Encounters SAGE Rough Cut Lab 2017: Q&A part 1

In collaboration with Encounters Documentary Festival and The Refinery Cape Town, SAGE launched the first South African Rough Cut Lab for documentary films. Three films were selected, and three mentors from SAGE, Andrea Shaw, Ronelle Loots and Tanja Hagen gave input on how to improve the films.

The Lab took place from 5 to 7 June in Cape Town and was a great success. The Refinery generously sponsored post-production prizes for each team and SAGE rewarded the editors with copies of The Art of the Cut by Steve Hullfish.

The Encounters SAGE Rough Cut Lab 2017 participants

Selected film: Not in my neighbourhood

Co-Producer and Researcher: Raisa Cole
Editor: Chris Kets
Mentor: Andrea Shaw, S.A.G.E.

Co-Producer and Researcher: Raisa Cole

Raisa Cole is an urban development and sustainable livelihoods professional with six years of experience working with communities, governments and civil society actors in communicating development trends, climate change adaptation and community driven development. Her professional and academic career is driven by the need for adaptable and resilient human settlements. She has worked for various international organisations including the United Nations World Food Programme, The GIZ, Solidaridad SAF and African Union. Raisa holds an MSc degree in International Relations and Urban Development from the Technical University of Darmstadt- Germany, an MSc degree in housing and urban planning from the University of Pierre Mendes-France and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Cape Town.

What is your documentary about, and why did you decide to submit it to the Rough Cut Lab?

The documentary is about the intergenerational struggle against architectural apartheid, displacement, gentrification and other forms of spatial violence. The three cities we focus on, New York, São Paulo and Cape Town, can all be classified as Global Cities and therefore important players in the global economy. As cities around the world catapult themselves into "World Class", Global City status, we have to ask ourselves, “at what cost”? The documentary Not in my Neighbourhood gives the account of characters from three, seemingly World Class Cities.  It follows their daily struggles, trials and triumphant moments, as they try to shape the cities they live in, from the bottom up!

The creators of this film have all been subject to various forms of spatial violence. The story is very personal to us, a passion that was translated into the production process. However, this also has its downfalls. Because we were so personally linked to our character's stories, we sometimes struggled to let go of repetitive or redundant content. We wanted the lab editors to help us communicate our message in a more effective way, while staying true to the advocacy, educational and solidarity building objectives of the film.

How do you regard the role of the editor in a production?

We viewed the role of our editor as fulfilling two key functions. Firstly, as a content coordinator, our editor filtered, organised and drew links between the existing footage. Secondly, the editor played a key facilitative role in making sure the message of the film was communicated in an effective and creative way. This required a deep understanding of the objectives of the film and the ways in which each piece of footage, each character and soundscape contributed to achieving those objectives.

Andrea Shaw, Raisa Cole and Chris Kets hard at work

Editor: Chris Kets

Chris Kets is a filmmaker from Cape Town, focused on creating new media for and by the youth of South Africa. Having studied fictional and documentary film at AFDA and Big Fish respectively Chris tries to find the magical elements in real life stories. Enveloping himself in the new movement of young South African artists and subcultures. Chris hopes to create a new identity for the post “Rainbow Nation” South Africa that is not dictated to us but created by us. In a world where international borders are being broken down by the Internet, Chris is pushing to create visual content that can connect and push the scene worldwide.

How would you describe the role of a documentary editor?

The role of a documentary editor is to piece together an emotional, narrative story out of pieces or fragments of time and in the case of our film to also give information to the audience that can be used as a tool of activism or social change.

What were the challenges you encountered when editing the documentary?

The challenge we face is the immense amount of information we have investigating a complex and loaded subject matter from three different countries. The challenge we also face is to create a beautiful emotional story whilst still giving enough information to the audience so that the massive amount of work our director did in researching and collecting information on the issues at hand can be used as a tool for activism whilst still telling the raw, honest stories and everyday lives of our character's struggles.

What suggestions did your mentor make to improve the edit?

Our mentor Andrea Shaw with her years of experience suggested the 82 minute time-frame with an 8 sequence structure. In this way we were able to create a structure with a strong, followable argument that still keeps the emotional integrity of the story. We analysed and went through the current film in order to compress and extract the best moments of the film.

When do you think it is important to have a mentor involved?

I think before your last big structural change in a full-length documentary it is important to have input of a mentor as it is a time when you need to clarify the flow of your story and see how your story can be strengthened. What needs more and what needs less from someone who hasn't been involved in the project for that long can give a more “objective” look at the film and give you an idea about how the audience will receive the film.

What value did the Rough Cut Lab process add to your project?

The Rough Cut Lab process really opened up our eyes to the many elements of post-production that one must consider when 'finishing' a film. The valuable insight from the experienced editors was an opportunity that gave us clarity on moving forward. The award of being giving time for a sound mix in the amazing facilities of The Refinery is also such a valuable process that I think many of us forget in the process of making documentaries that will really help bring the project onto a higher level. I am very grateful for the chance to be involved in this project and think it has a lot of potential in bringing up the quality of South African Documentary as Post-Production is often an overlooked craft.

Mentor Andrea Shaw

Mentor: Andrea Shaw S.A.G.E.

Andrea studied Drama and English at UCT in the early 90s, and then learned editing on-the-job in a newsroom in London. Since then, working in Johannesburg and Cape Town, she has edited and scripted across most genres, with a strong focus on storytelling through documentary. She works with filmmakers, academics and journalists on socio-political documentaries; on adventure series and unscripted reality for broadcast; and most recently on feature drama. She is married to an editor and their constant tech talk drives the children crazy.

How would you describe the role of an editor?

The editor’s role varies greatly across the genres – in unscripted reality, for example, you are the director, writer and editor rolled into one; whereas in drama you are Frankenstein to a story dreamed up in another person’s head. You are always the first audience, though, so I consistently make notes of my gut reaction when I watch rushes.

What are the challenges documentary editing face?

Documentaries don’t make money, but take the longest to film, with the biggest shooting ratio. In order to find the story in the material, the editor needs time with the material. You have to experiment and find your way, and it is very difficult to secure funding in a market flooded with interesting films by first-time filmmakers who don’t care if they get paid. As they say: Fast, good or cheap. Pick two.

Why do you think mentorship is important?

In South Africa, mentoring and apprenticeships happen as standard practice with crew on film sets. Decades of knowledge learned through experience working with local and international productions is passed on and shared. What you can learn from a professional in an industry is very different to what you can learn from a film school. In editing, for example, the nitty gritty of studio’s politics, current workflows (which change constantly), and how to deal with dozens of unique problems can only be learned the hard way, or through panicked phone-calls or mentorship. If we don’t share our leaned experience, we are doing our industry and its reputation a disservice.

How did you experience the Rough Cut Lab process?

The Rough Cut Lab was an inspiring experience, bringing together filmmakers and editors with the common goal of creating exciting, impactful stories, but all with very different styles and approaches. It was a great learning experience for everyone, good for networking, and reminding all the lonely editors that we are actually part of an energetic industry.