Crafting a story is about making choices. What information is essential to the narrative, whether it be for artistic, practical, or emotional reasons, as a storyteller, one has to constantly make choices, cut by cut, frame by frame. Any choice has the potential to drastically change story direction.
With a feature length film, a filmmaker, and often a team of other crafts people, make those choices and hopefully it turns into a powerful and immersive 90 minute experience. Many many hours of footage is brought down to approximately 1.5 hours with much sweat and debate in order to arrive at something that a patron wants to watch, while maintaining a certain momentum and clarity. This speaks above all the position of Editor.
The 90to5 Editing Challenge asks its editor and filmmaker audience to take a 90 minute film which exists in the public domain, and bring it down to 5 minutes, while staying loyal to the movie's original story. This is an excellent opportunity to refine one's cutting skill set, or for first timers, to take the plunge and try their hand at editing. For anyone with a passion for crafting visual storytelling this way, it can also be a heck of a lot of fun too. (Okay, full disclosure, I am thrilled to be on the jury panel for 90to5 this year, but I wouldn't be on it, if I didn't believe in its value.)
These type of exercises are great for sharpening one's abilities because they offer some structure within to work. One can practice editing all they want, but sometimes an assignment, and the promise of awesome prizes for the winners, are a great motivators.
Some years ago I entered a contest where the parameters were to choose between one of maybe four or five given films, cut a trailer for it, but switch the genre. Out of the list of films that were given, I chose the Sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, cut a trailer for it and switched the genre to Film Noir. I have to admit though, as a fairly inexperienced editor, I was at a loss. I sat at the editing station and stared at the footage and an empty timeline. I finally started to throw random bits into the sequence, just so I had something in there. I finally got to a point where I had built up the tinniest of moments that seemed to have some potential, when a senior editor came to my rescue and offered mentorship. Without his time, encouragement and suggestions, I probably wouldn't have had an entry on submission day. That contest was exactly what I needed in order to get myself to the next level. Not to say I was a senior editor the next day, but I reflect on it as a major step in my understanding of editing and the power of choices to shape a story. Did I win a prize? Nope, but I did received an honorable mention and a much improved sense of storytelling. Here is my 2006 entry.
I encourage anyone interested in storytelling and editing to give the 90to5 Editing Challenge a try. Check out some entries for inspiration. After all, how can you resist a 5 minute version of Planet 9 From Outer Space? It's Planet 9 in a nutshell. If you ask me, repurposing public domain footage is a blast. The first submission deadline has already passed, but it's not too late to participate, but the sooner, the better. When you submit after September 15th, for the first time, your submission is final and can't be updated. So it's a good idea to submit early in order to be able to update. The idea being, your peers can comment on your submission and you will have the opportunity to take critiques into consideration and make changes. How cool is that? If that isn't enough incentive, check out the nifty awards for the winner's hard work. Happy Cutting!