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Making the Albert Collins Video

Jeff Titon explains the "why and how" of making a video in 1989 on video equipment before the event of computer video editing programs

      George Fowler introduced Albert Collins to me in 1981 as the only old-timer he knew in the Blue Hill, Maine peninsula (where my wife and I had bought an old house we were fixing up during the sum­mers) who played tra­ditional dance tunes on the fiddle.  Al­bert could play tunes like "Soldier's Joy" and "Golden Slippers" and "Endearing Young Charms" and "Turkey in the Straw," but he was quite out of practice and although he could get a good tone from the fiddle and his bow arm was agile, his into­nation was not good and he dropped beats, making it difficult to play with him.  I saw him a few times every summer after that.  When Nick Hawes visited me in 1983 I in­troduced him to Albert and we played some music, and again in 1987 when Barry Dornfeld vis­ited and we went to a party at the Fowlers I used my old black-and-white portapak, 1977 vin­tage, to video Al­bert playing a few tunes.  Then in the summer of 1988 George told me that Albert's health had got­ten worse and that if I wanted to do any kind of a project with him I should do it now.  I had just pur­chased some 8mm color video equipment for Brown and decided that a short tape of Albert would be a good experi­ment.

      At first I planned simply to video a conversation between Albert and me in which he talked about his life and work as a lobster fisherman.  I re­ally had no intention of taping him fid­dling, but I would ask him about dances in the old days and his music-making.  I knew it would be of inter­est as a document for the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History at the University of Maine in Orono, for the archive contained many such conversa­tions with old-timers in Maine, and I didn't know how much was known about tradi­tional ballroom, square and con­tradancing in this part of the state.  Be­sides, this was the first chance I had to try out the 8mm video equip­ment and I was anx­ious to begin with a small project.

      And so I read the instruc­tions that came along with the cam­corder, de­cided that the built-in mike needed to be re­placed with an external mike, made some test shots around the house to make sure the thing worked, got my tripod, and drove for ten min­utes to South Blue Hill.  I'd asked George to meet me there so that Albert would be more at ease, but George was work­ing at the hos­pi­tal that day and suggested I stop by.  I did, but he worked for another couple of hours, and by the time we got over to Albert's most of the day was gone.  I decided the best thing to do was to take some exterior shots of Al­bert and George talking, just to get Albert used to the project.  Albert had two very large paintings of boats over the out­side door to his shop--in addi­tion to being a fiddler he was a painter--and I took some closeups of them.  Albert wanted to know what I was going to do with the tapes and George and I ex­plained again that they would go into the Northeast Archives where people could look at them many years hence, and that Albert would get a copy of them him­self for his own use.  Not long after­ward he went out and bought a VCR.  I taped for about a half hour and made an ap­pointment to return by myself, shortly after supper in a cou­ple of days.  I would videotape him for a couple of hours indoors while we talked about his life.

      The usual setup for this kind of shooting, the setup I wanted to avoid, de­pends on whether the inter­viewer is also the cameraperson.  A sep­a­rate camerap­erson usually sets up as tele­vision news is shot, with the im­age of the infor­mant/consultant tak­ing up the screen most of the time while making statements and reply­ing to questions.  Sometimes a ques­tion is in­cluded, and occa­sionally the inter­viewer's head is seen from the front, lis­tening, in a cutaway, or in a shot taken with the back of the inter­viewer's head in the foreground.  (A cutaway is a term for a quick shot away from the main ac­tivity sand­wiched between two longer shots of the main thing. It's used to add inter­est or smooth jumpy transi­tions.) 

     If the inter­viewer is also the cameraperson, the video is almost al­ways shot from a sin­gle, fixed posi­tion, on a tripod; the interviewer speaks from be­hind the camera and may be heard but is never seen.  The informant/ consultant speaks to the interviewer and looks at the camera.  I used that setup when in 1977 I videotaped John Sherfey's life story for the Power­house for God documen­tary project.  When we shot the Powerhouse docu­mentary film in 1985 and 1986 we used the first setup and deliberately in­cluded a few cut­aways and questions in the film be­cause we wanted the viewers to be reminded that they weren't look­ing through a transparent win­dow at the church members' performances and state­ments, but rather through our eyes and ears.

