The scene: A small coastal town in North Africa; a deep sand beach, and across the street, a luxury hotel, complete with pool, outside lunch buffet, and ultra aggressive, dive bombing seagulls. They’d steal the croissants right from your hand.

But this isn’t mere idyll. We’re here to work intensely, helping creators to shape their projects during this, the last of three major workshops that drag films, kicking and screaming, from ideas to full fledged works in progress. This is project Greenhouse, and as contentious as it is for an Israeli organisation to be running an event designed to develop documentaries from the middle east and Arab Africa, once you get past the politics, you find that ultimately everyone just wants to tell their stories and make a difference, and help their peers to do the same. 16 Projects; Tunisian, Israeli, Arab Israeli, Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, Iranian, and all of them opening my eyes to stories I’d never otherwise hear about.

I’m one of 4 editors, brought in from across Europe to spend 3 days chained to our edit suites, working with 4 filmmakers apiece (actually I only got 3), swapping computers, software, operating systems, and of course stories.


“You have how many hours of footage?”

“Aha. So it seemed like a good idea to put every shot in the same bin?”

“Undo Goddamit! Oh… it’s a PC. Pinky not thumb, pinky not thumb.”

“Match frame! MATCH FRAME! Why won’t the %*#@ match frame work?! Whoops, AVID, not Final Cut.”

“Where’s that great scene with the kid outside the tent? Oh… yeah, that’s from her project…”

I have a therapist, and I send her a special thank you across the cosmos every time I use the mindfulness exercise she gave me to help focus and heal. I was thanking her a lot.


The scene: a luxury hotel suite, but the bed’s been hauled out in favor of a desk and makeshift viewing corner. It’s not the most comfortable chair in the world, but there’s a cactus shaded balcony overlooking the Atlantic. I’ve got a limited amount of time, a massive amount of footage, and a filmmaker who’s had her project dissected so many times that certainty is in rare supply.

We start with questions. Lots of questions. An abundance of questions, all geared towards reaching what they really want to say. I’ve found that my role is as much psychologist as editor. Hand-holder, friend, sometimes police (especially when time grows short). What’s actually happening in this village? What do you need to have happen to get your point across? If, in the trailer, you want this Bedouin woman to have more power in the film than she does in reality, will there be backlash that affects her, or your access? I know you love this scene, but how important is it really? Buckets of questions, often repeated. It’s the best way to lock in a creator’s convictions.

Of my three projects, the trickiest was by an orthodox Jewish woman, who grew up in New York and emigrated to Israel some years ago. I have to say it was awesome conversing with her, sounding like she just walked into a news vendor’s on Coney Island. This was the first of my two Bedouin stories, and the most challenging creator to work with. Mercurial, self-deprecating, prone to wild digressions, and passionate about her characters.

The first trailer she showed me had me convinced I knew the protagonist, described in detail in her proposal. … Not at all. A few hundred questions later I finally got out of her that it is in fact the “protagonist’s” sister whom she wants to build up into the lead character. It’s just too bad that in Bedouin culture it’s not so simple to either film women, or build them into leaders. But there’s enough footage of her to get by with, and if we show her as strong as possible, and diminish her opposition, then we can recreate an impression of her accomplishments. As always, that got us going on the “truth” question, and how honest it is to make it seem as though, for example, her character can walk freely around, when mostly she can’t. It’s damned honest, if 99.9% of Bedouin women can’t walk around at all, and she walks alone even once. It’s called context, and narratively speaking it’s a license to exaggerate.



The scene: it’s 7:40pm, 20 minutes to the deadline for submitting trailers for tomorrow’s pitches. My third project, a very personal story (and Bedouin story number 2) has had me riveted since I firs read the proposal. The trailer she had didn’t do it justice, but that’s why we’re here.

