Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Adventures in Editing

If it's edited, is it improv?

This is one of the fundamental questions that we dealt with back when we first started Radiostar. It boiled down, ultimately, to what works for the medium. On stage, the joy of improv is watching performers create something from scratch before your very eyes. Digressions, losing composure on stage, messing up... all these things are part of the fun, as the audience discovers the story with the performers. This doesn't work so well on film, and doesn't really work at all on an audio-only recording. The short form games of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" is heavily edited, and the Christopher Guest films are not only edited up the wazoo, but the plot is pre-scripted. Still, these are undeniably improv.

For the most part Radiostar shows are not heavily edited. I take out pauses and "um"s, remove off microphone character name checks, microphone adjustment noises, and the pauses between scenes. A scene may climax ten seconds before the performers walk away from the microphones, so I'll cut the scene on the punchline. But by and large, a nineteen minute recording session will yield a sixteen minute show.

The shows "Foreign Film" and "Family Fundamentals" are the exception. For a couple of weeks we experimented with really taking our time with the characters. We're always striving to really ground these people, and be as real with them as possible, no matter how insane they or their situations are. So we were encouraged to let scenes spin out longer and longer in order to see what we would find. This technique often results in great material, but great material that serves as punctuation amidst a lot of wandering. Artistically, it's very rewarding and a great thing to play with, but it can make for a somewhat meandering listening experience.

So here is where the editor really comes in. Both of these shows clocked in, in the final edit, at around 20-22 minutes. Very long shows for Radiostar. The original recordings were 40 minutes and a little over an hour long respectively. "Family Fundamentals" is literally only about a third of the original material that we recorded.

So, what gets lost?

At the beginning of a recording session, we have no idea what the plot is going to be about, or who the main characters are going to be. With four or five characters, this gets worked out pretty quickly, but "Family Fundamentals" had eight characters. They all need to get established before we can even begin to know who is central and who is support. This show ended up being about Julie, Bryce, and Dan's characters (the blasphemous daughter, fundamentalist father, and amorous son). They were the ones who went through major changes and took plot driving actions. Anything in the show that supported their story needed to stay in. Fun bits about Diana's character's obsession with the Gun and Doll show and Turkey Jerky were lost, although fragments remain. Zack's Bible-believing geologist's theories about Genesis were lost, as was most of the running gag about Anasastia's equation of pregnancy with ice cream and her obsession with Splenda. None of this was cut completely, but none of the running gags were allowed to run as far as they wanted to. Chris's wail about finding yourself in a conversation that doesn't make any sense is a bit funnier in the original, because Julie and Dave had been free associating for almost two minutes in the original cut about nothing in particular. Also, Julie's decision to start working at the yoga studio is mentioned at the end of the show, but never became a major plot point. Even the main characters lost things, like Julie's tattoo of "Bathing Jesus", an internet figure who was being talked about off microphone before we started recording.

On and on it goes. Some of the bits that got cut might have been left in a shorter show, but when confronted with an hour long, fairly involved and complex plot, the editing choices are merciless. It's like trying to adapt a Harry Potter novel. Some characters get short shrifted in order to keep the pace brisk.

Still, while it makes for a lot more work for the editor, the process of the long scenes produced two extremely grounded and complex shows. A lot happens in these pieces and much of that subtlety might not have been developed if we had kept it sharp and snappy. It's something I'm sure we'll do again in the future.

1 comment:

Avagadro said...

The "free association" riff by Julie and Dave... I seem to remember that being a ton of fun. Any chance on getting to hear it?