     To help put Albert at ease I de­cided to do the videotape in his kitchen where he spends a good deal of his time.  We would sit at his kitchen table and talk.  Like a tape recorder, a video camcorder is silent and, once on, can be forgotten about if one doesn't look over at it.  (When I looked back at the videotapes I real­ized that Albert sel­dom forgot about the cam­era and often looked at it. Still, he was much more at ease than in the shots when I was talking to him from behind the cam­era.) 

      I'd given a good deal of thought to where I wanted us to be relative to the camera.  I wanted the camera to show both of us in dialogue, yet I didn't want a third person behind the camera.  I thought it would put Albert more at ease if it were just a conver­sation be­tween the two of us with no­body else around.  To do that I put the camera on its tripod on one side of the room, fo­cused it on the other side where we were going to be, turned the camera on, and left it.  I noticed that strong light came through the kitchen win­dows behind us, but rather than risk putting an artificial light on us I de­cided to live with the strong backlight­ing.  The result was that some of the footage from this setup is marginal.  I also had to ask Albert to unplug his refrigerator be­cause I knew its noise would be both­ersome on the tape.

      We sat at Albert's kitchen table and talked to each other while the camera took a single, long shot, 2 hours at a time.  This, of course, vio­lates the usual practice in video or film making, for the film maker is advised never to let a shot run for more than about twenty seconds or the viewer will get bored.  My feeling is that the "language" of film, with its estab­lishing shots, medium shots, close­ups, angles, cuts every few sec­onds, and so forth, calls too much at­tention to itself in a situation like this.  Instead, I thought that the long, sin­gle shot would enable the viewer to forget about the fact that this was a video, and look at the two of us at Hap's kitchen table as if sitting and watching from across the room.  The long shot is an established technique in contem­po­rary British and European docu­men­tary.  The idea is that with a long, single sequence, and a single camera, the sound and image are closer to what the ob­server would see and hear, without inter­ference from the editor.  This is par­ticularly the case for perfor­mances, and in ethnomusi­cology Hugo Zemp has shot films like this.  Of course, his films are edited, but they contain relatively long se­quences, and his camera is often hand-held, as he pans and walks to follow the action.  Hav­ing the film maker set up the camera, leave it, and come into the pic­ture to converse with the in­formant/consultant, as I chose to do,  fol­lows from the "dialogical" notions of representa­tion that I endorse in the Intro­duction to the Powerhouse book.  I don't know how else the idea for that setup may have come to me.

      During the videotaping I learned a great deal more than I had known about Albert and de­cided to make this into a larger project.  I was most sur­prised and delighted to find out Albert was a poet.  This turned up in con­ver­sation near the end of the first tape.  I had been asking him why at the age of 76 when most peo­ple his age had re­tired he was still fish­ing for lobsters.  I knew he just about broke even at it; he'd said as much, so it wasn't for the money.  One of the questions I've been interested in for many years is why a folk artist con­tinues to do the old-fash­ioned thing (see "The Life Story" for one formula­tion of this ques­tion.).  At any rate, he thought about it and came up with some rea­sons: he'd been raised around boats, it got into his blood, it was a habit.  I decided to push him a bit, so I asked some leading ques­tions (you can vi­o­late a rule when you know it!) and sug­gested perhaps there was something deeper.  Lots of people in his locale were raised around boats, had fishing in their blood, and did it as a habit--but they re­tired long before 76.  Why did Albert con­tinue?  He thought a minute and then quoted John Mase­field's poem, "I must go down to the sea again..."  I was stunned (and I can see that on the video).  Soon he said, "Poetry . . . runs through my mind all the time."  Not long after, he began to recite other poems, saying he had a li­brary of books of poetry.  This self-edu­cated man pre­ferred Milton, Shake­speare, Spenser to the modern poets.  In fact, as I found out shortly, he had written some poetry himself.  He was a folk poet in the sense that he was self-trained and wrote in imita­tion of po­ets he ad­mired, both high and low, Shakespeare and Holman Day.  He was also a folk poet in the sense that he wrote about local events and gave his poems away to the par­tic­ipants.  He didn't have copies of most of his poems.