We talked a lot. She smoked a lot. I thought a lot. And together we spent some extra time defining a strategy: what needed to be said in the pitch, what needed to be shown in the trailer, and how to put it all together. We did a paper cut of the trailer, deciding on a structure that would put all her elements in a good order before we made a single cut. I fought to keep certain shots that I thought were redundant out, she held her ground. She went to hunt for fresh material in her hard drives, Ai started assembling the structure.

So again, it’s 20 minutes to deadline, and it’s time to watch the 3 min piece and soak in the beauty. Hit play…

Fade to black, and we look at one another, each with an expression that says “what have we done?”

It’s 7:45.

She starts to say something twice but can’t get it out. I channel the adrenaline coursing through me towards the “t’aint” between my heart and my brain, squint, and cast a line out into the ether, asking for a solution.

She’s just about to finally get what she wanted to say out on the third try, when I get a flash and cut her off: “Let me try something!!”

It’s 7:50.

I hit play.

Fade to black.

We look at one another and smile. I’d taken a chunk of a shot I fought to toss away, and slammed it in the beginning. What I thought was scrap, was now the first shot of the trailer. The shot is raw, with harsh sound and lots of tension. And because it was there at the beginning, everything else in the trailer fell into place. We’d made a kick ass trailer together, that also helped her to prep her pitch. Our collective instincts were solid for the overall structure, her specific instinct in keeping that shot around was solid for the last minute save, and a moment of inspiration saved the day.

It was 8:00pm.

But a “deadline” in Morocco is exactly what you think it is: a suggestion. She took the trailer back to her room and worked some more on it overnight, then handed it in the following morning. The deadline became 8am instead. And the world didn’t end.



At most workshops I don’t do any actual cutting. I’ll work with every project (anywhere between 15 and 25) and give them tips on what they can do to their trailers and pitches. Greenhouse was the first time I did limited projects with more involvement. I do love getting my fingers into lots of different pies, but I have to say, helping just a few of to actually bake is a hell of a rush. A schizophrenic one yes, but a rush all the same.



“I didn’t write the rules, why should I follow them?”

Eugene Smith

Dabbling in both fiction and doc, it’s fair to say that my thinking around both has gone all hybrid. After all, who ever said that techniques used in either of them have to remain mutually exclusive?

(Plenty of people, but that’s not important right now.)

We rearrange the order of events all the time, putting an incident earlier than it happened because it functions as a better trigger, or later than it happened because it generates catharsis. Maybe, in reality, an inciting incident triggered a character’s action, but maybe, putting an inciting incident AFTER a character’s action, reinforces the character’s decision to act as a righteous one.

We bury raw information in the middle of a piece, because maybe it calls back to something you saw earlier in the film, and seeing it again changes its meaning. For example on a film I edited on sexual abuse, a photograph of a victim with a friend was nice but banal at the beginning, then altogether more sinister later on after it’s revealed that the friend was the perpetrator. We could have put that earlier, or not shown the picture the first time, but then the realization, the shared outrage of betrayal is lost.

But those are examples or creative choices to heighten impact, not change the story; going “Tarantino” on what sequence events are shown in, repeating for deepening impact, or tuning memory to work the same way it does in every day life, the way you see a life event differently when you’re 30 than you did when you were 20, and so on.. Techniques in the edit suite frequently astonish me, and I still get a big goofy grin when unexpected surprises occur. It’s simply part of our craft.

Where it gets touchier though is when there’s a direct contradiction between what you want to say and what really happened. Put another way, if one misrepresents the principals or events in order to satisfy one’s own narrative desires, how far away are we from the territory of propaganda? If I claim that a character is, for example, continuing to build a dam, or speak out against injustice, or take care of their kids, when the opposite is the truth, then what is the point of that message? Am I just trying to give a happy ending? A sad one? Am I trying to make a person or a movement appear weaker or stronger than they actually are?

There’s a pretty neat article about Steve McCurry’s work that starts by examining allegations that his work is “touched up” and therefore “false”, goes through ideas about what truth and journalism and integrity are, and then goes a little deeper, by forgiving McCurry his technical trespasses, and instead targeting his cultural integrity; his tendency to exoticize other places and peoples, turning them into artifacts instead of men and women. I guess it’s the price he pays for fame. I guess he wipes his tears away with his awards.

