For years I’ve been shooting video footage with the hope of someday learning how to edit it together, be it from my Tokyo trip last year or a few minutes of raindrops on the front steps. But I never knew how to use Final Cut Pro, i-Movie, Premiere, or any of the other digital software platforms. And I've never been satisfied with a collection of footage in its own right. Just like writing, I don't think the work is complete until it's been edited, until it's been made sense of.
Over time, I’ve watched as filmmaker friends churn out short films on their home computers, particularly with Final Cut Pro software. Slowly, I've picked up tidbits of technique: loading footage from camera to computer, cross-fading between two shots, or dillydallying with maxed-out memory banks. And recently, I finally got the nudge I needed to take the plunge and really to do it myself: My friend Rob gave me his old Apple G-3 with the appropriate editing software. Other friends, Ned and Andy, patiently taught me the way with a few additional FCP pointers. And suddenly...I can do this!
After just a week or two at my makeshift editing table in the basement, I’ve got five different short films in the works. One is a travelogue of Tokyo’s neon-filled Shinjuku area. Another condenses a 35-minute ride through London atop a double-decker bus into about four minutes. An Amsterdam canal boat tour has produced ten and three-minute video versions. Some impromptu video I shot of a blimp in the Central Eastside, if I edit it right and choose the right music, could be equally whimsical and haunting. And additional footage of electric stove-burners turning on and off in the dark at ten times the normal speed amounts to, hopefully, a kind of abstract version of the electronic Simon childhood game.
What’s been most surprising about the fun I’ve had editing all this footage is that I’ve decided the intended audience is really only me. As a movie writer, I’ve always focused on a filmmaker’s work finding public audience. If a good film didn’t get seen, I counted it as, at least on some level, a tragedy. But now that I’m on the other end making films of my own, it doesn’t necessarily seem so crucial to seek out people to watch my work, aside from the occasional friend or relative. Mainly, just playing it on my own television is enough. It's not that I lack confidence about how an audience would react. Rather, I feel like their feelings are secondary. I'm still very experienced at editing, but for one reason or another I trust my instincts. I know what I want to see, and I sense that that's different from other people. I gravitate more and more to a sparing, meditative style that I know others find boring. Freed from the expectation of pleasing others, I can follow my own instincts. That feels tremendously liberating.
Today, because cameras and editing software are so affordable and easy to use, anybody can make a movie. That proclamation in and of itself has become a cliché, but I mean it a little differently. It’s not just that anyone with consumer-grade equipment and desktop software has the opportunity to make a feature that gets picked up at a film festival by a studio for millions of people to see. What I find most fascinating is that cinema—until very recently a visual language only a few lucky people with the resources of producers and studios could employ—is now a part of everyday lives. I know people have already been shooting video for more than a generation. But when you start editing, it’s not just a meaningless succession of footage. It’s a whole other level of visual expression.
When I finished the first cut of my Shinjuku video, I honestly felt like that ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey who joyously heaves the bone into the air. I suppose that kind of euphoria never lasts, but hopefully the reverberation will continue indefinitely.