Focus On – Sally Fryer ASE on “Paul Kelly: Stories of Me”
Paul Kelly: Stories Of Me is a feature documentary about the life of one of Australia's most gifted singer songwriters. With copious amounts of interviews, concert and rehearsal footage, archival film, articles, photos and songs to choose from, how did you approach the task of editing this film?
What you do with such a big subject and so much material is not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of footage. 50 interviews was about 65 hours of material. The Director Ian Darling and I watched the interviews separately and marked up what interested each of us - knowing that the story we finally told would emerge from within these. To organise such a large amount of material we created loose category sequences ie family, composition, melody, principal songs, on the road, school, musical influences, literary influences, love, sex, death etc. Choices about what would stay were informed by the way each story was told, by available archive – around 80 hours - and by the quality of the 5 performances plus 2 days of rehearsal we recorded with up to 6 cameras. In addition there were 1000 stills or scans and around 350 songs.
The structure of the film takes the viewer on a lyrical and emotional journey rather than a linear one. How did you arrive at this complex structure?
We didn’t want the film to be a linear story and the final structure took quite a while to emerge. It was the old fashioned index cards on a big cork wall which made finding the final structure simpler. We were lucky to have time to play with the structure, and to make the film work more thematically. The continuum of the different bands Paul Kelly had played with over the years gave us a loose chronological spine and allowed us to veer off to family, rehearsals, influences, love etc.
You've edited over a hundred documentaries. What's the difference between editing a doco for television and for cinema?
One of the wonderful differences with this film was not just that it would have so much music in it but that as we were planning a cinema and DVD release we could invest in a 5.1 sound mix. We wanted the experience of the film’s sound to be as good as it possibly could be and of course knew that Paul himself would want it to be as ‘real’ as possible. From the start our sound designer and music mixer Paul Charlier was on board. A composer and musician himself, his knowledge of music is vast. Paul’s studio was a 5 minute walk (plus a cup of coffee) from the edit suite so from early on I was able to bounce timecoded edits of songs and OMFs to Paul for him to do preliminary mixes. We aimed to use the songs that gave us most clues about Paul Kelly himself. For certain concerts Paul did preliminary mixes and gave us his opinion on which recordings were sounding fantastic once mixed - this helped inform our choices.
The film contains many visually eloquent sequences of Kelly's lyrics supered in a diverse range of styles and fonts. What was the effect you were trying to create?
We initially tried very modern graphics to display Paul’s lyrics but these ended up feeling like karaoke. Then we took a breath and realized that having been given amazing access to all of Paul’s original handwritten and typed lyrics – with their inherent mistakes and alterations - it would be great to use these to show the audience that song lyrics don’t just come out perfect first time. Our graphic designer Richard Grant experimented with the original documents that we had scanned at very high quality so that we could focus in on Paul’s often quite spindly handwriting.
What are your most memorable experience of cutting this film?
One was spilling a whole glass of water into my computer keyboard and wacom tablet. Disaster! Another was promising my 10 year old son that when I met Paul Kelly in person, I would ask if he was related to Ned Kelly. Paul laughed and said “tell him that there are a lot of us Kelly’s about”. Another was seeing the rushes of the bamboo auditorium that is in the opening sequence of the film. We had planned to shoot in an old hut but when the DOP and Production Manager went on a location recce they ‘discovered’ this amazing space and Ian, the Director fell in love with it.