Editing documentary

Documentary video: the countryside according to Jean Guillemet

Editing a documentary

Jean Guillemet talks about the countryside

This is a documentary edited down from 22 hours of recording to 58 minutes and has been shown in three local cinemas – in Josselin, at Locminé and in Grand Champ.
The main personality around whom this film is based, Jean Guillemet, aged 76 conveys his feelings about how society has changed since smallholdings were regrouped, that people started leaving the countryside for the towns, that shops and schools closed and how life although much harder was somehow much simpler.

Jean depicts his vision of relationships between people which were simpler in the past, people were more in direct contact, more open, and insights us to reflect on his maxim “it’s the motivation that counts”.

The story of a personality

The Simple things in life

We followed Jean over the space of 2 years walking over his countryside and local villages, through 2 local gatherings, a visit to a standing stone where he brought together four generations of people, the oldest of whom a lady of 96 years old, and his building of a traditional well on his land, a symbol of how life was simpler in the past.

However, he gives us a glimpse of something of a hard country life where children were required to walk 3 km to school across fields, people lived in sometimes isolated houses, often without electricity or running water and bread had to be fetched from the communal oven where it was baked in the village.

Dependency on Networks

He invites us to ask ourselves whether life is better today having become dependent on electricity and water networks. “We didn’t have any money but we didn’t need it” he says because although we didn’t have very much we didn’t have either the temptations with which we are confronted so often today.

Jean isn’t really suggesting a return to the past but he questions the logic of some of today’s common practices. He reacts with some emotion to potato crops that were burnt just because there were too much. It makes you think about some of the crazy things we do in a world where so many people don’t have enough to eat.

A well known cyclist in his time

His friends describe the physical stamina and strength that he demonstrated as a keen cyclist when he won so many races on a simple bike. He even rode to Germany and Hungary on his bike. He tells us in his enigmatic way that it?s not the bike that counts but the person. They tell us also about the major accident that he had when a car he was repairing collapsed on his head and yet he recovered. It seems that this experience has some kind of spiritual element to it.

Full of life and full of strength, his friends and acquaintances tell us of their friendship and admiration for a man who convinces our solve the power of the will, of desire, perseverance and strength of character. He says “if you really want something, you can do it”

Jean wanted to convey his message to the younger generation. He recognises how life has been made easier in many ways, but reminds us that it hasn’t always been this way, that some people made do, and that despite having little found friendship, joy and happiness through laughter, community and sharing.

An editing project

Understanding the theme

This project was a real challenge for us as in the absence of budget we filmed on all sorts of different cameras including two iPhones and two DV cameras.
Editing was also a challenge to reduce 22 hours of footage filmed without prescription in several locations. But to complete the editing we were obliged to sift through the footage painstakingly, attributing subject and meaning in order to build a sensible time-line.

But without a budget, the work can only be completed if as Jean would say himself ?you can do it if you want to?. Looking back on such a project one can see that the quality of the final product is not perfect. It would be nice to have had access to great cameras and better quality sound recording. But even as it is, Jean invites us to reflect on the quality of life and some of our core values.

For me, some of these themes have been source of much reflection and remain contemporary in an ever-changing world. It is unwise to romantise a past which was physically difficult and lacking comfort but we are certainly invited to think about the present, to analyse today’s society, our values and to distinguish between what is important and what is not.

Lessons for society

Despite this it is difficult to summarize the numerous themes on which Jean touches. Society, ecology, the life force are all present as our friendship, simplicity, the passage of time, the consumer society, industrialisation and progress. But there remains a slight feeling of regret that such country communities broke apart, even if those who left went away in search of better lives.

This film also has a distinctly Breton theme since it describes changes in society and technology which came to Western France much later than it did to the big cities.

And perhaps there is also an invitation to think about the future. How will life change over the next 50 years? What does the future hold for us and how will our values change. Are our relationships improving, are we building bridges in the community or are we going towards a time when people are more and more distant. These are questions for us, our leaders and our teachers; what are the values that we hold dear and want to promote and where will we invest in the development of our society.

Editing theater recordings

Video editing with Final Cut Pro X

Different types of video editing


There are many types of linear video editing: simple cutting, based on a theme, reduction editing or compilation. Choose the best type of editing for you.

