Editing a documentary: Way less glamourous than farming!
When I sat down in January to start editing The Hands that Feed Us, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what needed to happen. Boy was I wrong! Before I could start working, I needed to back up all my footage and migrate it into my new editing system. That took … weeks. Weeks of waiting for data to copy, ensuring that I didn’t risk losing the precious eight months of footage. Then weeks of learning a new editing system, and making sure all the software operated the way I expected it to.
That was the easy part. The hard part was grappling with everything I’d experienced on journey and figuring out how to talk about it. I was ready to start creating, but instead I stared blankly into space while I flailed at forming coherent thoughts. This wasn’t writer’s block; it is the most important stage of the creative process, but it felt like I was wasting time without accomplishing anything. I wasn’t creating anything tangible; the only progress was incremental glimpses of my vision for the film.
I was stuck like this for days! Days of trying to think and getting distracted by every little technical detail in my new editing system. Days of wracking my brain trying to write down every insight and lesson I learned while I was on the road. Eventually, things started to come together, and I ended up with a list of 75 short scenes that will become the film from start to finish. That evolved into an eight page outline, and then a one-page voiceover that tells the story of my eight month journey.
My roadmap! Now I could finally sit down with my footage to see how it would form the documentary. In retrospect, I should have expected something like this. Every project I’ve done has started with a period of seeming inactivity; it’s part of the creative process. I need to gather my thoughts before I can start working. So that’s what I’ve accomplished in the last two months. I’ve gathered my thoughts. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an essential step towards understanding how farmers can make a better living.
Up next: On the road again (for a few days)
Just as I’m ready to start working with the footage more seriously, I’m about to uproot things: I’m headed back to Alberta to film some missing pieces. It’s calving season at The Farm with The Good Food, and I need to be there if I’m going to show how raising cattle works. Unlike Overview farms, where calves were born every week, The Farm with The Good Food operates on a yearly cycle. There were no calves born when I visited in the summer, so I’m going back to capture the moment of birth. I’ll also film one last interview with Susan while I’m there.
Another thing I missed is Nathan Eshpeter shipping his grain by rail. This was surprising to me; I managed to visit the Eshpeter Farm during harvest, and I had assumed that meant that he would deliver it right away. Not so! In fact, harvest time may be the only part of the year where Nathan doesn’t ship grain — he’s too busy getting it off the field!
So, I’m driving back across the Rockies. This time, I only expect to be gone a week rather than months, but the call of the open road is tempting…
I’m a Human Book — Read me!
I haven’t done many YouTube updates since I started editing — just one in fact. Spending a month or two gathering my thoughts wasn’t especially conducive to sharing coherent thoughts in three minute videos, but the one I did make comes close to capturing the heart of what The Hands that Feed Us is about: What do we Owe Farmers for Keeping us Alive?
I did find a different outlet for my thoughts though: I’m part of a project called Virtual Humanity. Virtual Humanity is a Human Library: A chance for members of the public to borrow a human book, and spend 20 minutes chatting one-on-one about what it’s like to be that person. My book, of course, is called The Hands that Feed Us, in which I talk about the eight months I spent learning from farmers this past year.
I’ve been using the project to sharpen my creative vision, and to get used to talking about the project publicly. The plot of my Human Book mirrors the story of the bigger documentary, so if you want an early preview of the documentary, sign up for Virtual Humanity and come read my book!
This is, unfortunately, a limited-time offer. Virtual Humanity runs every weekend in March, but I am only available March 27th & 28th. So, I encourage you to check out other Virtual Humanity books on either of the next two weekends, but you’ll only be able to read The Hands that Feed Us on March 27th & 28th.
I’m headed to Alberta again to film calving season and a grain delivery, and then I’ll be back in the edit room.
- The joy of filming a live birth is that it’s really hard to schedule, so I’ll be staying close by for a few days and hoping I’ll get lucky with the timing. With 30 or so calves expected, there should be at least one or two every day.
- My original target of having a rough cut by the end of April is looking pretty tenuous, so it’s look more like the end of May now.
- I’ll be moving my home base for editing so I don’t wear out my welcome. My friend Mike and Betty on Salt Spring Island have been very generous hosts, but I’d be asking a lot to have them host me for the indefinite amount of time it will take me to finish the project. So, I’ll be moving to a different friend for the next stage of editing.
How can I help?
- Read my Human Book at Virtual Humanity. This is your chance to hear what I’ve learned after 8 months of farming, and some of my thoughts about how farm incomes can be improved. Invite your friends!
- I want to expand my “sounding board” group. I have a few people who have offered to give feedback on rough sequences and scenes, but I’d love to have more! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of this.
- Looking farther ahead, once the documentary is complete and the pandemic has receded, I’ll be taking the film across the country. My goal is to show the film in every farming community across Canada and use that to host a discussion about farm income. I want small groups: 10-20 people is plenty; more than that and it becomes a lecture, not a discussion. If you live in a farming community, would you be interested in hosting a discussion? E-mail me at email@example.com if this piques your interest.