      After that first day of videotaping I was eager to learn more about his poems and poetry.  I decided that in­stead of making just a videotape for deposit in the Archives I would try to make a docu­mentary portrait of this man of parts.  I decided to include other scenes than con­versation.  I would go out lobster fishing with him and videotape him doing it.  That would pro­vide many scenes for his voice-overs telling about his life, I thought.  He had a sawmill and a sh­ingle mill in the back of his house; I would videotape him as he ex­plained how he used them.  I would videotape him fid­dling, making sure George was there to keep him on track in the tunes, and I would back them on gui­tar after framing us all in the cam­era.

      I began to wish I had better equipment.  Should I write a grant pro­posal and make the video with better equipment if and when the grant money became available, no sooner than the fol­lowing summer?  If George was right it would be foolish to wait.  I hoped that the quality of the 8mm for­mat would be suf­ficient... but for whom and for what?  

      The route I had gone with Power­house was grants and PBS.  I found the process of apply­ing for grants and shaping the film for PBS disturb­ing.  It was time-consuming and de­layed the project.  It re­quired a kind of pre­ma­ture project plan­ning in the grant pro­posal stage.  That is, when you write a grant for a film or video you must write a script or a de­tailed scene-by-scene treatment and show what you want to film and how you will edit and shape it.  For Powerhouse we shaped our proposals partly in accor­dance with what we thought our major granting agencies, NEA and NEH, would want.  In the pro­cess I became convinced by my own rhetoric and be­lieved we could and should make the film we pro­posed to the granting agen­cies.  In retrospect I think we would have been more flexi­ble and shot dif­ferent and better footage had we not formu­lated a de­tailed treatment as part of the grant process.  Another prob­lem was that we didn't get enough money.  NEH turned us down twice over a two-year period.  We limped home with the film, editing it over a three year pe­riod, getting paid almost noth­ing, and sinking several thou­sand of our own dollars into the film.  At this point we are still trying to get the film on PBS, another process I find dispiriting.  I think the film is a good film, but it took five years of anxiety from the grant-writing stage to the fin­ish.  I didn't want to go through that with this videotape.

      Suppose, on the other hand, I didn't go the grant-writing and PBS route, but made the video for Albert, and for local and in-state dis­tribution at drug­stores, supermarkets, video stores, his­torical societies, li­braries, the Northeast Folklore Archives, and so forth?  Suppose the quality wasn't good enough for PBS; it might still be good enough for "home video."  I took a great deal of personal satisfaction thinking I could make this videotape with equipment that an ama­teur or as­piring video documentary artist might purchase, valued at about $2,000.  Of course Brown Uni­versity had pur­chased it for the ethnomusi­col­ogy pro­gram, on my request; but I would do­nate my time.  I wouldn't have to squeeze it into 28 or 58 min­utes; I could let the form follow a more nat­u­ral course.

      I began to think about the pos­si­bilities of empowerment low-tech video offered to indi­viduals, families, and com­munity organizations.  If I could do this with Albert Collins, many other people could make video­tapes for local use.  Think globally, act locally: festi­vals, local showings, home video.  Almost everyone has a VCR.   Earlier advocates of com­mu­nity empow­erment through cable tele­vi­sion made a lot of sense to me, but the equip­ment cost a lot then.  Truly it was within reach today.  So the Albert Collins project would be a kind of test case of low-tech video.  I was encour­aged further during the fall of 1988 (after shooting the videotapes) when a newly-arrived gradu­ate student, Franziska von Rosen, took an inde­pendent study course in which we read and talked about the problems and prospects of low-tech video.  She envi­sioned it as a means of em­powerment for some of the Native American peo­ples she was working with.

