Ethics of Documentary Editing
So this idea of hiding our edits as editors it brings up some ethical questions because if I'm changing what george is saying and passing it off as truth is that okay, I think it's okay, I think it's okay to be an artist in service of truth that's the way I approach documentary I'm trying to tell you a truthful story trying to be honest, but I know that I need to do in a stylistic way that's fun and interesting uh to get george's story across I probably only need a few bites here and there and I might even have to manufacture a sentence, but if it's a sentence that is true to what he was telling me in the interview, I'm okay with that so me cutting away b roll, I'm okay with that, but one thing we might get a chance to take a look at later is adobe just yesterday released a feature called morph edit anything you hear youse avid one person uh have it has had more cut for a while or I don't know what they call it, but the idea of you know we have this jump cut of george clean way I don't...
know if I would work on that was a pretty dramatic jump cut, but the idea of more fat it is that it looks at the frame on one side of the cut looks like the frame on the other side cut and says, how can I make it it's seamless transition between those two and sometimes it works pretty well pride wouldn't work on this shot because it's out today, maybe we'll get a chance to take a look at it today with the final product will see what david does um, but wow, that changes everything. Maybe you've been able to do it for a while, but now that it's going to be a premiere, which a lot of people use, uh, that's a game changer because now we can make george say whatever we want, and it looks like he's saying exactly what to say and I don't know about that I talked to some of my colleagues and, uh, I was kind of excited about the feature was like, wow, this is really interesting and my my my friend matt, who works with me at bloomberg, said no, no that's completely unethical because now you could make someone say whatever you want candidate I could make him say whatever I want and I said, well, mad we could always do that we could just cover it with b roll and he made the point that like, well, yeah, but audiences recognize that that grammar, you know, there are certain things that, like, you all know when we cut to b roll that there's probably some editing happening underneath that we're used to it more fed it could change the game if used in the wrong way now for corporate work I mean, if I'm an actor if I'm if I'm a host and I'm trying to say a certain thing and I mess up a take and I want to cut it together, I'm okay with that, but it is a little bit dangerous to do it to someone else, so I want to talk more about like, that's just one ethical issue and a tool that we can we now have at our disposal we have we have mohr tools like this to change things into what we want them to be just wanted to keep in mind if that's ok or not because I think the answer is different for all of you and I have some examples of filmmakers I've worked with where we had different ideas about what was that what was okay and what was not one thing I don't like at all let's do this right now I'm just gonna drop out the audio and george and I'm going to reverse the clip because sometimes I see this lot in documentaries and reality television is maybe you have someone involved in a conversation and then they turn and they look at the camera or something I mean it's a moment you want but then in the anything you decide, like, actually, I want them looking at the cameron, then turning and getting into that conversation. So you just reversed the clip, and here we have ah, sort of george backwards, maybe I mean, he's not really doing anything here, but this is the part I hate about reversing clips right here. I even see it, but I don't like that, yeah, the eyes blinking because what do we do? We blink quickly, and then we slowly open them when you reverse it. It's a slow clothing e I catch it all the time in documentaries, and I hate it. I don't know when you become a filmmaker, you notice things that audiences don't notice, and I guess it's a good lesson to learn that you can get away with things like you don't have to be that careful, it's another because most audiences, while they're smart, they're not used to seeing these things the way that you are, so you can get away with stuff so, like, I can get away with that slightly long ed it where we see what we hear, george talking a little bit, but we don't see him talking that's fine audiences won't notice that, and if that feels better, I'll do it. But that blinking thing I s o I never reverse footage of this blinking I generally don't like reversing footage but it can be a way to solve a problem um we talked about this during the lunch break a little bit the idea that if I really didn't like george on this side of things I could just flip him over let's see I could flip the shot and now he's on the other side and you know, maybe if I was forgetful and I shot all of my interviews on the right side because that's the way I always do it this could be useful but even this is kind of an ethical boundary I don't feel comfortable crossing because george has a pretty symmetrical face that's good but you know, maybe he has a mole media's I apart on his hair and now I feel like I'm changing who he is and maybe he'll notice that he's different and I don't know if I want to do that what was that? Yeah the buttons on the shirt different that's a good point never thought about that women's shirts button on the other side and I've turned him much more feminine but you know and this could be problematic if there's a sign in the background are logo so general I'm avoiding it but it is a good trick toe just a simple trick I'll show you something more advanced tricks in sir raja let's, look at this real quick, um, there's a just a quick aside, people highlights I love with plenty of motion blur uh, here is a shot in the beginning of my film where I'm looking at some trucks delivering jalapenos to the factory hello on, I'm noticing now, man, this would've been a better shot if I like use that use this clamp, like, really clamped it onto the truck and it was like, solid the way that that gopro shot is that would be really cool, but this was me jumping on the back of a truck real fast. I don't have a lot of time to do anything so it's a shaky shot, but I still like it. It's visually interesting. The problem is, I, uh, there's a lot of trucks coming in and if I'm gonna jump on the back of a truck to get a shot, I'm gonna miss the other truck coming in like I can't follow one truck all the way through the process. There's a truck that comes every fifteen minutes and I just I can't be everywhere at once, so I'm waiting