Saturday, December 22, 2007

Frugal Traveler, Santa Fe

It's been a tough week. Things move forward, though, when possible. Here is a new episode of the Frugal Traveler series: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Maysles in the Gossip Pages?

Yes. Because he hangs with Fall Out Boy.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

At Downtown Community Television

When I was in high school, I was an avid reader, and there was a brief flurry of books about young New Yorkers. I became fascinated by the city, picturing raw spaces filled with artists. The newspapers of the time, however, were overflowing with stories of a high crime rate and few jobs, so it didn't seem like a place I could go.

Last night, however, I felt I had a glimpse back into that time. The screening at DCTV far exceeded my expectations.

The program was excellent -- I liked every film in it, and was very surprised and impressed by several. The space was edgy -- picture where firetrucks would be parked, but with folding chairs and a high-quality digital projector -- and the crowd was very hip. All the tickets sold out, and every seat was filled.

There was free beer.

Above: Man with Chair Versus Woman with Whipped Cream.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Online Audience

The video I made for NYIP on the recent Photo Contest has passed 2,000 views. It's a strange thing: 100 views a day doesn't seem like very much, until you realize that the Internet is on and available every day, 24 hours. So the first few days, you shrug. A few hundred.

If a video keeps going, however, soon the views are in the thousands. While that won't compare to broadcast audiences, it can be a significant number of people.

So the question becomes: what's the goal? I expect the screening tonight for "12th and 3rd in Brooklyn" will be a medium-sized audience. Is that better? Worse? Just different?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

On Friday, Go To NY Short Docs

Yes. Go directly to NY Short Docs.

If you want to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


On Monday, I had my video editing class interview each other. Our topic: bad dancers. We shot with 2 Canon GL2s, one on a tripod and one handheld. A shotgun mic was setup on a stand, running into a BeachTek and into a GL2.

Today I had the footage from those interviews ready for them, and they started the process of getting to know the material, trying to find a beginning and an ending and the best bits, and trying to make order out of chaos.

Great fun. We'll see how the pieces turn out....

Monday, November 26, 2007

NY Short Docs on Friday

On Friday, go and see: NY Short Docs.

I'll be there, screening "12th and 3rd in Brooklyn." Bought my tickets today.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Rules on NYC Photography and Videography

We are nearing the end of the comment period on the "new rules" proposed by the Mayor's Office regarding permits for photography and videography in New York. What should you do?

1. Read: The Rules, especially this paragraph on activity that will require a permit:

"Filming, photography, production, television or radio remotes occurring on City property, as described in subdivision (a) of this section, if such activity involves the obstruction of one or more lanes of a street or walkway of a bridge, or if such activity results in less than eight feet or one half of the width of a sidewalk or other public pedestrian passageway, whichever is greater, for unobstructed sidewalk use by pedestrian traffic."
2. Mail or email: your written comments to Mayor's Office Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, Communications Department, 1697 Broadway, New York NY 10019, or -- and I strongly encourage physical mail over email if you wish to be effective.

3. Attend: the public hearing at 10:00 AM on December 13, 2007, at the offices of the Economic Development Corporation, 110 William Street, 4th floor (between Fulton and John Streets).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Documentaries in the News

Well, any news from the world of documentary production? I'm glad you asked.

RTÉ launches inquiry into cocaine claims

"The station, which has come under increasing pressure to defend the claims made in 'High Society', last night confirmed that it had launched an internal inquiry into the production and commissioning of the series, which is expected to be completed by the end of this week. ... Beleaguered RTE executives are standing by the author, who claimed a minister regularly abused cocaine -- even after it emerged yesterday that a recording used to substantiate that allegation doesn't exist."
Maker of Undercover Mosque documentary considers suing police
"It was "something of a surprise" when the West Midlands police issued a press release eight months after the programme was transmitted in January, accusing its producers of selective editing and distortion. ... "Our reputation was really seriously damaged by this. We're only a small company but we've done quite a lot in the last 15 years," said Henshaw."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Frugal Traveler: Seattle

There's a new episode of The Frugal Traveler posted. This one's on Seattle.

I had a very tough time with this edit, but in a way that's hard to explain. The short version: the main strategy with these pieces is to create a flow. We follow along from one event to the next, but -- since it really isn't the type of thing where we worry "Will he make it?" or "Can it be done in time?" or "What will he decide?" -- there isn't necessarily a driving conflict or goal, but instead a need to keep it interesting from one experience to the next. We go along for the ride, so it has to be an enjoyable ride.

And this time, though there was the usual collection of good material, there were a couple of spots where there were two problems happening at once -- and I just kept feeling there was no way to make the material and voiceover work together. I ended up, midway through the process, abandoning the first half and finishing the ending.

And then I sat there, staring at two big holes, realizing I still didn't see a way to reasonably smooth out the viewers path through the video. I had shots to cut to, but there were reasons why one shot couldn't cut to the next -- and the usual amount of this that happens just by chance was, unluckily, amplified.

Eventually, as I got to know the problem areas on a first-name basis, I found ways to close those uncloseable gaps. Steal a little from this shot, intended for a slightly different purpose, then change this one here, then try that one ... Eventually there were ways to keep the written shape of the piece intact, and to keep the viewer on a smooth, comprehensible path.

I think the final version is straightforward and simple, but getting there was a complicated and tough road.

Without Commentary

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cast Photo

Last Friday, I shot a little video aimed at That's the cast, above.

The strange thing is, shooting that sort of piece is really all documentary production technique. I used a Canon GL1 with a little BeachTek adapter underneath it. A wireless body microphone and a clip on lavalier microphone were cabled into the BeachTek, one to the left channel and one to the right. Half was shot on a tripod, the rest following the actors around.

The thing is, fiction film is really documenting acting that happens in front of the camera, isn't it?

Trailer Theory

I did a little unit with my video class on editing movie trailers. We looked at about 20 old horror film trailers, then some trailer mashups -- for example, one that makes "The Shining" look like a Romantic Comedy and one that makes "West Side Story" look like a zombie movie -- and finally a few contemporary trailers.

One of the big points: the old techniques of Persuasion still apply, not any that different from how Aristotle thought of them.

You appeal to the emotions, trying your best to show a viewer that they can identify with the characters in the film and that it will make them feel a certain way. You appeal to the viewer also based on the reputation of the filmmakers and the actors in the film and the reviews the film has received. And you make a case that the film is about something the viewer should care about and want to see.

Beyond this: the marketing folks insist: there must be five "movie moments" -- five images one would want to see, selling the experience of seeing the film.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

Just finished the next Frugal Traveler episode. It will run Sunday, so take a look at The New York Times then.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Short List

15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar® Race

Beverly Hills, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 80th Academy Awards®. Seventy pictures had originally qualified in the category.

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:

“Autism: The Musical”
“Body of War”
“For the Bible Tells Me So”
“Lake of Fire”
“No End in Sight”
“Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience”
“Please Vote for Me”
“The Price of Sugar”
“A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman”
“The Rape of Europa”
“Taxi to the Dark Side”
“White Light/Black Rain”

Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Meanwhile, in California

Profluence member Linda G. will be screening her film "Double the Pleasure, Eight Times the Therapy" at the Vines Short Film Festival in Santa Monica.

The festival dates are October 28 through November 11; specific screening dates and times TBA.

