Day 9 – What do you do to Not Write
Not writing allows you to gain the distance from your words, and thus perspective, which are both needed when it’s time to edit
I really like this quote because it speaks truth. Perspective is a large part of professional work. When I was in college we, the undergrads, had very little of it. We were required to do a lot of editing after returning from the field with the materials that we had carefully planned by writing scripts and drawing storyboards. The plans were necessary but they changed during every shoot because you just can’t plan the future with a high degree of accuracy. Unexpected things happen and those most successful in the TV and film industry are able to see reality change as they go and adapt the plan to match. If you look at advice from seasoned veterans (found in classrooms, including the many interviews filmed and posted on YouTube) you should find that this statement holds water (AFF “On Story” and Film Courage are two good resources to look at). This advice mirrors what I learned filming stories that I had written in film school. In fact, I’d say that this is one of the most important lessons I learned in college which continues to be reinforced by experience.
I learned the same thing on the academic side of the University experience. Professors gave this advice to us point blank, as I’m sure instructors do at every University, community college and probably high schools around the world. Anyone who has ever written anything has found the need for perspective because when we pick it back up after a break, we all start editing like mad. In some cases I’m astounded at the state my work was in when I put it down and it’s not just blogs and essays. The same thing happens with sound design or screenwriting and film editing. When I made it into the final film class with a 22 page script that I had written, I was eager to get started. My instructor came back to me with a couple suggestions and was adamant that I was not ready to shoot. Her criticism was that my script was too literary; in other words, not cinematic enough. I was surprised to hear this and was a little dejected when I had to put off the production schedule for an indeterminate amount of time. I reluctantly reworked the one scene that was the worst offender due to its lengthy and talky structure. By doing so, I broke up the monotony and created a new scene that ended up being one of the most cinematically dynamic in the film. The new location would require handheld work, on the move, i.e….the long shot so the original static shots meant to be covered in two or three angles, were merged and 20 or 30 different shots became two. This change, combined with a couple other ideas ended up saving me a whole day of filming. Then after I finished editing, I screened the rough cut for my classmates and got some feedback. One of them pointed out that one scene had a point in which the momentum stagnated and it was like starting the scene over again. I couldn’t believe that I had missed it. I had a revelation: “they”… had been right! Who’s they? The seasoned veterans who advised us that it may be a good idea for writer/directors to have someone else edit the film. The most passionate of us were indignant at this suggestion but it turns out that when a creator is too close to the story, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. I decided to cut the last half of the scene. It helped maintain drive, heighten the drama of the story and as a result played much better.
I’ve also noticed that as a professional video operator, when I’m shading cameras on a live event, the task of matching cameras is very subjective. We have fancy tools for reference but in the end, it’s about what you see on the high-res, color calibrated shading monitor I used to do sound mixing years ago and the advice from sound professionals was the same…it’s what you hear, not what the reference tools say. Over 7 years of doing this work and watching other professionals in the industry, I’ve noticed that no matter what show you look at, the challenge is the same. I find myself watching TV or the Jumbotron video screen and saying something like, “man, the chroma is shifting and losing saturation on camera one, I’d shade that down”. At times, while I’m on the job, the director will call back on the intercom, “shading on camera 2”, which usually means that they think that it’s too hot or dark. Sometimes, when I look at it, I realize that they may be right, and other times I say, “looks good here”. But, either way, having a second set of eyes on it is helpful. Sometimes the director is just telling me, “Hey, I want to take camera 2”, which I’m not predicting is next up because I’m working on cameras one and three. Quality work requires coordination of team members. When a new director gets into the seat, they’re aware that the crew doesn’t know how they operate because every director is different in their style. So, it’s prudent and also good courtesy to make sure and give everyone a heads up when calling shots. I had a director once who balked at me when I suggested that, if he sees something that looks off, to let me know. It’s common practice to coordinate with crew members but some leaders are indignant about it which just goes to show that they don’t understand how their job affects the other team members and vice versa. Or, they don’t care.
Live,professional work requires predication; predicting what events are coming next. After years of practice, a professional gets good at this, but when there’s an unpredictable element thrown at you, you’re forced to react instead of predicting the pitch and getting ahead of the curve. Writing also involves predication because, we’re editing in our heads, in real time, while we write. We’re predicting that all the other options considered before committing text to the page were the wrong choice. It’s like, word combo after word combo, hurled at us from a mechanical pitching machine with an unlimited supply of curve balls and sinkers. And, in order to be productive, you have to let the bad ones go and wait for “your” pitch. To do this job and not go crazy wasting time, we wait till its “in our wheelhouse”. That’s what my Little League coach Ricky use to say. So, when the right combo gets into my “wheelhouse”, I take a swing and the process repeats. Since our writing improves with practice, this means that our predication rate improves. That, in time, means that writing is sort of automatic because, simply turning on the word pitching machine on a daily basis generates “quality at bats”. Augie Garrido, the former University of Texas baseball coach (The first coach to reach 1900 career wins), had a knack for winning games with small ball, or as we call it here in Texas, “Augie Ball”. The trick with Augie Ball is to have “quality at bats”. I like the Augie ball analogy because it breaks the job up into small manageable chunks. It doesn’t really matter what I do to distance myself from the work. All I have to do is not write. I just turn off the machine in my head and bang, step two of the writing process is under way. I could play with my dog, or go to the grocery store, or meet friends at a restaurant, go do photography, or even watch cat and backyard wrestling videos on YouTube. Anything to keep that machine turned off. As long as I turn it back on for a few hours per day, I’ll get my “quality at bat”. Combine that with the perspective for editing and that results in a “W” (That’s Texan for Win).
Thanks to Austin Batting Cages for use of their facilities
Now for some perspective…batting cages, here I come.