In the sixth part of his series on How to Make a Film, experienced Norwich based filmmaker Matthew Stogdon from Cheesemint Productions takes us through the tedious editing process.
Once the film has been shot, you may find yourself continually bombarded by your cast and crew, asking when the film will be done. Post production (specifically editing the film) can take an eternity. However long you’ve scheduled to construct your film, you’ll probably need to double it. At Cheesemint Productions, we tend to work in pairs when editing. One takes the driving seat, while the other oversees and then we switch back and forth to ensure we eat, stretch our legs, have nerf gun fights, whatever. The key word for editing is ‘tedium’.. arguably it should be ‘scrutiny’ but really it’s ‘tedium’. Sitting in the same chair, staring at a monitor, watching the same clips over and over, matching up audio, cutting, cropping, keying, colour correcting, arranging, sorting, backing up. It’s a real test of stamina and endurance. Some people love it and will shoot anything, just so they have something to edit. While others hate it and simply explain to others what they want the final piece to look like.
Functionally speaking, editors will tell you that this is where you dictate how the film flows and moves. This is true to a degree. Even if you manage to gain a stable level of coherence, there are plenty of choices that can alter the film but you really have to go out of your way to say something other than what has been shot. I have seen footage chopped together so badly that it utterly ruins the deliveries and kills the overall mood of the scene but you can still tell what’s going on. This is also the stage for your visual effects (should you have any) and they can equally take an age, especially if you’re still getting to grips with the software.
Similarly to your pre-production stage, preparation helps immensely. No matter how worn down you feel after a long shoot, it’s worth taking the time to export and arrange your footage into clearly named folders for later editing. Then when you come to sift through hours of raw footage, you should be able to navigate through it with relative ease.
As editing is largely a single act repeated for days on end, it’s difficult to offer hints and tips. In the same way that when you’re revising for exams, there’s only so much advice people can offer about reading a book. What I would recommend is to keep the room free from distraction. No TV, music, video games while you’re editing. By all means stop, do whatever you need to and enjoy some down time but when you’re focusing on the shot, that should be the only thing on your mind. As stated before, working in pairs is incredibly useful. You know how you can say a word continually and it starts to lose meaning (I find the word ‘plate’ is a good example)? The same can be said of a scene. You can endure the same thing so many times over that you completely miss the obvious. A prime example would be a film I made last year, which was a silent film. Of course, silent films are interlaced with title cards and it was only during the final review process that one of my colleagues asked “What’s unfortuante mean?”
Another piece of advice is regarding music. If everything you’ve crafted is original and your own, don’t start sampling other people’s things or using music without permission. It creates no end of problems. I know Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight really fits your film but it doesn’t belong to you and everyone (including you) is going to think of The Dark Knight, not whatever the hell you’re trying to show them. This creates a problem if you don’t know anyone who can record music or plays an instrument. My advice would be to contact local colleges, scour Twitter and Facebook and enquire if anyone would assist for no money but an all important credit in the film? You might be surprised that other people simply want to work on their craft and your film could be a good opportunity to gain exposure – use that. Same thing goes for actors, for that matter.
And finally, give yourself a deadline. Without it your project could remain unfinished for months.. if not forever. At this stage, so many people will have contributed so much, it would be stupid not to simply finish the damn thing.