. What is this story really about? What is emotionally engaging? Are you trying to sway someone in a particular direction?
13. Define secondary goals: Metaphor, B-story line
14. Christine’s definition of Theme: The unfolding advancement of an event or situation, a character, or an idea makes for a good story.
15. Build the beginning and build the end. Pick the ending and work towards it if you can.
16. Basics of Structure:
- The Call or the Question
- The Journey
- The Art
- The Climax
- The False Ending
- The Real Ending
- The Denouement (only if there are further questions that need to be answered)
17. Three Act Structure
- Act 1
i. The who what where & when
ii. Pose a question or a position to explore
- Act 2
i. Why & how
ii. Answer the question
iii. The turnaround
- Act 3
i. The climax
ii. False ending
iii. Real ending
18. Good book about the three act story structure: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Bogler
19. This isn’t always easy in documentary, but it can be helpful. Try, if you can, to start with this classic story structure.
20. Play with time to create suspense. But don’t wait too long to answer a question or it will turn into boredom or confusion.
- 21. The climax does not happen mid-way or ¾ of the way thru the film. It happens at the very end. It only works ¾ of the way if it opens a whole new set of questions that need to be answered.
22. Build to the climax and gently set them down.
23. Open strong.
- Define: who, what, where, when, why, how
- Decide which of the above you’ll introduce in the first 5-10 minutes
- Introduce at least two of these in Act 1: who what where when
- The why & the how is usually introduced in Act 2
- The opening can be a trailer at times, if you open strong.
24. Using Interviews
- You have ethical obligations to your interviews. Don’t make them say something they didn’t mean. If you use franken-bites, then keep their overall intent in tact.
- Emotional Arc: Exploit the natural arc of emotion present in interviews
- Exploiting natural drama: Use and place emotion wisely
- Cut out redundancies that slow down the pace, but use the repetitive sound bites by piecing them together to create natural feeling sentences. Removing nervous language and pauses from interviews – esp. under b-roll – general improves the flow of ideas. You can improve flow and maintain intent while cleaning up a sound bite by combining bits of different phrases.
- The use of “ums” & “uhs” can be good because it communicates that the interviewee is expressing this in a raw way.
- It is sometimes acceptable to bridge two interviewees sound bites into one sentence using “and so…” in order to create one coherent thought.
- Devices: A plan, scheme, or trick with a particular aim
- Less is more: making a little go a long way
- Archival & stock footage
- Motions graphics & text
- Picture & sound fx
- Effective Use of Music
- For climaxes, use the most emotional part of interviews. If there are not good emotional parts, then use fast-paced cutting techniques. Don’t use cutting techniques, though, if you have good content in the interviews.
- Find the universal themes
- Exploit natural emotion
- Know your stance = Choose a side
- Follow narrative story structure
Tags: christine steele, documentary, nab show, post production, story structure, video editing