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This course is part of a series that looks at Documentary Editing from the point of view of 3 different editors in 3 different editing applications. For more insight on editing documentary projects, take a look at Documentary Editing with Premiere Pro and Documentary Editing with Final Cut Pro X.
- Interpreting a creative brief
- Exploring the documentary postproduction process
- Organizing footage and using searching techniques
- Setting up and using digital transcripts
- Building sequences and scenes to form the rough cut
- Adding effects to repair and enhance footage
- Fine-tuning the sequence to reach picture lock
- Receiving feedback
- Finishing the film with titles, color correction, and professional audio
Skill Level Intermediate
Once you've screened your footage, taking detailed notes, and properly organized and labeled your footage in appropriate bins and folders, it's time to begin editing the rough cut. The rough cut is the fun part. It includes all the major story formation in which the editor constructs the scenes and assembles the narrative. Often, once the main project goals are defined the rough cut is constructed in relative separation from the film's other invested stakeholders in order to let the editor flesh out the documentary structure. Because of this the rough cut is often called the editor's cut.
Later in this course we'll discuss many elements of creating the rough cut. For now we'll just take a fairly high-level view of the story creation process. So after you've gone through some of the first stages in finding out the style, audience, and intention of the documentary, you should have a pretty good idea about how'd like to tackle the process in terms of the formation and enhancement of your thesis and supporting points. Now different people approach this phase in different ways. Some people prefer to loosely assemble a basic structure of the entire film in order, which is called a rough assembly, and then refine it further until arriving at a solid edited version of the piece called the rough cut.
With the documentary editing, however, because there's often no script many editors tend to take a more granular approach. Instead of laying out the entire movie in a general sense, they spend some time figuring out the general film grammar of one or more scenes and then take that basic approach and apply it to the rest of the scenes in the film. Now here are the elements that make up the grammar in which you will define your film. First, you have the frame, and you can think of that as the most basic unit.
So it's like a letter. Then you have the shot. A shot is a single continuous recording made by a camera, and you can think of that as a word. So we've got a frame, which is just a single still image, a shot, which is a continuous recording, and then above that you have a scene and a scene is a series of related shots, and you can think of that as a sentence. Then finally you have a sequence and a sequence is a series of scenes, which together tell the major part of an entire story. So that would be equivalent to a paragraph.
So as you see here it really is a lot like writing. By using these elements you're basically establishing a set of codes that become the universal backbone of the film language for your documentary in terms of style and pacing, and conventions, and repetitive elements, and so on. Just like writing the style that is established early usually follows a basic structure throughout the book, or in this case, throughout the film. So how do you arrive at this grammar or convention for your film? Well, in the beginning the editor often spends a bunch of time combing through all the footage and trying out a lot of ideas and different combinations with different emphases and approaches and ultimately arrives with the general conventions.
Finding the style by trying many ideas is both fun and rewarding, but also very challenging. Once you've worked out the film style, and if constructed the thesis and supporting materials, then you can begin building out the rest of the film. Once you've arrived at your cut of the project, the rough cut, it's time to show other people and get feedback.
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