Saturday, August 22, 2009

Auteurs vs Collaboration

Thoughtful essays on the auteur theory and the role of collaboration & discussion between directors and editors:–-editors-and-directors-editors-and-editors/

Personally, I enjoy the to-and-fro that does on during editing sessions. In fact, I find that once I've had enough time to go through the material on my own and managed to make a first cut [but only after a fairly thorough briefing/Q&A with the director about the direction, style and messaging], it's beneficial to have the director sit down with me to hone the next cut. It's more efficient, as well, since I spend less time second-guessing certain edit decisions I would've made.

The need for a certain amount of time to experiment, discuss & explore during the edit is something we sometimes find difficult to explain to clients. Yes, it's indeed possible to give a cut 2 days after we wrap BUT it will not be the best cut possible. As I recall a quote "A film is never 'complete', it just gets abandoned (due to the arrival of deadline)", it also doesn't necessarily mean more time = 'perfect' film.

That one time when I freelanced on a kids' reality/infotainment TV program edit, it was quite appalling that there wasn't any log, script or director involvement in the edit process. I was given a whole bunch of tapes, told we needed to cover these 3 activities... and that's that. Being a young upstart then and happy to have snagged such an opportunity [considering I had never edited any TV program by then... though it seemed they were so stretched, they had only one director-producer-writer and was willing to use me on the project... possibly because I was, ah, 'not very expensive'], I poured a lot of effort into the edit. Apart from my day job as a producer-writer on a corporate video project, I was working graveyard shifts on the kids' program.

It was fulfilling to see that most of my edits made it to air but it was unsatisfying that there was no 'process' involved. It felt like a factory assembly line. Which possibly is not an isolated incident, considering that TV budgets here are extremely stretched.

As for the 'auteur theory is bull' idea... it seems like 'auteur theory' is very much alive here. More often than not, in the local filmmaking realm, directors are also writers. And producers, sometimes DPs and maybe editors, too. However, it might be partly attributed to the whole 'lack of budget' issue, again. In addition, there might also be the idea that there is a lack of good screenwriters, which is why directors take it upon themselves to write material they would like to produce. Which is kind of sad, as the film would not be able to benefit from the collaborative process, especially in the editing stage.

Though judging from the way the media/film authorities have been formulating their policies/funding, they seem to prefer the 'auteur theory': hype up a few high-profile directors and send them for overseas film festivals/markets. And films are often marketed with 'a film by so-and-so-known-name'. Through these years, it just doesn't feel like there's much attention or importance placed in developing the other film professionals like DPs and editors.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Been busy working on a few corporate, launch, campaign videos as well as TVCs. As usual, as a preditor, the producing side takes up so much more energy than the actual creative. I think I still prefer to deal with my humans when they're right in front of me, on my screen and subjected to my J, K and L keys.

I've also just finished reading a book called 'Ten Thoughts About Time: How To Make More Of The Time In Your Life' by Bodil Jonsson. The title might seen like one of those run-off-the-mill self-help books, but the interesting thing is, the author is a Swedish physicist. So combining theoretical physics and her own experience with philosophy, she came up with quite an interesting read.

So what has this got to do with editing? Perhaps not on the technical side but there were some nifty tips that could help an editor think about the process behind the button-mashing. Some interesting thought I've bookmarked:


There are times when I'm sure I'm fitting in set-up time without quite realizing it myself. This is how it can look: a significant deadline is approaching and I know in my heart that I should have started the job long ago. Instead, I seem to focus on less productive things. I do nothing, effectively, and become preoccupied with pointless minor chores like washing up and mending and pottering in the garden and so on, even though I don't particularly want to do these things. I don't start attacking the real job until absolutely necessary, and usually a little later still. What a miracle that I meet the deadline after all - yet again! Or maybe it's not a miracle. I believe that by that late stage my mental workshop had already dealt with the task. Thinking and planning had been going on all the time my conscious self had been preoccupied with simple things. When the deadline loomed really large, very little was left for me to do.

Concentrated intellectual work demands a set-up time too, which might last only hours and days, or drag on into weeks and months. Once that time has been set aside, it must be properly used. You must be available within that timeframe only. To lock yourself within a certain task in this way is utterly contrary to the way we nowadays prioritize being available to all comers, be it by instant travel, mobile phone, email or whatever.

I tackled my relationship with the telephone some fifteen years ago, starting with my office phone. How was I to silence it? I could programme it to say that I was at a meeting of away on business or teaching or out to lunch or had left for the day. But the list did not let me say anything about the task I was primarily hired to do, like: 'I'm in my office/at my computer/in the laboratory - thinking' or 'with my students or colleagues - talking'. I discussed my problem with a couple of switchboard operators and they told me that the message 'Bodil Johnson is not available, she's thinking' would probably provoke an angry response. The caller would feel 'If she's only thinking, she might as well answer the phone.' That wasn't how I felt, though.


Working in seclusion is often important for good results. I have learnt this important lesson by now, and am quite capable of defending my need to live like a hermit occasionally. Trying to be truly present wherever I am is crucial not only to me, but to the people I work with. They should feel convinced that I'm there, with them. No telephone calls must be allowed to interrupt us. If it is your professional responsibility to think, it is indefensible to give in to either real or apparent demands and accept other, irrelevant measures of your worth. It is your fault if hackneyed and ill thought-out research and teaching comes to dominate your output.

Hey, so there's some justification for my dilly-dallying before starting on the first cut! I would take my time to create folders, convert audio, label files, organize my desktop, remove unusable footage [usually when capturing full tapes via Firewire, with start-stop, on HDV>ProRes]... since I'm usually involved from pre to production, right into post, which includes logging & capturing. Back to back processes. So by the time I'm ready to do my first cut, I usually feel... over-exposed to the project. A little distance to prep my set-up time usually helps get my mind into editing gear.

Once I start on my edit, I really don't like to be disturbed because it takes time to get [back] into the 'mode'. Unless, of course, I'm just doing an edit which doesn't require much brainwork - like selecting and grabbing highlights from event coverage - which works well on an 'instinct' mode, with selected parameters already programmed into my mind as I scrub past hours upon hours of footage.

We'd worked with one cameraman who was always on the phone between shots. Apart from being a cameraman, he also runs a service of providing crew. So throughout our shoot, he would be checking on or arranging the other crews. That was the first and only time we've worked with him. Being so distracted seemed to have taken away the focus he should've put into the shoot. We usually work with DPs who are fully present and because of that, are able to observe, suggest and be creative.

Got spurred on to post [procrastination got hold of me] after reading a similar topic over at CreativeCow:
"Maker's" vs. "Manager's" schedules:

Which is a discussion spun off from this article:

An excerpt:
"One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they're on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I'll call the manager's schedule and the maker's schedule. The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it's merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you're done.

Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there's sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I'm slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you're a maker, think of your own case. Don't your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don't. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off."