Though I can think of plenty of artists guiltier than McCurry of those tactics, it’s an interesting argument : that he mis-represents India by making it seem totally old world: dudes in turbans, girls in saris, spices everywhere and pre-steampunk technology. He’s not saying that that’s the one and only picture of India, but he is perpetuating a particular idea, or an outdated “truth.” Is that in fact a falsehood? A dangerous stereotype?

draft-23d68cac-5b44-4f63-bb67-013b24d78615Personally I’m way less interested in the beauty of a perfect image of a “native” with deep eye lines and hands worn from manual labor, than in an image that surprises. Same as in a film I feel far less need to see the good guys win, than a genuine arc that transforms a character, or those around them, for better or worse. It’s a document, one that allows us to reflect on our behavior and decisions, and to maybe make better decisions in the future.

Speaking of decisions, I started this piece with the bit about McCurry. Then started scrawling about some of the things editors do, then stepped back to consider how that fit with the McCurry bit. Was I trying to change the narrative? I think I was just trying to put all the data into a context that (hopefully) makes more sense to people besides myself. Combinations and connections that edge us closer towards a deeper understanding.

For everyone else there’s Trump.




20160417_163715A very interesting thing happens when you’re coaching, or consulting, as opposed to doing the work yourself.

If you’re editing a project, and a thought occurs to you, you can simply say “what do you think of this?”, then dazzle the client with your blurry-fast key strokes. Voila: the suggestion played back, to be rejected or accepted.

But if, on the other hand, you’re not the one executing the moves, the challenge becomes how to articulate your ideas in a clear and concise manner. Sometimes it’s easy, but the deeper you get into the emotional content of the work, the more that articulation becomes difficult. I recently worked with a filmmaker and her editor, mainly on restructuring some elements of her film. Moving scenes around is relatively simple, but then what? How do you marry the scenes together? It’s delicate, and far more complex that simple transitions.


The most comprehensible metaphor I’ve found is “you’ve got the bricks all laid out, now you need to mix the mortar,” the mortar being its own art. Does the audience need to breathe a little after the previous scene? Do we need to establish the new scene with an exterior shot, or is that redundant? Is there some key you can insert between the two that calls back to something, or foreshadows something else? Is what’s called for a dizzy montage? The mortar is more than just glue or tape, it’s an intrinsic part of the whole, and can make or break a project. It often comes down to the frame, and ending or starting on the right one, that can tell people what to feel, or let them come to their own conclusions. In the narrative structure of a piece, the mortar helps set the pace and timing, as well as the language of the film.


I’ve been more grateful than I can express at the opportunities I’ve had to work on projects and events at the level of consultant, or coach, or whatever you want to call it. I think it’s made me a better editor, and it’s helped my clients better understand what I see when I look at their projects, whether I’m coming in late or early. Even if it does sometimes make me sound like a new age dude.


2016-04-13 14.07.30-1.jpgHad a hell of a conversation with a director-editor team in Serbia last weekend. The two of them had been eyeball deep in the project for a long time, and I was there to help sort out some story hurdles; pick apart scenes, question why some things were in and some were out, find the strongest dramatic structure; that sort of thing. There came a moment when the editor started wondering aloud to the director whether taking too many suggestions from a consultant was tantamount to relinquishing power over her own project. Does the act of asking for and listening to counsel amount to giving up your voice?

It’s a very film-y question, applying the notion of a singular voice to what is, above all, a collaborative process.

However, from the point of view of leadership the question is valid. Being open minded and welcoming input is a great boon in a ship’s captain. But the ultimate decisions come from a central figure. The problem starts when that captain either can’t communicate their long view to the crew, or can’t at least exude mighty resiliency in their decision-making. Sort of like :I don’t give a damn what you think, I know what I’m doing.” Even if that’s disastrous in the long run, it can calm the crew in a moment of crisis.