for each truck let's, get this kind of shot with this truck arrives this kind of shit on this truck arrives all the trucks look different and in my piece I'm an artist in service of truth and I'm trying to create the sense that we're following a truck I want to follow the peppers from here to here so I wanted there to be continuity I wanted to be the same looking truck from shot to shot problem is the first shot was a let's look at it again it was a wait white truck green cage white truck green cage white truck green cage great wonderful problem is that middle shot was not a quite truck it was an orange truck I think this is a good opportunity to look at a full b roll shot and how much of it I lose this is why I have thirty two hours of footage because I'm holding a shot and waiting for something to happen not looking all over him although I think I probably kind of experiments a little maybe I get a little lower I do that I do this when I go maybe it could be even better let's get in there really close on the peppers and I changed the focus focus was here before and then I decided let's focus on this I'm making a lot of quick decisions in a short amount time to finally get the shot that I want but foreign struck so what I did was maybe we'll do it right now let's grab that part ways and if I do ki ng chroma king is what use on green screen. Um, of course. Final cut has decided to key out some blue because it knows that blue is more likely to be what a blue screen looks like. I actually want to keep the orange. It looks like it's not going to cooperate with me very well, but actually, I can do this real quick. I do kind of a version of it if I just grab let me zoom in area. Okay, I was gonna grab this orange bit, drops the black. I'm telling the computer we want to get rid of that orange the same way. If I was shooting on green screen, I would tell the computer what you want to get rid of a light green. And now they change the keystrokes on me. This later version of final night. This really weird shots wrong. But you could see that drops the orange out. Now I have problems because the peppers are almost orange. At least some of them to. But you get the gist. What I did is I dropped out the orange and I put a white version of the truck behind it. What I did was I took the truck that was orange, I de saturate it lowered all the color to zero. It's premature gray and I brighten it up a little bit so it looks white and I put it underneath and I did a whole bunch of matting toe turn these peppers back into beautiful red peppers on the results was what you saw in the film it was like way too many layers to get that result, but now I have a light truck. Now can anyone see the evidence of my change? What do you see? The reflection of the exhaust pipe? I can see the reflection, the orange you know, some orange right there's reflecting orange off of this thing, but my audience will forgive me they won't notice it's only there for a second, but to me that was just an important thing I want to do, and I've done that a few times that idea of changing colors of things and I don't know what you think about that, but like my friend matt, who didn't think morph edits were ok does not think that's ok on maybe it's not, but for me I'm cool with it. I also one of the first documentaries ever worked on was a documentary that I did not shoot, but I edited it uh it's called pontiac's rebellion and my friend brian say shot it used to be a reporter for a local abc affiliate it's in standard definition because we shot it well, he shot it years and years ago after he shot this documentary came to me and said, hey, can you edit it and I said yeah let's work together and uh there were two ethical battles we we battled one of them I won and one of them he won here's the one hears first is the mayor of pontiac, illinois videographer I might add who scream to do with microphone way happy dan the mayor of pontiac expressing a moment of joy this is the climax of the film he's he's trying to figure out if his if his prison is going to stay open or not and you know we were following the narrative model we need thio show the climax of the film this's this's him being happy because the news is your prison is not going to close thanks to the fact that rod blagojevich is being impeached prison's gonna stay open yeah he's happy this is how I edited the thing brian takes a look at it director of this film he says griffin that is not what happened I was like yeah, I know because here's a habit he of course in reality the way things happen is the news came down scott finds out he's happy he calls up brian says hey there's been a development you need to come down a pontiac and film this so he does so brian has all this footage of scott mccoy on the phone telling people how excited he is about the news and then when brian gets there he does this whole dance, so I edited it like, oh, look, he gets to his office he's on the phone he finds out some news and he's excited climax the film yea and brian was not okay with this first I convince him it was okay and he settled on it in the film because I felt like, yeah, it's not what happened, but it is what happened, right? He was on the phone at some point got excited and I don't know what you feel about that. There was another thing which I surprised I won that battle in brian won the other battle, I would have thought it was the other way around. There was a part in the film where right here brian needed a night exterior shot of the prison, so we chose this one we showed it problem is it's thanksgiving day two thousand eight in the film just seconds ago you've seen snow all over the ground it's, illinois it's, colder snow, the shot who was probably shot in the spring and so there's green grass but you only notice it when the car goes by, so what I did wass same way I did the the changing of the truck was how much you could see on this model because this is green. Uh, but I kind of mad in this area it's, mostly black and white and green. So I just kind of took this area, turned it down the saturation, made everything no color. So now instead of black, green, white, we have black, grey and white. It looks like snow matches, and brian looks at and goes, no way you're completely lying to everyone. Now. I think it was actually the first ethical challenge we came across, and he just he was not okay with he was he would rather leave it in and kind of an inconsistent way for the story. But it's true. So I bring these up because one, I want you to know that there are tricks available, teo, that you don't have to settle with what you have in front of you. You can you could fix it in the post, but also that may cause some challenges for you and those air ethical battles that you're just going to have to decide yourself if you're okay with