Save the Date for NY Short Docs

I mentioned that our film 12th and 3rd in Brooklyn will be part of the NY Short Docs program. Here are the screening details:

"NY SHORT DOCS (Presented by DCTV & Rooftop Films)
Friday, November 30th, 2007 @ 7:30PM
$5/Advance Tickets; $7/At the Door

New York is home to some of the most innovative and inspired documentary filmmakers in the world. And on November 30th, DCTV & Rooftop Films are proud to showcase an evening of short documentaries about NYC made by NYC Filmmakers from the Rooftop & DCTV Communities."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Where Hearts Were Entertaining June

Profluence member Dana B. is in the news for her upcoming documentary trip to Brazil:

Sambadendê will trek to its source

"The road trip sounds like a party. Seven band members on a bus playing their way through cities large and small, picking up local players along the way. Band members have enlisted the talents of New York-based documentary filmmaker Dana Bartle, who will accompany them and record interviews and performances by local artists, musicians, and cultural groups as they travel."

NY Short Docs

Just got an email from Maya: our short film "12th and 3rd in Brooklyn" will be screening at NY Short Docs on Friday, November 30th.

The night's program looks very good. I've seen "A Son's Sacrifice" and really liked it, and I may or may not appear in "Bubblebattle" since I was there at the event....

Also, congratulations to Chris Schuessler -- "DiFara's" will be screening too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Monochromatic Angels of Parma, Ohio

Appearing as an anonymous video expert, I have now officially spoken out -- for all of two seconds -- that blue fluff is more common than blue ectoplasm, and that cameras don't actually record ghosts.

The Inside Edition story is here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Mist It

I did not get to see the 6 p.m. showing of Inside Edition so I'm not sure if I'm on it or not. But note the otherworldly rectangle at the bottom of this snapshot: it baffles even the most confirmed skeptic.

Another snapshot over at New York Portraits.

Three Seconds of Immortality

I just went across town to be interviewed at Inside Edition. I believe I will be on tonight, for a very, very brief time. More soon.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Taking "The Shot"

Well, sure, the idea of a "reality" television show about photographers might have jokingly crossed your mind once or twice in the past.

But did you think it would be as bad as The Shot is?

I mentioned the show to some photographer friends, and they watched it, and I feel sort of bad for that. Still, I'll probably suffer my way to the end. A challenge to photograph a model and a monkey? Even if it's bad, it's good.

Eisensteinian Diminution

So, in my video editing class today I gave a lesson I've taught before: we take the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin -- 7 minutes and 19 seconds long -- and work to cut 30 seconds out of it without ruining it.

It's a great process, and for those of you who enjoy editing I suggest you give it a shot. (You can grab the Eisenstein film over at

In any case, every student has their own ideas of what shots are crucial to the edit, and which can go away. Sometimes people are very conservative -- just making shots shorter, but keeping them -- and sometimes they go right for elements you or I might say are critical to the story ... and cut them right out.

It never fails, however: at least one student misunderstands: "Here it is," they proudly say, "I cut it down to 30 seconds."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And then the Prequels Will Follow

Taped a new episode of "Photo Chick" today.

Episode One and Two continue on, with about 12,000 views between them on YouTube. That's not a huge number but -- if you've ever screened one of your films for thirty people, as I have -- it's a significant audience.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New NYIP Video

Here's a new video I made for the New York Institute of Photography.

The logistics were:

shot with Canon GL1, using natural light until the day faded away (then a little tungsten bounce light was added to brighten the room a bit)

each contest judge was recorded with a lapel lavalier microphone, then the general judging was done with the built-in camera microphone

the piece was edited, minor goofs were fixed and especially sound clean up done (since it was in a room where it would have been terrible to turn off the air conditioner)

and a pristine H264 format MPEG 4 file was exported (with some experimenting, a very very clean output was produced with a file about 42MB in filesize)

this was then uploaded to -- where they have special elves that make it look very poorly compressed -- and totally low-resolution whenever there's a cross dissolve or a fade-out-fade-in dissolve
More on fixing those "minor goofs" later.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Frugal Traveler: Chicago

There's a new Frugal Traveler video posted: Frugal Chicago.

Here's the strange thing about editing Frugal Traveler episodes: at the end of each one, after a process of watching a lot of footage over and over, I feel like I've been somewhere that I haven't actually been.

I find myself wanting to tell people about a place I haven't been, as if it were my own memory. It's a strange feeling.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rocks Have Names

Well, Errol Morris is at the end of his three-part pursuit of Photographic Truth in two old photos.

Do not attempt to read this if you are in a hurry...

Update on the "New Rules"

An update on the status of new regulations on photography and videography in New York.

"The rules, to be released on Tuesday for public comment, would generally allow people using hand-held equipment, including tripods, to shoot for any length of time on sidewalks and in parks as long as they leave sufficient room for pedestrians."
More details Tuesday....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Preview at Inkaland.

CFoA (Certified Friends of Actualities) Chris and Profluence member Maya have posted a trailer for their documentary-in-progress over at Inkaland.

Not that they ever link back or anything like that. But go and watch it anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some Thoughts on Editing a Chase

Here are some ideas I went over with my editing class last week. The notion was that if we can understand the editing systems used in a well-made chase scene, it will help us understand editing in general.

How do we know which character is which? Does one wear a white cowboy hat and the other a black one? Does one have a red car and the other blue? Is the pickup basketball game shirts versus skins?

If we see the leader pass the big red building, then ten seconds later the chaser, we know how far apart the characters are. Often, a camera will stay at a landmark position, and pan from one character to another.

If a car is chasing a moped, the car has a clear advantage. But when the moped goes into the subway and the car driver follows on foot, now the moped has the advantage.

Is a character gaining or falling behind? A shot where the camera is pulling away, or where the character is catching up to the camera may tell us. A shot with both characters in it might reveal the relative status as well.

We want to know what the character is thinking, feeling and doing -- so a cut to a shot through the windshield might reveal the character's expression. Or a cut to the foot on the brake might tell us what's happening. Or a closeup on the gear shift. Make careful note of where the character looks -- the next shot might be their "point of view."

A camera can be low in the front of a car, can look out the rear window, can sit in the passenger seat, can look down at the brake pedal -- and all of these shots are useful. It can run alongside the moped as it plunges down the stairs. It can turn to watch the car streak by. It can shake, float, or fly.

If a car goes from screen left to screen right, we expect it to keep doing that unless we some change -- a shot where it turns, or where we "move" into the car before coming back out. And we expect the car chasing to also maintain consistent screen direction -- unless we see a change happen.

If we cut from the big black car to the little red sports car -- should the sound change right on that cut? Or should it change in other ways? Do we want to hear the sound of the car coming toward us, then going away?

Even in a short chase, all go-go-go action wears thin. It's usually more exciting to have a lot of action, then a tiny pacing "deep breath" before the big finish.

That tank chasing the laser-guided skateboard just knocked over every fruit stand in aisle 19. Maybe we could cut back to see what happened, and the angry manager shaking her fist at us? Or maybe our wheel can't take much more and is starting to wobble -- maybe a closeup to reveal that?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Also, Stay Off His Lawn

Peter Greenaway has announced the Death of Cinema.

"Cinema's death date was 31 September 1983, when the remote-control zapper was introduced to the living room, because now cinema has to be interactive, multi-media art," he told a director's masterclass. ... There were gasps among film students when he took aim at some of the biggest names. "Here's a real provocation: [US video artist] Bill Viola is worth 10 Martin Scorseses. Scorsese is old-fashioned and is making the same films that [the pioneering director] DW Griffiths was making early last century," he said.
Of course, since Thirty Days Hath September, and Cinema has muddled on since that fateful (and technically nonexistent) day, one might be inclined to nominate him for a Francis Fukuyama award.

