What Not to Do While Editing Your Documentary

It’s been a while since I’ve been in the editing seat, but today I am fully immersed in logging clips for the documentary Viento del Sur. I had forgotten just how immersive documentary editing is. Alone wearing headphones and sitting in front of a laptop, I find myself laughing, smiling broadly, and even shedding tears as I work my way through interviews. There is a special kind of intimacy in watching a clip that you also filmed. Or maybe it is a special kind of removal. Either way, I find that recorded moments seem even more precious, fragile, and full of wonder after they have already passed.

It is for this precise reason that many people strongly advise against editing footage you shot yourself. That wonder and adoration can be dangerous in the wicked context of the editing room. Considering the shrinking attention span of our audience and the pressure for emerging filmmakers to stay under the twenty-minute mark, and you have your basic recipe for heartbreak.

As filmmakers we must accept the truth: nobody will ever love our footage quite as much as we do.

So today I find myself logging clips that I shot in the dojo during a meditation session (zazen). They are images of still and silent people, the window curtains dancing and flapping gently in the afternoon light. Until I made this film, I had no idea how beautiful people really look while they are meditating. It isn’t often that one gets the chance to tiptoe around the dojo in silence, peeking at faces, postures, and slightly bent shoulders.


Rather than scrub quickly through the shots, I watch in real-time. I can’t help myself, I must indulge. It is a strange, post-modern Buddhist moment: I sit along with a recording of people sitting. All Buddhas, throughout space and time…

And so there you have it: what not to do while editing your documentary. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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