My recent experience directing and producing my first long form doc has taught me a couple of other things about editing- aside from it being difficult- and raised a couple of questions that I still can't quite answer, perhaps some of you can.
And just because I'm trying to be social medially active, I'll blog about it.

1. Time away from the edit is beneficial.
The next time I build an edit schedule, I would like to include time away from the cut after every "deadline". Like 3 weeks between each. It might be a little tricky , with people depending on salaries, funder's timeline, etc- but the film and the people seem to both benefit significantly.
It's ironic that when we approached shooting the film, we never would have dreamed of saying "let's shoot this every day for the next six months straight." But when we envision the edit, we , for some reason, want to just plow through it and are expected to just go straight through- week in, week out (funding dependent) until the thing is done.
While we were shooting, the time between shoots was vital. We viewed footage, made adjustments, and it influenced how we went forward. Just blazing through a 6 month edit of something that took 2 or 3 years to shoot seems counter-intuitive. And had it not been for lack of money we may have done just that. But we had two separate "breaks" because of money- and another happening right now- and the film has benefitted tremendously. C'mon industry, let's make edit "breaks" the standard!

2.How to resist the urge to cut it ya damn self.
I love my editor. She's been fantastic. But man it is hard to sit in that chair behind the edit chair. It's like being at Subway and trying to tell them how to make your sandwich- yes, I said hot peppers but not like that. In the age of Final Cut Pro on your laptop and HD cameras on your phone, and being part of a generation that speaks tech, I wonder if you lose some ability to communicate what it is you want without sitting at the controls, (or behind the camera for that matter). Somewhere along the line, either I didn't learn, or lost the skill to communicate effectively to another person how I would like them to use their tools to make the delicious sandwich I want. Or maybe I'm just a weird control freak. Doubting that, but hey, could be. Either way, I can't be alone. Somebody lend some advice, please?

3. Size matters... and so does length
Finally, I've learned this. No matter how good I might think my footage is, how compelling the story or stories might be, how wonderful that montage set to Philip Glass is, it's probably too long. That has been a frustrating realization. But it's probably true. Even when you think the size is just right, it's probably too freakin' long. Even when you've cut out that thing that killed you to cut out, it's probably too long. Maybe it's a result of a short attention span culture. But no matter. It's probably too long.
Think about it...when's the last time you were in a theater or watching a film on television- a film you thoroughly enjoyed- and after it went off, you thought to yourself: "Man, that was excellent! Unfortunately, it was just too short." Never. You've never said that. Nobody has. Ever. In the history of movies. We've said the opposite. "It was really great. Coulda done without those twenty minutes in the middle, but it was good."
So, there's that.
I'm going to stop writing now. This post is probably too long.

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Comment by Van Dora Williams on September 13, 2010 at 5:15pm
I truly understand your dilemma. The time away from editing is very important. Getting a fresh look at the footage is important to the process. However, since you do have to pay attention to funding and deadlines, I find that having a few people (not tied to the project) view the rough edit and give comments is very beneficial.

Now about your second point. It is a common problem especially with producers who are editors as well. Sometimes you will have to bite your tongue and sit on your hands and let the editor's creativity come through. You can always go back and change things before you begin the online editing process. It's definitely an acquired skill and I find that my students (digital natives) have the same problem when trying to communicate verbally and visually. Keep working at it. It hasn't been so difficult for me because I come from a news background. I always had to have a script written before I am allowed into the editing suites. That training has helped me to manage footage and story lines well.

And about your third point, you are correct. Cutting out your favorite shots or a sound bite you think is great is part of the whole process. So it sounds like you are well on your way finishing the documentary. I would love to have your film screened at my school.
Comment by Bryan Shadden on September 8, 2010 at 7:33pm
Great post! The line about shooting everyday for 6 months...well said and a great point. Someone needs to break the standard, and since you thought of it first, I guess it has to be you blazing the trail.
As for your second point...this really hits home to me. Over the summer I've been working on a minor league baseball show, and I decided that I'd take a swing at editing (or at least rough cutting the show) and it has been great. Let me step back though, you and I probably couldn't be in more different situations. You're working on a long form national doc, and I'm working on a half-hour, "mini-doc" is I guess what you'd call it...and I've been at a station for 9 years where the routine is...shoot with photog, write paper script, give paper script to editor. Editing the show myself has really allowed me to work on my storytelling in new ways. I've been working a lot on pacing, I've also tried cutting some stories like radio pieces first, figuring if I can make the narration and soundbites interesting first, I know I can make the visuals interesting later. For me, I think it has made my story stronger...but the cuts are weaker, and in that battle I'd rather go with a stronger story. Another side note, I'm not logging as much with this piece. I lay each days shoot out on a timeline, if the soundbite is strong it stays, if it doesn't it goes...I'm not trying to cobble together bad soundbites anymore. Anyway, I'm not sure if anything I said helps...but I certainly relate. Take care!
-Bryan

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