Monday, December 6, 2010

the big watch 2010

I think I've recovered from a weekend of watching films. Shorts, animation, documentaries and features. And that's just the first two days of the Anchorage International Film Festival. I'm starting to get into it this year although at first I debated even getting the pass. Jon and I buy passes almost every year and gorge ourselves on 10 days of films. This year I began reading the descriptions and was only drawn into a few titles. It seems my enthusiasm has been lacking lately. But now that the films have started playing, I'm glad I have the pass so I can see as many as I please. If that means staying at the Bear Tooth for seven hours or more, then so be it. After all, there's really no reason to leave the Tooth once you step inside: films, local brew, wine, food. No reason to leave at all.

Now that I've begun the Big Watch, I've put my editor's brain into action. Some of the films, while good, could have used more editing. I remember a writing instructor saying that sometimes as writers we can fall in love with a line or a sentence. We love it so much that even when it doesn't fit into the story we want to keep it, just as we hang onto old clothes thinking one day we can fit into them again. There comes a time you must just look at it, then discard it. It can be hard; that's why we have editors.

At a filmmaking clinic last year, one of the filmmakers stressed the importance of a good editor who is not the director or writer. When an editor is not as closely attached to every one of the clips, it's much easier for them to cut things. Just as with writing, we need an unbiased person to look at our project and be honest about what works. We need to someone to evaluate each passage: does it move the story along or does it cause it to bog down?

Some of the films I saw lacked this kind of editing. I sensed it when the film about jazz musician Vince Guaraldi veered off the main thread of the story into a strand that I hoped would hook back in. There were great quotes and reminiscences from some jazz legends; shots of historical moments to frame the film in a certain time in America. Some of it would be great material for another film, but was not relevant to this story. It made the film drag under the weight of the extraneous clips. It needed an editor to be brutal with the material, yet sensitive to the story.

So, why such a critic?

This year I helped a friend make a film for the 24-hour film contest. It was a pretty loose group; we had little structure. Mostly, we had his idea which we brainstormed to flesh into a story. It took on a life of its own. We filmed that first night, met again in the morning, at which time he almost threw in the towel. Two of us convinced him we were still in it; we would see it through. We filmed some more. Then he sat down to edit. It took a long time (as we'd been warned) but together we were able to cull a story from what seemed like a dozen strands of ideas.

It's dark, it's light. It's funny, it's serious. It's a first attempt. A start. It screens tonight (I'll post a link after the showing). Now I'm asking myself: should I participate in a 5-day contest that begins tonight? I have no clue.

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