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Behind the Scenes

Editing a Documentary Feature Film. For the First Time.

It’s been a long while that we haven’t posted anything here. And there is a reason for that. Soon after our last blog post, about Katherine’s thoughts on the Corona pandemic, and what it means for wellbeing economics, we launched into editing mode: We closed the doors behind us (sort of … it wasn’t really hard anyway, because Corona), sat down and finally approached our terrabytes of footage, in order to start assembling this vast collection of material into a story that people will hopefully relate to, feel, understand, follow, be moved and inspired by.

A tall order. But gladly, we have help. Last year, we started collaborating with a team of experienced film makers from Hamburg, and they are now coaching us in the editing process.

Which sounds great. Which actually is great. But it doesn’t necessarily feel great — at least at the start: In April, I put together a first draft of what I thought the first fifteen minutes of our film could look like. It was a fairly rough sketch, but I thought it would be a good starting point for the development. Turned out that it wasn’t. The team in Hamburg explained to me with very kind words — and in a very long two-hour phone conference — that what I had made could probably live on YouTube, with its activist stance and rough & tumble explanatory ‘teacher’ tone. But it certainly was not going to work in the cinema, or really anywhere else where people expect a truly engaging cinematic experience that provokes thought and engages on an emotional level.

I was in a bad mood for about a week after the phone call.

I could not make sense of many of the things the guys had talked about: layered storytelling … associative space for the viewer … designing complexity. They seemed like abstract ideas, incredibly theoretical — I had not been to film school, no one had taught me how to think in these terms, and I could not connect them to our material, to the story of our two protagonists.

But then I started watching more documentaries and tried to keep these concepts and ideas in mind, mapping them onto what I was seeing. At the same time, we did another interview with our protagonist Lorenzo Fioramonti, about his feelings regarding the pandemic and his political ideas. I was slowly getting a grip on these theoretical film concepts, when suddenly some of Lorenzo’s words — he was very candid about the way he saw the state of affairs — and a couple of shots from Italy from Autumn last year began morphing together in my mind. And all of a sudden I had a hunch about how the film could start in a different way, and transmit more of the emotional state that this film project is borne out of. I put this together, and started to sort of riff on that approach. And the feedback from Hamburg suddenly sounded very different. Now they were saying ‘this is beginning to look cinematic.’ It felt like I had cracked a secret, like I had passed through a kind of conceptual door, and now I had a better understanding of what my job was.

And it has been that process ever since. I assemble more and more footage, fine tune it with Nick, we polish it, and then we show it to our colleagues. And then a long — sometimes more, sometimes less detailed — feedback session ensues, which is sometimes painful, sometimes controversial, but always constructive, and it allows me to carry on, polish more, and start building the next sequences.

The only downside is that there is hardly anything we can talk about here on the blog. Or show. Currently, we truly live deep down in the mine of our story, shaping and reshaping the film almost every day, and trying to figure out everything — from the most minute details (‘should we change this one word in the voice-over?’) to massive structural questions (‘can we tell Katherine’s and Lorenzo’s stories in parallel, or should it happen one after the other?’). And this part of the job will probably continue until the end of the year. If all goes well.

It’s an incredible journey, and incredibly enjoyable. Editing film is an addictive activity. At the same time, it can sometimes also eat you up. It takes over your whole body when you are enaging with film material of such quantities on such an intense level.

But I love it, and I am grateful that I get to have this experience, and that I get such amazing help. I will look back one day and know that this was one of the best times of my life. When I made my first feature-length film.

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