      By the end of the summer I had videotaped about eleven hours of con­versations at Albert's kitchen table, two hours of lobstering, an hour of fid­dling, and an hour around his sh­ingle mill and sawmill.  During the following academic year I paid a grad­uate student, Katherine Hagedorn, to transcribe the words on the tapes onto a computer.  With the tran­scrip­tions printed out I was ready to log the tapes and begin editing.   At that point I did not have a detailed idea of the shape the video would take, but I knew I had some good material.  The images of lobster fishing were beauti­ful if a bit contrasty.  (High contrast shooting out­doors is one of the inherent prob­lems with video and is worse with 8mm.  One thing that helps outdoors is to use a neu­tral-density filter; at least this puts the background more out of focus and lets the lens work at a larger aper­ture.  Another idea is to use an arti­ficial light on the subject to fill in any shadows.)  The sound track for the lob­stering was engine noise only, but I thought I could overdub the sound of Al­bert talking about his life while the viewer saw images of him fishing.  I thought I would do the same thing with the sawmill and shingle mill footage; that is, briefly show him walking around there while talking about the time in his life that he worked with lumber.  I knew he had told several good yarns and I wanted to get them in somehow.  He'd spo­ken about his painting and showed some of the paintings he was work­ing on, and that was good footage.  The fiddling I could take or leave; most of it sounded bad while a couple of tunes or parts of tunes might be sal­vageable.  But most of all I wanted to get his poems into the video­tape.  In fact, knowing this while I was shoot­ing, I sometimes abandoned the con­versational setup and went behind the camera to fill the screen with his head and shoulders and take a few differ­ent angles while he read his poems.  Finally, I wanted somehow to make the video turn on that moment that he read John Mase­field's poem, as the event had turned for me.  I figured I could fit it to­gether and make it flow some­how, but I didn't want to plan it in more detail until I was at the editing table.

Editing the Albert Collins Video

 

1.  Logging the tapes. 

      In editing any videotape it's nec­essary to have a sense of mental control over the material; you need to know what you have and how to get to it in a hurry.  For a simple editing job, like cutting out the commercials from a television pro­gram, you don't need to write anything down, but when you have a lot of tapes, footage, and scenes, the best way to orga­nize is to "log" or write down a detailed record of what is on the tapes, both sound and image.  For sound, a tran­scription (it doesn't have to be per­fectly accu­rate) of the spoken words provides a workable log.  For im­ages, some kind of shorthand is useful, along with a notation of whether the footage is us­able.  (If there was a lot of jerky cam­era movement it probably isn't.)  Finally a few notes to yourself about how you might edit go into the log.  Logging the tapes takes a lot of time.  Fortunately I had some research as­sis­tantship money at my disposal and I paid a graduate student, Katherine Hagedorn, $10 per hour to tran­scribe the tapes with a word-processing pro­gram.  In order to save the origi­nal videotapes from wear I copied them to audiotapes for Katherine to use when she tran­scribed.  Alto­gether the tran­scriptions ran to 350 double-spaced pages.  After that I spent several hours and listened back to the audio­tapes and made cor­rections on the computer.  I made a hard copy and then I went back and looked at the videotapes and noted the counter numbers on the playback unit (I used the camera for this) ev­ery 100 or so and wrote them on the hard copy to help me lo­cate portions by number.  I had eight tapes all told (about fifteen hours of material), so I had to indicate which tape was on.  Later I went back and entered the tape numbers in the word- pro­cess­ing file.

      I sent a hard copy of the tran­scriptions to Albert so that he could make corrections and edit out any­thing he didn't want in the final ver­sion.  I also sent a hard copy to George Fowler for his re­sponse, but he didn't have time to read it all the way through.  He did spot a few unto­ward comments Albert made about a neighbor and we agreed to take them out of the tape.  Albert okayed the rest of it.

      My next step was to fool around with the editing equipment and find out what could and could not be done, and what could be done easily and what only with great diffi­culty.

2.  Planning the Edits

      Before editing I had to be­come fa­miliar with the equipment.  I had some prior expe­rience with film edit­ing, dating back to the time I helped my father splice 8mm home movies, through looking mostly over Barry's shoul­der as he spliced the Powerhouse edit together.  I knew that you didn't cut videotape the way you cut film, but you edited elec­troni­cally, copying the scenes you wanted onto a master tape.  This means you need a very precise way to start both tapes simultane­ously at the "cut-in" point where you wanted to be­gin your scene.

      I decided to do a test edit and I used a few scenes from another pro­ject, the Cumber­land Mountain Tour, that played at Brown in the spring of 1988.  I had some footage of the con­cert that I wanted to intercut with in­terview footage: performance / inter­view / per­formance / interview, etc.  What could be simpler?  But I found the manuals some­what con­fus­ing and realized I would need at least a few hours just to figure out how the edit­ing controller and editing deck worked.  In fact, I hooked up the con­troller in­cor­rectly the first time and couldn't figure out why, so I quit in dis­gust and came back the following day and experi­mented around until I found the proper connec­tions.  Later on, with Franziska look­ing over my shoulder, I tried and failed about a dozen times to cut-in at a particularly pre­cise point!  The con­troller was making the cut ac­cording to the counter number, and I wanted it to cut "between the numbers."  (In the summer I would figure out that I could cut in bit earlier and fade up the sound manually at the right place.)

