Lesson #13

November 25, 2013

Handouts for this Week

Lesson for This Week



What exactly is a documentary? Ryan Jerving describes it as any film "presumed by its viewers to have a more or less direct relation to reality." Pretty weird definition, eh?, since most films have some relationship to reality. The key word here is "direct." In other words -- a documentary purports to show some version of reality, without the heavy artifice of an artificially imposed narrative. Any shape that you've given to a documentary alledgedly comes from the material itself.

There are different types of documentaries -- observational, analytical, ethnographic, impressionistic, and many more. Some attempt to avoid imposing a point of view, others are blatant in their "selling" of one. All of them, if they are well made, attempt to make a point.

To get at how each film makes its arguments, it is helpful to list all the kinds and sources of visual and aural materials that each film uses (including the title sequences). You can then start to analyze what the overall style of each one it. This ties in with our discussion last week about style.

Ellis_Island_A&ETonight we will take a look at several different documentaries, depending on how much time we have and how we define the term "documentary." The first two are two very different looks at the same subject -- the immigration station of Ellis Island, set in New York City's harbor. The first, a 1997 Arts and Entertainment channel doc, directed by Lisa Bourgoujian, is traditionally constructed and edited. You will notice the use of voice over and archival footage. The filmmaker makes an attempt to unite the past and the present (a theme of both of these documentaries) by desaturating the color in the opening fly-over of the island, taking us into the past. Notice the use of dissolves from one piece of footage to the next, prelaping and postlapping interview voices, and the juxtaposing of images that attempt to make the old footage

Here is a description of the film, from Harvard University's Teaching Global Studies web site.

Ellis Island. Producer: Lisa Bourgoujian, 1997. 150 mins.
This "locingly assembled" (People Magazine) three-tape program uses hundreds of interviews, photographs, films and recreations from the Ellis Island Oral History Project to tell the incredible stories of immigration to America through the "golden door," whose entrance, for over half a century, meant an opprotunity for a new life.

Ellis_Island_MonkThe second film, on the other hand, is a 1981 documentary, directed and written in an experimental style by performance artist and composer Meredith Monk. This version, also called ELLIS ISLAND, is told without voice over and without archival footage. It, too, attempts to make a contrast between old and new images by creating new images and old ones, and making them all look similar. The music is entirely different than Bourgougian's version, (it would be valuable to go through the exercise we did during our lesson on music and try and ascribe adjectives to each musical choice), and the storytelling structure is different, but after a while it becomes clear that the filmmakers had similar thoughts in mind.

What do you think they are?

Here is the description of Monk's film from her own web site:

Ellis Island. Directed by Meredith Monk. Produced and co-directed by Bob Rosen. Camera by Jerry Pantzer. Music by Meredith Monk. A film about the experience of immigrants entering America at the turn of the century, ELLIS ISLAND was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle, aspecial Jury Prize from the Atlanta and San Francisco Film and Video Festivals.


Richard III

In the unlikely even that we have time, we will take a look at another example of documentary work -- the film LOOKING FOR RICHARD, which was directed by Al Pacino. This is a sampling of Shakespeare's "Richard III" as Pacino tries to figure out if and why the play has relevance to today's world and today's people. Pacino is also at the film's center as he puts together a cast for a performance of the play, researches its menaings, and interviews people in this country and Europe, about what Shakespeare means to them. The structure of the opening of the film, once again, attempts to find the contrast between the old and the new. Shots are cut togehter to create mood, connectivity and to announce to the audience what and who is important in this film. This is a structure that you will have noticed in all of the documentaries that we look at tonight; in fact, it is a structure in every film that is made.

As a side notes, I present here a quote from Scoutt Foudras' review of Arlene Donnelly's documentary feature NAKED STATES, from Variety. The film follows photographer Spencer Tunick on his five-month quest to find people in each of the 50 states to pose nude (en masses) in public spaces for his camera.

