06 August 2007

A Bunch of Cut Ups !

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Shooting nearly twenty interviews for the "Pancho" documentary took many months. Gathering the photographs, documents, motion picture film footage, and other materials for it took years. And, I don't even want to begin telling you how long it took to raise the money to make the film — a long time — and that's an on-going process. So, it's with a sense of relief that we've finally reached the point where we can begin editing the film. It's more than the "end of the beginning" — and the real "beginning of the end"!

Photo: "Mo" working with director Amanda Pope

Our editor, by the way, is the talented Monique Zavistovksi, or "Mo" as she likes to be called. Her enthusiasm and insight into Pancho have brought fresh energy to the project, which is important for director Amanda Pope and I. After all, when you live with a project like this one for a number of years, it's easy to lose your perspective. Thankfully, Monique had never heard of Pancho Barnes before she joined our team. With no preconceptions or knowledge of our subject or material, she was able to assess what we have gathered together on a more-or-less impartial basis. That's critical on a project like this one. While Amanda and I have certain ideas about Pancho's life, our footage may reflect a different story on some levels. So, it's important to discuss the difference between what we've envisioned, and what Monique sees in our footage.

Someone, I think it was Martin Scorcese, once said that the editing process is a bit like a long conversation. In the world of the documentary film, that is especially true. Our conversation began with a script, which I spent a couple of months writing. The script was based on our interviews, documents we'd uncovered (including Pancho's incomplete autobiography, interviews conducted with her prior to her death, personal letters and even her FBI file), and other materials. Yet a script can only get you so far: the first assembly Monique made using the script was over two hours long — twice what we're aiming for. Still, it provided a road map for our editorial journey, reflecting the themes, story points, and ideas I felt were important.

We're still at an early stage in our process. Right now, Mo is taking on segments of the film and chopping away at them. Sometimes she's auditioning new portions of our interviews, or adding voice-over or photographs, and sometimes she's taking them away. It's a long and involved process, and in the course of several hours many different versions of the film come into being. After a few days of solid effort, Mo shows her progress to Amanda Pope and I, and we critique it and roundtable it. Think — conversation. Then, it's back to more cutting.

Making even an assembly cut is a process that used to take months. Fortunately, nowadays we have wonderful digital tools that allow random access to our footage. For those of you who are curious, we're using Final Cut on an Intel-based Macintosh iMac. For a project like this one, which involves many different types of media (photos, video footage, film footage, graphics and special effects), and is relatively low-budget, this is a natural choice. Final Cut allows us to work efficiently and manage all of our materials without being overwhelmed by them. . . which certain can be the case on a project like this one.

Incidentally, Mo just recently cut another film on Final Cut, one that you will hopefully see soon in theatres or on the small screen. Circus Rosaire was made by our mutual friends, the husband and wife team of Robyn Bliley and Chad Wilson. It's a touching documentary about a family-run circus, and it just won the coveted Audience Award at the Sarasota Film Festival.

If you visit the Circus Rosaire website, you can find a brief bio of Monique. Or just click here if you are curious.