Last summer, Cowboy and I went on this amazing roadtrip last year across the prairies of Turtle Island. We had lots of interviews and conversations and adventures. Then what?
As it turns out, that is when the real work begins. How does one take a few months of intense experience on a vast subject of historical importance and condense it into 90 minutes? Choices have to be made. Some wonderful stories cut out because it doesn’t fit the central narrative. Other stories are incomplete. In the end, the film is a distilled version of the richness of my own learning and experience.
Once editing is done, there is a matter of getting the sound mix right. Documentary is notorious for shooting under difficult circumstances. People not involved in the film talk in the background. The wind tears across the prairies in sudden gusts distorting the sound. Then getting the right balance between the sounds of the landscape (a character in its own right), the dialogue, and music is no small feat.
Then there is sound design. You wouldn’t think it’d be necessary in a documentary, but actually there are some sounds that simply couldn’t be recorded easily. Have you ever tried to record the sound of a herd of buffalo stampeding across the prairies?
Then there’s the whole colour grade. The images that come straight out of the camera often have challenges with poor lighting conditions or colour. Fluorescent lighting makes people look sickly and the sun, ever changing, will look different for different shots. These may need to be balanced.
In addition to making the film look and sound great, there is also the animator who is busy trying to draw those things that simply don’t exist in the “live-action” world.
For documentaries and probably many narrative films, most of the work comes after the production.