What attracted you to the project?
Chris and Justin, the directors, said “Picture this: Inside the barrel in 3D and on the big screen.” Yeeew!!! Now, I’m not really a surfer. I can barely stand on a 9 foot Mal. But the opportunity of creating a 3D cinematic experience from surfers riding big waves was irresistible.
Is there a difference between drama and documentary 3D coverage?
3D doesn’t change the inherent differences between drama and documentary coverage. It imposes some physical limitations on set (e.g. a 3D RED rig used to shoot the feature, Bait 3D, weighed 60 kilos so hand held was out of the question) but filmmakers find a way. A ton of R&D went into the camera systems for Storm Surfers so that there wouldn’t be any limitations on the coverage the directors wanted.
How much footage was there and how long was the edit?
There were 1500 hours on Storm Surfers. The big wave season is Winter, so production shot continuously from May to August, 2011. The key events of the show are surfing expeditions which means you have to wait for a big enough storm to create a big enough swell at an accessible location and then ride the swell for as long as possible. Then its a case of throwing as many cameras at it as you can and shooting the shit out of it. In addition to the material for the feature doc, the directors were also shooting a 4x 1 hour 3D TV series for Discovery Channel.
I’d originally been contracted for 3 months to do the feature doc. The plan was for me to start once the 4 TV episodes were complete and use them as a first assembly for the feature. But when I started only episode 1 had been cut and episode 2 was not even finished so it became a parallel process. After 3 months we hadn’t even finished our first assembly. It took 6 months to lock the cut.
Describe how you work in the edit suite for 3D
My approach to cutting in 3D is the same as cutting in 2D: concentrate on story and performance and then worry about the 3D. The ideal physical situation is to have my monitor set to 2D and the director’s monitor set to 3D. I cut a sequence in 2D, and when I’m happy with it, I put the glasses on and review in 3D. The technical skills you have as an editor when making a cut; leading the eye around the frame, focusing on breathing and natural rhythms and cutting on blinks; are just as critical in 3D, where you need to minimise the work the eye has to do from cut to cut. The important thing in 3D is that convergence points match from shot to shot as much as possible. Any adjustments I make for 3D at the offline stage are for cuts I know technically have no chance of working.
In a drama, shot on a sound stage where there is control over the 3D and the ability to go again if the 3D is not 100% right, this process works a treat. For an extreme sports documentary shot in 20 foot waves where the “set” is moving all the time, it’s a different proposition.
So the first thing I did on Storm Surfers was to cut a surf sequence which used as many of the cameras and angles as possible, and then gave it to our editorial stereographer for a 3D pass. We only had to change one cut. The exercise gave me a good indication of the convergence parameters for the show and the confidence to stick to story.
What is your favourite experience?
Picture Lock. This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever cut. We locked picture after midnight on our last Friday and I have a photo of one of the directors curled up on the floor of the cutting room in a fetal position from sheer exhaustion, which is how I felt. But I loved the whole experience. You get tested, you doubt yourself, you learn, you make it work, and you come out the other side a better editor.