“It’s in the can!”
With shooting done, the crew moves to post-production. Working with digital video, many of the terms of filmmaking make little sense and “it’s in the can” is one definitely lost on the children. Living in a decidedly non-linear world, students often don’t know you have to rewind the tape in the camera in order to see the takes. (In fact, many kids didn’t even know that the footage they shot was located on a piece of magnetic tape.) After rewinding the camera, the shots are “dumped” into the computer using a video editing program, in our case “iMovie.” Aside from the camera person, this is the first time students get to see any of the video footage. Many heads huddle around the computer monitor to see the video being imported into the computer in real time. They laugh at the mistakes, comment on interesting camera angles, and give approval to certain shots. It is an interesting moment because the movie is still being figured out and everything they see is generally out of sequence. Usually only a few people (scriptwriter, director, camera person) know how these clips all fit together.
The “magic” happens in the editing and I’ve often been floored by the transformation these raw takes go through. At this stage the editor– sometimes its the director or scriptwriter, sometimes someone brand new comes in– starts to sequence the best clips of each shot into a narrative. They metaphorically chop up the takes, removing the “heads” (loosely everything before “action!) and “tails” (more or less everything after “cut!”) of the clips and a story starts to emerge.
Editing involves a methodical work flow. The best editors are students who can work step by step while keeping an eye on the big picture. Working with the script, editors place one clip in front of the other in a sequence that fits the story. Next, they cut the heads and tails mentioned earlier, then they start “refined editing” looking for continuity and rhythm. The video should feel smooth and transparent and their most powerful tool is “cutting,” making clips into smaller and smaller pieces like a sculptor. Refined editing can mean cutting ten more frames– a mere third of a second– and noticing that it actually seems to make a big difference. The editor may choose to work alone with headphones on silently immersed in her work while others prefer to work with a partner, taking turns controlling the computer and constantly discussing each editing move.
Lots of problems come up: a voice is too soft, a clip seems to be missing, all the takes of a particular shot are flawed or, the atomic bomb of problems, “Mr. Jurich, we got a BIG problem– the whole thing doesn’t make sense!” This is when those working alone seek out feedback and solutions from others. Post-production solutions can include voice overdubs, creatively using parts of two poor takes, or temporarily abandoning the script in order to resurrect the larger story. At times, the easiest solution is to get out the camera and reshoot or add a shot, stepping back into production momentarily. Another student may come in and do the credits or even take over and refine a rough cut. Sound effects and music (surprisingly time intensive) are sometimes added and the whole film is watched countless times. Fresh eyes are sought out to see if “it makes sense.” Finally the video is done, or as done as its going to be because another production awaits. The video will be polished once more before it is shown to kids, parents, and the community in a culminating event at the end of the year– premiere night.