These are three things a traveler expects to find in the northern parts of Pennsylvania these days. But I also relate them to the capture and editing of moving pictures.
Most of my storytelling experience comes from photojournalism. Of course, I’ve worked with writers while photographing stories, but my best work is shot while alone. During my evolution from stills to motion, and while Hunting for stories, I purposefully worked alone – at least in the beginning. And during interviews, when I’m Fishing, I’m often on my own tossing tightly focused questions to my subjects hoping to reel in a gem contained within a soundbite.
But working alone has tradeoffs. Specifically, the amount of equipment to wrangle, plus your ability to divide attention between camera, audio, and interviewing – and still produce excellent work. But I think for anyone starting off, it’s perfectly fine to toss yourself into the production fire in a low risk situation (like a personal project), and see what you can create.
When it comes to The Edit, I think of the Drilling. It’s how you go into the deeper parts of the story and find your cinematic gold.
Often, I’m aware of the perfect sentence that sums up the entire story as soon as it’s spoken; and when it’s memorable, you don’t even need to keep notes. That clip is probably the first one you’ll watch upon initial review, and it will probably guide you towards your first cut.
But what about the hidden elements of a story? Ones that are really important and ones that are buried within longer questions. A practical example comes to mind in regards to a documentary about community identity and the history of the coal industry that our (barebones) crew is filming.
We’ve interviewed former miners, historians, state politicians, as well as the former Ashley, Pennsylvania town barber. While we were using a wide net to gather these stories, we didn’t have a title even after a year of filming, until we reviewed (and drilled into) an interview with the town barber. There, within an interview we weren’t sure we would ever use, we found our film’s title. It was incredibly obvious in hindsight, but without a thorough review process, and hours of drilling, we may have been searching a lot longer.
(Above, a short video created to show flavor of the NEPA coal mining region & community for the film, Beyond the Breaker, and where we found the title from John Kish, former town barber in Ashley, Pennsylvania).
So, is it best to work alone? Maybe. You’ll make mistakes for sure, but as long as you view them as part of learning, it’s important to experience the entire process on your own.
Should you edit alone? Also a “Maybe.”‘ If you are an accomplished shooter and can communicate your vision to an editor, then it’s very efficient, and the right editor can transform your work in amazing ways.
But at some point, a solo attempt at a short film, or spec commercial, or an About Page video for example, is worth the time you’ll invest. What you’ll learn is far greater than the energy spent to learn new software and the mechanics of workflow.
John Welsh is a photographer & storyteller from Philadelphia as well as a director on the National Board of ASMP. His latest challenges include tackling the intricacies of 5.1 surround used for experimental installation video – that is, without losing his grip on the reality of everyday work.