Good leaders, captains, directors, whatever, tend to do surround themselves with talented people, happily being generals, commanding and listening in equal measure. Which is as it should be. A vision drives a project, and the crew makes it happen.



9 times out of 10, I’ll get the job that starts from the beginning: “Phil” they’ll say, “We got this heap of footage, and we want you to come on in and make some sense of it.”

But then there’s that 1 time out of 10, the time I get called in to re-jig a film that hadn’t yet been tamed by other talent. That 1 time out of 10, the time when I get to jump in and sculpt the clay that already got softened up by other hands, that time is a hoot.

I love jumping into a sandbox that’s already been warmed up. A certain number of permutations have been tried, and, with enough experience under my belt, I can analyze those permutations, analyze the creator’s intent, strategize a new permutation, then… play.

I saw “A Good American” last night, a doc about a math guy who spent his life finding patterns in data that could ultimately save lives. I’m not saving lives in my little edit suite, but I am finding patterns. In some cases I’m letting them go as facile, too recognizable to be taken seriously. In others I’m embracing them as fresh enough to have a real impact on audiences.

I walked out of that film last night with a head full of thoughts, the main one being that life is generally spent trying to make sense of the world around us, the people in it, and ourselves. There are a few who manage to reach some communicable wisdom. They’re usually the ones with something to say, and sometimes they’re like Icarus, too close to the message to make it clear.


I think that maybe I’m Icarus’ wing man. Maybe I don’t burn with the stories within me, but I can help the ones who do to spread their flames.

And maybe that’s just fine.


Who is PJ

I’ve been casting a wide net these days, further from home base in the hopes of nabbing interesting projects from abroad. Speaking with a colleague in the UK, his advice was to get an agent, and to make sure I’ve got my Linkedin, Facebook, IMDB, Twitter, and Vimeo accounts are all tip-top. When everyone is findable, credibility goes a long way towards getting your foot in the door.


So, I’m woefully underrepresented on IMDB, but my website gets regular hits from all over the world. Apparently writing infrequent articles about technology and abstract art is a big seller nowadays. Anyway, going through the cobwebs I had a hard time recalling many projects at all except the fun ones, and a zapped hard drive killed old CVs, so goodbye references. But, going through the list of projects I’m happy to say that I can at least look back on most of them contented. Some less so, and some I’m only too happy to have disappeared from existence altogether, but even so…

Linkedin is solid, though a bit out of date, and VIMEO is, for the most part, password protected works that aren’t mine to share. Well, except for the odd trailer or scene. Twitter is ok, though more interesting for the stream of people I follow than anything I post (which is rare).

Flipping pages on Google and the standards pop up: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (How many profiles do we need anyway?) Hit the next page and bam!


NYTIMES! I’m in the big time now. So naturally I can’t stop there. Next page…


WTF? Always wanted to go to Russia, but didn’t think my reputation would precede me. Surreal as it is, I have to hit next page.


I have a feeling that since Steve Jobs was sainted, and news spread of the fact that he’s of Syrian descent ( a distant relative if you must know ), the name Jandaly has been getting a lot more play, cos’ I swear, a year ago you’d be lucky to get many hits on the name at all. Now my family’s big in haiku I guess. Which increases my value, yes?

Net worth

“Under review” indeed. Well, there’s still time to change that. Brings me back to that question of credibility. Just like when I was going through IMDB looking for projects I’d worked on, the ones that had some sort of pedigree were way easier to give weight to. The others I have to make a professional decision on whether to sacrifice volume for projects that have more girth to them. I mean it’s not like there could be any confusion with anyone else. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that there’s only one Phil Jandaly!



Well, at least my doppelganger some lucky yank woman with an unlikely name.




I’m glad to have come across all these new associations. Digging back I kind of expected to dig up the ghosts of projects past, and not necessarily ones I take any pride in. Instead there’s a whole story unfolding across the world. Part of me saw all these Jandalys out there and imagined that some of them are survivors from Syria, settling into new homes, starting new lives (Deborah Sue is definitely native though. I’d love it if there was an Arabic translation though!). It’s a bit freaky to find a profile out there where even box office takes are being measured on me.

