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Doc Edge 2011 finds unsung heroes

During Editing your Baby panellist Pamela Yates claimed, “Non-fiction editors are the unsung heroes of documentary.” It was no surprise that there was much praise of editors to accompany the analysis of the relationship between director and editor.

The session was facilitated by Pat Ferns, with panellists Tim Woodhouse, Pietra Bretkelly, Paco De Onis, and Pamela Yates. Discussion ran through aesthetic choices in editing, the organic nature of the process, how to work with broadcasters (without relinquishing creative control), audio, with a smattering of clips of panel members’ work to illustrate specific points.

Pamela and Paco, whose Granito screens in the festival, shared the genesis of their production company Skylight, which started life with a sound recorder, cinematographer, and an editor.

They prefer to send footage to the editor while still in the field and communicate every few days. Despite the implied conflict that exists between director and editor, all of the panellists agreed that heated debate is healthy collaboration. “If you debate or fight well and can come out the other side, you’ll definitely make a better film,” said Pamela.

Pietra discussed the importance of color in the art star and the sudanese twins, a double-winner at the 2009 Qantas Film & TV Awards (QFTVA) with Brett-Kelly taking home Best Director – Documentary and Best Feature Documentary. More importantly, in the context of this session, it also won a QFTVA Craft award. Irena Dol took the award for Best Editing – Documentary/Factual Programme over panellist Tim Woodhouse, who was nominated for TOKI Does New York.

Pietra also acknowledged her relief whenever she finds her opening scene and the beginning of each film’s shape as she shoots.

The panellists agreed on the importance of those moments, and of finding the right opening as well as taking risks. The first 5 minutes of a film are a time in which “the audience will stay with you no matter what.”

Tim’s opinion that sound made 80% of a film was a key point. As an audience member noted, sound is often left out of the discussion. Paco de Onis agreed, noting, “You can always find another image, but you can’t replace the sound.”

The locals, Tim and Pietra, shared their insights on how to handle NZ Broadcasters. “You pick your fights,” was the boiled down gist of the advice. Pietra said one should never agree with a broadcaster to change a cut, but couch it in terms of addressing their editorial comments.

Panellists and audience members chimed in on what became a very open round-table discussion, sharing experiences, anecdotes, concerns, jokes, and gems of wisdom.

Tim summed up the editing process neatly by quoting a Chinese filmmaker: “Making a fiction film is like building a house. Making a documentary is like discovering a tomb.” In his own words he explained, “You pull things out of what is already there and you have to curate them and give them a context … you can shift or add meaning by combining or separating things.”

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