Last month we had a look at some of the various aspects that go into shooting the films in this series. This month, I figured we take some time to see what goes into the editing process.
Usually, after filming with the bands, the first thing I’ll do is sit down and decide: ‘Do I actually have enough footage to put the film together?’. This isn’t always easy to decipher. If it was a short, narrative film that I’d shot, you’d have a script to guide you throughout this, and you’d know fairly well if you had everything in the bag for it – it’s the reason why second unit crews film cut-aways and scenic shots; this ensures there’s plenty of footage to play around with in the editing stage, and helps iron out any potential issues there might be with transitioning from scene to scene. However, as this is a documentary series with zero funding or crew, I do my best to shoot absolutely everything I possibly can while on location with the bands – doing ‘pick up’ shots (a process in which usually a 2nd unit crew goes back after the main shoot is finished and quite literally ‘picks up’ shots that are needed, quite often with original actors or stand-in’s used) isn’t possible as it would require a lot of time and effort, or simply not feasible: I can’t exactly ask a band to go back to the same venue and get them to play a gig again.
This results in me shooting loads of footage of everything from amps and pedals through to musicians tapping their feet – you just never know what you might need. I also happen to love filming the equipment that goes into making the music – the ‘gear porn’, if you will – and I think musicians get a kick out of seeing what other bands use, pedals wise, etc. It’s not until after I open up a new project file and begin sorting through the footage that I really know if there is a flow or sense of ‘narrative’; even though it is a documentary, I like to feel that you are going on some sort of journey with the musician, and that they are guiding you through the musical process, and that it isn’t just a random collection or montage of images. The first step is doing a rough assembly of the footage – laying out each shot in order and in a way that feels natural with the flow of events as I want to depict them. I usually assemble too much footage on the first attempt at this – sometimes it’s hard to not want to include every shot you’ve done, and you have to be hard on yourself and make a decision on whether any given shot contributes anything to the film, beyond just being ‘pretty’.
Once I’ve got a layout on my editing timeline that I’m somewhat happy with, I start the tough process of selecting the music. Sometimes, this is simple: for example, I knew I was going to use the track, ‘Fear’, for the Abaddon Incarnate film, as it gave me a lot of room for juxtaposing images with the music, as the track goes from foreboding drums and feedback through to a full on grind assault, then slowing back down again. As an editor you want to have this sort of ‘variety’ in the piece of music, as it gives you a bit more freedom to play around with the footage and pacing. With the Brian Conniffe film, it was somewhat more difficult; Brian had put together the music piece himself, but I hadn’t heard any of it until a few days before the film launched, as he had been busy working on it, so I had to edit it blind, and then wait until the track was received and placed over the footage before I could see how it played out. Luckily enough, we had chatted extensively about it, and very little work was needed to get the music to ‘synch’ up to the footage – tweaks here and there were made, but it didn’t require massive amounts of work.
Beyond the music, there are other problems you can run into. The third film in the series on Invictus Productions proved to be the most difficult one to piece together. There’s an innate difficulty in shooting a film on Darragh and his business and trying to keep it visually engaging for the audience. Most days for Darragh are spent in his office and label, and the work could range from fulfilling orders and packing to sorting records. Trying to shoot it in a way that feels interesting is half the battle, and I think we managed to do that just fine, but beyond that? Luckily I had shot hours of footage from the Portal show, but the film just didn’t seem to gel properly at all. I’d had technical problems the night of filming which caused me to be unable to use footage of Malthusian and ZOM (both are bands from Ireland and signed to Darragh’s label) performing, and it was only when I was putting the film together that I realised how integral that Irish connection was to the film. I ended up going to the Negative Plane show which had Malthusian supporting, so thankfully I got enough usable footage to be able to finish the film in a way that felt satisfying.
The editing process is definitely the toughest part for me in this series; knowing if the film works or doesn’t work is nerve-wracking, and edits are usually made right up to the final hour before the piece gets sent out to the public for consumption. Sometimes it might just be a sound edit, or trimming a second off a shot, or in the case of the Invictus film, getting three entire re-edits in the one week. I’m sure Darragh is happy knowing he caused me such anxiety…
Next month, I’ll be starting to go through each film, one by one, and breaking it down in terms of how it got made. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting in it.