I was recently contacted by a filmmaker whose documentary has been in production for four years, and it is still in the process of being made. I suppose that’s the nature of a lot of documentaries, but the idea struck me as heartbreaking at first.
Having gone through the process of shooting High Fantasy, with the initial idea being this vague, floating concept of a philosophy that can expand and stretch itself over various themes, then going through the process of filming it with the crew (even so, the process was incredibly creative compared to other film sets) and having the concept become more limited by the material world, then forcing that further into the edit of the final cut, it seems a bit heartbreaking to me that the finished product of a film can never be what it was originally intended to be.
You can say, “I’m going to make a film about class and wealth,” and set high hopes for the issues that it addresses, but in all likelihood the number of topics it will ultimately be able to touch on are limited in the edit. And it’s strange to think that in all the years I’ve been editing that this never occurred to me. Or at least not as clearly.
I love the control that editing allows. In a way it gives you more control than direction, because at least in editing the facts are there. The material is raw and unchanging (for the most part). When you’re directing in the moment, the chaos of life can so easily slip its way in and disrupt the process. Other times it can make the film (I’m thinking of the hill shot in The Seventh Seal). Perhaps what appeals to me most about editing is that there’s a lot resting in your hands, but not too much. Bearing the weight of the entire world during the process of creation seems like a daunting task, but probably something I can’t be afraid of my whole life.
I watched this interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul a few minutes ago and something he said struck me. He spoke about things going wrong and problems arising during a shoot as something he feared initially when he started making films, but as he got on it became something he enjoyed about the process. And maybe that’s just something that comes with winning at Cannes and reaching a point where mistakes are no big deal because people’s careers aren’t resting on you, but still. It made me think. He spoke about life being full of problems that we need to solve, that it’s the very nature of the way the world works. And so taking something and distilling it into a film almost summons a set of problems by virtue of its very existence in the world.
I guess what I’m getting at is that in filmmaking you’re forced to confront the world and not escape it, escapist as the form may seem. The way that everything works forms part of the film as much as the film is a reflection on something that forms part of that everything. That yes, it may be an incredibly stressful thing to make, but in making it you truly live life.
Here’s the link to that video: https://www.fandor.com/keyframe/apichatpong-weerasethakul-explains