      Not wanting to risk damage to the original videotapes, I dubbed (copied) them onto other 8mm tape and worked with the copies as the sources.  Incidentally, copy­ing 8mm to 8mm gives far better results than copying to VHS.  I'm always disap­pointed in the tape copies made on VHS ma­chines.  Except for off-the-air dubs, and made-for-video movies, VHS seems to me a poor medium, sort of like 8-track cas­settes.  Then I tried assem­bling some scenes to­gether, using the camera as the "source" or playback deck and the Sony EVS-700U as the "editing" or record deck, following the directions on how to connect them, making sure to use the RCA-jack con­necting ca­bles for the best possible quality. 

      The most seriously frus­trating part of 8mm editing was that I couldn't figure out how to do a "video insert" -- that is, to insert an image while keeping the original sound.  This is the sort of thing you do when you want to insert a cutaway.  I thought the editing controller would allow me to do that.  I was wrong.   One cannot do video inserts because as far as I can tell, the 8mm tape technology doesn't allow for it.  Sound and picture is recorded together and if you cut picture you must cut sound.  On the other hand, by using the au­dio dub feature the original track can be elimi­nated en­tirely while another track can be added.  

      From a practical standpoint, this means it is difficult to do cut-aways and keep synch sound.  A cut-away is an in­sertion for a brief mo­ment of another picture--often a shot of the au­dience re­acting to the per­former--and it is used to bridge over some unstable or awkward camera tech­nique in the original footage, to re­lieve the monotony of a shot from a single an­gle, or to smooth over a jump cut when compressing time to get rid of por­tions of a performance.  For ex­ample, suppose you are shoot­ing with a single cam­era and your raw footage is of a per­former singing a song.  You might shoot the whole song from a single camera an­gle, varying it only by zooming.  Now suppose the song lasts for three minutes but you only want to show it for thirty sec­onds.  (So much for the long shot.)  You might want to insert a cut­away to relieve the monotony of a single shot lasting for thirty sec­onds.  Or you might have shot part of it from one angle, then moved the camera to an­other while the perfor­mance contin­ued.  In this case you will have some awkward footage while you moved, and you if you want to keep the sound that you recorded during the change of posi­tion, you must insert some kind of cutaway.

     In a continuous perfor­mance like a song it is to my knowl­edge im­possi­ble, using 8mm equip­ment, to insert a cut­away and main­tain synchro­nized sound.  You can in­sert or assemble the video por­tion of the cutaway but you must dub the audio portion on later, di­rectly from the video­tape that has the sound you want to overdub onto the video track.  Further­more, the audio dub completely eliminates the original sound, so if you want some of the original sound for ambi­ence it must be mixed with the over­dub track at the mo­ment of record­ing, and this means feeding it through a mixer from an­other source such as a tape recorder.

     In a noncontinuous perfor­mance, like a conversation, it is pos­sible to work around the problem of maintain­ing synch sound while insert­ing a cut­away by making the video cut on each side over a spot of silence on the au­dio track, then overdubbing the audio, but this can be done only if the silence is about 1/2 second or more, as at the end of a sentence.  It is still a te­dious process, particularly for any­one who is used to editing 16mm film.

     (Why then, you might ask, should a person bother with 8mm video?  The tradeoff is this: by merg­ing sound and image together on the tape 8mm is able to achieve much higher sound quality than VHS.  And despite what ad­vocates of VHS say, the video qual­ity of 8mm is also far bet­ter.)

      (Another way around the cut­away problem is to use the 8mm camera or playback deck as source and edit on a different format that permits video in­serts.  I'd advise against using a VHS editing deck be­cause the quality de­teri­orates so badly.)

      I needed cutaways in the Albert Collins video because so much of the footage in­volved our conversa­tions at his kitchen table.  In editing I wanted to in­sert cutaways or at least change the im­age significantly when­ever we jumped to a different part of the footage.  This is a cardinal princi­ple of editing: avoid jump cuts.  So by ju­di­cious overdubbing I could fake cut­aways in some spots, I thought; and in other places I would simply fade the scene out to black, then come up with the new image; or cut to black and fade up the new scene.  (To do that one needs a special outboard fader; that's how I used the Radio Shack model that I bought.)

