A Spirituality of Video Editing

This post will be a work in progress, written over the next few days as I am creating a watchable movie out of about 7(?) hours of footage.

I am currently working on my 4th movie. All four of the movies I have made have been about the work of women religious aka nuns. This current project comes from my time in February spent with the women of the Poor Clare Monastery in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina. Filmmaking is an art and a craft, which requires a challenging mix of creativity, technical know-how, interpersonal skills and patience . I have some of these in greater abundance than others. Anyhow, as I work to put together a watchable movie (I call it that because, as brilliant as each piece is, the raw 7 hours is just not watchable and needs to be crafted), I am thinking a lot about the spirituality of this process.

What I’m learning is that editing is the real step where the film’s making happens. Imagine I give you a stack of 100 magazines and ask you to make a collage. You’d select words and images to fit your page. Well, imagine I gave dozens of people the identical stack of 100 magazines. They’d come up with dozens of unique collages, wouldn’t they? So, the end product is the collage and each one looks different. Sure, the original images, fonts and colors were chosen by whoever put together the magazines in the first place but for this new creation, the collage, it is one of a kind. That’s the same with editing. In fact, I am going to start paying more attention to who is editing movies since it is their vision which is reflected in the final product. Director Martin Scorsese has worked with the same editor for 40 years-since she was 40. And, yes, I did say she. That’s pretty cool, huh? So, hats off to the editors out there. I see you and I know what you’re doing (often alone, often indoors, often without recognition). Keep at it.

Below is a quote by Frederick Wiseman who has made something like 40 different documentaries. Mamma mia! What productivity! What discipline! He has explained that his reason is to fight off the depression that comes when he finishes working on a movie. He delves right in to the next one. He edits his own movies. Here’s what he has to say that got be thinking about this art in terms of spirituality:

tr wiseman

The first part of this quote I like because it resonates with my own style. I do not go into a documentary with it all planned out. I don’t have some heavy duty agenda that drives every question I ask and every quote I choose to use. I sit and I talk and, boy oh boy am I fortunate to have sat in the presence of so many wonderful wise women at this point. I think I’ve interviewed about 50(?). They tell me stories from decades ago when they joined their communities or a few years ago at age 80, when they felt God calling them to go to Haiti. These stories are amazing and they come out because I listen and because they feel free to talk about whatever comes to mind.

The second part of his quote I like because he hits the nail on the head. The filming part is social, it is around people. It involves moving around, eating lunch with people, charging batteries, driving places and being a good guest in the space of others. The editing part is contemplative. I listen to the same hourlong interview 3 or 4 times, taking notes and really truly trying to listen to what they are saying. I’m the interviewer/director and the editor so speaking from that experience, I will still say that the editor is where the real movie-shaping comes in.

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer to squeeze in an hour of editing and look who I discovered outside the window, watching me edit my movie about FRANCISCAN nuns:tr screen

Next day:

I have just watched and listened very carefully to an hourlong interview with one of the sisters. I took some advice from a new friend and I listened to it, I mean really listened to it, rather than watching it as I determined which parts to keep.  It is not 100% finished yet, but for now, I am putting it away to open up another interview and begin the process again. I am working in segments or sequences. I work on one person’s interview at a time, doing all of the steps and really focusing on that one person until it is in the basic shape it will be in the final product. It is a good feeling to  put this one away for now and I like the ebb and flow of it. It is only about 2.5 minutes but in it, the speaker covers

-Description of someone who visits the monastery to talk about his prayer life

-The jobs she does within the community.

-A description of the retreat center they offer to visitors.

-Something which sums up her role there. I will use this in the closing montage where I have a line or two from each of the people interviewed.

Now, I am going to take a few minutes to pray about which interview to delve into next. I think lots of things can come into play-my mood, the time of day, etc. which will influence how I edit it so I need to make sure it is the right one.

 

 

 

Please stay tuned as I update this post as I reflect more on the Spirituality of Editing

 

 

 

 

 

My 3rd Movie: 300 Years of Good

I’ve just spent the past month working on 300 Years of Good, a compilation of stories by women religious (a.k.a. nuns) from around North Carolina & South Carolina. I interviewed 15 sisters, 9 of whom are in this movie. There are 64 sisters in the Raleigh Diocese, 100 in the South Carolina Diocese and I’m not sure how many in my own Diocese but I’d guess around 100. I’d like to share some details of what this journey entailed and about what happened along the way.

