As part of the Center's Human Rights Film Series, documentary film editor Mary Lampson was on campus on October 15th to screen one of her latest projects,Taking Root, and to present a filmmaking master class to students on working as an editor in documentary film. It was great to have her on campus, and a wonderful learning experience for all. If you couldn’t make it to the screening and the class, you can still watch clips from them here. Also, keep an eye out for our Pull Focus interview with Mary, where we will discuss her editing process for Taking Root and her other projects—it should go live in the next few weeks!
In the meantime, here is the Q & A after the film screening:
And here is an excerpt from her filmmaking master class. The audio wasn't great, so the transcript is included below:
"I think most movies are too long. And one of the reasons they’re too long is we as the directors, the editors, the filmmakers are in love with different moments. They’re just these incredible moments when such and such a thing happens. For the director it’s oftentimes sort of re-living the moment, right? For the editor, it’s a pretty damn good moment on film. You know, it’s really great. But, if it doesn’t advance the story in some way, and this is where the structure piece comes in, it doesn’t belong in the film. So, for me, the hardest part of filmmaking, and the part that I think gets rushed sometimes, is you make something and it’s good. But how do you make what’s good—that good thing—into something that’s really, really, really good?
"I always used to have this mantra when any of my favorite scenes ended up on the cutting room floor—that was a really good sign. Because it meant that the analytical piece of my mind had kicked in and said “This is a great scene, but it’s taking us off of the through-line of the film.” And if you say what I’m telling you as an editor to the director, that “this scene really doesn’t belong” --“No, it’s my favorite scene!” Well if you cut it out, it’s not like it died, and disappeared and went somewhere else; it still exists, and in fact in the computer age it’s right there in that bin—the “my favorite scenes that my editor forced me to take out” bin. If the scene is really really good, it will find, it has to find the right place in the film—is that what I said? It has to fight its way back into the film. So don’t be afraid to take it out, because it doesn’t mean it’s out forever, it just means it wasn’t in the right place, and there could be a right place for it. And your task is to find that right place. If there’s no right place for it, it belongs in the DVD extras.
"And that’s a really really hard lesson to learn, and sometimes having screenings—I don’t know how much you guys screen for each other—but I think screening is an art form. That’s where you begin to feel that kind of stuff. You know, even when you’re watching the movie and it’s too long, you get this kind of slumpy feeling in your chair? Do you know what I mean? Maybe you even start to doze off a little bit. And you’ve got to really pay attention to your own responses, but then to an audience response. And those are the clues. Do you know what I mean? That’s how you might get that first feeling of “Oh, I think that scene doesn’t really belong.” Then, the other thing is take it out! And it’s amazing how when you actually take it out, all of the sudden the whole thing sparks, and it really is better. But you can’t tell if it’s better if you keep hanging on to it, and you don’t let go of it. It’s really interesting, and sometimes if you take it out, then all of a sudden you have this light bulb about where it really does belong. But if you’re stuck in this place here, and never change it, you’ll never see where it might be. So that’s really hard to do, actually. It’s very easy to say, but it’s really really hard to do."