S8 to FCP – Page 3: Shed Edit

Editing

RI S8 edit

Perhaps nowhere in the process is the gulf between Then and Now more apparent than with editing. To view original film on a hand crank editor, and then have to physically cut the film to edit the scene (no Undo button) is almost like recounting pre-history. Peering at an image lit by a 15 watt bulb (which also had to be threaded in place super precisely if there were not to be dark, vignetted areas on the image) must be akin to the early Bible scribes, peering at their parchment by candlelight. Not exactly endless hours of fun and frolic, though it has been stated before that creative work often involves long periods of tedium and self discipline.

Echo Park view

Which is a useful cue to insert a piece I wrote about editing. This was during my time living in a garden shed in Los Angeles in 1976. I was editing the 4th version of the 4 screen travelling film show I used to present. The briefest of backgrounds is that the shed shed & muralwas 8x5ft in size, and was in the Echo Park district. The rent was $40.00 a month, with daytime toilet privileges in the main house, plus a view of palm trees and a mural. I was also in a pretty tricky emotional state, it has to be acknowledged. A fuller account will be included in ‘Codachrome’.

Shed Edit

‘I should know the process by now, it’s fairly dependable – though that knowledge is no hedge against having to run the full gamut of feelings involved. I’m referring to the first viewing of any batch of freshly developed film. In this case 200 rolls, which is around eight hours worth. In the run up to going over to the lab to collect the returned film there’s an eager expectancy that’s similar to a childs waiting on Christmas Day presents. After all, the wait can be as long as a year. The viewing (on a hand crank editor) starts late evening and often goes through until dawn – and by then I am utterly demoralised. The feeling is ‘how could I have wasted so Sack of filmmuch film?’ So much of it is useless, and it all costs so much, not the least of which is the demands that get made on my life because of filmmaking. This low level shock usually overwhelms the next couple of days. Then I force myself back to the editor and start looking for the scenes that work. That’s not a judgement based on any published guidelines. When I do find a scene that’s ‘right’, the recognition is connected more to an enjoyment that soothes. These moments are rare in relationship to the actual amount of footage. A lot of this culling is sheer drudgery, which means that I have to become quite disciplined. Over a period of eight weeks or so (if I stick at it) I can finish up with two (perhaps three) 400ft reels of film containing potentially useable material – almost an hours worth.

The daily details of the process are that in the morning I roll up my bedroll, remove the board covering the sink (the shed has one of those deep, industrial sized units), prime the camping stove and boil up some coffee. That done, and after a wash up, I put the board back over the sink, set up the editor, bring in the chair (from outside, where it has to go at night to open up floor sleeping space), put on my white cotton gloves – and start editing.

This goes on for around fourteen hours a day, every day of the week. A little mental arithmetic will tell you that 14x7x8 = 784 hours of labour. Very little of shed editthat is actually taken up with cutting. There’s no room for experimentation using film original. Most of the time is taken up with relentless viewing, getting to know the images so well that I’m able to prepare lists of scenes in my head – and then transfer these scene lists to paper. It works perfectly well as a system just as long as I’m prepared to saturate myself with imagery. That’s not always so pleasant, especially when there are emotional connections to be made (as there often are – this is a film diary, after all). It can be like living among powerful ghosts, all vibrantly etched in Kodachrome hues (no pale, ghostly shadows these) and able to repeat the poignant moment or happy smile indefinitely. Unlike a writer, I can’t modify their behaviour. My power is limited to deciding whether they stay or go, are they in or out – and that’s quite difficult. I have some extremely beautiful images in my employ, all of whom want more than cruel consignment to the cutting room floor. But, for an editor to succeed, utter ruthlessnes is the only path.’

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