Why it takes time

Hey y’all!

I’m finally done with today’s events, and I can snuggle up in bed and watch a movie before I go to sleep — which doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Last year I’d watch about five to eight movies a week (yup I know that’s a little extreme) but ever since I started making the documentary in January, most of my time outside of school has been spent in the editing room.

But with just a few final touches left, the finish line is within sight, and our official premiere date is set to 4 p.m. March 11th in the Back Alley “Theatre.” I’ll get back to that later.

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A screenshot from the doc “Over the Bridge”

It’s been almost nine full weeks since Sarah Kocher and I started the process. Some of our friends seem to have a hard time understanding why a 20-minute long documentary takes so long to make, but let me try to explain.

When I decided to make a film about homelessness I wanted it to be accurate, credible and truthful. This is a real issue, with real people and real stories, so it’s very important for me to get it right. I could have made a two-minute news story video with some B-roll clashed on top of a couple of interviews, but then it would’ve been almost impossible to tell the stories with depth, emotion and atmosphere.

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Screenshot from the coldest day of shooting . -37ºC / -34ºF windchill …

Therefore, we have visited the different shelters and areas downtown a total of 14 times. We also discovered that it can be quite challenging to schedule appointments with people who don’t have phones or calendars, but we made it work somehow.

To my big surprise it’s been way harder to work with the public officials we’ve been wanting to interview, and they have both phones AND calendars… But luckily Sarah is a pro at leaving phone messages (like for real, you should hear her talk, I’m in complete awe every time!) so we got our interviews done, eventually.

Another time-consuming part is the editing. When you don’t have a script, there’s no way you can predict the direction the story is going before you do the interviews. So despite our efforts, precise questions and specific requests some people just can’t seem to get to their point without talking non-stop for 15 minutes first. Even then, they sometimes manage to avoid the question itself. That has left us with what appears to be two-digit number of hours with footage that we have to scan through in order to find that one minute where they actually did answer the question. That takes time, a lot of time!

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Then, once we’ve found all those snippets we’re able to use, we gotta put them in an order that makes sense, match them with the audio track, adjust the sound, color, light, quality, find a decent soundtrack that is royalty free or affordable (easier said than done), and even then it won’t end up looking perfect… because it’s documentary filmmaking, not movie making. 

In moviemaking you can re-shoot, tweak, enhance, adjust lighting, locations, scenery, props and even the people in front of the camera until everything looks perfect. But in documentary filmmaking you just gotta take what you get. If the lens is foggy or covered in ice crystals from the (frickin South Dakota) cold you just have to deal with it. If your fingers are so frozen they feel (and look) like weisswurs sausages and you can’t hold the camera steady, well then … deal with it! All that shaky, out-of-focus, grainy footage and bad sound quality makes my cinema heart hurt, but that’s what makes documentaries realistic.. I guess.

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Another screenshot from “Over the Bridge”

Anyway, that’s all I have to say tonight.

Sleep well all,

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