When I tell people what I do, many of them note that it must be really interesting to hear people’s life stories. In fact, it’s fascinating. With each client I get to hear funny stories, and poignant stories, and lessons learned during a lifetime of living.

As much as I enjoy connecting with my subject during the interview, though, I enjoy editing even more. Because then I can relax with their stories. During the interview, I am jazzed up – keeping my energy high to help keep their energy high – and doing a few other things in addition to listening.

I need to keep close track of the time, for instance, to make sure we get all the important questions answered. And I want my subjects to include the great stories they wrote about in their pre-interview questions. So, if I ask my subject if she ever got in trouble in school, and she forgets to tell me the story of getting suspended for two weeks in second grade, I need to prompt her to tell it as soon as I see an opening. But when? I don’t want to interrupt her when she’s on a roll. And if she goes off on a tangent, I need to bring her back. The interview is full of such prompting and redirecting.

The fun begins…
Sitting alone in front of my editing station, with my subject’s interview spread across two screens, I can finally take it all in. It’s then that I see what I have. It’s then that I get to listen closely to their responses, watching for expressions that I want to keep on screen, or a complimentary and characteristic frame of video to use as the still shot for their DVD case. It’s then that I am on the lookout for choice clips – not just stories to keep or cut, but off-hand comments I can use for an amusing outtake, or segments for an emotionally-charged ending.

Whether my subject is a bundle of energy with a storyteller’s flair, or a low-key talker with short, dry answers, my job is the same: First, to paint a picture of their life, how they became who they are, and who and what shaped them. And second, to make their story immensely watchable, if not entertaining – a story you’d enjoy seeing many times.

If the material will let me do it, I want the same things other filmmakers want: I want the audience to laugh and to cry; I want to highlight the subject’s strengths, yet offer insight on their weaknesses; I want viewers to understand something they didn’t understand before. I want them to see something in the subject’s life that they now see in their own, and perhaps learn something about themselves.

Shaping the story
OK, these are grand goals for an hour-long video from a roughly two-hour interview of a single person. But that’s why I love editing. Just like print, it’s all about what stays and what goes. With video, there are the added tools of sound and supporting images to help shape the story. Take the 76-year-old mother who is answering the question, “What has being a parent meant to you?” She says, “I have three children…who LOVE the theatre, who LOVE music, who LOVE parenting…” And then she pauses before she concludes, “…my cup runneth over,” as she starts to cry.

Add photos of her three daughters, now middle-aged parents, and music, and the love and pride of that mother just about jumps off the screen. Of course I am a sap, but of the countless times I watched that clip to get it right, there wasn’t one in which I didn’t start to cry myself. And what a great way to end her video.

In another case, it was a description of a man’s Dad teaching him to play violin as a 6-year-old boy, and then I came across a black-and-white snapshot of he and his Dad practicing violin together. As I reflected on this pairing of interview with the perfect still image, I thought how it would really add to the story to hear his youthful self practicing violin in the background. So this is what I did. I realized my subject’s grandson also plays violin, and is only a few years older than the boy in the photo. So we set up a mini-video shoot, with the grandson practicing violin in a white shirt (like the photo), focused in close, and then changed the video images to black and white. We all had fun doing it, and it was a great way to include another generation in the project. (You can find this clip on the Sample Clips page of our website.)

Editing these life stories is not only fascinating, it’s fun! And after listening to someone’s stories for a few months as their project comes together, I feel like they have become a good friend.