Here are my raw notes from the National Assoc. of Broadcasters training day about documentary editing. You can see session two notes here.
NAB Show 2012
Focus On: Documentary Editing
Session 1 – “Hemingway’s Jest” by Steve Audette
- Character-driven narratives are key.
- First doc made: Nanook of the North, A Story of Life & Love in the Actual Arctic
- Bring your passion to your projects. Leave your stamp on them.
- “Drive” Example: Getaway Scene
- Story is driven by audio, no dialogue
- Mostly police radio & sports game radio
- What’s the difference between documentary & fiction?
- Fiction films create problems. Docs have to find problems.
- It’s good if an interviewee is telling a story, because it is first person. Strict voice-over narrative doesn’t carry as well, because it’s a neutral voice, not an authentic human voice. VO is only good for brief facts that further the story.
- Keep re-enactments abstract. Don’t let the audience know that it isn’t real.
- Not broll sequences, but scenes. BRoll is like second-class footage (A-Roll vs. B-Roll). You need at least 3 broll shots to begin considering it a scene.
- As an editor, consider digitizing your own footage. You have to watch it all anyway.
10. If a doc is a portrayer of “truth,” then be wary of re-enactments. People know that it’s not real, and could make them think that what’s being said is also not real.
11. Verite is an art form, but it can be very slow, because it is unveiling a story in real-time. The mind cannot absorb what the butt cannot endure!
12. Narration is your friend. It helps move the story along. It’s like Jeeves the butler. He comes in, delivers the message, and leaves.
13. Facts are not good in docs. People are not good at remembering facts.
- What’s that statistic?
- Who is Luke Skywalkers’ father?
14. Hemingway was asked, “How many words does it take to tell a story?” He said, “Six. For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” (http://sixwordstoryeveryday.com/)
15. Two people died. That’s a headline, not a story.
16. Narration should be simple & clean. A connector of bits of witnesses.
17. Every successful doc has three things:
- Change (most important one)
18. Docs are not about subjects, but characters who experience conflict and then change.
19. Classic storyline:
- Boy meets beautiful girl. (characters)
- Boy loses beautiful girl. (conflict)
- Boy gets girl back. (change)
20. Docs always happen in the edit room. Story comes out of the story in the edit room.
21. The Kuleshov Effect – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNVf1N34-io&noredirect=1
UPDATE: 12 noon
- Speak in knowing terms.
- Show rough cuts to people for critical feedback. After hours in editing, you lose perspective on what works & what doesn’t. However, don’t show to your friends and family. They are too nice. Show it to people that will objectively rip it up.
- A person is most expressive right before or right after they talk.
- Character-Conflict-Change is not just something to pursue in the big picture of a film, but in each scene, too. Editors are putting together visual puzzle pieces to engage people’s minds.
- If your broll/sequence does not pertain to your content, do not use it.
- “Once you’re on the train, you have to stay on the train.” – Hitchcock on storytelling
- Focus on chronology of specific scenes, not necessarily the specific chronology of actual events. Actual chronology could throw off the audience.
- News is not documentary. News is primarily about information and facts. Documentary is primarily about narrative story and characters.
- Question to ask in pre-pro for every doc: “What’s the image system going to be?”
- What’s the visual style? The background of interviews? The color scheme? The music and audio? Fast-paced? Slow-paced? Etc. Etc.
- How do people feel about this subject? Do we want to match that emotion or introduce something new?
- For “The End Game” everything in Iraq is during the day, & everything in D.C. is at night.
- Right after 9-11, a PBS doc about it was slow paced since people felt very sober about the subject.