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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Editing the Past: Cost Effective Choice for Documentaries

PP-Editing the Past: Cost Effective Choice for Documentaries


For independent documentary makers who often chronicle subjects over a period of years, sifting through hours of footage to find the moments that best tell the story can be time-consuming and arduous. Cost-effective and user-friendly nonlinear editing systems like Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro have facilitated this task. Two documentaries screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival are cases in point.Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out is a first-person account by drummer, shooter, composer-turned-director and editor Stewart Copeland. Copeland has always been a technology junkie. When he was in The Police he acquired the very latest in drum technology. He also bought himself a Super 8mm film camera with sound.The result was the kind of footage that MTV can’t get—shot from the inside among friends as Copeland, along with bandmates Andy Summers and Sting, took to the road, joked in dressing rooms, conquered the charts, were swamped by fans and bandied musical differences about on their way from obscurity to superstardom in the 1980s.Copeland never edited the 50 hours of footage, and stored the film after the band broke up. But when nonlinear editing became accessible he decided to revisit his past. He learned Final Cut Pro during the year and a half it took him to edit the film.Copeland knows Pro Tools from his composing, and he found many similarities in FCP, but going back and forth between multiple programs—from Digital Performer for composing to Adobe After Effects for animation to DVD Studio Pro for authoring— he says, can be confusing, mainly because each system performs common tasks differently.“My Sankyo had in-camera dissolves. You could do titling in the camera. It had different time-lapse settings,” he recalls. He also found an incredibly wide-angle fisheye lens, making it possible to capture large crowd scenes as well as stabilize the image. “The only time you’re not seasick watching my film is when I am using that wide angle.”The moments Copeland chose to use reveal an eye for composition and movement. His rhythmic skills from his drumming translate to the rhythmic nature of editing. He put together everything useable, then started subtracting material. The film’s first-person narration was an afterthought developed from screening for friends and answering questions.It turns out that Copeland never intended to release the footage; it was a friend who encouraged him to send the film to Sundance. He got the form, thought up a name, paid his $35 and promptly forgot about it. “The film I sent to Sundance, was the home movie… untouched by professional hands,” he admits. He returned to his job composing film scores until the day before Thanksgiving 2005, when the call from Sundance came.“Boy, did things change from that moment,” he remembers. “I had to take this home movie seriously.” He had the film professionally finished. He also learned that music licensing is a nightmare, even with your own band. There are 60 Police tracks in the film, which normally fetch $500,000 each when theatrically licensed.In American Hardcore, director/editor Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush revisit their musical past: the hardcore punk scene of the early ’80s. At the time, Rachman studied at Boston University and shot bands. Blush, a student at George Washington University, booked and promoted shows. In the late ’90s both lived in New York. After completing his first feature, Rachman was looking for something different to do when he ran into Blush, who was finishing his book, American Hardcore Tribal History. Rachman suggested they make the film.In 2001 Blush headed to Boston. Rachman joined him and they shot the first interviews on their own Sony DVCam. Rachman operated the camera and Blush worked the sound. They continued doing interviews through 2002. Blush had a lot of the contacts after five years writing the book, and who he didn’t know, Rachman knew. If they were missing someone, they’d ask the people they were interviewing. Blush explains, “We shared this common past. It’s not like you look up Joey Shithead, the singer of DOA in the phone book. You have to know these people. Most importantly, you have to pass a credibility test with them.”Rachman edited a work-in-progress and presented it at the IFP Market in September 2003, hoping to generate funding. They didn’t raise any money but gained enough momentum to continue. Like the bands featured in the film, the filmmakers never received backing. Blush comments, “We had to do it with the same entrepreneurial spirit that these bands had back in their day.”Pulling together all the footage of the bands was a progressive process. Rachman had shot a lot of footage. As the interviews were being shot, the team was gathering performance footage, archival footage, photos, even vintage artwork.Rachman cut on an Avid Xpress Pro with five external FireWire drives. He finished on an Avid Symphony and output a fully color-corrected DigiBeta tape that was uprezed to HD for screening. He loved the system. “Before I started directing music videos, I was an editor,” he says. “I’ve always edited my own stuff. Xpress Pro, where I could be anywhere—my apartment, Steven’s apartment, a motel room—it was fantastic to launch that software. Its portability was important to the project, as were all its Avid features, especially consolidating media onto new drives and getting rid of outtakes.”The film is a gritty extension of the book, which served as a roadmap and base for research. “We let the story be told by the people who were there,” says Rachman. “There is no narration. No expert notes. The editing is very gut-instinct. There are no pauses. It crashes forward. It was about marrying vintage photographs, vintage footage from bad VHS, with interviews that were very impromptu. It was about using all these elements and mixing them together to get something that reflected the vibe of the scene.” Because there was no dealing with major publishers or record companies, music licensing was not a big problem. The bands owned the music.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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