Compared the slow tank-like progress of the BBS Documentary, GET LAMP is like a shopping cart aimed backwards going down a hill. On fire. The schedule is heavily bumped up, and since I’ve been through this process before, I have a much better awareness of limits and needs and the rest.
As a result, I’ve already been getting in soundtrack music. I’ve been communicating with other music artists to bring songs into the project. I’ve been in contact with the cover artist. I’m beginning discussions with my duplicator. And I’ve begun filleting.
Fiction films have the advantage of a general idea of what’s being aimed for, what script/context is at the other end. Granted, you can have an unexpected event change everything, or an incompetent director, or a mid-production script change, but even then, you replace a set of scripted events with another set of scripted events and keep shooting. The goal is to have it look and sound good, be enjoyable to watch, and fit in with the rest of what you’re shooting. So you generally shoot 2-3 times the footage you intend to end up with. More, of course, if you’re a perfectionist director and want something just right. But still, it all comes down to: you are working toward a set script.
Nonfiction or documentary filmmaking can be split down further: you have scripted non-fiction and unscripted non-fiction. In scripted non-fiction, you again have a script, even though everything’s coming from truth this time and not somebody’s fantasy or made-up story. You then gather photos, audio, and artifacts to shoot footage from, and then anything you can’t find that kicks into your script is either brought in with interviews or shot as a recreation, which fits all the puzzle pieces into place. The ratio of shot footage to final footage is again relatively small, since you know exactly what you want, and when you go to people to conduct interviews, you hit them up with 5-10 questions of a specific nature and include what they give you.
But then you get to the stuff like I did before and am doing again, where you basically sit down with people and talk to them on-camera and get “the story” as you go. At the end you have a pile of footage and then cull it into something else, where the final work is something you didn’t really know you’d have at the beginning of the production. This approach is comparitively expensive because of the insane ratio: I shot 250 hours of footage, resulting in roughly 5 hours of used footage. That’s a 50-1 ratio. And I’m just on the low end: some documentary filmmakers will do 100-200 hours for each hour they end up with. A contemporary example of this is the movie Hoop Dreams, which followed two boys for five years, amassed 250 hours of footage and got cut down to around 3 hours. (They shot on Beta videotape, by the way). That’s a lot of time with little variety in the shooting; I at least got to travel a lot and meet different people every time.
(I should mention, by the way, that because of all this open-endedness and months or years of shooting, it is therefore very likely for a project shot like this to “fail”, to come out the other end with all sorts of footage that is of no real obvious use or narrative potential.)
So somewhere in there, you have to take the hundreds of hours of footage and knock it down into editable pieces, properly marked off, that you’re going to try and piece together into a narrative. That’s where you have to go through a process that I call “the fillet”, although I’ve seen it called logging or clipping, and probably a dozen other names. Here’s how this works.
First, you stare at this 12 hours a day:
This is the user interface to my editing software. From there, you listen to an interview, and when the person makes a statement, shows some emotion, reacts, or otherwise does anything that might potentially go into your documentary, you cut out that clip. I happen to do all this wrong: I clip out the entire answer, and render it into a new clip in a lossless fashion (i.e. I don’t “re-render” it, adding needless compression or introducing extra artifacts). I name this clip in a highly descriptive manner, like this one I just did: “Moriarty – KEEPER – The period of success for Infocom was very brief”. This tells me it’s from the Brian Moriarty interview, that he talks about the success of infocom, but also does so cutting it down to just a few peak years. I then put all these cuts into a folder set, where this would go into a further sub-folder called “Infocom”. That way, if I need to pull “Infocom” stuff, I go in there and there’s a set of clips from people talking about Infocom.
Does this sound boring? It can be. I literally have to listen to every interview I did at least once again, and occasionally multiple times, carefully pulling and marking away every possibly relevant clip. But the result of this hard work is evident in the final film: everything seems to weave together. I’m able to pull together commentary from many different interviews over years and people almost complete each other’s sentences.
The amount of clips any one interview yields varies greatly. In BBS Documentary, I’d have one hour interviews that resulted in one used sentence.. Others went on for an hour and I used 10 or 20 minutes of that hour in the final works. Obviously, I can’t predict how it’ll go this time, but I am finding a pretty high ratio of “usable” clips to choose from, so it’s going well.
This is what I have to work on during days I’m not filming folks. I’m creating a library of thoughts and concepts, the bricks that I will eventually use to build my little house of documentary before inviting others inside. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s a necessary step if you wish to reveal the narrative buried in a hundred interviews.
Before I go, a little math problem:
The high definition codec I’m recording in requires 4 gigabytes for every 10 minutes. I have recorded 35 hours of footage. How many shares in Seagate should you buy?
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