Okay, maybe it doesn’t need a whole village, but it does take a team of some size to gather 40+ hours of filmed, unedited footage and shape it into a coherent, meaningful one hour documentary.  Just what happens when the excitement of filming ends, the cameras shut off and the material is shipped back to the edit suite?

STEP 1 – BACK IT UP! : Less and less is shot on tapes as more Directors of Photography make the switch to tapeless cameras. These cameras store all the digital media right onto cards or drives. So the first step is making  back-ups of all the shot material. Losing situations shot in a documentary situation is potentially disasterous for a production!

STEP 2 – SO MANY CAMERAS… : Bring in the Assistant Editor. He or she has the important job of transforming all the captured scenes into files the editing system can actually read.

In our filming, we had four different camera people on two continents shooting with six different cameras. Then there was Vivian and Hubert’s own video camera. Some of these cameras were tapeless, some not and they each record and store media in slightly different ways, meaning 7 cameras = 7 x the headaches.  So Assistant Editor Stephanie Weimar and  post production supervisor David Oxilia discuss the options. He helps Steph deal with all the formatting issues now so we won’t run into major problems in the final (and very expensive) On-Line Edit Process because of improperly coded footage.   Picture Editor Catherine Legault, who just edited our documentary “A Modern Castle” for the Canadian Museum of Nature, also joins in to contribute her technical preferences.

STEP 3 – TRANSCODE & SORT : With everyone understanding the technical challenges, Steph can get to work. She transcodes all the different footage and enters it into our AVID editing system. Her work flow includes sorting all the clips into ‘bins’ (a throwback term to the 16 and 35 mm film days when editors actually had physical hooks and bins where they hung and stored the shots on film strips, scene by scene).  

She organizes the digital shots into virtual bins that are then named and numbered so the editor, Catherine Legault, can easily recognize them.

STEP 4: SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR THE CHINESE FOOTAGE: When Vivian visited her orphanage, when she spent days with another adopted girl named Shumin and her family, when she interviewed a young woman who grew up in the orphanage- all these moments were recorded in Mandarin.   But the editing is happening in Montreal, Canada with an English speaking team. So a translator needs to watch the Chinese footage and simultaneously translate what is being said into English into a microphone and record this audio file. The translator then gives this narration to Steph as a Quicktime reference file. Steph will join the Quicktime with the translation audio track while putting it into the AVID.   Then the Quicktime movies of the translated voice over footage and all the original English sequences are sent to…

STEP 5 – THE TRANSCRIBERS: These patient people have the painstaking job of watching all the material and noting what happens on screen, sometimes shot by shot, and even frame by frame. Steph creates Quicktime Movie files of all the material and either burn these to DVDs or emails them. The transcribers watch and take note of it all. If Vivian and Hubert pack their bags, they write that information down along with the time code so the director and editor can easily locate the material later.

If Vivian and Hubert have an important conversation while they’re packing, the transcribers write the dialogue down,  word for word. Generally, each one hour tapes takes about 3 hours to transcribe. Once all the material is logged and in the cases of interviews, transcribed, the material is ready for…

STEP 6 – THE SCRIPT WRITING: A documentary with a script?! This process is absolutely necessary, unless you have money and time to burn experimenting for months with how to cut together the scenes literally hundreds of ways.  We, like most filmmakers don’t, so Director Maureen Marovitch will sit down with all the footage and all the transcripts and create a PAPER EDIT. Basically, this is a paper script of all the shots, scenes and best audio clips in the order she thinks works best for a FIRST ASSEMBLY.

STEP 7 – BACK TO THE EDITORS: The Assistant Editor or in some cases, the Editor, can now take the First Paper Edit directions and put  together the First Assembly. This cut is typically 2-3 times longer than the actual finished film will be. But it’s a start!  Our edit is slated to begin Monday, October 19th!

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