But Greenaway is a very smart guy, and a very talented guy too. So my take is this: whenever somebody that good and that studied on a subject starts ringing the alarms, there's a problem. He'll probably be wrong in what he predicts is next, or in what he thinks is the root cause. It's tough to figure that sort of thing out. But if he says there's a problem, it's worth considering.

By the way, Greenaway started out as an editor....

Friday, October 05, 2007

Morris on Fenton, Part Two

Errol Morris continues his search for the documentary truth. More or less.

IDA's 25 "Best"

The International Documentary Association announced the results of its Top 25 Documentaries member poll.

No real surprises -- all popular, excellent documentaries -- but one thing did strike me: how many of these films have more than one editor. Of the 25 films, 13 have multiple editors. More than half.

Meaning that now I have to teach my editing students that they'll have to learn an additional skill: shared vision.

(I'm an IDA member, and I did vote. One thing to note: it wasn't a process where you just voted for one favorite "best" film -- but checked off a number of films. I expect that produces a different result than a simple "vote for one" process. In this case, I think it may have made for a better, if mainstream, list.)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Errol Morris on Crimean War Photos

This blog's favorite documentarian, Errol Morris, takes a look at what we know and what we think we know on some Fenton photographs from 1855.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dissolve to: September

I've been quiet on this blog this week, but there's actually a lot going on.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Life Through a Lens

As I hope to make a documentary on photographers in the near future (details soon), I've started watching all the photography-related docs I can. Last night's was Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens from the American Masters series. It was very good, and I enjoyed it, but I was left with two questions.

It's directed by Barbara Leibovitz. While the idea of a documentary Director with a connection to the film's subject is not uncommon at all -- think of Nathaniel Kahn in My Architect or Lucia Small in My Father, the Genius -- generally these are cases where the Director is "out" and obvious and often referenced in the film, amounting to a character in the drama.

Barbara is Annie's sister. While the documentary doesn't reference this, the PBS site about the film does:

Given unrestricted access, director Barbara Leibovitz spent a year documenting Annie Leibovitz at home and at work. "As her sister, I feel a serious responsibility not only to tell her story - but to tell it honestly," says Barbara Leibovitz, a writer, director and producer of award-winning documentaries. "It was a challenge, but I learned more about my sister than I ever imagined."
I'm not certain, though, that the audience did.

The implication that Leibovitz is our greatest living photographer goes unchallenged, with only Vicki Goldberg standing in to represent the art world, and tossing out two zingers in the midst of much fawning praise. I would love to have heard Leibovitz on the subject of where she thinks her work stands within the field.

While there are "honest" references to Leibovitz participating in the drug scene while following a Rolling Stones concert tour and eventually entering a rehab program, the tone of that section of the film is mild and vague. Do people enter rehab without major issues and problems? Does one imagine the specifics are known and could be told? Are we left dining at the children's table, unable to overhear the adults talking?

Is unrestricted access important if there are large questions left unaddressed in a film that purports to represent a person's life?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chris Marker Photographs

Over on my New York Portraits blog I've posted a link about seeing the Chris Marker: Staring Back exhibition in Chelsea. I'm hoping to write a bit about these images soon since -- as always -- I'm very interested in where documentary film and documentary photography intersect and overlap.

Photo Chick Update

Episode One of Photo Chick has climbed past 7,000 views and Episode Two is nearing 2,000 views. So the plan is to tape Episode Three on Friday. There's also material for a more documentary-style episode recorded, so you may be seeing that soon as well....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York Portraits

Over on my other blog -- New York Portraits -- I've been posting about my visit to the galleries in Chelsea. Of particular interest, from the standpoint of documentary, is the work of:

Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park

"For these photos, taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Mr. Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film, and flash to document the people who gathered there at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings."
Showing at Yossi Milo Gallery (525 West 25th Street) until October 20th.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Era of Dumb and Loud Continues

My post on Learning from YouTube was written early in the morning, before the story made its way to the "weird news" section of the news sites. Since then, of course, the story has shown up on, and become a subject for the commenters there.

Those of you with an interest in the divergence between facts and opinion in our current social model may want to take a look. Why is it we're reduced to stereotypes, loudly-voiced opinions that wouldn't hold up to facts found in the most basic google-search, and the lowest-common-denominator opinions of those suffering Internet Tough Guy Syndrome?

Any chance for a return to reasoned discourse in the forseeable future?

Friday, September 14, 2007

TOOTS is opening in New York

Kristi Jacobsen's "Toots" is opening today. She emailed:

"There are 16 films opening in New York this weekend and this little film with our modest advertising budget is going to depend almost exclusively on word-of-mouth. So, if you haven't made your plans to see TOOTS this weekend please get on the phone and invite some friends and they’ll be happy you did. Our biggest challenge is not getting people to enjoy the film, it's getting people to come to see it.
It is showing at:

THE QUAD 34 W. 13th St. (bet. 5th/6th)

CLEARVIEW CINEMA 1st Ave & 62nd St

and there is a Filmmaker Q&A Friday night and Saturday all shows at the Quad and Sunday all shows at Clearview. Follow these links for tickets and for more info:

Start with This One

Here's the "Intro to Learning from YouTube" video.

Learning from YouTube

Yes, I have made videos for YouTube presentation. And yes, I did attend the Claremont Colleges.

So I was entertained to see the news article SoCal college offers YouTube class.

CLAREMONT, Calif. - Here's a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.
Now, I happen to know that the teacher for the class, Alexandra Juhasz, is a very serious media scholar and a documentary maker as well. So, while the tone of the story is jokey, I'm sure it will actually be a very good media literacy course. You can visit the YouTube Group for the class and see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Honor to be Nominated and All That

Matt Gross emailed to let me know that Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip has been nominated as a finalist for Outstanding Use of Digital Media by the Online Newspaper Association.

New York, (September 11, 2007) – Finalists for the 8th annual Online Journalism Awards, honoring excellence in digital journalism, have been announced by the Online News Association and the USC Annenberg School for Communication.... The winners will be announced at the OJA Awards Banquet during the 8th annual national conference of the Online News Association, which will be held October 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Centre, Toronto.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

All Official Like

Well, my certificate from The New School arrived in the mail today. So, my brief time as a member of the first class in the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies program is officially at an end.

The envelope it arrived in said in large letters: DO NOT BEND. As with all my mailing needs, the U.S. Postal Service performed inadequately: the bottom of the envelope was bent, and the certificate had a slight crease in it. (After my previous mailing woes -- lost mail, never-received mail, never-sent mail, and completely-smushed mail -- I was just sort of grateful they hadn't set it on fire or put it through a blender and used it as confetti for a postal worker parade. It's the little things that count.)

I think that first class will prove to be a group you'll hear from again and again. Perhaps I'll post a "where are they now?" sometime soon....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Photography on Thursday Nights

It is time once again for my Seriously Fun Photography class. I'm flexible, though. You don't have to enjoy it if you don't want to.

It starts this Thursday, so register now....

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Forever is Opening

Heddy Honigmann's Forever is probably my favorite documentary I've seen in the last year. It will be opening in New York and then the rest of the country in the upcoming weeks. Go and see it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Photo Chick, Episode 2

The second episode of the Photo Chick series is posted.

Fashion Week Documentaries

If it turns out you aren't invited to any of the shows in the Bryant Park tents, are there any good documentaries to watch during New York Fashion Week?

Yes, there are. Here are three.

Notebook on Cities and Clothes



Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Or Could It Be the Poor Quality of the Product?

Is the Internet killing cinema?