The numbers...

0$? Really?

But, semi-creepy though it is, if you’ve read any of my thoughts from earlier in this blog you’ll know I’m a believer in next gen, digital storytelling. Who knows what a family tree might look like soon, or what format it’ll come in. Film? Interactive experience? A VR “be right in the editing room with Phil” fantastic time?

No idea, but I’ll keep hitting next page and someday find out.



I like to think of Errol Morris as the David Lynch of the doc world. His First Person series, as I understand it, was built around the work of his team of researchers, hunting down the weirdest bits of Americana they could find, like parrots who were murder trial witnesses, or autistic slaughterhouse designers who are so good at their job because they can fully empathize with the livestock.

I don’t know If Lynch consciously looks for the odd and surreal or if they’re drawn to him. Given his predilections I’d bet that he’s the magnet. One need only look at his art as well as his films to really understand his commitment to a singular vision. Inland Empire was the last of his films to grace the screen, and I was 100% convinced of everything I saw; I just couldn’t tell you what the hell any of it means.


I had a long running idea I never found expression for. It was just an idea with no story, about someone watching their actual lives on the screen; they’d see something they didn’t like, re-spool the film, and splice the bit they didn’t like out. Playing the reel back, everything would play the same until the bit that was no longer there. Now that it was gone, what follows played back differently. Or put another way; changed action, changed consequence.

I finally got it out of my system in the early-oughts, adapting Gogol’s Diary of a Madman for a contemporary setting. The film’s a mess, and I won’t subject you to it, but it was a catharsis. With that out of my system I could move on to other things (though they say you make the same damn film in different variations your whole life. We’ll see).

So now I’m thinking of a doc I worked on and which premiered last week: Fredrik Gertten’s Bikes vs Cars. The title seems pretty specific; the battle between cars and bikes. But one of the first things Fredrik explained to me was that that was not the meaning of the title. He’s an avid biker, who gets around not only his native Malmo, but every place he travels on a bike. His interest, he said, was not in painting it as a battle (which in the David and Goliath sense would have an obvious favorite anyway), but as an analysis: Do we build roads and infrastructure for bikes or cars? How do we choose between the two? Etc.

Fredrik comes from a journalist’s background, with an activist streak. Bananas was born of an examination of where our produce comes from, and exposed the rampant employee abuses by Dole, and Big Boys Gone Bananas was the immediate follow up that journeyed right along with him as Dole fought back. Bikes vs Cars comes from his own passion for biking, but is informed by his journalist’s nose.

I’ve got 3 big projects I’m working on, all of which to some degree talk about the world as we know it slipping away, whether by climate change, peak oil, psychotic militias… take your pick. I didn’t plan it that way, but I guess that’s what drives my inspiration now, in search of solutions, not getting on a soap box in Hyde Park barking out “the end is nigh!”

The challenge I run into is not to handle the inspiration to literally. If it sits for a while and gestates, if I doodle and imagine somebody involved somehow in that world, then sometimes it germinates into something useful; either a fictional character I can dive into, or a character I might hope to meet. I’m pretty absorbed with the migrant issue these days, especially refugees from Syria since that’s partly where I’m from. So I’ve gone out to where some of them are staying near Helsingborg, not with the goal of finding that right character, but just to meet people and get a sense. But if, and as, stories emerge… that’s where magic is born. I don’t think it has to be from an intent going in, but it does require open eyes and an open heart.

And just maybe, a wicked Lynchian pompadour.



014At a meetup last week largely devoted to eye tracking, Theis MacMadsen talked a bit about a media conference he’d recently attended. Hollywood, he said, was employing eye tracking tests to gage where on the screen their audience is looking, and whether they could save on elements that aren’t being actively looked at.

