Friday, April 16, 2010

"Our Heads Are Spinning": The OUR SCHOOL team on IFP's Doc Labs

A couple of days into the IFP Documentary Lab, we began admitting to each other with increasing frequency that our heads are spinning. This, it turns out, is not so much a complaint as a battle cry.

Part nurturing cocoon for the creative process and part scared straight film camp, this crash course in finishing compresses in one week a preview of what all of us are inevitably going to go through in the last year of finishing and releasing our work. The result is curiously energizing. Bracing, one might say.

We started off gently, sharing clips and stories about our projects and taking in feedback on our cuts from an amazing group of editing advisers. In the process, we learned as much from hearing the discussion on other projects as we learned from the feedback sessions devoted to our own projects. (And we got to see some spectacularly successful pairings of experienced advisers and first-time filmmakers who practically started talking to each other in code within seconds of meeting each other.)

Then, as we moved into the finishing boot camp, we started to feel a bit like first-year med students doing dissection: excited to get some real-life knowledge, but not so thrilled yet about the prospect of dealing with all the guts and entrails.

The result is much like learning to ski: the slopes ahead of us after this week feel no less steep, but at least now we’ll know how to make it to the bottom in one piece.

Here is some of the wisdom we’ll carry with us as we brace ourselves for the trip:
• The whole process of filmmaking is about intention, a shimmering concept that encompasses choice-making, planning, social change goals, and - hopefully - meaning. Everything else follows from intention. This fact so obvious that we very frequently lose sight of it.

• The temptation to prematurely make things perfect is ultimately counter-productive. Imperfection is close friends with creativity, and bad ideas are often adjacent to the best ideas.

• Everyone is struggling. Hopefully. If you’re not struggling, you’re not digging deep enough to make the best movie you can - as our editing adviser, the wonderfully empowering Mary Lampson (Harlan County, Trouble the Water) said to us: “You have what's going on. But what matters is what is really going on.”

• You have to devote one hundred and twenty per cent of your time to making the best film you can. The other one hundred and twenty per cent of your time must go into raising the money to finish the film and getting it out into the world.

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