"The Hollywood director, Ridley Scott, warned yesterday that new technology is killing off the big-screen experience. The Oscar-winning County Durham-born movie mogul said mobile phones and computers threatened movie-making on an epic scale.

He insisted that the best way to experience great film was still in a cinema with a big screen and state-of-the art acoustics."
To stories like this I say the same thing I have said to every "we're losing the old way!" story in the last 15 years: let it go.

Let it go. The 35-million-dollar-budget model of filmmaking needs a good thorough killing. More precisely, it needs something better to compete for the same resources. That's the only way art forms have ever developed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Running and Gunning

I've been discussing and thinking about the theory behind editing run-and-gun footage lately, so I really enjoyed David Bordwell's post on the use of that style in The Bourne Ultimatum and the other Bourne films.

In general, the run-and-gun look says, I’m realer than what you normally see. In the DVD supplement to Supremacy, “Keeping It Real,” the producers claimed that they hired Greengrass because they wanted a “documentary feel” for Bourne’s second outing. Greengrass in turn affirms that he wanted to shoot it “like a live event.” And he justifies it, as directors have been justifying camera flourishes and fast cutting for fifty years, as yielding “energy. When you get it, you get magic.”

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Frugal Reminiscence

There's a new Frugal Traveler up at The New York Times. (I didn't edit this one, though I'm hoping to do some future episodes.) Worth watching anyhow.

A Parallel of Sorts

One of the things the field of photography wrestled with as it became one of the key practices in art was a sort of reaction against professionalism.

That is, if you were a conceptual artist in the 1970s, it was likely you would describe yourself as "an artist using photography" or perhaps a "photo artist" rather than as a photographer. Photographers were interested in craft, and you, as an artist, would have been interested in ideas and the concerns of art. To a degree, since the piece you might create for a museum or gallery was likely about the ideas or evidence photographs held rather than their aesthetic quality, it became common practice to avoid being "slick" -- the photographs should be rough and unpolished, unconcerned with traditional technique.

A trip to the Guggenheim this weekend brought up a related question: as artists use more video in their work -- at times essentially documentary video -- can they have disdain for the "craft" of documentary making? Strangely, this isn't manifesting in a lack of technical quality -- a lot of artists are able to get high definition equipment and show the work on ultra-slick plasma monitors -- but in a disdain for giving the viewer any welcome to the work.

I walk up to the piece -- odds are in the middle and not the beginning -- and I have little clue as to whether it's 3 minutes or 2 hours in length. I have no clues, often, to how the video is related to the rest of the installation. And my hope that the artist might keep the traditional concern of documentary production for "watchability" in mind is quickly abandoned -- shots go on for long, unedited stretches, bad audio combines with unrevealing camera angles, and I struggle to make sense of what I'm seeing.

It's notable that today few artists using photography feel they can present unpolished images. Will artists using video make that same leap? Should they?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New Gig

I've started teaching a video editing class at Bronx Community College. I'm really happy about it -- there's a very good program in place, and it's part of the C.U.N.Y. system.

I'm keeping the old gigs, of course.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Time Has Not Stopped

Time has not stopped in its tracks -- I've just been slow to post for the last week.

A few reasons: new gig, old gigs, revamping for Fall.

All will be detailed soon.....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Shoutouts

Our friends at Inkaland have returned from their documentary shoot in Peru.

Our friends in Toronto are tracking the Toronto International Film Festival.

Our Poverty Jetset pals are shooting a demolition derby in the Poconos.

And our California friends have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stills and Video

My other blog, New York Portraits, turns one today, and I've been thinking about the significant differences between still and moving images.

As with color and black and white photography, there is a tendency for people to think one is a limited form. Technical limitations meant photographers could produce black-and-white imagery before color was possible, so it's easy for us to believe color photography is in some way a more advanced form. The fact, however, is that it simply works differently. Comprehending those differences can require a subtle and complicated visual literacy, but that's fine.

Similar ideas come up when we consider still versus video work, and we're now at the point where the two "compete" in the same arena: the Web. The early Web could support still images, but not video, and now for most people either will work fine. So the question arises: what does each form do well, and why wouldn't I simply want video for everything?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rewatching and Rehearing

In general, if you make video work you get better at it over time. It's a slower improvement than in a field like photography -- where sometimes you go from little understanding to a high level of seeing in just a matter of weeks. Still, over time you get better at understanding why something works or doesn't work, and your ideas on how to cut become more refined.

Well, I recently had to watch a number of older pieces I made (I was assembling them for a portfolio) and went through the experience of re-thinking each cut as I watched them. It's not an easy process.

The biggest surprise was that I've learned a lot about audio continuity in the last year -- and that was the main thing I thought the older pieces lacked. The idea of how sound lets us orient ourselves in an imagined place and how each soundscape can flow into the next is something I had not always been thinking about. I think I still have a lot to learn about it, so I'm looking for ways to practice that set of skills....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Best Books on Editing Theory

I've had a few conversations about editing theory lately, and always I point to the three books by or about Walter Murch as great background material. To me, these are the closest most of us will get to watching over the shoulder of someone like Murch -- an expert practioner and a brilliant theorist.

And all three books are entertaining, as well....

In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema, First Edition

Friday, August 10, 2007

Late Friday Afternoon Corrections

Previously we announced that our short film Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing would travel to Kosovo in August for Dokufest. Apparently this did not work out and the film is not showing there. Ah well, perhaps next year.

New Posts at Inkaland

Profluence member Maya and CFoA (Certified Friend of Actualities) Chris have continued writing on their documentary trip to Peru at Inkaland.

The National Film Challenge

The National Film Challenge has just announced its competition weekend will be October 19-22, 2007. What is it? It's "a timed filmmaking competition where filmmaking teams have just one weekend to make a short film." Sounds great to me.

I don't think I'll be able to take part, though. First, I'm certain I'd draw the "musical" genre, and second I may have something going that weekend....

I do see, however, that The International Documentary Challenge has been scheduled for March 6-10, 2008. Perhaps I should put that on the calendar....

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Over on New York Portraits I'm documenting my participation in the Spin 3: Txt Me L8r exhibition at Houston Center for Photography. The short version: the museum sends text messages to the artists in the show, and then we respond and send in cell phone photographs. These are posted on a Flickr site, and then will be projected in the museum.

It's been fun so far:

assignment one
assignment two
assignment three
assignment three, part two
assignment four

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I Did With My Summer Vacation, Part Two

Well, the 12-week run of the Frugal Traveler's trip from New York to Seattle has come to an end. Here are the Frugal Traveler episodes I edited this summer.

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 1: Maryland and North Carolina) 3:07
May 23, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 2: Armuchee, Georgia) 4:14
May 30, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 3: Nashville, Tennessee) 4:39
June 6, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 4: Columbus, Indiana) 4:28
June 13, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 5: West Lima, Wisconsin) 4:36
June 20, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 6: South Dakota & Nebraska) 5:04
June 27, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 7: Greensburg, Kansas) 5:26
July 4, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 8: Austin, Texas) 5:05
July 11, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 9: Columbus, New Mexico) 4:29
July 18, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 10: Fort Collins, Colorado) 4:57
July 25, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 12: Newport, Oregon) 5:28
August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why is Audio So Hard? Five Audio Tips

In low-budget video production -- sometimes even in medium-budget work -- the biggest problems usually come from audio issues. Here are a couple of quick ideas on how to avoid an audio crisis in small-crew video production:

1. Proximity Problems
No on-camera mic is great at a distance from your subject. While you can often get a better visual by backing up, keep in mind that a great visual of an interview without clear audio is not usable. If there's doubt about what you are getting, get closer with the camera and get the microphone in close.