 

3.  The Rough Edit Takes Shape

      Having shot this footage, how should I arrange it?  I assumed that Al­bert would want any of it in the fi­nal video, as I had copied the raw footage and given it to him and he liked it a great deal.  I asked him what he wanted to see in the edited version and he said it was up to me.  I sensed he didn't really want to get involved in the editing process.  And so in no par­ticular order, I told Albert I thought that the most impor­tant subjects I wanted in the edited version were: Albert reading and talking about his po­etry; Al­bert showing and talking about his paint­ings; Albert lob­stering and talking about his life lobstering; Albert talk­ing about his life (he spoke al­most exclu­sively of his working life) and also his grand­parents, parents, and his boyhood; Albert telling good sto­ries; Albert contrasting the old days with today.  Albert said that would be fine. 

      I went back through the tran­script on the computer and lifted out se­quences on the vari­ous subjects I wanted, making and printing out files on the fol­lowing subjects: Albert's au­tobiog­raphy; Albert's stories about lob­stering; Albert's poems and sto­ries about poetry in his life; Al­bert's fid­dling and stories about fiddling;  Albert's good stories; Albert's paint­ing.  I began to see one possibility, that the video would move from one of these subjects to the next.  I had the footage numbers on these hard copies and could move from one scene to the next as I went through a sub­ject, see­ing what would work and what wouldn't.

      Then I began to list subjects in or­der of my priorities.  They were: (1) our dialogue concerning Albert's rea­sons for continuing to fish at age 76, and his quot­ing the Masefield poem; (2) Albert reading his best po­ems; (3) Albert's painting; (4) Albert's best stories; (5) Albert's au­tobiog­raphy; (6) Albert's fiddling.

      Next I tried to see how these sub­jects could be connected. I could see how to make a transition from Albert talking about lobstering to his po­etry via our di­alogue and his quot­ing Masefield.  The other subjects were con­nected to his autobiog­raphy, I thought.  And so, really, was lob­ster­ing.  But then when I returned to the transcript and thought about the im­ages, I realized that Albert's au­tobi­og­raphy was given more or less in se­quence at the very beginning of the first tape: he summarized in de­tail his working life.  Other autobio­graphical recollections were inter­spersed throughout the other tapes, but the best long sequence was the first fifteen min­utes or so of the first tape.

      And so I returned to the idea of an autobiographical "chunk" on Albert's working life, rather than thinking of au­tobiography as the cen­ter of a wheel that would connect to vari­ous subjects.  I thought I could present most of this auto­biography as a voice-over dur­ing images of Albert lobster fishing.  Besides, the im­ages and sound on this first tape were not as good as on sub­sequent tapes after I had a chance to review the setup and add some lights, so I was pleased to think of a way to mask some prob­lems.  But where should this go?  It wasn't the most excit­ing part of the tape. 

      For me, of course, the most ex­cit­ing part of the tape was the dis­cov­ery of Albert as a lover of po­etry.  I wanted that toward the end of the tape, as a kind of climax.  But I imag­ined that for general audiences the best part of the tape would be Albert's sto­ries about his horse and about Kittredge's oxen.  Here Albert was in a sense acting out the role of the Maine charac­ter, the downeast Yankee story­teller, and he did a great job of it.  Unfortunately the video that went along with these stories wasn't very good because of poor lighting.  So I felt I really couldn't begin with them.  I wanted to begin with some nice video images.

      At that point I hit upon the scheme that organized the video.  If we started with im­ages of lobster­ing, we could also end with them, effect­ing a kind of visual introduction and clo­sure.  But as the sound track for the lobstering was only engine noise, I had to use Al­bert's voice-overs.  So I thought I would begin the film with lobster fishing and voice overs while Al­bert went through his rec­ollections of his working life.  Then I would take up the other subjects I wanted in turn, even­tually coming back to Albert as a fisherman and the di­a­logue that led to the Masefield poem.  I would follow that dia­logue with Albert reading his po­ems and talking about poetry, and end up with fish­ing again.  I could see some links: some of Al­bert's poems were about fishing, so some of them could be voice-over while I showed him fishing.  And so on.  There were also Albert's wise com­ments about lobster­ing and his be­liefs about educa­tion, money, and so forth and I wanted to get them in somehow.  I fig­ured I would find a way.

