Today I return to editing Mule Days. I've had 10 or 12 days to digest, and now I'm in the process of mustering the courage to turn the hard drive on. It is more difficult than you would expect. I posted the following questionnaire and I figured I would post some of the responses I got. They were edifying for the most part.
1. Did you understand the movie? Was anything confusing?
It seems like everyone understood the movie. I only got one response that said:
"I understood it ok, though I didn't get a great sense of the lives of packers outside of the rodeo."
This raises a good point. I wonder if I'll need more of that, especially in a PBS kind of situation. We always had an idea that the third portion of the movie might be an actual packing trip, or that we'd head out to Mike and Zack and see what they were doing. I don't think this will happen, but I think I can edit both the introduction of Mike and Zack and the "Mule People" to give a greater understanding.
2. Could you explain Mule Days to a friend?
Everyone can. That's good. This is up there more for the reader's well-being than my own. As long as they know what they would say, that's all that counts.
3. Were you bored? When?
"There were a lot of scenes of people riding mules around, but no real examination of what specifically they were doing or why. I felt like the dialog at those points was about other things, so I got a little bored with the images. If they had been explained a little more, I would have enjoyed it."
This gets at the biggest problem with the first half of the film: a lot of it is B-Roll propped up by interviews. It is not "scene driven" even when it is emotionally driven. The "Mule People" segment is the most difficult, because that has neither strength -- it neither has scenes nor emotion. It is strictly exposition, which I despise and try to avoid. A major overhaul of this segment is definitely needed.
The two most helpful comments both centered around the same scene, right in the middle of the "Mule People" segment when we see the announcer in his booth.
"Also there was a long shot inside the announcer's booth that didn't really connect for me to the scene before or after it."
Then someone else mentioned the scene before it:
"I found it a little hard to concentrate during the part w/ the woman talking and panning across the old photos of beauty queens."
If I admit to myself why I included the beauty queens, it's simply because I like the shot ad it reminds me of the long, yellow mountain pan at the beginning of the film. The other shot that is arbitrary is the blue sky and trees after the parade. Both of them should be nixed.
I do believe that the long shot in the announcer's booth is not only hilarious, but very poignant if placed with the correct interview segment. It hits on both the ridiculousness of the event, and his isolation from his family. I'll need to draw this out better in the future.
4. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
"I never really cared about the guy w/ the mustache and the big white hat. He was my least fav part. I liked the use of music. When i found myself about to stop paying attn the music would start and its so sad that it made me care about what happened to the characters."
I like this comment because it sounds like I brought the viewer to the brink of boredom, then reeled them back in with the music. The "mustache" guy is the announcer, who has always been on the fence with people. Some find him very touching and engaging, others find him ridiculous. This is probably a fault of my own editing, and I think his character hinges on that long shot I mentioned earlier. If I can find his feeling there, he'll come through as a glancing side character, not as a ridiculous complainer.
"mostly I was left longing for more context about what mule packers do for a living. They kept talking about going up a trail and cooking, guiding, and other things, but I didn't get to see that."
The problem of having an encapsulated documentary. We remain in the rodeo arena, and never travel up to the mountains. Is this necessarily a problem? This is the only comment I've received about this, but I think the viewer has a point. We're left with the competition rather than their actual lives. Interesting predicament that I have no way of solving, really.
5. Was there anything you DID NOT care about?
I didn't care much about the rodeo clown, but that might just be my own thing with clowns..."
6. Did the story flow well?
"I liked the cyclic flow of the movie. Revisiting the characters towards the end and focussing on what their plans/attitudes were towards the future."
If I were a better editor, I could intertwine the stories even more, but I'm glad that returning to them in a "dollhouse" structure helped nail home an emotional ending.
7. Who or what did you find MOST emotionally engaging?
I should be looking for who DID NOT get mentioned in this section...
"The story about the dad and son and how their way of life is dying out was the most emotionally engaging for me. The part about not seeing their family much too."
"I liked Tucker the most. But for emotionally engaging, i'd have to say, the packing family talking about their livilhoods being taken from them etc."
8. What was your favorite part?
My fav was the rivalry between that girl & tucker. It was cute."
"the father and son. I'd like to see more about their lives before and after the rodeo."
Again, a nice spread but "Mule People" are totally off the radar.
9. If you could watch an entire movie about one of our characters, who would it be and why?
10. Any general comments?
" I think it would be interesting to cover more about that young girl. Especially after the old lady talking about needing young ppl involved. Like, how did she get involved? Is she still involved? etc."
This taps into the same problem we've had with previous questions: we kind of breeze over the tops of many stories. I try to have each story talk to one another as if they were all one person, or all one story. I hope that when the film is finished that we have a sense of the greater story that trumps the individual. That we have a flourishing of tone rather than of specific facts.
"The scenery is beautiful, I wouldn't mind seeing more of it. The title page was a little awkward, and I wouldn't have minded chapter pages in the middle to focus on distinct aspects of the story."
I've had this discussion before. Chapters might be a huge help to us, even though I see them as a crutch and would rather breeze through the rodeo rather than divide it into subsections. Chapter titles are a future possibility, though.
Thanks to everyone who responded! No thanks to those who watched and didn't get back to me. Come on, people!