Friday, September 30, 2005

Fitting a Year into an Hour

September 23
For reasons I don’t fully understand, I haven’t written on the blog about the documentary, which is the thing that consumes more of my time than anything else. I’ve started to write about it a couple times but then stopped. I think if the documentary is on my mind then I want to work on it, not write about it.

But now I’m on a long train from Madrid to San Sebastian and with a little less than three months left in the trip it seems I should say something about the movie. I’m sure some of this will be boring for TV people or be incomprehensible for non-TV people but such is life.

I’ve shot 67 hours of footage so far. That’s the question people always ask. The other question they always ask is “So, what is the focus.” I like it better when they ask how many hours I’ve shot.

The focus is, umm, well it’s about backpacking culture and the phenomenon of long-term around the world travel. And it’s about the people I meet and the places I go. And cultural encounters. That’s the best I can say and maybe that’s not good enough.

I don’t consider shooting video to be work. Shooting b-roll (which is support video, like a shot of a building, or of someone getting on a train etc) is just like taking pictures and I enjoy trying to get the most out of the camera that I can. I’ve become a much better shooter in the last eight months.

Maybe my favorite thing in the world is interviewing people. I know that because I get a happy and contented feeling after doing an interview that I don’t get from anything else. I think I’ve become a much better interviewer in the last eight months too.

The problem with interviews—and b-roll to a lesser extent—is all the work you have to do once the tape is full. For every hour I shoot there are three hours of clerical work to do. I have to transcribe every word of the interviews and catalogue each shot of video. It’s called “logging” and it’s what you do when you first get a job in TV. I think I’m a very good logger and it helps me a lot as a producer. The first draft of the script is done as I log—I make connections between soundbites and shots that work together and come up with most of my visual ideas during this stage.

Depending on what is on the tape a log runs up to 10 pages as a word document. It’s imperative to do detailed logging because there’s so much footage from such a wide range of times and places that I need to be very organized. I have 90 topical categories for soundbites and I assign a number to each bite, so an entry looks like this:

18:32:55 [52] Traffic it’s own entity. It’s like there’s trucks, buses, cars, a bazillion motor bikes, bicycles, an old lady, and someone in a rickshaw all going down the street together.


4:20:44 [26] I don’t know, it’s not difficult to meet people but the hardest part of traveling is saying goodbye to people I think. Because you can make really good friends with people and then after three days you may never never see them again and that’s weird

The first numbers (18:32:55) indicate where the clip is. [52] is the category for ‘Asian traffic’ and [26] is the category for ‘Saying goodbye’ so when I want to find soundbites about saying goodbye I can search through the 93 pages of interview transcripts for [26] and pull up all the things people have said about the topic.

Once the video is organized I load it all onto one of my two external hard drives so I can work with it. That takes one to two hours per tape. This is all before any script has been written or video edited. Sexy, huh?

I have a mental outline for the movie which is constantly evolving as the trip progresses. I’m almost always thinking about the film and almost every day a little idea will pop up and refine things a little. This afternoon as I waited for the Madrid Metro is occurred to me that each continent should have it’s own theme. This seems to be a partial solution to a problem I have: there aren’t story lines that carry through the whole trip because I’m the only person along for the whole ride. I’m afraid it will just be a mush of travel stuff without a linear story to follow. I think giving each quarter of the film (there are four continents) an overarching theme will help with that. We’ll see.

I’m aiming to make a one-hour show (and maybe a 90 minute version for DVDs or film festivals). So far I’ve edited 40 minutes, about 15 of which will end up in the final version. The sections I’ve completed are the “Before I leave” section (a fairly tight 7 minutes) and almost all of “Asia” (a loose 30 minutes). I’ve also cut a version of “Australia” which sucks and I’m scrapping.

I think I’ve been hesitant to write about the project because my feelings about it are so bi-polar. Sometimes I think it’s going to be great and sometimes I think it’s going to suck. I’m a little closer to thinking it’s going to suck right now but not too far on that side. It all depends on the reaction of the last person who looked at it or the success of editing or writing the last part I worked on.

I’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into it all and it will be really demoralizing if it fails. Before I get to find out if it’s any good I have to finish it, which will take a ton more work. It’s hard to spend too much time on it when I think it’s all a big waste so maybe that’s why I’m writing this instead of organizing some footage. But as I sit here the desire to break down some interviews into numbered categories is taking hold, so I think I’ll go do that now.

A girl I was sharing a room with a couple weeks ago asked me about the movie. “Oh, do you really need to write down what happens on all those tapes?” Yeah, you sort of do. And then you have assemble them into something coherent and interesting. And if your story sucks then all the pretty b-roll and transcribed interviews don’t count for much.


At 1:51 AM, Blogger Betsy said...

If for some reason the documentary doesn't work out, or even if it does, I think you should write a book. You could use some stuff from the blog and from your transcriptions. Not that it's so easy to publish a book, but it's a thought.


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