All about conversation

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Which brings Price to the one thing that 98% of the editing process is about, structure. Is the story clear enough? How to structure it to be sure the right part of the story is being told at the right moment?

But how to find that structure? With a drama one has a clearly defined script to work from; with a documentary, not necessarily so. For Price there’s no real difference in his approach to drama or documentary. But one thing he does look at with any documentary is access – what is there in the material that shows the filmmaker has gained access into an unique or unusual situation – whether by design or accident.

Having found what is unique in the footage, Price searches for what he calls the tent poles, the scenes to hold the structure up, to support those unique moments. Then he looks for the pegs, the bits that will hold the story in place.

“It’s good to put those things together first. If you’re overwhelmed, you can start going down rabbit holes! Putting space in your schedule can really help too.”

Often it’s the beginning or the end that needs the most attention. Simon showed us the first three minutes of Tusi Tamasese’s O Le Tulafale / The Orator.

The beginning of this film was really hard to get right, in that they were always telling the story for two separate audiences – the community the film is about, and those outside the community that the filmmakers also wanted to reach. The opening sequence of the film, storm clouds and rain on lush vegetation, slowly and gently leading into the first appearance of the main character, was not shot with the opening in mind, but was compiled out of shots that DoP Leon Narbey gathered randomly when they were unable to shoot exteriors because of the weather.

The relatively slow pace of the film, established by the long duration shots in the opening sequence, grew not out of an attempt to capture “island time”, but rather out of the movement of the central character, the struggle he has in every step he makes.

Simon and Tusi ended up taking two complementary positions in the edit suite: “Tusi’s primary focus was ensuring the film would work for Samoan audiences and language speakers. My position was that of the outsider: how the film was working to intrigue someone who knows next to nothing about Samoa.” (from NZ On Screen)

Tamisese wrote The Orator in the Samoan language, then translated it into English during the search for funding. It was translated back into Samoan for the shoot, and then back to English once more for the subtitling. Simon spoke of the freedom and creativity possible in writing subtitles, for exploring new levels of meaning in the translation, the possibility of going a little deeper than literal word-for-word translation might express.

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