"Naked States" settles into a too comfortable rhythm of showing tunick setting up for a shoot and then cutting to a print of the finished photo, and it is Donnelly's unfailing attachment to this methodology, at the very moment the film needs to take off in a new direction, that reveals her limitations as a documentarian. Donal seems so passively enthralled by Tunick himself that she never really stops to ask him why he does what he does; nor is she interested in deconstructing the artist or his photos."

In fact, the above criticism should be something you ask yourself constantly about every work that you create -- whether it is a documentary or a narrative fiction film. Why do characers do what they do? Am I too caught up in an intellectual rendition of style or too stuck on my original ideas, to move past them to the point where I can make my film really work. Editing is re-editing, re-examining, re-experiencing.


Hope Hall talks about "This Is For Betsy Hall"
This documentary, about the filmmaker's mother and about self-image, was a difficult film to make because it was very personal. Of course, this is what makes films really work. In this interview, from the old website EditorsNet, Hall talks about the technical and the personal.
Jeff Werner edits "Go Tigers"
This documentary is about America and small town high school football. In this interview, editor Werner talks about dealing with the sheer amount of material inherent in any documentary shoot.
My First Movie
A great journal of Caleb John Clark's path during the making of his short documentary "My Hippies"
Your Third Log Line Assignment (PDF File)
This log line is a bit different than the previous two, so I wanted to make sure that I got it all down on paper.
Post-Production Workflows
This handout is made up of several workflows. The first is a rather byzantine diagram showing a typical tape based workflow which comes from Outside-Hollywood. The next is the Red One workflow, from the Red site, which is typical of a file based workflow. Another byzantine workflow for the EX1 and EX3 SxS cards that we will be using soon in 546 and 547 are the third diagram. Things will actually get much simpler by February.
Kevin Tent talks about editing SIDEWAYS (PDF File)
Kevin, who we last heard from talking about GIRL INTERRUPTED, discusses editing comedy. This is an excerpt from an interview on the Avid web site and, so, does a small amount of selling of their Unity system as well as the Media Composer line, but it's all done in the service of what Tent and his editing crew needed.
Suzanne Hines talks about editing PSYCHO BEACH PARTY(PDF File)
Hines talks about the process of editing this low budget film.

Assignment For Next Class

CRIMSON TIDE - Scene 113
This is a new scene from our final project. In fact, it is the final scene in the sequence that you will be editing. As such, it is the culmination of the tension that has been unfolding between our two lead players -- Bear (Gene Hackman) and Hunter (Denzel Washington). Next week, in addition to a new scene, you will also be receiving all of the inserts, as they existed in the final film. This week, you are also getting a CD with sound effects and music (four cues from the actual soundtrack to CRIMSON TIDE, as written by Hans Zimmer). You do not need to use sound effects this week, but I would like you to start working the music into the scene. Note that the four music cuts are long. Click here to see the contents of the disk. As you think about how you want to resolve this part of their story arc, here is a story analysis of the film from allwatchers.com.

Two leaders with different philosophies about battle and leadership wage war with each other in this tense military thriller. Capt. Frank Ramsey (Hackman) is the commanding officer of a nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Alabama. Ramsey is a distinguished veteran near the end of his career, and he leads his men with an iron hand. Ramsey is assigned a new second-in-command, Lt. Cmmdr. Ron Hunter (Washington); Hunter is much younger than Ramsey, Harvard educated, and believes the goal of the military in the nuclear age is to prevent war, not fight it. While at sea, word reaches the Alabama that a splinter group of Russian forces have seized missile silos, and the ship is put on red alert. The Alabama has orders to fire, but as it is receiving a new incoming order the radio malfunctions. It's Ramsey's contention that an order is an order and they are to move forward with the attack, while Hunter feels if there is any question at all about their mission, they should wait until they can receive further instruction, with Hunter going so far as to threaten mutiny against Ramsey if the missile strike is carried out.
--Tony Lucas, Resident Scholar

