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Editing the Packard Plant documentary

From: The Creative Spark: Brian Kaufman, Visual Journalist

Video: Editing the Packard Plant documentary

So, when we started the Packard Plant Project. When I started shooting it years ago I started shooting it because the newspaper wanted to do a story on it for print and online. And that story got pushed back, and the date got pushed back for publishing. And so, essentially, what we did is take the most interesting part of it. For me, which was an interview with a poet that wrote about the place. And laid a lot of, some of the best footage over that interview. And then to give it context, the second half of the video that we have online now with interview sound bytes and thoughts from people who live and work around the plant.

Editing the Packard Plant documentary

So, when we started the Packard Plant Project. When I started shooting it years ago I started shooting it because the newspaper wanted to do a story on it for print and online. And that story got pushed back, and the date got pushed back for publishing. And so, essentially, what we did is take the most interesting part of it. For me, which was an interview with a poet that wrote about the place. And laid a lot of, some of the best footage over that interview. And then to give it context, the second half of the video that we have online now with interview sound bytes and thoughts from people who live and work around the plant.

People who've had dealings with the plant they give us some context as to what you're looking at. So, essentially, in the smaller video that's online right now. We started with, (COUGH) the first half of this video is our poet, basically, reading the poem he wrote about this place, and that audio is laid down here. And all of this right here is the video that goes on top of it, and so as this poet starts to talk, we hear, we see images over the top of it. Male I saw the moon rise above the packing ships of the old Packard. Male In a lot of this imagery, I really went out there specifically trying to shoot different things.

He was talking about the moon rising over the Packard Plant. So, I went out there at 4:30 in the morning on a summer day, waiting for the moon to rise. And it took a really long lens in order to frame something nice, here. Male A moon, at 7:30 in the morning. And the radio went on playing the same violins and voices. I didn't listen to each one. Male A lot of this was, you know, this poet was writing a poem about the place many years ago. And so, the words that he's saying, don't necessarily match the visuals of today. So, I tried to find ways to almost match it.

in more of a subjective way. Male Back in the alley, the guys in greasy dark wool jackets were keeping warm by a little fire made and from. Male He's talking about people keeping warm by a little fire, yet there's this huge fire raging throughout the whole Packard Plant. Male And tossing their empty wine bottles into the street where they shattered on the frosted roofs of cars. Male Obviously, there's no wine bottle shattering here but I had these scrappers now working in this place, tearing it apart and, as they're tearing it apart things are falling down.

Male Scattered like chunks of ice. Male Scattered like chunks of ice. That was kind of fortuitous because they were working in the middle of winter. So, the process was really just finding imagery that matched the poem in some sort of surreal way. And that was the first half of this little video. The second half, here, is all of our sound bites with people. So, the first thing we hear is some context about how big the place is. Male Depending upon who you believe, we're looking at, and I'll say this very slowly three and a half million square feet.

Now, that may be an exaggeration. But, anyway. This was, this is one very large property. Male And so, the second half of this, is really people's opinions and thoughts about what this plant is. What it means, and what should be done with it. And that was the video that ran with the print publication of this story, which published as a large special section last December 2012. Anytime you're working on a long-term project, you want to shy away from the very obvious shots, the very obvious style of shooting, and really push yourself.

And the camera's ability to try and shoot in a way you haven't done before. And so with this project it was very easy. It is very easy there to be overwhelmed by all the devastation and get just get in the habit of shooting with a wide angle lens. What I really tried to do, is shoot with long telephoto lenses and macro lens to pick out details of the plant. So, I was there during a snow storm in the winter, and rather than just shooting this big snow, you know, big snow storm coming through the place with a wide angle lens. I've tried to find details, icicles handing down the frame with some sort of out of focus framing of the plant behind it.

looking at ways to shoot snowflakes in really creative ways, so the plant is really secondary at this point, to the fact that there's nice blowing snow around, the lighting is really interesting around it. In a shot like this, I think I'd let this roll for probably a minute, hoping that some wind gusts would come up and swirl the snow in an interesting way. And then, also the way the water runs through the plant was always fascinating to me. And you see big puddles of water in the plant, but if you really get down and start looking at ways that the water runs through this place, and this was again, was all with a 100 millimeter macro lens.

