Compassion in the Art of Editing 

2020-21 Sherman Fairchild Fellow Chloe Eastwood discusses her work assisting with the creation of the documentary video about collector Roz Jacbos.

In late spring of this year, I had the great pleasure of working as one of the editors on a tribute event to Rosiland (Roz) Gersten Jacobs (1925–2019), which was the pilot of the new Conversations with Collectors series. While most of the conversations in this series will feature the collector, the only way that we would be able to share the story of Roz Jacobs was through archival film and audio. We were quite lucky in that Roz had been a prolific interviewee over the years, and that we had access to both film and audio recordings of these conversations to create a short documentary video. Roz had a camera-ready way of telling her stories, with each of her tales lasting between 30-90 seconds and ended in a punch line, which is perfect for making clips.

From the standpoint of an interviewer, Roz was wonderful to work with. Her stories were widely known and well-rehearsed. Interviewers were able to easily prompt her to tell the old stories and she would bring them to life once more for a new audience; she had a charming charisma and contagious energy. In each subsequent video of Roz, the quality of the recording equipment improved, and the final documentary yielded some never-before-seen shots of Roz holding and interacting with her collection. However, that last interview had its problems. Roz was older in this video, and she didn’t have the same energy she’d had before and her stories didn’t come as easily. Further, the interviewer’s minimalist style, which was well suited for Roz years before, was no longer sufficient to carry the interview. Nobody seemed to be at their best that day and the interview went on far too long, and as a result, the recording was unusable in its raw form. That isn’t to say that it was completely unusable. On the contrary, it was one of the most important pieces of media to which we had access because we got to see her interacting with the collection. 

The editing trick I pulled was to take the few seconds of her interacting with, for example, Man Ray’s the Red-Hot Iron (see the clip here), and intercut it with an audio-only clip of the same story from another interview. This cut is not nearly as noticeable as one might imagine. In fact, the average length of a shot in a film is just 2-3 seconds. Film viewers are so used to this pace that it’s long shots that grab attention and can be used to underscore important scenes. (My personal favorite is the tracking shot in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, after the Battle of Agincourt, as he carries a young Christian Bale across the battlefield for three minutes and forty-five seconds. Such a shot is striking and draws attention because there are no cuts.) The reverse is also true: the best way to draw attention away from a segment is to keep cuts quick. The audio-only portions were paired with dynamic zooms over still photographs and the audience saw Roz in her element. 

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