      I began to think of other alterna­tives.  One was to use the lob­ster fishing tape for almost all of the im­ages, with Al­bert talking in voice-over about his life.  The film would cut to those parts that showed him read­ing his poems or showing his paint­ings, but only those scenes that I had taken from behind the camera.  I was tempted to do this in part be­cause the shot that I had used for the conversa­tions was not of very high quality most of the time.  For the first tape the sound was not as good as it could have been because the mike was too far away.  The picture was backlit some of the time as well and too con­trasty, with the result that our fea­tures did not stand out.

    But I decided that it was better to edit a film truer to the origi­nal situation, and so in­stead of hang­ing the film on the lobster fish­ing im­age frame­work, I decided to hang it on the conver­sation frame­work, which meant centering on the conver­sation and cutting away to the other kinds of scenes.   Yet if I was going to begin with lobster fishing and Al­bert's au­tobi­ography, I would need to get the "real situation"--our conversation--on the screen early to establish the scene that was provid­ing the voice-overs.  Otherwise it would be con­fusing when my voice came in, either grunting agreement or asking questions.

      I spent a long time trying to solve this problem.  I began the film with some scenes of Albert and his part­ner, Ken Ta­plin, starting out in their boat, then switched to the lob­stering im­ages and Al­bert's biogra­phy, but it didn't work.  I needed something in between.  I kept looking at the tran­script and log.  I re­mem­bered one of the "wise" sayings I wanted to get in was Al­bert's very lyrical "grand tour" of lobstering, so I put that in as a voice over at the be­ginning of the fishing sequence.  Then I decided that a good way to establish the "dialog" scene was to show us talking about Albert's grandfa­ther.  Logically we could start the autobiogra­phy with the ancestors instead of Albert's funny story about what his father said when he was born.  So I shot some footage of a map of the area showing Blue Hill and Long Is­land and Brooklin and used Albert's voice-over about his grand­fa­ther coming from Scotland to Nova Sco­tia to settle on Long Island, and then showed the two of us at Albert's table as we continued the conversa­tion.  After that scene es­tablished the conversation as the ba­sis for Albert's autobiography and my occasional in­terjections, I re­turned to the lobster fishing images and used Albert's au­tobi­ography of his career as a voice over.

      I felt (and still feel) that I had too much fishing and voice over in this sec­tion.  Eventu­ally I returned to the con­versation scene at the point when Albert stopped reciting facts and told an inter­esting story about how he quit his job in a North Carolina ship­yard during World War II and re­turned to Maine and to lob­ster fish­ing.  Then I went back to more fish­ing and voice over until Albert fin­ished his story.

      Throughout this process I used the "audio dub" feature to do the voice overs.  I was not very happy with the awk­wardness of this proce­dure in comparison to film editing, where you can cut very often and pre­cisely, re­ducing a rambling, two-minute story to a snappy thirty-second one.  In fact I abandoned the idea of making several cuts because it was so awk­ward doing so, and just let Albert go on.  In the fine cut I imagine I will make some of those cuts and shorten this sec­tion a bit.

      During the rough edit I kept a careful record of the scenes I edited onto the tape, making a new log.  This is so I could come back and re-do por­tions, and use it for the fine cut to fol­low.  I won't go into the procedure I used for editing the rest of the video here.  It was pretty straightforward.  After the lobster fishing/ autobiogra­phy I de­cided to move from subject to sub­ject, leading up to the return to Albert's talking about fishing and then the transition to his poetry.  The fid­dling was included and pro­vided a cer­tain relief.  Certain things fell out be­cause they seemed less im­portant.  A few things were added.  I tried to unify it in a few ways.  It would have been im­possible to work through the editing without a very detailed log and control over the footage; I consulted it every step of the way.  But I've said here what I wanted to say, and I'll just add that once I got going on the editing, the video gathered momentum and deci­sion-making became much easier. 

 

Little Deer Isle, Maine

July, 1989

Acknowledgements to: Jeff Titon

For rights and permissions contact: Jeff Titon

Contact Folkstreams about this material.

 

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