Linear Editing

The examples of editing below fall into what we call linear or timeline editing, working with the horizontal time axis, often reducing the overall length. Linear eiditing is as opposed to layer editing in Adobe After Effects where you’re dealing with the z-axis, from front to back. The objective for us in linear editing is to make a video more palatable more digest, shorter yes. We are often dealing with video of not necessarily the best quality, so the minimum is to remove the flagrant errors and best case is to create an interesting short.

The higher the budget, the more time one can take, the better the image, the higher the quality, the better the storyline. But here we are often talking about re-editing an amateur film. Embarking on a professional short or feature film is another matter entirely. When a film is shot specifically for a montage, scenes can be reshot. Editing is a different ball game when it’s shot one-time.

Simple Cutting

Editing digitally transferred Super 8 is different from bespoke editing since the accent on cutting is different. First, the film is generally more valuable as its older and there’s less of it, although the quality of filming may not be so good. The first objective is to cut out the joins between the reels, generally every 3 1/2 minutes and then probably to do some colour correction.

We take out the worst of the transitions following VHS transfer. This becomes bespoke editing when it’s more than simple cutting. The first pass, simple cut, may remove whole sections so that only say the wedding is retained, remove poor quality or unneeded sections such as snow, the floor, ceiling, inside a bag or where the film is just unusable for video or sound.

Bespoke Editing

We can take any source in any format and put it on a timeline. There can be as many different sources as you like, but generally, 4 or 5 is manageable. This enables you to collect multiple recordings of an event and edit them together. But by its nature, bespoke editing means made-to-measure. There are as many types of edit as there are types of event. And the type of edit depends on the amount of film source and the final objective.

One objective of editing is to reduce the overall duration. Say you recorded 10 hours of film, you might want to reduce it down to perhaps 45 minutes. The technique then is about choosing the bits to leave and the bits to remove. Film transferred from analogue tends to be quite long – something to do with the period, people discovering filming and not always of very high quality. So cutting out the long bits is quite a priority.

Review for Editing

We understand that many films have often not been seen for many years. We offer customers the possibility of reviewing the transferred film on DVD and then bringing it back to us for simple editing to reorder the reels if they are out of chronological order. This service may be subject to a charge or not depending on the scope of the project.

To facilitate this process, we can add a visible time code to the video to enable people to note the position at which edits should occur. This principle is possible for any project. We may record to DVD, add a time code and then make complex edits based on customer recommendations or requirements. We may supply recorded material to customers either on DVD or on YouTube, with or without time code.

Particularly useful if you don’t know the content of your films before recording to digital.

Editing based on a theme

Editing can be based on a theme such as holidays or particular people, so that the challenge is to bring together moments which connect, are similar and related. Say all our holidays or Aunt Betty. Hand in hand with retaining the best clips is the choice of removing others and so making choices about what is good and what is not, based on some explicit or implicit criterion.

The most recognisable of themes are perhaps edits based on events such as a wedding or other family event, an outing, a holiday, a biker’s meeting, a jamboree, fête, school, professional or amateur play. Here reduction editing is about taking generally long events down to something more manageable, highlights, a teaser or summary.

Editing Material From the Internet

We were delighted to work for the French John Fogarty fan club to create a series of DVDs for personal use. Each DVD contained around 30 numbers from John Fogarty all of which were recorded from YouTube, inserted onto a timeline, image corrected and edited together. We can record material from any Internet site for use in your private edits such as music from Deezer or Mixcloud. If there is an audio track that you like, we can include it in your edit. Of course, if you have the original CD, vinyl or tape, we can capture that too to include in your video.

These are examples of what we call composition edits where we edit together material from diverse sources.

Multi-source Editing

We can edit sources in both SD (720 x 576) and HD up to 1920 x 1068. It is not necessary for us to have filmed the material ourselves to edit your video. You can provide your video source to us in any format on any media. This may be of particular interest for those who film events or who may wish to film the event themselves with several cameras. We can then take on just the editing according to customer criteria on multiple tracks, from multiple sources, varying formats, with or without voice commentary or added music.

