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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Gena Mangiaratti at 11:48PM   |  Add a comment

Blog post written by Gena Mangiaratti, Journalism ‘13, FLEFF Intern, Feeding Hills, Massachusetts

Film editor Tom Swartwout will be featured in two FLEFF events this week. At 5:25 pm Wednesday, April 13, in Friends 205 (Ithaca College campus), Swartwout will be addressing Professor Tom Shevory’s class about Environmental Documentaries and Persuasive Storytelling. Then at noon on Saturday, April 16, at Cinemapolis, Swartwout will be leading a Feature Film Editing Workshop.

Swartwout has been an editor for director Sidney Lumet, who, sadly, passed away on Saturday at the age of 86.

Recently, Swartwout took the time to speak with me a little about what he will be doing at FLEFF, and also about his work as an editor.

GM: Can you tell me a little about the two FLEFF events you’re involved in?

TS: I have a couple of documentaries that I’ve edited: some that deal directly with climate change, some with green technology, some with restoration of the delta. I’ll be bringing clips to [Dr. Shevory’s] class, and talking about some of the strategies the producers, writers and myself developed in order to try to persuade people that what we had to offer was valuable and worth listening to.

I think it's clear that it's very difficult for people to hear opinions that they don't agree with, and, how [to] persuade someone that your position is valid is tricky in this world. Everyone is remarkably polarized in their position around climate issues and conservation issues.

So when we make these documentaries we're not just speaking to people that agree with us; we're trying to talk to people that maybe don't agree with us, to persuade them that our position is worth listening to. I'll be asking students what strategies they use when they argue, and talking a little bit about strategies that we use and what we think sometimes work.

I’ll be down at Cinemapolis talking about editorial decision-making.

Many decisions that are made while making a film, I consider editorial decisions. They're not all just decisions that an editor makes after everything is shot, but the steps and the process of making a film involve editorial decisions along the way... Then we'll talk about how once those decisions are made, how they end up in the lap of the editor, and how the editor's end is kind of the final filter in the decision-making process.

GM: How can the editing process differ when being done for differing filmmakers?

TS: I’m an editor for Sidney Lumet, and he’s a very traditional filmmaker. So in a sense, how we cover a scene might be classic Hollywood style where we start wide and slowly work your way into close-ups…

If you go to someone like David Fincher, whose not as worried about those things — or Michael Mann or someone like that — where as long as the audience has gone along for the ride they're not as worried about the classic structure of photographing. So the editorial decisions are slightly different in their approach. The end result is hopefully the same, but the process is different.

GM: How did you end up in editing as your career?

TS: Mostly by accident. When I got out of school, I was making my own short and wasn't quite sure how to make a living being a filmmaker.

I had to spend more time editing than I did in production. That's the nature of how that process worked. So when I needed to get a paying job, [I started] a job as an apprentice in a commercial house in New York City. I then slowly worked my way up from apprentice editor to assistant editor, and then got work on a feature film.

I kind of took a step back in title, but it was a step forward in my career. I became an assistant again on features and then from there made my way up.

GM: What are some of the purposes you keep in mind when editing film?

TS: The main purpose of editing is to get the audience to focus at any given moment on something purposeful, something with meaning — I use that loosely, because obviously sometimes you just have to be on a person talking.

But the decisions that we make are all geared toward focusing an audience's attention…

Sometimes it’s very purposeful: You need to see the perspectives well; you need to see the car driving down the road. But sometimes it’s about emotion and humor and using an audience’s personal experiences to inform what they’re seeing, sort of counting on the fact that we all have common experiences that we can rely on when the story is being told.

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Save the date!:
5:25-6:40 pm on Wednesday, April 13 in Friends 205, Tom Swartwout will be giving a talk on Environmental Documentaries and Persuasive Storytelling
12 pm on Saturday, April 16, at Cinemapolis, Tom Swartwout will be leading a feature film editing workshop.


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