I assume that most of us would argue that they’re, as usual, well off the mark, and that those details, the ones that aren’t being actively regarded, are part of the construct filmmakers use to make sure that an audience can concentrate on what you do want them to see.

Would that scene work as well if there were fewer people in the café? Or less visual debris in the background? Sci-fi is obviously its own animal, but for all the components of those two shots, I’d argue that there’s no fat on them. And the reason the film works as well as it does is because it does such a convincing job of showing that world.

Documentary works differently. Instead of building up the world you’re portraying, you mainly have to reduce the world you’re looking at, making choices about which details really matter and should be brought to the foreground, and which can stay in shallow focus or be out of shot altogether.

Anyway, getting back to Theis and his chat about Hollywood and its eternal quest for ways to cut corners and streamline their expensive productions (and who can blame them really?). So how do you make the watching experience as lean as possible? As it turns out, the same way as you atrophy eye muscles. The studios are experimenting with reversing the technique of eye tracking. So if you’re looking at this point of the screen…


Instead of drawing your eye’s attention to this point…


They move it to where your eye has been tracked.


In effect, your eyes and body need never move at all. All the desired action comes to you. So imagine you’re plugged into a VR or 360 headset, and the whole screen slips over so the desired image lands right in front of you.

The idea freaked the hell out of me. The frightening bits (losing that choice, making the experience more passive etc) are obvious, but damn if the potential isn’t exciting too. Assuming a filmmaker’s goal isn’t to fully couch-potato viewers, then there’s a whole wide narrative language to be explored. I can only imagine it as abstract for now, but imagine if you could harness that kind of image slip and employ it not as a gimmick, but as a storytelling tool.

In a sense it completely changes what my role as an editor is and would be in this brave new world. As Brian Chirls says “sounds like the editor needs to learn how to code.” Maybe. At the very least, editors who’ve always used tricks to hide and / or enhance edits have a bit of an inside track when it comes to understanding how the eye functions in making connections. But whatever the case, I have to say that the horizon for narrative possibilities is more and more apparent. Just imagine shooting a doc in 360, where you get to see not only what someone says, but the listeners reaction. The ability to choose which POV you see, and to watch it over to see the other side, or even something altogether different.

There’s a big wave coming, where tech changes everything. There’s bound to be a lot of bad to go with the good, but I like to think my eyes are open.



It’s funny how the question I ask every client or student, “what is it that you really want to say?”, is always the last one I come up with for my own stuff.

I’m building a story world now, not too different from reality (for those who’ve seen Channel 4’s Black Mirror, semi-future with cool tech but everything looks more or less the same as our world – same deal as what I’m going for). The story world is founded on cloning, but beyond the obvious “what is it to be human” thing, I don’t have a central reason or message to anything yet. For me it would be a drag if I did.


I’ve generally always started a story… anywhere. Then developed it, built it, then pulled it apart as I got closer to the core, so I could structure it in a more interesting way. It’s a pain in the ass in one way (how many drafts do I need to do this time?!), but I do love the process, inefficient as it is.

But to come back to this “what do you want to say business.” I get all paranoid when I start to wonder about re-drafting in service of the goal, because I don’t want to sacrifice dramatic structure just for the cause of clarity. Does the message give the film a greater significance if it comes across more clearly? If I stick to my guns and stay on the dramatic angle, then aren’t I blowing an opportunity to reach an audience?

I don’t think so.

If it takes away from the cathartic film experience then it’s akin to sabotage. The danger is amped up in doc, where you have a limited time to get information and character across, while telling a story., and the temptation is to be more literal than is necessary.

If any of you have seen Jesse Moss’ great the Overnighters, you’ve seen a film that follows a very specific story. Along the way, it touches several angles of intolerance, the environment, economic injustice, etc., some of them pretty direct, others almost as an afterthought. But the film is constructed to drive the dramatic arc. So instead of a message film, you’re treated to a riveting portrait that happens to leave little easter eggs for you to digest. They’re what really lingered in my mind after the screening.


