Interview With Documentarian Hope Hall

For Class #11

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com

Hope Hall and Documentary Editing

As usual, any comments which pertain to topics that we're covering in class are highlighted in yellow.


By the Staff of EditorsNet

Tuesday March 7, 2000, 12:10 AM PST

"This Is for Betsy Hall" is a short documentary about director Hope Hall's mother that centers on an eating disorder. Hall made the film as part of a two-year master's program in documentary filmmaking at Stanford University.

In January, "This Is for Betsy Hall" received honorable mention at the Sundance Film Festival as well as a two-year broadcast arrangement with the Sundance Channel. Additionally, the film is one of three short documentaries that Hall has posted on iFilm, the popular short-film Web site.

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What were your reasons for making this film?
Initially, I did not intend for the film's audience to be anyone other than my mother. The movie was based on an hour of footage that I shot of my mom at her surprise birthday party. When I sent my mother a copy of the film, her reaction was very surprising. The visual impact of her eating disorder was very strong and she could not believe how she looked. I wondered why she could not recognize herself and she replied that when she looked in the mirror, she didn't see what I saw. She saw a fat person.

That experience sparked my interest in making a documentary using the footage. During the process of creating the piece, I did research about eating disorders in order to understand my mother better. I even read about an anorexic woman who used her video camera as part of her own healing process. The video would remind herself that she was a normal-looking human being because seeing that image on the monitor was more objective than looking in the mirror.

Overall, my goal became to make a documentary that showed my mother how I saw her story. [Note from Norman: This is part of her log line.]

What did you use for the filming and editing of the project?
Everything was eventually shot with on color 16mm film. However, the footage of my mother was shot with an 8mm video camera. I projected that video footage onto various surfaces such as flowing white sheets, foam core, metallic bounce boards as well as crumpled Vellum, and filmed everything with a Bolex 16mm camera. With that method, I was able to manipulate the images in three dimensions and give them a less conventional feel.

I made up that method of transferring the video to film as I went along. First, I did a test roll and put the Bolex as close to the projected image as I could -- 5 inches away -- and opened the lenses all the way up. Luckily, my end result didn't contain any frame flicker or rolling bar.

In addition, I filmed the stills with a CP-16 camera equipped with a doubler lens (magnifying accessory for the lens) which was a process that had its share of difficulties. All the editing was done on a flatbed.

Are you glad you cut it on a flatbed or would you rather have had a non-linear editing system?
I think you idealize whatever you don't have in front of you. Right now, I'm editing my thesis on Avid and Final Cut Pro, and I idealize my days in front of the flatbed. The constraints and limits of that method actually make things simpler. When it's harder to edit, you do a lot of work on the shooting end. With the production I'm editing on Final Cut Pro [a non-linear editing system], I find myself shooting a lot of footage and being sloppier in production because I know I can fix it in post. So, overall, I'm definitely glad that I had the experience editing on the flatbed because it will help me remember not to shoot as if I'm shooting with a fire hose and be more judicious.

Was it challenging to edit this film, considering its personal nature?
Yes, it was very difficult at first. I would hole myself up in the editing room with a huge spinning flatbed with footage that meant so much to me, and I would just freeze. I would be at a cut and try various options, but different voices would be telling me: "Why are you making such a personal film?" "This is going to be cheesy," "Personal films suck."

What happened was amazing. From the beginning, I had told my teacher and classmates that I was making it for an audience of one. I imagined giving the film to my mom or her sitting and watching it. When I could imagine her doing that, I was able to put myself in her shoes. At that point, the film no longer seemed too cheesy or too personal, and the cuts and tone of the piece fell into place.

How did the structure of the film evolve?
At present, the film is a chronological account about my mother combined with insertions about my own life. Originally, I was going to sandwich her story with mine --introduce the film, tell my mother's story and return at the end. However, after screening for my classmates, I found that the film was getting too heavy. I wanted it to feel serious, but not manipulated. So, in order to alleviate the tone, I interspersed my story throughout the film.

How was your experience at the Sundance Film Festival?
It was bittersweet. On the plus side, I received an honorable mention and signed a two-year deal with the Sundance Channel. Many of my family members arrived during the festival, which made it hectic but also meaningful. The only negative side was my perception of the market side of the festival. People would come up to me and say, "I've heard such great things about your film and I've been really looking forward to meeting you, etc., etc." When we started, I realize they hadn't seen the film and didn't realize it was a documentary, let alone a personal one.

So I felt like a fish in a sea that I did not recognize since I didn't happen to have a screenplay in the back of my pocket that I was trying to shop around. It was a venue where projects were bought and sold, but I was just there to show my film.

At Sundance I caught a glimpse of a possible future, but I wasn't interested in that future although it's a viable way to make a living. I wouldn't want to come there year after year to make deals that will last for 12 months and put food on my table.

What's your next project?
It involves the countdown to the year 2000. It's a collage of home video, stills and film from all over the world and includes interviews with an 87-year-old Jesuit scholar as well as a bright-eyed idealistic peer who is attending Stanford. It's still up in the air as to whether or not it's going to work. Most likely, I will also experiment with the images as I did with "This Is for Betsy Hall."

© 2000, EditorsNet




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