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Masterclass Series Highlights: Editing Creative Documentary Films with Anne Fabini

Masterclass Series Highlights: Editing Creative Documentary Films with Anne Fabini

July, 20 - 2022

Anne Fabini is the editor of Oscar-nominated documentaries Of Fathers and Sons and Writing with Fire. The Colombian documentary Alis received a Crystal Bear at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival. Aswang, directed by Alyx Ayn Arumpac, won 14 awards worldwide including Best Editing at the FAMAS Awards 2020. Several films edited by Anne Fabini premiered at Sundance Film Festival including World Documentary Grand Jury Award winner Return to Homs. In 2019 she won the German Film Award for Best Film Editing. She also works as story consultant and tutor at international documentary workshops.

In this masterclass, Anne focuses on identifying the right approaches in editing methods in order to create a compelling story. You can watch the record here.

As an editor, how do you determine which part will be the beginning, and which part will be the end?

When you start, it’s not going to be obvious what’s the opening or what the ending is. In editing, you start by reviewing the footages. It’s very important, to always come back to the footages, to see it with new, open eyes. 

For me, I’m looking for the strongest scenes, what I respond to most. I’ll make a collection of maybe five or ten favorite scenes, or moments. Once I have these important scenes—which I call pillar scenes, as in where you can build your structure on—I start thinking the order of the scenes, to create the drama. After I have that, then I start thinking about the beginning and ending.

How do you shape a story? Is it related to plot?

Story and plot are directly related, of course. Story responds to the question of what, and plot responds to the question of why. Using the example by E.M. Foster, the king died, and then the queen died, is a story; while the king died, and then the queen died of grief, is a plot. Shaping a story correlates to designing a plot, and designing a plot is to understand how to connect scenes, events, from the footages. 

For a story to work, all scenes have to link together, so that there’s a reason for every moment that you choose to show. 

You’re talking about connection between scenes, what’s logical between them. Do you use themes to link these scenes when you do that?

In building connection between scenes, what’s important is to know exactly what the scene is about. The logical connection between scenes is when one thing happens because there is something else going on. 

How do you structure the documentary, in relation to eight-act sequence*, as it cannot be fictionalised?

Eight-act-sequence teaches you to ask the right question. When evaluating your footages, you ask yourself, which scenes can go into act 1, which scenes can go into act 2, what is the climax, and what is the ending. 

You can start with a chart, a piece of paper, or a wall. You make three columns for act 1, act 2, and act 3, then you put the scenes into act 1, act 2, or act 3 accordingly. 

This structuring method I personally use until I have a rough cut. After I have a good rough cut, then I can stop bothering about structure. This is when I listen more to my gut feeling, my conviction, what I know is best for the film. 

*Eight-act sequence is the continuation to Anne’s explanation regarding the three-act structure that is used in shaping a story

What’s the best advice that you could give on doing a good editing?

Don’t rush, don’t pressure yourself. Artistic process, as editing is, always requires a good atmosphere, a creative atmosphere. When you have fun, when you enjoy what you’re doing and find them intriguing and really fall in love with your story, that’s when you create the best result.

So, my advice is go look for something like that. Look for having a good time. Make yourself have a good time.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.