5 min read

#378 - Lose Those Documentary Crutches

What are the crutches holding up your edit?

Maybe it's the overuse of fast cutting for no good reason other than the hope that people won't get bored if things keep changing. Maybe it's the blasting beats keeping the pace artificially high or the reliance on expository voice-over to ensure that 'people really get the message'.

Whatever they are, it's time to dance without them.

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Documentary Editor, Mariner and Editorial-Philosopher Steve Audette recently posted this tweet, on the subject of the crutch of including 'Graphic Here' clips in a documentary rough cut:

I was on a call with a client the other day, and we discussed the copious insistence of "Graphic Here" in the rough cut of their piece.

I tried to warn them that Graphics (like Music) in documentaries are, at best, a weak solution to the story narrative. (This includes photos and Newspaper headlines - to which I am a junkie.)

The good news is that YES Graphics add content to a film. The bad news is that the content they add weakens the storytelling.

A well-cut scene with sparse narration will always be more compelling than a narration and graphic sequence covering the same space.

Humans are turned off by raw data, but they are intrigued by good cutting and writing. Given the same, always nix the graphic. Your film will be better for it.

I love using photos (and does Ken Burns), and there are ways to maximize their drama, but they are still a content substitution for a real-life scene well cut.

— Steve Audette

Answers on a Postcard

There was some lively debate in the responses to Steve's critique, mainly from a new/old media divide, from what I could see.

As always, a crutch in one context could be utterly compelling in another. Just look at the use of voice-over in The Shawshank Redemption, for example.

But the main point for this section of this issue of Cut/daily is to ask yourself;

What are the crutches I rely on, and how could I work them out of my edit?

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