So I'm focused really close, probably three inches away or less from this water. You can create some really interesting visuals of how water affects the place. And, so yeah, I think you're always pushing, trying to push the boundaries of your own cinematography when you're working on a project. I think being cinematic keeps your audience engaged. I think anytime you're working on a long form story, you have to keep people engaged visually. And so, if I was watching something I would get bored if I saw the same wide medium shot of destruction over and over again.

So, for me, if was finding ways to almost make the place look beautiful in some respect. You know, this is, here it's not about the plant at all or even the destruction. It's about this water lit well kind of running on the floor of the place. And a lot of it too is with a project you have the time to spend on cinematography. you know new, television news stations especially are, of there, are in such a time constraint. They're on there everyday. They're always editing and shooting, sometimes one, two, three packages a day for television. Something like this, we have the luxury, where if my boss gives me the okay to spend a day at the Packard Plant.

And I'm out there and I run across this guy tagging, and he's okay with me shooting a video of him. I can spend an hour or two hours with him, maybe three hours with him, and hanging out and shooting him and hearing his story. If I was working at a Daily News Cycle, that just wouldn't be possible. And so you have a, you know, the opportunity to get a variety of shots. And really after you've gotten the obvious shots, thinking about ways to really play with what you're shooting. So, in this situation subject is out of focus and really what's in focus is this weird piece of metal kind of floating around the frame.

These are detail shots. Lots of detail shots. Here again, just stepping back from the action and framing some old papers, and you see the person walk, working in the background. Just thinking about ways to shoot that situation in a lot of different types of ways, I guess. Our edited six minute video that's currently published. It looks fairly complex in type. From there, we want to actually expand this out into more of a feature length film or 45 to, 45 minute to an hour film. And I think in an, in an ideal world, i would have liked to have the full length video, the full length film done when the newspaper story ran. But the two are so opposing.

We had a very hard deadline for the newspaper story. It had to get in before the end of last year. It was a news-related issue. There was a foreclosure going on at the time. And we just didn't have time to, to fully edit the whole film. But we have a lot of footage to work with here, and so what I've tried to do along the way, for the last couple of years, is to keep it organized. So in this sequence here, I have literally pulled out all my best footage and I've organized it. It looks like we have laid out almost four hours of raw footage here. Now, there's some breaks between it but what I try to do is organize it into themes and so, here's all of our winter shots here. All this is footage stacked up.

All winter shots, we skip ahead a little. Here's all of my water shots, water dripping through the place. Nature and Wildlife, lot of nature and wildlife there. Building exteriors, building interiors, and the idea is if I try to stay organized. Once I'm ready to start the final editing process on a longer film. I'll know exactly where all my footage is. It'll be much quicker to pull exactly what I need, rather than going through all the original footage. So, that's why I started this, just trying to be organized. And then, the second part of this is to take a script. Which we have a script, pretty much written out here, and just start laying out the chapters.

And so, this was our first sequence, fully edited for the video that's online now. I've created a sequence for each of the chapters in this film, starting with the intro. The next chapter will be history, a chapter on techno, some of the '90s litigation that happened. And it keeps going all the way to the end. And for each of these now, when we're looking at organizing a project. I pull out all my relevant sound bytes, from people, and I've laid them out in the way they're going to be shown. And I've, I've left space between them, where we're going to have narration, and that's the first step for me.

The second step now will be recording the narration, laying down the narration, and the music that goes with this chapter. And then the final step, we will be taking the B roll video, that we had laid out here, and adding some of that over in these images. So, that's the process that we have to work with. The idea is, and it's something that's in the works but we'd love to try to put together of Free Press sponsored film festival here in Detroit, with the idea that we have all this great work. Not just the Packard Plant, but former projects that, that a lot of us have worked on here. And finding ways to get our material out into the community in different ways and its community engagement.

Its building an audience. Its all of that stuff that newspapers need to do in order to continue being relevant. I mean, I think anytime you work on something for more than a few months, you end up getting attached to it in some ways. but at the same time, when it drags on for a long time, you really want to be done with it. And so I really am, I'm at the point now where I'm looking forward to getting it finished. In terms of editing, but I think there will always be, every time I drive by there, I want to go drive around and see how things have changed and see how it continues to change. Because I have already seen so much in there, that it is going to continue to fascinate me for probably many years to come.

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