2. Background Noise
Keep in mind that even background sounds which don't overwhelm or distract from your subject's voice can cause problems. If you are cutting together a few short phrases from a longer statement -- common practice in short video -- the background sounds can make this very difficult. Wear headphones that cover your ears and you'll hear these background problems before you record them.

3. Directionality problems
A shotgun microphone -- either on a camcorder or on a boom pole -- is a great solution for this kind of work. But it introduces a new problem: directionality. If we have two people speaking, it is very easy to have the microphone pointed at one and not the other, and we end up with one subject sounding great and the other weak. Or, if a shotgun is on camera, you may have audio levels go up and down as the camera changes where it is pointed. If you are going to use a microphone on a boom, practice with it -- wear some headphones and try it on a few live conversations.

4. The Two-Level Trick
In documentary-style production, situations often change very quickly. You might set a level and then realize the everything has gotten quieter or louder. Or the sounds you want might vary greatly. One excellent trick is to record onto to channels or two separate sources and set the levels differently. For example, say we had a boom microphone going into the camcorder and had set that level to our best guess. You could also record into another source -- another camera or a field recorder or anything you can get your hands on -- taking the same signal but setting a higher or lower level. So, if we imagine a situation where most of the audio is fine but our subject screamed a few times and became too loud and distorted --we could be saved by a second recorder set at a lower level. We'd just find and drop in the lower-level audio in that section.

5. Would You Repeat That?
There are a lot of ethical choices involved in documentary filmmaking. One that most people get past quickly is leaving the subject alone entirely. So, if after three days of following a subject around, they finally say something central to the story and a car horn honks in the background, consider asking them to repeat it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

In Production

On Friday we shot Episode Two of the Photo Chick project.

Note that this is very straightforward, ultra-low-budget production, since that is all that's really needed: borrow an office, move the desks out, set up and shoot.

Big soft boxes? Nope -- point some hot lights through a diffuser. Fancy set? Nope -- some black board. Boom mic? Nope, Lavalier Microphone.
Crew? Nope: point the camera and tape.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

This Just In

Some news on the proposed new rules on photography (and videography, and cinematography) in New York:

"August 3, 2007 - Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (MOFTB) Commissioner Katherine Oliver today announced that MOFTB will redraft proposed Charter-mandated rules for issuing permits to film or photograph on public property. The revision of the rules will take into account feedback MOFTB has received over the past two months. Public comment, which is scheduled to end today, will be re-opened for another 30-day period after the redrafted rules are published."
As before, my advice is that online petitions, videos protesting the rules, etc. all have their place. Your best bet, however, if you are concerned about the issue, is to write:
The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting 1697 Broadway Suite 602, New York, New York 10019

Friday, August 03, 2007

On my Other Blog

Over on New York Portraits:

The Quest for Shirley begins, as does the Txt Me L8r exhibition in Houston.

New Episode of Photo Chick

I've been helping with the new "Photo Chick" series. Episode One is posted, and we're shooting Episode Two today. The idea is that it will be a series of 3-minute videoblogs, usually containing photography tips but perhaps also addressing other aspects of the field. I expect the show will also go outside the studio once in a while for more of a documentary approach.

This first episode was a sort of "shake down cruise" -- finding out what works and what doesn't. We've learned a few things we'll apply to future episodes. For example, I think the idea of cutting from wide shot to closer shot is fine, but both cameras should use direct eye contact. As well, the process we used ended up a touch darker than I'd like by the time it made it though the encoding to YouTube, so we'll light the next one for more separation from the background.

We'll see how it progresses....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Editing Notes on the Latest Frugal Traveler

When I was a kid, there was a craze for obstacle courses.

No, really, that's not totally made up -- there was. In 1973 ABC started broadcasting a show called "The Superstars," which had athletes from different fields compete in a series of athletic events, ending in an obstacle course. That show then spawned "Battle of the Network Stars" in 1976, also ending in an obstacle course.

I'm thinking of that now because Tuesday night's editing process for the Frugal Traveler was a bit of an obstacle course: no one element was insurmountable, but each element was a significant challenge -- and I was exhausted by the end. Usually the way these edits go is that the overall video has several sections that cut easily, but one or two that have some real challenge to them -- editing problems. These might be based on any number of issues, and you generally either delve into the logic of a particular section deep enough to understand how it can work well, or you make some compromise and get it to at least function and not derail the piece altogether.

The latest video, however, was nothing but editing problems. It's surprising, because the material was good, shot well, and there was a lot of coverage of angles and events. On the surface it seemed like it would be simple to put together. It's a fairly straightforward piece. There's some driving at the beginning, then some hiking, then some cooking and resting, then more hiking, and eventually a parody of a "showdown" sequence in the style of a Western. The surprise was that each section really required a lot of delving and some sort of a fix -- nothing cut easily.

So I spent a long night with a lot of editing questions. Here are a few issues for consideration....

1. One that was easily solved: you want to show hikers moving along through the wilds. You have a series of shots, all set up well with the camera on a tripod, and these include time before the hikers enter, then the hikers entrance, and the long progression through the space and eventually exiting the frame. How do cut these together? Well, if one was making a 6-hour video, you would start each shot before the hikers enter the frame, watch them go all the way through and exit the frame. That's way too long, of course, so the question becomes: how do you cut the short version? How can you compress the time but make it feel continuous? What I liked best: each shot starts before the hikers' entrance, they get into the frame (usually to the middle) and you cut to the next shot -- just before the hikers' entrance in that shot. Simple. Audio helps determine exactly what frame to cut on, as we realize it isn't realtime continuity but continuity of action. Audio that seems "live" from shot to shot also helps with the feel of that continuity.

2. Another, a bit harder to solve: compressing the time of a cooking segment with limited shots. If one had a long shot or shots of someone going through a cooking process, you could easily compress them if cutaways existed. That is, now I break the egg in the pan, cut to audience reaction, back to cooking egg in pan, reaction, etc. That way a process can be greatly accelerated without too much confusion. But, without much in the way of cutaways, the key for this piece was to look for shots that were significantly different from the previous shot -- that is, don't cut from boiling broth to stirring eggs, as the shots are somewhat similar, but do cut from adding an ingredient to a wide shot of the cooking location back to the next step in the cooking process...

3. A pretty typical strategy in videos with music is to bring in music at full volume, then ramp it down over 1 - 3 seconds, just as or just before someone is going to speak, then ramp it back up after they speak. Fade out at the end. But sometimes, for one reason or another, you have to get out of a musical segment quickly. You can't just cut music abruptly -- it sounds very unnatural to our ears, since we hear music in a physical space and even if you clicked a radio off there would still be some reverberation of the sound. So the trick in this piece was to emphasize that further. I needed to get from the Western-style music to a shot with live sound / sound FX and a fade out of the music would not have made sense. An abrupt cut of it couldn't work. So, the answer was to find where I would "click the radio off" and then take that clip -- cut on that frame -- into an audio editing program and add a ton of reverb to it. Then, export the clip that has the sound of the reverberation and add it to the edit. The effect is as if you turned the radio off abruptly but the live space you were in let it reverberate. It makes sense in the piece and lets us transition to the "drama" of the blowing wind as the two characters face off....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Episode of Frugal Traveler

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Depth of Field for Videographers

Students of photography spend a lot of time learning about "depth of field," but for most people shooting video it's a bit of a mystery. (Note: I prefer the term "depth of focus" as more accurate and useful, but since it is used less often, I'll go with "depth of field" for this post.)