You Film We Edit

The advantage here is to save expenditure on a cameraman for your private event. Indeed, you can ask your friends to film your wedding for instance and then we do the editing. We call this 3rd party editing since the material is filmed by you. It has the advantage that if several people film the same moment, you may benefit from either a better shot or cutting together multiple good shots from different angles.

Extraction From a DVD for Editing

It is possible even to edit material that has already been recorded to DVD. We simply extract and decompress it, edit and re-burn to DVD. This makes it possible to extract one or more sections from a DVD, retain them for editing and author them out to a new DVD. Your video should be of the same visual quality as it originally was on the DVD.

Adding Voice Commentary

You may wish to comment your film edits, either because there was no original sound, as per Super 8 or simply to add an additional dimension to your edit. We can do this for you, either by recording your voice and editing in at the appropriate moments or ourselves according to a script.

Adding voice commentary is a nice way of adding colour and meaning to your video and can enhance simply visual titles. Of course, you can also add titles to describe events, state the year of an event or the people present as a reminder, for posterity or simply for information or fun.

Film Editing

Editing may be more complex depending on the theme or objective. For instance, we created a semi-documentary film edit of one hour based on 22 hours of material, filmed on 4 different types of camera over the space of 2 years discussing the changes in the countryside.

The subject was really centred around the person who brought us in, to follow his activities such as digging a well but also to talk about changes in the countryside, how life has changed. All unscripted, filmed on the hoof, without rehearsal, real time. Events took place and we just captured what went on. However only later did we realise that there was a message buried in all the dialogue and so the challenge was to select and retain the important material and make a coherent subject. Not easy on zero budgets.

Editing for Art

Artistic editing is quite different again, has a specific objective, is quite probably scripted, prepared and seeks to film footage deliberately as part of a production.

Editing film from live events

Live spectacles are interesting to edit because of the real-time nature, whether theatre, dance or music since errors occur either on stage or in the filming. The editor must make choices to maintain flow.

Length Reduction Editing

Anti-tedium editing is about time-slicing to reduce the length of scenes, while keeping the essence of the mood, focusing on people, while trying to keep everyone in, reducing the boredom factor, without slash and burn.

For instance, if it’s a holiday film, keeping each place visited, but reducing the time spent there: the shot of the church only needs 7 seconds, not 3 minutes. In a wedding film, similarly, we need to see the married couple but we might keep just some of a long walk to the town hall, just so that people understand what is going on.

These montages are about making something new out of something old. The input footage is not planned perfect shots; it is generally a mix of varying quality shots. The idea is to retain only what is good or essential. These edits are about taking souvenirs and making souvenir edits.

Editing to Accentuate the Highlights

Highlights editing is a variant of anti-tedium editing. The idea is to mark all the events of interest and cut everything to say 7 seconds. This means that everything decent is retained but just as a highlight. This can be difficult if the scene goes on, but involved hard choices. It creates a certain style of edit and can be useful when either there is relative liberty to cut and or when the subject has little meaning for the editor. The viewer gets a flavour of all events. The pieces must still be joined and possibly ordered in order to create something reasonably aesthetic.

Photo Slideshows

Photo slideshows are generally about retrospectives about happier occasions. People may focus on years, periods, holidays. We generally display a photo for between 4 and 6 seconds and include anything from paper photos, slides, reverse negatives, screen prints, digitised film up to HD film from phones. Any source is possible. Here once again the criteria are the final length objective of the edit and the amount of material available.

End of Life Photomontage

Sometimes our edits are about sad events even death. We have done one or two retrospective and photo montages for funerals. While not necessarily sophisticated, for the people concerned they certainly have an effect when played at a funeral or memorial service.

Generally composed of photos and film from the life of the deceased, friends and family they may well be cobbled together in hurried circumstances. It is obviously a sensitive time for the families in between death and funeral. So they might be quite simple but just enough to remind people of favourite photos and music. It doesn’t take much to evoke emotion in such circumstances.


We add subtitles to video as well, often for business customers but it is possible to add subtitles to any video as long as transcription is possible and therefore that audio is audible.

Subtitles can be in original language (generally French) or translated into any language (for us English) and then re-pasted back into the video or retained simply as an SRT subtitle file to play with an appropriate viewer such as VLC.