Filmmaking as an individual journey – An editor’s perspective

As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I have friends and colleagues who are also young and at the early stage of their filmmaking career. During our discussions, the career-driven ones talk about the skills they need to step up their game in the professional world. While the more artistic ones argue that if they let themselves get buried under practical demands, they will never reach deeper truths. While “practical” and “ideal” are not necessarily separated, the struggle to find a balance between them is real. To my friends, filmmaking is not merely a job they do for a living, it’s something very close to who they are as human being; it’s their identity. Either way, whatever group you belong to, there is one thing that all of us have to face at one point or another: Self-doubt.

There were countless times that I got frustrated at myself. I had a vision but didn’t know how to turn it into actual artwork, because I just didn’t have the skills. The thought that I might never live up to my self-expectation was not easy to digest. Until one day, I’ve had done enough thinking and dreaming so I made a decision: I lack the skills, so I’ll learn the skills. Elementary, my dear Watson!

During the last few years, I’ve tried working in several positions, until recently I’ve decided that editing is what I like and can do best. Working as an editor, there’s something that constantly challenges me: Every single time I work on an editing project, either it’s a whole documentary series or a one-minute viral video, I always went through a stage when I have no idea how to make it work. The amount of rushes scare me. And the deadlines scare me. The result, in best cases, is a few minutes of authenticity and even creativity; in other cases, it’s just bland information. Either way, I start an edit knowing that I have to complete it no matter what. Or I’ll be dead meat. (I’m sheepishly looking at you, producers!)

If you look at each of these shots separately, it’s hard to know their meaning because they contain minimum information.  A story lies in the space between shots. There are endless possibilities of how to combine shots to tell a story.

When we care deeply about something, we tend to be trapped into overthinking. Our mind wanders and there is always an inner battle. It’s like a montage playing over and over in our head. A stream of consciousness. A maze. Or, in the eyes of an editor, it’s something resembles an unorganized timeline (which can result in a disaster).

Basically, the editing workflow that every editor is familiar with can be broken down into stages: Organization, selection, assembly, rough cut, fine cut, etc. It’s a sequential process that the latter stage is built upon result of the previous stage. Besides the technical point that having a consistent system helps your (and your teammates’) work efficient, a good thing of the workflow is that it gives me something to do while struggling to figure out the big picture (the story structure, for instance). Instead of just staring at the screen, I’d start organizing and making selections, and by that, watching every piece of materials, looking for the link hidden and at some point, figure out the puzzle.

In fact, what editors do daily is a very common problem-solving approach: Breaking a problem down into smaller and simpler pieces. Shot by shot, scene by scene, sequence by sequence, and find a way to connect all of them. I think we can use the same approach to deal with the doubts in our individual journey. The big questions in our head can be broken down into manageable stages. Focus on one thing at a time, get it done and move onto the next step. Easier said than done, because self-doubt will always be a part of us. Even so, it’s ok.

Many of us pursue an idea just because it is there, out of curiosity. Not all discoveries have to be practical to be worthwhile, or else the world wouldn’t need scientists and artists. The point is being sustainable, because sustainability is what matters in the long run.

So, let’s break it down.

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Thank you to Nguyen Dang for contributing this article.

Nguyen Dang has been working for RICE for almost 2 years. She started as a filmmaker then fell in love with editing and became an editor. Her journey with filmmaking is more than just building her career. It is close to who she is and how she wants to build herself.