In December, I was informed that I would receive a $1000 grant from National Catholic Sisters Week to show a documentary during this week in March. Not only is the money covering popcorn (for 80 people), soda (for 60 people) and a rented cooler ($20), but it also covered the cost of the making of the documentary. I did not receive any payment for my work. I have spent a few hundred hours planning, interviewing, traveling and editing but my time has been my own contribution to the project, a labor of love. Although this has been a very solitary experience, especially these past few weeks spent in our guest room/home office editing until well after midnight most nights, I have not been completely alone  and all sorts of people came out to help me along the way. I met Rachel at a filmmaker’s meetup in Charlotte in January. She sat down with me to help me figure out which days I could travel during February and in the past couple of weeks of editing, checked in on me. Friends like Courtney, Caitlin, Cathy & Sr. Eileen put on their thinking caps when I asked about sisters they knew in NC and SC. If not for those four people, none of these interviews would have taken place. Wow. I realize just now how important they were to the making of this. In the credits, I give thanks to two men: my own husband who supported this project wholeheartedly and Jim, who helped me learn a lot about South Carolina and bought me lunch while in Charleston.

In the Company of Women

I traveled to Cary, NC, staying at my friend Betsy’s house for the night with her cute animals and lively conversation.  I stayed in a hotel in Sumter, SC on my way to the very remote Kingstree, SC which did not seem to have any chain hotels nearby when I booked in Sumter (almost an hour away). I enjoyed 2 nights with the Poor Clare sisters in Traveler’s Rest, SC, enjoying the foods they stocked in the small guest apartment where I stayed. I enjoyed a delicious pot roast in Kingstree and lunch with the gentle and lovely fellowship of the Felician sisters there.  In Belmont, I got to meet several sisters who were archivist and a woman in her 30s who is a professional archivist as well. Their explanations of their work helped me find words for my own as I am also seeking to capture, preserve and share stories of women religious. I enjoyed breakfast and lunch in the main kitchen at the Belmont Mercy’s place, running into some sisters I’ve known from my 42 years, most of which have been spent in the Diocese of Charlotte.  In Cary, Sister Anne took me out for delicious burritos at a place with dozens of hot sauces (which I love) and treated me to interesting conversation and warm hospitality.

Three Movies

With delight, when I sat down after interviews to sort through the footage, I realized I actually have three movies sitting in front of me! This became clearer to me as I went along. Over the next few months, I will be putting together a separate movie for the Poor Clares and for the Felicians. Since I got to spend so much time with them and to film so much outside of our sit down interviews, I know these will be very colorful portraits, or rather, snapshots of what I saw when with them. Both happen to be Franciscan communities, so I might have to work a little harder and really think about how to incorporate some of Francis & Clare’s writings (my specialty) into the films.

What I’ve learned

Precepts I try to follow when making a movie include a.)don’t be preachy and b.)don’t try to teach someone a lesson through it. So, I will share what I learned and I believe that the stories are different enough that they will touch people in various ways. What I learned is that these women have drawn from a well within themselves that others do not have or have not found. I believe that well is kept filled by God by way of their community life, ministry, liturgical and sacramental life and especially by their own personal prayer lives.  They had so many stories that I had to leave out ones like how one person helped get a man off death row or how another one worked in AIDS care back when people with AIDS were treated as lepers. So many stories.  I know that not everyone is going to like this movie. That’s fine. I will be glad to teach anyone who wants a different movie what I have taught myself in the past 16 months so that they can go out and make the movies they want to watch.  My questions were focused on what these women have done and who they have met along the way. Those are the stories which appear in the movie.  I do not preach or teach in this movie but I do hope people are motivated to think about what they can personally do to reach out to others as these sisters have done.

Celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week

I got to show the film on Wednesday night to the campus ministry students of Winthrop University. My parents came up for it, Rachel and her mom came and several students and others .It was great to sit in the back row and gauge their reactions. After that showing, I put in another 20+ hours to bend and mold it and tweak it and cut off some excess so that it is the best movie my current abilities allow me to make. I am happy with it. In the coming weeks, I would like to find composer to create an original score. I need to continue to consider doing a voiceover narration, something I have eschewed so far since I feel it would be invasive and my whole point is to let people tell their own stories, as Francis would say, “without gloss” (summary and commentary).  I believe that 2017 will be a time for me to travel with the film to some convents, schools, campus ministries, parishes and film festivals. My respect for these women and what they have done is evident. I had zero agenda except to showcase some stories of women religious and am proud of the decisions I’ve made while traveling, interviewing and editing which have kept that priority at the forefront. I hope you’ll get to see it sometime. Invite me to your town to show it and we can watch it together!