Recut Scene 80-81 from CRIMSON TIDE
I will have given you notes on this scene tonight. Now that you are editing scene 113 -- which is the culminating scene in the section you are editing -- you can see just where the film is headed. You will most certainly need to adapt your earlier edits.
You Will Also Get Inserts
We are also going to give you a series of the inserts that were shot for the film -- submarine rising, falling, sonar screens, people running around. Use them as if they were original first unit shooting now. When you go back to recut scene 80-81 you can edit these in.
Log Line Assignment #3
You are going to do your final log line assignment this week. Because it is different than the two previous logline assignments I've put together this assignment sheet. I want you to do this on a film which you would like to make, rather than one which is already made. Go back and look at the notes from your last two log lines -- what about your analyses needed toughening up. Bring that to this assignment, knowing that I won't have seen the film that you're talking about. Make me want to see this film. Make me want to work on this film. Make me want to edit this film. Some other reminder, based on the two previous loglines you've given me: 1) Make sure that your logline is no more than two sentences long -- you want to be able to know your story well enough to tell it in that short a number of words. 2) Make this an editor's logline, not a marketing come-on -- you want to tell me what makes the film unique and what the basic throughlines are. 3) Make sure that you tell me who the people really are.

Added Material

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Closeup FIlm's Article on Documentary Filmmaking and Selling Documentaries
Anna Kelvie's article about some of the details about selling a documentary, most particularly in the United Kingdom, but some of the rules apply in the US a well.
USC Adventures
Former student Wendy Millette somehow got a list of the 101 films that are the "University of Southern California Film school recommended viewing list for graduate Production students." Though any list which places John Sayles' BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET above his MATEWAN (and above Kieslowski's DECALOGUE) is suspect, there're some wonderful films here. This link is to Wendy's Laguna Cinema web site, which has a rather fascinating (or horrifying, if you're a student) diary of the the filmmaking process of films made in the 508 and 546 classes here. Read them and weep.
How To Write A Really Good Log Line
Wendy Moon discusses the elements behind writing a great log line. One of my favorite lines is this:
"You've heard over and over, "If you can't say it in three sentences, you don't know what your script is about." Trust me--they're right and you're wrong. You have to, absolutely must, learn to get to the heart of what your script is about--your career may very well depend on your ability to state what your script is about in a fascinating way."
"Totally Unauthorized" - Peggy Archer's Movie Blog
Peggy Archer has a blog in which she talks about her life as an electric on movie and television crews. It's usually a fascinating look into the dynamics of a film crew. In a recent entry (linked to above) she talks about what happens when a film crew slows down shooting on a set. She talks about everyone staring at the electric crew because their equipment went bad on them, holding up production. Here is a quote from a recent entry which offers advice to directors who are asking actors to improv:
Note to aspiring directors: If something's not working, don't keep doing it again and again and again in the hopes that it will magically work itself out. It won’t. For fuck’s sake, stop, fix the problem and then soldier on.  We understand. Really we do. We’ll even re-light and won’t blame you.
Movie Cliche List
Ever wonder why phones are always answered after only three rings in film? Or why bad guys in film always lurk around on a corner until their presence is revealed by a flash of light -- or a car's headlamp? The answer to these questions are that "these are movie cliches!!" This is a hilarious list of cliches about money, alcohol, answering machines, heroes, and much much more. There are so many to love, even though the site hasn't been updated in about ten years. Here are two samples:

• You're very likely to survive any battle in any war, unless you show someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
• When you are alone in the back seat of the car, make sure you sit in the middle.

Though I've tried to accomodate other browsers THIS SITE IS DESIGNED FOR BEST USE WITH IE for the PC, SAFARI for the Mac, and FIREFOX for both the PC and the Mac. It also looks reasonably good on the iPhone. Lucked out on that!

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Last Modified - November 25, 2013