In part, this is a matter of practicality: while one can easily use depth-of-field techniques with a 35mm camera, most DV camcorders have sensors smaller than a piece of 35mm film and are generally shot at the wide end of the lens -- two conditions that end up creating deep focus. This means that in your typical "stand a few feet away from the subject" setup used by small-crew and solo documentarians and video bloggers, your subject is in focus and so is the background.

That's fine, but for greater control, experiment with this:

1. If your camcorder allows it, set your aperture on the F-stop with the lowest number. That is, the end of the aperture scale that is F1.4, F2, F2.8, or F4.
2. Now zoom in. That is, use the long focal lengths your lens provides -- as if you were trying to bring a distant subject closer.
3. Now you'll have to stand further from your subject to frame them the way you want -- for example a "head and shoulders" shot.
4. Consider how you can solve the audio problem this may create -- if you are working with a crew, a boom microphone would be great, or you can use a radio-transmitting microphone, or a clip on microphone with a long cable.
When you try this setup -- or a more refined version where you set up a subject at the near end of a room and shoot into the room to create depth -- you will discover you are able to get your subject in sharp focus and to throw the background out of focus. That effect can work very well to control your audience's attention, and to emphasize your subject over their environment or background.

It can make for a very creative and beautiful shot -- so try it out.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On the "New Rules" and Changing Them

As pointed out by CFoA (Certified Friend of Actualities) Ryan Gallagher there is an e-petition relating to proposed new regulations on photography and filming in New York located here.

In general, I resist online petitions. They are less effective than letter writing. Often, they are written in a way that is overly rhetorical. As well, they make us feel we have taken a stand on an issue when we've taken minimal action.

Nonetheless, since I agree with the spirit of this protest -- that we should resist the erosion of our freedoms in general, and that the First Amendment protects photography and filmmaking both in public and in private -- I have signed the petition.

The New York Times article on this states:

The new rules, which were proposed by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a public place for more than 30 minutes to get a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment. The permits would be free.
I encourage you to research the issue, of course. When you have, or if the above is scary enough for you, WRITE a letter -- on paper, signed and with your return address on it, using enough postage -- and send it to:
The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting
1697 Broadway Suite 602, New York, New York 10019
I assure you that -- as sexy as Web petitioning is -- written letters are weighted much, much, much more heavily by those in public office. They require time to deal with, and are much harder to ignore.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

First Amendment Rally

Shooting video for a project, I went to a First Amendment rally in Union Square. The key issue: proposed new regulations on photography in New York. More on this soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Round Up The Usual Suspects

The Guardian has a very interesting piece by Ian Jack: "The documentary has always been a confection based on lies":

The 1990s saw a succession of controversies about invention in documentaries - Driving School, The Clampers, The Connection (in which drug runners weren't in fact running drugs) - which produced the same kind of hand-wringing, if not quite the quantity of it, that this month overtook the BBC.

According to Michael Grade, too many young people in television have "not been trained properly, they don't understand that you do not lie to audiences at any time, in any show".The BBC's director-general says it must "never deceive the public". But the documentary is a confection and often built on a series of small lies.
Well worth a read.

Personally, I'm not bothered when someone disputes that either documentary or photography can deliver "truth." I do kinda resent the "confection" bit, however.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip, Week 10

I've really enjoyed editing the Frugal Traveler episodes this summer.

This was week 10 of 12. Each short piece, so far, has offered a different editing challenge, stretching my abilities and my understanding. And all have been done under time pressure. It's been a really great class in real-world documentary production.

So what have I learned? Well, a lot about pacing. When I started this series, my tendency was to strip the edit down as much as possible -- to get from here to there without "wasting" time. The first discovery, for me, was that loosening the pace just a bit as one action completes and another starts may give the audience a chance to experience and feel -- and is usually worthwhile time.

This week's episode forced me to think about that further, and you'll notice several moments that read as a chance for the main character to reflect on his situation. By extension, we (as audience) may experience this reflection as well, if we choose to....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 10: Fort Collins, Colorado) 4:57
July 25, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Errol Morris On Photography

My favorite documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris, blogging about the nature of photography:

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words. But a picture unaccompanied by words may not mean anything at all. Do pictures provide evidence? And if so, evidence of what? And, of course, the underlying question: do they tell the truth?
(Please note: the link goes to a "Times Select" feature.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Live From Peru

Profluence Productions member Maya is posting about her documentary filmmaking trip to Peru over at Inkaland.

"with 2 tapes of good material and 2 stomachs full of papas and cuy, we headed back to the highway to find a collectivo to take us home. many other people were there to do the same thing and there was nothing in sight. there's a lot of dust in this country. there's a fine layer of it on everything. it lines your nose and coats your mouth. it gets kicked up by buses and so we sat there gathering dust and the sun began toasting the tops of our heads and still nothing was coming along the road."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

News Flash

I've posted a photo from my recent wedding over on New York Portraits.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


CFoA (Certified Friend of Actualities) haikugirl has given this blog a very nice shout out. (Since our goal is to gain RSS subscribers and blog readers, that's a very good thing.) After blushing, I wrote a haiku about it:

looking at the Web
recognize my own name's shape
immodest nature
Then again, perhaps writing in verse isn't necessarily the best way to extend our reach. If it turns out to be popular, however, be prepared for future posts in iambic pentameter....


CFoA (Certified Friend of Actualities) Chris has posted an account of his ongoing documentary trip to Peru at Inkaland.

"There´s been some turmoil here the last few days. There´s a teachers´ strike, which doesn´t sound very intimidating, but these maestros mean business. The taxis and public transport struck in solidarity with them on Wed, so when we flew into Cusco, there was no taxi-to-the-bus-to-OTT like we planned - we had to just stay in Cusco for the night and hope the next day was better. We sat in our rooms mostly, cause we´d just climbed up to 12,000 feet and our heads were light."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Frugal Flier Miles

Came home from New Hampshire on a train. Arrived at 2 a.m. in Penn Station, took a cab home.

Immediately started downloading files.

That's because Tuesday is my Frugal Traveler editing day....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 9: Columbus, New Mexico) 4:29
July 18, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cutting (to the) Chase

I'm a big believer in learning-by-doing, so in the face-to-face video classes I've taught, I have a few custom projects I give that I think are very valuable. (The online classes I teach are usually more regimented in syllabus and lessons -- they are also good classes, but the course material is more locked-in and there isn't time for this type of assignment.)

The project almost everyone learns a good deal from involves cutting a chase sequence. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but it really gets people engaged in understanding the connection between editing and understanding -- the fact that every editing choice should be based in a deep understanding of how we comprehend what we see.

The actual project is much more direct: the goal is usually a 90-second chase video. There is some type of scenario set up -- for example, an action that motivates the chase or just the appearance of the characters -- then a chase begins.

That really sounds like the dumbest possible scenario, but here's how we proceed: we start by watching scenes from a range of chase films and trying to understand the visual systems at work in those. For example:

The French Connection

In the midst of that immersion, we start to get the traditional techniques. For example:
Use a landmark, so when we show one character go past it and later another we will have a sense of how far apart they are.

Frame a shot with the escapee and the pursuer together so that one is perceived to be gaining on or receding from the other.

Build up a language of looking out of the frame and then revealing a point-of-view shot. This lets us use reactions from the character in the chase language.

Use a directional language, based on screen motion left-to-right or right-to-left, then develop a technique for "turning around" the screen motion when needed.

Find ways of using shots that communicate speed -- for example, a camera close to the road.

