Over the past few months I’ve really been getting stuck into the edit. The rough cut is now 60 minutes long and I’m very happy with it so far. The aim is for the finished film to be around 90 minutes long so the end is definitely getting closer.
It’s been a joy to watch the footage I captured, but working out how to stitch together disparate pieces of footage and conversations that I collected on my journey into something that resembles a film has been daunting and challenging.
It’s required a lot of thinking and patience. And a lot of cups of tea and coffee, not to mention long walks to rest my eyes from the computer monitor and to clear my head. But I always had confidence that somewhere in the 170 hours of footage was the film. It was just a matter of piecing it together – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle but without having the image on the box as a reference point.
Instead, I have over 10,000 clips to play with and make sense of. Like all edits, I have to decide which bits get used and work out where they might fit in to the film as a whole. Now, you might wonder how I have gone about this. I know at least one person who does.
A week or so ago I invited followers of the Beyond the Mountains facebook page to ask any questions about my journey and/or the film making process. David Hodgeson responded by expressing an interest in my workflow.
David wrote: ‘I’d be interested to hear about your workflow. I’m often in a position where I’ve got loads of photos and video after a trip and find organising, editing and cutting it all a nightmare. Very easy to get lost and bogged down!’
Now, I should say that the nature of this film project is bigger in scope and scale than anything I have ever undertaken, so I can’t say whether my approach to making Beyond the Mountains is applicable or even advisable for other projects. But for me, it works.
Initially, I thought I would simply sit down and watch every clip while writing notes. But I worked out this would take at least 14 days if I spent 12 hours a day on it. For me, it just didn’t seem like a good approach. It felt too systematic and limiting, and not in line with the nature of my journey. I needed to take my time. It couldn’t be rushed.
I always knew that the film would focus on the people I met on my journey. So, instead, I set about editing a few of the conversations I had filmed (there are around 100 in all) and started to get an idea of who might make it into the film and who wouldn’t. I suppose a kind of reverse auditioning.
I also always knew that my film wasn’t going to be about me huffing and puffing my way up every Munro. From the beginning, the rough idea was that the journey would be a means to make a film that attempted to tackle the subject of our connection to the natural world. On the journey, I hoped to collect footage that could possibly reveal something about our relationship to nature through the people I met, the experiences I had, and the things I observed.
Without this general idea of what the film would be about, I would probably have been lost before I had even switched the camera on to start filming. It was this idea that helped me to decide what was worth filming and what kind of shots I might need.
So, with this idea still in mind, I began editing people who I think have particularly interesting views about nature and modern life and/or who have unusual lifestyles. And I used my memory of what I filmed to dip into the 10,000 or so clips to find shots I particularly like to form meaningful sequences.
The challenge was then how to weave these random encounters into the story of my journey and the theme of our connection with nature. And I had a lot of questions to answer: How do I introduce the characters? How should the film start? At what point should I include this or that theme?
The editing timeline on my computer was beginning to look quite messy. I needed another approach before I got lost. I needed a way of visualising my thought process and see the general shape of the edit. So I got some card and cut it into smaller pieces the size and shape of playing cards. I then started to write on each one. Some were assigned a character, while others got a theme or an idea.
I then pinned the cards onto the wall and began trying to arrange them into a sequence that I could see might work. And from that I could go to and from the editing with more of an idea of how to proceed. In a way, I was creating a reference point – the cards were becoming the rough image on the jigsaw box. But importantly, more cards could be added/removed and they could be moved around as the edit and my ideas developed.
Now the jigsaw image is beginning to look a lot less vague and when the rough cut is more or less done, I intend to spend those 14, 12 hour days watching all the footage. By that stage I will be able to see how a particular shot might fit into the film and how it might work better than what’s already in place. Or I might come up with a new sequence to insert into the film. Who knows?
And so this has generally been my approach. It might not be for everyone, but it has allowed me the freedom to develop the film into something that is structurally coherent. It would be a lie to say that I’ve never felt a little lost or bogged down at times. But perhaps such moments are needed during the creative process. For it’s these moments that force you to stop, consider where you have reached, and think of new ideas to get you back on your way again. And discovering a way out of it can be really exciting.