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🎬 Documentary Post Production

Doc Post Production: The Process of Story Building 


There are many processes, but here’s the gist of what you’ll be doing after you’ve shot mountains of footage and now need a documentary out of it: 

  • 1. Go through ALL the footage. Transcription, or writing out everything that’s spoken in the interviews, is a great way to do this. 
  • If you want to auto-transcribe, look at one of these: Descript or Speedscriber. Their accuracy these days is above 95%; more than enough to gather the point of what’s being said by reading the transcription. The coolest part is you edit the text file and then export an XML to your non-linear editor.
  • That said, I think it’s a good idea to get familiar with the footage by transcribing yourself. β€œIn real life, people talk to conceal how they feel, not to express it. And when we do express how we feel, it’s often extremely ineloquent.” – Don Roos
  • 2. Group into specific ideas and determine the arc of your story
  • 3. Arrange these general ideas in time
  • 4. Develop a script (semi-optional). Two-column scripts (examples below) are a common way to show what we see and hear laid out. There’s an outline in the course “Files” in the “Assignment Resources” folder. 
  • 5. Get an audio-only version of your edit working first. This is called a radio edit. Whether it’s first done via a β€œpaper edit” (done solely via transcripts and timecode) and placed into the aforementioned script or whether you went through the footage manually and gathered selects or used markers and metadata. (Use Resolve’s metadata CSV import ability to do any sort of script sync?). You need an audio-only version first.
  • 6. Add your B-roll and refine the edit.

 And from a practicing editor:

 “Many shows have story producers who literally do just what you described. They get an Avid and make a “radio cut” aka string out which they give to the editor. I typically spend about the same amount of time on the radio cut as the B-roll.

One more nice thing about transcripts is that they help you find a word here and there when you need one. For example if the sentence is “he said apples were yummy” you might want it to be “Mark said apples were yummy.” It’s easy to go to the transcript for the word “Mark”.

  • Output all of your talking head reels and either send them off to a transcriber or, do em yourself. It’s very important to have some sort of time reference on these reels, as that will aid in your paper edit.
  • Paper edit. Since it seems you’re wearing all of the hats on this one – you might have to take a director/producer role and suss this story out on paper (via your transcriptions, with timecodes).
  • Once you’ve got a bit of a lock on your paper cut, thats when I would jump into my NLE of choice.
  • As others have noted, organize organize organize.

A caution: While you say you’re ready to jump into post, if you have talking head material in excess of an hour or more un-edited, and not transcribed, with all due respect my friend you are not ready. Save yourself the anguish of trying to build the story in the edit.

If you don’t have access to Avid’s “Script Sync” (links the script to video) or “Phrase Finder” (auto transcription) tools, it can be cumbersome to track timecode well enough in the paper edit to reassemble the digital edit.

And an alternate view from someone who dislikes β€˜paper edits’:

β€œ I tend not to work from transcripts, because I like to work with the footage that’s in front of me. Some editors swear by transcriptions and software like Avid’s ScriptSync, but I often find that β€œpaper edits” don’t work well. The resulting dialogue edits simply sound odd, because the spoken inflections don’t match. However, transcripts do prove to be useful later on, when the producer or director ask for alternate sound bites. They can quickly find the dialogue on paper or in a Word document and locate the closest timecode (part of the transcription). Then it’s simple to call up the right clip in your NLE for a preview.”


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