From what they've learned, each small team of students (usually four works well) storyboards their own chase, and then they tape it.

Generally, the basics go very easily (and it can be quite rewarding to see these come together) but for almost every project an interesting thing happens: there is almost always one point where something went wrong, and a crucial shot can't be used or just won't work. Having to solve this problem -- which can range from easy to very tough -- brings out some serious thinking about editing and how to reconsider / rethink a project in the last stages of the process.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Working Vacation

I found I could get wireless right up to the edge of the lake.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ted's Ten Ideas on Editing

I've read a lot on editing, and I've never been completely happy with how the basic concepts are explained. So, in an effort to open up some practical discussion, I'm publishing my "Ten Ideas" on editing. This list comes out of traditional notions to a degree –– for example, from the writing of Walter Murch and others -- but is really meant to function as a checklist.

That is, this list is meant as to work as background to the question "does this cut work or not, and why?"

10 Editing "Checks"
by Ted Fisher

At each edit in a work, an editor should consider the following checklist. Not every edit can fulfill each "check," so part of the editor's job is to weigh the importance of each concern and decide what "works."


1. New information
The main concern at any single cut, if one is really going to use the language of moving images, is that the cut give the viewer new information. Otherwise, why cut?

2. 3-D Continuity (Matching)
To create a believable action, a cut must "match." That is, if one cuts from a wide shot of a baseball pitcher to a close up during a pitch, the position of the throwing arm at the cut must "match" between the two shots, even if the shots are filmed months apart.

3. 2-D Continuity (Eye Trace)
No one takes in a frame all at once; the eye moves around the screen. Take this attention into account when making a cut -- one may wish to cut so that the focus of attention is at the same place on the screen, or at a different place, moving the same direction or moving in opposition, depending on the effect desired.

4. Composition
It is generally less jarring to the eye and brain when a cut is made from a well-composed shot to a well-composed shot.

5. Camera Angle
It usually helps if one is cutting to a camera angle that is different enough from the current one so as to be easily understood as a new shot; also it is generally better to cut from a good camera angle to a good camera angle rather than when at a "messier" point in a shot.

6. Audio
Cut in such a way that visuals work with audio and vice versa. Also, maintain sensible audio continuity (e.g., if we cut from a shot inside a speeding car to a close up of a helicopter following it, the audio may need to change with the cut based on where we "are" in relation to the sources of sounds).

THE "R.E.S.T."

7. Rhythm
We can set up "expectations" in a viewers mind by setting up a rhythm; this can also mean making edits work with the beat of a piece of music or with a certain pace of action.

8. Emotion
If a character is in a certain state of mind, editing may reflect their perception, or if the viewer is expected to feel a certain way then editing may amplify that state of mind, sometimes purposefully breaking the "rules" of the six continuity checks. For example, it may make sense to cut a fight scene in a discontinous manner.

9. Story
Each edit ultimately serves the telling of a story; the idea here is that one may cut on a certain frame or to a certain shot to serve that story rather than the conventional continuity concerns.

10. Timing
Sometimes an edit is motivated by that intangible idea of timing -- the point where it just feels right.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Few Notes on One-Person Documentary Production

My friend emailed a question asking for ideas on producing the "one-person-crew" documentary. I sent back a few ideas, so I'm sharing them here. Note that these are not absolutes, just a few guidelines and concepts....

1. At each location, shoot:
a. a 60 second take of atmospheric sound or "room tone"
b. a wide establishing shot
c . a medium establishing shot
d. a closeup, generally signage
e. some shots of the subject entering the place and walking around the place
f. some shots of the subject standing in the place, as if you were saying, "and then I met this guy"

2. set up an interview:
a. with sound being the most important aspect
b. shoot cutaways of something -- hands moving, whatever -- so you can chop up interview bits
c. don't cut off the end of an interview segment -- keep rolling
d. with depth -- look at the space, set up so you can use its greatest dimension, then get your subject near the camera and anything significant far back but in the frame

3. get material that gets us from here to there -- traveling footage is the easiest material to gather

4. use a tripod when possible, or lock your standing position

5. when moving, only pan or move the camera if you have a plan for where it is going. do not "pan to nowhere"

6. think in terms of gathering a beginning and ending action / shot. that is all you are searching for -- you'll find plenty of middle

7. think in terms of needing a shot that shows one state visually that will be paired with something that reveals change visually at the end. what do we see at the beginning that we can show totally changed at the end?

8. use the camera for revealing. every shot should reveal. Here is this, here is this, the camera moves around the corner and we see this, this guy steps in the frame and we see this, this thing moves out of the way and we see this. reveal.

9. don't bother thinking wide / medium / closeup. Look at the shot you just took, and now get one that is significantly different -- different angle and different composition and different scale

10. consider early whether you are using voiceover or not, and if you are a character of not. if not, then you have to cover all the things that tell us what is happening, what just happened, and what is at stake while you are shooting.

The Weirdest Person, Place or Thing in Austin, Texas

Editing this week's episode of the "Frugal Traveler" touched on an issue very close to my heart: comedy is hard. I think there are several very nice moments in this week's piece, and some parts that I find funny, but I'm well aware that humor is a very elusive, hard-to-understand thing.

The basic idea of editing, of film production in general, is about creating an experience for a viewer. Still, I've seen the exact same film provoke different audience reactions from night to night, so I'm very aware this is a slippery task. It may be that a measure of success is if the audience laughs in the right places....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 8: Austin, Texas) 5:05
July 11, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 7: Greensburg, Kansas) 5:26
July 4, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What I Did With My Summer Vacation

Well, the 12-week run of the Frugal Traveler's road trip is at the half way point. Here are the Frugal Traveler episodes I've edited this summer, so far...

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 1: Maryland and North Carolina) 3:07
May 23, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 2: Armuchee, Georgia) 4:14
May 30, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 3: Nashville, Tennessee) 4:39
June 6, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 4: Columbus, Indiana) 4:28
June 13, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 5: West Lima, Wisconsin) 4:36
June 20, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 6: South Dakota & Nebraska) 5:04
June 27, 2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Process

Started shooting a new summer documentary project this week, though it will be a while before it takes focus....

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FT: Week 5

If it's Wednesday, this must be West Lima, Wisconsin.

Among the ideas learned in this week's "Frugal Traveler" edit: the importance of 500 Hz. The audio on the original interviews was quite problematic (I'm not certain if there was a problem with the camera or a setting or that's just the nature of that camera under certain conditions) with little or no bass in the voices. I used a three-band equalizer on these, but it turned out my first instinct -- boosting the 80 Hz frequency -- had little effect. After a lot of trial and error, boosting 500 Hz as far as it would go returned the voices to a more normal sound.

As always, with only one day (less really) to edit a 4:36 piece, there are some things I see now that I'd like to go back and refine. First draft of the cut was over five minutes, so the last part of the process was trimming down about 30 seconds of material. With enough time and coffee, probably another 15 seconds could be taken out, and there are a few edit points that could be made more precise.

I've always loved the way Walter Murch describes standing while he edits, and hitting certain by edit points "by feel" until he hits the same point repeatedly, then deciding that must be the right instant. Over time, of course, I've come to realize that's terrible advice, sort of like some great baseball batter advising one to swing at the right time....

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Frugal Cutting, Week 4

It's Wednesday, so here is the next episode of the Frugal Traveler. Week 4 is "Columbus, Indiana."

