Like clockwork

Posted May 04

To the audience, a good film seems to flow uninterrupted from beginning to end. 

The images and sound seem to blend together to create a single continuous piece, a river of light streaming from one scene, one shot, one idea, to the next. 

Behind the scenes, it's a very different experience. It's said that an editor's work is best when it is invisible. 

To the editor, the film is not a single unit, but a precise clockwork mechanism composed of thousands of dynamic interlocking pieces, each just the right size and shape and colour to fit with all the rest. 

You first begin with vast boxes filled with countless complex little pieces which do very little on their own. Then begins the tedious process of sorting the pieces from one another, to see which will work together, and what they will do. 

Some of the pieces are very similar. Others are wildly different. 

For every piece that finds its way into the finished mechanism, ten or twenty are thrown away. Some are thrown away for good reason. Others are beautiful pieces that simply won't fit with the rest, and it can be hard to let them go. 

If you don't begin with a clear idea of what you're trying to build, if you don't know exactly what it's supposed to do, and how, then the pieces themselves can lead you astray. You might find yourself building something beautiful and utterly useless. 

You'll need complex tools to fit all those complex little pieces together. You'll need to bend some, compress others, shave away the edges. Each piece will need to be painted, and smoothed down. 

At first, the thing you're building won't work. You'll need to tinker with it, to meet a thousand little technical challenges, to bridge the tiny gaps. Sometimes it's a matter of skill and knowledge. At other times, there is no clear answer - it's just a matter of trial and error, patience and persistence. 

It starts to move - slowly at first. It rattles, and gets stuck in places. You stick with it. You find yourself thinking about it at all hours, puzzling out the tiniest little pieces, coming back to it when you should be doing other things. 

Finally, the gears mesh. The wheels spin smoothly. Everything sounds right, and does what you want it to do. 

It runs like clockwork - but this mechanism doesn't do anything so tangible as moving a pair of hands across a face to tell the time. 

It deals with black and white facts, yes. It works with hard edges and measurable increments. But it also deals with more nebulous things, with liquids and gases, with subtle shades of grey. 

This mechanism is designed to tell a story, to explain a series of factual events in the simplest possible way. But what if the very purpose of the story is to show the incredible complexity of an issue - human trafficking, for example? 

This mechanism is designed to change the way people think, feel and act. It is designed to reach into their innermost selves, to touch their hopes and dreams, their fears and beliefs. 

A successful film is not simply a monologue, but an interaction between the filmmaker and the audience. The filmmaker raises an idea, and leaves space for the audience to gasp, to laugh, to breathe and reflect, before the stream flows on. 

The filmmaker dedicates years of his life to shaping an hour or two of yours - but if he does his work well, it will not be easily forgotten.  A good film can reach far beyond a screen. 

'Sisters For Sale' is on target to be completed in September. 

For four more months, I'll be tinkering away - fitting little pieces together, bridging gaps, smoothing out the motion until it all flows together. If I do my work well, you'll never even notice. 

Soon, others will be joining me in the workshop, to do some tinkering of their own - on the sounds, music, colours and animations. 

Then it will be your turn, to come and see what we've built, to flip the switch and see it run. 

I can hardly wait. 

To keep up with all the news on 'Sisters For Sale' and 'The Human, Earth Project', subscribe here

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