Editing in an unknown language

Because of commitments to other films, the documentary film that I'm editing is effectively a week into the process, or a week and a half 'real' time. It's been an interesting one to plan out - mostly because the rushes are largely in Italian (with some parts in Ukranian), and I speak neither language. An additional element is that my director is heading out to shoot another week or so's worth of additional material on Sunday, and needed to a) be in a position to know what would best complement the material already shot - which will likely form the central thread of the documentary, and b) leave me in a position to be able to work with the largely interview-based material on my own, without her there to translate.

I thought I'd share what my workflow so far's been, and the vague outline of how we've gotten from 25 hours of rushes in which I understood very little of the speech to a stage where I feel confident of being able to do some proper editing work whilst there are still some sections of the documentary being filmed.

  1. Outline translation from tape of main themes and topics in interview, with loose timecode and tape number. This was done by the director whilst I was still digitising and logging the interview segments as massive chunks with logical breaks, and splitting up the GVs by location.

  2. Clip selection from our main interview, in this case the woman who runs the marriage agency that the film's based around. This went more rapidly than it would have without the outline translation, as some parts were clear repeats in a less useful context - and we'll still have that outline further down the road. Lots of pausing and asking what came before/after the bit which we'd already selected - but trusting that the director understands the criteria for selection was the biggest factor.

  3. Detailed translation of the selects. About two hours' worth of interview material from our main interviewee, and half an hour or so from the Ukranian section. BITC relating to rushes TC rather than sequence TC because of how it relates to the way the material had been captured and logged.

  4. Familiarisation with material. Reading, marking with highlighter pens, taking notes with associated tape/timecode. Anything interesting, anything informative, anything potentially relating to something which will relate to the additional material yet to be shot.

  5. Writing down main 'stories' and themes from the transcript, with knowledge of the available material. We went in quite close on this part, since many segments of interview relate to multiple themes at once - although we had an idea of what would probably go together.

  6. Arranging the stories to give an overall film structure. Whilst we're aware that a lot of material is yet to be shot, it's useful to have an idea of the shape of the film before going out and shooting - and invaluable to know that both editor and director are heading in the same direction in each others' absence.

Early structure of the NFTS graduation documentary film

A long room can be useful. Failing that, a corridor. I like to take my directors out of the edit suite in the early stages where possible, so that it's less of me being the one operating and doing stuff relating to their film.

The cards next to each other are in no particular order because of the thematic overlaps, it's where they are in relation to what's above or below them that we've worked on most. The cards all relate to certain timecodes and tapes - some have more than one instance of the same story or content, so both timecode/tape references are there. That's now on my wall, with additional sticky notes... it'll be interesting to see how it gets rearranged over the course of the edit, especially once the new material comes in. But for now I'm set... and expecting a few unintentionally humourous cut points when I go over an out point, but great things have been discovered that way before now...