In the end it is a straightforward cut, but in the process there were some interesting editing questions. For example, there is a shot of a kid on a rope swing. He starts from standing, jumps up on the rope, swings toward us, then away. The end of the shot went out of focus and wasn't usable, so the cut is based on screen position -- when he hits a point that puts him in relatively the same position as where you would look in the next shot, I cut.

Does that work, or not? The old editing maxim was "motion to motion, still to still" so in a traditional view it doesn't -- he should finish the swing, then we can cut to the next non-motion shot, or the next shot should be motion also. Of course, with documentary materials this is the type of problem that comes up all the time, since there is often only one take available -- and it's needed for the story....

Friday, June 08, 2007

Last Night of "Truth Be Told"


Bowery Scenes by Tina Grapenthin

A Flower for Lisa by Tijana Petrovic

Lee Feldman, Lee Feldman by Maya Mumma

Getting Back by Anthony Weeks

Florent by Laura van Schendel

There was a reception after, then the After Party at Fiddlesticks and then on to Art Bar. Art Bar makes a good Negroni (1 oz Gin, 1 oz Campari, 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth).

Third Night of "Truth Be Told"


Notebook on Santas and Elves by Ted Fisher

Met Pool by Meredith L. Patten

Moving House by Andrea Nugent

820 Classon by Nihal Ataman

Best question I received at the Question-and-Answer session: Why is the film in the "Second Person"? I answered, but thought of a better answer until later: "Because you think it should be."

After Party: Spain, but I didn't get to go. Rushed home to edit....

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Second Night of "Truth Be Told"


Woman With Cats by Erin Clarke

Reinventing Ellen by Elisabeth Walter

These Simple Acts by Courtney Coulson

Double the Pleasure...Eight Times the Therapy by Linda Goldman

After Party: White Horse Tavern.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Frugal Traveler goes to Nashville

New Frugal Traveler posted.

I edited until 6 p.m., then ran to the screening of my film (will post about that soon) then back home to finalize the edit and post it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

First Night of "Truth Be Told"


Krumbs by Margaret Galbraith

Shadows of Guilt by Dana Bartle

Hearts Suspended by Meghna Damani

in/sight by Jennifer Jones

Nice Question-and-Answer session with the subjects of the films. Most importantly: after party was at Il Buco.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Truth Be Told Documentary Film Festival

Truth Be Told: Documentary Film Festival
Sunday–Wednesday, June 3–6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. screenings.
The New School, Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street, ground floor. Admission: Free. Reception following screening on Wednesday, June 6.

The New School’s Documentary Media Studies Program presents four evenings of short documentaries. The inaugural class’s final work from the program, these films are the product of a year of intensive work in documentary production, history, and theory.

Sunday, June 3—Truth Be Told: Against the Odds
Whether starting a baked-goods business on a street corner in Brooklyn or starting a new life outside of the walls of maximum-security prison, the individuals profiled in tonight’s films have overcome or are facing tremendous challenge.

Monday, June 4—Truth Be Told: Who Are You?
How does your identity form when you are born as a twin? How do your profession, your daily rituals, or your hobbies contribute to who you are? These films address the basic, profound question of human identity.

Tuesday, June 5—Truth Be Told: Citywide
From Williamsburg to Queens to the Upper West Side, New York inhabitants explored.

Wednesday, June 6—Truth Be Told: The Journey
A man is on a difficult path to recovery. A neighborhood changes. Careers and businesses rise and fall. We are all on a journey.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Video for The Frugal Traveler

The Week 2: Armuchee, Georgia episode of The Frugal Traveler is now online at The New York Times.

This was a challenging edit for a number of reasons, and as always editing a project in one day leaves little imperfections easily fixed later -- except there is no later to rely on. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying the process, and really learning a lot by doing it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Weather in Kosovo in August

Just received an email that our short film Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing will travel to Kosovo in August for Dokufest.

Doug Whyte, Producer of The International Documentary Challenge, sent a note explaining that the IDC Finalists Showcase will be shown there. Details soon....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Frugality, Part One

I spent yesterday cutting Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip.

It was a fun experience, and you really learn a lot editing on a tight deadline. More on the experience in future weeks: there are eleven more of these scheduled....

Monday, May 21, 2007

At Joe's on a Wednesday Morning

Dana, Linda, Ted. (Photo by Laura Van Schendel.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Nightline, Finally

Nightline finally ran the news story I'm in.

The video:
is here.

The article:
is here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nightline Update

I'm told the Nightline segment has been moved to Monday night.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

You'll Be Out Then, But Nonetheless

While you are out Friday night having fun, Ted will be appearing in a taped segment of Nightline about digital technology's effect on the family album. Ask the bartender to change the channel to ABC about 11:52 p.m. or so to see if he says anything embarrassing.

As always, as someone who makes documentaries, it is very informative to be a subject on the other side of the camera. Although, really, it was about as you'd expect. They set up a light, got me in the right place, put a microphone on me, changed the chair I sat in, got the correspondent into her spot, then shot. At the end they took a lot of cutaways. Nothing out of the ordinary, just good basic newsgathering.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Honigman's Forever

For me, the viewing highlight of HotDocs was Heddy Honigmann's Forever.

As well, it was great that, despite an announcement that she was exhausted and unable to come to the screening, she dragged herself in at the end to take questions from the audience.

The film centers on Père Lachaise Cemetary and the visitors who come to it to connect to the artists, writers and musicians who are buried there. (Despite a few joking references to "Jim," the film avoids Morrison's grave, instead finding its subjects in the fans of Chopin, Modigliani, et al.)

I would love to see this again, since it is one of the best viewing experiences I've had all year, but also to try to understand its structure. The material of the film is amazing, but the real achievement here is how to make a film that takes place in a cemetary -- with a few side trips into the lives of the cemetary visitors -- into a compelling story that moves toward a satisfying ending.

I often claim that the reason I'm interested in Documentary film is that the material is essentially richer than fiction -- and I think this film may work as Exhibit A for that argument.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

IDC Awards Announced

The awards for the International Documentary Challenge have been announced:

Best Use of Character Study Genre
"Getting Eve Off"
Team TED
Missoula, Montana, USA

Best Use of Sports Genre
"Unfettering the Falcons"
Team Kissel-Volmer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Best Use of Social Issue/Political Genre
"Begging For Grace"
Team: Sawbuck Productions
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Best Use of Experimental Genre
"Yesterday's News"
Team: Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Best Use of Art Genre
"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA

Best Use of 1st Person Genre
"Here and There"
Team: Yumiao
Boulder, Colorado, USA

Best Use of Nature Genre
"Our Lady of the Horses"
Team: Gemini
Los Angeles, California, USA

Best Use of Historical Genre
Team: Black & Blue
Los Angeles, California, USA

Best Use of Music Genre
"All Wrapped in One"
Team: DaTribe
La Mirada, California, USA

Best Use of Time/Date Stamp
"Getting Eve Off"
Team: TED
Missoula, Montana, USA
Genre: Character Study

Best Use of "Faith" Theme
"Marathon Women"
Team: haikugirl
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Original Song
"Yesterday's News" from Yesterday's News
by Betsy MacDonald
Team Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Soundtrack
"Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing"
New School Doc Certificate Team
New York, New York, USA
Genre: Social Issue/Political

Best Writing
"Yesterday's News"
Team: Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Cinematography
"In Your Faith"
Team Nexus
Kyoto, Japan
Genre: Character Study

Best Editing
"Outside the Box"
Team: 72hundred
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre: Sports

Best Directing
"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA
Genre: Art

IDC Original Vision Award
"Unfettering the Falcons"
Team Kissel-Volmer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Genre: Sports

"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA
Genre: Art