Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The cutting room floor…

It’s a title that dates me. But to explain, in the days when films and yes, even TV shows, were cut on film the moments that did not make it into the final cut were left  “on the cutting room floor”and most of the time for good reason.  I am a firm believer that less is more when it comes to filmmaking.  I have no use for those treasured “director's cuts" resurrected, repackaged and sold once a director's career has reached a status that supports his or her leftovers.  My exception is Ridely Scott’s director's cut of Blade Runner. In his version, there is no narrator and somehow for me, that makes the film much better.   

There is another over-used saying - documentaries are more fun to make than watch.   Which I hate to admit is probably true. Many times the moment the camera turns off are your most memorable.  Or perhaps, it is in that moment that you allow yourself the time to take it all it.  I remember sitting next to a volcano on the isle of Stromboli as it began to rumble and my interviewee grabbed my shoulders and told me not to run or as a young associate producer when I was setting up for a shot in the Queen's Robing Room in the House of Parliament when the guard turned his back, smiled and let me sit in Her chair, or sitting at Jane Austen's desk as the crew wraps the gear.  

But even more significant are the stories that are left on that floor.   I remember in one interview,  I was asking an expert questions about communication and its importance in sex education.  And after the interview she pulled me aside and said "I think its really important that you are doing this because I’m an expert in this field and I just discovered that my ex-husband was abusing my daughter while we were married and if I can be fooled, anyone can. "  In that moment, I truly felt as if a weight had landed on my shoulders. What should I do with this information?  The camera's weren’t rolling and I knew she consciously waited until we had stopped.  So, I kept our conversation private, but I have never forgotten it.  Once while filming in a school for learning disabled kids, I was profiling a wonderful and brilliant teacher and afterwards she told me the story of her brother and how she saw him struggle with learning disabilities his entire life.  As tears streamed down her face, she said "this is why I do what I do".   I can't help but feel that even though those stories didn't make it into my final cut, they influenced the choices I made in the edit room. 

Today in the world of reality television and scripted documentaries, the edit room has become a place where "story" is created.  What happened in real life has very little to do with what we see on screen.  Producers are often told to coach soundbites and create drama to fit a "script".   I think most viewers are savvy enough to know this and they watch because they are entertained.  But what happens when the drama is real, the pain is palpable or the beauty breathtaking?   Unless its in the script, those moments will land on the cutting room floor.  The only exception may be in nature films - wildebeest, whales and lions don't take direction and they never will.   Perhaps that's why I never tire of watching them. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My "sit down" moment.

It's fall.  The time of year  I always feel a sense of urgency and purpose mixed with an unsettling gnawing in my gut.  I am restless and queasy all at the same time.  Its not an all together pleasant experience.  Maybe, for me, this is when my year begins. Having just finished a grueling summer of travel and work, I am ready to tackle the work I love.  For whatever reason I have several rituals of fall.  I read the poems How to like It by Stephen Dobyns and In Praise of Dreams by Wislawa Szymborska.  I question the balance between making a living and living for your passions.  And I wonder if it is possible for those two objectives to merge into one.

I must confess I have never had an "aha moment".  I've heard of them but somehow this moment of clarity has never happened to me.  The closest I've come is the night my editor and I finished the scene posted.  Nothing in my mind said aha but something loudly screamed "sit down!" and listen to the people around you, perhaps the answers are there for the taking.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Linda edits on the fly is the title of my grant and in a way, a subtitle for my life. This week I will travel from Chattanooga to Arizona to Portland, Oregon up to Alaska and then back home again - all in a span of five days.  It’s a long and winding road and as I travel it, I will try to complete my first blog by answering the question “why art matters to a community.”   It’s interesting to ponder such philosophical thoughts as my own world and work whirl around the fringe of so many different communities.  On the road, my days often begin and end either in airports or on highways. Art is present in both. Found in display cases on terminal E or as the landscape wheezes by at 75 miles an hour.

Art is all around us, it is there for the taking…but does it matter?   Is a community less without it or are we less without it?  Everything in me screams yes!  But the reality staring me in the face is hard to ignore.  I must look at the work that consumes all of my energy at the moment.  It’s good work by most standards.  Certainly the type of “TV” job that people want to hear more about - a “true crime” television series that takes well-known stories of serial killers and sensationalized crimes and tells them again, with a “new” spin. I have no illusions about the task at hand.  I am creating TV not art.  A widget, like any other, that comes off the assembly line.  

But I am lucky to be working with competent, highly educated professionals from all corners of the country.  On this one episode, which began last Thursday in Georgia, the production crew has consisted of two different cameramen, one from Los Angles, the other from Sacramento, a sound capturist from Seattle, an associate producer from Washington DC, a sound recordist from Atlanta and two production assistants from Cleveland Tennessee.  It is an ad hoc group of professionals that at the end of the day will deliver what is expected of them.

Tonight at dinner, my blog deadline loomed ahead of me. Desperately hoping for inspiration or possibly a volunteer ghostwriter, I posed the question of art and community to the crew.  Knowing the caliber of talent at hand, I thought they might give me the insight I needed to complete my task. There was a brief flurry of chatter on the topic but no clear vision emerged.   So I walked back to my hotel, exhausted and empty of ideas. 

But then I realized that in the course of our work day on a yet another TV show that the world does not really need, we had shared photos taken from the road and listened to obscure Cambodian music, we discussed the art of food and films, of community art projects in Seattle and their impact on a city.  We talked about how art appreciation must be nurtured by family and community.  Someone suggested that maybe I should make the argument that art did not matter to community but that it should matter a great deal.  But, in the end we never seemed to answer my big question, more interesting topics intervened.  It’s tricky to articulate and even tougher to measure art’s impact and importance in our daily lives.  All I really know is that tomorrow I will wake and do my job and somewhere in the mix art will creep into my day.  Traversing another airport terminal or inspiring conversation, art will make the day more than routine, more bearable, more than it is…forever and sometimes even painfully putting into perspective what matters most.

The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people. - Norman Mailer

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And so it begins...

This is my first blog, just to give the site a little test run.  My official post is still brewing in my brain but will be posted very soon - Stay tuned