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Before diving straight in, let's take a step back and look at a high-level view of the entire documentary post-production process. Early in the process you as the editor may get a chance to communicate with producers, directors, and other stakeholders about how the film is planned and shot. I highly recommend you do this if you can. Before editing, do as much research as you can. Try to familiarize yourself with the content, style, and workflow of your documentary. Additionally, become familiar with formats, deliverable requirements, and other technical considerations for the post-production workflow.
Once you get the footage it's time to log and annotate. You'll need to sort through your raw source materials and all notes pertaining to the documentary. Develop a system for organization here. Then it's time to bring it all in. Name your clips intelligently, group the materials into bins, and organize the bins appropriately, in order to achieve quick access to all footage. You can also link your source clips to imported digital transcripts. Now, finally it's time to edit the program and polish it to the best of your abilities using the available tools.
Screen your rough cut to several audiences and get as much feedback as you possibly can. After the screening of the rough cut, meet with people invested in the project to work toward a locked cut of the program. This is a big collaborative stage. Then it's time to distribute locked picture and rough audio tracks to specialists for finalization, or if you're doing all the finishing yourself then you need to spend a lot of time on each of these phases. Finally, you'll assemble the finished program by integrating the final audio mix and graphics, and create program masters for duplication.
Now, many of these steps are very similar to those from other types of editing projects, but as we'll see there will be particular emphasis on the research and organizational parts. Since, we will literally be carving our story out of a virtual mound of raw material. But again, that's the fun part of editing a documentary, you have the duty and the responsibility to find the best story out of a thousand possible ones.
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