When it comes to our sanitation documentary, Brown Gold, we always get back to one story question : how much do we need to talk about and show human shit? One of our lead characters sums it up nicely with a photograph of a woman standing in the Kibera slum, handing over a Peepoo toilet bag with shit in it. As she says “ it’s like it disappeared. It doesn’t smell. The stigma is gone.” That Peepoo is a thin film of material. Everyone knows what’s in it and what it smells like, but it’s being handed around a group of people because nobody literally sees or smells the shit. If you see the crush of humanity in Kibera and see the Peepoo arriving, we don’t need to have a big talk about sanitation to get the point.

So that’s how I work with “message”: write it down on a card or something and stick it on your wall so you don’t forget it, but don’t spell it out. Keep your bag of shit opaque but present. It’s the old adage of show don’t tell.

When I’m working on a film and shooting is still going on, I can, as someone not physically and emotionally invested in the shooting process, guide the director to get the stuff that fills in the missing emotional blanks. It’s subtle, but if running can become the central image of one film as a powerful metaphor that just looks like running, or an empty chair in an empty room can mean something that replaces words, then I think you’re getting to impact that goes beyond simple information. Like Stalin said: one death is a tragedy, 1,000 is a statistic.

Never thought I’d quote Stalin.


In my little clone world, I’m not at the “central message” stage yet, nor am I trying to be. The fun bit comes in the conjuring. The really fun bit comes when you find the magic trick but ignore it. I’m always happiest when I get fooled by my own smoke and mirrors.


p.s. A useful guide for documentary filmmakers, even if you’re not thinking of outreach or longer term engagement with a given film if the Impact field guide. It’s an amazing tool to identify what a project might be able to do beyond being a film, and can have an interesting effect on your writing. I use it to home in on story objectives even when I’m not the one following through on outreach, because why you make something can be as important as what you make, as far as energy and focus goes. Enjoy.



It took me a while.

After years spent on a particular project, one that’s jam packed with “information”, it took me a while to recalibrate my view after stepping back from the informational grid, and remember that doc is visual. Goddamn right.

I’ve had my guilty moments, when the scale of what seems important to be said hijacks the feeling I want folks to walk away from a film with, explaining as much as possible instead of letting a certain reality fall into place all on its own via the context I can create in the editing suite.

Jesus, even that’s getting too technical. How about sometimes just letting images speak for themselves…

Great scene. A perfect example of why I loved the Wire. It didn’t just slam you with slices of life from some of the nasty parts of life, it knew how to take its time and tell the story with more than just words. You can hear the wheels grinding in the characters’ heads while they figure stuff out.

Another scene (redundant here maybe but even so) could be an instructional video on doing po-lice work…


I had a whole wall of cue cards up a while back. Some had themes, some had scenes, some listed what needs to be said. I took ‘em all down then tried to put them back up on another wall. They wouldn’t stick (message from the heavens perhaps?), until Annika wrote on a card then jammed it up right over my monitor. It said…


Goddamn right.

So now I do my cue cards on Scrivener (great script management app for anyone interested), and when I lose a thread I can go back in there to find it. Or I can look up at the word CINEMA and rekindle a little inspiration.

I did a stint on the show How It’s Made, where I’d do the visual cut of how an object or product gets made. A new object every damn day (you really don’t want to know how airplane food gets made, as if you ever did). I learned a few useful skills about showing process, but walked away from the gig feeling a bit traumatized by the sheer mechanization of purely descriptive storytelling.

But then I came across a real inspiration, something that plays the silence, and the sound, beautifully. And of course, where the stars are the sheep.

I’d never been hypnotized by sheep until I saw Sweetgrass. If you want to be hypnotized by a sheep, you should watch it too.

But again, there’s a time and a place for everything, so now I’m reigning in some of the visual treatment I’ve been working on, and looking for the balance between it and information.

Is this all common sense? Maybe. But sometimes I really do need to get out of the edit bubble and play around a bit, and recapture what it was that drew me into that story in the first place.

Cinema. Goddamn right.